Screenwriters Discuss Nominated Projects at Film Festival
Screenwriters panel at the Lobero Theatre (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
A panel of successful writers discuss their acclaimed projects to a packed Lobero Theater on Saturday afternoon during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The panelists included Adrian Molina (Coco), Edgar Wright (Baby Driver), Virgil Williams (Mudbound), Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist), Emily V. Gordon (The Big Sick), Liz Hannah (The Post), and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water) with Anne Thompson from IndieWire as the moderator.
Thompson mentioned that every movie project from the panel has been nominated for an Academy Award. It's important to mention that three women were on the panel when in past years it's mostly been men with very few or no women represented.
Wright discussed music being an integral part of his film Baby Driver. His original script was a special PDF with songs built meant to be listened to while reading. He mentioned interviewing an ex-convict who robbed 32 banks and was in jail for 12 years while doing research for his film. An audience member asked, "How did you meet him?" to which Wright responded, "he was represented by CAA," resulting in laughter from the crowd.
Molina mentioned how his work on Disney Pixar's film Coco was "a love letter to Mexico." Writers traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to understand the celebratory tradition of relating to death as a type of family reunion during Dia de Los Muertos.
An issue arose early on when Disney attempted to trademark Dia de Los Muertos for the film, which caused an immediate backlash. "It was a process of the [Disney] legal team not thinking it through, " said Molina. Because of this, he described how it opened the door for more conversations to be had about cultural sensitivity and authenticity.
Hannah's story about her script The Post seemed like a rarity in Hollywood. As an unrepresented first-time feature film writer, she sent out the first draft of her Kathryn Graham-based script to agencies looking for representation. It wasn't long before a studio purchased her script before an agent and Steven Spielberg dropped everything to direct the project with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. They started filming within 10 weeks and completed it within the year.
Screenwriter Josh Singer of Spotlight, signed on to assist as they set out to thoroughly vet a story about the Pentagon Papers a woman she felt history had forgotten. "Graham was overwrought with insecurities because she was told she wanst supposed to run [the newspaper]." Graham's father had left the paper to her husband and she only took over after her husband passed away, said Hannah.
Gordon talked about writing a script with her husband Kumail Nanjiani about the beginning of their relationship. She joked that he started and was getting everything wrong so she joined the project. Judd Apatow encouraged the couple as they excavated their relationship and lives to process their past emotions.
Weber talked about the enigmatic character that is Tommy Wiseau as he co-wrote The Disaster Artist. He mentioned how the original book was sent to him by Seth Rogan and James Franco and even mentioned the famous Los Angeles billboard that Wiseau purchased on his own to promote the original film.
According to Weber, Wiseau negotiated his own contract and part of that was his own cameo in the new film. However, he forgot to negotiate that the clip would remain in the film so they ended up scrapping it and leaving it for the very end of the film.
Taylor helped Guillermo del Toro write The Shape of Water after only meeting him a handful of times to discuss the project. She discussed how she promised to be honest and make it clear what she thought because she felt that's what was needed and asked of her.
Del Toro described the film as a period piece and a fairy tale, and she loved that the two main characters didn't speak, requiring the supporting cast to be close by for interpretation. "This movie came from [del Toro]'s heart and it belongs to him... I'm happy to have been a part of it," said Taylor.
Williams discussed how it took eight years to get Mudbound made. When discussing the book which the film is based on, Williams said, "it grabbed me by the heart and it felt like a responsibility." He referenced the book as the To Kill a Mockingbird for this young generation.
When asked why there was pushback on the film, Williams said it has everything Hollywood doesn't like: a period piece, Jim Crow, and racism in America. He explained that executives felt it wouldn't sell, it was too real and honest, and they pushed him to write something "urban and gritty" instead since he's a minority writer.
Mudbound was filmed in 29 days for $10 million and Netflix bought the film at Sundance for $12.5 million.
Thompson asked the entire panel why they felt Hollywood strayed away from original screenplays. The writers discussed how it's easier for people to say no than to give a project a task. One writer discussed how marketing professionals have made it up the ranks in studios and they're simply looking for a return on investment.