Review: SBIFF Screenwriting Panel

Anne Thompson did a beautiful job of moderating the “It Starts with the Script” Screenwriter’s panel at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday, January 28, 2012. She handled the five male panelists with finesse, bringing together connections and similarities between their works.

Tate Taylor, screenwriter and director on The Help, was good friends with kathryn stockett, author of the novel. She gave him the movie rights while she sought a publisher. Adapting the story before it had a fan base helped his process. Then when the book became a bestseller, the phone began to ring. He’d only directed a short film and an indie feature before, so when he told interested parties, including Viola Davis, that in order to option the script they had to bring him on as Director, he was met with some skepticism. Finally Stacey Snider at DreamWorks said, “Yes.” Taylor turned out to be the perfect director because he’d grown up in Jackson, Mississippi, where the film is set, and knew how things work in the South. Octavia Spencer, who plays “Minny Jackson”, is another good friend of Taylor’s and he had her in mind when he wrote the part.

santa barbara international film festival screening panel

Will Reiser also relied on a close friend in order to make 50/50. Seth Rogen, a good buddy and former roomy of Reiser’s, produced and played the part of “Kyle”. In the film “Adam”, a 27-year-old journalist, discovers he has a rare form of cancer and even with chemotherapy he only has a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. “The original title was ‘What I didn’t learn from Cancer,’” Reiser said. The story is drawn closely from Reiser’s own experiences fighting the disease. He claimed the writing process wasn’t really therapeutic but helped him process his thoughts. Reiser’s friends tell him that Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a spot on imitation of him even though he tried hard to make Adam his own character.

Mike Mills had a similar challenge when he wrote Beginners. When he asked the audience how many of them had known his father Paul, a smattering of hands went up. Paul Mills was the director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and ‘came out of the closet’ at age 75. The story in Beginners has an autobiographical element in that the father character “Hal Fields” is a gay man who comes out late in life. “I’m not sure how real ‘real’ is,” Mills said. When writing from his parents’ perspective he drew upon memories of conversations in order to infuse the dialogue with emotion. Mills got pretty deep in his explanation of his process which got him a round of applause. “Wow, that made it sound like I had a plan,” he mused.

JC Chandor used what he’d learned from his father when he wrote Margin Call. Chandor waited until the right time to tell his father, who worked at Merrill, Lynch, about the film that revolves around the key people at a investment bank. As Director as well as writer on the movie Chandor’s biggest challenge was finding a balance between creating art and arranging all the moving parts of the feature, like casting. Jeremy Irons was a last minute choice for the part of “John Tuld”. Irons’ work visa was due to expire right before July 4. Chandor panicked, thinking they didn’t have enough time to shoot all of Irons’ scenes. He ended up cutting nine scenes into five. Another casting change was when they got Zachary Quinto when he left The Descendants.

Jim Rash who worked on the screenplay for The Descendants bemoaned the loss of Quinto to Margin Call, but respected George Clooney portrayal of “Matt King”. “Clooney brought himself into the part, “ Rash said. The writing team on The Descendants, which was based on a Novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, put their own spin on the characters. Like Taylor and The Help, Rash faced the task of adapting a book for the big screen. Rash’s hard work paid off and earned him an Oscar Nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.