The Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s annual screenwriters panel convened at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday morning. Questions were posed to the panelists — Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”), Pete Docter (“Up”), Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”), Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated”), Scott Neustadter (“500 Days of Summer”), and Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) — by moderator Anne Thompson (wrote writes the “Thompson on Hollywood” blog for IndieWire) and then by audience members.
Highlights of the roughly hour-and-a-half session included the following:
- Boal described “Triple Frontier,” his next collaboration with “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow, as a “love story” set in “a lawless area” of South America “with crime, drugs, and kidnapping.”
- Fletcher says that after college he worked temp jobs in New York City during the week while writing on the side, all “with very little positive reinforcement, which helped me to understand what Precious was all about” (adding that he thought of her as a variation of Odyssius, Huck Finn, and Celie from “The Color Purple”)
- Reitman (who is nominated for best original screenplay) told Fletcher (who is nominated for best adapted screenplay) that he was “really impressed with what you did,” as far as adapting a complex book into a strong screenplay
- Reitman said of adapting a screenplay that the easy part is “you’re stealing someone else’s genius” and the hard part is “making it work for the screen,” in part by “deleting stuff and not feeling guilty about it”
- Boal admitted that the only reason he and Bigelow decided to include “the mercenary sequence in the middle of a bomb movie” was to provide Ralph Fiennes with a part that he would agree to play in the movie (Fiennes had earlier turned down an offer to play a British Ambassador who harshly chides American troops, telling Boal in no uncertain terms that he knew people who were in similar positions and who would never do such a thing)
- Reitman said, “I offered ‘Thank You for Smoking’ to George Clooney. He had no interest in that one.”
- Meyers discussed her dismay at the R-rating that her film received from the MPAA because it features characters (Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep) who smoke marijuana without adverse effects. Meyers says she had assumed that because they do it only once, for what they proclaim to be the first time in decades, and don’t do anything stupid as a result, she would be in the clear. (Reitman then asked her if she would have added a lot more risque material if she’d known she was going to get the dreaded R-rating anyway!)
- Neustadter emphasized that “500 Days of Summer” is very much a true story — one based on his own experiences with a girl who broke his heart. He says he shared stories about the girl with Michael H. Weber, who he had hired to work for him 10 years ago and with whom he eventually collaborated on a screenplay about the ill-fated relationship.
- Docter spoke a lot about the unique experience of making movies at Pixar, where one is able to get regular input not from executives (as is usually the case) but from other great animators/directors like Oscar winners Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, and John Lasseter (who is also the studio’s CEO, and who cried upon hearing the pitch for “Up,” Docter says)
- Kurtzman says he and his longtime writing partner Roberto Orci were absolutely terrified by the propsect of writing a new version of “Star Trek,” since they both grown up as huge fans of the franchise and feared having to face the wrath (pardon the pun) of the fanbase if they botched the job. They ultimately decided to take it on, though, when they realized they’d feel even worse — and, indeed, personally responsible — if they didn’t and someone else botched it!
Photo (l to r): Panel moderator Anne Thompson and screenwriters Mark Boal, Pete Docter, Geoffrey Fletcher, Alex Kurtzman, Nancy Meyers, Scott Neustadter, and Jason Reitman. Credit: Scott Feinberg.