By Ethlie Ann Vare
BEVERLY HILLS, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/9/19 – Every year in advance of the Writers Guild Awards, the nominated screenwriters gather for a panel discussion at the WGA Theater which – unknown to much of the pubic – is open to the public. The event benefits the Writers Guild Foundation and its outreach into schools, libraries and veterans’ groups, and this year sold out to an enthusiastic crowd.
“I love hearing writers talk about their process,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman by way of introduction. “Unfortunately, the process is usually hard work.”
Happily, the panelists all had amusing and insightful tidbits beyond the hard work part to share. A brisk 90 minutes led by moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt of The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable gave each scribe a chance to shine.
Some notable moments from the nominees for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay:
Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade) says that he does his writing “on a MacBook Pro in a coffee shop. I’m a cliché.” Eighth Grade was an exploration of “what it felt like to live on the Internet,” and his decision to make his main character a teenaged girl allowed him to pen a script “I wouldn’t pollute with my own experience.”
Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther) wrote three feature scripts in two years while part of the Marvel Writer Program, where he joked that “you get paid to read comic books.” He wrote much of the Black Panther while simultaneously writing and producing a script for The People vs OJ. (The episode, “A Jury in Jail,” was nominated for an Emmy.)
Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly (Green Book) Currie, strangely enough, attended the same small high school as Burnham – although many years apart. He was the one to whom Nick Vallelonga initially told the stories of his father’s travels with pianist Don Shirley. Farrelly said that while the film was titled for the African-American travel guide, “someone should really make a movie that’s about the Green Book, because it’s a fascinating story.”
Lauren Greenfield (Generation Wealth) sifted through 60,000 pages of interviews to create the documentary, which is based on her acclaimed photo exhibit and book of the same name. She said didn’t particularly want to appear in it, but “my work relies on the honest and vulnerability of my subjects, and I had to be willing to do the same.”
Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is best known as a director (Friends with Money, The Land of Steady Habits) initially took on the project to direct, but ended up as screenwriter. “No offense to adapters,” she said, “but I find it easier to adapt a book than to come up with my own story.” Holofcener did a chance to meet Lee Israel, who died before the film based on her memoir was released: “She was nice. She didn’t get sloched,”
Ozzy Inguanzo & Dava Whisenant (Bathtubs Over Broadway) Whisenant was an editor at The Late Show With David Letterman, which introduced her to the concept of corporate musicals. What started as a comic runner turned into a heartfelt tribute to unseen creators. “It’s a movie about finding your tribe,” said Inguanzo. They are still ticked that performers in their 80’s and 90’s finally got to perform their song and dance numbers for the world.
Gabe Polsky (In Search of Greatness) Former hockey player Polsky said his documentary about great athletes is essentially about creativity, and that he finds the same creativity in sports as he does in storytelling. “I go to the stadium or the arena – or the movies — hoping to see something I’d never seen before.“
Eric Roth (A Star Is Born) Elder statesman Roth, whose credits go back to Forrest Gump and The Horse Whisperer, was an inspiration for many of the younger writers on the panel. He says he was worried about adapting the beloved vehicle: “I really thought I was going to get egg on my face,” he said. He called himself a sentimentalist, noting that co-writer Bradley Cooper vetoed some of his sappier notions, including dressing Lady Gaga in a pair of ruby slippers as a tribute to Judy Garland.
Kevin Willmott (BlacKkKlansman) was originally approached by director Spike Lee after writing and directing the acclaimed C.S.A.: Confederate States of America, and co-wrote 2015 Chi-Raq with him. In BlacKkKlansman, Willmott said “the challenge was to make things that actually happened believable,” because the truth was so outrageous. In real life, he said, Ron Stallworth was an even better cop than they portrayed, because he would bust people before they could commit a dramatic crime.
Bryan Woods & Scott Beck (A Quiet Place) said that the concept for the horror movie came from their love of silent movies. “Is there a way to combine our love of silent film with out love of Alien and Jaws?” wondered Woods. The concept finally came together when they realized their movie was about family and the inability to communicate. “If it’s just about the horror,” said Beck, “it’s not enough.”
In summation, the panels were asked to give advice to “their younger selves”… or aspiring writers in the audience. Burnham, a young writer himself, made the optimistic point that “the best part of being a writer is available to everyone right away, which is the writing”
#WGA #WGA Foundation #Writers Guild Awards #Beyond Words #A Star Is Born #Black Panther #A Quiet Place #Green Book #Eighth Grade