Scott Frank interview

– photo by Chuck Goodenough

I’ve known Scott for over twenty years, ever since he was a student in my father’s screenwriting class at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Though not a screenwriter, my father was very smart, very creative, very supportive, had really good taste and was an inspirational teacher to a generation of UCSB screenwriters. Scott considered my father, his father and he was right. My father was as proud of Scott as he was of any of his sons. They had a rare relationship.

I’d drive up from L.A. and talk to my father’s devoted classes. It was a great thing to do as a father/son thing. It also turns out it was good for the students as well.

Scott Frank has become one of Hollywood’s most respected screenwriters. He was nominated for an Oscar for GET SHORTY. When I asked Scott about having a conversation for this book, he graciously agreed.

Here it is…

               FADE IN:


               Carrying a black leather book bag, TOM LAZARUS, shaved head,
               burly, walks in a hurry up to a three-story luxury loft

               On the wall outside the front door, he presses the code on
               the directory.

                                   SCOTT'S VOICE

                         It's Tom.

                                   SCOTT'S VOICE
                         Come on up, to the top.

               EXT. LOFT BUILDING - DAY

               Sunlit exterior catwalks lead to Scott's Loft.  The door's
               open.  Tom walks in.

               INT. SCOTT'S LOFT - DAY

               SCOTT FRANK, forties, a few days worth of whiskers, a
               handsome man, in jeans and a black t-shirt.


               They shake hands.  Tom looks around.  It's sumptuous good

                         Great place.

               Two thousand square feet, two seating areas with comfortable
               couches and Arts and Crafts furniture, a mahogany pool table,
               and many original movie posters, of DEAD AGAIN and OUT OF
               SIGHT, and MINORITY REPORT, as well as LAURA and DOUBLE

                         I love the neighborhood.  There's
                         writers and actors in the building. 
                         It's wonderful.

                         I want to be you when I grow up.

               They both LAUGH.  Tom puts his mini-tape recorder on the
               marble kitchen island counter between them.

               He presses RECORD.

                         We're just going to be talking.
                         This is a process book.  It isn't
                         about celebrity names...

                         ...or how to get an agent...

                         ..or how to sell a screenplay, but
                         it's about the process of rewriting
                         and about being a writer.  Okay?


                         What do you want the readers to
                         know about you?

               A long, long pause.

               Tom smiles.

                         You're going to have to answer a
                         lot faster than that. Scott LAUGHS.

                         Well, I don't know.

                         They're writers, or want to be
                         writers.  What do you want them to
                         know about you so that they know
                         from whence you speak?

                         In terms of like a bio?

                         That's in terms of your answer.
                             (smiling again)
                         I'm not going to be feeding you
                         many of these answers.

               Scott smiles.

                         All right.

                         Notice how aggressive I've become.

                         Oh, my God...


                         And all this gets printed in the

                         Every word.  Nice huh?

                         That's terrific.

               LAUGHTER again.

                             (into the tape recorder)
                         Scott's now running for the window.

               More LAUGHTER.  Scott thinks for a beat, then...

                         I want them to took me a
                         long time to get where I am right
                         now, that I've been doing it for
                         twenty years, I've had seven or
                         eight films made in that time. Four
                         or five of which I really like.
                         That I love, love writing and I
                         couldn't live without writing.

                         That was my last question for you
                you love writing?

                         Do you want me to hold that?

                         No, no, it's great, because that's
                         what it's about.

                         I want them to know I take it very
                         seriously and treat it like an art.  
                         And I think unlike most writers
                         today unfortunately, who treat it
                         like a means to an end... as a way
                         to become a director, or simply a
                         way to make money.  I really
                         believe screenwriting is an art
                         unto itself.  A script can actually
                         be a finished piece of art.  It is
                         something that is obviously then

               Tom checks his tape recorder.  It's recording.

                         Not just a blue print?

                         Not just a blue print.  It becomes
                         a blue print, but in my mind I
                         treat it...I can't compromise ahead
                         of time.

                         Does that mean that when you then
                         finish a script, that your
                         satisfaction is there...that the
                         script doesn't need to be made?

                         My satisfaction is in the writing,
                         in the solving of the problems
                         while I'm writing....the process,
                         for me, is the most satisfying
                         aspect of everything.  Standing in
                         the back of the theatre watching a
                         finished movie, trying to find
                         satisfaction is very illusive...
                         it's something you can't get hands
                         or your head around.

                         Is that a result of the
                         collaborative medium movies is?

                         It's a result of the process being
                         so powerful everything else is a
                         let down, that's what it is.

                         But, it's also the thing you do


                         Without other hands.


                         That's what I find, once it leaves
                         my computer, I have to get my
                         satisfaction at the point. Scott


                         Because I can't depend on anything
                         else giving me satisfaction.

                         That's true, because it gets
                         confusing after that.

                         Changing pace for a second...what
                         do you think is the key to your

                         I've made a career of consistently
                         being the dumbest guy in the room.

               Tom LAUGHS.

                         What does that mean?

                         That means always try to work for
                         people who are smarter than you
                         are.  Always seek out people who
                         are smarter than you are and it
                         makes you a better writer.

                         Yeah, but what about the people out
                         there who don't have that
                         luxury...don't have that option?

                         It's a becomes a goal.
                         And so if you're surrounded by
                         people who you respect, working
                         with people you respect, it becomes
                         confusing when they start asking
                         hard questions about your work.

                         "Hard questions" meaning?

                         Hard questions challenging the
                         work, trying to make it "better."

                         And your feeling is they can be
                         good notes or bad notes?

                         It's often difficult to tell.  A
                         bad note may be a good note that
                         just doesn't fit with what you're
                         trying to do.

                         What do you do in that situation?

                         I, after all these years, still
                         have to try their note.  I don't
                         know they are wrong until I've
                         tried it and I feel it go through
                         my brain and my pen...and then I
                         know it doesn't feel right.

                         Do you show it to them?

                         Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
                         Sometimes I feel I have to show it
                         to them to make the argument that
                         it doesn't work.

                         And if they don't see it?

                         They most often see it.  And, by
                         the way, most of the time I
                         probably don't show it to them.
                         Most of the time if it's so
                         obviously wrong, I'd rather think
                         about what their problem was with
                         the scene or the section of the
                         screenplay...and say okay here's
                         their problem...their specific
                         solution may not be right, but I do
                         understand the problem they're
                         having and if I try something that
                         doesn't work or doesn't feel right,
                         well then I'll continue to try to
                         work on the problem.  That doesn't
                         mean that the problem has been

                         What happens when you get in the
                         room and they give you the
                         criticism and then they'll try and
                         solve it for you?  Do you encourage

               Scott smiles, then...

                         I listen.  I don't know if I
                         discourage it or encourage it so
                         much have to be careful
                         because once I hear something, it
                         plants a flag in my brain and
                         stakes out territory in my creative
                         subconscious and I don't want to
                         write to that.  What I'm looking
                         for is direction sometimes.  So,
                         sometimes, even a bad idea might
                         give me direction. What I don't
                         want to do is get attached to
                         something.  I don't want to spit
                         back something someone's given me.

                         This brings up the whole spitball
                         thing that I believe should be
                         outlawed by the Writer's Guild if
                         they could legislate these things.


               Tom fusses with tape recorder again.

                         We could move if it'd be more
                         comfortable over there.

               He indicates the couches.

                         This is fine for me.  This way
                         you're close enough for me to
                         attack you.


                         Can't let me slip away.

               More LAUGHTER.

                         Your career?  Based on originals?
                         Adaptations?  Or?

                         Initially, it was based on
                         originals.  Lately, it's based more
                         on adaptations.  But, I'm back to
                         doing more originals.

                         Do you like adapting?

                         I love adapting.

                         That's a form of rewriting. You're
                         rewriting something for the screen.

                         It is absolutely a form of

                         Do you have a process for
                         rewriting?  A system?

                         I don't know that I do.

                         Then, since writing is rewriting,
                         let's talk about your writing
                         process.  How many drafts does it
                         take to get to a first draft?


                         All rewrites?

                         All rewrites.

                         Over how much time?

                         I don't know, it's usually, off and
                         on, working on something for about
                         a year before I have a first draft.

                         How about "official" drafts, five
                         or fifteen?

                         Closer to fifteen.

                         How do you know you're finished?

               Scott smiles.

                         I'm never finished.

                         How do you know when to show it

                         A feeling.  You feel like you've
                         come to a full terms of
                         the creative burst.  I collaborate
                         very intensely with certain
                         producers I've worked with over and
                         over.  We go back and forth with
                         the material and you feel an
                         intensification - is that a word? -
                         of the process.  You feel it all
                         rushing toward the end.

                         An arc of creativity?

                         Yes.  And then you get to a point
                         where it feels burnished for the
                         moment, until people start reading
                         it and you start getting the same
                         sort of comments or criticisms over
                         and over and you know, okay, that
                         part's not done.  I don't reread my
                         own material, which is a flaw.  I
                         can't read it printed out.  I
                         reread what I wrote the day before. 
                         I go through...

                         Let's start at the
                         open up page one, FADE IN:, you
                         write the first day, what's your
                         process after that?

                         I rewrite as I go.  I always
                         rewrite what I did yesterday to get
                         me into my work today.  I'll start
                         at the beginning sometimes and I'll
                         go through the script up to where
                         I'm at right now and then I work
                         for a while and add another brick. 
                         Then, I'll go back and work on all
                         the other bricks, then I add
                         another brick.

               Tom raises his fist in the air.

                         That's it!  Readers out there have
                         to understand how to do this.

               Scott smiles.


                         Right down to "I pick up the pencil
                         and I begin to write."


                         Do you look for specific things
                         when you rewrite?

                         Yes.  When I'm doing a pass,
                         oftentimes I'll decide this script
                         needs to be paced better, so I
                         think about...

                         So you do a pacing rewrite?

               Scott hesitates.

                         I don't think I do one thing at a
                         time when I do rewrite.  I'm aware
                         of the pacing and I go looking
                         through the script for pacing, I
                         will say sometimes, okay, this
                         section is very slow.  Why is it
                         slow?  What can I do?  Can I
                         intercut here?  Can I put some of
                         the dialog into voice over to just
                         make it feel like it's moving. Why
                         does it feel like it comes to a
                         full stop here?  What needs to be
                         done to amp up the pace slightly? 
                         I may feel like a character has
                         become not strong enough. The
                         character may be a little too
                         muted.  So, I'll go through the
                         script and I'll work on making sure
                         his or her dialog is more pointed
                         and their actions are stronger
                         depending on what's wrong with the
                         character.  I'll focus on that. 
                         A lot of times, the bulk of what I
                         do when I rewrite - I tend to like
                         very complex narrative structures -
                         and so things aren't clear, dimes
                         aren't dropping in the right

                         You work from an outline, or cards,
                         or beat sheet or anything to help
                         organize your complex narrative

                         I work with from anywhere between
                         twenty and fifty pages of notes
                         I've written.

                         Chronological notes?

                         No.  They're notes about each
                         character.  They're notes about the
                         place where the story takes place. 
                         They're research thoughts. They're
                         snippets of dialog that I've
                         collected in my head, that I know
                         have to be included but I don't
                         know where.  And then, what I may
                         do is organize the movie very
                         generally, rather than a beat sheet
                         I'll do a very general organization
                         - just telling the story in my head
                         - I might do that in a beat sheet
                         format, I don't get that specific,
                         because I've learned over the
                         years, that when I'm specific, I
                         end up straying from that outline.
                         Because I so work from character,
                         the more I learn and get into my
                         character, I tend to stray from the
                         beat sheet and if I adhere to it,
                         it feels mechanical, whereas if I
                         follow the character, I tend to get
                         a better story.

                         As you write, I assume your
                         characters develop over the course
                         of your script and you go back and
                         rewrite the front to sync it up to
                         what you've learned about the

                         Yes.  I can't go any further until
                         I've fixed what needs fixing.  I
                         have to go back.  I can't pretend
                         like it's fixed and go on to the

                         You also mentioned the flaw...or a
                         flaw of your work is you don't read
                         your own work.  What does that

                         It means when I have a draft, a lot
                         people print up their pages and
                         they read them.  They read a
                         hardcopy of their script.  I panic
                         when I do that.  It all looks
                         horrible because I'm in a weird
                         mindset that is part loss of
                         perspective, part intense
                         concentration and utter lack of
                         self confidence.  So, if I go back
                         it's very easy to push me off of
                         something.  I can go back and
                         reread pages once I've handed them
                         to you and you've told me they're
                         good or, at least, decent.  I can
                         go back and reread them.  Then, I
                         feel safe to go reread them.

                         Going a little far afield here...


                         Un oh...

               They smile at each other.

                         If Scott Frank can't be confident,
                         who can?

                         I don't know.  This is a question I
                         ask myself constantly.  The irony
                         is that when I talk to people about
                         writing, the single most powerful
                         characteristic of any good
                         character is confidence and I lack
                         it completely.

               Scott LAUGHS.

                         What I deal with as a writer, and
                         I'm very lucky, is - most writers I
                         believe have a mantra in their
                         heads saying "I'm worthless, why
                         would anyone want to read this?"

               Scott nods knowingly.

                         My mantra is "I'd like to accept
                         this Academy Award..."

               Scott LAUGHS again.

                         It truly is.  When I write I go
                         "This is great.  This is fuckin'
                         fantastic."  I'm a freak of nature.
                             (after a beat)
                         What do you do to get over your
                         lack of confidence?

                         You can't write when you're being
                         so self-critical, I get seized up
                         and just can't function.  So what I
                         do is so - is a combination of
                         things - I get so panicked because
                         I've taken so long, you know, just
                         angsting about it that I actually
                         have to go to work.

                         How do you procrastinate?

                         I read, I take notes about the
                         script, I do all the other
                         work...all the busy work...but
                         write.  Sometimes I need to do
                         that.  Sometimes it's paid off that
                         I've done that.  I say look at all
                         that junk I've done early on...and
                         I can pull something out of it. 
                         But, oftentimes, it's about getting
                         me to relax...and then the voices
                         become more like the radio in the
                         next room...all those voices, the
                         mantra that I have...
                         ...that others have: "I'm a fraud,
                         this is the one where they're going
                         to figure it out.  You got so much
                         help on the last one." All those
                         voices retreat like the radio in
                         the next room and so it becomes -
                         I'm aware of them, but they're not
                         bothering me and I can go to work,
                         because it's unrealistic to think
                         you can ever completely remove
                         those voices from your head. 
                         They're there. What you can do is
                         manage them. And that's what I do. 
                         I manage them.

                         I'm more into the lobotomy school
                         of screenwriting.

               Both men LAUGH.

                         I've gotten close.

                         When you're rewriting, is there
                         anything you have to watch for in
                         your writing?

                         Yes.  Too much story.  I tend to
                         have diarrhea of the plot.

               Tom CRACKS UP.

                         Far too much plot and, oftentimes,
                         the mistake I make is I approach
                         movie storytelling like I'm writing
                         a novel.  I want to try and find a
                         way to incorporate all those artful
                         digressions you have in a novel
                         into a movie and it gets me into

                         So you know you have to watch that
                         as you rewrite?

                         Yes.  And I tend to fall in love
                         with minor characters and give them
                         too much position in the


                         I'm sure.  Therefore, the
                         screenplay becomes weighted in the
                         wrong direction and that, in turn,
                         affects pace.

                         Do you have readers before you give
                         your screenplay to a producer?


                         So you make a very small universe.


                         Okay, you hand in the script.
                         You've done twelve drafts, you've
                         gone through all your anxiety,
                         you've done all your
                         procrastinating, you hand it in,
                         they wait too long to give you the

               Scott smiles.

                         ...they make you feel bad.


                         They don't care about what you
                         feel.  How do you handle yourself
                         in the notes meeting?

                             (after a long beat)

                         They don't like the script.

                         I'm sitting in a meeting where they
                         don't like the script?

                         They don't like the script.  Or
                         they like it and they don't tell
                         you because they've forgotten
                         positive reinforcement works.

                         I think that what I do is at
                         meetings where they're either
                         recognizing that more work needs to
                         be done, let's put it that way.

               Tom LAUGHS.

                         That's the nicest way that's ever
                         been put.

               Scott smiles.

                         I'm very fortunate in that most of
                         the time they are very thoughtful
                         and respectful.  
                         There've been times I've turned
                         things in and I haven't heard from
                         them for a while.  There've been
                         times where people have been sort
                         of insensitive to the work that's
                         been done.  Most often, that's been
                         in situations where I've parachuted
                         in.  People I haven't worked with
                         before.  I'm working with new
                         people.  I'm coming in to a
                         production rewrite.  I don't have a
                         relationship with them.  I come in
                         and I'm doing something for the
                         money.  So, I take it all as part
                         of the job.  My feelings still get
                         hurt, but it's part of the job. 
                         You still have to deal with their
                         notes.  The separate issue is I've
                         written a script, I've angst over
                         it for eight months, whatever, I'm
                         turning in my first draft, the
                         studio has issues and what I first
                         do is: there's always a level of
                         disappointment, even though you
                         know the script isn't perfect,
                         you're sitting there not hearing
                         anything for a while because you're

                         Because you want to be loved. Scott

                         Because you want to be loved. It's
                         a little like walking up to that
                         girl's house for a date and you're
                         imagining what it's going to be
                         like when she opens the door,
                         you've got your little bouquet of
                         flowers in your hand and you're
                         going to knock on the door and
                         she's going to throw her arms
                         around you and kiss you, but what
                         happens is you knock on the door,
                         her Dad opens the door, the bulldog
                         jumps on you, knocks you on your


                         ...and you still get to go out with
                         her, and she's still going to get
                         in the car with you and go to the
                         movies, but in the meantime you're
                         picking yourself up.  And once you
                         pick yourself up, and you think
                         about it and become reasonable,
                         reasonable and creative at the same
                         time, which are often...

                             (interrupting again)
                         Are you defensive?

                         No.  I can get angry if people are
                         hammering on something and they're
                         not understanding me.  I get mad
                         when I'm misunderstood.  That
                         drives me crazy.  If I'm trying to
                         make a point, and someone keeps
                         coming back with the same thing
                         that I know doesn't work.  I know
                         it doesn't work and people I love
                         will come at me with it. Producers
                         I admire and respect - there's a
                         thing they just can't let go
                         of...and then I explode. But, I
                         won't sit there and explain.  I
                         think it's pathetic to sit there
                         and say if there's something that
                         doesn't work..and then you try and
                         make an excuse which you often feel
                         the instinct to do:  "I did that
                         because..." or "You asked me to do
                         that." or whatever it is, all those
                         things we've blurted out over the

               Tom nods.

                         Now I keep an invisible piece of
                         wood in my mouth, bite down and not
                         say anything.

                         Tell me about it.

                         I try and hear what the real
                         problems are.  In those meetings,
                         once I get past all this
                         psychological stuff, there is
                         usually a consistent vibration
                         about something that isn't right
                         and you can hear it.  The middle of
                         the movie isn't working.  Or they
                         hate this character.

                         It just may not be articulated.

                         Exactly.  They just don't know what
                         it is that is bothering them. Your
                         job as the writer is to articulate

                         There are four Executive Producers
                         on every movie these days. Seven 
                         producers.  What do you do about
                         contradictory notes?

                         It's tricky.  You try to pick the
                         smartest person there and decide
                         who you're going to write for. And
                         that's what I do.  I'm going to put
                         my chips on that person.

                         Is that the person with the most

                         It depends on the situation.  It's
                         the person with the most influence
                         in the room.  Sometimes they might
                         not have the most power, you know
                         they can have the most sway.  It's
                         tricky.  Because, as a writer, you
                         are perpetually in this position of
                         having a voice and no say.

               Tom smiles.

                         That's why it's hard to be on the
                         set.  Because you're standing there
                         picking your battles all the time
                         because you know they want you
                         there, and they're glad to have you
                         there, under the best of
                         circumstances you're working with
                         people who love you, but you know
                         what, this train is going really
                         fast and for you to jump on and say
                         we missed the turn off...

               They both LAUGH.

                         It pisses them off, even if you are
                         right.  You have to be very

                         You mentioned you do production


                         You come in as a hired gun?

               Scott nods.

                         Very different sort of rewrite.
                         Because you're re-fashioning bits
                         of something that's already made.
                         And you're trying to catch the
                         voice of the piece that essentially
                         isn't your voice.  It may be
                         something you appreciate or
                         understand, but it's still not
                         coming from you and therefore
                         you're not inside it.  The approach
                         is entirely external. So, you're
                         reading it and the first thing you
                         do is very little. You try and make
                         little changes just to make it feel
                         yours.  It's almost like running it
                         through your typewriter just so you
                         feel some connection to it.  
                         I try not to do the big things all
                         at once. While I'm doing the little
                         things bigger things start
                         suggesting themselves.

                         Little things are?

                         Dialog that is obviously bad. Scene
                         description that just doesn't work.

               Tom checks the tape recorder.

                         Big things are?

                         Where you need eight new scenes in
                         this section because the story has
                         gone off the rails.  Big things are
                         a new opening for the movie. One of
                         the hardest things for me to write
                         is always the opening because it's
                         the most important. Either it comes
                         to me right away from the very
                         beginning or it's something I'm
                         constantly thinking about.

                         And why is it so important?

                         It's the key of the song.
                         Everything is hummed in that key
                         after that.  Oftentimes, you'll
                         write another scene that later
                         becomes the key to the song and
                         you'll go back and rewrite the
                         whole script.  That scene tells you
                         what the whole movie is if you go
                         back.  You have to remain open to
                         those sorts of happy accidents. And
                         so when you're doing a rewrite, the
                         act of writing, just kind of
                         cruising though it, fixing dialog,
                         fixing description, doing things
                         off the top of your head, slowly
                         turns your outer brain off so your
                         inner brain goes to work and that's
                         when you get the big answers.  And
                         you know having read the script
                         what's wrong with it.
                         You know where it needs to go.
                         You've read it and analyzed it and
                         talked about the third act not
                         working, whatever.  Whatever
                         they've brought you on to do.  You
                         know what to do, but you don't
                         start fixing all of it right away.

                         Easier to see what's wrong in other
                         people's scripts than your own?

                         Infinitely.  And easier to fix.
                         You're much less inhibited.

                         Even though you're not in the logic
                         system of the new script and hooked
                         in to the interior of the script?

               Scott leans forward.  He's into it.

                         Because you're fixing the script,
                         you're not making it great. You're
                         fixing problems.  It's very
                         different.  When you come on to do
                         a production rewrite on someone
                         else's script, you're there for a
                         few weeks.  Most of the time you
                         leave vaguely unsatisfied, because
                         you really haven't made it a good
                         script.  Sometimes you do.
                         Sometimes you've made the
                         characters better, you've deepened
                         it.  You fixed this or that, but
                         really, it's an imperfect way to
                         approach writing to sort of have
                         someone with an original vision
                         write something then someone else
                         fix it.  Oftentimes the first
                         writer, and you're not allowed to
                         say this, is a bad writer.  They
                         had a good idea, but they don't
                         have the chops to deliver a
                         screenplay with real flesh and
                         blood characters, and real
                         cinematic narrative.  What they did
                         have was a great idea and so those
                         rewrites are major rewrites.
                         In that case, someone comes in for
                         not a few weeks, but for three or
                         four months and really rewrites it. 
                         Those I avoid.

               Tom checks his notes, then...

                         How much do credits enter in your

                         I don't think about it because I'm
                         doing the rewrite --- for me a
                         rewrite is putting on a red dress.
                         It's a whore thing.  It buys me
                         In a very short period of time I
                         can get money to spend more time on
                         the things I really love and I only
                         do it because I've taken so long on
                         something I love and because I take
                         so long then I need time.  So I
                         have to be careful.  If I rewrite
                         something for six months, that's
                         not smart. But, if I rewrite
                         something for three to five weeks,
                         then that buys me six months. 
                         That's smart. Then, it's worth it
                         to me.

                         You're brought in.  You're given
                         notes.  This is what we want you to
                         do - A,B,C,D.  Do you do more?

                         Usually what happens is I'm given
                         notes A,B,C,D and I do notes


                         Even though you see A through L?

                         If I have time to do A through L
                         I'll do it.  If I don't have the
                         time I don't want to open those
                         cans of worms because they'll say
                         "Oh, yeah, go!"

                         So it leaves you with sending out a
                         script you're not happy with?

                         I'm happy with the work they asked
                         me to do.  They've asked me to come
                         in and fix these things and I come
                         in and fix them. If there are other
                         things I can fix, I most often try
                         and do it. But, a lot of time,
                         there'll be huge more global
                         problems that you can't fix, that
                         are inherent in the script.

                         And they've bought it...

                         ...and they're making it.  If
                         they're paying you by the week,
                         they're making it.  I stay away
                         from that.

                         Loyalty to the original writer?

                         I usually like to have a
                         conversation with the original
                         writer.  Before I take the job I
                         ask why am I rewriting this guy?
                         What's the situation?  What I avoid
                         doing is rewriting someone's
                         original screenplay.  I'm anxious
                         about that unless the original
                         writer is saying let's bring
                         someone on.  I rewrote something
                         last year and the original writer
                         wanted me to come on.  I don't
                         think he wanted to be rewritten,
                         but he knew he was going to
                         was an unusual situation and
                         they're all not like that. 
                         I have no problem rewriting people
                         who have taken a gig, and I find
                         writers who take gigs and turn it
                         in on the last day of the twelfth
                         week and don't do anything extra,
                         do only what they're supposed to do
                         and it's their script, it's not a
                         rewrite, not a job for the money,
                         supposedly something they did
                         because they really wanted to do it
                         and then complain about getting
                         rewritten. I have very little
                         sympathy for them.  Because most of
                         the time, especially a lot of the
                         younger writers, they write this
                         stuff as fast as they can, they
                         have eight other things they're
                         moving on to the next week, and you
                         read the work, and I have very
                         rarely been given a script where I
                         said 'this doesn't need anything.'

               Tom LAUGHS.

                         It just happened, actually, a month
                         ago.  They wanted me to rewrite
                         something and I read it and said
                         there's nothing for me to do here
                         and I genuinely meant it. What a
                         great script.  And they kind of

                         That's nice.

                         It was more about appeasing an
                         actress who wanted to exert some
                         power.  I said you're penalizing a
                         guy for writing a good script, for
                         doing what you asked him to do. 
                         It's not fair.  But most of the
                         time I'll have a conversation and
                         find out what's going on.  The only
                         times I try and take credit are
                         those times I come on... MINORITY
                         REPORT was supposed to be a quick
                         rewrite and we ended up writing a
                         brand new movie.  And in that case
                         I will fight for credit because I
                         wrote a whole new movie.

                         You got sole credit on that?

                         I shared credit with the guy I
                         rewrote and was glad to.  I've done
                         that a couple times where I've come
                         on and fallen in love with my job
                         and in those cases I have more of
                         an investment.

                         What do you think your most
                         successful rewrite was?

                         MINORITY REPORT.

                         Based on a short story?

                         A Phillip B. Dick short story.

                         How close were you to the story?

                         Not at all.  I didn't like the
                         short story.

                         And your working relationship with
                         the producers on that project?

                         Very good.  Very, very good.  It
                         was a long, difficult...because,
                         again, my brain wanted to create
                         something enormously complicated.
                         The short story was very simple and

                         I think you won.

               Scott LAUGHS.

                         Yeah...but that became a long
                         rewrite.  I rewrote a lot.
                         The same thing happened with FLIGHT
                         OF THE PHOENIX.  I started doing
                         three weeks and ended up doing six,
                         seven, eight months on that.  But,
                         then left...because I wanted to
                         make a very different movie and
                         they started to want to make that
                         movie but when they realized what
                         it was - I wanted to something very
                         dark - so it was a very amicable
                         parting and I think they had eight
                         other people work on it later.

                         Other screenplays on your resume:
                         WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES?  An



                         A Lawrence Block [?] novel.

                         Good process?

                         Great process.  Jersey Films, who
                         I've done two other movies with.

                         You respect the people in the room?

                         Very much.

                         They respect you?

               Scott nods.

                         Love that script.  One of my
                         favorite scripts.  I really, really
                         love that.


                         A two week rewrite.


                         A six month rewrite for Sidney
                         Pollock of an original script by
                         Charles Randall.  That was one of
                         those where we didn't so much as
                         start over but re-oriented the
                         whole story, the same characters,
                         the same story, but told in a
                         completely different way.

                         He fun to work with?


               Tom nods.

                             (continuing; after a long
                              beat, precisely)
                         He's very demanding of the
                         material.  We're both very hard on
                         ourselves so in the room together
                         one and one equals zero sometimes.

                         Your least successful rewrite?

                             (after a beat)
                         One that I airballed?  Years ago, I
                         rewrote a movie that's about to
                         come out with Bernie Mac, Mr.3000
                         [NOTE: Opened in theatres 9/04]
                         I was just the wrong guy to rewrite that.
                         I didn't do a great job with that.

                         What else?

                         THE LOOKOUT is an original.  It's
                         been at Dreamworks for seven years
                         now.  We almost made it with Sam
                         Mendes, we almost just got it made
                         with David Fincher.

                         Why isn't it getting made?

                         It's an adult drama.  People just
                         don't want to make those.

                         Mature?  Smart movies, you mean?

                         They're very low concept.

                         No tentpole?

               Scott nods.

                         Right, right.

                         How do you feel about that trend in
                         the business?

                         I feel, well, movies on the whole
                         are becoming more conceptual and
                         that's killing movies.

                         What does that mean?

                         They're more about an idea, than
                         about character and smaller ideas.

                         They're about one sheets?

                         Right.  Or about comic books.  The
                         audience they're consistently
                         aiming for is a much younger
                         audience, the whole PG-13 of it
                         all.  For FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX I
                         wanted to do DELIVERANCE in the
                         Gobi desert.  About eight men who
                         save themselves.  They said if
                         we're going to spend sixty million
                         dollars we need a movie star and he
                         has to save them all.  I said
                         that's a different movie.  They
                         can't be swearing, it's got to be
                         PG-13, they can't go crazy, and
                         they have to be attacked by a
                         hundred Bedouins just as the plane
                         is taking off at the end, you know
                         all that sort of stuff.  You can't
                         have a main character go crazy.

               Tom looks at his notes again.

                         Any tips how to give rewrite notes?

                         What people don't ever ask...and
                         it's the most important question
                asking the writer what are
                         they trying to do?  You ask the
                         writer to tell you the story and
                         what they're trying to do in that
                         story.  What it's about for them.
                         Ask them to describe the tone. Even
                         ask them to compare it to other
                         movies.  All of this gives you
                         handles in terms of your own
                         reaction and gives you a way of
                         talking about the movie back to
                         them. If I'm trying to help you
                         with your script and help you
                         achieve the vision you have for
                         your script, that's different than
                         me trying to impart my vision on
                         the material...and it will make you
                         less defensive and makes the
                         discussion no less easy but it
                         makes it about me helping you
                         accomplish your goal.

                         That's talking about the script
                         from inside it.

                         Right.  Depending on the level of
                         the writer you're talking to, you
                         and I are never going to have a
                         nuts and bolts conversation about
                         screenwriting, but if I'm giving
                         notes to a newer writer, I may have
                         a very fundamental conversation
                         about screenwriting. You're only
                         giving your subjective opinion, but
                         it's in service to the writer's

                         You like giving notes?

               Scott winces.

                         I'm enormously uncomfortable giving


                         Because I tend to see things very
                         specifically.  I tend to actually
                         be blunt.  Constructive, positive,
                         but blunt and I don't like to be
                         put in that position because I feel
                         like I'm hurting someone. Even
                         though a surgeon may be cutting
                         someone open to save them, I don't
                         want to be a surgeon...I don't want
                         to cut anyone open to save them.

                         Are you not becoming a producer in
                         your career?

                         Well, that's the irony, isn't it?

               Tom LAUGHS.

                         If you put it a different way, what
                         I love to do is talk about writing. 
                         If there's a way to give notes in
                         the context of having a real
                         discussion about writing, then I'm
                         really happy.

                         What's the most productive way to
                         give notes to a writer?

                             (after a beat)

                         Exactly what I wanted you to say.

               Scott smiles.

                         There's not enough of that in the
                             (after a beat)
                         TV rewriting versus feature

                         I find that TV rewriting is a whole
                         cloth, sweep all the dishes off the
                         table, re-set the table kind of
                         thing a lot of times.  I find that
                         if you have your own vision for a
                         show it's very difficult to find
                         other people to execute that
                         vision, which is why the great
                         shows are written and rewritten by
                         one person every time out.  My
                         problem with television writing and
                         rewriting is that you're going so
                         fast.  There's no time for
                         discovery.  That's why I admire
                         David Milch and David Kelley, Aaron
                         Sorkin and the like, because
                         they're able to find nuance and
                         discover things that, usually for
                         me, only come with a lot of
                         They seem to have instinctively
                         gotten in a groove where they can
                         grab those things off the wall as
                         they run down the hall.  I can't do
                         that. And so TV rewriting is very
                         frustrating to me because I watch
                         dailies and say if I only had five
                         more minutes I could have made an
                         easy fix.  So, it's a frustrating

                         Do you believe that the Aaron
                         Sorkins and David Kelleys don't
                         rewrite like crazy?

                         Oh, I do believe they do rewrite
                         like crazy, I do, but they're able
                         to do it in a constricted period of
                         time.  To me, my hat is off to
                         them.  I remember flying to
                         Vancouver to shoot an hour episode,
                         I remember writing half the script
                         on the way up, half in the hotel
                         room that night, then handing it
                         over to get prepped the next day.

                         It's exciting.  It's wonderful. I
                         don't think it's art.

                         No.  It can be.

                         It can be.  But the bulk of it...

               They both shrug.  Tom smiles.

                         Do you see any life lessons in the
                         process of rewriting?

                         I actually do.  In every aspect of
                         our lives, we hit walls...not just
                         in writing, and many people,
                         unfortunately I would argue most
                         people, when they hit a wall turn
                         and walk the other way. 
                         They're in a relationship, they hit
                         the wall and they get into a new
                         relationship until they hit,
                         interestingly enough, the same damn
                         wall.  Writing and rewriting are
                         the same way, people will get into
                         a rewrite and they'll hit a wall
                         and they won't want to do the work
                         and ask the hard questions to solve
                         that problem so they let it go by. 
                         They write another script...which
                         suffers from the same problem.  And
                         they may write a dozen scripts
                         which all suffer from the same
                         problem. Because they haven't
                         learned the most invaluable lesson
                         which is, that if you break through
                         the wall, if you sit there and
                         throw yourself at it, and it may
                         take months, you may feel horrible,
                         you may be utterly, completely
                         disenfranchised by the process, but
                         you end up getting through that
                         wall as weak as you are in front of
                         the wall, you're so much stronger
                         on the other side. You've become a
                         new person because you realize
                         you've gotten through and you're
                         reinspired by the material and it
                         gives you new energy and it makes
                         the whole script jump a level.

                         But I find I make the same writing
                         mistakes over and over and that's
                         what rewriting is for.


                         I am who I am as a
                         large part.  I write the same
                         flawed work every time.

                         But you work through it every time.

                         Right.  That's what rewriting is
                         all about.


                         Rewriting gets you beyond yourself.

                         Yes.  What's sad is that people are
                         oftentimes rewritten because they
                         run out of gas...they got it almost
                         up the hill, but they're so
                         exhausted getting to where they've
                         gotten, that either the people
                         around them don't know how to
                         reinspire them and give them the
                         necessary confidence and Power Bars
                         to get them up the hill, then
                         someone like me comes in to do that
                         last push which is the most
                         enjoyable form of rewriting.

                         The big stuff's been done?

               Scott smiles.

                         Exactly.  It's done.  And each
                         successive rewrite gets easier and
                         you can feed yourself knowing
                         you're getting closer.  You're
                         never done.  If you tell yourself
                         you're done, you're going to get
                         defensive and miserable in the
                         room.  You're never done.

               Tom nods.

                         That's smart.

                         You can say you're closer each time
                         you've done a rewrite.  You can
                         feel it getting closer. Sometimes
                         you go off on an utterly different
                         direction that is wrong. But you
                         needed to go off in that direction. 
                         It was useful time spent because
                         you end up taking a hundred steps
                         forward from there.
                         Sometimes you have to do this in
                         order to see the right way.

                         My point to the readers is none of
                         this is wrong.

                         That's right...or time wasted. You
                         can throw away all of it, but
                         something is happening internally.
                         I may spend a year on something and
                         do all the good writing in the last
                         month.  But they wouldn't have come
                         in the last month if I hadn't done
                         all of the good work eleven months

                         Lots of students tell me they're
                         afraid if they think about it too
                         much or put too much in the
                         outline, there'll be nothing else
                         to do.  It's not true.

               Scott shakes his head.

                         It's just not.  I keep notebooks on
                         all my scripts...ideas, everything. 
                         There's a pragmatic side to it and
                         then there's the subconscious side
                         to it.  The pragmatic side is all
                         about organizing.  I'm going to
                         organize the material.  I'm going
                         to organize my process.  All of
                         that is just making yourself
                         available for inspiration.

                         Inspiration?  Hard work?  Same

               Scott shakes his head again.

                         No, hard work is what you do
                         between inspiration.

               Tom smiles.

                         Inspiration is that moment that
                         happens for thirty seconds a week
                         where you're not even aware of what
                         you're writing and it presents you
                         with this big ball of dough and you
                         put that ball of dough down and
                         then inspiration fades and you roll
                         out that ball of dough...and then
                         the work comes.  I think
                         inspiration and hard work go hand
                         in hand.

                         Writer's block?

                         A very horrible thing.  It happens
                         very rarely.  I believe we get
                         stuck all the time.  But, writer's
                         block is literally the absence of
                         Idea...period.  Utter creative

                         Have you been there?

                         No...luckily.  But I have been
                         stuck.  Monumentally stuck.

                         What do you do?

                         Exactly what feels wrong.  I back
                         off.  I stop trying to solve the
                         problem.  It feels utterly
                         irresponsible, but it's actually
                         the healthiest thing to do, I
                         think, for me, I back off...and

                         And fill yourself back up again?

               Scott nods.

                         I read things that make me feel
                         good or inspire me. 
                         Or read people I wish I wrote like. 
                         I don't read classics.

                         Do you read screenplays?

                         No, I don't read screenplays.

                         Do you ever read screenplays?

                         As little as possible.  I can think
                         of nothing worse than reading


                         Because I find them so
                         unsatisfying.  I believe you cannot
                         be a writer without being a reader. 
                         It is impossible.  You can be a
                         very shallow writer who copies
                         other movies.

                         What about the writers who don't
                         write?  They just talk about
                         writing...and don't.  Or they only
                         write when they're getting paid.
                         Are they writers?

                         These are not writers.  Writers
                         have to write.  Real writers have
                         to write. There's a whole school
                         now of geek writers, where you
                         don't read, you just watch a lot of
                         movies, and you write influenced by
                         the movies, and there's passion
                         there, but it's a cobbling of other
                         movie ideas - Quentin Tarantino -
                         he does it in an original way.
                         They're only so deep. 
                         If you read novels, real books,
                         read about what character is and go
                         down deep, then you learn about
                         motivation and you can ask the
                         fundamental question about your
                         character which is "what do they
                         want?"  You can write pages about
                         what they want, because you know
                         what they don't want.  And what
                         they're afraid of.  Without reading
                         I don't know how you arrive at any
                         kind of understanding, I just don't

                         What writers do you like?

                         Right now.  I love Pete Dexter. I
                         read a lot of different people, it
                         just depends.

               Tom LAUGHS.

                         When you get to heaven, if there's
                         a heaven, what do you want God to

               Scott laughs an acknowledging laugh.

                         "You're a good writer."

                         "Here are the rewrite notes."

                         "Here's your second act." They both

                         Anything else you want to add to
                         this before we call it a day?

                         The reason a book like this is
                         important is because rewriting is
                         the single most important aspect of
                         writing.  The idea for something is
                         the easiest part of writing.  An
                         idea is just the excuse to do the
                         hard work that follows. 
                         The writing of something is where
                         all the work comes from. The
                         rewriting is where you make all
                         those discoveries.  You write your
                         first draft, it may take a long
                         time, you're just getting through
                         the obvious, getting through the
                         topsoil.  When you rewrite, that's
                         when you make all the discoveries,
                         that's when all the happy accidents
                         happen.  And that's what good
                         writing is...happy accidents.  And
                         then you react to those happy
                         accidents.  You contort the
                         narrative to allow this new notion
                         you got from falling in a hole by
                         accident and that only comes from

                         Spending the time.

               Scott nods.

                         Spending the time.

                         The readers in this book will read
                         two very similar views on
                         rewriting.  Which is really a good
                         thing and interesting and a
                         surprise.  I didn't realize we were
                         so on the same page.

                         You taught me how to write.  It is

               They both LAUGH.


                         It's true.  We're both process


                         That's real interesting.

                         And that's where the gold comes

                         And that's where the fun comes

                         Yes.  The satisfaction.

                         And the love of doing it.

               Scott smiles and nods.

                         This was great.

                         It was fun.

                         You were very generous with your
                         head.  Thanks.

               Tom and Scott man hug and Tom exits.

                                                       FADE OUT.

               I e-mailed Scott that night and thanked him for the wonderful

               conversation.  I told him he handled himself so well on so

               many levels that my father would have been totally proud.

               He e-mailed me back and said he read the e-mail over and over


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