3 Female Screenwriters on Crashing the Blockbuster Boys Club: “I Want to See a Female Darth Vader”

You would think that female screenwriters would be in a powerful position to put more female characters in their movies. But since Hollywood is dominated by males, it’s not that simple.

This article by Mia Caluppo in the Hollywood Reporter explains why:

A trio of top writers whose credits include big-budget movies — the ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot, ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘Transformers’ — discuss biased notes, creating great heroines and why Judi Dench should be an action star

Writers Lindsey Beer, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Amanda Silver are on a mission worthy of any of the other superprotagonists they’ve helped shape: bringing a woman’s voice to Hollywood’s most testosterone-fueled boys club, the big-budget blockbuster. Of the top 100-grossing films in 2016, a mere 13 percent had a credited female writer, but incremental change is afoot.

Beer’s upcoming credits include Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking and the Lin-Manuel Miranda-produced film adaptation of Kingkiller Chronicle; Robertson-Dworet penned March 2018’s Tomb Raider remake and is writing the Brie Larson-starring

Captain Marvel, Marvel Studios’ first female-fronted standalone; and Silver, who works with husband Rick Jaffa, rebooted Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park and has spent the past year and a half working on Disney’s live-action Mulan.

In between doing their best to bring a feminist bent to interstellar conflict and heavy explosions, they gathered to discuss being members of an exclusive club of women they desperately want to help grow.

From left: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Amanda Silver and Lindsey Beer

On notes from men about women

GENEVA ROBERTSON-DWORET I got really frustrated with a male director because he kept saying, “I just want her to be a normal girl.” Male executives and filmmakers are still scared to give women warts — to give a woman the same specificity they’d give a male character.

LINDSEY BEER With female characters, I always get the note that they need to be “likable.” They will say she seems like a … well, they won’t say the B-word, but they imply the B-word. A female character can’t have a chip on her shoulder the way a man can. We have so many lovable male protagonists that are the grumpy antihero, but that character as a woman is hard to push through.

On being the only woman in the writers room

AMANDA SILVER I was in a room, and there was this guy, and I don’t think he was a jerk or he was even aware of what he was doing, but every time I started to say something, he would cut me off. So the next time he interrupted me, I called him out on it, immediately. It’s like the bully at school: You’ve got to punch him in the nose.

BEER I am smaller, and my voice is quieter than these men. Geneva and I were in the Transformers room, and we were all pitching to Steven Spielberg over Skype. We were sitting at this long table, and the men had these deep voices he could actually hear.

ROBERTSON-DWORET Oh, God, that was so embarrassing. We had to get right by the camera and mic.

BEER It looked like I was making out with Spielberg over Skype. But he couldn’t hear me, so I was like, “Fuck it. You and me Spielberg — we are going to have a moment.”

On what makes a great block-buster heroine

SILVER Growing up, we all had favorite movies that were made by and starred men, but you squint and take on the male point of view and you enjoy it. It should work in the reverse. The female heroine should be allowed to be just as relatable for everybody, which means she will be flawed. Perfection is boring, man.

BEER Female characters also need to have motivations that aren’t just a man or children. I know a male screenwriter who said he could think of 300 motivations for his male character, but all he could think about for his female character was that she had kids to go save. It’s just a subconscious bias. I fall into the same thing.

ROBERTSON-DWORET I hate the setup [for men] where the nuclear weapon is about to go off, and you can either stop that or save your girlfriend. And they go save the girlfriend! Of course, they also stop the nuclear bomb. But I always think, “Wouldn’t your girlfriend want you to save the city? Or is she the most selfish person ever? Why do you even date her?”

On changing the equation
SILVER You can’t really define the “female perspective,” but simple math tells you

that if more women are writing and directing, a female perspective will emerge.

ROBERTSON-DWORET My first four jobs, I was only hired by female executives at various companies. They took the risk on me.

BEER In general, studios need to be less risk-averse. You give a female a chance, and you get Wonder Woman. You give diverse voices a chance, and you get Get Out.

On industry double standards

BEER You can only get your movie made if you get one of three or four actresses attached to it because there are only so many female stars who are considered bankable. There would be a lot more if we made more female content.

SILVER It’s totally a chicken-before-the-egg situation.

ROBERTSON-DWORET [Male stars] can be into their 50s, but you are going to have a hard time selling the studio on making a $120 million action movie with a 45- year-old actress. You have Liam Neeson, but you would never have people say, “Judi Dench should really star in this action film.”

SILVER I am totally on for that.
BEER It’s the Bond spinoff we really need.

On the blockbuster they would like to gender-swap BEER I want to see a female Darth Vader.

ROBERTSON-DWORET For me, it’s McClane in Die Hard. He is so dry and funny. Female characters in action movies are so serious. They never seem to ever have any fun kicking ass.

11 December 2017 by Mia Galuppo, THR

Phillip Noyce: Man Of Action

Phillip Noyce, one of Australia’s most interesting and inventive directors, is giving a talk next week in Sydney.

FilmInk has posted an article about Noyce here:

https://filmink.com.au/phillip-noyce-man-action/

The article by Philip Berk & Erin Free has some fascinating insights into the workings of Hollywood. According to Noyce, ‘the suits’ have no idea how to make a film and so they leave the director alone until the preview screenings. If those screenings are a success, they keep leaving you alone, but if they were less successful the Hollywood executives jump in with comments.

Noyce suggests that Hollywood has been an even more successful coloniser than ancient Rome, since Hollywood has won the hearts and minds of its subjects while Rome was forced to rule by the swords as its subjects would only offer grudging support.

In the FilimInk interview Noyce explained that his father had been a spy, and that is one reason why he makes excellent thrillers such as The Quiet American (2002) and Salt (2010).

Phillip Noyce will be appearing in The Artist’s Room at Event Cinemas George Street in Sydney on December 13. Mr. Noyce will be live and in person for a one-hour conversation in the cinema followed by a screening of the director’s acclaimed Australian drama, Rabbit-Proof Fence. To buy tickets, click through to the official website.

2020 Vision Feature Film Forum by Film Victoria

Last week Film Victoria hosted an all-day 2020 Vision Feature Film Forum. It was well attended by local writers, directors and producers.

The event provided Film Vic’s take on the current state of the local feature film industry. It was an attempt to encourage filmmakers to ‘go the extra mile’ on script development, as outgoing CEO Jenni Tosi suggested that often scripts go into production before they are ready.

As others have noted such as producer Sue Maslin, this is in part because producers need cashflow to survive. It is difficult for producers to draw cash from government funding agencies during the development phase, which often takes years.

The task for writers in the audience was to take on board the sobering figures dished out over the day and yet remain positive and optimistic enough to put in the necessary work to refine a screenplay to the point where it is as good as it gets.

Over the day, a number of interesting points were made. Kristian Connelly, Manager of the Nova in Carlton, expressed surprise that despite the success of Animal Kingdom (2010), no similar works have emerged. Connelly also thought that New Zealanders have a much more worked-out sense of their national identity than Australians, who struggle with the notion of what it is to be Australian.

The point was also raised that today’s female-dominated cinema audiences are provided with few titles that star a strong female character who drives the action. Of course this is as true of the world as it is of Australia.

My final takeaway was a personal one; coming from Singapore, where the focus is so international, I was surprised to hear only about Australia, with a bit of Hollywood tantalisingly added but seeming somehow far away. The words China and India featured on a single slide, a reference to the number of films from these two countries being released on Australian screens.

No mention of 2017’s gamechanger and my personal fave, Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) directed by and starring Jing Wu, which managed to gross nearly US$900 million at the Chinese box office earlier this year. The film is set in Africa and 20% is in English as it was hoped to do well internationally. However its triumph with its domestic audience more than made up for its lack of international reach (it took only $2 million in the US).

I asked several of my producer films at the session whether they were thinking of approaching the expanding markets of China and India, but they felt that was too much of a stretch. And yes, despite our multiculturalism we are still a predominantly white Australian (and male) industry. But there is also an increasing number of Chinese and Indians who have settled in Australia, and hundreds of thousands more who come here to study. Can’t we access their contacts?

IF’s Don Goves has posted these two articles on the day:

Filmmakers challenged to aim high and know their audience

PG-rated films are increasingly popular in Oz while frequent moviegoers are going less often

 

ABC’s Michelle Guthrie calls for international focus

The ABC’s Michelle Guthrie has suggested that Australian television producers should look internationally in making content.

“What we need to do is actually have the greatest stories possible, try to get some
global partners involved and frankly, find a way of increasing the budget.”

Speaking at the recently completed SPA Conference in Melbourne, Guthrie said that Australian producers have the capacity to ‘go global’ to increase the local sector’s output.

More here: https://www.if.com.au/abc-md-michelle-guthrie-highlights-global-opportunities-local-industry/

 

 

Anatomy of a hit: IF speaks to the brains behind ‘Lion’

Oscar heavyweight Lion has earned more at the Aussie box office than all of last year’s local films combined – not bad for a filmmaker making his feature debut.

Garth Davis was approached about the project by See-Saw Films’ Iain Canning and Emile Sherman at the Sundance Film Festival, where the trio were premiering the first season of Top of the Lake.

Davis heard the story and raced off to his lodge to read up on the extraordinary case of Saroo Brierley, a small boy adopted by an Australian couple after falling asleep on a train and waking up on the other side of India, unable to find his way home.

Angie Fielder, Luke Davies, star Dev Patel, Garth Davis and DP Greig Fraser.

To map out Brierley’s story, the producers turned to screenwriter Luke Davies, an old collaborator.

Davies had worked on Candy, based on his own autobiographical novel, with Sherman producing, while Canning was the film’s European sales agent and an executive producer. Canning and Sherman became friends, formed See-Saw and went on to make The King’s Speech.

On Lion, the producers turned to Aquarius Films’ Angie Fielder to lead the production process and work closely with Davis. Fielder jumped on-board in late 2013, before there was a script.

Davies’ work on the film began with what he describes now as “a really intense research trip.”

Over two and a half weeks, the writer travelled to India to with Saroo to visit key locations, then on to Tasmania to meet Saroo’s family and friends with Davis.

“About two weeks after that Garth came to LA and he and I sat down with a whiteboard for about a week or ten days,” recalls Davies. “Very casual, cups of tea all day long, filling up his whiteboard, throwing ideas around.”

Davis remembers “lots of conversations about what we liked about the story, [and] the rhythms of it. There’s a lot of emotional engineering going on. Obviously the more practical question was: what’s the structure of the film?”

After that initial session, story meetings continued via conference call, with Davies back and forth between Sydney and LA, Davis in Melbourne, Fielder and Sherman in Sydney and Canning in London.

“There were a lot of calls at odd hours of the day and night,” says Fielder. “We started out with a beat sheet and then moved to a treatment and then moved to draft.

The film’s chronological structure was decided upon early.

“It would have been much more conventional and probably much safer to start the film with Saroo as an older man,” says Fielder. “So you start the movie with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman and flash back to what happened to him in India.”

“But Luke was very committed to the idea of trying to tell it in a linear way. We really wanted to put people in Saroo’s head, and when you tell the story to other people, you don’t start with: ‘there’s this guy living in Tasmania and then one day he decided to look for home’. You tell the story from the beginning – there’s a little boy from a small village in India and he gets stuck on a train and gets lost.”

“We knew it was a risk, because we were essentially making a film in which the first fifty minutes were in India with very little dialogue and what dialogue there was was in Hindi or Bengali. But we were very lucky in that we found Sunny Pawar, who plays little Saroo, and his performance is so compelling that I think the audience doesn’t actually realise that they’re in a non-English language film.”

Davies wrote the first draft in less than twelve weeks, then another after notes, in what he describes as “a really rapid, compressed, six month period. Six months, two drafts,with gaps in between.”

That draft was shopped at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014, where The Weinstein Company snapped up international rights, completing a financing pie that included Screen Australia, location attraction money from Film Victoria and a distribution advance from Transmission.

The filmmakers spent 2014 scouting India, did a large-scale tech recce in September and began official pre in November.

“We wanted to get into production as soon as we could,” says Fielder. “We were a little bit limited by the weather in India and not wanting to shoot in monsoon season.”

For Davis, the realisation that a five-year old had to hold the first half of the movie was “a pretty sobering concept.”

Finding the right child to play Saroo took around five months, with casting director Kirsty McGregor enlisting a local casting agent, Tess Joseph, who suggested the team focus on three cities.

“We went to schools over four months,” recalls Davis. “We couldn’t go to the streets because the kid we cast had to go to Australia, so we had to get them a visa and they had to have some sort of paperwork. So our net was a lot smaller, and we needed a kid that was quite streetwise – that was tricky.”

Visiting schools, Joseph would film 30-second scene with kids who would come in, do a scene, take a photo, then move off.

“Hundreds of children would arrive in my Dropbox every week, and I’d go through and put little coloured dots on good/bad/fair whatever, and over the months we developed a shortlist of a few hundred children,” says Davis.

Davis and McGregor later flew to India with Miranda Harcourt, an acting coach from New Zealand.

“We met up with Tess and her team and we workshopped the children for about two weeks in three cities,” says Davis.

“And if we found someone we liked, we’d bring them back every day for three days to see if they would return; whether the parents would cope with it, kind of testing their filmmaking stamina. Because so much rested on this performance.”

The Lion team tapped production services company India Take One Productions, an old hand at servicing foreign productions such as Slumdog Millionaire, Eat Pray Love and Zero Dark Thirty, to help them navigate the bureaucracy and work through the preparation time.

“They provided us with all the crew and helped us cast the whole thing,” says Fielder. “They were invaluable.”

When it came to crewing up, Fielder adopted the “mirror system”.

“This is something I’ve done on all the foreign shoots we’ve done at Aquarius: Wish You Were Here was Cambodia, Berlin Syndrome was Berlin. You bring your own HODs, your own first AD, your own cinematographer, your own production designer, costume designer. And then you also have a local working in a similar capacity but reporting to your head of department. Because they come with their own team, they’ve got their own networks and contacts.”

The one exception was the camera department, which was brought over wholesale from Oz, right down to the data wranglers.

“That’s a department you don’t really want to hand over to anybody else,” says Fielder.

Lion began shooting at the beginning of 2015, with six weeks scheduled in India and four in Oz.

Fielder describes shooting in India as “Great. Not without its challenges.”

“You’re dealing with language barriers, cultural barriers, a really harsh local environment, and a system that is heavily bureaucratic. It means you need a lot of lead-time in your preparation, which is why we spent the whole of 2014 going back and forth to India setting everything up.”

While editing the director was also on the hunt for a composer, listening to music endlessly.

“I landed on Hauschka [Volker Bertelmann] and Dustin O’Halloran. Both beautiful musicians but different. Hauschka had this childlike, raw quality, and I thought he really suited India. And then Dustin had that emotional quality.”

“I love movies like The Mission and The Piano where the music is very front and centre, which has been lost a little bit in cinema. Everyone’s very anti-music. I wanted to bring back that emotional music, and I thought Dustin did great melodies.”

Bertelmann happened to be playing at the Melbourne Recital Centre while Davis was in post, and the director went along.

“I was sitting there and he goes, ‘this piece of music is like being in a train with the window open and the landscape flashing by’. I thought: that’s so weird.”

After the show Davis caught up with Bertelmann and asked about collaborating with O’Halloran on a film score, only to learn that O’Halloran had been the best man at his fellow muso’s wedding. A deal was struck.

The film has racked up award nominations – and big box office – ever since TIFF, even though “a lot of the reviews weren’t great, actually, after that [Toronto premiere],” Davis
admits.

“That’s a wake-up call, as a filmmaker. But I do know we have the audience.”

As for Davies, who’s now working on projects with several Aussie filmmakers, including David Michôd and Kim Farrant, he cries every time he sees it.

“I shouldn’t, because I wrote it, so I know everything that happens, but I do and I think it is because Garth’s a magician. He made me an observer again.”

By Harry Windsor – INSIDEFILM – [Fri 31/03/2017]

What networks and production companies should learn from House of Hancock

In the wake of Channel Nine and CJZ’s apology to Gina Rinehart, production companies should be wary of the issues that landed these companies in hot water with the mining magnate. In this post, media lawyer Stephen Digby explains the strategies required to avoid the same fate as TV series House of Hancock.

Stephen Digby is the principal and co-founder of Digby von Muenster Law – mumbrella

– March 7, 2017

After Rinehart’s successful legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW in 2015, which gave her access to part two of House of Hancock ahead of its screening on Nine, it appeared that the parties had come to a settlement that, whilst confidential, seemed to allow broadcast of part two of the docudrama under certain conditions.

Some of these conditions included specific disclaimers in the opening and closing credits the show was a “drama, not a documentary”, and that Rinehart was not interviewed by the producers. Several minutes of footage were also cut from the broadcast.

However, this did not seem to placate Rinehart, as she took Nine and CJZ back to court claiming defamation and malicious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive form that excused almost everything, including any “breaches of alleged moral behaviour”. These releases were repeatedly tested in US courts by, amongst many others, unwitting college guys, politicians and etiquette tutors.

The lesson from Borat is that with release forms – provided that they are true and accurate in their disclosures and well packed with the required indemnity and warranty protections – you can significantly limit your exposure to liability from any loss, or damage that may result from the broadcast.

So, whilst Borat offended almost all of its participants, it still lives on in cinema, and House of Hancock which offended one person, is seemingly off the air forever.

3. Use settlement as a bar to future proceedings

Despite an iron-clad release, as outlined above (and as Borat showed), court proceedings can still be unavoidable. If that does happen, then it is almost always more sensible to seek some form of out-of-court settlement that all parties can live with, or, is the best “worst-case”. This appeared to have been the case with House of Hancock, but, unlike that situation, the settlement did not prevent Rinehart from bringing further proceedings.

With this in mind, any production company (or broadcaster) should be very careful to make sure if it does reach settlement outside court, that a key part of this agreement is a widely-drafted and extensive release clause which acts to bar the party who brought or threatened the action from re-visiting the matter in any future legal proceedings in relation to it. Without knowing the full details of the Nine/CJZ/Rinehart confidential settlement, we won’t speculate why this don’t happen on this occasion, but, ideally, these types of clauses as part of a settlement are designed to put an end to all legal proceedings, once and for all, now and in the future.

4. Preparing for the worst

As an essential pre-requisite to a broadcast commission, production companies are required to take out errors and omissions insurance. Whilst these policies can often be difficult to navigate, the House of Hancock experience will force production companies to look more deeply into what these policies do and don’t cover.

Whilst premiums can be expensive, broadening the insurance to specially cover the company from the costs of litigation against all types of allegations could well be worthwhile. Given the breadth of the allegations made by Rinehart, these claims may go beyond simply unauthorised use of titles, copyright infringement and breach of privacy, to defamation, idea and story theft, and injurious falsehood, as well as misleading and deceptive conduct. A full and frank conversation with your insurers at the time the policy is being put in place, and close attention as to what it includes, and, more importantly, excludes, could give producers a great deal more comfort when faced with these types of proceedings.

Is it worth it?

Like all businesses, production companies need to do a cost/benefit analysis of the risks and rewards of doing these sorts of shows, but, with luck, these types of measures might help reduce that risk. However, as House of Hancock proves, this type of issue is not always possible to avoid.

Luke Davies on ‘Candy’, mature share houses, and the magic of Garth Davis

Aussie screenwriter Luke Davies lives in LA with director David Michôd, and is repped by UTA’s Bec Smith. Both are former IF editors, and Davies himself used to contribute DVD reviews to the magazine. We spoke with the honorary old boy on the phone from Bondi, where he was staying on a layover in Oz late last year.

Your path into screenwriting began with Candy, is that right?

Yeah. I was always obsessed with film but didn’t know how to break in. So I said to Margaret Fink, the producer, that she could option the book if I was allowed to try my hand at the first draft of the screenplay. That was the beginning of the path that led to here.

Had you been reading screenplays before that point or did you just learn on the job?

No I was really obsessed. There was actually a screenplay store in Sydney that lasted for about ten years. Honest to God, they must have lived on a shoestring, those guys. But I was one of the faithful customers. It was pre-internet, mid-90s, in the city. It was down near Darling Habour. I used to obsessively buy screenplays of films that I loved and I’d watch the film and try and work out what had changed. My first draft of Candy was very much of its time (laughs). Wall to wall voiceover. Very Goodfellas-esque, like a lot of what people were writing back in the late 90s.

Gradually over the years of working on the screenplay with Neil Armfield, we stripped most of the voiceover out of it. We were all busy living other lives, doing other things, the years passed and it really was hard to get that film financed. But then Heath Ledger came along and got it financed very easily. It was a five year period [of writing] where I was learning, and Neil Armfield was a real mentor.

When did you move to the States?

After Candy I went to America to have a little exploration. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I thought maybe I’d get an agent or something. It wasn’t a grand plan. In April it will be ten years I’ve been in LA. The first five years were really difficult. I was poor and I really didn’t know if it was going to pan out. In 2009 I started sharing a house with Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five-0). Then David Michôd, who I had been friends with for some years, and his girlfriend, Mirrah Foulkes, started coming to LA around the time that Crossbow was suddenly leading to all this buzz and to David making Animal Kingdom. They’d be going to Sundance, or whatever, and they would stay at our place. We all got on and we became fast friends. At a certain point we were like, ‘Why don’t we all get a bigger house? We come and go a little bit, and if there’s four of us it’s cheaper’. We started doing that six years ago and two houses later we’re still doing it. It’s a lovely house that’s kind of an oasis in Koreatown. It’s like a mature share house and it works (laughs).

How did Lion come to you?

I had a pre-existing relationship with See-Saw Films and Emile Sherman, who along with Margaret Fink was one of the producers of Candy. Emile met Iain Canning on the Candy shoot.

Iain was the European sales agent and exec producer. They became friends and formed See-Saw Films and went on to make The King’s Speech. We had maintained a working relationship and fiddled around with a couple of things that never really happened. So then they gave me Saroo’s book and asked how I would approach adapting it. I got the job, then went to India to meet Saroo and see the real places where everything happened: the train station, the orphanage, his home town. And then to Tasmania with Saroo to meet Garth and Sue and John, Saroo’s parents.

And Saroo’s friends. Everything mattered at that moment. That’s how it began; a really intense two-and-a-half week research trip.

At what point did you start writing?

About two weeks after that trip, Garth came to LA and he and I sat down with a whiteboard for about a week or ten days. Very casual, cups of tea all day long, filling up his whiteboard, throwing ideas around. From that point I sort of disappeared into the cave and started writing and by then it was September or October. I wrote the very first draft in less than twelve weeks and then there was feedback and notes and I wrote another draft. That draft was what See-Saw Films took to Cannes in May 2014. The Weinsteins won a bidding war, and the money that the Weinsteins paid to secure international distribution rights became a portion of the budget. So then the film went into pre-production and it was shooting by the beginning of 2015. There were still more script changes going on right up until shooting but essentially the first two drafts after the research session were done in this really compressed six month period. Six months, two drafts, with gaps in between.

What do you think of the finished film?

I cry every time I see it. I shouldn’t, because I wrote it, so I know everything that happens, but I do and I think it is because Garth’s a magician and he made me an observer again. We’ve been doing all these Q&A screenings and it’s really, really nice to be promoting a film that you actually love. There’s no feeling of fakery about having to push the thing. Garth’s identified the different kinds of criers now; people who start weeping in the first minute, the people who hold off and have muscular tension for the whole two hours and then cry at the end and then there’s all these gradations in between. We love the fact that it connects with audiences.

By Harry Windsor INSIDE FILM Mon 20/02/2017

Crime and adaptation: Dennis Lehane

Live by Night author Dennis Lehane is a writer often divided

Dennis Lehane, author of Live by Night, adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck. Photo: Getty Images.

  • The Australian

Dennis Lehane moves between fiction and film, and has a rueful way of describing the difference between the two. “When you’re writing a novel, you’re God. When you’re working on a film, you’re one of 147 guys.”

He published his first crime novel in 1994; Hollywood came calling for his sixth book, Mystic River, the story of three men who have known each other since childhood, a recent murder and an incident from the past that haunts them still. Clint Eastwood directed the adaptation and it won Oscars for actors Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.

Since then there have been adaptations of several Lehane crime novels: Shutter Island, ­directed by Martin Scorsese; Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck; and now Live by Night, a crime drama set in Florida in the 1930s, written and directed by Affleck, who also stars in it.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin and Chris Messina as Dion Bartolo in a scene from Live by Night.

Lehane has written scripts for film and TV but has tended to stay away from adapting his own work. A screenplay and a novel are completely different entities, he says. “It’s like comparing a giraffe and an apple.” The task is different, the relationships with others are different, yet he finds things that he needs in both.

“Sometimes you want to be God, sometimes it’s OK to be one of 147 guys. Each activity fills a different gap,” he says. “When I write a screenplay or a teleplay, I say, ‘Oh, it’s so great not to have to describe the room, it’s so great not to have to create this from whole cloth, it’s so great just to sit down, know where I’m going, to have a road map and follow it.’ In the case of a teleplay, 15 days later I’m done; in the case of a screenplay, 45 days later I’m done. And then all of a sudden one day you wake up and you go, ‘I really miss prose, I really miss painting the scene. I really miss that part of my personality.’ So then you start to write a book.”

Lehane, 51, born in Boston to Irish parents, was a voracious reader as a child. At the age of 14 he came across Richard Price’s novel The Wanderers, set among gangs of youths in a Bronx housing ­project, and it gave him the feeling that he could write about what he knew. Years later, he and Price worked on the groundbreaking TV series The Wire. Being in The Wire writing room, he says, writing episodes for the last three series, “was my perfect graduate school in screenwriting”.

Lehane studied creative writing at Florida International University and wrote a draft of his first novel while in college, but it was several years and many drafts until A Drink before the War was published in 1994. It won the Shamus Award for best first ­private eye novel, and he has been writing steadily ever since.

Live by Night is part of a loose trilogy that began with The Given Day, a sprawling tale set in Boston in 1919; at its centre was an Irish family, the Coughlins, who lived on both sides of the law. Live by Night is a spare narrative focused on Joe Coughlin (played in the film by Affleck), who’s definitely on the wrong side of it.

Lehane spent a year researching the period for The Given Day, but is cautious about the ­experience of immersing himself in the period. Too much detail, he says, can kill a book. “You have to sprinkle it very judiciously because it pulls people out of the narrative, which is the absolute unforgivable sin in any book.”

He tackled Live by Night a little differently. He was steeped in the world his central character had come from and decided, he says, that “I’m not going to research anything on this book until I need to”. Instead, he tackled questions when they came up. “What did a suit cost in 1925? How afraid were people of flying in 1935? It was a much more pleasant way to do it; I highly recommend it.”

When it comes to adaptations of his work, Lehane says, he leaves it to the screenwriter to initiate contact. “I feel like they should be left alone to do what they have to do.” Affleck asked him to read the first draft of Live by Night, he says, and to give him notes. “I gave them to him, and some he took to heart and some he discounted, just as I do when I get editorial notes.” He saw two cuts of the film and then the finished product.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in 
<i>Live by Night</i>.

Elle Fanning is Loretta Figgis in Live by Night.

It’s always strange, he says, to see characters he created on screen in new incarnations. “There’s a feeling of dislocation, no matter how good the film is. People are surprised that Ken Kesey’s never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m not. I’m not surprised at all. They say, ‘Well it won five Academy Awards, it’s one of the best movies ever made.’ Yeah, but it’s not what he had in his head. No matter how great it can be, it’s never exactly what you had in your head.

“So the best you can do is judge it on its parts. I don’t think a novelist can truly judge something on its whole unless it’s wholly terrible, and then it’s, ‘Oh, that thing sucks, no big deal there.’ But if it’s good, and I’ve had four good ­adaptations, including Live by Night, then you just kinda go, ‘Well, the pieces sure seem to be lining up, the cinematography is beautiful, the performances are great …’ But I can’t fall into it the way I fall into Casablanca or The Silence of the Lambs, or something I didn’t write. You know, that suspension of disbelief that is so ­crucial for a moviegoer.”

He half-broke a rule about not adapting his own novels when he wrote a screenplay based on one of his short stories, Animal Rescue. It ­became a 2014 film called The Drop, which he then turned into a novella of the same name.

And now, he says, he’s broken it completely. He has a new novel coming out in May called Since We Fell, and he has already written a screenplay. The project is in its early stages, he says. It has been acquired by DreamWorks after a bidding war but there’s no director as yet. The story has a female central character whose life is turned upside down by a chance encounter. “It’s very contemporary, very Hitchcockian. No more trips into the past for a while.”

He’s well aware, of course, that the scriptwriter’s work can often end up in limbo. I ask him about the fate of several screenwriting jobs he had been involved in recently. Lehane had been writing an adaptation of A Prophet, Jacques Audiard’s absorbing drama about a young man in prison quietly building himself a new life. He wrote a pilot for a series set in the hospital from Shutter Island. He had been working on a new version of the Irish TV series Love/Hate. And he had been involved in a miniseries that was to revisit the legendary law enforcer of the 30s, Eliot Ness.

He takes me briskly through the state of play. “A Prophet is still alive; it’s called American Son now, last I heard. Eliot Ness is dead. The Shutter Island project is dead. The Irish TV series is in limbo.” He laughs. “Welcome to Hollywood.”

Live by Night is screening nationally.

Screen Oz boss launches broadside

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason has given a scathing assessment of many deals for film and TV projects that are submitted to his agency.

Speaking at Screen Producers Australia’s annual conference in Melbourne, Mason laid part of the blame on international sales agents and distributors, accusing some of being “greedy” on commissions, inflating expenses and trying to pass off gap financing as equity.

He was also critical of “rights-grabbing” by unnamed global broadcasters and he complained that Australian commercial free-to-air (FTA) networks are demanding new seasons of local shows to cost less but maintain the same standards.

When he took the helm three years ago, it was rare for the agency to be offered terrible deals. Now, he said, in some funding rounds “every second deal seems bad – for all of us.”

Noting that commercial FTA revenues are falling as overnight ratings decline, he told attendees that broadcasters “expect new seasons of series at the same quality for smaller budgets. We and others have traditionally been less invested in second series, if at all. Many of you have had to accept smaller fees and cuts to overheads as a result.”

He continued, “Producers are getting caught in the intransigent behaviour of some global broadcasters worried about new players and platforms. Some projects have nearly fallen over because of rights grabs, compromising Australia’s ability to capitalize on lucrative global opportunities. International sales on several of our TV dramas are phenomenal. Should producers try and bypass traditional media at times?”

He revealed that Screen Australia’s biggest ever return on production investment was generated by See-Saw Films’ Top of the Lake.

Some producers are being railroaded into asking Screen Australia to sweep aside its long-held terms, he said, adding, “A lot of money is flowing in from international but please don’t sell the farm to get it.”

Illustrating the pressure on the agency’s funding after government budget cuts, he estimates the number of applications for feature film and TV drama funding in the current fiscal year will be double that of eight years ago.

Given the rising demand for TV drama funding, he flagged a rethink of the agency’s approach, asking whether assessments should be made on the basis of business sustainability, intrinsically Australian stories or whether projects appeal to mass or niche audiences.

On a positive note Mason said attendees at Mipcom raved about Australian talent in all areas, adding, “The expectation is that one of our scripted shows will pop globally and there was surprise that they haven’t yet.”

Don Groves – 17-11-2016 – C21Media

TV industry ‘running out of famous Australians to make series about’

The TV industry is in danger of running out of famous Australians to make mini-series about, one of the country’s leading producers has warned. The comments came from Posie Graeme-Evans at the Screen Forever conference in Melbourne. Graeme-Evans, who created long-running Nine drama series McLeod’s daughters, made the comments as she delivered the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture.

She told delegates to the Screen Producers Australia event that while local audiences are showing appetites for biopics, they have often failed to sell in the international market.

Recent biopics have included retellings of the lives of INXS front man Michael Hutchence, TV presenter Molly Meldrum, media mogul Kerry Packer, magazine pioneer Ita Buttrose and billionaire Gina Rinehart. Graeme Evans warned:

“It’s smart that the commercial free-to-airs and Foxtel and the ABC all want to show our audience high end minis about iconic Australians. They play brilliantly at home. Time and sales have suggested that not all do quite so well in the overseas market. Like the issue of running out of Daughters on McLeod’s… – though, we did find a few more along the way – I wonder if we’ve reached peak ‘Famous Australian’ yet?”

New biopics in the works in the coming months include Nine’s miniseries on businessman Alan Bond and criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Seven’s pipeline includes the life story of cricketer Shane Warne and singer/actor Olivia Newton-John. Graeme-Evans – a former director of drama for the Nine Network who is now working full-time as a novelist – warned that the networks would soon be reduced to the B-list. She said: “Bio-pics based on the B-list… are not quite the same.”

Reasons for the rise of these mini-series are not just because they rate reasonably well, said Graeme-Evans. The shows are also an efficient way for the networks to achieve their obligatory quota of hours of locally-made drama, and also win tax-payer funding via Screen Australia. She said: “Now, none of us is naïve in this room.

We know that commercial FTAs seek to maximise content points making minis – and high concept is often high success if it’s well made. Or not, if it’s not. Art and commerce do collide in the business of TV – sometimes in the worst way in the world.”

Later in the speech, she said that networks are now more likely to commission based on finances. She said: “Today I think it can be argued that accountants are the most important people in our production landscape.” However, she added that as costs of production come down – and secondary channels and streaming services make new commissions – new opportunities are opening up. She cited examples including ABC’s Bondi Hipsters TV series, Soul Mates, and streaming service Stan’s series, No Activity.

Later in the presentation, Graeme-Evans proposed the creation of a national on-the-job learning program to give future TV makers a chance to serve an apprenticeship.

She said: “Could the screen agencies consider coming together to create a pot of cash from which the Shadow program can be funded? Perhaps the unions and associations can contribute, too. Or, perish the thought, the networks.

“Further, perhaps this becomes the first part of what could develop, over time, into a joint strategic training plan for the whole industry – run over a number of years in areas of perceived need and with agreed aims. At the moment, we all do our own State-based programs and initiatives separately. And the ways things are set up are governed by each State Government’s expectations for its own part of the industry in Australia.

“Now, I can’t see individual State Agencies agreeing to trade away competitive edge where attracting shows to their state is concerned. But training? It might make sense.” She warned: “If we don’t, maybe soon there really will less than 10 writers in the country the networks approve to write their high end shows.”

And she also called for overseas-based streaming services such as Netflix to be taxed and the money used to make more local content. She said: “Could Netflix, or Amazon be tithed to create an alternative source of funds? Support the Australian industry by putting 10%, say, of acquisition budgets ie for the programs they do not originate, into a pot that can be used to commission Australian programming.

“Or, and I reckon we’d love this, what about 10% of the budget of the original drama it shows. Australia’s making money for the SVODs. Some of it should come back home. Yes, I know it’s a free range thought. But, supporting our local producers and our local FTA networks – who must make Australian content as a condition of their licences – out of, in effect, a different kind of license fee is worth thinking about.

“And imagine if we could snare 10% of the value of Game of Thrones, or House of Cards or… I can hear the shrieks from here. Impossible. Ridiculous. Can’t be done.

Robbery! Why? Unpop that box of lawyers, I say, have a go. You won’t get everything but you might get more cash into the industry that doesn’t come from government.”

by Tim Burrowes – mumbrella – November 16, 2016 10:26