I attended a most engaging Screenwriter's Panel at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, in the historic Lobero Theater, and made a somewhat clumsy if ultimately successful attempt at recording it using my iPhone. Herewith is the second part of the transcription of this panel. Part One, which is much longer than this one, can be found here. Again the panel consisted of Oscar-nominated scribes: David Magee (Life of Pi), Rian Johnson(Looper), John Gatins (Flight), Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), and Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower), and was moderated by Anne Thompson of IndieWire. [The last part I'll post here will consist of highlights from the Q&A period at the end, some good answers, a few good questions and a few wobbly bits I'll cut out.] -- CP
Rian, explain the way that the sci-fi genre influenced and played a role in Looper, and also talk about the two halves of the film, how you got from hard-boiled action part one to mother-son part two.
RJ: In terms of sci-fi, most of the sci-fi I grew up really loving, Ray Bradbury and Philip K Dick, it's always stuff that uses these otherworldly concepts in order to get at something immediate and recognizable and human at the heart of it. So when I think of sci-fi that's what that means to me. Not something very big and crazy, but uses something that feels mythic to get at something personal. That's what I tried to do with this.
With the structure, the whole movie is set up as this conflict between these two guys, between the older and younger version of himself--I actually wrote the film originally as a short script, a 4 page script, back before I made my first film "Brick" 10 years ago. I wrote it as something I was just gonna make with my friends on the weekend. I never made it, It just sat in the drawer, until I took it back out more. But the short that I wrote, you can take a look at it online, it was just the two guys and didn't have the second half of the movie with the mother and son. But for me when I was expanding it out, I realized I needed to show what was different about these two, show their conflict, how they kind of work to their different ends. I figured that either meant them chasing each other more and shoot at each other more, or team up, or you can give them both the same problem to deal with in the second half and see how each deals with it, show how they're different in that way.
So that's how I went at it, introducing the element of the kid and the mother, and giving them both the same dilemma and seeing where they came down on it at the end. Getting much deeper into the heart of both main guys.
John, like Roman you've done a lot of things, you've been an actor, director, producing--there seems to be a new hybrid not just one role, move around. Maybe you, Roman, Stephen, too, could speak to this.
JG: I came to LA in 1990 to be an actor, right out of college. Those years of starring in Leprechaun 3 [laughter] … Rian, would you like to answer this for me?
RJ: "Leprechaun 3 was a unique challenge…" [laughter]
John: I remember I had this meeting with Diane Lane who had decided to do this movie that I'd written ["Hard Ball"], the director had said come along, and she was talking to him and then she looked at me and said, "You're an actor…" I said, "well…" and she said she liked people who'd suffered from both sides. I think when I'm on a movie set I have an easy way of talking with actors, I understand. Even someone like Denzel where it's unbelievable to watch him do what he does and how he does it, and I was always looking over his shoulder marveling at how he'd calibrate how drunk he was, like he had a number scale. I never knew what it was but knew he was working off a metric. I thought that's amazing. As an actor I'd never come up with that. I guess I'm saying it was very helpful, playing a different role in production, it's very helpful. Showing up on the set as a writer for the first time is a different experience than being an actor. Business has changed, it's kind of asked you to be a bit more of a shape shifting person.
Roman: I'm just a curious person, so the things that I've pursued have just been the things that have caught my eye. Like Wes saying, hey want to come to India and write this film… I don't really think about it but reflecting on it now as a question. I do think it's been useful having been behind the camera, too, or working on effects, but I've just kind of gone where I've been called.
Did you write the script for the film you just made yourself? What was that like?
RC: Yeah. Well I work much differently than Wes. When we're together he's very meticulous, there's a notebook, or a series of notebooks-- for me I have tons of papers, computers, files, it's a lot more chaotic. This Charles Swann film took me about 8 years to write, putting it down, picking it back up, that process over time. I think that actually informs the movie which is very kaleidoscopic. In simple terms, you have this little nugget of inspiration or compass., so you keep asking, does this belong with that, if it does, you move forward, and when you're in a groove and inspired anything around you you can grab and add to that little compass that guides you.
Stephen: As a writer, I come at it from a writing POV, writing different types of things has helped my career. Screenwriting is a tough, tough job and most of the stuff you do unfortunately doesn't get made which is frustrating. With TV the chances are a little better [he did TV's Jericho], and with novel the chances are a little better… With Wallflower, I wrote the novel, and the screenplay took 10 years, and in that time I wrote several pilots, and I think if I hadn't done that I couldn't have adapted Perks. Pilots, the very nature of what they are is you have 42 minutes to introduce 12-15 characters, and this world and arena, make us understand everybody and want more. So there are tricks to that and those tricks helped me enormously in introducing ]the three main characters] in Perks instantaneously. And as a director, directing is actually close to being a novelist, where you're creating an entire world a whole vision, know so much about every character, all the backstories, and that's what a director does.
Roman, I understand that on Moonrise Kingdom you guys used Google a lot to research locations?
That was actually after the writing, Wes search a lot on Google Maps for an island that was appropriate or a certain house that would fit, but that didn't happen til later.
Did you get involved in the creation of the children's books?
I wasn't as involved in the shooting as I was on Darjeeling... it was wonderful to see the film screen with an audience at Cannes. But yeah the text that appears in the movie, the excerpts from the children's books, Wes and I wrote together.