SANTA BARBARA: Writers on writing

Posted by · 4:01 pm · January 29th, 2011

Today saw Santa Barbara’s annual “It Starts with the Script” writers panel, moderated by Anne Thompson.  Participating were Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”), C. Gaby Mitchell (“Get Low”), David Seidler (“The King’s Speech”), Scott Silver (“The Fighter”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”).

I was a little late to the event but it was an, as always, spirited discussion about the nuts and bolts of the screenwriting process.

Seidler, Silver and Sorkin were the three tasked with writing scripts (each of them original, interestingly enough, give or take a “book proposal”) detailing real individuals.  Thompson asked for their various experiences with that.  Silver recalled the first screening of the film for members of boxer Micky Ward’s family, and how he expected sparks might fly.

“I don’t think anyone sees themselves the way the movie portrays them,” he said, being careful to note that it’s just the nature of the beast.  The writing was as faithful to the individual personas as it could be.  “I was mainly worried about Alice,” he continue, regarding Ward’s mother (played by Melissa Leo in the film).  “She started watching the movie and she had a bag of popcorn and her hand just froze.  And as the movie went on she started eating the popcorn and I relaxed.”

To that, Seidler quipped, “I’ve not had the pleasure of watching the Queen eat popcorn.”  He also noted, as did Sorkin, “We’re making a film, not a documentary.”  Both Seidler’s film and Sorkin’s have come under unnecessary fire for not adhering to the absolute truth in their work (and indeed, one journalist jumped at the opportunity to grill Seidler on the Nazi appeasement accusations leveled at the monarch portrayed in “The King’s Speech,” which came in the wake of claims of anti-Semitism aimed at the film and, for a Jewish writer whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, has to be grating).

Sorkin recalled a story about an early scene in “The Social Network” that depicts Mark Zuckerberg drinking and blogging, putting the germ of what would be Facebook growing inside a bit of a cyber tantrum.  He had written it as screwdrivers, which is more interesting visually and would seem to indicate someone drinking to get drunk, not necessarily just to drink.  When it was discovered that Zuckerberg was actually drinking beer that night, specifically Beck’s, director David Fincher — ever the perfectionist — insisted on changing it.

“His take was, when we know a fact, that’s the fact we’re going to use,” Sorkin said.  “You’d be surprised just how much of what’s in the script actually happened.”

Thompson also asked about Sorkin’s acceptance speeches as of late, which have been incredibly gracious to Zuckerberg.  “He was a kid who was socially awkward and in over his head,” Sorkin said.  “I identify with that.  And those speeches have been me saying, ‘Hey, you did all right.”

I missed much of Cholodenko and Arndt’s questions, though Mitchell spoke at length about how actor Robert Duvall got involved with the writing process.  “He was really concerned about how to get into this character,” he said.  “He goes deep.  And he brought me to that place.”

Later tonight, James Franco is set to be honored with the “Outstanding Performance of the Year” award for his work in “127 Hours.” More as it happens…

[Photo: LA Times]

→ 13 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

13 responses so far

  • 1 1-29-2011 at 4:08 pm

    Reuben said...

    Kris, you mention Sorkin’s name twice in the opening para.

  • 2 1-29-2011 at 4:30 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...


  • 3 1-29-2011 at 4:31 pm

    John G said...

    I’ve thought it’s interesting that The Kids Are All Right hasn’t been getting much ink for the script. I haven’t seen the movie, but it just smells like an original screenplay winner.

  • 4 1-29-2011 at 4:52 pm

    Nick Davis said...

    Did Seidler talk at all about the play version of The King’s Speech that he eventually adapted into the script? I know that since the play’s script wasn’t “previously published or produced,” TKS technically still counts for the category we shorthand as “Original Screenplay,” but it’s funny how I feel like Weinstein & Co. really want us to think of the script as “original” for obvious reasons, while Hooper still mentions in all his interviews that he heard about the material when his mother attended a staged reading of the play. Just came to mind because of you mentioning how Sorkin, Silver, and Seidler all had to work on “original” scripts, but that process was actually so different in all three cases.

  • 5 1-29-2011 at 5:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I didn’t hear any discussion on it, but really, that fact has been out there since the beginning, going all the way back to my Telluride interview. I don’t think anyone’s hiding anything.

  • 6 1-29-2011 at 5:20 pm

    Samuel said...

    @John G Kids is a good screenplay, but I don’t think it’s as good as some of the other nominees. The biggest problem with Kids is the way Mark Ruffalo’s character is dealt with, or rather not dealt with, at the end.

  • 7 1-29-2011 at 5:25 pm

    Nick Davis said...

    I didn’t mean anyone was hiding anything; I know everyone knows this. Just that nominees and studios obviously need awards narratives, and Seidler’s seems like it’s become about originality, even though Hooper’s (charming) campaign narrative turns on discovering an earlier version that was essentially adapted. It’s just a funny friction.

    I think “original” and “adapted” aren’t the most helpful categories to draw around screenplays anyway, and I actually just wondered whether they addressed the different routes they all took toward what you describe as, in one way, a similar process of getting a real-life story onto the screen. Lots of very different ways to generate “original” work, etc.

  • 8 1-29-2011 at 5:34 pm

    Samuel said...

    @Nick Davis, I agree that the category definitions are a bit askew. Toy Story 3 has landed in adapted, though I think it’s clearly original. Its characters happen to be fictional and have previously existed on screen, but his story is original. Seidler’s script is about historical people and events. I would argue that there is less ‘originality’ in his script than there is in Arndt’s TS3 script. But I suppose there has to be some kind of line drawn somewhere.

  • 9 1-29-2011 at 6:14 pm

    Daveylow said...

    I wonder if the screenplay of TKS is very different from the play because of Logue’s diary being discovered 6 weeks before shooting. And was the play ever given a full production?

  • 10 1-29-2011 at 7:19 pm

    SC said...

    @ Samuel

    That was my problem with the movie, as well as the kids’ sideplots being completely irrelevant. TKAAR’s screenplay has a lot of good material, but it needed more structural work, in my opinion.

  • 11 1-29-2011 at 10:00 pm

    bluemoon02 said...

    Well-said Nick Davis, glad you brought that up :)

  • 12 1-29-2011 at 10:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Daveylow: That diary changed everything for them.

    Good points, Nick.

  • 13 1-30-2011 at 1:42 am

    red_wine said...

    The original/adapted classification is silly indeed coz its not like we judge those screenplays any differently, we don’t check out every source to see how good of an adaptation a script is, we just judge by what is on the screen.

    The only upside is that 10 instead of 5 writers get the limelight and 2 instead of 1 get to take home awards. God knows writers as it is get less credit than they should get in this industry.