Screenwriters Panel 2013

Five of Hollywood's Top Writers Talk About What Goes Into a Script

Writers Roman Coppola, David Magee, John Gatins, Rian Johnson and Stephen Chbosky attend the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival Writers Panel at the Lobero theatre (Jan. 26 2013)
Paul Wellman

Who can forget when Leo DiCaprio spread open his arms and declared “I’m king of the world,” or when the late Patrick Swayze told audiences that “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” or when Haley Joel Osment made the disturbing confession “I see dead people”? The film lines that make their way into the cultural parlance are associated with the actor who spoke them, but it is the screenwriter who gave the memorable dialogue life. And so, each year the SBIFF brings top-class movie scribes to its Writers Panel to talk about their craft. This year’s panel was a seriously talented bunch that included David Magee (Life of Pi), Rian Johnson (Looper), John Gatins (Flight), Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), and Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

2013 SBIFF Writers Panel (L to R) moderator Anne Thompson, writers Stephen Chbosky, Roman Coppola, John Gatins, Rian Johnson and David Magee, at the Lobero Theatre (Jan. 26, 2013)
Paul Wellman

Moderator Ann Thompson began by asking each of writers to describe how their script came into being. While everyone’s story took different routes to the big screen, all of them took years to see fruition. For Gatins, who got sober at 25, started writing the screenplay for what would eventually become Flight in his 30s; now 44, his film finally made it to the screen. “It was a process of picking it up and putting it down for 12 years,” Gatins said of Flight. “I did other projects to feed the family,” like writing (and directing) Dreamer and Real Steel. Chbosky’s process was similarly long. He wrote the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower when he was just 26 years old; he started the script at 37. However, both said that the years were beneficial, in that they had time to mature and hone their craft.

2013 SBIFF Writers Panel at the Lobero Theatre (Jan. 26, 2013)
Paul Wellman

The discussion flowed smoothly, each of writers recalling various aspects of their scriptwriting experiences. Roman Coppola, for example, explained how different writing Moonrise Kingdom was from writing Darjeeling Limited. ” [Wes Anderson and I] wrote Darjeeling with my cousin Jason Schwartzman. We went to India, took a train…and grew the movie through improve [and experience]. Moonrise was much more imagination and fantasy…It was about daydreaming.” For Looper, Rian Johnson said succinctly: “Elbow grease went in to make it as simple as possible. Figuring out how to tell the most with the least.”

The last quarter of the event was a question-and-answer with the audience, whose queries ranged from how to format a script to what kind of story outlines they each use to pitching a script to the panelists. With good humor, sage advice, and refreshing openness, the writers gave a rare and satisfying peek into the world of screenwriting.


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