Backstory 5

Backstory 5: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s

EDITED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY PATRICK McGILLIGAN
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnsx2
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  • Book Info
    Backstory 5
    Book Description:

    Patrick McGilligan continues his celebrated interviews with exceptional screenwriters inBackstory 5, focusing on the 1990s. The thirteen featured writers-Albert Brooks, Jean-Claude Carrière, Nora Ephron, Ronald Harwood, John Hughes, David Koepp, Richard LaGravenese, Barry Levinson, Eric Roth, John Sayles, Tom Stoppard, Barbara Turner, and Rudy Wurlitzer-are not confined to the 1990s, but their engrossing, detailed, and richly personal stories create, in McGilligan's words, "a snapshot of a profession in motion." Emphasizing the craft of writing and the process of collaboration, this new volume looks at how Hollywood is changing to meet new economic and creative challenges.Backstory 5explores how these writers come up with their ideas, how they go about adapting a stage play or work of fiction, how they organize and structure their work, and much more.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94547-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)
    PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    The world keeps turning, spinning madly one might say, and here we are at the fifth volume of theBackstoryseries, more than two decades after the publication of my first book of interviews with Hollywood screenwriters of the golden age.

    Much has changed since the first book; in particular, there is now a common understanding and widespread use of the wordbackstory. I had to ask around about it in the early 1980s. TheNew York Timescolumnist William Safire, writing about its proliferation, credited the initialBackstorywith helping to bring the old word into vogue again.¹ Bless...

  5. ALBERT BROOKS ME GENERATION EVERYMAN
    (pp. 5-20)
    ALBERT BROOKS and GAVIN SMITH

    In Albert Brooks’s comedyThe Muse(1999), a Hollywood screenwriter (played by Brooks) attempts to reignite his stalled career by employing the services of a muse (Sharon Stone). Descended from one of the nine Muses of Greek myth, she boasts an impressive track record of divinely inspired careers—at one point she and Brooks bump into Rob Reiner, who exclaims, “Thank you forThe American President.” Expensive, demanding, and capricious, the muse rapidly takes over the screenwriter’s life, requiring lavish treatment and eventually moving in with Brooks and his wife (Andie MacDowell).

    Co-written by Brooks and Monica Johnson, this satire...

  6. JEAN-CLAUDE CARRIÈRE BREAKING THE RULES
    (pp. 21-33)
    JEAN-CLAUDE CARRIÈRE and MIKAEL COLVILLE-ANDERSEN

    Jean-Claude Carrière’s working relationship with Luis Buñuel produced six film classics, and he went on to writeThe Tin Drum(1979),The Unbearable Lightness of Being(1988),Valmont(1989),Cyrano de Bergerac(1990), and many other films—over one hundred in all—in several languages (including English). In the year 2000 he became the only non–U.S. citizen ever honored by the Writers Guild of America with its Laurel Award for lifetime achievement.

    Not content with merely writing, Carrière has served as an unofficial dean of French film, written books on film and screenwriting, and hosted a debate program on...

  7. NORA EPHRON FEMINIST WITH A FUNNY BONE
    (pp. 34-43)
    NORA EPHRON and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    Nora Ephron has several careers, which she has shuffled like a master dealer always with one more card up her sleeve.

    Long before her first screen credit, she was well known as one of the leading voices of New Journalism, a tough reporter, first-person essayist, and feminist with a funny bone—sometimes one or the other, other times all three at once. Three collections of her newspaper and magazine pieces became best-selling books in the 1970s. Her first marriage was to writer Dan Greenburg; her second was newsworthy: Carl Bernstein, one of the twoWashington Postreporters who pushed the...

  8. RONALD HARWOOD IMAGINATION
    (pp. 44-59)
    RONALD HARWOOD and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    Ronald Harwood speaks of the theater as his “natural habitat,” as is only fitting for a man who has written three dozen noteworthy plays, nonfiction books, and histories of the stage. His name is synonymous with quality theater in England, and his life’s work has led to him being made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), among many other high recognitions.

    At the same time, dating back forty-five years to his early brushes with film—particularly his first major credit on Alexander Mackendrick’s film of Richard Hughes’s novelA High Wind in Jamaica(1965)—he has been nearly as...

  9. JOHN HUGHES STRAIGHT OUTTA SHERMER
    (pp. 60-70)
    JOHN HUGHES and WILLIAM HAM

    If you haven’t heard ofReach the Rock(1998), you’re not alone. In fact, considering its short, unheralded existence, you may well be alone if you have. Directed by newcomer William Ryan, it’s a quiet, rather low-key (the less generous among us might call it “dull”) character study of an overgrown delinquent (played by Alessandro Nivoli), stuck in a dead-end Illinois town, who spends most of the picture’s hundred minutes breaking in and out of the town jail, breaking windows, and generally tormenting the slow-witted police sergeant who locked him up (William Sadler). Not exactly the stuff of blockbusters, and...

  10. DAVID KOEPP SINCERITY
    (pp. 71-89)
    DAVID KOEPP and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    David Koepp was bemused at my suggestion that his small-town Wisconsin roots might help to explain the populist touch of a writer who has worked on as many Steven Spielberg films as anyone, and counting. As many Brian De Palma films too, for that matter.

    But Koepp is not easily categorized. He is a writer who wears several hats jauntily. One of his specialties is “giant movies,” which are usually adaptations of best sellers, classic comic books, or vintage television shows whose titles are already well known to the public. His “giant” scripts have launched several series and franchises with...

  11. RICHARD LAGRAVENESE A WRITER UNDER THE INFLUENCE
    (pp. 90-112)
    RICHARD LAGRAVENESE and TOM MATTHEWS

    Born and raised in Brooklyn to parents who shared with him their love for movies, Richard LaGravenese was hardwired to appreciate the intricacies of filmmaking from a very early age. He spent much of his youth absorbing the classics, in front of the family television and at the theater. “When Gene Hackman is about to run into the woman with the baby carriage in the chase scene inThe French Connection(1971), it happens right across the street from the Loew’s Oriental, which was a huge, art-deco movie palace. That’s where I saw many of the movies that I loved.”...

  12. BARRY LEVINSON THE JOURNEY
    (pp. 113-133)
    BARRY LEVINSON and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    Largely because ofDiner(1982),Tin Men(1987),Avalon(1990), andLiberty Heights(1999), the engaging quartet of “Baltimore films” that explore his own life story and that of his friends and family, Barry Levinson looms as a towering figure among contemporary writer-directors. His chutzpah in making autobiographical films is as rare in mainstream Hollywood nowadays as it was in 1982, the yearDinerwas released, establishing Levinson, although he was a longtime veteran of the industry, as a new titan.

    One year after turning auteur withDiner, Levinson made the decision to direct another writer’s screenplay and resist any...

  13. ERIC ROTH PRIDE OF AUTHORSHIP
    (pp. 134-168)
    ERIC ROTH and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    For the first two decades of his unorthodox career Eric Roth flew under the radar, leading a Forrest Gump–like seemingly ubiquitous existence behind the scenes. If he wasn’t quite on the A-list in the 1970s, he circulated widely and made friends easily, building bridges to a future that would mark him as one of the screenwriting pantheon. At least Hollywood knew his name, and the literary quality of his work, even if that wasn’t always reflected in the credits.

    In 1994 he proved himself once and for all onForrest Gump, the story of a lovable idiot that was...

  14. JOHN SAYLES THE NONCONFORMIST
    (pp. 169-188)
    JOHN SAYLES and NICK DAWSON

    If John Cassavetes is the father, then John Sayles is the godfather of American independent cinema, and has for more than twenty-five years been making intelligent, individualistic films outside the system. While Truffaut declared, “I make films that I would like to have seen when I was a young man,” Sayles is a determined nonconformist who wants only to make movies that are unlike anything that has been made before; as he said inSayles on Sayles, “Whether it is in the complexity that they’re dealt with, or that I just feel like this is something that needs to be...

  15. TOM STOPPARD ADVENTURES IN MOVIES
    (pp. 189-204)
    TOM STOPPARD and VINCENT LOBRUTTO

    First, a little background. The man considered by many to be one of England’s great living playwrights, screenwriters, BBC radio and television contributors, and masters of wordplay was born Tomáš Straussler in Zlin, Czechoslovakia in 1937.

    Some (Sir) Tom Stoppard stats:

    The Stoppard clan moved to Singapore on March 15, 1939, when the Nazis decided to invade Zlin.

    Stoppard’s father, Eugene Straussler, died at sea when his ship was attacked by Japanese forces (his mother would later remarry).

    Stoppard worked as a theater critic from time to time as a young man.

    Stoppard is known for his distinctive humorous writing...

  16. BARBARA TURNER FREE SPIRIT
    (pp. 205-220)
    BARBARA TURNER and PATRICK McGILLIGAN

    In Hollywood there is sometimes talk of the “short list” of top screenwriters, but one of the shortest in a film industry dominated by male executives is the list of women who have been getting their scripts produced for over forty years and who continue to work and excel at their job.

    Barbara Turner was born in New York and started out her career as an actress in plays and television. She was married first to actor Vic Morrow and later to small-screen director Reza Badiyi, all three part of filmmaker Robert Altman’s circle of friends and up-and-comers in the...

  17. RUDY WURLITZER QUESTING
    (pp. 221-234)
    RUDY WURLITZER and LEE HILL

    Roads that turn in on themselves or go nowhere, frontiers coming to a close, and characters seeking meaning on the fringes—these are all constants in Rudy Wurlitzer’s work as a novelist and screenwriter.

    A similar questing and restlessness can be found in Wurlitzer’s life. Born in Cincinnati in 1930, Wurlitzer, like William S. Burroughs, was heir to a once prosperous entrepreneurial dynasty known for its player pianos and organs. He spent most of his childhood and youth in New York, where he studied the violin. When he became a teen, he embraced the Beat ethos of wandering for its...

  18. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 235-236)
  19. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 237-246)
  20. INDEX OF FILMS, PLAYS, AND BOOKS
    (pp. 247-252)