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Oscar Screenwriters Get Down and Dirty at Santa Barbara (VIDEO)

Oscar Screenwriters Get Down and Dirty at Santa Barbara (VIDEO)

Obsession was the theme of the writers panel this year–which was all male. No one took me up on my question about why are there so many more screenwriters who are men than women. (Why didn’t Gillian Flynn land a nomination for her adaptation of her bestseller “Gone Girl,” a big hit movie? Hmmm.)

Several of our panelists wrote scripts about real people. 
Jason Hall adapted the current box office smash American Sniper,” which is directed by Clint Eastwood and only partly based on the memoir of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Hall added considerable reporting with Kyle and his wife and family in Texas, perceiving a disconnect between the soldier’s PTSD bar soliloquy in the memoir and the real, softer man, husband and father, who was in turmoil. That’s what he wrote the film about. “He had been away at war for close to ten years,” Hall said. “I watched this guy change over a couple of years. I turned in the draft, and the following day he was murdered. His wife then revealed everything about this man. It became a masculine/feminine thing. This is a movie about a soldier, a story about all soldiers, exploring the archetype of the warrior and what the cost is to the soldier and the cost to his family.” The audience gave him warm applause. Next, Hall is returning to the territory of recovering Iraq vets for his next screenplay being developed with Steven Spielberg, “Thank You for Your Service.” 
Anthony McCarten’s script The Theory of Everything is not the usual portrait of a great man, but rather includes the point of view of a caregiver who makes that life possible. Some people seem to have trouble with this. After years of being blocked from doing a story about Stephen Hawking (“A Brief History of Time”), McCarten chased after a candid 2004 memoir by Jane Hawking about her 25-year caregiving relationship with the renowned physicist, stalking Jane to her home. It took eight years to bring her around to making a movie. Next up is George Clooney’s “Hackers” about the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal, which is “about what we want journalism to be,” McCarten said. “Ironically Sony is developing the movie, they’ve got considerable skin in the game.” 
Rookie screenwriter and admitted space camp nerd Graham Moore’s long obsession with brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, who not only cracked the Enigma Code in World War II, but invented the computer, paid off when he found out at a dinner party that producer Nora Grossman was developing Andrew Hodges’ Turing biography and pitched her on the spot. This tricky and complex screenplay weaves together various strands—World War II codebreaker, brainy outsider who can’t work well with others, non-romance with Joan Clark, computer inventor, and gay man who is discriminated against and not honored for his achievements. He ended the war, saving countless lives. Of the complaint that there should have been less Clark and more portrayal of his homosexual relationships, Moore says it never occurred to him to show more than the youthful infatuation with a schoolmate, as Turing was largely celibate.  Next up, Moore, 33, is writing an HBO pilot for Michael Mann. He might be killed for telling us more about it, he said. Indeed.

Max Frye wrote the first draft of Foxcatcher,” about the mysterious goings-on at the estate of John DuPont that lead to the death of an Olympic wrestler, for director Bennett Miller, who after the Writer’s Strike hiatus brought on his “Capote” writer Dan Futterman. The screenplay was developed over many years. Frye figured out that the two Schultz brother wrestlers needed to be in the movie together. Of his next project, Frye wisecracked, “I have a full spectrum of TV and motion pictures racing forward.” 

Three wrote originals. 

The youngest panelist, 30-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle of Whiplash,” explained how producer Jason Blum came up with the idea of convincing people to invest in the movie about an abusive jazz drumming professor by making a short first, which played well at Sundance. This meant that the Academy deemed it an Adapted Screenplay rather than an Original, even though the full-length script came first. One byproduct of “Whiplash” is that a project Chazelle was trying to get off the ground will finally shoot later this year: “Lalaland,” a musical song and dance movie a la “Singin’ in the Rain.”

New Yorker Alex Dinelaris cowrote the original script for Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu’s Birdman,” a scathing and hilarious behind-the-scenes look at show business, with Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone, all in different locations, often using email and Skype. The director started them off with ideas and things to pursue–like, “I want to make a movie in one take.” There was no fixing mistakes in the editing room. The movie’s energy includes a certain warts and all ugliness, Dinelaris said. Now the team is collaborating on Starz one hour drama “The One Percent,” and Dinelaris is also writing a new fantasy film with Guillermo del Toro. 
Dan Gilroy wrote and directed the original screenplay “Nightcrawler,” a nasty thriller that exposes our ambulance-chasing media culture, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Gilroy’s wife, Rene Russo. The screenwriter wrote for himself without an eye to actually making a film, defying most of the so-called rules: Gyllenhaal’s videographer is neither likable nor redeemable. Having been rewarded for breaking out from the conventional script, Gilroy is now writing another indie on spec, full of personal ideas, he said: “I want to direct and control it; I love shooting in LA.”

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