Back to IndieWire

The 20 Best Quips & Insights from the LAFF Panel With Jonah Nolan, Zak Penn, Lorene Scafaria & John August

The 20 Best Quips & Insights from the LAFF Panel With Jonah Nolan, Zak Penn, Lorene Scafaria & John August

Sunday night at L.A. Live’s Regal Cinemas, John August (“Go,” “Big Fish”) moderated a Los Angeles Film Festival Coffee Talk panel on screenwriting with Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Grand”), Lorene Scafaria (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) and Jonah Nolan (“The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight”) in the hot seats.

The event produced its share of insights and one-liners, so for those who weren’t there in the packed theater, here are 20 of the best moments:

  • When Nolan was talking about how stressful and crazy writing for TV can be, he said that when Warner Bros. TV sent him the insane working schedule for Season Two of “Person of Interest” they sent it taped to a bottle of Scotch with a note that said: “Drink this first. Then read the schedule.”
  • Scafaria, when asked whether, as a first-time director on “Seeking a Friend,” she had answers when people asked her questions on set: “Yes. I would say Yes or No. Then, as they were walking away, I would decide if I was right.”
  • Penn, who has made two mostly improvised films as a director (“Incident at Loch Ness” and “The Grand”), as an escape from big-budget studio writing gigs: “As a director, I’m completely unwilling to work with myself as a writer.”
  • August: “Writing is really a selfish act. It’s good for loners and sad people.”
  • Scafaria, on her most fun experience shooting “Seeking a Friend”: “We filmed an orgy scene. But a tame orgy scene. For kids.”
  • Nolan, who apparently dislikes the TV writers room: “The writers room is a monster that devours anecdotes.”
  • Penn: “I tell screenwriters: ‘Your script is an advertisement for a future script that may then become a movie.’ ”
  • Nolan: “I’ve got a good deal [collaborating] with my brother. I know where he lives, and I’ve got a good 40 pounds on him.”
  • Scafaria, on writing together with Fempire cronies Diablo Cody, Dana Fox and Liz Meriwether: “We filled in the blanks for each other. It keeps you from becoming a cutter, basically.”
  • Nolan: “Being a screenwriter is a little like being a chef who comes up with recipes for dishes that he never gets to cook or taste.”
  • Penn: “You’ll know you’re a writer when you refuse to quit when everyone is telling you that you should.”
  • Referring to an unproduced screenplay called “Sweet Relief” that she wrote about slain international relief worker Marla Ruzicka, Scafaria rolled her eyes at the kinds of notes she got from studio executives: “Does it have to be in Iraq?” “Does she have to be a girl?” Penn chimes in: “Does she have to die?”
  • When the panel was asked which are the favorite lines that they’ve written, Nolan deadpanned, “Most of mine have been cut.” August then cracked, “I hear Bane has some great lines but you can’t hear them.” After a collective groan from the panel and the crowd, Nolan admitted, “It turns out if you can see the mouth moving, it helps.”
  • Scafaria’s advice to aspiring screenwriters: “Work harder than everybody else. It’s a really lazy town.”
  • Nolan said that there are some lines he loves from “The Dark Knight” but his favorites are simply Heath Ledger saying “Yeah” and “Hi” as the Joker. “Sometimes you work with people much more talented than you who elevate it,” he said.
  • Penn, who says that he grew up on the same block that Woody Allen lives on: “Being Jewish in New York, he was the closest thing we had to a messiah.”
  • Scafaria participated in improv groups early on and said that it was very helpful later with pitching and speaking to people in the industry during meetings.
  • Nolan said that his brother Chris, older by six years, would make Super 8 “stop-motion epics” with his friends when they were kids growing up in Illinois, and that at three years old, he would jump into the frame right as his brother triggered the camera.
  • Asked how many scripts she wrote before getting one produced, Scafaria said: “‘Nick and Norah’ was #9, ‘Seeking a Friend’ was #18.”
  • In objecting to the write-what-you-know maxim, Nolan notes that since most struggling screenwriters are young and poor and unemployed, it means there is a trove of unproduced scripts about waiting tables out there. Scafaria, with head in hand: “My second script was about waiting tables!” Nolan: “And I’m sure it’s amazing.”

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox