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My article about TV show ‘Preacher’ posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

19 Jun

Actor and executive producer Seth Rogen (Superbad and Pineapple Express) and show runner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) did what fans of the comic book series Preacher thought impossible. They adapted Garth Ennis’s comic for the small screen and created season one as a prequel to Garth’s storyline on AMC. Season two airs on the AMC network tonight, June 19.

The show stars Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, a man possessed by a hybrid angel/demon, and his volatile hell-raising girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, played by award-winning actress Ruth Negga.

The writers crammed a lot of craziness, fire and brimstone into the first season. And this looks set to continue in season two, as the cast embarks on a road trip to find God.

Speaking at the SXSW 2017 “Making of Preacher” interview session hosted by Terri Schwartz, Seth Rogen, Sam Catlin and Garth Ennis discussed trusting your instinct, knowing where to draw the line, and translating the ideas in your head.

Schwartz: Welcome back to SXSW. You guys premiered the Preacher pilot here last year, right?

Rogen: Yeah, one year ago we showed the pilot here, and it was one of the most stressful days of my life. But it went well. Thank God we’re back.

What was the moment when you realized “Ok, this is how we can bring this to life in a way that no one has done before?”

Rogen: The truth is, we pursued it for years. The first meeting Evan and I had for Preacher was in our trailer while we were filming Pineapple Express in 2006. Then television went from being like the thing you watch on Thursday nights to like an amazing platform to do incredibly innovative things that you probably couldn’t even do in movies..

Ennis: A lot of executives who were further down the ladder the first time around, who were desperately trying to persuade their bosses that Preacher would work and it was the way to go, all of a sudden found themselves a bit higher up the ladder. And they were now able to say “This is the thing to do…Its time has come.”

Sam, you once described the comic as “profane, perverse and psychotic.” Did you break boundaries for the sake of breaking boundaries?

Rogen: I don’t think you ever want to do something just for the sake of doing that thing. We wanted a show that was audacious. I think when you’re reading the comics there are a lot of things that just can’t believe you’re seeing, you can’t believe you’re reading. You just can’t believe the story’s going in that direction. Those were things that we really wanted to have in the show.

When something is potentially on for years and years, it really has to have some emotional grounding, so it can never feel like you’re doing anything for the sake of doing it. It always has to feel like it’s born of character and story and emotion.

But once we feel like we have that, then we like to try to push it to the most original place that we can. Because there is so much on TV right now, originality is one of the beacons that calls people.

There are a lot of great things on TV right now, but there’s not a lot of great things that you’ve also never seen anything like them before. And that’s what we’ve talked a lot about trying to do.

Garth, what are your thoughts on some of the changes that were made?

Ennis: I think they made sense out of things in the comics that are just taken as given. I like the way that I can see that Jesse’s life as a preacher has grown over time. I like the fact that reasons are given for Tulip and Cassidy to be there, rather than just being coincidence.

In the comic book, everyone meets up by chance. I think I was just trying to get it rolling as fast as I possibly could. And also, I was 24 when I wrote that stuff. When you’re 24 you’re just thinking, “Let’s get on with it.”

On the show you’re going to need much more material. So it’s obvious there are going to be new things; there are going to be changes. I think they’ve come up with the right ones.

You set up many mysteries in season one. Did you have to stop yourselves from including too many?

Rogen: I think the first season deals with a lot with Jesse’s father’s side of the family. I think in season two we start to ask the question, “what was his mother’s side of the family like?”

How did you develop God as a character for season 2?

Catlin: It’s very challenging, because in Preacher God isn’t an idea, he’s not a way of looking at life; he’s a guy who’s out walking around. He’s missing and Jesse’s gonna be on his trail.

Have you guys received any notes from AMC telling you to lean away from some of these elements?

Rogen: We have not received a lot of that, honestly. They want the show to be good and they want it to represent what we all set out to make in the first place. We’ve had a couple of ideas that required like maybe a 10-minute phone call…But I do not feel like we are neutering our ideas, or holding back on the content that we want to be putting out there. If anything I’m shocked we are able to push it as far as we do.

Garth what has been your response to seeing some of these scenes coming to life, and knowing that some of the more controversial things are coming down the road?

Ennis: When we did the comic it was more by stealth. The imprint of DC Comics who did it—at Vertigo—had very sympathetic people in charge, but the actual publishers, the actual executives in charge of DC Comics overall, were not sympathetic. We got as far as we did by stealth, not by meaning to, but by not getting noticed by the wrong people. Now the right people are in charge, and that’s why the TV show is able to go as far as it can.

Do any of you have any concepts that you’d love to bring to life if you didn’t have to worry about backlash or limitations?

Ennis: Ninety percent of what I do is done without any restrictions but my own. In fact, in a couple of instances I’ve written stories where I’ve run into my own limits before I run into those of the publishers.

Rogen: Something I learned years ago is that the idea that you’re joking about between takes, when you say “no, we can’t do that,” that’s exactly what we should be doing. That’s the type of thing that people will really respond to. I’ve seen that happen first-hand, where there have been jokes between takes, and I’ve said, “You know what would be funny? If one of us said this: but that would be just too fucked up.” Then one of the other actors just says it the next day and it winds up in the movie, and being the line that people think we thought of for years and year and years.

If your instinct is “we can’t do that, but it would be really good to do that,” then you should do that.

Audience Member: How do you know where to draw the line?

Rogen: You’re asking a guy who almost started a war with North Korea! [The Interview in 2012.]

I guess you know I’m not the best person for knowing where that line is. I’ve found that you don’t know where the line is until you look back, and think “oh, that’s where the line was—a thousand miles back there?” Yeah, the line is not a deal. We talk more about, “Will the audience get this?” Or, “Have we done the work we need to do to translate this idea from our brains into the eyes and ears of an audience?” That’s what I think we do the most.

It’s almost like translating. The challenge has been taking into consideration every way they might not interpret it correctly, and taking into consideration every way that you might not do your job correctly in making them understand this thing that you want them to understand

But to me there is no idea that is not explorable. There’s only the limits of your abilities to articulate why you feel it’s an idea worth exploring, and articulate why you think the audience should be listening to your take on this specific idea.

Ennis: I would say when you’re talking about creativity, start with where you want to get to, and worry about the rest later. Because when you try to get published, or when you try to get your film distributed or whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll find out pretty soon where the limits are then. But you shouldn’t be thinking about that when you’re putting a story together.

There’ll be plenty of time to have people tell you “no.” But in the beginning, do what you want.

Please also read my article and see my photos on Creative Screenwriting’s website at:

https://creativescreenwriting.com/preacher/

My story about the Texas Film Awards posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

20 Apr

It is a golden age not only for television but also for independent films. At least, it is according to the Austin Film Society’s founder and artistic director Richard Linklater, speaking at the press conference for the 2017 Texas Film Awards.

At the panel of this year’s Hall of Fame Honorees, Richard Linklater, together with Honorees Hector Galan (Children of Giant), Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), Jeff Nichols (Loving), and producer Sarah Green (Midnight Special), discussed a wide range of issues related to filmmaking and screenwriting.

Creative Screenwriting was fortunate enough to attend.

Sarah Green kicked off the panel with a discussion about her work on Song to Song with Terrence Malick.
Green: It’s about sex and drugs and rock and roll. There’s this just unbelievable young kid named Ryan Gosling, you’ll like him. Rooney Mara – she’s incredible. Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop – there’s so many – Bérénice Marlohe, Val Kilmer…It kind of just goes on and on. The Black Lips, the Red Hot Chili Peppers – some of these are performing and some are interacting with other actors.

Jeff Nichols then talked about his Oscar-nominated film, Loving.
Nichols: It wasn’t until I got behind the curtain with Loving, that I realized just how far away all my other films were from ever being considered in that world.

And that was illuminating for a lot of reasons.
And Tye Sheridan talked about his new movie, Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and due to be released in 2018.
Sheridan: The film is based on a sci-fi novel written by Ernest Cline. It takes place in the future. And when I read it I just thought “wow, it’s such an honest depiction of where we’re headed in our world right now. It’s the technology and the kids playing video games – that social world.”

If you work in film, it’s everyone’s dream-come-true to work with Steven Spielberg. I was working with the best of the best.

Talking next about funding, Green said that more companies such as Amazon, HBO, and Netflix are providing funding for movies.

Green: More is better when it comes to financing opportunities. We want every opportunity we can get, and then it’s a question of “what’s the best distribution company for that particular movie, that will get it seen more on television, that will get it seen more in the theaters?” I love that there are more opportunities.

However, panel moderator Steven Gaydos said that a gulf still exists in Hollywood between large budget studios, and mid-level independent or specialty film companies.
Linklater: It’s excruciating to talk about, but I think it’s kind of true. But with that said, we’re sitting here with a guy who got that rare film made – and I’m talking about Jeff NicholsMidnight Special.

Nichols: I feel like I live in a bit of bubble though, because I’m a rare exception in the year 2016 to get a film like Midnight Special released. So I know my experience is unique. It took somebody at the top to reach down literally and give me that opportunity.

That’s what’s so great about Rick’s [Richard Linklater’s] career. I use it as a model because he’s been able to move back and forth between those worlds. He seems to be having fun in all of them.
Linklater: I think you have to be really practical in your approach. You know, it’s storytelling. You ask “what does this story need?” Well if it’s a period film it needs a bigger budget, so I’ll try to take this one to the studio. Or if this one’s a really intimate little story, let’s just keep that at home.

I think a filmmaker gets into trouble when they take that personal indie film and get a huge budget – that’s where careers go off the rails. So, you have to just be humble and try to not to spend any more than you have to.

It’s the golden age of television, but if you really think about it, it’s also the golden age of documentaries, you know? I think that’s clear. And if you really think about it, it’s the golden age of indie cinema.

Take the Oscars and the recent recognition for a film like Moonlight. If it had come out in 1985, back then indie films didn’t hit the mainstream awards shows. A couple did: there were nominations for John Pierson [who produced some of Linklater’s first films, along with those created by Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Kevin Smith]. But it was weird for an indie film to break through at that time or to receive recognition.

Green: It also matters how much they’re spinning it, how they’re releasing it. It’s not just about the most money, but it’s about the money that’s spent, and how much they can put behind it, and whether they actually know how to release a film of a certain type.
Galan said Latinos have become one of the most under-represented ethnicities in American cinema today.
Galan: There are more Latinos in America than there are Canadians in Canada. But you just don’t see that represented on the big screen, even on the small screen, to the degree that reflects the population.

It’s true that a lot of people look at us in LA as gardeners, maids and people who take care of babies. It’s real complex because we do have Spanish-language networks. So, some of us speak Spanish and some of us don’t. It’s very very complex.

When there are a 25 million eligible Latino voters in a 54 million population, with 18,000 Latinos turning 18 every month in this country, there’s still a lot of representation that needs to happen.

A member of the audience asked Linklater if he knew what might happen to The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, that has provided incentives for filmmakers to make their movies in Texas since 2005, but is now at risk.

Linklater: I just shot a film [Last Flag Flying] in Pittsburgh. So it’s a real issue, but I think there’s some hope to getting us back to where we were.

And we’re a good industry. We moviemakers bring hundreds of millions of dollars in to Texas, we bring in the jobs, clean industry and that’s just the business.

But I worry more about the cultural representation. If you tell Texas stories you’ve got to tell them in Texas. It’s kind of sad; last year, Hell or High Water, a story set in West Texas, was shot, as the producers for the movie have said, “as close to Texas as we could.” They shot it in New Mexico.

We would feel a lot differently about The Last Picture Show, if they had shot that in Colorado. So culturally, for our own stories, our own borders are important.
When a member of the audience asked what the future holds for documentarians, Galan responded with an impassioned plea to filmmakers to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants in Texas affected by raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Galan: Now is really an important time for documentary work. At one time, people were predicting the death of the documentary. I think today it’s more important than ever, especially for us Latinos.

I have so many friends out there right now who are hiding, people that I know. It’s like when I was in Germany – and I’m kind of telling you some history – but I would go to Munich or Heidelberg or some of those places in Germany that were still standing after the bombings in World War II. I imagined what it must have been like for those people hiding and knowing that the Nazis were coming for them. That’s happening now. A lot of people don’t know.

People are afraid to go out of their homes. People need to report on this and the division that is happening.

Finally, this reporter for Creative Screenwriting magazine asked Green what the future holds for women screenwriters and filmmakers.

Green: It’s our responsibility as producers, and the studios’ responsibilities as financiers, and everyone’s responsibility, to ensure that all voices are heard.

Whether it’s people of color, whether it’s different genders, whatever those stories we need to be telling are, we need to make sure that we are training those people, that we are providing those opportunities.

Please also see my story posted on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at:

https://creativescreenwriting.com/texas-film-awards/

My interview with Daniel Pyne posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

20 Apr

Bosch show runner Daniel Pyne discusses writing plot twists, research, and updating novels for the screen, and offers great advice for screenwriters.

Screenwriter, novelist, show runner, producer…In a career spanning over 30 years, Daniel Pyne has become known for his knack of creating works filled with suspense and twists.

He is also a busy man. He published his latest novel Catalina Eddy in March, he is the show runner for season three of Bosch which airs this weekend on Amazon, and his next film Backstabbing for Beginners will premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Despite this, Pyne remained self-effacing as he spoke with Creative Screenwriting about writing plot twists, research, and updating novels for the screen.

How did a graduate from Stanford with a degree in economics become a screenwriter and a novelist?

My father is a painter and a sculptor. He didn’t want me to go into a creative field, so economics sounded to him like a really practical degree, although it really wasn’t. It was almost like philosophy of mine. But what it did help me do is understand what I was getting into, and it’s helped me divorce the business of Hollywood from my art.

Name a couple of movies that inspired you.

I came of age in the ‘70s, so I was very influenced by The Godfather and The Conversation, by Apocalypse Now, M*A*S*H, and all the Robert Altman films. I also liked the French new wave stuff like Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Melville, and all those French directors from the ‘60s.

I was really interested in early French films by Jean Vigo – noir. What else inspired me? There were lot of films, foreign films – I mean (Federico) Fellini was huge. I love Fellini.
You studied screenwriting at UCLA?

I took one film course at Stanford. My father would watch old movies on TV. I think I got a love for movies from him, but it wasn’t until I got to UCLA that I was really exposed to the critical studies of film, and film as an art form.

Where did you learn your trademarks in screenwriting: shocking twists, reveals and betrayals?

I like turns in stories. That goes back to novels – the idea of an epiphany – of a reversal, some kind of reversal of fortune. But I was very influenced by thrillers – by Alfred Hitchcock and The Third Man, detective stuff by Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett (who wrote The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Miller’s Crossing). And I did love the notion the loner in the dark streets, battling and trying to find their way, trying to find the good.
Which comes to your mind first, the twists or the story?

Usually the characters come first; some kind of situation with a character put into a dilemma comes first, and the twist comes last. The twist, I always hope, is a natural consequence to what’s happened before. It’s just how things play out.

How did you research your current screenplay, Backstabbers for Beginners?

It is based on a non-fiction book by a whistle-blower named Michael Soussan. It is about a corruption scandal at the UN that happened in about 2003 with the UN Oil-For-Food Program, a multi-billion dollar program to feed the Iraqi people, when they were hit by sanctions because of Saddam Hussein – weapons of mass destruction and all that.

Your 2004 adaptation The Manchurian Candidate is based on both Richard Condon’s original novel, and George Axelrod’s script for the classic 1962 film. How did you approach this project?

I did do an extensive amount of research as I was writing it around 2002–2003, and the events in the world were overtaking us.

I had to keep changing the script because things that we would make up would actually happen. They were already old news: things about the corporations and the military/industrial complex, corruption, and a lot of the backdrop of the 2000 election.

You wrote 25 episodes for The Marshall in 1995. How was the experience of writing for a television series?

My first jobs were Matt Houston and Miami Vice, so I had been well-trained as a show runner. The writer is king in television. So you really do get to have a lot of power, and have a lot of influence over what gets made.

Staying with television, you became the show runner this year for Bosch, based upon the best-selling novels about Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly. Where does Connelly’s storytelling begin and yours end?

He is an executive producer, so he’s on staff. The Bosch show universe is like a parallel universe to the books, because we’re using some of the plots of the books to tell the series each season, but in a different order from the order that he wrote them in, and 20 years later.

So a lot of times, the science of police work and technology has changed, and changed the way the crimes play themselves out and get solved.

Bosch is also a little bit different. In the books he’s a Vietnam veteran and in our telling he’s a Gulf War veteran, and the order of events with his family and his personal life change.

It’s a lot like doing an adaptation. I feel like a part of our responsibility is finding Michael Connelly’s voice in the novel, and making the direct translation of that.

It’s like adapting Sum of All Fears (a screenplay that Pyne and Paul Attanasio wrote as an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novel) or Manchurian Candidate. You have the luxury of having original material to build your structure on, but at the same time you have to figure out how to do it cinematically and dramatically as opposed to in prose.
What is the best advice you have given your students at UCLA and at Sundance?

The best advice I can give is: you write a script, you send it out, you see if it hits the market place. And if it doesn’t, you write another one. Don’t either give up because one didn’t, or keep slogging that single script thinking that somehow that’s your ticket.

It’s a career; it’s not a single thing.

I have gotten the same advice from novelists. A lot of novelists have written novels that they didn’t get published, and they just wrote another one. You learn from it; you get better. You never know what’s going to hit the marketplace; that’s the part you can’t control.

You have also worked as a film producer, director, novelist, journalist, advertising copywriter, cartoonist, sculptor and silk screener! How have these experiences contributed to your storytelling?

Copywriting taught me economy, because with advertising I wasn’t so good at the selling part. It taught me to do economical writing, and commit to writing things with very few words.

You have been quoted as saying “the narrative becomes more important than the truth.” This concept seems to define your novels?

I like to write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, rather than the other way around. I like to write about people who have normal abilities and have to rise to the occasion.

I like those kinds of stories, and I am also fascinated by memory. Fifty Mice deals a lot about memory: how we remember what we remember, what we remember, whether what we remember is true or not, and how we delude ourselves.

Then we have the whole idea of fake news and alternative facts, but I haven’t quite gotten into that yet.

All of your work seems to possess similar touchstones about memory.

We can’t ever remember anything exactly the way it happened, as the mere act of remembering changes it. It is already changed when you’ve experienced it, because you’re looking back on it with a certain emotional framework.

That is really fascinating to me, especially in storytelling and cinematic terms. Because the way that we tend to write memory in films and in novels is as flashbacks, and as very accurate flashbacks.

I’m more interested in a jumble. Our memories jump around. They’re not accurate flashbacks; they tend to be almost like dreams. That’s how we remember ourselves; it’s the whole concept of our identity.

Do you have any tips for writers?

The only rule is don’t be boring. You need to engage and pull the person through. I’ve tried to apply that to everything – to prose too. You want to pull your audience or pull your reader through the story, as opposed to pushing them. You want them to be anticipating where you might go.

The books that we love are the ones where we think we know where they’re going, and we can’t wait until they get there, and when they get there they surprise us.

Also please see my article about Daniel Pyne on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at:

https://creativescreenwriting.com/daniel-pyne/

 

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