Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Hottest Panel You've Ever Been To..."

...As described by the moderator Judd Apatow.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the premiere of the Soul Train documentary and there was a scene with Don Cornelius and Marvin Gaye playing a one-on-one game with Smokey Robinson as the referee. It was so surreal that it seemed like something I dreamt - like a dream where John Lennon and Jesus and Charlie Chaplain are all playing cards with Snoopy.

Last night's "Beyond Words" Panel - might have topped Don and Marvin hoopin' it up. The panel included this year's writing Oscar nominees (Nora Ephron was a no-show and was missed as she would have been the only woman).

It included: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious), Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (The Hangover), Scott Neustadter (500 Days Of Summer), Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air), and I was saving the best for last - James Cameron (who made a little movie called Avatar). The moderator was Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People).

It started with a video of the nominees that made me all teary & inspired, even though it was just their pictures and what they were nominated for, still, they were this year's nominees for the oscar...

And then they came out - two single file lines through the aisles of both sides of the theater and again I felt like I was in a dream watching them all walk by. Later Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) said something similar - about always seeing writers like this from a distance and it being so strange to be sitting on a panel with them and seeing them up close. We're writers, to us this was like a panel of Prince and the Jackson 5 and Bob Marley.

Judd Apatow was immediately hilarious - moreso than I even expected & I'm a big Apatow fan- and started off the night by mentioning that he was not nominated this year because "Funny People was the 11th best movie of the year." He then started asking the panel questions that seemingly had nothing to do with writing but set the comedic tone early.

Scott Neustadter was first - "Who was 500 Days of Summer about?" Scott answered that it was a combination of two girls, but there was one that really was the inspiration. Fox Searchlight made him get her permission before they made the movie so they wouldn't get sued, and they became friends on Facebook through the process. However, when the movie came out, she de-friended him.

Geoffrey Fletcher was asked if Precious was his first produced script. He said yes, but it was the 17th script that he wrote. He said Oliver Stone wrote 20 before he got anything produced so he's ahead of him.

He went on to talk about how he thinks Precious is actually a funny film. Judd Apatow chimed in - "I laughed my ass off at Precious. The part with the TV? Hilarious."

Since this bit came as a result of Geoffrey Fletcher interrupting a question that was actually for Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, he apologized. Judd Apatow responded, "Don't feel bad for The Hangover guys. They're fine."

Jon & Scott then talked about the process of writing The Hangover, and how when Newline approached them with the idea of writing a bachelor party movie in Vegas they thought it was terrible and such a cliche, then decided to approach it as a challenge, "How do we make a bachelor party movie that doesn't suck?" They decided to do it without ever showing the bachelor party.

Judd then turned to James Cameron and out of the blue asked, "James, do you ever feel scared at night?" And suddenly we were in the moment that you could feel the whole room was waiting on - James Cameron speaks. He talked about how it took him 4 1/2 months to write Avatar, and the studio told him "it sucks" when he first submitted it. He told them it was a work in progress, and since he was directing he would work a lot of it out during the process. Judd then asked him, "How do you throw in a last minute dragon?"

There was a question from the audience for Mark Boal: "What was it like to work with Kathryn Bigelow?"

James Cameron interrupted "Who are you asking?" Brought the house down.

Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) - side note -super cute - was next. He talked about getting a scene cut from his movie that was heartbreaking. Apparently it will be in the director's cut on the DVD.

James Cameron said that he ended up cutting a scene from Avatar that he cried as he wrote because he felt that he had finally found the heart of his movie. But rhythmically it threw off the movie so it had to go.

Scott Cooper reiterated the famous "killing your darlings" line by Faulkner, with a little more detail than I've ever heard go along with the phrase. Apparently when Faulkner finished a book, he would take out all of his favorite scenes, and if the book still worked then he knew he had something.

Scott's movie had a 7 million dollar budget, so Judd turned to James Cameron and asked, "How do YOU deal with studio notes?" James' said "well, if the movie was 20 million dollars and they gave notes, I would tell them to go f*ck themselves, but when you're making movies that are 200 million + you're gonna get notes." Mark Boal chimed in, "But your notes come directly from Rupert Murdoch himself."

Jason Reitman talked about working on Up In The Air for 7 (!) years, and using real people who had lost their jobs in the firing scenes.

Mark Boal told him he thought the poster for Up In The Air was "a terrible poster to sell a movie." His point being, you have George Clooney and you can't even see his face. (side note - I completely agreed). Sheldon Turner: Three words for you "The Good German." Jason Reitman: Dude, what are you doing?" I had heard that there was something between the two Up In The Air writers, mainly Jason Reitman having to share credit when he barely even looked at Sheldon's script and just wrote a draft that completely ignored it, but you could tell in every single moment of their body language that Jason Reitman does not like his co-nominee.

Mark Boal complemented James Cameron on making an action movie like Avatar that had surprisingly adult themes. "It's not Transformers!"

There was a collective gasp from the audience as one of the panelists (Alex Kurtzman who was there for Star Trek) wrote Transformers.

James Cameron then talked about how interesting it was that Fox made Avatar and Rupert Murdoch funded a movie that attacked all of his core values. "Rupert's actually a big fan of the film." Judd: "I'm sure he is!"

An audience member asked Geoffrey Fletcher to describe his career in one word. The answer, "unexpected." He went on to say if it had happened at 23, "I would have thought that I'd known something and I wouldn't have pushed myself so hard to keep learning."

I kind of love Geoffrey Fletcher.

There was a series of James Cameron questions, prompting Judd to remind the audience there were other writers there.

A kid (maybe 11) asked james Cameron why the people were blue. He was clearly annoyed at having to answer an 11 year old at a WGA panel - "Alright, you can't possibly be in the WGA" - there was a general, "awwww" from the audience, but I agreed, why does James Cameron have to answer questions like that when he's supposed to be talking to a roomful of writers.

Geoffrey Fletcher made him look like a good guy again by talking about how, as big of a filmmaker as James Cameron is, he's still a "story" guy, and underneath all the effects, etc... he's still deeply interested in telling a story. (I had a similar argument with a friend a few weeks ago and felt vindicated). James Cameron than re-ingratiated himself with the audience by saying, "The problem with being a story guy is, there's no story girls up here."

A girl about 17, asked him about some scene at the end where the guy pulls out a knife. She talked about how it made no sense and didn't fit in. James Cameron responded, "If only you had said this before, think what the movie could have been." Judd Apatow jumped in, "Let me handle this one. Are you an aspiring filmmaker?" Girl: "Yes" Judd: "Don't criticize. Avatar is the most successful movie in the history of earth. Learn something."

There were a few crazies after that. Not sure how they got in, but it ended the night on the dreamy tone it began, and all was write with the world. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

*p.s. the picture with this blog is of our esteemed host - Judd Apatow, really captures the tone with which he asked all of his questions.



    Thanks Zing.

  2. This is great. Several of those writers also did a panel for Creative Screenwriting - but no JC, unfortunately. Very inspiring and motivating.