Tales From the Script (2009, dir. Peter Hanson)
Featuring Allison Anders, John August, Shane Black, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Frank Darabont, Antwone Fisher, Mick Garris, William Goldman, David Hayter, Zak Penn, Adam Rifkin, Jose Rivera, Paul Schrader, Guinevere Turner
The documentary opens with Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, Deep Impact) talking about leaving the studio commissary with a group of executives and one of them telling him his script was the best thing he ever read. Months later, Rubin was in the same commissary, leaving behind the same executives with new writer and heard them say his script was the best they ever read. This anecdote sets the tone of the rest of the documentary which isn’t so much about screen writing as it is about the relationship between writers and the studios. This relationship is one in which the writer wants to accepted and the studio wants to get that script out of his grubby little hands and make it the movie they want to see.
The film is made up of interviews with a wide swathe of writers from mid-century pictures up to those of the last decade. To frame the segments of the documentary, scenes from popular films that revolve around screenwriters are used (Barton Fink, The Muse). The result is a very inside baseball type film that is definitely never going to appeal to a large audience. To people working in the film industry and movie nerds like myself, the picture is fascinating glimpse into the trials and travails of the Hollywood screenwriter. We get to hear from veterans such as William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, The Princess Bride) and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction) as well as young, but equally prolific writers like David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen) and John August (Big Fish, The Corpse Bride).
I found it very interesting to hear the voices and see the faces of screenwriters of films I was familiar with. I have to say, most of the films represented here were ones I don’t care for, particularly Bruce Almighty and Click, but the writers definitely fit your expectations of them. One of the most fascinating interviewees was Guinevere Turner. She started out scripting the indie lesbian romantic comedy Go Fish and went on to pen a draft of American Psycho. Turner tells the story of working with Uwe Boll on Bloodrayne and learning that he was letting the actors make edits to her script. While this would drive most writers insane, Turner says she told herself to take deep breaths and that she hated the movie anyway.
The film fails to be a helpful guide to novice writers which is a shame. Goldman has become a sort of god of screenwriting and has numerous books on the topic. There’s some interesting comments on the “postcontent” era of films which might be useful, but overall its just an interesting curio that shows us where films are born.