Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie-Movie! Peter Hanson's royally entertaining TALES FROM THE SCRIPT

If, as a movie-lover, you're not hooked by the very first anecdote (from screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, about his Oscar-winner Ghost) in TALES FROM THE SCRIPT, I'll be more than surprised. This documentary, in which screen-writers regale us with their woes, is so full of funny, bitchy, nasty, sad stories -- most of which, if you have any acquaintance with the task of writing for the movies, will have you in stitches -- that it becomes an instant classic. If you've ever considered going into this occupation, "Tales" will give you second thoughts aplenty -- about both the writing process & working with directors, stars, Hollywood "suits" and -- ah, yes -- agents.

Directed by Peter Hanson (shown, left) and co-written/co-produced by Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, from an idea by Mr. Herman, the documentary is little more than a parade of talking heads, intercut with some of the juicier and more memorable snippets from movies that deal with Hollywood and its treatment of writers and scripts. Yet that's all it really needs to royally entertain anyone interested in screenwriting and/or Hollywood gossip.

Those talking heads includes some of the better writers around, and even if you don't agree with that assessment going in (David Hayter, shown above, who did the ill-fated Watchmen), you may coming out, because these guys (and gals: Allison Anders, Guinevere Turner, shown below, Naomi Foner, Kriss Turner) are extremely well-spoken, thoughtful, intelligent and funny. Even Peter Hyams, whose work I often loathe, speaks smartly and well.

It's tempting to simply quote one after another of these great anecdotes and interesting ideas, but I won't -- since that would be the equivalent of giving away the plot to a narrative film. Instead, I'll just say that if you want to listen to one of Hollywood's best B-moviemakers, Larry Cohen, you can do it here. You'll also learn (from Kris Young) why those soldiers in the initial scene of Saving Private Ryan make good stand-ins for screenwriters; from Andrew W. Marlowe, who insists that there are no breakthrough moments for the writer, only a series of small breaks; from Dennis Palumbo who tells us why "no" is such a well-loved word in Hollywood; from Justin Zackham on how The Bucket List came into being; hints on how to negotiate the shoals of the "meeting" from Steven E. de Souza (shown below: this guy seems a font of good information!); and my favorite "funny": Ronald Shusett telling a great story about Dino Di Laurentis and King Kong Lives.

They're all here and all worth hearing: Paul Schrader, Frank Darabont (shown below) Shane Black, William Goldman (of course!), David S. Ward, Michael Wolk, the actual Antwone Fisher, the late Melville Shavelson (shown at bottom, who died the day after Hanson's interview with him) and more. While the movie is organized in a seemingly scatter-shot manner, it makes little difference because the stories are so good, the editing (by J.D. Funari) smart and swift, and the cumulative effect bracing. Oddly enough, the film doesn't go into the possibilities of the writer's best revenge: becoming a writer/director, or even better, a writer/director/producer. Maybe Messieurs Hanson and Herman assumed we'd know that already.

One of the more surprising reactions I had to this documentary was that it did not matter whether the films under discussion were ones I'd loved or hated: The anecdotes about them and their "making" proved equally interesting and on-point. There is so little to see about screenwriters/screenwriting in general (Russell Brown's The Blue Tooth Virgin is the best and most original narrative feature on this subject to appear in some time), so this new documentary is to be welcomed on several fronts.

Tales From the Script, from First Run Features, open Friday, March 12 in New York at the Quad Cinema and on March 19 in L.A. at the Laemmle Music Hall.  Knowing FRF, a DVD release is probably in the offing soon.
(The photos in this post, including that 
of the director -- good ones all -- 
were taken by the director himself: Peter Hanson.)

1 comment:

James van Maanen, said...

It's come to my attention that my original post on this film had some incorrect information regarding the attribution of credit, so the changes made to the post now, I believe, better reflect the responsibility for the film's existence.