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Oscars Race 2017: 10th annual Oscar-nominated screenwriters Q&A at the LA Film School with Jeff Goldsmith, moderator #Oscars

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Group shot from left to right – Mike Mills, 20th Century Women (Best Original) Screenplay, Eric Heisserer, Arrival (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Allison Schroeder, co-writer, Hidden Figures (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Damien Chazelle, La La Land (Best Original Screenplay, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water (Best Original) Screenplay, Jeff Goldsmith (Moderator), Luke Davies, Lion (Best Original) Screenplay, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea (Best Original) Screenplay, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight (Best Adapted) Screenplay
Group shot from left to right – Mike Mills, 20th Century Women (Best Original) Screenplay, Eric Heisserer, Arrival (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Allison Schroeder, co-writer, Hidden Figures (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Damien Chazelle, La La Land (Best Original Screenplay, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water (Best Original) Screenplay, Jeff Goldsmith (Moderator), Luke Davies, Lion (Best Original) Screenplay, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea (Best Original) Screenplay, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight (Best Adapted) Screenplay

Coverage by Jennifer Ortega, Red Carpet Report Reporter follow Jen on Twitter @JenniferEOrtega

I recently attend the 10th annual Oscar-nominated screenwriters Q&A hosted by Jeff Goldsmith. The event was hosted by the Los Angeles Film School. The panel included this year’s Oscar nominated screenwriters:

  • Mike Mills (best Original) for 20th Century Women
  • Eric Heisserer (Best Adapted) for Arrival
  • Taylor Sheridan (Best Original) for Hell or High Water
  • Allison Schroeder (Best Adapted) for Hidden Figures
  • Damian Chazelle (Best Original) for La La Land
  • Luke Davies (Best Original) for Lion
  • Kenneth Lonergan (Best Original) for Manchester by the Sea
  • Barry Jenkins (Best Adapted) for Moonlight
  • Tarell Alvin McRaney (Best Adapted) for Moonlight
Group shot from left to right – Mike Mills, 20th Century Women (Best Original) Screenplay, Eric Heisserer, Arrival (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water (Best Original) Screenplay, Allison Schroeder, co-writer, Hidden Figures (Best Adapted), Damien Chazelle, La La Land (Best Original Screenplay, Luke Davies, Lion (Best Original) Screenplay, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea (Best Original) Screenplay, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight (Best Adapted) Screenplay.
Group shot from left to right – Mike Mills, 20th Century Women (Best Original) Screenplay, Eric Heisserer, Arrival (Best Adapted) Screenplay, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water (Best Original) Screenplay, Allison Schroeder, co-writer, Hidden Figures (Best Adapted), Damien Chazelle, La La Land (Best Original Screenplay, Luke Davies, Lion (Best Original) Screenplay, Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea (Best Original) Screenplay, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McRaney, Moonlight (Best Adapted) Screenplay.

To get this caliber of writers in one room talking about writing was a treat like no other. They were funny, humorous, yet visceral and real. Their personal stories, tips, tragedies and victories were a real delight to listen to. Personally, Mike Mills went after my heart after he started talking about Fellini. And just the opportunity to hear legendary playwright and screenwriter, Kenneth Lonergan, talk about meticulously cleaning his keyboard gave me so much joy.  This was an event like no other and a cinephile’s dream.

Check out some of the excerpts from the panel discussion below or listen to it in it’s entirety on iTunes by clicking this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-q-a-with-jeff-goldsmith/id426840843 

What was your lowest point in your career as a writer?

Eric Heisser: A career low for me was after I had moved out here to LA and I had two different scripts optioned and I thought this is it. This is great. I have two different options here. And in about 45 days both of those dried up immediately and I was hemorrhaging money. I had one new idea that came to me when I was out here. I called up my manager and said, “I have an idea for an original story.” And my manager said, “Oh, they don’t do originals here anymore and I’m leaving the business.”

Luke Davies: 2007, I arrive in LA. A relationship ended catastrophically so I didn’t have to be in Sydney anymore. I stay in LA a little bit more. I try to get meetings. I try to get representation. Eventually, I get representation. I do two sacrificial pitches where you do your pitches and your agent sends you somewhere and you don’t know what you’re doing. And then the writer’s strike begins. The big writer’s strike in 2007. She was like, “There are meetings around.” And I said, “Can I just clarify something? If I take meetings now that the strike has begun, will that make it hard to get into the Writer’s Guild once the strike is over?” And she said,” Yeah.” So I officially stopped taking meetings until the strike was over. 6 months pass. The strike is over and she calls me and says,” I have really bad news. I’m leaving the business and the other two guys in my section, they like you, but they’re going to let you go.”

Damian Chazelle: My lowest point started out as something that seemed like a great thing. I was trying to get work as a writer for hire living in LA. I finally booked a gig that seemed very promising. Then I wrote it and then the movie came out. It’s this masterpiece called, The Last Exorcist: Part 2. I read this review in the LA Times, I’ll always remember it. It said,” Damian Chazelle, clearly a waste of a Harvard education.” I read that in print and I hadn’t even done anything yet in terms of stuff I wanted to do. I was getting slammed for this. But what sucked was, they were kinda right. The movie was bad. But it motivated me and I haven’t written any other horror sequels yet.

What is your favorite way to procrastinate?

Mike Mills: I’m going to give you a super honest answer. Ready? I think I procrastinate by being depressed. I think I recede from the issue. I recede from my responsibilities as a human, the task at hand. And I go into a safe oxycontin depression.

Allison Schroeder: I only write at night. I start at like 11 o’clock at night and write until 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning. So I watch every single procedural drama on TBS. I’ve seen NCIS. I can quote it to you. I’ve seen The Mentalist. I’ve seen them all and I love them. I’m like a 50 year old white man watching NCIS and thinking Mark Harmon is hot. 

Kenneth Lonergan: My whole life is a procrastination. I do everything possible to do absolutely nothing. I mean it runs the gamut. I watch Star Trek episodes. I’m into the hundreds now. I can identify the Star Trek episode with the sound off and not watching it. So there’s that. I like to clean the keyboard. I get very clean when I’m trying to work. I get a q-tip and rubbing alcohol. It can keep you occupied for hours. If you’re really obsessed with it, there’s no end to it because by the time you get to the end of the keyboard, it’s dirty again.

What’s the most personal thing in your script, unless you told us today we really wouldn’t know?  

Tarell Alvin McRaney: The hardest thing to see in Moonlight over and over again, is the scene that Barry (Jenkins) shot with Trevante (Rhodes) and Naomi (Harris) at the rehab center. Mostly because I remember going to the rehab center to visit my mom and being there and sitting there. My mom was 6 feet tall and slender. My mom was a striking woman. We looked very much alike. So if I was a woman, I’d be very striking. I just remember the nurses looking at me like, “Oh, is that your kid?” She was basically like your kid is a fag. The nurses were disappointed because it was one of those religious centers. She was disappointed for my mom. I just remember feeling embarrassed for my mom, that I was her kid at that moment. It’s hard because when I watch that scene, There’s so much love they have between the two of them. I wish that was the way that felt in real life.

Barry Jenkins: In the first chapter of the film, because the movie is more autobiographical for Tarell than it is for me, but there was a lot of space in the narrative, not to insert myself, but to allow my experience  into the film. It’s a very simple scene in the film. Kevin comes over to Little and says,” Hey, don’t let them pick on you.” And they start wrestling. That wasn’t in the source material, but I remember thinking Little was this kid that is just now going into this realm where he acknowledges that sexuality exists. And I remember what that felt like as 10 year old boy. I remember being at school and me and this kid were just standing around and we started wrestling. There was something that was happening that was not just wrestling. In the script I think I was just going to go into this place and show what Little is experiencing. Because I was at that place. I had never talked to anyone about it or written anything to that effect. But I think because the character acted in such a way that I was going to open myself up and go back to that place and remember what it felt like.

Taylor Sheridan: The scene with Toby when he goes to his son and tells his son don’t be like us, do it differently. That was my biggest fear at that time. I was broke and I was terrified of failing my child. So I imagined that fear as self-loathing writers do and took it to the extreme. So for me that was the most personal moment. The most autobiographically accurate moment is when the character Tanner is about to get in this fight with this guy and he says, “Boy you’ll think there are ten of me.” The first time I heard that I was at a bar in Fort Worth, Texas. And this guy ran up who was pretty drunk and he threw his keys at my friend as though he was the valet. He said, “ Go get my truck.” And my friend said, “ Boy, you’ll think there are ten of me.” I told him that was the funniest thing I ever heard and he said, “Yeah, it wasn’t so funny the first time I heard it.”

Is there a book, film or script that inspires you as a writer?

Tarell Alvin McRaney: The book that really pushed me to the brink is called A Visitation of Spirits. It’s by Randall Kenan and it is incredible.

Kenneth Lonergan: I like classical music. So L’ll listen to whatever gets me emotional. Sometimes if I’m at a low point, I look for any kind of inspiration. I’ll watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Watching them just makes you realize how great people can be at what they do. I always think that’s what I would put in a space capsule just to show that planet Earth was somewhat worthwhile. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon or 2001. Those are my favorites. They’re just so beautiful. They’re so powerful.

Damian Chazelle: If I’m trying to write, I read actual screenplays wherever I can get them. And paying attention to things, not just the dialogue, but the prose style of the writer. There’s all these tricks and I love how every writer does it differently. I love reading Billy Ray scripts and Tony Gilroy scripts. It juices me up to do the otherwise painful job of actually typing.

Mike Mills: Fellini interviews are hugely expansive and encouraging. Fellini can make you run into a forest at night happily. I say that as a positive thing. The book, Fellini on Fellini. He’s amazing and the most encouraging director. Fellini was big for this movie so I watched 8 1/2 a lot and it intoxicated and scared the hell out of me.

Photo credit: The Los Angeles Film School