2015 Writers' Guild of America West Beyond Words Panel
Beyond Words is an annual event held by the Writers' Guild of America West (WGA) to give the year's best screenwriters a chance to speak through more than the pages of a script. Its panelists are all writers whose screenplays have been nominated for either a WGA or an Academy award for their work in the previous calendar year. Beyond Words gives the nominees the chance to talk about the films that earned them their accolades and to share what wisdom they've accumulated about the craft—among lots of laughter, of course.
On February 5, 2015, the panel consisted of an admirable mix of original, adapted, and documentary screenplay writers who offered a wide range of perspectives on the business. Independent filmmakers and writers Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), E. Max Frye (Foxcatcher, co-written with Dan Futterman), and Richard Linklater (Boyhood) provided insight into their movies that explored various aspects of the male psyche or in some cases, the psychotic male. Right beside them were writers who adapted two mainstream box office successes: Nicole Perlman and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Jason Hall (American Sniper). Two screenwriters who would go on to win their respective awards at the WGA awards ceremony just one week later rounded out the list: Graham Moore (the Imitation Game), who also took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and documentarian Brian Knappenberger (the Internet's Own Boy: the Story of Aaron Swartz).
In addition to squeezing some of that wisdom out of most of the panelists before the event, we here at Indiezone.TV had the good fortune to interview Nia Vardalos, a WGA and an Academy Award nominee of her own for 2002's My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Vardalos served as the moderator that evening, and she knew the true way to corral such an exciting group of panelists was to simply open the gates and let them run free. Hear her explain that strategy and what the panelists had to say about their films in the following clips from our coverage at Beyond Words.
Nia Vardalos Has the Questions, but Will These Writers Need Prompts?
Vardalos came prepared for moderating the Beyond Words panel, but she knows she'll likely never get to the questions in her hand. She's surprised by how similar the themes were in many of the nominated films and shares her love for Gone Girl, laughing through her and our momentary lapse of remembering Gillian Flynn's full name!
Dan Gilroy on Nightcrawling His Way into Directing
Dan Gilroy, who's had a lengthy career as a screenwriter, discusses why Nightcrawler brought out the director in him. He doesn't think that having directed will change his approach to screenwriting, because the latter's more like storytelling around a campfire and we all know directing is like starting a bonfire! Multiple times in this interview, Gilroy credits Jake Gyllenhaal with bringing the creepy, narcissistic Louis Bloom to life—though Gilroy hilariously tries to take all the credit back for himself when he realizes he's reached his humility limit. With how well Nightcrawler has been reviewed, we think Gilroy's entitled to far more credit than he jokingly took!
Jason Hall Wrestled His Way Onto Hollywood's It List of Screenwriters
Jason Hall talks about the athletic feat he performed to gain entry into Chris Kyle's circle of trust. Researching this film meant spending a lot of time with Kyle, and Hall relates how it was a privilege to watch the real American Sniper transition from the battlefield back to civilian life in the USA and finding his calling again in helping other veterans. Hall also admits how surprising it is that screenwriting is the mode by which he found Hollywood success--acting was his primary goal when he moved to town!
Nicole Perlman Found Her Space within Guardians of the Galaxy
During her residency with the Marvel Writing Program, Nicole Perlman chose Guardians of the Galaxy to adapt because of her love of science, space, and untraditional heroes. Teamwork is another reason she was drawn to that particular Marvel comic series. Perlman talks about the difference between the carte blanche of fiction writing and her previous true-to-life adapted screenplay Challenger. When movies get science right, Perlman gets excited, but learning how much more amazing than fiction science can often be is even more inspiring.
E. Max Frye Unlocked John du Pont with a Universal Key: the Mother–Son Bond
E. Max Frye and his co-writer, Dan Futterman, knew that real-life millionaire and murderer John du Pont would need to be made accessible to audiences, so they turned to his relationship with his mother, Jean, to bring out his humanity. The levity that Steve Carrell added to the role certainly helped. Frye demurs from giving us specific scenes that were cut from Foxcatcher in a way we can forgive; he instead provides a beautiful description of editing as a way to move story forward rather than sidewise.
Brian Knappenberger relates why he initially filmed the reactions to Aaron Swartz's death of his family, friends, and people Swartz had never met during his life, not realizing he was taking his first steps toward a documentary at the time. He gives us an ardent rundown of the many different ways that Swartz's story highlights the problems within our criminal justice system, from our tremendously high incarceration rate to the pressure placed on defendants to take plea deals. Is the Internet's Own Boy an activist film? Knappenberger answers with an unequivocal yes.
How Richard Linklater Infused Boyhood With His Personal Hallmarks…and Just What Those Are!
Richard Linklater's films are known for their contemplative mood, and he reveals the key to making Boyhood maintain that same feel despite spanning over a decade of childhood: focusing the action on only a few days out of each year. Although Linklater ultimately wrote what amounted to a script a year for the movie, he wouldn't change his process at all, nor how much of the ultimate film is a collaboration with the actors rather than a strict dedication to the script. A well-told story from a simple storyteller, good acting, and humor are what he hopes are the hallmarks of a Richard Linklater film.