Written Interview: Steve Zaillian

December 3rd, 2011 by

An interview in ICG magazine with screenwriter, producer and director Steve Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fisher, A Civil Action, Schindlers List, Moneyball, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Excerpts:

ICG: You’ve written many scripts from novels and non-fiction. How do you approach the adaptation process? Steven Zaillian: The approach varies depending on what’s there to begin with.  Sometimes there’s no obvious narrative – the book is a collection of essays or articles, which was the case for Searching for Bobby Fischer, or case studies like Awakenings, or the history and analysis of an idea such as the recently released Moneyball. The approach in non-fiction adaptations like those is to create a narrative story and tell it through certain characters. In the case of a novel, we understand what’s going on with the characters  – their inner lives, their thoughts – in the prose. This isn’t something available to the screenwriter, except perhaps in the use of voice-over. If there’s no voice-over, which in most of my scripts there isn’t, I have to convey what a character is thinking or feeling in actions and behavior. Not even dialog is going to help me, since people seldom reveal what they’re really thinking and feeling with words. The good news is, because of the visual nature of film, we get to see, rather than hear, what a character is about.

Why have you been attracted to so many true stories? Perhaps because I grew up with news always in the house; my father being a journalist. Since true stories are reported in articles or books, that’s where I first hear about them. The challenge is constructing a dramatic film narrative that doesn’t stray from the facts in significant ways. I actually don’t mind the messiness of how something happened or a person’s complicated motivation or behavior.


What are the criteria that you use for choosing a project? The first question I ask is, “does it interest me enough to stay with it for the months or years it will take to finish it?” The next question is, “do I feel I have enough to contribute to it; do I understand what it’s really about?” The last question I ask is, “who’s directing it?” And that one has become more and more important to me over the years, because I believe you can see, or at least sense on the screen, whether or not there was a good working relationship between the writer and director. The best experiences I’ve had have been with the best directors, and David Fincher is certainly one of them.

For more of the interview, go here.

HT to @LaFamiliaFilm for the link.

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