Brad Ingelsby is one busy writer with at least six projects in various states of development and production including Hold on to Me and Run All Night [both on the 2012 Black List] and The Raid. Plus in a nice bit of synergy for us, he sold a high-profile pitch “Merry Men” just last week to DreamWorks.
Brad was kind enough to do an interview and we had an excellent conversation. Today in Part 2, Brad shares more of his creative process in writing the Black List script “Run All Night”:
Scott: Let’s unpack some of those dynamics in “Run All Night”. One is a classic western theme of the retired gunman pressed back into action, like Shane or Unforgiven. Were you aware of that dynamic, and how did that resonate with you as a writer?
Brad: In earlier drafts of the script, there were a few more moments of flashback where we saw moments of real hideous violence, real ugly violence, committed by Jimmy. That’s something that I really wanted to explore, and it also is something that I really wanted to explore in “The Low Dweller”. This idea of guilt and how that manifests itself in people. In this story, when you meet Jimmy he’s not quite convinced he’s wasted his life, but he’s beginning to veer towards that conclusion. It’s only when he’s partnered with his son, and sees what his son has done with his life, that he realizes he has thrown away all the possibility and love that a life and a family can offer.
I knew I wanted to kill Jimmy, but I also wanted to give him a small, private moment near the end where he thinks, “Hey, I can still turn this around. A life can last a very long time. There’s still hope for me to mend these relationships that I’ve broken.” But life doesn’t work that way. You can’t make up for a lifetime of sins in a single night. So it would have felt very false to allow Jimmy that second life.
Unforgiven especially is a movie that I’ve watched over and over again over the years. That character, Will Munny, was certainly on my mind as I was writing Jimmy.
Scott: You mentioned that end part, where Jimmy has a cathartic moment and a sense that he can turn things around. Here’s a strange comparison for you. When I was reading that, the movie American Beauty came to mind, how Lester has that realization right at the end of his life.
Scott: Then it’s taken away from him.
Brad: It’s a movie that I didn’t watch going into writing the script, but now that you say it, it makes perfect sense. Absolutely. In fact, the setting is almost exactly the same. I think Lester sits down at a table and I think Jimmy, at the end of the movie, sits down at the table as well. It’s almost the same beat. You’re exactly right. The emotion in those two moments feels spot‑on.
Scott: It’s sad, in a way, because you really feel like they do have a chance, and then boom, their lives are taken away.
Brad: Yeah. Exactly. But I knew it had to happen because of the way that we established Jimmy and the horrible things that he has done in his life. He can’t get away. It’s too cheap. In a lot of westerns you know from the beginning that your hero is going to die. You just don’t know how he’s going to die. And I think for Jimmy it’s a happy death in many ways. After all, he’s finally at peace. He escapes his ghosts. There’s a respite for him when the screen fades to black. But he sees his son and his grandkids for the first time and you hope that the audience has recognized that at the moment of his death he’s become a different person. And so they’re a little more able to accept his passing, because he’s not the same Jimmy they met in the beginning of the movie.
Scott: Let’s talk about Jimmy. He’s a really compelling character. In his past, he was a hit man. He’s an alcoholic. He’s estranged from his family. He’s looked down upon by locals. He’s harassed by cops. In one scene, he even makes a terrible Santa Claus. We’re dealing with a deeply flawed protagonist here. What was the appeal to you, as a writer, like “OK, I really want to explore this guy’s dark side?”
Brad: Yeah, I think so. I think I overdid it a bit in the beginning of the script to be honest, but by starting Jimmy out at such a low place you give him room to grow. Lots of room to improve. That’s what you really want in a central character, I think. When you review the character’s arc at the end of the movie it feels like he’s traveled a long distance to get there.
So if you establish him in that low place the distance you can travel to get to the ending moment is much farther. And for Jimmy the moment can be a small one. It’s not that you’re giving him a second chance at life. That would be too farfetched and imposed. For Jimmy realizing his faults as a father is an incredible distance to travel in a single night. It’s a huge journey.
Scott: It totally works. You create this chasm that he literally hasn’t even seen his adult son in years and has never seen his grandchildren. Would it be fair to typify the metamorphosis that Jimmy goes through being about reconciliation?
Brad: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about reconciliation with his family and also with his own sins. But arriving at that place has to feel real and earned and true. One thing I really tried to avoid was making it easy for Jimmy to be forgiven. He’s done such awful things in the past that I didn’t want to make his journey towards reconciliation easy. In many ways I didn’t want him to receive forgiveness. For example, there’s a scene near the end of the script where he visits his elderly mother in the hospital. And he wants desperately to confess his sons and be forgiven by her. But she’s so far gone with dementia that she barely recognize her own son and he never gets the forgiveness he’s seeking.
Scott: I was thinking about it. Between “The Low Dweller” and “Run All Night,” you’re dealing with protagonists whose pasts basically haunt their present, not only in a psychological or emotional way, but in a visceral sense. Actual characters from the past appear in the present and confront the protagonists about their personal history. Isn’t that a way of using the past to challenge the protagonist about the question of self‑identity, like “Who are you?”
Brad: Absolutely. If you can imbue your stories with a sense of the past without having to do a flashback or voiceover, the stories tend to feel that much richer. If, as a viewer, you sense that this story, these characters, this place, existed way before you started watching the film, then the writer has done something right. There’s a comfort there, a familiarity, and it makes it much easier for a viewer to settle in and go along with a story.
And in those two scripts, “The Low Dweller” and “Run All Night”, the past is always present. In many ways they’re both about the sins of the past.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Brad talks about another project “Hold on to Me,” then the excitement of making the Black List. Be sure to come back every day this week for the entire interview.
For Part 1 of the interview, go here.
Please stop by comments to thank Brad for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.
Brad is repped by WME and Energy Entertainment.