Daily Dialogue — August 27, 2016

August 27th, 2016 by


EDWARDS, thrown for a major loop, sits like a zombie alongside KAY on a bench in Battery Park. Kay drinks his coffee while they talk.

KAY: Any given time, around fifteen hundred landed aliens are on the planet, the majority right here in Manhattan. Most aliens are decent enough, just trying to make a living.
EDWARDS: Cab drivers?
KAY: Not as many as you’d think. Humans, for the most part, don’t have a clue. Don’t want one, either. They’re happy. They think they’ve got a pretty good bead on things.
EDWARDS: Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.
KAY: A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, they knew it was flat. Fifteen minutes ago, you knew we humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
EDWARDS: So what’s the catch?
KAY: What you’ll gain in perspective, you’ll lose in ways you’re too young to comprehend. You give up everything. Sever every human contact. No one will know you exist. Ever.
EDWARDS: Nobody?
KAY: You’re not even allowed a favorite shirt. There. That’s the speech I never heard. That’s the choice I never got.
EDWARDS: Hold up. You track me down, put me through those stupid-ass tests, now you’re trying to talk me out of it. I don’t get it.
KAY: You got ’til sun-up.
EDWARDS: Is it worth it?
KAY: You find out, you let me know.

Men In Black (1997), screenplay by Ed Solomon, screen story by Ed Solomon, comic by Lowell Cunningham

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters. Today’s suggestion by Lois Bernard.

Trivia: The climax was going to be a humorous existential dialogue between agents J and K and the Bug, but the studio called for a more action-packed climax, so it was changed to the Bug getting blown up.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Lois: “I would never have guessed that last bit of trivia, to me the ending seemed perfect for the movie. This scene is basically pure exposition with enough comedy put in to make it entertaining.”

My thoughts: Mentors know ‘stuff’. Wisdom. Insight. And sometimes inside information. Here Kay reveals some real inside info about aliens.

Interview (Part 4): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 25th, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week.

Today in Part 4, Adam reveals some insider details on two big movie deals with which Madhouse Entertainment was involved.

If we could, I’d like to briefly go through your experience surrounding the circumstances of three spec script sales in which you were involved: What were some memorable details of the sale of Aaron Guzikowski’s spec script “Prisoners”?

This answer should be in a book somewhere.  7 years.

Guzikowski was an aspiring screenwriter living in a small apartment in Brooklyn, NY.  In 2006 he sent me a query letter in the mail (with an actual stamp and everything).  He was asking if I wanted to read a script of his that was a small contained horror film.  Horror is not really in my blood (so to speak) but I had him send it to me because there was a unique idea to it.  The script and story were flawed but it was clear to me on page 1 of his script, he knew how to write.

From there, we spent about 6 months coming up with new ideas for movies that he can write and we can develop from the ground up together.  Thanksgiving 2006 he came up with the concept for PRISONERS.  We worked through countless treatments and outlines, to drafts and rewrites, and he worked with Madhouse on PRISONERS until February 2009.  Over 2 years.  We had never even met in person.  We were giving him notes while he was in a supply closet of his temporary job in Brooklyn.  People would literally be walking in and he’d be handing out paper and pens.  But AARON GUZIKOWSKI never once wavered in the work that was required.  He knew that notes aren’t always perfect but use the good ones, and think about the bad ones.  He never fucking quit.

I gave the script to all the agencies in one weekend in February 2009.  Initially, the agents all passed on the project because they felt it was going to be “too hard” to get made.  But one agent named Adam Levine responded well to it.  Adam at the time was at Endeavor, he has since become one of the founders of VERVE Agency where Guzikowski was one of the initial clients for the start up agency in 2010.

Endeavor began to build a package around PRISONERS as the script was sent out around Hollywood.  The feedback was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  The project had Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale set to star (before production of their film ‘The Fighter’) and had Bryan Singer (XMen) set to direct.  Ultimately, that package proved to be too expensive for the marketplace based on the type of story told in PRISONERS.  At this point ALCON ENTERTAINMENT (‘Blind Side’, ‘Insomnia’, and upcoming ‘Beautiful Creatures’) asked to purchase the screenplay free and clear of any package.

From there, the project navigated through a process that included having Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star (in the role Wahlberg was interested in playing) that was not able to get off the ground based on timing for Dicaprio.

I am pleased to say that as of January 14th, 2013 the cameras will roll in Atlanta, Georgia for PRISONERS.  Our director is Denis Villeneuve (Oscar nominated for his brilliant film ‘Incendies’).  Our extraordinary cast includes:  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Paul Dano.  Madhouse Entertainment is producing (Adam Kolbrenner, Producer and Robyn Meisinger, Executive Producer) along with Kira Davis.  The film will be released by Warner Bros and Alcon on September 20th, 2013.  Just shy of 7 years since the idea surfaced in AARON GUZIKOWSKI’s brain.  During this time, GUZIKOWSKI additionally wrote the Mark Wahlberg hit “CONTRABAND” that was released in January 2012 and the upcoming Legendary release “SEVENTH SON” that stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.  He’s become one of the most in demand screenwriters working in Hollywood.

What were some of the noteworthy items associated with the sale of David Guggenheim’s spec script “SAFE HOUSE”?

DAVID GUGGENHEIM was working as an editor in NYC at US Weekly Magazine.  He had spent several years getting his material out to the community from his home in New York.  We started working together on SAFE HOUSE at the early script stage.  We worked on it and took it to the marketplace with his agent David Boxerbaum.  Our plan was to be sure that everyone in town read the material because we were so proud to show it off.  The response was overwhelming.  Producers, buyers, studios, all wanted this script.  It was built for two major movie star roles.  This was February 2010.  We were in production in January 2011 for Universal Studios.  We were released worldwide February 2012 starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and became a major hit for Universal as it went on to gross over $200,000,000 worldwide boxoffice.  GUGGENHEIM is hard at work on the sequel to be shot in 2013.

As you look at those 2 deals, are there any big ticket lessons or takeaways you can discern there? Any universal truths each script project share?

Incredible characters.  Original story with unique twists.  Well told.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Adam discusses some of the issues facing working screenwriters nowadays and shares inside information on one of the more notable deals in the last several years.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

To read press articles about Madhouse Entertainment, go here.

[Originally posted January 24, 2013]

UPDATE: Prisoners went on to become a big hit and you can read about Aaron Guzikowski’s success after that movie here. You can also read my February 2014 interview with Aaron here. After Safe House, David Guggenheim has also gone on to big things which you can read about here including the upcoming CBS TV series “Designated Survivor”. You can read my April 2013 interview with David here.

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Alcoholism

August 13th, 2016 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Alcoholism.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

A slew of movies about alcoholism which you can see here, but you can expand the range of possibilities by recalling characters who themselves are addicts in stories which aren’t focused on this theme.

Let’s see what we can do this week: 7 great examples of dialogue featuring alcoholism.

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 3,012.

Be a part of the proud Daily Dialogue tradition, make a suggestion, and have your name emblazoned on a blog post which will forever hold a hallowed spot in the Go Into The Story archives!

Upcoming schedule of themes:

August 22-August 28: Mentor [Michael Waters]
August 29-September 4: Blame
September 5-September 11: Argument [Mark Twain]
September 12-September 18: Bullying
September 19-September 25: Military Moments [Will King]
September 26-October 2: Clairvoyance
October 3-October 9: Cooking [Katha]
October 10-October 16: Coaching
October 17-October 23: Cover Up [Will King]
October 24-October 30: Discipline
October 31-November 6: All Is Lost [Melinda]
November 7-November 13: Embarrassment
November 14-November 20: Bechdel Test [Will King]
November 21-November 27: Enthusiasm
November 28-December 4: Alien Invasion [Michael Waters]
December 5-December 11: Excuse
December 12-December 18: Fish Out Of Water [Will King]
December 19-December 25: Faith
December 26-January 1: Failure [Will King and Melinda]

Be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Alcoholism.

Continued thanks to all of you Daily Dialogue devotees, your suggested dialogue and dialogue themes. Grateful for your ongoing support of this series.

Writing and the Creative Life: One key to creativity… naps?

August 5th, 2016 by

I was doing my usual thing yesterday, working my way through a virtual pile of emails, organizing my daily To Do list, and generally being a productive busy bee when I saw this tweet from fellow screenwriter Arash Amel:

Writing tip for the day: sometimes when you don’t feel like writing, just stop. Have a nap.

Have a nap. That jarred something in my memory, so I started digging into the archives of my blog and found a post I wrote over 5 years ago called “Naps: Key to Creativity?” The piece cited a New York Times article which examined scientific research between the connection of sleep and creativity:

“There is a cultural bias against sleep that sees it as akin to shutting down, or even to death,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Most people, Dr. Ellenbogen says, think of the sleeping brain as similar to a computer that has “gone to sleep” — it does nothing productive. Wrong. Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. Most unappreciated of all, sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.

Steven Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, once defined creativity as “just connecting things.” Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.

So some scientists and entrepreneurs think sleep is beneficial. But what about arty types? Again from the NYT article:

“It’s more that sleep brings a change of approach,” explains Mark Holmes, an art director at Pixar Animation Studios who worked on the film “Wall-E.” “You can get tunnel vision when you’re hammering away at a problem. You keep going down this same path, again and again, just tweaking, making incremental changes at best. ” He continues: “Sleep erases that. It resets you. You wake up and realize — wait a minute! — there is another way to do this.”

And how does that “reset work:

“Sleep makes a unique contribution,” explains Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies the neural bases of insight and creative cognition.

Some sort of incubation period, in which a person leaves an idea for a while, is crucial to creativity. During the incubation period, sleep may help the brain process a problem.

“When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are,” says Dr. Jung-Beeman, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology.

When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are. Like when you are dreaming:

Another theory is that typical approaches to problem-solving may decay or weaken during sleep, enabling the brain to switch to more innovative alternatives. A classic switching story, recounted in “A Popular History of American Invention” in 1924, involves Elias Howe’s invention of the automated sewing machine: after much frustration with his original model, which used a needle with an eye in the middle, Howe dreamed that he was being attacked by painted warriors brandishing spears with holes in the sharp end. He patented a new design based on the dream spears; by the time the patent expired in 1867, he had earned more than $2 million in royalties.

My predominant instinct when writing a story is to immerse myself in it in the most comprehensive fashion possible. Oftentimes that involves endless hours devoted to research, character development, brainstorming and plotting. I know the value of a direct approach to the creative process, slogging into and through the story universe with lots of intentional effort and thought.

Yet I know that in some intangible way, writing a story involves a type of magic, a metaphorical way of referring to an indirect approach to the process.

And what could be more indirect than giving oneself over to a nap?

So the next time you are stuck or feeling uninspired, consider doing what Arash Amel suggests: Take a nap. The answers you seek may be lurking in your dreams.

Writing and the Creative Life is a series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

[Originally posted October 31, 2013]

“Underwritten Female Character: The Movie”

July 7th, 2016 by

Hey, screenwriters, this is definitely worth a look, both funny and a great reminder: Write multidimensional women characters.

Via Nuclear Family.

HT FastCo Create.

Video: ATX Festival Panel — Beau Willimon in conversation with David Simon and Tom Fontana

June 20th, 2016 by

From the recent ATX Festival:

After more than a decade of reporting crime from the streets of Baltimore, how did a career journalist like David Simon learn to navigate a TV writers’ room? The outcome was in no small part due to the indispensable guidance of veteran TV producer Tom Fontana. Together, they brought Simon’s realistic characterization of the BPD’s Homicide division to life in the provocative and critically-lauded, Homicide: Life on the Street. Separately, the two would go on to create two series that began to define HBO and stand out as part of the TV revolution: Oz and The Wire. Join Simon and Fontana as they reflect on their earlier and vastly different experiences in the realm of 90s broadcast TV.

Simon and Fontana are icons: Homicide, Oz, The Wire. Incredible TV. And Willimon (House of Cards) is on his way to joining them. The conversation is both illuminating and hysterical, so many great anecdotes.

For example for the series Oz, Fontana wrote out each character’s story for the entire season, all their scenes, then folded the scenes together into an episode.

For more ATX Festival videos, go here.

2016 Scene-Writing Challenge: Day 7

June 9th, 2016 by

For the fourth straight year, June is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a scene-writing prompt. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. Upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

Everything you need to know about screenwriting theory in this unique curriculum based on eight principles: Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time.

CORE I: PLOT – A one-week class which begins with the principle Plot = Structure and explores the inner workings of the Screenplay Universe: Plotline and Themeline. Start date: June 27.

CORE II: CONCEPT – A one-week class which begins with the principle Concept = Hook and examines multiple strategies to generate, develop and assess story ideas. Start date: July 11.

CORE III: CHARACTER – A one-week class which begins with the principle Character = Function and delves into archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, and Trickster. Start date: August 8.

CORE IV: STYLE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Style = Voice and surfaces keys to developing a distinctive writer’s personality on the page. Start date: August 22.

CORE V: DIALOGUE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Dialogue = Purpose and probes a variety of ways to write effective, entertaining dialogue. Start date: September 19.

CORE VI: SCENE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Scene = Point and provides six essential questions to ask when crafting and writing any scene. Start date: October 3.

CORE VII: THEME – A one-week class which begins with the principle Theme = Meaning and gives writers a concrete take on theme which can elevate the depth of any story. Start date: November 14.

CORE VIII: TIME – A one-week class which begins with the principle Time = Present and studies Present, Present-Past, Present-Future and time management in writing. Start date: December 12.

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 6 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Core Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course — all for nearly 50% the price of each individual class. If you sign up now, you can have immediate access to all of the Core content.

In June, to qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Core classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing scenes?


That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: An intervention.

A physical altercation. A verbal argument. Family and friends confronting someone who has a persistent behavioral problem. Lots of ways to go.

Write a 1-2 page scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Core class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Core classes, you need to submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. One post and one feedback per scene prompt.

FEEDBACK TIP: Interventions almost by definition involve conflict. Brainstorm ways to up the conflict in the scene you review.

Want to join in? Here are the previous challenge prompts:

Day 1 challenge: A scene set in an inhospitable environment, e.g., outer space, underwater, desert.

Day 2 challenge: A scene involving a secret.

Day 3 challenge: Two people talk while dancing.

Day 4 challenge: The audience knows something the characters don’t.

Day 5 challenge: Miscommunication.

Day 6 challenge: An intervention, suggested by Lior Shemesh.

You can check out the fruits of our collective labor from the last three years:

Scene-Writing Exercises (2013)
Scene-Writing Exercises (2014)
Scene-Writing Exercises [2015]

Finally if you have what you think is a good suggestion for a scene-writing prompt, please post that as well.

It’s the 2016 Scene-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1  free online class with yours truly.


“Go into the story and find the animals”

May 4th, 2016 by

On May 16th, this humble blog will celebrate its 8th birthday. Eight years! In the run-up to this august event, I’m going to write an occasional post reflecting on what it is you and I do here. As always, I am keen to hear any advice and suggestions you may have, especially since the site will be transitioning over to Medium in the next few months in conjunction with my longstanding partnership with the Black List.

Today I thought I’d start at the beginning and answer a question I get with some frequency: Why did you name the blog Go Into The Story?

Many of you know the answer, but a lot of readers don’t, so allow me to regale you with one of my favorite personal anecdotes. It derives from a conversation I had with my then three year-old son Luke. I was giving him a bath, a bit distracted as I was contemplating a story I had been working on earlier. On a lark, I asked Luke a question:

Hey, Luke, I’m starting to write a new script tomorrow. And it’s funny, but no matter how many times I start a new story, I get a bit, uh, nervous about it. Got any, you know, advice for your dad?

My son peered up at me and without a moment’s hesitation said:

Go into the story and find the animals.

God as my witness, that’s what my son said.

I thought that was just about the greatest thing I’d ever heard. As I mulled it over for the next several days, I peeled back layer after layer of meaning.

For starters the whole idea of going into a story is precisely what a writer does, immersing ourselves in a narrative universe that we participate in creating.

But over time, it’s the other part in which I’ve discovered more and more layers of meaning. Start with the verb “find.” Is there any word more appropriate to describe the writing process? Here are some of its definitions:

* “to come upon by chance”: Doesn’t that sound like brainstorming?

* “to locate, attain, or obtain by search or effort”: Doesn’t that sound like research?

* “to discover or perceive after consideration”: Doesn’t that sound like what happens when we mull over our story?

* “to feel or perceive”: As we go into the story, we become more and more emotionally connected to it.

* “to become aware of, or discover”: The biggie, where as explorers we uncover a story’s hidden gems.

Then there is “the animals.” I’m almost sure what Luke was thinking about was how a children’s story so often is habituated by animals. Thus in his eyes, my task was probably pretty simple: Go find the animals. They are your characters. But what if we think about it more symbolically.

* Animals can be both domesticated and wild. So some things we discover as we go into the story are what we might expect (domesticated). Other times we’re surprised, even shocked by ideas and thoughts that spring to mind (wild).

* Animals are alive, organic, and intuitive beings. So are our story’s characters.

* Throughout human history, animals have come to mean something in stories. A fox is sly and cunning. A crow in many cultures signifies death. An owl is wise. Per Jung and others who study myth and psychoanalysis, animals can serve as conduits into the mind of the dreamer.

Which reminds me of something I read about a movie director who in prepping to make a movie gave each of the actors their own animal token as something they could reference in interpreting their character.

I’m sure if you think about it, you could probably come up with other shades of meaning for what Luke said, but suffice to say it’s become my favorite writing mantra both because of its layers of meaning and because of its source.

And that’s why I named the blog Go Into The Story.

If you have any thoughts about the blog, I would love to hear them. How do you use the site. What are your favorite features of the daily posts. And as I say, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.


Interview (Written): Bryan Sipe (“Demolition”)

April 23rd, 2016 by

An Indiewire interview with Bryan Sipe, writer of the movie Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Speaking of catching up, your career has had an odd trajectory. There’s almost a ten-year gap between this film and your last feature. What happened?

I came out here, and I got lucky early on. I sold this script, I had a writing partner, and I thought, “This is easy. No problem.” 24, 25 years old; I’ve got money in my pocket. And then I didn’t work again for like seven years.

Along the way, emotionally, I surrendered. I was waving this white flag and I was feeling this apathy. And that apathy was re-stimulating. It brought me back to this place where I was doing this demolition work [when I was younger]. What was happening was that I was in these burned out houses, ripping walls apart and stepping on nails going through my feet, standing around this debris or remains like a skeleton and going, “How the fuck is this my life?” I felt something so much bigger that wants to come out but I feel trapped inside of this environment.

There was that same apathy. It brought me back to that place, but now I was 27 years old or something like that and I was failing, not just in my career but in my relationships. I was broke. I was working in bar, where at first I thought, “I’m going to be here for a few months, I’m good.” I ended up working at that bar for nine years. Out of that apathy came this voice and that voice became this character and that character introduced me to these other characters.

So Davis and his experiences were what paved the way for you?

Once you’re walking down that hallway, it’s like, “Oh, there is a vending machine over there in a hospital. He walks over and hits the button and puts his money in, but the candy gets stuck probably, that’s what happens.” It really unraveled that way, and once I saw that thing that you see on those vending machines, a 1-800 number, I thought, “I got my other character.”

The movie is sort of elevated slightly above reality. There are things that we couldn’t get away with, that he says that we couldn’t get away with. But there are things that you think about, right? Maybe things that you want to say or things that you want to do. Like, it would be cool to get shot with a bulletproof vest. In this world it was acceptable. In my way, that was me doing it without the consequences. I get to explore what the consequences are for him.

A trailer for the movie:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview (Part 4): Isaac Adamson

April 21st, 2016 by

The top rated screenplay on the 2015 Black List is “Bubbles” and it was written by Isaac Adamson. It’s a terrific story, one of the most, if not the most unique ways to approach writing a biopic I have ever seen: The story is a snapshot of Michael Jackson’s life told from the perspective of his pet chimpanzee Bubbles. I would have been interested in interviewing Isaac simply based on the creative inspiration of that idea — I mean, who thinks like that — but when it hit #1 on the Black List charts last year, it was a no-brainer. I reached out to Isaac’s manager Lee Stobby and we finally arranged a time in Isaac’s busy schedule to spend an hour together over the phone, talking with Isaac from his home in Portland, Oregon.

Today in Part 4, Isaac and I discuss some themes at work in the script “Bubbles”:

Scott:  I’d like to talk about some of the themes. We’ve already discussed, one, the hierarchical dynamic: Who’s the King? There’s another one, too, that’s played pretty strongly throughout, and that’s this idea of being in a cage.

There’s obviously the cage that Bubbles is in at the beginning in the prologue and then eventually winds back up in, but Michael Jackson himself essentially being in a cage as a kind of trapped public figure. Is that something you were going for?

Isaac:  Absolutely. That was a theme that I wanted to run through the whole thing. This idea that Michael Jackson was caged by his own celebrity. Even in Neverland, he’s constructed what amounted to a cage for himself. He thought he was building a thing that would set him free, but that turned out not to be the case.

Scott:  Kind of like Xanadu in Citizen Kane.

Isaac:  Yeah.

Scott:  Another thing, I think it’s Frank, one of Michael Jackson’s cadre of people who says on Page 83, this long and touching observant bit of business talking about Michael Jackson as a pop star in relation to the rest of the world.

He says, “You find the beast is bigger than you, stronger than you ever imagined. You discover the beast never sleeps, and the beast will trample you underfoot without a second thought.”

He’s literally talking about the public, and obviously it has some double meaning going on there.

Isaac:  Yeah. It does. He is talking about the public but…I’m not sure how to answer that one.

Scott:  Here’s a take on it that I had. Obviously, Bubbles is a beast, he’s an animal. He, through his actions to Michael Jackson later on in a horrifically violent way, exhibits that behavior. It’s almost a metaphor for what the public has done to Michael Jackson, whether he realizes it or not, through his own aberrant behavior.

Isaac:  Totally. That speech is also there to kind of presage Bubbles’ later attack on Michael.

Bubbles pointing to a photograph of the King of Pop

Scott:  You have that ticking clock, too, which the trainer says that as they get older, these chimpanzees become more in touch with their animalistic nature and you have to watch out for that. We see this instinct on Bubbles’ part, to become more and more in touch with his inner warrior.

Isaac:  It’s just a natural part of, I would say human adolescence too, but chimp adolescence is that they get more aggressive. They get stronger, they get more unruly. They don’t like to wear clothes. [laughs] I don’t know if that’s true of adolescents humans, though maybe they wear less clothes.

Beyond a certain age, they’re too dangerous to handle and throughout the script, we see Bubbles fighting against this but ultimately being unable to stop his natural evolution into an adult chimpanzee. That was one of the central themes I was going for too, that ultimately Bubbles is punished for doing the one thing Michael Jackson can’t do, which is grow up.

Scott:  I can totally see that. That leads right into this whole Jordan Chandler thing, the young boy that essentially led to the downfall of Michael Jackson in the public perception. There were the lawsuits and all that stuff where you get the sense that Michael Jackson’s trying to, setting aside whatever criminal activity may or may not have happened, trying to cling to his youth.

Isaac:  It was definitely that. He was completely enamored of Peter Pan. If you look at the photographs of Neverland, there are Peter Pan statues and pictures and stuff like that everywhere. I know he was working with, I forget what director it was, but for a long time he was trying to get a film version of Peter Pan made where he would star as Peter Pan.

Even if you look at the shape of his nose as it evolves, he was going for that upturned classic Peter Pan nose at one point in his life.

Scott: The point you made that Bubbles does grow up and Michael Jackson resists that, and Bubbles of course in growing up is getting in touch with that inner animalistic side which exhibits itself in that assault on Michael Jackson, that’s an interesting point I hadn’t quite grabbed it, it makes a lot of sense.

I’ve read conflicting accounts on this: Did Michael Jackson ever go visit Bubbles again in Florida, or did he not?

Isaac:  He never visited him in Florida that I’m aware of, but I read an interview with Bob Dunn, who was Bubbles’ trainer, that said that Michael would come visit Bubbles in Sylmar at this facility that Bob Dunn had. He visited there a few times with his kids, so that’s what that scene is based on. But once Bubbles went to Florida in 2005, Michael never came to visit him that I know of.

Scott:  How soon in the process did you know that that end scene, where Michael does come for a visit and he brings the three kids, and there’s a touching moment there, how soon in the process did you know that that was going to be, essentially, the denouement of the story?

Isaac:  That came pretty late. In my original thinking about it, there was going to be the attack and then the next thing we knew, there’s Bubbles in the ape sanctuary, thinking about Michael, still wondering about when he’ll return. But I realized that I needed something a little softer, and a little more emotional — a lot more emotional, actually — and also show some kind of healing that time has done.

I didn’t want to end with…have his last action with Michael be attacking him, because they had had this great friendship together and gone through this adventure together.

I just felt it needed a kind of grace note.

Scott:  You have a great callback, that little finger‑to‑finger thing.

Isaac:  That came pretty late, too. That was after the first draft, but before I’d shown it to anybody. I wanted them to have some kind of secret handshake that they could do, some kind of nonverbal way of communicating with each other.

I came up with the fingers touching, and I liked that a lot.

Scott:  Then you went back to set it up?

Isaac:  Exactly.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Isaac shares how he discovered “Bubbles” had been named the top-rated screenplay in the 2015 Black List and what that has meant to him as a screenwriter.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Isaac is repped by CAA and Lee Stobby.

Twitter: @isaacadamson.