Welcome back to The Write Stuff! I'm thrilled that there is such a strong interest in screenwriting out there. Thank you all so much for your comments last week, both here and on my site. All of your questions and comments will be addressed in the coming weeks, so stay tuned and keep them coming!
The first interview for the column is with red-hot screenwriter Adam F. Goldberg. Adam is living the dream. He writes for both television and film, and his upcoming movie projects include Fanboys, the live-action Jetsons movie, and They Came from Upstairs. Cinematical spoke with the incredibly busy Goldberg about his scripts, his process, and Goonies: The Musical.
Cinematical: You said you were being "enslaved by a director," what are you working on? And should I call the authorities?
Adam F. Goldberg: Perhaps call them for my hacky writing! It's called They Came From Upstairs for Fox. It's a family movie, kinda like Gremlins -- but with aliens. The spec was written by Mark Burton and was sold for like $1.7 mil. I believe I am making about .0001212 of that. It's been a really cool project. The movie was in pre-production and the studio realized the script wasn't ready and shut it down pretty late in the game. I came aboard to get the train back on the tracks which is always high pressure and very difficult to do. I handed in 40 pages and they re-greenlit the movie and we're casting and location scouting now. I'm on draft two currently, working next to the director and bringing his vision into it.
Cinematical: Is that an awkward process at all -- being brought in to re-write a fellow writer? Do you ever run into hurt feelings or bruised egos? I guess the $1.7 million makes the pill easier to swallow.
AFG: Well, I come from the TV world, writing on sitcoms and that's very collaborative. You have to sit in the room and watch 10 other writers tear apart your script right in front of you. That bruises your ego. As for movies, more often than not a writer can only go so far and it's your job to bat clean up. It's never a great feeling to have your screenplay rewritten, but hopefully you've moved onto your next project, so it doesn't sting so much. And believe me, that $1.7 payday is like winning the lottery. I hope I can sell a spec one day. I've had little luck in that department.
Cinematical: Take our readers through that -- the difference between a spec and being hired. "Spec" might be an unfamiliar term for some of them.
AFG: OK. A spec is a screenplay you write from scratch. It's your movie from the ground up and you generally write it in a vacuum. No exec or studio notes, which is why a spec really captures your voice and shows what you can do. There are thousands of specs that go out a year and a handful are bought, usually for large sums of cash. The holy grail for the screenwriter. When I got out of college, I had my two specs which were kids movies like Goonies. Or, as many know it, the greatest movie ever made. I basically was told that in the current market, children's films don't sell. They were sent around town and passed on. Once this happens, it's over. Dead. You either have to write a new spec or try and get an assignment -- which is a movie that's in development by a studio or company. This is where I've had all of my luck thus far. The Jetsons, Revenge of the Nerds, Fanboys, Night of the Living Dorks, The Comebacks, and Upstairs -- those were already written by other writers and I came aboard to rewrite and get the greenlight. Ironically -- Upstairs IS a Goonies movie! So it's all full circle.
Cinematical: Yeah, the "rules" are always there to be broken, it seems. When Upstairs is a huge hit, the only thing they'll make is Goonies movies!
AFG: Absolutely. I wait for this day, maybe pull the old specs out of the trunk, wipe off the dust, and then try and sell them again.
Cinematical: So how do you get on to rewrite those projects, does your agent send them your spec as a writing sample?
AFG: Exactly. Your agents know all the open writing assignments in town. They'll come to you and say -- "What do you think about Knight Rider: The Movie?" It either speaks to you or not. If you respond to the logline or project, your agent sends in your sample (a previous assignment or spec) and the execs read it. If they respond, then you go in for a general meeting where you tell them how you'd kick ass on their movie. This begins a series of meetings where you pitch your heart out and try to get the job. In the end, hopefully you get the gig writing lines for KITT.
Cinematical: I believe David Mamet is circling Knight Rider: The Movie.
AFG: That is quite possibly the greatest thing I've ever heard. He's probably my favorite screenwriter. The Postman Always Rings Twice, Untouchables, and Glengarry Glen Ross are f***ing genius.
Cinematical: I was kidding, but that's a movie I'd definitely see! Glengarry Glen Ross is a favorite of mine.
AFG: F***! You got me drooling all over my keyboard!
At this point, Goldberg riffed on some possible dialogue for 'David Mamet's Knight Rider,' which, as you can imagine, is unprintable. We decided on Joe Mantegna for the Hasselhoff role, and Harvey Keitel for the voice of KITT. Look for it in theaters next Christmas. Moving on...
AFG: I just pitched Richard Donner Goonies: The Musical. The highlight of my misguided geeky career thus far.
Cinematical: Now I've actually heard rumors of Goonies as a Broadway musical, were you pitching writing this for the stage? And will "Goonies R Good Enough" be a part of the score?
AFG: That's a good story -- I went in to pitch Goonies 2. Had it all worked out, Donner was there. I was there. What could go wrong? Essentially, halfway through the pitch he stops me and tells me they've had many, many writers go down this path. And nothing. Orci and Kurtzman, Dougherty and Harris, the best of the best. And they couldn't do it. And you know what? I agree. So as a hail mary, I start riffing on the Goonies musical which I had heard may, somehow, someday happen. I came back three weeks later with a full pitch and went to town. It was so amazing to build upon characters that I've known my entire life. Pitch new scenes. New relationships. Create what the parents are doing while the kids are having their adventure. Best pitch I've ever had in my life. And at the end of the pitch, Donner looked at me and said, "Thank you. So much. This really meant a lot". Hopefully, if it ever happens Donner will come knocking. Until then, it was just great to have that experience.
Cinematical: Sure, it's awesome just to sit down with that guy. Best of luck with that. So you've got a lot of projects that our readers are interested in. let me break off some titles and you tell me what you can about each. Fanboys.
AFG: That was truly a collaborative effort made with all of my friends -- the director and I went to film school together. It was a tiny 4 million dollar movie that turned out great and now the Weinsteins are willing to pump some more cash into it, which is amazing. Just one problem -- how do you get all our actors together for the reshoots? It's been a scheduling nightmare. Kristen Bell just got on Heroes, Sam Huntington is on Cavemen, Jay Baruchel is shooting Tropic Thunder, Fogler is doing so many movies I can't count. And Seth Rogen -- I think he's available? What happened to that guy? He dropped off the face of the earth since we shot Fanboys. But it'll come out in January, reshoots or not. We're all really proud of it. It's Stand By Me for the geek at heart.
Cinematical: Get Lucas on the horn, you don't need the actors to be there, just create them.
AFG: Or at the very least, we can put in Jar Jar.
Cinematical: Make the fans happy. Let's talk The Jetsons. I'd imagine it's a massively different experience working on a movie like that.
AFG: Ooooh yeah. The polar opposite. I believe I was writer thirteen? Maybe more. I'm not kidding either. The first writer dates back to the late 80s. I was the last ditch effort getting that project off the ground. It was 13 months of writing, re-writing, working with producers Denise De Novi and Donald Deline. And then, of course, the studio notes, which led to more rewriting. In the end, my draft got Robert Rodriguez. The marathon was over. Rodriguez has taken over, and that script got me my next job. That's all you can ask for. Of course, having the movie come out and having it make $100 million is great -- but the most important thing is to do a solid job and book your next gig. But I will never write for a talking dog again. Cut to me writing Underdog 2!
Cinematical: Never say never! And is it an animated Astro for Jetsons?
AFG: CG Astro. It was all live action. I assumed it would look like Cats & Dogs -- a real animal -- instead of Scooby Doo.
Cinematical: Any casting talk yet? I think a lot of people want William H. Macy for George.
AFG: William H. Macy has come up many times. Maybe possible now, after Wild Hogs. He stole that movie. I'd love Steve Carell.
Cinematical: Another great call. And do you have any say in that sort of thing, or do they just smile and turn around in their giant chairs?
AFG: No say at all. My only job is to get that greenlit script. Unless it's a joke about George's folding car-briefcase, they're not really that interested. Essentially, the screenwriter's job is to get a greenlit script. Pack it with jokes. Make the characters pop. Give it heart and emotion. Then the director swoops in, takes over, and you move onto your next project.
Cinematical: Is the Revenge of the Nerds remake definitely dead?
AFG: I still hold out hope for Revenge of the Nerds. It's the script that gets me the most work and still my favorite thing I've done. After Superbad, hopefully the studio can see that it's worth pursuing again and get that movie up and running.
Cinematical: A lot of people love the original, it seems like a no-brainer. Let's get to the big questions -- how did you get your start and what was your big break?
AFG: After NYU, I moved to L.A. with my specs in hand, hoping to make a big sale and become a screenwriter. As the story often goes, my scripts weren't what people were looking for. Looking back, that's probably because they sucked ass. But I regrouped and gave TV a shot. I wrote TV specs -- which were sample scripts of shows currently on the air. This is what led to me writing on Still Standing for four years. That was the big break -- I learned everything in that room. Sitting 10 hours a day with hilarious writers was invaluable as a comedy writer. It culminated with me rewriting Fanboys only a few months before the show ended -- which brought me back to the screenwriting world. Currently, I'm straddling both. I'm consulting part-time on Aliens in America -- a new CW show -- and writing movies.
Cinematical: And what are the major differences between writing for television and writing for film? Do you have a preference?
AFG: They're so different and each has it's pros and cons. In TV comedies, you write by committee. You sit in a room with 8 other comedy writers, thinking of stories and rewriting as a group. You're a worker bee and your only job is to please your boss. In movies, it's just you. No one else. It's all on your shoulders and it's your job to please the execs and get the greenlight. So you have to decide -- do you want to work alone and have more control -- or work as a group and laugh all day? I like both, which is why I'm staying in both worlds. Also -- in TV and film -- you get to sit around and get fat and pale. They have that in common.
Cinematical: Ha! Yeah, I'm on my way! Another big question I got a lot when I premiered this column was "what is your writing process?" Do you write at a set time? Listen to music? Pre-write? Do outlines? Etc?
AFG: I always work off of an outline. It's always around 20 to 30 pages, rather detailed so I know what happens in each scene so I can track things beforehand. It's just story and set pieces and character arcs. The jokes are added in as I write. I really suggest writing with an outline. Don't write blind. You need to know where it's going and it's easier to solve things in the outline stage instead of finishing a 110 page draft and saying "S***! My Act Two is a mess!"
Cinematical: Right, it can be hard to commit to an outline just because you want to get in there and start cranking it out, but it's so much better to have it to refer to. We talked Mamet, but what are your three favorite screenplays of all time?
AFG: Wow. Empire Strikes Back is the best sci-fi movie of all time and also my favorite movie, so that has to be number one. I think my number two is Say Anything. The high school genre is another favorite, and this is the best high school screenplay written in my opinion. Giving you different genres here. My last is Young Frankenstein. Any early Mel Brooks works for me. But I remember seeing those as a kid and thinking YF was inconceivably funny. That's my favorite comedy screenplay ever. I hope one day I can even come close.
Cinematical: You are the very first interview for a column for aspiring screenwriters -- can you give them one major piece of advice to take away? No pressure.
AFG: Two big pieces of advice. 1) Don't get hung up on one project too long. I've done it myself. I've thrown months and months into a script I knew wasn't working. I always find taking a break from a script that isn't gelling and coming back to it later -- suddenly, you have clarity and can figure out how to fix the problems. 2) Write in your voice. Write what you know and what appeals to you. This is where you'll have the most success. My agent once called me and told me that studios were looking for Jackie Chan movies. He also said they were looking for the "new" Kindergarten Cop. So he said -- "Why not do both?" Now, who knows? Maybe I would've sold it for millions. But you should never write to what the town wants. Don't write a thriller just because you hear thrillers are an easy sell. Only write a script that you know you can knock out of the park. I wrote Fanboys because I'm a giant Star Wars Fan. I wrote Revenge of the Nerds because, well, I am one. They say "write what you know" and there's a real truth to that!