In addition to film screenings and high-profile award events, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is known for holding industry panels with the creative forces behind the year’s best movies. Each year, SBIFF puts on a director’s panel, producer’s panel, writer’s panel and women’s panel, which all add unique insight into the process of making films. As an aspiring screenwriter myself, I attend SBIFF’s writer’s panel every year at the Lobero Theatre.
This year, panelists included writers Mark Boal (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), Roman Coppola (“Moonrise Kingdom”), John Gatins (“Flight”), Rian Johnson (“Looper”) and David Magee (“Life of Pi”).
Stephen Chbosky, who also recently attended a Magic Lantern screening of “Perks of Being a Wallflower” at IV Theater (special thanks to DJ Palladino), opened up about the process of writing a novel, adapting the screenplay and also directing the film. His past experience of adapting the popular musical “Rent” and creating the television series “Jericho” prepared him for the tough task, which he pulled off quite successfully (“Perks of Being a Wallflower” was a great commercial and critical success). Fans of Chbosky’s book will be glad to hear that he is currently working on another novel that he also hopes to adapt to the screen.
One of the most interesting writers on the panel was Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, brother of Sofia Coppola, cousin of Jason Schwartzman and a talented writer/producer/actor/director who frequently works with Wes Anderson. Coppola talked about the extremely positive collaboration process of co-writing “Moonrise Kingdom” with director Wes Anderson. The two men shared a house while writing the film, working together on it every single day until it was finished, which took about a month or so. Coppola also mentioned the process of writing “The Darjeeling Limited,” where he, Wes Anderson and Jason Schwartzman all traveled to India to encourage experiences they could write into the script. Coppola said they each chose to embody one of the film’s three main characters, eventually using their crazy adventures as inspiration, and sometimes in exact replication, for the plot of “The Darjeeling Limited.”
John Gatins, writer of the Denzel Washington drama “Flight,” was also a great guest on the panel. He briefly mentioned how his past issues with substance abuse and his fear of flying helped inform the script, making it a deeply personal and authentic story. Gatins also told the audience about the trouble he had trying to direct the film for years, as no one would buy the script with him attached as director. Gatins was finally convinced to sell “Flight” when he met the film’s potential director Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”), who he said was extremely passionate about the script and dedicated to making it great. Gatins said he was happy with his film’s final result and talked very positively about the collaboration process with Zemeckis, which was a common theme at the panel that day.
In fact, none of the writers had a negative thing to say about the directors of their films or the way that they turned out. Roman Coppola praised Wes Anderson and David Magee recalled being extremely excited when director Ang Lee signed on to make “Life of Pi.” Unfortunately, a typical story in Hollywood is one of the forgotten screenwriter, whose vision is pushed aside in favor of the director’s megalomania. The writers of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, however, offered a much different view during the industry panel. Their refreshing optimism is a hopeful look toward the future of Hollywood and served as great encouragement for aspiring writers in the audience of the Lobero Theatre that day.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of February 7th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.