You know that thing they say about writers: How they can only write about what they know?
Last Saturday’s “It Starts With the Script” panel at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, moderated by frequent Hollywood Reporter contributor Anne Thompson drove this point right on home. The event featured five of last year’s most celebrated screenwriters, all of whom seem to have injected a significant portion of their personalities into their masterpieces. From the grizzled, serious Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”) to sophisticated divorcee Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated”) to the pretentious Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”) to the affable and easygoing SBIFF regular Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) to aged fanboys Alex Kurtzman (“Transformers,” “Star Trek”) and Pete Docter (“Up”), personality shone through at this ever-popular annual happening.
“(500) Days of Summer” screenwriter Scott Neustadter took things further than the rest, though, appearing onstage almost as a mirror image of the autobiographical protagonist of his twee script, sweater vest, tie and all.
The Lobero Theatre was almost completely packed that rainy afternoon, as the panel is often one of the festival’s liveliest events. Throwing seven witty, sharp filmmakers with completely different sensibilities into a room is almost always a recipe for some great banter, and while this year’s panel didn’t quite come to the blows being traded at other memorable SBIFF panels of years past — I’m thinking of “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” director Julian Schnabel’s back-and-forth barbs with Reitman back in 2008 — the audience did not go home disappointed.
But getting past the obvious differences of these individuals, what made these writers’ scripts stand out in 2009 were their subtle twists on classic genres. That was one thing the panelists could agree on: When asked by director Alexander Klein to succinctly summarize their films for the audience, they came up with some humorous and downright bizarre answers, showing just how different their films really are.
“It’s a love story between [soldiers] Sanborn and James,” Boal joked of his Iraq war story, before telling Klein that the best description he’d ever heard of “The Hurt Locker” was as an “art-rock, cowboy rock ‘n’ roll story.”
“I always think of my movies as being really tragic,” Meyers said, though her finished products are mostly thought of by everyone else as comedies, albeit smart and often dark ones.
When asked what they are currently working on, most of the writers played it coy, leaving their impending projects shrouded in mystery. What I can say is that Boal is currently at work on a script called “Triple Frontier,” Neustadter is working on a vampire project that “is nothing like ‘Twilight'” and Meyers? Well, she’s looking to write about something (and someone) else now.
“I can tell you, I’m not going to write about a woman my age,” she said, laughing.