Issue 14: Feature Article—Advice from Oscar-Nominated Writers

Awards-season is currently in full swing, meaning the Hollywood publicity machine has gone into overdrive. For anyone interested in filmmaking, this provides an excellent opportunity to read the thoughts of the nominees. With so many fact-based films under consideration, we take a look at what some Oscar-nominated filmmakers have been saying about their work…

For this round-up, we’ve focused on the four big fact-based nominees – each of which has been nominated for Best Picture and also for either Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay.

*Be aware that many of these interviews CONTAIN SPOILERS…*

The Big Short
Dir. Adam McKay
Wr. Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (based on Michael Lewis’ book)

The Big Short1Talking to Irish film site, Scannain, McKay discussed one of the key challenges of turning material about the complex financial crisis into a compelling and understandable piece of cinema: “The goal of making the movie was to get your average working person to connect with and understand it.”

He also offered some words of wisdom for the writer of the fact-based film: “The thing I loved about this was there was no genre. It’s true life. So in writing the script, I just felt totally free to do whatever I needed to do.”

See the full article here:

Speaking to Variety, McKay discussed how excited he was by the film’s “of the moment” subject matter and how the fallout from the crisis is still going on – making the material highly relevant today.

Watch the interview here:

Talking to The Guardian, McKay discussed the quality of the source material and how it helped him land his ‘dream cast’: “The actors were curious and furious about the subject material, but in addition to that I would say that these are incredible characters to play.”

He also addressed the challenges of putting dry financial concepts up on the big screen in an entertaining way: “We were able to use style and surprise to keep an audience going along with us.”

Read the full interview here:

Quoted in Think Advisor, Randolph, discussed the challenges of getting the necessary financial jargon across to audiences: “Our goal with this material from the beginning was always to be authentic to the [financial] world but that even if the audience got only 60% or 70% of it, in an emotional context they would feel what was happening more than enough to have a pleasurable journey and understand the story.”

He also discussed the unique style of the film, with its fast pace and direct-to-camera technique.

Read the interview here:

Talking to The Film Stage, Randolph summed up the impetus behind the film as the desire to tell the story in a way that also attempted to break the mold.

Read the full interview here:

Read our analysis here.

Bridge of Spies
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Wr. Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Bridge spies1Speaking to the LA Times, Charman discussed how he first heard of the real-life character of lawyer, James Donovan, in the footnotes of a biography of JFK, An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek: “…he described Kennedy’s attempts to secure the return of more than 1,000 US-backed invaders who’d been captured after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Kennedy decided to send…James Donovan to negotiate with Fidel Castro. Donovan…was a civilian, an insurance lawyer. Why send him?”

Charman went on to discuss his research on Donovan and meeting his son: “John was so proud of his father and believed…that he played a major part in pulling the US and Soviet Union from the brink during the Cold War, but history had forgotten him.”

Read the full interview here:

Speaking to the UK’s Evening Standard, Charman discussed how he was drawn to Donovan’s story: “I built this picture of this amazing moment in history that this guy had played a pivotal role in.”

He also highlighted the theme of media intrusion and how that resonates today, even questioning whether Donovan could have done what he did in today’s world of social media and 24-hour news.

Read the full interview here:

Speaking to Awards Daily, Charman discussed the genesis of Bridge of Spies and how he became interested in telling Donovan’s story: “No one knew about him, and he was a bit of a secret as far as the world was concerned.”

Charman also had some interesting things to say about the research process, including his interaction with Donovan’s family.

Read the full interview here:

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog, Spielberg discussed his somewhat unlikely collaboration with the Coens and how their stylistic touches added to the screenplay, offering a touch of levity to an otherwise serious film.

Charman also reflected on his fortune in working with the legendary filmmakers: “For a screenwriter at the start of his career, to be surrounded by all these legends, was a remarkable thing.”

Read the full interview here:

Take a look at RSL‘s Bridge of Spies review here.

The Revenant
Dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Wr. Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith (based in part on the novel by Michael Punke)

Rev1Talking to Screen Daily, Iñárritu referred to the well-documented challenges of making the film and also the themes inherent in the story: “The metaphor was that this character died and was born again many times.”

He also discussed the visual aspects of the film: ““I recognised this had a very simplistic, pure plotline, very basic, very primitive, very Biblical. It allowed me to play with a lot of silences, contemplations and visual images.”

Read the full interview here:

Talking to Crave, Smith discussed at length the process of writing The Revenant: “I knew that the way I saw it there were going to be these long, extended periods with no dialogue. So the challenge of trying to convey story and emotion and motivation, all of that stuff, without words? I thought it would be fun to try.”

He also had a lot to say about departing from the source material novel and the real-life character of Hugh Glass: “Glass, in some ways almost he’s like a Paul Bunyan-esque thing. There’s a lot of legend, you know, as much as fact.”

Read the full interview at:

Talking to Movie Web, Smith discussed the film’s journey to the screen, which began in 2007, and the changes in cast and director: “It went through a gauntlet of things, where we thought things were going to happen. It just took all the right pieces.”

He also referred to the challenges of writing a film that’s primarily visual.

Read the full interview:

Dir. Tom McCarthy
Wr. Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

Spotlight1Speaking to Deadline, Singer discussed the extensive research he (and McCarthy) conducted in preparation for writing the script: “I sat down with (Boston Globe reporter) Mike Rezendes and spent a week with him in LA. I took him to lunch every day, and at the end of the week I had a 55-page notes bible.”

He also talked about the drive for authenticity and how the material “reads like a detective story”.

Read the full interview here:

Talking to, Singer discussed how he got his start in Hollywood and how he was hired for Spotlight off of his screenplay for The Fifth Estate: “…And then it was three years reporting and interviewing and writing and rewriting and rewriting Spotlight.”

Read the full interview at:

Talking to the Irish Film Television Network, McCarthy discussed the story’s themes and defined a key question the film addresses: “The story of social complicity and deference – how do these things happen without us saying ‘enough’?”

He also discussed the continuing relevance of the material: “This story is still being told, there are still survivors coping with what they went through, and there are survivors who have not come forward yet.”

Read the full interview at:

Talking to Rolling Stone, McCarthy, discussed both writing and directing the film: “There was absolutely no question in my mind that this story needed to be told.”

He also addressed the issue of turning sensitive material into a piece of fiction: “At the end of the day, we wanted to make an entertaining movie, and we hoped that in doing so we might make a film that might be more accessible — if not palatable — to an audience.”

Read the full interview at:

So, there you have it – a short round-up of some the interesting things Oscar-nominated writers (and directors) have been saying about their acclaimed films.

If you aspire to write film, it’s a good idea to spend some time finding out what the pros have to say about the writing process, the development of their projects, and their careers.

Find out if any of these filmmakers are rewarded with the gold statutes when the Oscars are handed out on 29 February.

Issue 15 of RSL is out on 29 February.