“It starts the script”. Writer’s Panel moderated by Anne Thompson

Reviewed by Vincenzo Muia at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016. Lobero Theater.


The Writer’s Panel at the 2016 Santa Barbara International Film Festival celebrated some of the industry’s innovative writers and allowed them to convey their methods for a successful writing process. Writers provided insight into some of the award-winning projects they were a part of.

The panel consisted of moderator Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood! and writers Josh Singer of Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015),  Charles Randolph of The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015), Phyllis Nagy of Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015), Charles Kaufman of Anomalisa (Duke Johnson, Charles Kaufman, 2015), Drew Goddard of The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015), Emma Donaghue of Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015), Alex Garland of Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015), and Jonathan Herman of Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, 2015).

The writers on the panel came from diverse backgrounds and humble roots. Many started out late in the industry and some with no previous and/or professional fictional screenplay writing experience. All of the writers provided some information in the award-winning projects they are involved in, for example:

Josh Singer of Spotlight indicates that most or all of the source information (real life accounts) were retained by director Tom McCarthy to create the capacity of crisis (the sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy). This helped lend to the credibility of the investigation and subsequent prosecution. Four months of research were conducted before writing began.

Charles Randolph of The Big Short indicated that he was disheartened by the financial crisis of 2008. One of his goals in the screenplay was to decipher the banking industry “jargon” during the crisis and to bring it to light.

Phyllis Nagy of Carol indicated that this was a story of a shop girl who worked in the toy department at Bloomindale’s in 1940’s New York. her strategy for successful writing was the presence of constant stimulation, especially baseball games on television, which according to her, constantly emits the sound of a cheering crowd, which she uses as motivation.

Charles Kaufman of Anomalisa, who received the most applause for his off-beat quirky responses, indicated that the film began as a radio play and eventually evolved into an animated film. He began a Kickstarter campaign and raised $360k towards the film.

Drew Goodard of The Martian indicated the story and screenplay evolved as a snowball effect.

Emma Donaghue of Room spoke of her “functional” relationship with the producer and director and how the film is told through the eyes of the 5 year old protagonist (Jacob Tremblay). She always felt comfortable writing and excels at writing dialogue.

Alex Garland of Ex Machina professed his fascination with Artifical Intelligence (A.I.) and discussed how this script was an escape for him while working on a “toxic” project. Alex mentioned his intense writing period for project which lasted approximately 3 months.

Jonathan Herman of Straight Outta Compton, spoke of the pressure he felt about writing and capturing the characters in N.W.A. The pressure arose from being a white man from Connecticut, a polar stretch from the urban roots of N.W.A., in Compton, California. He states that he decided to write about the vulnerabilities of each character by capturing a low-point in each of their lives. His first draft was completed in approximately 3 1/2 weeks. A universal story about the underdog achieving the American Dream.

The most refreshing aspect of the Writer’s Panel was the sense that a successful screenplay can be conceived and written by anyone. Although many of the writers had professional experience in writing screenplays, some were less renowned yet received the same praise, a promising sign for anyone who enjoys writing.



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