I sat in on the Coffee Talk: Screenwriters Seminar at the Los Angeles Film Fest recently, featuring Josh Olson (A History of Violence), Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body), Christopher Marcus & Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Dustin Lance Black (Big Love) and found it to be an interesting discussion with moments of cynicism, smugness and hypocritical views on the Hollywood machine.
Our Captain America writers, Marcus and McFeely, met in grad school, answering phones to pay the rent and performing the standard low paying jobs we’ve all done, or are doing, while writing their first spec script about a talking dog. This landed them an agent which in turn lead them to writing The Chronicles of Narnia and then to Marvel Studios' latest.
About Captain America. From what I took away from the seminar, old fan favourite Bucky features in the film, this time, however, playing a larger, more equal role than he did in the comics, and Dum Dum Digan from the Sgt. Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. series makes an appearance. Cap's origin remains true to the comics, their inspiration being largely derived from the Golden Age comics. Captain America does indeed get frozen and placed in suspended animation, thus thwarting the Red Skull's nefarious plot. It would have been nice for Prince Namor to make an appearance, if only to throw Captain America's icy prison into the sea when he's worshipped as a god by the eskimos.
I do have a few worries about the film. Although the film itself looks great and nails the look of the period perfectly, contemporary audiences might be a little too withdrawn from the setting to identify with the Captain. In addition (and this is a problem most comic adaptations face), with the origin of Captain America already well known, will the majority of the public be able to engage in a plot in which they already know the beginning, middle and end?
But, enough about Cap. Let's get to Diablo Cody.
Love or hate her, she pretty much laid it on the line that she prefers the indie world to mainstream studio projects and that, when working within the studio system, you can't be passionate about your project. The more passionate you get about a project, the more likely the suits won't like it. She likened the process as a guy chasing after a girl. You pursue a girl with your heart and good intentions, she ignores you. You ignore her like she doesn't exist, she comes after you with bated breath. I don't know, maybe she has something there. After all she was a stripper before she became a screenwriter.
She also pointed out that Hollywood is loaded with talented writers and that the town is full of parasitic vampires out looking for fresh blood to pounce on as soon as they smell the next big thing.
She's finished Young Adult, starring Charleze Theron and directed by Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), about a woman who comes back to her old town to try and get her ex-boyfriend back; the only problem is that said ex-boyfriend has moved on and is happily married. Cody's upcoming projects include an updated feature-length version of the Sweet Valley High (that'll be interesting) followed by a biopic about singer Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, and she most recently landed co-writing duties on the Evil Dead remake for Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures.
Dustin Lance Black was the least pretentious of the bunch. He's basically just happy to be writing and encouraged writers in a pitch meeting to let them know what you can bring to the project. The studio suits have heard the same stories a million times. You have to tell them why you're the best writer to tell this story.
Starting out in documentaries, Black moved into reality TV where he found it to be a soul sucking business. Black continued to write spec scripts which got him on Big Love, Milk and the J. Edgar biopic. When on hiatus from the last project or series he's finished with, he keeps writing spec scripts. Some good advice for you wordsmiths out there; a writer writes and write what you enjoy!