All right. So, how did the shoot with Seth Rogen go?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, we just wrapped it up, it looked great. It was really just one I couldn’t get [made]. I’d been working on getting it made for about five years, so its been like this long quest to get this movie that was loosely based on a road trip I took cross country with my mom, so, it was a good one. It went really well.
Well, there goes one of my questions, you just answered it like that.
DAN FOGELMAN: That’s it.
(Laughs) Okay, let’s see —— and then you just sold this huge thing with Tom Cruise attached?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, I’m in the midst of writing that one now, I’m doing one for him. It’s kind of the same tonally type of movie. Kind of funny drama in between —— so I think it’s going to be really good. I’m in the process of writing it for him right now.
Can you just, for the basis of interview, talk a little bit about yourself and how you got started?
DAN FOGELMAN: Sure. I came out to Los Angeles after college, I basically got in an old family car and just graduated college and just drove out here to be in the business, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. And I got some jobs in television production initially, just basically acting as like a production assistant. My first job was on the Howie Mandell daytime talk show, actually. I was a production assistant on the show, and I just kind of had a bunch of kind of odd jobs on varying shows and eventually after a couple years… I had always written, and I decided I was going to take a crack at writing screenplays, so I wrote a very autobiographical script about my bar mitzvah. I had never written a script before, and I handed it to a buddy who worked as an assistant at a management company, I asked him if it was any good, and he thought it was good and he gave it to a couple of people and maybe gave it to like my manager and agent to this day. And that kind of started everything for me.
That’s crazy. I remember you talking about the bar mitzvah script, you told some story about it in Nashville.
DAN FOGELMAN: Well, yeah, I had basically written it, I didn’t know what to do, and I just thought I’d write something kind of autobiographical, it’s kind of like an almost WONDER YEARS type feel to it, a guy looking back on his, just kind of tumultuous year of life as a thirteen year old. In the back of my mind, I thought maybe there would be a Jewish agent in Hollywood that would find it identifiable and, as luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened. So it worked out. I never got the script made, actually. It’s like, kind of my first script, but I never got it made.
That seems to be pretty much standard.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, yeah. I’m actually working on a couple of projects right now that I didn’t like, but I’m producing, and we’ve put in a lot of similar stuff from that first script, so, some of it will hopefully see the light.
Great. Also at Nashville, I remember you talking about the difference between writing for yourself — say for spec and writing for Pixar, can you go over that a little bit again?
DAN FOGELMAN: My first job after I started writing was I basically got the job to go up to Pixar and work on the movie CARS with John Lasker[sp] and it’s just a different world, you know, writing in live action there’s the process of writing is just you’re very alone. As far as anybody knows you’re sitting at a computer by yourself for most of the time until it’s time for the script to be read and work with producers and actors and directors and such, if you’re lucky enough to get it made. But, in animation, when you get the job working on animation, you’re really on a day to day basis kind of working —— often in the room with people, a group of storyboard artists and the director and, you kind of will write a scene and see it up on the screen in the storyboard reel and then re—write the scene working with the storyboard artist who is boarding that sequence, so it’s a much more collaborative process.
What was it specifically that drew you to writing, was it anything in particular, you said you were a PA first, was it just one of those things where you were like, “This is what will help me get my foot in the door easier?”
DAN FOGELMAN: You know, I don’t know. I had always written, it was always something, I mean; I majored in English in college. I never really done any film study, but I majored in English. I actually always wanted to write a novel, but I had always written essays or things even long emails to people, and I was kind of working out in the entertainment industry and I loved movies, so, it was a natural kind of thing to attack. It took me a while to kind of learn the structure and the form and I still don’t quite know it all, but, yeah, it’s kind of —— I was out here, I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, I wanted to live in Los Angles where it was warm, and I almost just fell into it.
Amazing. Do you remember what the first screenplay you ever read was? And did it affect your approach of writing?
DAN FOGELMAN: That’s a good question. I don’t remember. I don’t read to many books on screen writing form, I don’t think I really ever have. I remember looking at one book once to like, understand how many pages a script should be, because I really had very little experience, but I definitely went to a bookstore at some point. I always recommend finding scripts of films that you love and then seeing how they look on paper. I remember I did that, I don’t remember quite what they were. I’ve always been a big Richard Curtis fan, I remember at one point seeing a script for NOTTING HILL in a bookstore and reading it and literally standing there at the bookstore. I just sat down there for like a half hour. I thought it was really tight and great and I was just really charmed. I remember reading that one, but I didn’t really have a lot of access to screenplays, honestly. I had bought, or read a few, at Barnes and Noble, like, ten years ago.
Yeah, it’s definitely different now with the internet.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah. And if you’re out here in the entertainment industry, you’re actually surrounded by scripts constantly, but back then I wasn’t.
As a writer, how do you seek out inspiration, what inspires you to write? Just good movies, good scripts that you might happen to read, or just everything?
DAN FOGELMAN: You know, you just got to feel it. I go away, I’m going to, literally, I’m going to the dessert tomorrow. I rent a cabin up in Joshua Tree and I just tend to lock down for a couple of weeks at a time when I’m really in the throws of writing something. But, I’m just like, I try to just write limited amounts. I kind of sit on an idea for a long time before I actually put pen to paper to make sure it’s really about something. Like, whatever the movie is really about, or whatever the main characters journey is really about. I make sure it sticks with me, because you don’t want to get to page 30 of a script after putting months and months of work into it and be like, “Oh, I’m not really that into this anymore.” So I tend to like, think about an idea and I see if they stick with me. I see if it’s something that I really want to commit to a decision before I try to move forward with it.
What’s your process like? Do you do outlines, notecards, treatments?
DAN FOGELMAN: I don’t. I don’t outline very extensively. I tend to —— I mean, often in the business end of this, you have to kind of pitch projects or at least, if your working with people, be able to tell them about it —— so I kind of outline enough so that I can get through a ten minute kind of verbal explanation of what the movie is going to be like and about and the general structure of it, but I tend to kind of just find it as I go along. I write pretty roughly and a little bit long, and then I kind of pair it down afterwards. It’s not necessarily the best process I’d recommend, but it’s just kind of the one that works for me. But, I outline a little bit. It’s more a stream of consciousness outline, like I’ll just open a Microsoft Word document and just start writing shit. Scenes, ideas for characters, ideas —— if there’s going to be a big second act or third act, a moment I’m going to try to go to. I then just kind of like, know in my head that that’s where I’m heading and see where it goes.
I know with CRAZY STUPID LOVE —— in the first draft, wasn’t the character like, 40 years old? And then you went in and changed it?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, Ryan’s character was a little bit older, I don’t remember exactly how old he was, but a little bit older than Ryan is. It was just kind of a group decision to make him younger. Something like that, I don’t think it really drastically affected the character outside the fact that it’s a different aged character, so that brings it all a different kind of nature. But it was the right decision, in retrospect. Where the movie goes and everything, I think it made more sense that the guy was in his early 30’s than his late 30’s or 40’s.
So how do you approach re—writing?
DAN FOGELMAN: It’s a process. When you’re on a movie of that size, a studio movie, with all —— I mean, it was one by one, the actors are so incredible in the movie. So, it was a lot of sitting down with the actors or talking with the actors and knowing kind of where they want to take things. And you just adjust it on a scene by scene or a pass by pass basis, and try to keep your eye on the overall picture and fight for things that are worth fighting for and be open to kind of changing things that can get better and just see where you’re at at the end when it comes time to start shooting. You have enough rehearsals and table reads and whatnot, it doesn’t hurt to try things, you can always go back. That’s always been my kind of theory, so —— it’s not like once you try something, the old version gets deleted from history, you know?
Yeah. So, transitioning —— Your first actual credit is THE 12th MAN which is a TV movie?
DAN FOGELMAN: It was a TV pilot that never made it to air.
Is that what it was?
DAN FOGELMAN: I did it for FOX and like, you know, every development season, 800 million writers are given the opportunity to write a pilot and a portion of those people get far enough that they get to actually make the pilot and do casting and shooting. And then, a select handful actually make it on the air where people see them, so, that was one of the ones that got us far enough to shoot but not far enough to get onto the air.
So, what actually led to CARS, then?
DAN FOGELMAN: CARS was just that first script that I wrote (Becoming A Man). Pixar had read it, people in their development department had read the script and responded to it and they thought it was worth it. They bring up a bunch of writers to kind of meet with the directors and the big shots at Pixar, and I kind of hit it off with them and they brought me up on a trial basis for a couple weeks and it just extended for a long time. I was up there for about a year and a half. They already had a script in place that —— the idea was they were looking to hire a writer to kind of shephard it through the process of getting it going. It’s, you know, re—writing it, writing it —— but no, that was their idea. It was all John Lousner[sp] I was just kind of brought up like a hired hand to work on it.
Were BOLT and TANGLED the same way?
DAN FOGELMAN: Similar ways in that they existed. TANGLED, I got because of working with Pixar and working with John. When they needed somebody on BOLT, I was brought in to kind of work on BOLT and same goes for TANGLED, so it wasn’t like I brought them a script or even an idea, I was more, kind of hired to write them when they already existed.
What was your first spec that was produced, then?
DAN FOGELMAN: The first spec that was produced…
Was it FRED CLAUSE, or ——
DAN FOGELMAN: FRED CLAUSE was not a spec, but it was basically an idea a producer and a friend of mine had for the film. They brought it to me and I liked it and then I wrote the script for it for hire. Like, we took that idea and I think she already set up the idea at a studio, and I was the writer hired to write it, but on that one, since I was the writer from the start I came up with the ideas and wrote the story. So I guess that would technically be my first one. Really, the first spec one was CRAZY STUPID LOVE. It’s probably third, fourth, or fifth for live action film I’ve written, but the first one to actually get made. Now others are actually getting made, but happened so quickly that it became the first one to actually get made.
Yeah, because you’ve had a couple big years with specs. There’s that, and then there’s IMAGINE, right? That was spec, wasn’t it?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, IMAGINE we’re getting done, we’re in the process of getting it going. We’re figuring out budgets and cast right no, so yeah, that one’s still in the early early stages. It’s a hard thing to get a movie made, I mean, I’ve been lucky for the last year, I got CRAZY STUPID LOVE made, and My Mothers Curse is now in the can and will come out next year, so those are the only two that are done.
You also mentioned in Nashville a story about a friend of yours and he couldn’t get a script out, so you put your name on it.
DAN FOGELMAN: There was one point where we talked about —— we had had a lot of passes on a script, on a project I was working on, and I believed in it, so we basically changed the title. And then sent it to a lot of the same people.
And did you get any different reactions?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, there were different reactions. At the time, both the writer and I were in different places, so that probably had something to do with it more too. But, it’s more of a story than something that actually worked.
Was it LASt VEGAS?
DAN FOGELMAN: No, it was just a small little project I’m in the process of getting done right now. LASt VEGAS is another one we’re trying to get up and running right now, it’s been a while.
I actually asked a few people from the website that I help run if they had any questions, and one of them was, “What do you think is absent in screenplays that are written today?”
DAN FOGELMAN: You know, I don’t read a ton of screenplays, actually. I mean, I get a lot of family friends sending me their screenplays, you know and, it’s not really absent as much as I think people are trying too hard to come up with the idea as opposed to worrying about the execution of the script, maybe? I think people, you know, when you get a letter from someone who is sending you a script, and there’s a page long cover letter explaining why the script could be a commercial idea, it’s just kind of an immediate sign that maybe somebody is thinking about the wrong things when they’re writing it. Because honestly- the whole business makes no sense. There’s no telling what people are going to respond to or not respond to and what type of movies make a hit or a not it, so I think to try to over analyze that kind of it creates —— if you devote too much energy thinking about that, I think it’s some of what you’re going for in terms of actually writing but it suffers.
Something else that seems to be big with aspi ring writers every year is the black list, and you seem to be on it every single year.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah. The thing where people vote on scripts?
DAN FOGELMAN: The executives, yeah. I don’t know enough about it. I always, the day it comes out, if I make it, I get emailed about it, but I don’t even know where —— is it a magazine?
No it’s just —— there’s a website that —— I can’t remember the executives name, but he publishes it every year.
DAN FOGELMAN: No, I totally know because I saw it on Nikki Finke before, the Deadline Hollywood site, so —— Yeah, no, that’s nice, I mean, you know, some of the scripts, simply by matter being kind of publicly —— scripts with public movie stars and what not get read a lot and that is part of it too, but, it’s a nice thing. I mean, ultimately, you just need one person, the right person to like your script, you know? Or the right couple of people to like your script, and that could be the difference between getting a movie made and not.
So then, in your experience, the Blacklist didn’t really do anything to help you?
DAN FOGELMAN: I’m sure it’s really nice, I’m unaware of when —— which ones —— I know that, I think last year IMAGINE was on it, it really made it high up, right?
Yeah. And then one year the Gary Coleman and Manuel Lewis project was on it.
DAN FOGELMAN: Really?
DAN FOGELMAN: That was a good movie. That’s the one I can’t get made. Emmanuel Lewis wouldn’t do it and then Gary Coleman passed away. I think getting a movie called THE EMANUEL LEWIS Gary Coleman project on some kind of screenwriting list is a huge accomplishment.
Of course. And then in 2005 you had one on there called BECOMING A MAN.
DAN FOGELMAN: Oh, that’s the bar mitzvah script.
People liked it in 2005.
DAN FOGELMAN: Wow. I think I was probably unaware of it at the time.
I think you’ve pretty much been on every list though. Every year.
DAN FOGELMAN: That’s cool.
What was it like to sit in a theater with an audience and watch your words come to life for the first time on the big screen?
DAN FOGELMAN: It’s cool, you know, on this one, Crazy Stupid Love because I’m really proud of the movie and it’s a really —— like, when you go into the theater and you see it, there’s a pretty audible reaction to the movie, there’s some twists and turns and when you’re in the right theater with the right crowd, it can be a pretty fun experience. I remember the first preview of CRAZY STUPID LOVE months before it came out —— when you show it to an audience and see what’s working or not and a couple parts of the movie hit and the audience was really exploding, I mean really exploding, and it was really, that was one of the most exciting moments of my career.
Yeah, you guys have been showing that for like, six months to a year now.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, we were originally supposed to come out in April and we got moved to a later date, so there was a lot of time between when we shot it and when it got released.
Has watching the actors act out and speak your words, does it change your process in any way?
DAN FOGELMAN: Only in that I don’t treat everything too preciously anymore, because if you get the right actors and if you’re lucky enough to get some of the people I’ve been lucky enough to get, ultimately I don’t sit and nit pick over things too early because I know that it’s part of a process, getting it right with the actors and for the actors and so, it allows you to be a little more free and actually a little less precious about everything. It’s been really nice, I like working with actors. I don’t mind when the words are slightly changed. Some writers do, I don’t because if you’re lucky enough to get the right actors, they’re only going to make it better. And the right actor will have a dialogue with you, so it’s not just what they say or the high road.
If you could sum up your feelings of Hollywood and the process of getting a script made into a film —— do you think it’s a good process?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, you know, I mean it is what it is. Like any business, which Hollywood ultimately is, it’s —— when you’re in it as much as everybody wants to be in it, it can be really frustrating at times. Often, it can seem like there’s a bunch of wasted energy that goes into certain things. It’s all about which people you get lucky enough to work with. I’ve been luck to work with really good studios, really good executives, all the way through, really good directors and actors, and if you can walk out and work with the right people, like any business, you can have a great experience and if you get the wrong people and the wrong experiences, you can have a really negative view of things, so I’ve been very lucky. I know many people who haven’t and say otherwise. I think it’s hard to get a movie made in this town, and it’s harder to get a really good movie made. So, it can be exhausting at times, but when it works and when it actually happens, it’s a pretty great thing, so it should be hard.
Everyone seems to answer that question either really positively or really negatively.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, it depends on your experience, I mean, I doubt you’re going to catch many people who are struggling with something and have them speak lovingling about Hollywood. But I’m sure the people that are having their little moment feel like it’s the best thing ever. It’s probably like that in the stock market or in the law firm, you know, and it’s all kind of about what your recent experience has been.
What software do you use —— do you use Final Draft?
DAN FOGELMAN: I do. Final Draft. I think I still have a version from like 20 years ago because I just don’t want to even change anything.
Yeah, well I just got a new computer and every time I open it, it makes me re—connect to the website and register, so it’s probably better that you keep the old version.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, I’m holding out as long as possible.
At the end, it’s kind of cliché to ask for any positive words that aspiring writers might have, so I don’t like asking for aspiring words, I more like to ask if you could speak your mind about what’s in store for anyone that might even think about venturing into the world of screenwriting?
DAN FOGELMAN: Sure. Well, I’d say that it’s a very tough business and it’s a very difficult business right now with limited opportunity. So, the first thing I say to everybody is, make sure that you definitely want to do this, that it’s the only thing you can do to make you happy, because if there’s something else, I would say to treat it as a fun thing that you write on the side. Just don’t make a go at it as a career if it’s not the only thing that’s going to make you happy, and that said, if you’re one of those people who can answer that question, “yes,” than you’ve just got to write something good. Sometimes I think that when I go to that conference we went to in Nashville, or some other ones, I think that people can over think and overchin a little bit. And I think the only way to learn is to kind of write, to listen to anybody, but not listen to what anybody has to say, because then you have to do everything everybody says. And you have to put stuff out there and hope you get lucky, because all you can do is write something, write it well, and then hope it catches the right person at the right time. But, if it does, it’s a pretty good thing. Is that helpful?
Yeah, I mean, I’m sure it’s helpful. It’s one of those questions that I hate asking every person that I interview, it’s just one of those things where it seems like I know that there’s so many writers out there trying to make it that they just want to ask people that question just so they can hear what they say.
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah, no, the people that are telling people otherwise- that tell people it’s easy, they are lying. It’s clearly not. It seems like with every passing month and every passing year, more people want to be doing this. And, it’s a hard thing, there are a lot of materials, so I just think you need to right something really good or really commercial and then just kind of, if that one shouldn’t hit, for whatever reason, write another one and just keep writing.
What’s your approach then, you sold CRAZY STUPID LOVE and IMAGINE, both as specs, was your approach to those just trying to make something that you thought could be commercial or just something that was a story that you were…
DAN FOGELMAN: I wrote them as specs because I thought it would be very difficult for me to walk into a room and explain those movies in a couple of minutes to a pillenerectie.com studio or to an actor. And I thought I was better just kind of writing it and writing it into something good and then seeing what happened. And, I mean, that’s the best advice you could have for anyone is just write the thing you want to write, don’t worry about whether it’s commercial or whatever you think might get you another movie in development, if there’s a similar idea. If it’s between a commercial idea and a non commercial idea and you love them equally, I would go towards the commercial one, but I think especially for aspiring writers, it’s not about a concept, it’s about the execution of the script, and honestly, your first script is not —— the likely hood of it getting made and becoming a huge commercial smash is slim. It happens, but it happens very sporadically, so you’re better served writing a great special piece of material, even if it’s something that could probably never function as a movie.
Thanks for taking the time.
Dan: It was my pleasure, man.