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Monday, April 6, 2009

What's New With Josh Zetumer

Good morning, Wavers! And did everybody have a nice weekend? As the deadline approaches for the Silver Screenwriting Competition (May 1, mark it on your calendar!), Margaux Froley thought it would be a great time to get an update with Josh Zetumer. Josh will be dining with the Grand Prize winner this year, in case you forgot. So here's the latest:

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It's been nearly a year since our last interview with Josh. He's been hard at work finishing DUNE and even had time to do rewrite work on Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES. Suffice it to say, Josh is still a "working screenwriter," and I might even venture to say he's one of those coveted Hollywood A-list writers. Despite his demanding schedule, Josh has agreed to have lunch with the Grand Prize winner of the Silver Screenwriting contest and answer a few questions for you Rouge Wavers.

Josh, last time we spoke you had just gotten the job for DUNE. At the time you mentioned your love of sandworms. After finishing a draft on that project, how do you feel about sandworms now?

Groan.

But really, that sounded like a very tough project to crack. How did adapting DUNE compare to writing something of your own on spec?

For me, this project was infinitely harder than a spec. I get to a point on most projects where I want to quit/have a near-panic attack. I'm beginning to realize, as horrible as that is, it's all part of the creative process. It's like an acid trip; it's fun, but you know that for at least a couple hours you're going to be fearing for your life. On DUNE this was especially intense. The book is amazing, but parts read like physics homework. There's so much terminology, and so much is internal - characters second-guessing each other, trying to gauge situations. The key for me was to keep saying, "What can I do visually to express this idea?" I feel like this is a pretty important question you should be asking yourself on every screenplay. Show not tell.

As to the sandworms, yeah I still love them. What's not to love? I'm just hoping they look cool onscreen.


You mentioned that you did some rewrite work on SHERLOCK HOLMES. How much prior SHERLOCK knowledge did you have going into that? What did you to do prepare for something like that?

I'd been a fan of the stories, but I definitely needed a refresher course. The crazy thing about some of these production rewrites (jobs where you're rewriting the script just before or during filming) is that you usually have a matter of hours, not days, to decide if you're taking the job. Then suddenly you're on the clock, and that can be scary. On SHERLOCK I bought a book of short stories and was literally reading on the plane on the way to meet the producers. Doing research is normally one of my favorite parts of the process, but in this case there just wasn't time. The nice thing was that Robert Downey Jr. had such a clear view of the character, it was easy to dive right in.


Sorry, I have to ask. How was Robert Downey, Jr. to work with?


I know this is the stock answer to the "What was so-and-so like to work with," but in this case it's 100% true: He's incredible. Completely deserving of his celebrity. Hanging out with Robert is kind of like going to the carnival; you just follow him around, trying to write frantically while he drops one crazy/brilliant aphorism after another. The only thing is, he's so charismatic and witty that he kind of turns everyone else into a satellite. You become Downey-adjacent. I think if I hung out with him on a regular basis I would develop serious self-esteem issues. I am not now, nor will I ever be, as cool as Robert Downey, Jr.

You have been steadily getting assignments in Hollywood for a few years now...even with your established track record, how do you feel about getting the next job?

Um...cautiously optimistic? Two years ago I probably would have said "terrified." Like take-a-klonopin-and-go-to-sleep-shivering scared. I think generally my anxiety about work has become more manageable, but it still definitely lingers. You work so hard to get anywhere, and then the moment anything positive happens the first thing you tell yourself is, "This will not last. This is all going to be taken away." It doesn't help when you talk to older screenwriters and all they tell you is, "Enjoy it while you can, kid." Seriously, any writer who's spent more than 10 years in Hollywood turns into the grim f*cking reaper.


How important has your relationship with your representation (agent and manager) been in starting and then maintaining your career?


The most important thing in the world. If I could give only one piece of advice to first-time screenwriters it would be: Don't write a script to sell it, write it to land an agent. Agents and managers read 10 to 15 scripts a weekend, three of them on the treadmill. So write a script that's fun to read, that shows a distinct and confident voice, but don't try to second-guess the marketplace. You can kill yourself following trends and trying to predict what will sell. A lot of people also ask, "Why do you need both an agent and manager?" This may not be true for everyone, but in my experience, having both has been invaluable. A manager can produce, and that can be helpful landing gigs. My first studio job - writing a movie called THE INFILTRATOR for Leonardo Dicaprio - was something my manager was producing. Managers and agents also have incentive to set you up with their director clients, so that can be very helpful as well.

If I were an unrepresented screenwriter with a terrific spec, what do you think my best options would be for launching my career?

First move to Los Angeles. It's hard enough to get anyone to notice you in Hollywood. It's even harder if you're living in Maine. Some people do the query letter thing - sending unsolicited scripts to agents - but I don't know any instances of this actually working (that's not to say it can't happen, it just seems like a longshot). A big part of being a screenwriter is hustling, selling yourself. You need to be very proactive. Enter as many screenwriting contests as you can. Read blogs. Try to meet people who are connected to talent agencies. All it really takes to get the ball rolling is one person who believes in you. This can be an indie producer, a writer who has an agent, etc. In my case it was two guys: a writer named Chris McKenna who gave my spec to his agent, and an assistant named Mark Tuohy who gave the script to his boss, a packaging agent. I went to high school with Chris, and Mark I met through an old girlfriend, so you never know where these connections will come from. It's either that or get creative. Become a valet, find out where Steven Spielberg eats lunch, and leave your spec on the passenger seat. Actually, I'm sure he gets that all the time.


Thank you, Josh. Is - is that a sandworm??

Ha.

All righty, Wavers. Get back to work. And don't forget, May 1st looms, so get those scripts in and you just might be the person asking Josh about life in the fast lane.

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4 comments:

E.C. Henry said...

Great interview, Margaux. You should be on "60 Minutes?"

LOVED hearing Josh's story of how he broke in. Good stuff.

- E.C. Henry from (Maine), uh no, Bonney Lake, WA

DS said...

Did Josh work on Bond?

Julie Gray said...

@DS - yes. Josh did a polish on Quantum of Solace.

Christian M. Howell said...

I'm actually totally torn about contests. Some of the writers I blog with HATE THEM. I would just like to understand more what the readers are looking for:

Scene transitions
quotables
opportunities for actors to shine
"" "" directors to shine
page numbers


or heaven forbid, the "Guru" stuff. I mean I'm the first person to ask for and accept "criticism" but many people are too subjective for such an objective task.
Personal opinion has nothing to do with script analysis. By that I'm referring to the ubiquitous "he should have" or "why didn't you."

It works if there's a plausible reason but too many times there is no justification, just statements.

I'm also always reminded of yoru story about the script that the producers wanted changed A LOT OF TIMES.
The problem will come in when the producer says X and X was in it before someone said you should take it out. I of course respect anyone whose opinion I ask for but in the end I feel like I can be the only person in the world who enjoys the "movie(I don't write scripts anymore)."
OK, maybe the target group should like it and without the producer\MONEY you won't make a movie, but anyone who does coverage should use an exact template for EVERY script.

I guess the issue with that is whether we should list things that audiences want or what readers want or what execs want.

I personally go for what the audience wants which I can know. I can't really know what "analysts" want until after I get coverage.
Then I have to decide fi I should write a movie that appeals to those things(I would never hack my movie up) or look for an analyst that is looking for what I am.

It's tough indeed but worth it as writing is the revealing of the soul.