Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Beau Willimon took his play, Farragut North, to the movies

Over the past week I've been focusing on the Best Adapted Screenplay category as we wend our way to the Academy Awards. I wasn't going to deal with Ides of March since it's based on a play rather than a book (hey, I've got my reasons for doing what I do) but, it being the only play of the five nominees and being directed by George Clooney and having such a fine cast, I figured what the heck. I don't think it stands a chance, by the way...it's got stiff competition from Moneyball, The Descendants and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  As much as I loved HUGO, I don't think it will win in this category either. My money is on Moneyball (but I guiltily confess I didn't read it) but honestly all these movies are so well written, so beautifully adapted, I will be satisfied if one of these three win. Even if I quibble about what they chopped off in The Descendants - that quirky housekeeper - or the changes they made to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - I missed the whole boys school business with Bill Roach and the foreign locales and the hit was altered too - they were all exceptional films. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Ides of March, I just didn't feel it had the same dramatic impact as the others. That may just be because I am a sucker for movies that tug on my heartstrings and each and every one of the top films did that except for Ides of March. With that exception, they all put the cliche lump in my throat so they get my vote!
I found this great little interview that Rachel Martin did on NPR with Beau Willimon.
You can listen to it HERE at the NPR site or read the transcript below.


Beau Willon
In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, we've been talking with the contenders in a category that doesn't often get marquee attention: Best Adapted Screenplay. Three writers have been nominated for "The Ides of March": Grant Heslov, George Clooney and Beau Willimon. The movie is based on Willimon's stage play, called "Farragut North," which was inspired by his experiences working on several Senate and presidential campaigns.
We caught up with Beau Willimon recently. He started off by describing the day he got a call that some guy named George Clooney wanted to make his play into a movie.
BEAU WILLIMON: I was driving a car out in Long Island at the time and I got the call on my cell phone. And it was one of those Hollywood fairytale moments when my agent said to me, Warner Brothers would like to option the play to make into a movie. And how does that sound? And I think that's the point where I almost blacked out and drove the car into a ditch. But apparently, I said that sounds great, so let's do it. So, we obviously optioned the movie rights before we even had the production up on stage.
MARTIN: We should say, for people who haven't seen "Ides of March" or who haven't seen your play, it does focus on a Democratic candidate.
WILLIMON: That's right. Mike Morris is a governor and he's running for president, played by George Clooney. But at the center of the story is his press secretary, Stephen Myers, played by Ryan Gosling. And Ryan finds himself faced with a number of ethical choices, sort of tricky gray area that political operatives often find themselves in. And in his desire to win, has to decide whether to go down the moral fork in the road or the more self-serving and ambitious and hubristic side.
(SOUNDBITE OF "IDES OF MARCH")
GEORGE CLOONEY: (as Governor Mike Morris) You OK?
RYAN GOSLING: (as Stephen Meyers) We're going to be fine. We have to do it, the right thing to do, nothing bad happens when you're doing the right thing.
CLOONEY: (as Governor Mike Morris) Is this your personal theory 'cause I can shoot holes in it?
GOSLING: (as Stephen Meyers) Well, there's exceptions to every rule.
MARTIN: Where is your starting point in the process of writing the screenplay?
WILLIMON: I saw the movie is an opportunity to reinvestigate these characters, to add new characters, to broaden the scope of the story. We also had the opportunity to bring Governor Morris, George Clooney's character, into the film. In the stage version it was purely behind the scenes, you never saw the governor.
MARTIN: How did that decision come about, to elevate the governor - the presidential candidate - into a main character in the film?
WILLIMON: Mostly because movie time works - it operates so fast. On stage, you can have a 20-minute scene and it feels like it goes by in a heartbeat. And on film, you rarely see those sort of 20-minute scenes and it's not as much about the talking, it's about the doing. So when we brought the governor in, and we knew George is going to play him, we thought, well, what can we do to really amp up the stakes and to really get the story moving along at warp speed and truly make it life or death?
And we arrived at the choices we made. I don't want to go into great detail about it because...
MARTIN: Sure.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WILLIMON: ...I don't want a ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. But certainly, the stakes get very high.
MARTIN: Was there any dialogue that you had written for the play, that you were in love with, that just didn't make it into the movie?
WILLIMON: My favorite parts of the play are these monologues that the characters, Tom Duffy and Paul Zara, get to give. You know, one on loyalty, the other on the purgatory that political operatives end up at in the end of their career and political gamesmanship.
MARTIN: You're talking about Paul Zara, Tom Duffy. Those are the campaign managers in your play. And in the film, they're working for competing campaigns.
WILLIMON: Those were probably my two favorite parts of the play. And both of those remained almost entirely intact.
MARTIN: Was your personal writing process any different when you sat down to write the play, as opposed to when you wrote the screenplay?
WILLIMON: It was very different. When I wrote the play it was about six months after having finished my work on the Dean campaign, and I hadn't written anything for a while...
MARTIN: You worked for Howard Dean...
WILLIMON: That's right.
MARTIN: ...when he was running for president.
Grant Heslov & George Clooney
are also nominated in the  Best Adapted
 Screenplay categoy.
WILLIMON: I hadn't written anything for a while, so I was really itching to write something and politics was on the brain. Usually when I write a play, I put months of thought into who are the characters I want to focus on? What are their stories? But when it came to the movie you're looking at, you know, a lot more characters and a lot more scenes. And you really have to plot out things I think in a lot more detail in terms of your outlines, just so you don't shoot yourself in the foot writing yourself into a corner you can't get out of later on.
And so, yeah, very different processes but I knew these characters. I knew the core of the story and that gave me something to hold onto so I didn't feel lost at sea.
MARTIN: Beau, thank you so much for talking with us. We really appreciate it
WILLIMON: Thank you so much, Rachel.
MARTIN: That's Oscar nominated screenwriter Beau Willimon, speaking with us from Venice, California. Willimon, Grant Heslov, and George Clooney are up for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film "The Ides of March."

2 comments:

  1. I didn't know The Ides of March had been a play. You're not the first person I've heard say they think Moneyball will win. You might be right, but I don't think it was the best movie I saw last year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually i agree with you. My favorite movie of the nominees is Hugo with the Descendants a close second . But I think Aaron Sorkin is held in really high esteem and it sometimes seems like the oscars are one big popularity contest.

    ReplyDelete

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