Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bill's BBC Writer's Room Interview

Years ago when I was in London to teach my big 2 day class I did a million interviews in two days. I was on morning radio (breakfast chat) and afternoon radio. I did all kinds of radio in between. Every newspaper interviewed me. I did a couple of strange shows at the BBC where I was in a studio talking to someone who was on the other side of the country... and it was broadcast live. I did one great show - kind of a zany drive show, hosted by a couple of writers who wanted to know every story I would never tell in print... and I told a couple.

And BBC's Writer's Room wanted to interview me. After racing all over town in a million taxi cabs, they called and rescheduled... for the morning at some hotel. I don't do mornings. I get to the hotel - barely awake, and they seat me on the lobby steps and begin asking questions... as hotel guests come down the stairs. Every minute we had to stop for guests! I finish this lengthy interview, and have no idea how it turned out. They run it, and post it on their website:

Along with interviews from Paul Greengrass and David Benioff and many other folks you have heard of, and I kind of forget about it. Until a website regular discovers it, and e-mails me a version and puts a copy up on YouTube. I decided to add titles and put it up on YouTube... and here it is.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character secrets & Jackie Chan. .
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fresh tomato beef at City Wok in Studio City.

MOVIES: CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR - So I drove down to Long Beach to hang out with my friends Melanie and Yamo and grabs some dinner and see a movie. As dinner winds down, Mel pulls out a list of all the movies playing at the 95-plex next to the restaurant, and I look over the list and have seen many of the films and Mel or Yamo have seen others... and we narrow it down to a handful, of which CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is the best as far as time goes... so that’s what we see.

Okay, you have an all-star cast, and Mike Nichols directing, and Aaron Sorkin writing, so you can’t end up with a bad movie.

Tom Hanks plays this charmingly sleazy congressman, Charlie Wilson, who is sitting in a Vegas hot tub with a couple of strippers and a Playboy centerfold when he sees Dan Rather on TV wearing a turban. A turban! He wants to know what that’s all about. Discovers that the Russians have invaded Afghanistan, and the Afghans are fighting back... but they need weapons. And Charlie sees a way to make his mark.

He teams up with a grumbling CIA agent named Gust, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a wealthy right wing Texan played by Julia Roberts. Since Roberts just popped twins and is getting older, her character *must* wear a bikini in one scene.

This movie is all over the place - and nowhere at the same time. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts seem to be in some over the top farce, Hoffman manages to play his character with a foot in reality... yet still be at home in the farce scenes. But the danged thing just isn’t funny. You get all the funny lines in the trailer - both of them. It’s kind of breezy for the most part, and the people are fun to watch... but they left the jokes out. And the thing about this true story is that it’s wacky. It plays as farce better than it plays as reality. Oh, then they throw in a real horror of war scene with *children missing limbs* in an Afghan refugee camp. Nothing farcical about that! The tone is all over the place, and the film never seems to decide if it’s a comedy or a drama or a farce or a... heck, it could be anything. But ends up kind of being nothing. Light but not funny.

And it’s hard to shake the real-life punchline: the Afghans we armed to fight the Russians became the Taliban. Those guys we were showing as heroes in RAMBO 3 and that James Bond movie became the guys who took down the Twin Towers. That’s not in the movie, but maybe it should have been. Maybe they should have left out the maimed kids and made the film into a laugh out loud comedy... with the shocker end. People would have loved it... then hated it. But they would have *felt something*. Instead we get an all star, beautifully made, kind of ho-hum film.

- Bill


Emily Blake said...

You are the most interesting person ever.

In the span of ten minutes I read your post about how The Tuxedo does humor right and Charlie Wilson's War does humor wrong.

I haven't seen either movie so I have no opinion, but it's interesting to read such an unexpected comparison.

There's always surprises up in here.

Anonymous said...

And your idea for a surprise ending of Charlie Wilson's War could have turned it into a Dr. Strangelove for the 21st century.

wcmartell said...

Well, TUXEDO kind of screws up, but it milks the fake secret agent thing well. It's interesting how one film might get one part right and another gets another part right, and if you could just combine them in some weird way you might end up with a good film.

- Bill

Martin B said...

Great to see you posting again.

Thanks for the BBC link. The videos play fine with a 56k dial-up modem.

I thought you came over well -- friendly, avuncular, and enthusiastic.

BTW, my deleted post some days ago: It was to ask if you couldn't *please* add one tiny little "r" to "New Web Design Takes You *Though* First Page!" over at

Matt Hader said...

I bet you're this easy going, knowledgeable, and effective in a producers office, as well. Great stuff for new screenwriters to emulate.

eXTReMe Tracker