Show menu
Shooting People
By continuing to browse this website you are agreeing to allow us to use cookies

Stuart Beattie interviewed by Cath le Couteur

SATURDAY 12th FEBRUARY 2005 at the CURZON SOHO, London

As I introduced myself before I'm Cath, one of the co-founders of Shooters. Jess, standing over there is the other co-founder. I don't normally introduce myself this way, but it seems a little more relevant this time. I am originally from Sydney Australia. I went and saw Collateral myself in my local cinema here in the UK and suddenly saw the screenwriter credits flash up - it was Stu Beattie. I was like 'No way man!, I went to school with that guy'! So what I really want to know is what on earth has been going on for Stuart Beattie in the last 15 years?! He's here to tell us now - Stuart Beattie everyone.

Thank you very much for having me. It's great to be here.

When we normally start, we like to get a sense of who's here, in terms of what people do. So how many writers, writer/directors or people who want to write scripts are in the audience?

Oh my god!


I've just realised I've just forgotten my questions, can we just hang for two?

I'll just do a little song/dance routine, okay.

Thanks. Ok. Well, we have to start with the amazing fact that Collateral was Stu's first idea for a script. You are 32?


Ok. And you had your first idea for a script in Sydney, which you called Collateral, the film ended up being directed by the legendary Michael Mann, it starred Tom Cruise, it starred Jamie Fox and it went over $100 million at the box office on its opening weekend? What HAPPENED?!

A lot of things happened, a lot of meetings got a lot easier.

Start from the beginning, you are in Sydney...(?!)

Sure, I'm in Sydney, I'm 17. I catch a cab back from the airport by myself. The first time I've ever caught a cab of my own and I started talking with the cab driver. By the time he dropped me home, we were just chatting and chatting, I had one of those bizarre sicko thoughts, which was like, 'Man, I could be some homicidal maniac sitting back here and here we are talking like best mates and you've got your back to me'. And it just grew from there. Taxi cabs I think are one of those unique islands really in modern society, where two complete strangers get together and trust each other implicitly.

The two rules you get taught growing up: don't get in a car with a strange person and don't pick up hitchhikers. And that is like the basis of cab transactions every day! So it just seemed like it was a setting that was right for drama. I always like having close proximity where heroes and villains are together a lot. Because that is when you start to get into the real meaty stuff. Two people that seem completely different but actually are two sides of the same coin.

So you wrote the script quite young?

Yes, I wrote it in '91 initially, that was the first draft. I printed it out on the dot matrix printer at Oregon State. I was on exchange at Oregon State University. The script was awful, but I always liked the idea, and I never really showed the script to anyone and kind of kept in my drawer. Every few years I would bring it out. I tried another draft and another draft, another draft. Then I was actually waiting tables, and an old friend walked in who I had been at UCLA with. I hadn't seen her in years and it was one of those moments where it was like, do I go up to the table to see my old friend and say 'Hi I'm waiting tables' or do I kind of sneak past. But you bite the bullet and you go and say 'Hi, I'm waiting tables, how are you' and she was producing and she was looking for thrillers, so I pitched this to her at her table and that literally was it. We ended up pitching it to HBO which is a cable TV company and they bought it and so that got me out of waiting tables. After we sold to HBO,I did another draft, then they passed and said it wasn't right for them. So it was dead and I basically begged for a meeting at DreamWorks which was the one company I wanted to work for.

That's a big beg.

It is a big beg! But my agent knew one of the executives and so they begrudgingly set it up and they cancelled three times hoping that I would just give up.

And so prior to this you had written a bunch of other scripts and got an agent?

Oh sure, sorry. I went to UCLA when I went to LA in '92. They had these great courses in extension - screen writing courses - and I could work during the day at the local Taco Bell and I could do classes at night and write in between. They had an award there every year and I won that award and that award got me my first agent. From that I started getting work from that script. It was a sample script and the first job I got was a similarly themed script to the one that I had written, so they read it as a sample. It had won an award so they could say that to their bosses and I was cheap. Nothing better than cheap talent. Seriously it is the best thing. You are cheap and you are hungry. And that carries you through. There are so many untalented well paid people. So to actually be able to deliver for a good price is a commodity people want.

So your agent eventually gets the meeting?

With DreamWorks, yes and the executives are sitting round staring at me and I can see he is thinking what is he doing for his weekend and all that kind of stuff. I could see his mind flitting but I pitched him this idea and he just really took to the idea and he said 'Can I read that?' and he read it that night and they all read it that weekend and they bought it that week. So we set up at DreamWorks and I worked on it for about another 6 years, no 6 months! at DreamWorks. This has been going for 15 years actually.. But anyway it was 6 months at DreamWorks then it basically sat on their shelf for about 3 years while they were trying to find the right director and 2 leads. And it went through every incarnation you can imagine.

In fact it was actually Russell Crowe who got on it and he wanted to play the hit man and he brought on Michael Mann. Then Russell dropped out after about 6 months of negotiations. Then Tom came in and then it was pretty much a GO film. If they were not going to green light it at that stage then they were never going to.

Collateral is such an intense of character piece. Did you at any stage, when it entered the land of the studios, think that the story might get mangled, or were you just delighted?

I was optimistic because I had written all these wonderful personal spec scripts that I thought were fantastic, that the studios had passed on because they kept saying it is too big, too big budget. They were set in Mozambique and so forth so I thought two people in a cab, how expensive can that be? It's the price of the cab meter and a couple of people, you can't say no for budget reasons. So I was quite optimistic that it would stay what it was. If you take out the character stuff then you'd be left with something so empty and just meaningless anyway. So I know that happens a lot but I really thought it had a chance of turning into something good.

Let's talk about the characters. It is great to see the clips again. The dialogue and the characters are so fantastically well told. In one of those clips you see Vincent talking about going to kill his dad to Max, then he just cracks up at him. He's completely playing Max and it tells you so much about Vincent...

Yes. I hate those, they call it the Mystery of Me speech, where the action suddenly stops and the lead character gives you the mystery of me, this is why I am the way I am... I am so sick of these speeches that it seemed like, I can tell you more about the character by having them tell a story like that and have it be a lie, than I can about telling a back story. It just seemed to be a great way to show his character.

And did you have a very clear idea about who your characters were at the start? Or did your characters change during the whole process of you working on the script?

No, they were very specific right from the Get, Go. And they pretty much stayed the same characters. It got to the point where I could have written those characters for hours and hours and hours. In fact what you see is probably like the skimmed down version of hours and hours of writing of scenes worth of them.

But you were very clear about what each of those two characters represented.

Yes. I had to be. To me it is all about characters. Plot, structure, it is everything. So it dictates how your story moves, how it ends, where it goes, what you want to say about the world, all that kind of stuff. Plus I wanted them to both be completely different when you first meet them. Max avoids confrontation. Vincent's job is confrontation, but then after a while when they get together and you strip away all the outside stuff, you realise that they are just two very lonely people struggling really to find out who they are in the world. One of them grows and one of them doesn't and as a result the one who doesn't, dies. That's the price.

The dialogue is incredibly sparse and crackling with brilliant one liners. It was very funny without being flippant.

I think you always need humour in everything you do, no matter how dark the subject. Even Schindler's List has humour in it. You need that kind of humour. Dark films can have humour, but it can't be flippant like you say, it has to come out of the characters and out of the situation.

I understand that the script as we know it now is very sparse - like 90 pages - and the dialogue is very lean. Did you write huge swathes when you were starting and did you keep stripping loads of stuff out? Or did you start as a kind of lean machine, day one?

No, for me it was all about long, long, long, passages and then just finding the best parts, finding what was needed and what was not. And then when the actors come on, you go through another pass again, where you know the actors that you are working with and the calibre you are working with and they can get out that dialogue with a look or one line. So how they say it, the inflections and their words, it is all a process of whittling down a lot.

So were you involved a lot during the actual production?

The script didn't really change that much. The odd thing about writing films is when the script's locked in place and no one really has any big problems with it, then your work is kind of done, so you can go to the set and watch them do it, and that is exciting for a few minutes and then you get antsy and you want to get back to your work because you have six deadlines back in your office. You kind of trust Michael Mann and Tom Cruise with a thriller! I was like, 'You all know what you're doing. Go for it'.

Ok. You've said it. The question has to be asked - what did it feel like when Tom Cruise came on board?

It was great! And I was really excited do something so evil. I've been a fan of his for many years, like a lot of people have, but I've always thought there was a great opportunity for him to play a bad guy, because he does that righteous intensity thing so well. So I've always thought it would be great if that righteous intensity was 'I'm going to kill you'. For no other reason than I've been paid to. I thought that would be really scary and I remember the first time on set when I saw him doing it and I was terrified and I was like, Oh this is great. But I've always enjoyed seeing things that are new and fresh and someone like Tom doing that role I thought was fresh and interesting and would have been a film that I wanted to see, just because of that regardless.

Did you have in your in head a sense of who might be playing those roles when you were writing them?

I was always thinking it would be an English person playing Vincent, just for the mere fact that I wanted a foreigner in the city, to explain the whole thing of why do I need a cab. He doesn't know his way around; he needs a cabbie, just to simply explain that. Like a Ralph Fiennes or someone like that. And then I always imagined someone like Robert DeNiro doing the taxi. That would have been cool wouldn't it? The anti-Travis.

Inspired casting then - with Jamie Fox too, not doing comedy.

Yes, going against the grain. I'm so starved for originality in films these days, especially with the stuff that is coming out of Hollywood. I try to inject that into what I do. I am part of the problem but also part of the solution. I try to do things differently. And I don't want to do re-makes or sequels and stuff like that.

There is a lot of talk between Vincent and Max about being individuals in the city and Vincent hates being in hotels and tells Max why he hates being in LA. He tells the story of this guy being shot dead on a train and then his corpse ends up doing laps around LA.

There is quite a lot of references to the alienation of the city in this way. Is that a theme that interested you from the start or something that evolved from your characters?

That theme actually evolved just from living in LA for so long. The LA Times do this study where they found that there are 30 homicides every week in LA county, and only a half of those ever reach a court room and only a third of that half ever get a conviction. So it is quite easy to get away with murder in LA was the idea of it. So there was that and if you live in LA for long enough you start to get used to the traffic bulletins every morning on the radio, saying that the traffic is backed up on the 101, take, Sapporo or whatever it is. And every now and then they say there is a fatality accident on 405, take the Mullholland overpass etc. And people go, a fatality accident, so someone got killed 5 minutes ago, and now I'm going to be late to work, I mean how screwed up is that? So it just started making me think, when you live in a place with so many people, what is the value of human life. The value of human life interests me and that is why the Rwanda thing is in as well. That idea of really, there are so many of us who say very nobly yes, every life matters, but does it? And especially when you've got a huge concentration of people. That story could never have taken place in small town America where everyone knows each other's names, because one death there, the whole community would feel it. But in places like LA, New York, London, Sydney, Mexico City, there are so many people... It is like that, when a tree falls in a forest, does anyone care? And actually that story was true about that guy on the subway, that was in New York and this guy was found dead on the subway, he'd been riding around for 6 hours.. To me, that typified living in a city where no one really notices. The city goes on. Nobody blinks.

Talking about the city, you originally set it in New York.

Yes, you think cab movie, you think New York.

Why did it move to LA?

That was Michael Mann. Michael Mann loves LA and just wanted to shoot in LA and had the idea to work with digital cameras and capture LA at night, so he moved it.

But because it is being about being in a big city, for my money it could have been set anywhere, as long as there was a big concentration of people.

Just to come back to the script, with there also being so many writers in the audience... There is a lot more money in the UK that has been put towards script development. I don't think there are many of us now aren't familiar with either Syd Field, Frank Daniels or McKee and screen writing approaches. It feels to me that Collateral was the perfect structure.

Thank you.

Actually Syd Field interviewed me for his new work. So there will be a whole Collateral thing in there.

But is certainly not formulaic; it is an incredibly original film. Are you a disciple of these screen-writing guys?

I read them all. But I'm not a disciple of them. I think they are absolutely important for everyone to read and then to forget in a sense because you can't be tied to specific pages and plot points to tell you story. But you need to be aware of it in the back of your head somewhere so you have these gears to kick in to keep it interesting.

I'm a big fan of Joseph Campbell, that kind of story telling, mythic story telling, and that doesn't really set pages, but tells you, Hey, you need to get the story going, you need to go to a really dark place, you need to get out of that dark place, which is kind of more loose.

So that structural thinking for you is now kind of intuitive?

Yes, I've been doing it so many years and I've done it in so many scripts now that I feel it is always in there. Sometimes I forget and I have to be reminded, but it will come, because I don't know what to write next and then I'll look back at the books and go, Oh god, I haven't done that whole pod, or that whole redemption pod, or I've missed the stakes, I've got no stakes and it will click back in. But the basic structure I follow on everything is to have a hero do something at the end that they never would have done in the beginning, but it is logical because of everything that has gone through in between. I think if you've got that then you've got a great character driven story. That to me is good story telling.

It is interesting that idea of logic. I don't really know how to ask this question except to say how far will you push an idea? How far can you go with an idea that ensures the integrity of the film but is not unbelievable. I mean do you think everything you wrote in Collateral is completely reasonable?

Well Max goes to see his mother in the middle of the whole thing! I think you try and squeeze that lemon of the idea, what is the most I can get, what is the most juice I can get out of this and I think that often involves that pendulum swing where you start at the beginning, and you go all the out as far as you can, and you finally end up somewhere in the middle.

So you'll push as far as you can.

Absolutely, because you never know how far you can go until someone is saying this is ridiculous. And then you cut it back and back and then you find that middle ground but at least you've done the swing, you've risked it, you've seen it, and maybe hey, that could work because that could be something great. I railed against that mother idea for like 6 months. How am I going to make that work, but we pushed and worked and worked and a lot of people liked that.

Yes, it was very unexpected. Especially when the mother also then humiliates Max. That is not a mother you see in everyday Hollywood.

But again that was all part of how do you go from hit to hit to hit, how boring would that be? So what can I do? I can go and see his mother, and what do we do in here, oh, steal the briefcase, or we are in a jazz club, what are we are doing in a jazz club? Oh it is to kill the next guy, just to keep you on your toes. Just to keep the plot twisting and turning.

It does twist at a tremendous pace. But as a writer, once you're inside the script yourself, what is your own reality check?

My wife! Seriously. You need a good assistant, someone who is on your side that you can trust like that, who knows what you are about and who is just as vested as you are and is willing to tell you that it could be better.

I'd like to know a bit more about your writing process. Obviously you had the idea of a cab and you had two very strong characters. But what is your process? Do you turn out a first draft as fast as you can, and then just keep coming back and re-writing it? Can you tell us more about your process?

Sure, I just like to think about things, I think the more you think about something before you set it down on paper, the more you refine the idea and the more you get to what it is really about. So before I write I have usually thought about something for at least 6 months, and often longer. And the longer I've thought about something, the quicker and easier it is to write and the better a script it turns out to be. So after 6 months I will end up with a 5 page outline and I pretty much write the script off that 5 page outline. It is soaked into me by then so I'm at that critical mass point where it has to come out now or it never will.

And the soaking is character, plot, the whole lot.

Character, research, character, ideas come and, then I think that sucks, that is silly, that can go here and here, and just doing that pendulum swing thing, where can I take this, how interesting can it be? Then of course it changes a lot when you write it too.

Where does research for you fit in?

I love research. That whole thing about being an author where you become an authority of a subject and it becomes authentic and all those words, author, authentic, authority, all come from the same Latin origin. To me if you want to be an author about something, you have to know everything about the subject, because that is how you get the most of out of your premise. So I do tonnes of research with everything I do.

What was the research that you did on Collateral?

We went driving round with cabbies, hanging out and just doing shifts and really getting to know their world so I could get inside Max's head. Vincent's research was more just researching mercenaries and people that are paid to kill.

Errr.. so how did you research that one?

I hired someone! No, there is information out there, you can find it and once you start reading testimonials, you start to get into that pattern of, killing means nothing; the value of human life really is very little.

What kinds of testimonials?

We started reading interviews with mercenaries, and interviews with hired killers, hit men, people who've done it. There is a tonne of information out there, but getting into that mind set is really important. There was a scene in the script that they cut from the film that was all about what Collateral is, and I liked the scene because it really got into the mind set of Vincent which was saying I've killed 40 people and 3 collaterals. And what is collateral? Well it is innocent by stander type people. People in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Max said, does that bother you? And it is like, sure it does, nobody likes working for free. It is getting into that kind of mind set and once you've got that mind set down you can write and write and write and it is fun. You are inside someone else's head in a sense. So that is really what the research does for me, I get into people's heads.

And then for you, once you've done that 6 months thinking and how quick is the rest of it for you?

It takes about 6 weeks to write. 6 -7 weeks to write the script and then you hand it in and you start doing re-writes and it just depends who you are working with and how much re-writing you do before directors come on and actors come on. Then you are usually re-writing through the production of the film, here and there, this location fell through, this actor can't say this line and that kind of stuff and it becomes very mechanical, but if you stick with the same thing and don't bury too much, you are fine.

You touched on something there, when you said they cut a scene.

Yes, bastards.

Ruined the whole thing for me.

So what is it like to hand over your baby, hand over that control? How much do you try and stay involved with the project on set?

You kind of get pulled into two different directions, I find anyway, because it is your baby and on the one hand you don't want to hand your baby off to another parent, but at the same time if you don't, that baby will never be born. And that is the whole point you made the baby in the first place. So you want to hand it over. The best thing is to hope; to get a sense that the director gets the story, understands it, that the actor understand the characters and that they are proficient people in what they do. And obviously Michael Mann is a great film maker; Tom and Jamie are great actors, so it was an easy choice. It was easy to let go. I could trust those people. Collateral was very cool, you know what you are doing, go for it.

So you weren't on set and had no desire to be.

No, the whole thing was shot at night and I've got 2 kids. By 10.00 pm I've got to go to bed and they were just starting their day. I went once or twice and that was basically it, I'll see you at the premiere.

The last script I did, 'Derailed', I was on set most of the time, just because they wanted me there.

So it is down to the whim of the director then.

Pretty much. Either they want you around or not. At the beginning they say I'd like you there everyday in case an actor wants to say why am I saying this and I'm thinking of 20 other things, I can just say talk to Stuart. Or they want you there because this scene is still not right for me, or this actor is having a problem. It is really up to the individual director and I'm quite happy not to be a part of it or to be a part of it, whatever helps to make the best film.

You've had quite a lot of experience now. You've racked up 6 or 7 films.

Six, yes.

Do you find yourself in situations where you are fighting for scenes?

Absolutely. The whole thing is a fight, from beginning to end. The nicest part is writing a first draft on your own, so when no one else has seen it, that is all the joy you get. So it had better be enjoyable. Pour a glass of champagne. I've finished, take out the trash that was great. That is your moment. Because after that everyone else starts writing in their opinions, and hopefully they like it, they love it, change this line and that line and it is cosmetic stuff, but it is still a fight for every scene. There is a reason for every single line and as long as you can articulate that, at least you can say here is why I did it, we can disagree and agree on the reasons why I did, but if you don't have a reason, you are like, Oh I just thought it would be cool. Then it is hard to argue your case. So I try to have a reason for everything in there, so at least I can say this is why.

Have you had fundamental disagreements in your experience?

Yes, but none of them have been fun.

Some people just see different films. They see a completely different movie to what you see and often you don't realise that until you've delivered a first draft and people say this isn't what I expected and you say but this is what we talked about in the room. Two people can sit in a room and talk for an hour and be talking about a completely different film in my experience. I try and be as clear as I can. But you never know until you get that first draft in.

What happens if there is a clash of ideas or vision about how a story is meant to go? What do you do in those situations?

In ends up really with whoever is paying the bills. If they give it, great. But if you are leaving the script to the people that don't get it, then it is pretty much dead. You'll do another draft but you're killing time basically because fundamentally they don't get the film that you see, so you do your drafts and you get whipped on and then they bring in someone else.

What was remarkable about Collateral too, was the way it has been shot and so true to what is at the heart of the film. Michael Mann did an amazing job in capturing LA at night.

Was that atmosphere a key part of the script or was that simply a perfect match between writer and director?

Certainly a good match but in the script as well, the city was a character. In a script you can't say shoot this and that, but you evolve the mood in the script, you evolve the scenes of the city life going on around and you can get that sense, the tonal mood. But you couldn't have captured that mood better, by the way Mann shot it, digitally and all that kind of stuff.

But that was a core part of the writing, that you'd actually put down on script in terms of creating a glistening, alienating LA nocturnal.

Exactly, you are creating that world, so you have to sell the person on that world. It is a huge part of it.

Shame they took your writer commentary off the Collateral DVD!

It happens, it happens every now and again, the director has the last say in what goes on and what doesn't. I'm going to put the commentary on my website, so people can download it. It happens every now and again.

Is this a metaphor for how writers are treated in Hollywood? In DVD there are lots of options you can choose though right?

To me yes! And lots of options is great. It helps sell the film, sell the DVD. You are trying to sell DVD's, so there might be someone out there that wants to here what the writing was all about, so I think it's silly not to.

I think it's all about ownership. Collateral was the first film that Michael had done that he didn't get the screenplay credits and it was his most successful film financially.

Can you expand a bit more, on this. You are a writer, you have been out in LA for 15 years now, you have been tremendously successful, penned loads of films, so what is a life for a writer on the ground like out there at the moment?

I still think there is still a long way to go in terms of respect and treatment of writers; we are still the bottom of the totem pole. And it is because we really hold all the keys I think and until you've got that great script, it is nothing and everyone knows it, but they don't really want to give us that power by acknowledging it, so it is kind of like the reverse effect where they bury you and pay you as little as they can and treat you as bad as they can so you don't rise up with power that you have. I think there is a long way to go and it is going to be a long battle. But it is one of the realities of the business. It is a great business and I love what I do. I love telling stories, so I can't complain about it, but we could be treated a lot better I think.

I think most of you guys here know as well, that Stu's written scripts that have crossed many different genres. Pirates of the Caribbean was dazzling silliness, and had a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. What is your feeling in terms of genre, are you someone who will dip in and dip out?

Yes. I don't believe in genre writers. I hate being pigeon holed. and people People will think oh he is great at dramas or we'll get the comedy guy in and do a week's worth of jokes. I think people are either good story tellers or they are not. And genre wise, that is a different kind of story. Each genre you can master. It depends if you have that story telling knack I think, that is mainly what it is about. So I cross the board in genres. It also helps to keep from being pigeon holed, because Hollywood loves to pigeon hole and I didn't ever want to be. I believe story telling is story telling. Write what you want to write, don't worry about the genre.

Tell us a bit about (your upcoming film) Derailed? Which is currently being edited in London as we speak.

Yes, Derailed - It's very cool! It is based on a book. It is a very Hitchcocky kind of a movie, with Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel and directed by Michel Hastram, who is a Swedish guy. He did a film called Evil and it was nominated for best foreign film last year and it is really cool. I've seen a lot of it and it's great, so that's coming out soon.

Give us a bit more on what it's about.

Sure! It is about a guy who basically misses his train one morning and takes the wrong train and meets a woman and they have this illicit affair and it just basically all goes wrong for him. Everything he tries to do to get out of it just gets him in deeper and deeper and his life gets derailed as a result. It is very much a character, thriller, drama.

A lot darker than Collateral?

It is probably going to be R rated.. It's interesting... It is the kind of film I'd like to go and see.

And that was an adaptation? Was it your first adaptation of a book?

No, I've adapted a couple of books before then, but it went very smoothly, I was the first writer in and the last writer out. No other writer involved, so I'm going to have an arbitration with myself on that one.

Before we go to the audience, this is pretty interesting. Stuart was just telling me over there, how arbitration works. Completely new to me. Tell these guys.

Arbitration happens with most films - a good 95% of films from Hollywood. There is more than one writer and so by the time it comes to deciding who gets what credit, the writer school of America has this process called arbitration where they will get all the scripts together that everyone has written on this one project and they will send them all to three anonymous writers. They then read all the drafts and there is a set of rules by where, if you decide one writer has contributed more than 33% then they get credit and then these three anonymous writers decide anonymously what the credits shall be. It is always a crap shoot. You never know what you are going to get. It is incredibly arbitrary. I think they should hire three people who live in Kansas and don't know anyone in Hollywood and are trained to do this and that there is a mathematical formula or something because it is a very unfair process. But there is nothing better and again it is what there is and everyone is always unhappy with the credits that they end up getting, so you can never please anyone. Plus it's the process. Plus stupidly they tie bonuses to credits, so if you get a certain bonus you get a cheque, so that kind of pits writers against each other. They can think, I'll change the name of this character and hopefully people will think I invented a new character and I'll get my 33% and then I'll get my cheque. It is just stupid, because the goal should really be let's make the best film we can and often what happens is you get credit seekers coming in.

You've done well if you've managed to hold on to solo screenplay on this and on Derailed. I understand for Pirates, you only got the story credit.

Yes. I got robbed on Pirates. That is my story, but that is what it is. You win some you lose some. The day that I find out I got screwed on that arbitration was the day that Tom came on to Collateral, so it is like, that is Hollywood. It puts you through the emotional ringer.

Lets go to questions from Shooters - I'm sure there are loads

I wanted to find out what your next project after Derailed is going to be.

Good question. There is nothing that has been officially green lit. There is a film called Truce about the World War I Christmas truce. So it is entirely a British movie. A shining moment in British History, and there aren't many films like that. Hopefully you guys will like that. Me and the director are just trying to get the cast together for that. If we get the cast then we will be shooting that in May.

Plus I'm going to go down to Australia and work with the director Baz Luhrman, to do his next film, so that will be fun. And that I know will get made because Baz just makes what he makes, but that won't shoot until about February. So hopefully Truce and then Baz's film.

Actually I heard a rumour that you'd been hired to write Indiana Jones IV?!

No, I never did! That was an interview I did when someone said what is your favourite film and I said Raiders of the Lost Ark and they said Would you like to write Indie IV and I said yes, that would be fantastic and that was essentially it, and the next thing I know...

It's in Variety...

And it is kind of embarrassing too; because the writer at that time was Frank Durabont, and Frank was the exec producer on Collateral so I know Frank really well and he is there working on it at home and there in the intray it says that I'm replacing him. Which is often how you find out.. But it was kind of sticky there for a while.

(back to AUDIENCE)
You were talking about before, pushing the script to the limits of believability and there is a scene in Collateral where Vincent, Tom Cruise's character loses his laptop and Jamie Fox has to go into the club and face all these thugs. I was kind of watching it and wanted to know if you thought it was believable?

Hopefully I think it is a matter of taste or individual opinion whether you think we went too far or not. I think for my money we just were there. But I wanted Max to grow balls. That is his journey. So I wanted, what is the most I can do with that, or maybe I can have him have to pretend to be Vincent at one stage and walk in and face the employers and learn and use everything he has learned from Vincent over the course of the night and see if he can get out of there alive. That is very much the Joseph Campbell approach: meeting your own death in a sense, the inner most cave where you go in and come out reborn as someone different and the idea of not seeing Max go in as Max and really coming out as a different kind of Max. That scene certainly couldn't have taken place at the end of the first act, he had to go through a series of little changes before he got to that big change, but after that he starts to get stronger and stronger and to me that is one of the things that allows him to roll that cab at the end of the second act.

I think it worked by the time he came out of the club. I think it worked because like you say he'd grown some balls.

You said your first draft for Collateral wasn't too hot, obviously the final result is. So what has specifically progressed over the years and what did you get better as, as a writer.

I did get better as a writer, because it was the first script I wrote and 15 years later I was still writing the thing. So I think yes, if you looked at all those drafts hopefully you'd see the improvements coming in over the years. It is basically everything. I know that is not a good answer, but it is learning how to write good dialogue. It is hearing people speak and being able to put that on the page. Learning all those little tricks about you never put the first word of dialogue, like, 'I'm going to the store' becomes 'Going to the store'. 'Hi how are you' becomes 'How are you'? 'Can you do this for me?', 'You do this for me?', that kind of stuff and then learning how to get into mind sets and learning how to structure the script, learning how to end a scene. Putting a button on the end of a scene. Like a lot of my scenes would go on for another 3 or 4 lines and then of course I'd cut those 3 or 4 lines and see there is the button. That point where he said this or that is the real end of the scene, or starting a scene too early. You always want to start your scenes as late as possible, for my money anyway. So it is all the 10,000 rules of screen writing basically that you pick up and absorb over the years and reading other people's scripts and studying scripts, writing scripts, getting feedback on scripts, that kind of stuff. It is everything I know over the course of those 15 years.

As far as the actual script goes, it is funny, it actually is quite similar. Taxi driver picks up the hit man and is frightened of confrontation. Hit man is all confrontation, you've got the hits, the guy grows balls, turns the tables, the last witness is someone he knows, and all that kind of stuff. That was all in the very first draft. But it was called The Last Domino back then.

When you were writing throughout the last 15 years, who do you get influenced by in terms of screen writing?

Larry Kasdan.

He was asking about screen writers that have influenced me over the years and Larry Kasdan was the first name that came to mind because I'm a big fan of Raiders, Empire, Big Chill, Bodyheat, all that great stuff, the early stuff he did.

Bo Goldman who wrote Scent of a Woman. He's a fantastic writer.

Bill Nicholson I think is an amazing writer. His draft of First Night, the shooting script, was one of the best scripts I've ever read. They botched the film, but his script is amazing.

There are lots of great writers out there.

Frank Darabont was a big idol of mine. That was one of the things that was great about this, getting to work with him and seeing how his mind thinks.

Then of course you find out he goes through all the same shit I do when I'm writing. He has awful days and he has I can't think of anything days, he writes shit for 3 days and looks back and goes that is shit. You know.

Realising that we are all really struggling with the same stuff. It doesn't matter how accomplished you are, how many films you've made, how many awards you've won, we are all dealing with the same stuff, every time we sit at a computer and look at it.

Have there been times when you've thought this is the wrong thing for me?

Screen writing. No. I love it. I wrote a 50 page story when I was 10. I've always been doing this stuff. I wrote those, you know those, How to Host a murder dinners, I used to create those, which is essentially the same thing, you are creating 8 different characters and creating a story, so I've always been writing and doing this and loving it. And I love every day that I do it. So as far as questioning it, I've questioned being how fortunate I am to be doing this, how lucky am I and thinking any day they are going to say No more for you, you've had your run, but I know I know what I'm meant to be doing. Absolutely.

Asking a question about getting a script made, because obviously I'm the only one in the room sitting on one of the best scripts since Casablanca.


But it seems to me that other people might have different experiences, but even if you have a killer script over here no one will read it unless you are a name directly associated with a name and my heart sank when one of the first things you said was 'I met an old friend who was a producer' and my heart sank again when you said I was at UCLA and I won an award and she got me an agent and obviously you've worked very hard for that . So if I can't get it done here, what do I do, do I get on a plane and go to LA, and get an agent. What is the process?

The award thing worked pretty well for me. I would say start entering your script into award competitions. In America, in London, everywhere, because it is not enough for you to say that this is a great script and it can't be your mother or your aunt, it has to be an established entity and that is the only way I found people would take notice. There are a tonne of screen writing competitions, and I would say just keep entering and you pay an entry fee, it is like $40 or something. That is what worked for me. Everyone has a different way in, but I know that problem. People are afraid to read because you are liable, you have to sign releases and all that kind of stuff. The award thing worked well for me because that is what they do, they take unsolicited material and they say that is good. And the more prestigious the award the more good it will do for you. When I won the award that I won, yes, I had 5 or 6 agent's call me and I got to meet all them and choose an agent. I never had anything sold or anything.

Do you think that perception is important.


It is that person out there with street credibility saying this person is good, you need to read this person and plus it is also about finding the right agent so that other people will listen to you.

There are a lot of agents out there who say: everyone is good, all my clients are great. So it has to be that right person who has street credibility in the industry but will also be out there championing you. You need people out there championing you. And when I was first starting out, I had an agent and a manager, because I figured the more people out there the better and that is what worked for me. The more people who are out there saying he is great the better. So that is what worked. So I would say; enter into competitions, because that is all I know really, because that is what worked for me. Good luck with it.

I'm curious about the first scene. When you first get an idea. How do you get your ideas? Do you just brainstorm with some mates?

No, it is never deliberate like that. I never get together and say let's think of an idea. Actually no, Pirates - we did think it that way! I was tossing a Frisbee with a friend of mine in Oregon and we were like 'Let's make a movie. Great. What hasn't been done in a while? Pirates! Oh great, that hasn't been done in ages'. That one we did do like that but every other thing has just been like that is kind of weird, riding in a cab and trusting me and stuff, that is kind of freaky, and then what if I was that, and then I could be this and that kind of comes from there, or it is a book you read or it is an idea or it's something you observe in your life, something you read in the paper and every script I've written has come in a different way to me.

What do you first do, what is the first thing you do, when you sit down, do you write about a character?

I usually research it, what is that world. The script that won the award was Coastguard, so I started just looking into that world and ideas usually just come to me as I'm researching that world. And I didn't know there were women that jumped out of helicopters and rescued people. That is interesting, there is a character, or why would someone do that?, That has got to be a male dominated industry, rescuing swimmers and so each one is different but that is usually the way it works for me. It is that research, getting to know the world intimately. I could write about screen writers in Hollywood because I know the world so well and I would everything that could happen to a screen writer in Hollywood, but if I'm writing about an oil worker off the coast of Algeria, well, I've got to research that, rather than find out what goes on in that world and what could happen in that world, to be able to come up with ideas for the story of that world. Like, oh that is an interesting idea though, American oil companies working in a war ravaged African land, we are taking all their oil and just ignoring all the women and children getting slaughtered on the streets. Oh that's an interesting idea. I like writing about something. I like having something to say so a lot of times ideas come just because I want to say this, there is something here, or here is an idea, or it is something that is pissing me off., Truce, that script that came from basically why are we fighting, it's so stupid. We are all the same; it is watching Israel and Palestine every night on TV. It just pisses me off, and I get pissed off about something and I'll write about it.

Have you ever got yourself into a sticky situation because you've actually gone out there by covert?

Not quite sure I understand.

Have you gone undercover basically?

No. I'm writing movies.

It never occurred to me. People are so open and friendly and want their worlds to be in movies. I've found this anyway. I mean with the cabbies, who better to research than cabbies, because they will talk forever. But no, never done the undercover thing. Never occurred to me, honestly.

If the situation required that I might as long as I wasn't in danger, because I have kids and I wouldn't put myself in danger for a movie. For any other thing, yes, I might do that that would be interesting.

But I think the experience of going undercover might be more interesting than actually what I'm researching. I might end up doing a film about the person going undercover, I'm sure that's how that Drew Barrymore film came about, where she was that reporter going undercover in High School. I think that actually happened. A reporter went undercover in High School and became the basis for the film so it was about this person going undercover in High School. Never Been Kissed, that's it.

How do you, I've written my first draft.

Congratulations. No seriously it's great. It is a hard thing to get through, 120 pages.

Mine's 135. it's based on people in my family and it is based on a true story and I feel like I'm too close to the story but I have to start stripping things out. But how do you go about that? I've approached quite a few people and quite a few people say wonderful, great, but I don't have the time. I'm a new writer, so I don't have anybody to turn to...

The question is really who can you trust to read your script that will give you honest feedback. I know there are services that do it, Shooting People is made up of other writers.

So I'd say other writers. Writers that you trust, writers that you admire. You read theirs and they read yours. I found I did that for a bit and that helped. Just find people that have read a lot of scripts but have no vested interest in your script. You need that honest brutal opinion and it's very hard going, going through and stripping your own dialogue, because you think you need every word. I'm willing to bet in 135 pages you don't need every word, but it's really hard to see right, because they are your words so you need someone to trust, saying that you really don't need this. I think its very hard to try and do yourself so I would try and find someone, meet other writers. Hang out in the café long enough and you'll meet other writers. Or on shooting people you can say 'Hey let's read each other's work. I really like this' or even pay someone to do it, there are also services that offer coverage. Coverage is people who professionally read scripts and say good structure, bad dialogue, good story line, bad plot, that kind of stuff. But for going through and stripping dialogue I think you definitely need someone there crossing out for you. Does that help?


Coming from Sydney as well, just wondering what took you to LA in the first place, did you go deliberately?

Yes, there is one film school in Australia and the prerequisite is you have to be 22 and I was 21, just out of college. So I failed the prerequisite, that was it. I thought I'm not going to wait around for a year and hope I get in next year and so I went to LA. I had already spent a year in America at Oregon state, so I was familiar with America and how America works, it wasn't so foreign to me and UCLA had this great course and they had this award every year and I thought if I can get on that course and win that award then I can get an agent and I did. It wasn't easy, but that was the goal and that is why I went. I went to win that award. Fortunately I did, yes.

I was thinking of flying to LA, that is literally what you did?

Yes, I guess so.

But I didn't go to LA with a script for like a week. I went to live. To learn, study, I got the 5 year visa and I was there for the long haul. I think it is very hard to come to LA with a script and try to meet agents and give yourself a ridiculously short window of time. You either move there and make your base there and start going to meetings, because you have to be there to go to meetings or you do it here. You gain some kind of notoriety here by winning an award or hooking up with a good producer or agent or a good director or something like that. So I moved there. I didn't just go there with a script and say 'Hey'. It just puts too much pressure on you and the script. It is too hard. I wouldn't do that. But move there, I would recommend, I would.

You talk about keeping control of your material and that one way to make the movie that you want to make is to have that previous hit?

Yes, so that is why people are making deals for me to direct now, because they say you wrote this film, you must know more than I do... It's all about that silly stupid perception. I don't know anymore than I knew yesterday, but people think I do, that kind of a thing. Then it's all about people's perception of you. And yes, everything changes once you have a hit film, especially if you get a sole credit on a hit film.

Everyone is looking, they want to find the next great writer/director, but they won't trust it until they see something come out first.

Is one way of doing it, write something really low budget that you could just go out and shoot yourself?

Yes and actually Collateral was that idea originally. I thought two guys in a cab, that's easy.

Why didn't you do that one yourself?

Well I was actually almost about to. I had been sitting at the studio for 3 years and all these directors and actors had come through and I basically did my own draft, which was the slimmed down version of this. I was about to go to them and say let me just do it, give me $100,000 and I'll go do it, when Michael came along. And they chose him!

Would yours have been like that, different, better?


Do you regret it?

No, I don't. It is a great film. It has entertained millions of people all over the world and it's done a lot for my career. So no, I think it is fantastic and I'm just glad it got made and it got made well. It is such a hard thing to get a film made, and get it made well and to have people to receive it. So I'm eternally grateful to that. No regrets. And it will eventually allow me to direct my own thing.

Can you come back and talk to us when you've done that?

Yes, sure.

As a producer, I find a lot of writers are frightened to let people read their script because they are going to lose their idea and a lot of writers feel that they only have one idea for some odd reason. I just wondered if that ever affected you, if you felt worried that somebody was going to take your script.

I never got that. Worried about people stealing my ideas and my script because if it happens, it happens and I just won't work with that person again. I was never worried about having just one idea. I always had tonnes of ideas and lots and lots of stuff to write. I think the key is, you never put all your eggs in one basket as a writer. Collateral was not my only thing, I've got the next film already in the can. You've got to have all the scripts going on, because one film, one script can't handle all that pressure of being this is my everything, my only thing. Because when it is like that you'll find it gets wrecked, because you are so crazy about it. So I really work hard to make sure that no one script is everything for me. I think that is important for all writers. Always have 2 or 3 at least, things that you are really passionate about and working on at the same time.

I haven't been writing very long and haven't written a whole feature yet. I've written some short scripts, but a pattern emerging for me is that my ideas are cleverer than I am, then I try and pull them off and I end up with a terrific mess and get in a muddle and I was wondering if that has ever happened to you and did it happen in the early stages and how did you deal with it?

About getting into a muddle, and writing with ideas?

I don't know if I ever will be able to do it. The idea is very ambitious.

I would say you are up to it now. I would say just do it, just keep doing it, and it will teach you. Just write it and write and write it. Learn, read, study, read other scripts, read books and write it. You are the best person to tell your story. Absolutely. Sometimes other people will come in and work on it and stuff, but you are always the best person to do it. I would say that is an internal fear and just push through it.

Has that ever happened to you? Maybe the ideas are not good ideas, because they are over ambitious, do you know what I am saying?

Maybe. Only one way to find out, if the idea is not good is to write it and everyone who reads it might say this is crap. Or a few read it and say this really is crap.

But you never know, everyone has their own barometer. You go to a movie; two people are going to have the different opposite opinion. That looks great, that sucks. So it is really about how much you trust your own instincts and how much you believe in yourself that you can do it. And anyone can do it. That is the great thing about writing. Anyone can sit down and write. You know, directing, you need a whole bunch of other things. Acting you need a whole bunch of other things, but anyone can sit down and write. If that is your passion and that is what is keeping you up at night then just push through those fears, because we all have them.

If you spent so long working on character development and getting into a personality like Vince and so on, do you ever find that in your next project your main character has features of your old one? Do you find it hard to let go?

The question was, do some character traits from previous scripts enter into characters in different scripts and yes, it does.

I usually write like two or three things at once and a few months ago I was looking at three different scripts and each of the lead characters like skittles. I was like, there is something wrong there......! So yes, you have to be careful with that. Sometimes traits stick over. I've had situations where certain lines or moments from previous scripts that I've thought were really cool have been cut out along the process. Then I've used them in other scripts. You can use that old line that you really like again. But as long as you are not doubling up or repeating anything.

Essentially you don't want to have the same character all the time, or the same story all the time, you want to write different stuff.

Are you an only child?

No. I had an older brother, younger sister. My brother is a banker and my sister is a psychologist back in Sydney.

The reason I ask that is because in the film when there is a moment where Vincent was actually down to Max's level. I almost thought you'd unified it at that moment, and then he snaps out of it?

No, that is right, it is at that moment, where you are showing these characters are really quite similar, so it is certainly a deliberate moment.

I like that stuff where they find that they are really quite alike. Like under different circumstances they could actually probably be friends.

Was the ending, the original ending you wrote?

Yes. Where he dies. Yes.

Because I wanted Max to get something tangible out of it. He gets to walk off with the girl which is cool. I think he deserves a reward for winning in that sense. For winning on a character level. For actually sticking up for himself and this person. Max gets the meaning of life, he gets what the value of a human life is, Vincent doesn't get it. So as punishment he gets to die and as a reward Max gets to live. I always wanted that.

What is the web address that your commentary will be up on? It will be up in a couple of weeks. [It's now up]

How disciplined are you when you write, you mentioned the first draft takes roughly 6 weeks, is that 9-5?

Yes, it is 9-5. I try to keep banker's hours, Monday through Friday 9-6 really. I have kids so you have to balance the family. You have to have a life outside in order to be able to write it. You are writing about life, so you have to have a life outside of writing or else you have nothing to write about. You'll end up writing about writing. So yes, I maintain that very strict schedule. I'll have meetings on certain days, and that kind of stuff. I try to have all my meetings on the one day, so I just knock them out in one day and then I can write. And sometimes I write at night after the kids go to bed, but I'm usually knackered. But I find it helps to have a strict writing schedule. I'm here; I'm in the office, just like everyone else. We are here from these hours and we are doing the work and we can leave it and come home, be with the kids, I believe that is really important.

And 15 years ago?

No, 15 years ago, I was up at 4.00 am. I couldn't stop. Sipping my lunch through a blender and it was bad. I ended up writing about writing and so I learnt to get a life. It is really important. To have a life to be having experiences. So you have something to say, something to write about

I was going to ask you with Collateral, because you had it in that drawer for 15 years was there something inside you, that was really important to say with that movie, that maybe, you've always got something to say with the film, but was there something really special in you that you wanted to say there?

The stuff that it became about, living in a big city and all that, that came in later drafts, but I think the reason it stuck with me for all those years, it just felt like a great idea, like a movie I wanted to see. I have a love of movies and that is what has driven everything. So it was really just a love of this movie that wasn't made yet. In a sense I could always see it up there on screen so I would never let go of it. You can call it pig headed and unwillingness to look facts in the face if you like, but it is that stubbornness or that devotion to one idea, that I couldn't let it go. Plus it was one of the really good ones I had. You only have a certain number of ideas right, so you want to hang to the ones that you think are good

I just wanted to find out; you said Russell Crowe was attached to the project first. Did he ever come back and say 'Damn'?

I'm sure he is now.

No, Russell is doing fine. I'll ask him when I see him.

He was the one that got Michael Mann.

Yes, it takes a movie star of his calibre to get the heat on a project again after its been sitting around for 3 years, so he really helped get the project alive. It is always like this. It is no good until someone else says it's good. So the point I was making with you, until someone else says it's good and the more street cred that person has, the more heat it will get, and if it is a A list movie star like Russell then it will get a lot of attention. When Russell is interested in that, then Michaelk Mann says I'll read that and when Michael hands the script to Tom he says Oh I'll read that.

The producer must have had some clout then to get to Russell.

I think my agent called up the studio and said 'Hey Russell's movie just dropped out, why don't you give him Collateral.' And the studio was 'Oh, okay'. And simply that, it came from the head of the studio who really liked the project. It came round like that.

So again it is other people saying this is good.

You said a bit about how you come up with ideas and the various stages you go through to get to a finished script, but I was just wondering, the proportions of those ideas, how many make it through all the way?

How many ideas make it through to the finished script?

Yes. Or do you whittle them down as you go along?

No, I whittle them down. Probably about one in ten makes it to script. I am building up a drawer full of ideas and then I think; that is not too great, or that has been done, or someone else did that, or that is no longer relevant or I could never quite crack the story. Once you start getting into more detail. I find sometimes I get to a point where I'm missing something.What is this really about, or how is this plot going to turn into something cool and if it is not coming to me and I put it in a drawer. Every now and again you'll get the idea again and you'll bring it out of the drawer and you know how to crack it. For me there is probably about a one in ten ratio of ideas to script.

Do you have a lot of rehearsal time? Like when you worked with Michael Mann, does he use a lot of rehearsal time in pre-production with the cast, and if so, how did that affect your script?

Yes. He goes through a lot of rehearsing, a lot of actors read through and that kind of stuff, and then it changes. For Derailed, we get the actors in and we started working with the actors and they would say certain lines better than other lines. So yes it does alter somewhat once you get actors on, but because you never know which actors you are going to get until they come on, you can't write for any certain actor. Like I didn't write this for Tom Cruise. I wrote this as a character. And actors don't like you to write roles for them, because they don't want to play themselves, they want to play other people. They want to play something different. I often get asked a lot about that, do you write for certain actors, and I don't because they don't like it, and good on them. They want to do something different.

You said a couple of times, that an actor can't say that line, or actors are better at this line or that line, can you just say a bit about that.

Yes, certain actors just have trouble with certain words or certain phrases or they don't believe the character would say this or they have a funny idea for a line. Everyone is a writer. That is the thing about being a writer. And some of them are good and some of them are not. But you've got to be the filter for it. But sometimes they are great ideas. 'oh yes, I didn't think of that'. And I never want to think I'm the smartest person in the room. I think film is a collaborative medium and be open with everyone and all ideas but don't just change this because it's different. There are a thousand differences, but there is only one or two betters. So you've got to know what is - is it a different way of saying it or a better way of saying it. If it is better than I'll do it, if it is different, I'll just say it's just different, you can if you want, but I'd rather you'd say what I wrote, that kind of stuff. Just work it out.

Do you have friends back in the UCLA days that haven't made it, and what are their biggest mistakes do you think?

I don't know anyone from that period anymore. I also came over with a bunch of Australians and they've all gone back too.

Biggest mistakes? It is not so much mistakes. For my money you've got to have this determination. This do or die kind of attitude towards it. It really is in your heart, and you can't imagine yourself doing anything else. Which is what I was. I couldn't imagine doing anything else, so this had to work so I just kept at it and at it and at it, whereas other people would say that is enough of that, that is enough of living with no money and trying to do something and keep getting rejected and had enough rejections or whatever and go on do something else.

I don't think there are so many mistakes outside of calling a big producer an idiot or something. Or doing something stupid like that. Burning bridges.

There were probably a few people that burnt some bridges that they shouldn't have. It is an incredible opportunity to make a film and when you start looking that gift horse in the mouth, that's a stupid thing to do. Take the opportunity and make the best film you can make and then if is not so great, well maybe you'll get the chance to do another one. They would be the only mistakes that I've seen made. But to me it is more about passion and enthusiasm and determination and stubbornness, that kind of stuff, keep at it.

Do you know anyone who has tried too long, do you know writers that probably should have packed it in?

No. if they are still doing it, they are really passionate about it, they should be doing it. And they are misunderstood geniuses.

Where would you like to see yourself in the next 15 or 20 years?

Alive, healthy, well, firstly. Happily married, growing kids, proud of my kids. And work wise, writing, directing my own films and then writing scripts for other people. I think Steve Zalien has the career. He has made millions and millions of dollars, to write scripts from scratch and polish scripts. He gets paid a quarter million dollars a week to polish scripts and then when he feels like it he finds a book that he likes, or an idea that he likes and he just writes it on his own and says I'd like to direct this please and someone says 'Here is some money. Off you go'. And he does it. And they are not always the most commercial things but they are good things and everyone wants to work with him, and actors want to work with him and he spends a couple of years doing that, and then goes back and does some more assignment work and stocks up the bank balance. Because directing is 2 years of your life and you don't do anything else. So ideally that is where I'd like to be, writing and directing Australian stories, meanwhile in between that, writing scripts for Hollywood, That would be the ideal for me.

I read that there are some companies now that do events where you pitch to producers. I was just wondering if you'd heard of it.

No, I hadn't heard of that. That is great if you can get to those people, because everyone is looking for that next idea, that next script. Especially if it is going to be cheap and yours is going to be cheap. So yes, however you can get to those people. Do it, take it, don't be afraid.

Pirates of the Caribbean, you said it went to arbitration, how much did it change from your original script to the shooting script and are you going to be involved in the future ones?

I am not on the future ones. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio who are the writers who came in after me. I was told specifically by Disney no supernatural stuff. We don't want any skeletons in this movie, we want a straight pirate story. We know what we want, we know what works, we don't want skeletons. So I thought okay, so I had a straight pirate story, I had Jack Sparrow and Will and all that kind of stuff, the unrequited stuff and little Elizabeth and the parrot captain that comes in and storms the town, all that stuff. Then once I'd finished my draft, Ted and Terry came on they said how about Supernatural. And Disney said Yes that sounds great. And that is how it was.

They had Shrek, the big hit film under their belt and again that's Hollywood, it is perception; well they must know more than I do, so I'll trust them. That was the case with Johnny Depp too. They didn't know what in the hell he was doing. They wanted to fire him. They were watching the dailies come in, and they were like Oh my god. They were expecting Errol Flynn, but they misunderstood. But that is what you get when you hire Johnny. It is that kind of stuff. It is all deception and I know the head of the studio sent him a note afterwards, apologising. Saying I'm sorry. I learn something on every film, I learned that you are right and I was wrong and so it just goes to show no one really knows anything. Really.

What a great way to finish

You know more than they do. Because you are out there, you are in the trenches working, writing, and you are the story expert, that is why they are not writing it, because they can't. So stick to your guns.

Stu, I think you've been criminally denied an Oscar nomination for Collateral, I think the Brits have more class! We're all delighted you're up for a BAFTA... Shooters, please wish Stu all the best, he's going to the Bafta's tonight. Stu, Thanks so much.