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Today's Movie

Despicable Me 4 Poster

Certificate PG   -   Animation | Adventure | Comedy | Family | Sci-Fi

IMDB Rating: 6.3/10 (12,855 user ratings) 52 | Rank: 7

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REVIEW

Writers Panel moderated by Anne Thompson

15 February 2023
  • Written by
    Miah Smith
  • Photographed by
    Steve Kennedy
Tony Kushner (The Fogelmans), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), Lesley Paterson (All Quiet on the Western Front), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion), Kazuo Ishiguro (Living), Todd Field (Tár), Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once)
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Writers
Tony Kushner (The Fabelmans), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), Lesley Paterson (All Quiet on the Western Front), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion), Kazuo Ishiguro (Living), Todd Field (Tár), Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

Saturday morning’s Writers Panel at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival had a packed house and full stage. The line to get in stretched down State Street as festival goers huddled against a brisk breeze in anxious anticipation for the lively event. Once inside, the energetic crowd was treated with insightful tidbits, production sagas, and tales of terror including a broken shoulder, a six-month puke scene, and a kung-fu Marvel movie. Moderator Anne Thompson casually pulled stories out of these famed writers for the better half of the morning and left the crowd begging for more. 

Thompson methodically went through the lineup of scribes, first asking what their own origin story was. What was striking was how wildly different all these beginnings were. 

Kazuo Ishiguro is a very well-regarded fiction author and said that he spent 40 years thinking about novels and not much else. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017 and now he’s nominated for an Oscar. 

Rian Johnson has been making movies since he was a kid as a way to get his friends together. Over time he honed the craft of writing simply so he could continue to get his friends together and make cool movies.

Sarah Polley was a child actor, who was uninterested in acting. She saw The Thin Red Line and realized that movies could be powerful, and that she could write them. 

Daniel Scheinert (and his writing partner Daniel Kwan) got started in music videos. He is drawn to collaboration and problem solving while Dan Kwan is more of a traditional screenwriter. Together they try to pitch ideas to one another with the hopes of making each other laugh or cry. 

Todd Field went to film school at The American Film Institute and got advice from his father-in-law, legendary screenwriter Bo Goldman: “Unplug the phone, get up and write at the same hour every day”. He said that felt a bit daunting but when writing his first script, he had to take care of a sick cat. That sick cat kept him tied to his desk and that’s where eventually he crafted his first screenplay. The cat wasn’t so lucky. 

Martin McDonagh had a long career as a British playwright though his interest in movies grew as he increasingly wrote his plays as “cinematic” as possible. In 2004 he wrote a short film and won an Oscar for it. 

Ruben Östlund openly steals ideas from anyone he can talk to about the project he’s working on. He jokes about this; however, he swears it’s true. He starts with a broad idea and then asks people about their experiences with that specific situation. Then, as he collects their stories, he pieces together his pitch.

Tony Kushner started as an author. He wrote an anthology of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Steven Spielberg was developing Munich and read the anthology Tony had written. He called Tony and they’ve been collaborators ever since. 

The most uncharacteristic entry into writing came from Lesley Paterson. As a professional triathlete, Paterson would create alter egos in her head as she trained for hours throughout the day. Soon enough she started putting those characters to paper. 

Thompson went through the group with more specialized questions about the writers’ current projects- all of which are up for Academy Awards. Most everyone had a variation of a “lock down” story due to the pandemic.  Polley wrote a different version of her script for all eight characters of her film, Johnson dug into old whodunnits from the 1970’s, and Scheinert turned down Loki to push their own “kung fu Marvel movie”. 

Ruben Östlund shot a 20-minute dramatic seasickness scene that needed to be cut down to under three. It took him six months to clean up all that barf. However, it was Paterson who held the most unique anecdote. In order to hold on to the option of the rights to All Quiet on the Western Front, Paterson had to compete in and win a triathlon just days before the option expired. However, she broke her shoulder the day before the race. With no other choice, she competed. She swam a mile with one arm, came out of the water 12 minutes behind, cycled up to the leaders’ group, and ran into first place. With her winnings, she and her writing partner were able to hold on to the rights. This is her first Oscar nomination. 

It was these little musings, these topical and delightful details that truly brought a stage full of Oscar nominated writers down off a pedestal that they’ve been placed, and seated them right next to the rest of us: a boisterous crowd of hopeful writers and fans, eager for a peek beyond the keyboard.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street