Sunday, December 4, 2022

Dune Screenwriter Eric Roth on the Fight to Make a Perfect Script

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Had you worked with Spielberg before?

Steven and I had met a number of times, and he was close to almost doing Forrest Gump. And Benjamin Button, he had been interested in that over the years. We had talked about a number of things, and I always respected his work.

Structurally, what made the screenplay challenging?

It was very difficult to try to walk the line between what is drama and what is genre. In this real situation, Steven went to lengths to make sure it was very dramatic. At some point Steven wanted something more political. And he brought in Tony, whom I had never met. He’s a wonderful guy and a wonderful writer, and I’m proud to have my name on the same screen with him. So that one worked out.

You seem very collegial about everyone doing their parts, then handing it off…

With many of these things, you kind of creatively come to an end. Steven and I had some disagreements about where that maybe should go…But he’s really the boss. It’s his movie, finally. And I thought that Tony added a lot to it, so it eventually was a nice blend of what we both cared about. But it was a tough one.

The Insider (1999)It’s strange to think back, now more than 20 years, to a time when people felt it was still controversial to talk about cigarettes and the harm that they do to people’s health.

I think that we were at that point. 60 Minutes was a key to that, which made it so people knew what the tobacco companies knew all along. That film was a real challenge because I had never done a docudrama, some sort of real-life happening that needed to be dramatized. I had never worked with Michael Mann. I didn’t know if I could do it. And there was a Vanity Fair article that Marie Brenner had written, who was a wonderful writer, that detailed everything. And of course we had Lowell Bergman, the producer of the 60 Minutes segment that became the issue. He’s a world-famous journalist. And so we had all this, and I had to figure out a way: How do I make this intelligent and yet maintain the drama, the tension of the movie?

And what was the key to that?

We went for kind of the paranoia of the whole thing. Because there’s no question whether he was telling us the truth and people are trying to stop the truth from getting out. 

Forrest Gump (1994)And that brings us to your first nomination, which was for Forrest Gump…

Well, that’s a miracle. You don’t get those. I don’t know what alchemy there was. Bob Zemeckis, the director, just inspired me. And I think what I’d written inspired him. And Tom Hanks, I’d worked with Tom on something else that hadn’t worked out, and we all thought we must be drunk, because we thought this could be the dumbest thing ever done. And somehow, once again, I think it’s a humanity at the heart of the thing. And then the love story, which was the key.

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