Saturday, May 2, 2009

Geoff LaTulippe Interview

Welcome to the first ever Scriptshadow Interview. I want to apologize in advance for how lame my questions are. See, I only asked Geoff things that I wanted to know. So you may or may not get anything out of this. But the good news is, there's a link to a more helpful interview at the end of the post. Just remember, this is my first time. So be gentle.

Geoff LaTulippe is currently one of the hottest writers in Hollywood. His script “Going The Distance” sold to New Line late last year and was recently greenlit with Drew Barrymoore and Justin Long in the lead roles. Standing strong at number 9 on my Top 25 list, the script is a hilarious account of two people in a long distance relationship. Since the sale of Going The Distance, Geoff signed with Sarah Self at Gersh, has sold a couple of pitches, and is currently adapting a book for Diablo Cody titled, "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament." One of the reasons I asked Geoff for this interview is that he used to be a reader himself. This allows him to have a unique perspective on how a script gets sold. As much as that would be a good starting point, I wanted to begin this interview with a very relevant and topical question that I think gets to the heart of what screenwriting is all about.

SS: What was it like when you found out you were in Scriptshadow’s Top 10? How does that affect your day-to-day life?

GL: My first thought was, "Who is this Scriptshadow motherfucker and why is he illegally trading a script that is the copyrighted property of New Line/Warner Bros.?" And I meant to get really worked up about it, but then I just went off and did...anything else, really.

No, in all's flattering whenever you make a Best Of list, especially one that comes from someone who reads so many scripts and doesn't seem to enjoy any of them. I'm glad that for a lot of people the script connected and it made them laugh. When you're writing comedy, those are really the only two things you want to accomplish. The fact that you have it ranked ahead of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER is lunacy, though. There's a simple, brilliant scene in that movie that I'm SO fucking jealous that I didn't write that I can't even explain it to you.

SS: You’ve read a million scripts, half as many as me. What’s the most common mistake you see writers make?

GL: There's a macro answer and a micro answer to this one, and we've all made (and continue to make) both, even the best guys.

On a macro level, too many writers lack originality. They either parrot ideas that have been done a million times and fail to inject anything new or fresh into it, or they take a concept that could work and just write it in the most boring way possible. Most writers simply lack that innate element that gives them the ability to stand out, to be different, to (ugh) "have a voice", and that's why there are so few great scripts written.

On a micro level, the mistake I see the most is...well, kind of the same answer. It's a little to easy to say "most writers are boring", but that's what it comes down to. Most scripts just aren't interesting. They don't engage. Of the scripts that are decent but lacking something here or there, I think a lot of writers don't understand how to take strong first act and thereby project a solid second and third act. How many scripts have you read that you were digging up to page 30 or 40...and then it just fell apart? Some of that is not understanding how to develop character, some of it is not understanding how to keep upping the "tension" (in quotations because that can encompass a lot of things), and some of it that writers put all their good ideas into the beginning of the script and then have nothing left over.

I don't think there's a great generic answer here. I think, obviously, the macro is much easier to identify than the micro as the micro is more script-specific.

SS: Of all those scripts, can you give us a handful that you loved that never got made? And can you complement that with an e-mail to me with those scripts attached?

GL: I will send you NOTHING! All the PDFs I had went the way of the Dodo with an old hard drive that crashed on me, so I no longer have a stable of scripts to dump on you guys. Which is a shame. But you seem to do a pretty good job of finding all the stuff you need on your own, Dr. Networking McScripty, so quit panhandling.

I've mentioned this in a couple of different places, but my favorite script ever is called FOOLS RUSH IN (used to be UNTITLED BILL CARTER PROJECT). I think it's beyond Oscar-caliber if they can ever put it together, which will be hard considering you have to recreate war-torn Sarajevo. Another script I loved is called PAPER WINGS. It's a story about a rodeo cowboy and a country singer who fall in love. First of all, if you can engage me in a romantic drama, kudos to you. But if you can engage me in a romantic drama with a Country-Western theme, you are a goddamned magician. I would sell my mother's dead ovaries for that kind of ability.

I love comedies about summer camp, so I'm always rooting for those to get made (if they're good). One of the first scripts I recommended was called THE PNEMONIST, which was about a guy who, literally, couldn't forget anything he'd ever seen. That was pretty sick, especially in the way the writer executed it. And just the other day on DD (Done Deal Message Board) I was talking about two scripts I really loved: one was REAPER by Gary Whitta (of BOOK OF ELI fame) and another was a vampire western (a genre that DESPERATELY needs to happen now) called BLOOD AND SILVER. Oh, also, there's a script floating around out there called NINTENDO CHRISTMAS that doesn't have the best execution ever, but it's basically A CHRISTMAS STORY set in the 80s, and Nintendo is the Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. And then that one reminded me of maybe the funniest script I've ever read called SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO GET ME. I can't imagine it ever getting made. Picture an R-rated comedy in which Santa is a total bastard who steals the wife of every male generation in an American family that he put a curse on...and then one man in that family has had enough, and he teams up with a gun-toting, bomb-wielding Easter Bunny to hunt Santa down. I swear to God this script exists, and if you can find it, it will blow your mind.

SS: Who do you think is better at reading? Me or you?

GL: Just at the act of reading? Probably me. But reading scripts? Me. Although, I will give you this: you're only slightly worse at BLOGGING about reading scripts than me, and that's because I don't blog about scripts I've read. So you've got that going for you.

SS: Going the Distance is a town favorite. It got 14 votes on the Black List. But occasionally someone will come up to me and say, “Carson, what's up with that Going The Distance script?” Of course I punch them in the face. But it is a type of humor that doesn’t appeal to everyone. How do you deal with criticism of your material?

GL: That's a nice thing to say. Here's the deal: comedy is, by gigantic leaps and bounds, the most subjective of all film genres. If you want to be a comedy writer and you don't have an almost preternatural understanding that you're never going to please everyone, you're swimming without floaties. My writing is, always has been, and hopefully will always continue to be polarizing; I write bluntly, I tend to prefer mean humor, and I'm not afraid to push the bounds of taste. To me, there is little difference between, "Wow, that was great," and "Jesus Christ on the cross, I fucking hated that!" Both of those are inspired reactions. On the contrary, the worst thing you can hear is, "I just didn't get it," or, "Eh, I didn't really care about it either way." That's a lack of connection and, generally, that's your fault as a writer.

I've had the good fortune that a vast majority of the people whom I've interacted with have really liked GOING THE DISTANCE. And I've talked to plenty who didn't; these people don't bother me at all. Negative reactions to popular material come from two sources: people who genuinely disliked it (probably about 75% of the group) and people who are just contrarians/followers/speaking out of turn (the other 25%). It's ALWAYS important to listen to negative criticism because you get a chance to understand what about your writing didn't work...and a lot of times the people who loved what you wrote won't bother to tell you that stuff. All the same, if someone isn't into your shit...what can you do? Be glad they gave you a shot and hope they dig the next thing you put out there. That's it.

SS: You currently share representation with and are writing a script for Diablo Cody. Has she let you touch her Oscar? What’s it like working with her (if the answer is boring, please embellish)?

Unfortunately, my interactions with Diablo have been limited to a pair of story meetings. I didn't get within ten miles of her Oscar, but I can say that we spent about 45 minutes discussing the intricacies and general genius of ROCK OF LOVE BUS. Incidentally, Bret Michaels went to my high school. And I didn't even need to embellish that. So suck it.

SS: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about the industry since you sold Going The Distance?

GL: This will be my lamest answer of the interview (a tough competition, no doubt), but I couldn't even pick what might be the biggest thing, and it wouldn't even matter because I still have way too much to learn. I will tell you my FAVORITE thing that I learned: when I started taking general meetings with studios and production companies, I called my manager and asked what was accepted attire for such. He laughed at me and said, "No no're the TALENT! You wear whatever you want!"

He may or may not have been slightly joking or mostly joking, but I took that and ran with it. I have worn flip-flops and shorts to like every meeting since. It's fucking great. I look at my poor bastard button-down shirts in my closet and just think about how bored they are. A couple of months ago I was in a meeting and John Cusack came in. He, too, was wearing just like a t-shirt and jeans, and I felt awesome, like, "Yeah, you CAN wear whatever you want." And then I thought for a second and realized, "Geoffrey, you're an asshole. That's John Cusack. You're still you." It was one of my few "I'm Keith Hernandez" moments and hopefully one of the last.

SS: The closest I’ve gotten to a green light is driving to my local grocery store, and even then it’s almost always red. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to not only get your screenplay sold, but to then get it into production. It really is a one-in-a-million shot. Knowing that, how did you react when you got a green light for Going the Distance?

GL: You know, we had actually thought for a couple of months that we had a good shot to get a greenlight. The studio's been really behind it since day one, talent responded surprisingly well, and the guys at WB had it on their radar. That said...when it actually's awesome. I don't know how else to describe it. I was SO fucking hungover the morning I got the call, but as soon as I heard the words I felt like a trillion dollars. I jumped up, took my dog to the park for an hour, and the smile hasn't left my face since.

And I'll say this and say it in all honesty: though I did write a script that a lot of people responded to, I never expected it to even sell, much less get a greenlight in nine months. The confluence of events that has to happen to get to a point that even APPROACHES the greenlight stage is daunting beyond belief. It takes a lot of people doing their jobs really well and a tremendous amount of luck. In reality, I'm easily one of the most fortunate people to ever walk the face of the earth.

SS: Why do you think your script sold?

GL: I think there were pretty much two factors, one of my perception and one of others. From the people I've met with, they all claim my "voice". It's a term I hate in general because I think it's overused in the industry, but I get it. I don't get that MY voice is special, though, because it's always been mine. It doesn't seem alien to me. I'm just consistently glad that people find me funny in any capacity. It also amazes me when people say that the script has "heart", which I'm happy to say I get a lot, because that was one of the major things I was sure I hadn't nailed when I wrote it.

For me...I think the script sold because of the universality of the concept. We were really, really lucky (again, I'm telling you, that's not just lip service) that no one else had really broached the idea of the long distance relationship. We were doubly lucky because just a couple weeks after I sold the script I found out the two showrunners for THE OFFICE were planning on writing one of their own, and I'm sure that would have put mine to shame.

But it's one of those things like KNOCKED UP - how many people do you know that have had a surprise baby? But how many films have approached that concept from such an observational angle? I think when people read the script it was one of those times when they thought, "I can't BELIEVE there hasn't been a movie made about this yet!" Everyone's been in a relationship, and everyone's been in or known someone in an LDR. It's a profound yet shared experience (in that if you haven't been in one, you've heard the stories of someone who has, so you feel like you know), so everyone can get into it.

SS: I saw in a recent Facebook update that you had to kill a 4 inch cockroach in your bathroom. Don’t you have enough money to pay for an exterminator now? And how do you plan to spend all this new money anyway?

GL: I am not in a place, psychologically, where I can yet talk about my run-in with the cockroach. Suffice to say that it was huge, it hissed at me, I spent thirty-five minutes running around my apartment like a crazy lady before I had the nerve to kill it with an aforementioned flip-flop, and I had to use the neighbor's bathroom the whole next day because I literally didn't have the nerve to go back into mine. I'll thank you to never speak of this again.

I'm a big fan of spending money on experiences rather than things, though I have a compulsion with Blu-Ray and I did buy a ridiculous plasma. But mostly I paid off college, made some donations and use the surplus for various things. Dave (Neustadter, who developed GOING THE DISTANCE with me and who bought the script at New Line) and I hired a cover band to play a Christmas party for our friends. I bought ten tickets to the Rose Bowl and cried with friends and fellow PSU fans as we watched our mighty Nittany Lions get the shit kicked out of them. I've been to Vegas twice. And then I'm saving a massive chunk of it just in case that luck we talked about runs out.

SS: Once you sold Going The Distance, you did “the rounds” in Hollywood. I understand you sold a pitch or two. What’s the key going into those things? Cause if you’re smart, you can parlay one script sale into several.

GL: Unfortunately I can't say too much about the pitches I sold, but one was a pre-existing story idea that I had with an exec at a studio. The other was just an idea that I mentioned in a couple of rooms and wasn't even a quarter of a pitch. It was just another one of those universal themes that I wanted to tackle that I can't believe hasn't been done right yet. Another exec took a liking to that one and it sold.

Seriously - I don't have a fucking clue what I'm doing. I just know it's working right now and I just want to keep it working. Someone tell me how to keep it working. I don't want it to stop working.


SS: So all these big doors opened when you sold the script. Once your script got greenlit, did a whole new set of even bigger doors open? How does that work?

GL: I honestly don't know. It happened so recently that there hasn't really been any fallout yet. What do I want to happen? I want Emmanuelle Chriqui to hear the news and fall in love with me. What will probably happen? People will keep asking, "How long have you been growing your beard?"

SS: Can you tell us what you’re working on now? In the future?

GL: Just the projects I mentioned above, which are keeping me more than busy enough right now. In the future I have a couple more ideas in the hopper. I've got a concept I'm really excited about that's pretty much the polar opposite of the observational comedies I've been writing, so it'll be fun to see the new and absurd ways in which I can fuck that up. There are also a couple of remakes I'd really like to look at - but not of stuff that already has a rabid, loyal fanbase.

SS: I hear in certain circles that you dated Script Girl. Are these rumors true? Can you get that bitch to mention Scriptshadow in her next video?

GL: Sweet Christmas, I wish that was really a rumor. Can we start that rumor here? I would love for that to happen. Is that really a rumor? Fuck, that would be awesome. Did she say that? What did she say? Can you find out if she was being serious? Ask her if she likes me. Find out! I like her, but don't tell her I like her. OK, I'm gonna have a juicebox and ride my bike to the arcade.

SS: And that's it! I can't believe Geoff took all that time out of his busy schedule to throw me a bone. Thank you Geoff! Hopefully we can do it again sometime. For those who want more Geoff, he gives another great interview over at Done Deal where he answers more questions pertaining to breaking in and stuff. So if you want to read it, here's the link.