Scott Frank Interviewed – THE LOOKOUT

     March 28, 2007

While you may not know Scott Frank’s name, you probably love his dialogue. As the writer of Out of Sight, Minority Report and Get Shorty – he has written a number of memorable lines and created many interesting characters. Yes some of these films were based on books by very famous authors, but he brought them to life on the screen.

While he’s been working on many high profile scripts for other people, he’s also been writing many others like any good writer does. One of these was called The Lookout and the story of how it finally got made is great. While I recommend reading it below the quick info is that at one time or another Sam Mendes and David Fincher were both attached to direct it and Michael Mann almost was. The story really is crazy.

The interview was conducted in roundtable form and its well worth your time. Scott has a lot of interesting things to say and he of course gives updates on what he is working on now and what he hopes to do – his big pet project is a western that takes place in 1888 called Godless.

If you’d like to listen to the interview click here – it’s an MP3.

And if you haven’t seen the trailer yet for The Lookout click here to watch it. The film comes out on Friday.

Can you talk about how long it took you to bring this to the screen?

Yes. This movie, I think I pitched this movie to Walter Parks and Steven Spielberg when Walter went to work at Amblin before Dreamworks even happened. It was on the cusp of Dreamworks becoming a company when Amblin became Dreamworks so we’re mid 90’s probably. I pitched this idea and to answer another question I knew someone peripherally who had had this horrible head injury and I’d always been fascinated because they were kind of funny, athletic, they were a med student and just a completely different individual before the accident then they were after the accident and I kept thinking people are so obsessed with their identity. We all think about who we are. We go to therapy for it and it’s just we really do focused on our identity and I thought imagine waking up one day and you don’t know yourself. It’s not amnesia you’re literally another person yet you can still see that person you were 6 weeks before you went into a coma. I was fascinated with that and also right about that time reading about these little banks in rural America in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas who would get USDA money twice a year and they were 2 separate ideas and for whatever reason I thought ‘Man, it would be great to kind of locate this guy’. I didn’t want to make a movie about his head injury it would be a movie of the week. I just thought it has to be…I’m not interested in pathology so much as what that does to a story. I started for whatever silly reason, those 2 stories became 1 story and I started putting him in the rural environment. So I pitched that to them and it was really that and I had this idea that he would get involved with this bank robbery and he would have to use his deficits or overcome his deficits in the last part of the story and it was as vague as I’m saying it is now and they bought the story and so that was in the mid 90’s. What happened is I had 3 kids all sleeping in one room. I had 2 of them born close together and we needed to move and I had just bought a house and I couldn’t afford it and God handed me Out Of Sight and he had just finished this new book and he said would you adapt it and I had no intention of ever adapting another Elmore Leonard novel again. I had the great experience and I didn’t want to ruin it. I remember the 1st time I met Elmore Leonard and we had lunch and he told me all these horror stories about his films. How this one had been ruined and that one had been ruined and I thought I’m for sure going to be the subject of someone else’s lunch someday. I got away with it on Get Shorty. I felt like ok and yet I really needed to do something and then here’s Out Of Sight and I so I took this project for the most mercenary of reasons and yet it ended up becoming maybe the most satisfying creative experience I’ve ever had. Also I took it because I thought I could do it quickly. It took me a year, a year and a half. I took it because I thought it would be easy, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So that postponed The Lookout so then I went back to the Lookout after Out Of Sight and started writing it in earnest and finished it in ‘99 and Sam Mendes came on to direct and this was right before American Beauty was released. He and I worked on it for a while and he became interested in Road to Perdition and left the project and The Lookout languished for a while and I went to work on Minority Report and some other things. Then David Fincher came on after a couple of years and David Fincher and I worked on the script together and we were talking with and working with Leonardo DiCaprio and David was going to make the movie for 80 million dollars and the studio was uhhhhh this little thriller, we’re not sure. He got frustrated with them and he left to do go Zodiac and so—

How crazy was this making you?

Not at all because I always said if it was the only thing in my life and also all my movies have similar histories. I really wasn’t too worried about it. So then I was supposed to go…Michael Mann was thinking about it. I was supposed to go have breakfast with Michael Mann. I live in Pasadena and I’m driving from Pasadena to Santa Monica and I was an hour late because of traffic. I thought there’s a Freudian thing going on here. The whole time I’m driving there I’m thinking about going through this whole process with a new director and I sat down with Michael and I realized 2 things. One I don’t think Michael really wanted to do it. He wanted to meet and talk and I also realized I wanted to do it. I found myself talking him out of it. I don’t think he needed much talking out of it I think he was already just you know and so we started talking about other projects. We hardly even talked about it. What about this and you should read and I’ve got the script it was all about other things. I really had reached a point in my life where I was very happy. I was happy in my personal life. The reason I had not directed up to this point and I’d make films in college and I really thought I would but the reason I hadn’t up until now was because I was really comfortable with the directors I’d worked with. I worked with a pretty great group of directors and I felt very good. And I realized driving to see Michael Mann that I was too comfortable. I was just too comfortable, and that in a few years I was going to be bored if I wasn’t’ careful. I really wanted a different creative experience and I wanted to feel more connected to the work I was doing. That’s really why I started to do this movie and that’s basically the history. That probably answers like 9 questions.

Walter Parks and Lauren McDonald were supporting you all the way were they?

They were. Walter really wanted DreamWorks to make this movie. They ultimately did not. He had left, he was running the company and by the time we were really ready to make the movie he was just a producer at the company. Still exerted an enormous influence but couldn’t get them to pull the trigger on a movie like this. They didn’t want to make this kind of movie for whatever reason and that’s when Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber and Spyglass stepped in and said we’ll make this move, we’ll pay for all of it.

However, by going to Manitoba you made sure that it wasn’t going to cost $80 million.

It cost $16 million. And I wanted to shoot in Kansas and it would have cost $20 something in Kansas. I saw Capote and Capote was shot in Winnipeg and Capote looks beautiful. I was shocked when I heard that was Winnipeg because it had a very similar look to what I wanted to do. I was really actually shockingly excited about going to Winnipeg.

Can you talk a bit about choosing Joseph for the role? He’s an excellent young actor but what did you seen in him that was particularly (inaudible)?

Well he’s ….what he can do there are a few guys right now that…he doesn’t….what was great about Joe is that he did a lot with a little. He’s very still yet he can still make you sympathize with him. He can still make you understand him and he also more importantly show you the other guy peeking through the old Chris still peeking through now and then. We’d have conversations on the day, you know what we need to see a little of that here otherwise the character is in danger of being incredibly surly because he’s a sad guy, he’s an angry guy and if you just play that pathology over and over again from scene to scene, you get tired of him. He is really able to do all of that at once. He has a great smile, but he’s also got depth to him. You feel like there’s a lot and there is a lot to him as a person. There’s a lot going on.

I imagine you wrote a lot of silences into his part.

Yes, without a doubt.

What are the challenges of balancing the crime story with the human drama?

Well, for me that’s the fun. For me I really like the human drama embedded in a crime story and I like the way European films do that. I love Claude Chabrol is my hero. I love the way they take their time to tell you this other melodrama while the thriller is….you feel this tension of this story unfolding. That for me is the fun. It’s also some audiences find that too slow. They feel like Ok, I get it and let’s just get to the shooting part. I really care more about the human drama than I do the thriller stuff. I love the tension and the thriller aspects because it’s all part of the puzzle for me. I think what makes me want to write a story like this are the characters more than the situation.

I thought Joseph did a very good job but do you think Chris Pratt would be different if Leonardo DiCaprio had played him?

Not much. Not much. I think that we would be….no, I think actually he would have been a great Chris Pratt. I think, of course, it would be different because physically they’re two different people but I think the kind of character, the essence of the character would be the same. I’m guessing. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to. We were talking but he was kind of in and out a little bit. That was part of David’s frustration.

The texture of the film I suspect would be quite different with a Fincher or a Michael Mann.

Oh, completely. It would have been better shot, it would have been a much different movie and it would have been…I shot it in 45 days they would have shot in 90 days. It would have been a different animal altogether. And the heist would have been more detailed. See, I didn’t care about the heist. They cut a hole in the wall, that’s really all you need to know.

You had a great DP. The scenes at the farm house with that creepy guy with the long hair and glasses sitting silently.

Alar Kivilo is a great DP. He shot A Simple Plan. He shot Ice Harvest and this is like the 3rd in his snow trilogy and vowed never to go near the snow again. I mean it was really cold. It was like 30-40 below and we’re shooting outside at night. You can feel icicles on your spleen even though you’re in a down jacket and bundled up that wind really gets you.

You usually have to wrap up the cameras in something warm when you’re outside.

We shot with a high-def camera. We shot with a Genesis camera which they used on Apocalypto which has a beautiful look. And the film looks like film because I didn’t want to do what Michael did on Collateral and Miami Vice which looked great but they didn’t look like film. I really wanted this to look like film. So we used a different camera and I wanted to shoot wide screen and I would have loved to shoot using anamorphic lenses but they require a lot of light. They’re very long lenses and so they require a lot of light. We were on dark farm roads in the middle of nowhere and we don’t have the time or money to bring in all that lighting. I thought about shooting in the format that’s called Super 35 which is like what Capote was shot in but often times you want to color correct now. There a DI and a $250,000 item in your budget and I didn’t have the money to do that in my budget. We tested all 3 just to see what they would look like compared. We tested the Genesis, Super 35 and Anamorphic. We didn’t mark them. Only the projectionist knew what we were looking at and we sat in the screening room in Toronto. We shot the same 3 little scenes and we shot them near the end of the day when the light was going away so we could see how they’d react in low light. Anamorphic is the most…the blacks are just beautiful. It looks gorgeous. But, in a close 2nd place, was the Genesis. The deluxe guy who was sitting there with us and said ‘Man, I’m a film guy and that looks beautiful.’ That looks like film because we also printed it back on film stock the way it would be in release so it looked exactly the way it would look when you all saw it on film.

Can you talk a little bit of working with Matthew? It’s an unusual role for him. Did he come in and audition for you?

Many times. When someone first brought him up I went the Rupert Everett guy from Match Point? Are you kidding me? I don’t think so. My casting director, I had a great casting director, Marsha Ross and she said you should meet him because he’s closer to your guy than that guy. I said ok. He came in with a shaved head, bouncing all over the room.

Did he come in with an American accent?

Well he spoke to me just before doing the scene with a British accent and I’m thinking his guy there’s no way but I liked the way he looked. He’s a good looking guy and he had great energy and there was danger and sexuality and all the things I was looking for. Then he turned it on. This accent that was flawless. It didn’t get in the way of his acting the way those kinds of things frequently do and he was amazing. He was just amazing. I sort of had a different idea in my head about the character and I kept bringing him back because I needed to slowly…I couldn’t stop thinking about what he was doing and really liked his performance and not once during the shoot did I ever, ever have to police that accent. He never ever, ever had a problem. It’s amazing.

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And speaking of accents what about Isla Fisher?

Strong Australian accent. How about that. Her accent was great and sometimes she would say to me, and she also does a beautiful American accent, but sometimes her accent would just sneak in a little bit and she would say I can fix that. She would know when it happened right away because she’s really, really good. I would say no don’t because I really wanted a little kid like quality and when its slipped in you’re not sure if you don’t know she’s Australian you don’t know that’s what you’re hearing. It’s just a nice lilt to her voice. I actually liked it.

What made you think that she was right for the role because you know her more of a comedic actress than anything else?

Yeah and I didn’t think she was going to be right for the role when her name was first brought up. Walter Parks brought her name up and knew her. It again, was based on her work and I thought about Wedding Crashers and I’m going really? He said you should just meet her. She came into the room and she was completely different again than what I thought she was going to be. She played much younger and she had this child like quality and she was far more interesting, and a lot of women wanted to play that role, but she was way more interesting than anybody because she made some really specific choices and she wasn’t the femme fatale which I didn’t want. I wanted this girl to be dumb. But her secret is she’s really smart, if that makes sense. She’s gotten by on her sexuality and her physicality but the thing nobody knows is that she’s smarter than she lets on. So at a certain point she has to wake up in the course of the movie. In order for her to wake up I need someone who can play the 1st part of the movie kind of with that childlike “let’s set him up to rob a bank, that will be fun” then when that gun comes out of the bag it’s like you know what this really isn’t fun anymore. She could do that great.

What about Jeff?

Jeff. I saw The Squid and the Whale and I keep saying there’s an actor who just got born again, who just completely re-booted his career. He was so amazing in that movie and there are other people I’ve been thinking about and I’ve been thinking him as well but once I saw him in that movie I really had to have him because I knew he could do everything. He plays a reprehensible just asshole in that movie and you still cannot take your eyes off him. That really did it for me. When I saw that I said let me get him on the heels of that. He’s obviously in a place where he wants to try different things.

Can you comment on what you’re working on right now? Are there any plans for any directing?

Well, I’d love to do it again if they let me. I really would. I have to wait because I really again don’t want to sacrifice my personal life. It’s a very hard thing on your life to go off and direct. It’s really tough so what I’m going to write all this year. There’s a western I wrote last year that I spent a couple of years working on that I’d really love to direct. Sadly, westerns are not in demand. I know they just made 3:10 to Yuma for $60 million bucks. We’ll see how that goes over but I’d really love to make this movie. It may be like The Lookout or other scripts I’ve done then I’ll just hold onto it and at some point I’ll do it. In the meantime, I’m writing a movie called 44 for Universal which is my mid-life crisis movie. It’s basically about a guy running amuck the week before his 45th birthday. It’s set in the world of automotive design. I’m working on that and I’m also adapting a novel for Paramount, a Jonathan Trouper novel. I don’t know if you know his books called After Hailey which is about a 28 year old kid who falls in love with this beautiful 40 year old woman and she dies a year later and he’s left to raise her 15 year old stoner delinquent son. It’s very funny, dark little book.

Can you talk about the western now that you wrote?


Can you tell us what it’s about? Does it have a title?

It’s called Godless, which will go over well in the red states I’m sure. It is essentially the story of a wounded severely wounded outlaw who ends up in this mining town in New Mexico where all the able-bodied men have died in the mine. It’s run all by women. He ends up on a ranch just outside of town with the 1 woman the other women have ostracized, who’s nursing him back to health. What he realizes coming after him are his old–however you want to say it– his gang members or however you want to say it–fellow outlaws laying waste to every town they come to and you realize they’re coming here soon and it’s really that’s sort of the bare bones of the plot. It would be like me telling you The Lookout is about a guy who robs a bank. It’s all about these characters and the relationships between all these people, and his relationship with the guy who’s coming for him. It all comes to a head in the middle of this town full of women.

What year does it take place?


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