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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Jan. 16, 2005 | 8:56 PM

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An Interview with Shane Black (Lethal Weapon)

Once again, I would like to thank the great people at the Arclight and the Scriptwriter’s network for making this possible.  I’d also like to again thank Adam Simon and Alex Litvak for their valuble insight and assistance. 
An Interview with Shane Black (Nov. 19, 2002) by Karie Bible
What originally inspired you to be a writer?
The biggest influence was probably my brother because he wrote.  I admired him greatly.  I would sit and wait page by page while he would be at the typewriter and then he would pull them out and I?d run and read everything he wrote.  It just seemed somehow very exciting.  The one thing I never suspected or expected was that I would end up writing scripts or screenplays.  I thought that was some kind of mythical format that was just magic and difficult and sort of floated out of the ether on to the screen.  I didn?t realize that they are actually very easy to construct.  There aren?t a lot of formal rules.  I was inspired by my friend who wrote a script (Fred Dekker)-who at that time went on to direct things like The Monster Squad, which I worked on with him.  He showed me this piece of work and it was riveting and it looked easy.  Now I don?t mean it was easy to write.  I mean the format was easy.  There was no trick to it.  It?s just? telling us where you are.  Tell us a few basic things like interior, exterior, don?t call the shots, don?t describe too much, and don?t be boring.  You know, the kind of rules you would have for writing a Christmas card.  Unless you are my aunt, in which case you just ramble for 3 pages typing single-spaced. 
I was very inspired by those two people but also just by something, which I thought would be the daunting, completely unforgiving process.  I thought, ?I can do this.?  The fact that there were so few rules associated with it, so few actual structural maxims? can just do what you want.  So I played around and it was run.  I would just type to keep myself entertained.  It turned out people liked that.  They felt it represented an interesting way to go, but for me it was truly just typing to keep myself entertained.  Basically it?s just finding a new vantage point from what I?d already been inspired by my brother to become?. which was a storyteller.  Influences growing up included the fact that I was a shy sort of desperate kid with a lot of neurotic anger, guilt and most of all fear.  When you have a lot of shame in your life, things which are not particularly fond?which you are ashamed of?you hide.  Books were my hiding place.  The library was more comforting many times than going home after school.  I would just go to the library instead.  It?s amazing to me that to this day, how many screenwriters or aspiring screenwriters you talk to and you say,  ?What do you like to read?? and they say, ?Well I don?t really read that much.?  I say, ?You don?t read, but you want to be a writer!??  They say, ?I like movies, I just want to write movies.?  They don?t read books.  I think that?s virtually an impossibility.  Mostly it was being trapped in a library for any number of years finding tremendous comfort in books.  To this day I have a profound mistrust of the word processor.  I have to type it or write it first, screen it and only then enter it for posterity onto the word processor.
I?ve heard you mention North by Northwest and Frankenstein so I assume maybe you had some early cinematic influences.
Yeah, but they were the kind any kid would have I think.  I liked all the old monster movies.  I liked the Hitchcock films, anything scary.  I liked to be scared.  It was a double edged sword.  I get scared, then I couldn?t sleep and then I?d feel terrible that I let myself watch that movie.  My favorite film is one that to this day I can?t watch alone?that?s The Exorcist.  I can?t sit in a room and watch it unless I know my roommates coming home or my mom is going to be there or something.  I can?t go to bed alone after watching The Exorcist.  It?s still that scary to me.  It?s almost like the movie is waiting for a time when I?ll sit down and watch it because I can?t resist.  It will say, ?Oh no, you just fucked up because you forgot that you are going to be alone tonight.  No one is coming home and then I will have to pace around and stay up all night. I love that movie. It?s such a perfect piece of filmmaking. 
Getting back to Lethal Weapon, You really put your personality and voice in the LETHAL WEAPON script, which I don?t think up to that time had ever been done.
Oh Bill Goldman did all the time.  William Goldman and to some extent Walter Hill in a minimalist way.  People talk all the time about a style that I think in the back of their minds they have this delusion that I pioneered this groundbreaking prose style for the text of the screenplay.  It started with me looking at William Goldman; I read three of his scripts.  Looking at Walter Hill, I read three of his.  I just smashed them together and that was my style.  I just said, ?What is the medium between these two?  That?s what I want to do.?  It may have evolved, but it started as a conundrum, how do you mix these two styles?  In a way that?s just called learning.  That?s called homage or imitation or at worst the ideas have been pirated as well?.that would have been simple plagiarism but I only took the style because I was so enamored of it.  I needed to do both of them, because I liked both of them equally well, but they?re totally different.  They comment on themselves all the time (these two writers) and they?re more interesting for it because they tell the story like you?d tell it to a friend at a bar.  They don?t get bogged down in cinematic convention.  They are busy telling it to you the way it?s supposed to feel, not the way it?s been programmed to read.  I?d rather read something that conveys to me the way a scene leaves the audience feeling so the director can hone in on that and choose and create images that comply.  It?s just more valuable.  You can either tell them, ?He walks in a room does this?does that.? OR you can say, ?Here is what this fight scene should feel like.?  You go and you give that description as though you were telling it across a bar to someone who is listening to this passionate drunk ranting.  In my case except for the drinking, I?m a passionate drunk when it comes to writing scripts.  I?m the guy at the bar who won?t stop talking about his ideas and you just do that on paper.
Have you ever thought about directing?
Yeah, The next thing I do will be directing. 
What have you got coming up?  What are you working on?
I?m doing a romantic thriller.  Currently I?m working on it over at Joel Silver?s and he would be my official sponsor as my first time directing.  Joel would be the one backing me.  He?s been very good about that.  He likes the story too.  Although unofficially my mentor for the last three years who basically convinced me not to just give up writing but to really go plunge in again was James Brooks and his influence at a time when I was ready to re-think the whole thing.  I ended just plunging in the looking for new things with a ferocity that I wouldn?t had anywhere near had it not been for his faith in me and then later Joel?s faith in me.  Those two guys have been extremely helpful and in this case Joel will produce the movie.
What happened before James Brooks’ influence?  Where you having a drought?  Was it a difficult time?
I think everyone reacts negatively to having a bomb.  Not just a bomb, but a BIG bargain bin $0.99 bomb that you find in your video store because they are liquidating it.  That was a film called The Long Kiss Goodnight.  I thought it was a pretty good film.  The exit polls showed that people who saw it generally liked it.  The problem was that for some reason nobody saw it.  Who knows why that happens?  It was disappointing, so I would try different things.  I also got involved in a relationship that was very dramatic.  One thing led to another and you blink?.and it?s gone.  It goes by.  You are much too young to have a sense of the acceleration that happens when you get into your 30s and time just sort of leaps out from under you.  You wake up, you blink and it?s two days later.  It?s almost like a cruel trick.  So I think time just got away from me.  It was four or five years before I knew it.  It wasn?t just being upset over a bomb?..I guess I just didn?t really like being a writer.  I wanted to be something else, which now turns out is a director.  I think I?ll be a better director than I am a writer, although I?ll do my best to write a piece about which I was extremely passionate and that would be the one I?ll direct, not just something that was thrown together by another writer.  You know, your guess is as good as mine.  Where I went for five my head that it just sort of went by before I got my feet under me and started working again I have no idea.  It?s like five years disappeared.  You could blame it on the relationship.  I wouldn?t.  You could blame it on fear, closer to the mark probably??insecurity.  You could blame it on having a bomb.  That would cover part, but not all of it.  Maybe I just needed to find out who I was because I hadn?t taken the time to do that in my 20s.  I sort of skipped through my 20s without being fully defined as a human being.  Too much time spent in Hollywood.  Not time spent understanding what that was doing to me or who I was.  I hopefully found out a bit more and as a result the writing will be better, but it did take five years for that little improvement to occur, so we?ll see. 
Do you think what you went through will change your writing in the future?  Will it change the way you see things?
Yes.  So may things now seem to me?..things which I may have been excited or interested in back in the day now kind of bore me.  A Steve Segal movie really bores me.  It?s action for action?s sake.  Even an adventure movie where there is not a lot going on other than the actual crime itself.  It really isn?t worth my time to sit down and watch it.  Last year for instance, all the big blockbusters really weren?t worth my time to sit down and watch.  The ones that I really loved like Sexy Beast were the independent films.  I always hated those pretentious people who made the distinction between art films and real films and the shit that you write, and they would point at me.  At the same time, I see almost nothing but independent films now.  I just don?t like the studio mentality and the blockbusters are bad.  I didn?t like Spider-man.  I didn?t like Tomb Raider or Pearl Harbor or I mean name a blockbuster?.I didn?t like it.  The last one I was even entertained by was Titanic.  The feeling of walking out of a theatre just on air because you?ve just really been satisfied? you?ve been fed a meal and not just a snack?. I haven?t had that in ages?..not since the The Sixth Sense.  That could have been an independent film.  It?s wasn?t a blockbuster.  It was a tiny movie.  So all the E.T.s and Star Wars all those things which were so central to my life a few years back have become exceedingly unimpressive.  It?s not just me maturing.  They really have gotten bad.  So I stay away from that now.  I am going to improve in that way.  I?m going to start writing things that are more germane to an independent market and less like the sort of blockbusters we?ve come to expect like Armaggedon, Bad Boys 2, or Men In Black.  I don?t have the time for these films. 
Personally, Independent films are my passion.  I think that they take so many more risks.  They are so gutsy and they can do things that no studio would touch. 
Except every once in a while, you have Fight Club where a studio does take that chance.  I mean you?ll laugh, but a good comic book would be X-Men.  It was very well done for what it was.  Sometimes you CAN spend a lot of money on a big budget blockbuster film and have it be really good, just not lately.  You are right, independent films can take all these risks because they don?t cost as much.  If you want to do a film about a hot topic, maybe about someone beating up and killing gays in a small Texas town?or if you want to do a film about incest or something?..Ok, that?s $3 million dollars.  If you want to spend $30 million on it, lots of luck because it?s not going to happen.  Plus I like to think that there is a world of films out there that I?ve yet to explore.  There are just comedies that are really funny like Tootsie.  You don?t see that many funny comedies anymore.  The Full Monty made me really laugh.  Other than that?..Nothing memorable.  The task is to be memorable. 

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