Screenwriter Angus MacLachlan on Stone

| February 18, 2011

FilmMonthly: Where did the idea for Stone originate?
Angus MacLachlan: Stone actually came from a play that I wrote in 2000 and it came in a strange way. A lot of times my plays come from a specific thing that I’ve read or something that happened to me or something someone’s told me or something I’ve dreamed, but this one came very strangely with the two main characters and then four incidents that are still in the film. I sort of popped it into my head and then I took a long time sort of formulating it. Then I wrote this play that was done actually as a stage reading in about 2002 I think, in LA with Stacy Keach playing the Robert DeNiro role and Zachary Quinto played the Edward Norton role. So that’s where it originally came from.
FM: What compelled you to adapt the play into a feature film?
AM: I actually was at Sundance in 2005 with my film Junebug and was approached by Robert Redford’s people, production company, and said you know, if you have anything for Redford, we’d love to see it because we really liked Junebug. And so I thought, you know, he actually could play that role, that eventually DeNiro played, in my piece, so I adapted it then in 2005 to a screenplay and sent it to them. He eventually, they sort of didn’t think it was the right thing for him and then we got it to another producer and eventually it became the film.
FM: Do you find it more difficult to adapt your own material to a screenplay as opposed to material of others?
AM: No, they’re kind of different. It just depends on whether. Some of them, my plays, I don’t feel they could be films and then I don’t even attempt it really. Some I feel like, yeah, this could be a film. It would be interesting to see more aspects of these people in space. You know, that’s what you can do in a film, because a play is sort of limited in that way. And also, a film can go really, really close and inside human beings in a way that plays can’t. And then in terms of other people and adaptations of other people’s pieces, that just, it just requires, for me, that I have something. That there is something in the other person’s book or play, which I haven’t adapted someone else’s play, something that I respond to, that I feel I can bring to it, that hooks me to it in some way. You know, you’re just hoping that something is going to drag you along and inspire you to have some passion.
FM: What differences do you see between the play and film versions of Stone?
AM: You know, if one was to read the play, you would say, yeah, I can see the film. There’s of course less dialogue, although Stone is kind of a dialogue, it has a lot of intense scenes with people just talking in a room. But I think there is perhaps some of the ideas and themes are a little bit more explored in the play, because in a film, you have to be. The poetic realm is a little different in film than it is in plays. And because you’re actually seeing everything, things become very concretized. So perhaps for me to say there is any difference, the play might have a slightly more poetic aspect to it than the film.
FM: Did you get to visit the set of Stone during filming? What kind of role did you play during the filmmaking process?
AM: Yeah, I was on the set a couple times. Their shooting was, I don’t remember how many weeks, but I was there about a total of two weeks which was you know, kind of thrilling and exciting to be there. I had met Bob DeNiro earlier when we first did a reading of it, but to get to know him a little bit more. I had never met Milla (Jovovich). I never actually got to meet Frances (Conroy) on the set because her scenes were filmed in the weeks that I wasn’t there. I didn’t to meet her until Toronto and she is such a lovely person that I’m glad to get to know her now. And does such a beautiful job in the film. So it was thrilling to be there.
FM: What’s your process to writing?
AM: Generally, I go kind of. I take a notebook and it takes me a long time to sort of jot down ideas. And a lot of times when I start, when I say, okay it’s time for me to write something original, I want to write something original, I’ll start writing down just ideas of things I have or incidences or maybe I cut things from the newspaper or from magazines or something. And then I also write down the quality of whatever work that inspires me or actors. Not like I want to write a role for this actor but I’ll write down Gene Hackman. To me he is a great actor who has never given a bad performance. And I would like to have work that aspires to that. Or I’ll write down great films that inspire me or plays or something else, so it’s like those are the goals to sort of aim for. And then eventually I’m hunting for a story and characters and maybe like with Stone, the characters come and then the story emerges around it. Or sometimes a story starts to form and then I have to explore what the characters are. So I spend a lot of time doing that. A long time. And then I will then start to write a scenario, an outline of what the story it and then I will go to the script and start writing the dialogue.
FM: Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you overcome it?
AM: Nope. Not quite. I’ve never done that. I’ve always. I really truly believe in the process of the unconscious doing a lot of the work in an artistic endeavor, and so I’m always wishing that there was another idea or that I had another idea, that I feel that you can’t push it. Even when you don’t think that anything’s happening, something is happening underground, like you planted seeds onto the ground. You can’t tell if anything is going to grow, and you’re not sure if it is, but you’re hoping it will. So I never really. I don’t think in terms of whether it’s a writer’s block or not. I always sort of believe what will come, will come. And of course I’m always like, oh no, I never think of anything, it’s not going to come, it’s not going to be any good. So you’re always worried about that. That’s sort of the frustration.
FM: What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
AM: I think the most challenging part is that no one pays you to do it, or no one pays me to do it. The chances are what you do will not be made, so the value of what you spend your life doing has to be instilled by yourself. Because in our country and I guess the world now, you’re either measured by money or fame and if you don’t have either one of those, it’s very hard to think that when I go to my office and sit down and write anything, that it has any value. And that’s really the hardest thing about it, I think. Being a writer or artist in America is just to continually say what you do has value when it may never come to. I don’t write, like a book, I don’t write it just to be read. I write it to be embodied. So when a play isn’t produced or a film isn’t completed, you haven’t finished your work. And there are so few films made that it’s very frustrating.
FM: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a writer and what was that like for you?
AM: You know, I never particularly wanted to. I was educated as an actor and had been an actor for a long time. I actually just started writing monologues for myself and then I thought, well, maybe I’ll try to write a play. And then I tried to write a play and I got it produced. I always loved film, so I actually wrote screenplays at the same time, but I thought it ridiculous that I would ever be able to get something made. So it’s not like I grew up wanting to be a writer. I would also, I directed a lot on stage. And like every writer in Hollywood, I would like to direct my own work as well, in film. So writing is just sort of a medium that it takes now. At one point I was a visual artist, I was an actor, and I’ve been a director, so writing is just another way of getting a story out there, of expressing something.
FM: When people watch the DVD, what kinds of feelings do you hope to invoke in them?
AM: Oh gosh, well, interest, entertainment, excitement, maybe puzzlement, challenge, intrigue, maybe some hilarity. I think there’s some funny stuff, particularly in the beginning with the way Norton talks. You know, and then I actually, from a lot of people who’ve seen the film who appreciated it have said to me, ‘I thought about it a lot afterwards. I kept talking about it. I kept wondering did I really understand this? What is it about? What does it really mean?’ And then I thought about it. That kind of reaction is something that you want. You want to churn people up and have them continue to chew on the material after they’ve finished watching it.
Stone is now available on DVD and BluRay for your viewing pleasure.

About the Author:

Jessica is a writer and screenwriter living in the Chicagoland area. Having graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a Bachelor's in Film/Video Screenwriting, Jessica's goal is to have an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay by the 100th annual awards.
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