The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 118 of Scriptnotes, the Time Travel episode of a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
John: Craig, what is your favorite kind of episode of Scriptnotes?
Craig: It’s funny, we haven’t done one in awhile. I really like the Q&As because it allows me to be even more passive than I normally am about this podcast.
John: You can be as underprepared as possible.
John: I will just read you questions and you can think of a response as I ask you the question.
Craig: Right. Like a little baby bird with his mouth open and regurgitated worms just drop in.
John: Well, my favorite type of episode is usually the ones where we have a guest on. So, ones like the Lindsay Doran episode or the Dennis Palumbo episode, or episodes like today where we have a special guest who is with us here in the “studio.” And that is Richard Kelly. He’s the director of Donnie Darko, the writer-director of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales and The Box. So, he will be joining us in a few minutes to talk about all things that we want to talk about…
Craig: Great. Richard Kelly.
John: …such as first movies, science-fiction movies, lots of stuff.
John: But first we have to talk about my other favorite kind of episode which is the ones where we have a live audience. We have one of those coming up, December 19, and as promised there is now information about tickets. Tickets are going on sale tomorrow, the day after this podcast airs. Tickets are on sale November 20 at exactly 10am they promised us.
Craig: Okay. And who’s selling the tickets?
John: It is through the Writers Guild Foundation.
Craig: And how much are the tickets? How much do they cost?
John: They’re $10 each, Craig Mazin.
Craig: Ten dollars. Anyone can afford that.
John: Anyone can afford ten dollars. So, it will be a live show in the Writers Guild Theater. There will be seats and chairs. And there will be a reception beforehand. Eggnog is promised. I haven’t gotten really clarity on whether there’s alcohol involved in the eggnog reception or not.
Craig: Everything about eggnog is disgusting. The name is disgusting. Both the word egg as part of a drink and then nog, which isn’t a word, and then two short syllable words ending in hard Gs, eggnog. And then what it is. Blech.
John: Yeah, it’s really the pumpkin spice of milk drinks. But, still, it’s going to be a good fun night. There will be you and me and special guests. Many of our previous guests will be coming to the show, but we’ll have new people who you’ve never seen before on stage with us and we will be announcing those names and I think people will be very excited by who those names are.
Craig: I agree.
John: So, the actual live show is Thursday, December 19, Writers Guild Theater. Tickets go on sale tomorrow. From experience doing our 100th episode live show, they went really, really quickly. So, we’re trying to make sure they actually go up exactly at 10am so people can get tickets and not be left out. But if you would like to come to the show, come see us then.
You and I will both tweet the URL for people to sign in and buy tickets that morning as well.
Craig: Great. And just to reassure me and everybody listening, we still don’t make money off this podcast, correct?
John: No, it’s completely a money-losing proposition.
Craig: Fantastic. That’s the key. If we can just stay in the red.
John: Yes. We will make no money off this event. The Writers Guild Foundation, which is a very good charitable organization, will make a little bit of money hopefully.
Craig: Oh great. Okay, well then that’s even better.
John: Craig, you had some housekeeping, too, today.
Craig: Yes. Very briefly. I took your advice from I think it was last week’s One Cool Thing and I downloaded Knock to Unlock and I’ve been using it. And I really like it a lot, but for the Knock to Unlock people if they’re listening: I don’t know if you’ve noticed this — sometimes it’s a little laggy.
Craig: And so I wait, and I wait, and I wait, and I think, “Ah! I could have entered my password by now.” And then I knock on it and it doesn’t work or it registers one knock. Sometimes it works perfectly and sometimes it just doesn’t work. So, I want them to fix it, because I want it to work constantly and quickly.
John: Craig, I agree with you. My experience with Knock to Unlock has been sort of like on the iPhone 5S, when it works perfectly it’s really kind of magic, and when it doesn’t work it’s a little bit frustrating.
John: What I have found with Knock to Unlock is when you’re on the lock screen, there’s that little circling blue light that goes around your face, your little profile picture.
John: When it’s solid, it tends to work exactly right. When it’s still circling it’s not connecting up to your phone the right way and —
Craig: Takes too long. Takes too long! Make go faster.
John: Make go faster. So, this was Craig Mazin venting about a product rather to an audience of thousands rather than to the actual people who make the product.
Craig: Right. Well, I feel like I can enlist all of you out there to assault these people and to make their thing that is very cheap and awesome even better for me, because I’m impatient.
John: Yeah. Craig often, like this was actually my One Cool Thing. But one of the things I really respect about you is that you’ll often pick a One Cool Thing that you’ve never even tried out. You have no idea if it actually works.
Craig: Right. I’m adventuresome.
John: You are adventuresome.
Craig: I like to put a question mark at the end of One Cool Thing?
John: [laughs] Well, in the spirit of adventure, let’s go to our first and only guest today on the show, Mr. Richard Kelly.
Craig: Richard Kelly!
John: So, if we had an audience, this is where they’d be applauding.
Richard Kelly: Hello guys.
John: Now, Richard, I was trying to remember when I first met you and I’m pretty sure it was actually at the test screening, not even a real test screening, an informal screening for your film, Donnie Darko, at Flower Films.
Richard: It was at Flower Films. And it was in their private little screening room at their Sunset Boulevard tower offices back in probably the year 2000.
John: Yeah. 2000. It would be late 2000, because it was before Sundance.
Richard: It was before Sundance. We were on the brink of submitting to Sundance and it was one of the first screenings that we did. And it was Nancy Juvonen, and Sean McKittrick, and a few other select friends. And you were one of the very first people to see the film. I remember. And you were very helpful, I think, in your suggestions and it was a really, really amazing experience because I was just like at the very beginning of my career really.
John: So, at this point you had graduated from USC. And it was USC for grad school or was that undergrad for you? I forget what your history is.
Richard: I was undergrad. I was an undergrad production major at the School of Cinema and Television, it’s now called the School of Cinematic Arts and has a bunch of new fancy palatial digital buildings, but when I was there at the end of the ’90s graduating it was still relatively archaic.
John: It looked like a dentist office really. It looked like a decent dentist office somewhere in the Valley.
Richard: Absolutely. And there was the George Lucas Bridge where everyone used to kind of eat their Carl’s Jr. and sort of trade tips and wait for light stands and camera equipment.
John: So, you were a production major if I recall correctly.
John: So, you’re a production major from USC and you wrote this script while you were still at USC, or had you already finished by that point?
Richard: No, I didn’t write the script until right after I graduated. I was sort of in mortal of fear of writing a screenplay all throughout the undergrad experience because I was so focused on learning how to use a camera and stage direction and lighting and all of the technique required of being a director. I was so focused on that — screenwriting was something that was in the back of my mind and it was just very terrifying to me, because I wrote a lot growing up but it was more essays, and short fiction, and short bursts of inspiration. But the idea of doing something long form was just really intimidating, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really try to engage in any activity that I don’t think I’m going to be good at.
So, I was just, I was terrified. And so I kind of stored it all up.
Craig: But then you got over this fear and wrote a script that is — it’s interesting to hear you say that this is almost the first screenplay you wrote because it’s very well structured. I mean, it must be very well structured because of the content and the kind of story you’re telling.
But there’s a rigor to the structure. It’s a very experienced kind of structure. I wonder, did you realize that you were kind of melding… — It’s funny, I rewatched Donnie Darko the other day and I thought there’s so much about it that’s non-traditional. And yet there’s so much about it that actually is traditional. They’re sort of stuck together in this fascinating thing.
Were you aware that this was going on when you were writing it?
Richard: I think was subconsciously aware of it. It was me storing up probably 23 years of experience, of watching and digesting stories and I believe a lot of it really came from, of all places, my high school English teachers who really sort of just pushed narrative structure into me. I mean, they really educated me in terms of that process. And I took maybe one screenwriting class at USC, but my focus was so much more on production that I actually kind of derived it from my high school education, which might sound unusual, but that’s where it kind of came from.
And you see that embedded in the themes of the story —
Richard: You know, Drew Barrymore playing this idealistic high school teacher and the sort of — it’s a very adolescent script in terms of its innocence and its formative approach when it comes to the themes are very much a teenager’s bleeding heart so to speak.
Richard: So it was me kind of expunging my 23 years of adolescence onto the page really.
John: So, you’ve written this script. This is before the Black List. This is back in the day of like printed scripts that were sent around. What was the process from you finish this script to it ends up at Flower Films and you’re going to start production. What was that journey like?
Richard: Well, I had partnered up with my friend, and he still is my producing partner, Sean McKittrick, at our company, Darko Entertainment. But at the time he was working as an assistant at New Line Cinema. And he helped me with my graduate film and produced my graduate film. And he was working on a desk for an executive named Lynn Harris at New Line Cinema.
And I sent it to Sean. I’m like, “What do you think? I finished the script.” And he read it and he called me and said, “I need to read it a second time. It’s a little too long.” It was like 147 pages or something. “And it needs a few tweaks, but I think there’s really something here. And I really think you’re onto something.”
And then he called me back after having read it the second time and he was even more confident that I was onto something. He’s like, “Let’s trim 10 or 15 pages out and then I’m going to send it to my friend, David Ruddy, who works at CAA.” And that’s obviously the big talent agency.
And so he sent it to David and David was working as an assistant to Beth Swofford who still to this day is a huge agent at CAA. And he read it and called Sean and said, “I want to meet this guy.”
So, he took us out to drinks and Dave made sure that I wasn’t an axe murderer, or something equally deviant.
Craig: Which you are, I mean.
Richard: You saw what I did in Austin.
Craig: Instantly I detected. I don’t know how he missed the fact that you are absolutely a deviant axe murderer. But go ahead. Go ahead with the story about the least observant man in the world.
Richard: [laughs] Yeah, so he was like, “Okay, I’m going to give this script to Beth,” and then Beth read it and brought it up in a CAA staff meeting. And she gave it to three other agents, including my current agent to this day, John Campisi, and all of a sudden I was getting a call from a group of four people at CAA who called me in this sort of group conference call and said, “We love your script and we want you to come in and meet.”
And, again, I was 23 years old and living with a few friends in the South Bay making $6.5 an hour serving cappuccinos at a post production house in Hollywood. I was making cheese and cracker plates for Mark Romanek, and Madonna, and Jonas Åkerlund, and Puff Daddy. I was barely getting by and I had this film degree. So, all of a sudden to be getting a call from CAA was like a fairytale scenario.
Richard: So, I rolled in there and they wanted to sign me. And then I informed them of the unfortunate news that I was going to direct the film, and I would never let anyone else direct it. And you could see the sort of polite smiles and nods of the head. It was not going to be an easy course.
John: So, at this point they’ve read your Donnie Darko script. Have they read anything else?
Richard: No. No. That was the only thing I had.
Craig: That was all they could read.
John: And did you have a reel? Did you have anything to show them that you could direct?
Richard: I had my grad film, which was this really ridiculous, campy science-fiction thing that I showed them and they were like, “Oh, let’s not show that to anyone.”
Richard: Just because it was just so different and so campy and so — more of like just a visual exercise. And they were kind of like, “Let’s not bring that up.” And I’m like, okay, because I’m always the kind of person who sees myself as having like many different channels in terms of switching beyond into many different genres. And I’m not a person who believes in categorization or putting people into boxes. But that’s what this town is all about is keeping you in a box or keeping you in a category. So, they’re like, “Let’s put that aside”
Everyone read the script. They sent it out to all the big production companies. And I was all of a sudden meeting all of these famous producers. Just amazing people. I got to meet Paula Weinstein and Betty Thomas and Mark Johnson. And just this long list of amazing legendary producers. I got to meet Ben Stiller on the set of Mystery Men. And everyone loved my script. And everyone was saying all these wonderful things. But, after six months of meetings it was sort of like, “This is an amazing writing sample. We think it’s probably an unproduceable film, but we would love for you to maybe write something else for us.”
Richard: “And if you really want to direct it, we respect that, but you’re barely 24 years old. You look like you’re 17 and good luck with that.”
Richard: “But we just, you know, come write something else for us. “
John: Let me pause your story for one second, because this is a very common thread of what I’ve heard about sort of first stories, and sort of my first story, too. Everyone always thinks like some incredibly powerful person reads it. It’s slipped over the door and someone reads this thing and says, “Ah-ha! This is the thing.” But it was really your friend who you knew from before who was working a job at sort of your same level, was working at a desk somewhere who read it and sort of said, this is really good.
And he profited by — not profited literally — but by recognizing your talent he could take it to somebody and say like, “I think this is really good. Please pay attention to this.” So, it was somebody at your same level. It wasn’t just some giant person who read it and said, “Yes, this is the real thing.” It was a ramp up. You didn’t hit 100 miles per hour right at the first day.
Richard: Yes, and it was a strategic ramping, because Sean was a very well liked producer at New Line at the time and he had a very smart boss. And he was, you know, obviously talking to the right assistants and kind of networking with the right assistants. And to this day you even see what Frank Leonard has done with the Black List. It’s all just sort of galvanizing from the desks of the mailroom and even places like that where people find the great material and sort of pass it upwards in exchange for being a part of this sort of trade system of information, and credit, and representation.
It’s a system that still exists in a different way today.
John: Now, these six months that you were taking meetings with places, you were taking these sort of general meetings. They liked your script and they want you to write something else. Were you working at this point or were you still like making coffee at production houses?
Richard: I was sort of still serving coffee and then I was hired by Phoenix Pictures to adapt the children’s novel Holes, which was my first big writing job. Which I completely, [laughs], jumped the shark, so to speak. I went and just changed so much of the novel into kind of like a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Stephen King thing.
Richard: And just kept the core essentials of the novel.
Craig: That’s what I would have done. I would have done the same thing.
Richard: I was just convinced that this is what would be the great version of the movie and that they would see what I wanted to do —
Craig: So great.
Richard: They probably read it and I got that call like, “Are you insane?” What are you thinking? This is not what we wanted.”
Craig: Yeah, but you read Donnie Darko and then you hired me to write Holes. Are you insane?
Richard: Well, but I was very naïve. And I was convinced that I could convince them that this was the cooler version of the movie. And they were just like, “No, we want to make a PG-rated pretty faithful adaptation of this best-selling book. We have Andrew Davis directing. You’re insane. Please sign this contract. We’re not going to pay you anymore money. We respect you. We like you. But we’re moving on in a different direction.”
Richard: And I was heartbroken. But then I got the call, you know, we were kind of under the impression that Donnie Darko as a script was just sort of this great writing sample and it was sort of dead as a potential movie due to my stubborn refusal to let anyone else direct it.
John: Now, at this point had you — you said you were going to be directing this, but had you come up with the budget? Had you come up with the schedule? Had you come up with a production plan for how you could do it?
Richard: We had actually taken a meeting with Paramount Classics at the time. And they were making movies very, very inexpensively, like the under $2 million kind of budget range. And we had talked about trying to do it for like $1.5 million to $2 million, but given the ambition of the story, you know, we have time portals and big set pieces, and school assemblies, and a jet engine smashing through a house. It was very ambitious. People were saying we needed $10 million. And we honestly — with the different kind of producers and line producers we had talked to throughout the process. And Sean McKittrick was sort of coming in with a number about $4.5 million that we thought was the bare bones to really achieve the vision.
That to do it for less than that would really be so much of a compromise. You know, sometimes there’s that threshold where you realize it’s better to just hold off and put the movie back on — put the script back on the shelf as opposed to making it at a budget where you are going to compromise what’s really essentially to the story.
Richard: And we didn’t want to monkey with it in that way. And then all of a sudden the script had been sort of digested by the entire town that people were still talking about it, like, “What’s going on with that? Will he sell it? Will he finally just let someone else take it over?” And there was a lot of discussion — “Why do you need it to be set in 1988? Just set it in present day and make it more of a horror film.” And all these kind of things, you know. “Get rid of the Asian girl. You don’t need her.”
And all these kinds of things that are sort of these voices sort of beating me down a little bit. But then we got word that Jason Schwartzman had read the script and really loved it and was interested in meeting.
And I went and met with him and he attached himself to play Donnie. And all of a sudden the script had all this new legitimacy and that I was legitimized by Jason’s attachment.
John: So, with one actor who at that point was A-list-ish —
Richard: He was coming off of Rushmore.
Craig: He was kind of hot. He was hot.
John: He was hot at the moment, so therefore there was an extra element that made it seem producible.
Craig: Right, like Jason Schwartzman now makes you the new Wes Anderson.
Richard: Well, it was this wonderful thing. And then we got word from my agent that Nancy Juvonen had read the script. Nancy who is Drew Barrymore’s producing partner at Flower Films. And she wanted to meet with me. So, I was like, wow, this is great. And Sean and I went to the set of Charlie’s Angels at LA Center Studios in Downtown LA.
Craig: Back to John August.
John: Where we were shooting it.
Richard: And I might have actually, maybe I met you.
John: We may have crossed paths there with trailers and all that stuff.
Richard: I walked up to Drew’s trailer and lo and behold there was Cameron Diaz right outside of Drew’s trailer. And they were goofing around. I was briefly introduced to her and obviously our paths would converge later in life. But went into Drew’s trailer and Nancy was there and we had this wonderful discussion. And Drew was still finishing the script and paging through it. And I was like, listen, we would love for you to play the English teacher, Mrs. Pomeroy.
And she’s like, “I would love for my company to produce this with you and we could partner on this project.” And I said absolutely. It was really a very quick marriage, so to speak. And then with Drew Barrymore and Jason Schwartzman, we got an offer from a company called Pandora, a European finance company at the American Film Market. I think in November of 1999 they made an offer for $4.5 million. And Drew was the kind of galvanizing foreign sales actor to get us to that number.
John: Absolutely. Drew was a very marketable star at that point.
John: People wanted to make a movie, so a small movie with Drew Barrymore at AFM — pretty easy sell.
Richard: Yeah. Yeah.
John: So, with this package sort of put together, so Jason Schwartzman, Drew Barrymore, you to direct, how long did it then take to actually start rolling cameras?
Richard: Well, we were able to kind of get the financing closed, I think, going into the beginning of 2000. And all of a sudden Jason had a scheduling conflict with another movie and was going to have to back out at the last minute. And we were gearing towards a summer production start because Drew had a window, a one-week window, right before she was going to do a Penny Marshall film called Riding in Cars with Boys.
So, we had that one-week with Drew to get our act together or we were going to lose her, or we weren’t going to get the movie made. And when Jason had to back out it was this horrifying weekend where, oh no, is Drew going to back out as well? And is this all going to collapse? Is this going to undermine my credibility or something? And it was — Jason was very apologetic and it was just an unfortunate circumstance.
And Drew left this wonderful message on my answering machine. This is back in the day — in the year 2000 when we still had answering machines. And she left me this long wonderful message saying, “We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to find another great actor. I’m in this for you, and the script, and I believe in you.” And she was really wonderful.
And so we started meeting with some different actors to play Donnie, and I went to Drew’s office and met with this kid named Jake Gyllenhaal, who was 19 years old, and had done October Sky, and was kind of at Columbia, segueing out of Columbia after two years, and was going to get back into acting. And I basically gave him the part on the spot.
John: Great. Jake Gyllenhaal very much feels like the movie star version of you. I mean, did you notice that when you cast him?
Richard: I never thought of it that way, but then as we were shooting the film on our breakneck 28-day schedule, Jake confided in me about halfway through, he was like, “You know I’m kind of mimicking you. You know that, right?” And I was like, oh, okay, I don’t know how I feel about that, but I guess it’s working.
Craig: What part of him was mimicking you? Because he has different moves in the movie.
Richard: I don’t know. I think — I may be too detached from myself or too much time has passed, but I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of —
Craig: I think I know.
John: I know exactly what it is, too. Craig, you can say it first, and then I’ll say what I think it is.
Craig: All right. So, you know when I say something to you, Richard Kelly, I’ll say, “Ah, Richard Kelly, look how handsome you are.” And then you kind of look down and you’re like, huh, and you get that little goofy look. It’s the same look that Jake does every time he slips into his fugue state and starts talking to Frank. That funky little grin and that semi-sinister look in his eyes — I’m telling you, that’s it man, right there.
John: I was going to say the same thing about the eye contact thing, because it’s a thing I also noticed from all the photos in Austin is that you never quite look in the lens of the camera. And so you’re always like a little bit off to the edge of it, which I feel very much is a Donnie Darko thing. So, I can see that being a… — It’s fine, it works.
Richard: Yeah, it’s not intentional. It’s just maybe —
John: I also think the relationship between a director and the actor, especially a writer-director and an actor, can be that kind of thing. Like Ryan Reynolds basically plays me in the middle section of The Nines. And it was fine. He owned up to it and I said this is fine. And the cast and crew recognized he was doing it. It was appropriate for that.
Richard: Yeah, I mean, it all kind of goes back to you say that your high school education or even prior to your high school education sometimes it really informs a greater part of your life, for better or for worse, and it was like my seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Jordan, who taught us Watership Down, the book that Drew Barrymore teaches in the film. And his whole mantra was “write what you know.”
It sounds very simple, and it sounds like a cliché, but it’s really the personal stuff that ends up bleeding through when you’re writing. When you work with an actor they can kind of detect the truth from the author and they can sort of — it bleeds through into the performance somehow in everything.
Richard: So, sometimes it’s a virtue of the actor’s detective work.
Craig: Well, it’s interesting also that when you talk about writing what you know, you’re very smartly talking about writing what you know emotionally. You don’t know what it’s like to have an airplane engine drop on you while you’re sleeping, or to go through a time portal, or to talk to a rabbit that is, in fact, the time image of a boy you kill. It’s — spoiler, sorry. It’s our emotional lives that when we talk about writing what we know, that’s what we’re talking about.
I think a lot of people misunderstand the advice and they write very boring scripts about their actual day. I just hope people don’t do that. [laughs] Don’t do that.
John: Absolutely. It’s most crucial that you’re able to write in a way that’s emotionally true to how you would feel in that circumstance. And so you feel that it’s… — You’re writing yourself in these characters so that they’re responding in ways that you would respond to these situations — these absurd situations — that you sort of are creating for these characters.
Now, so fast forward through production. It was 28 days, I think?
Richard: It was 28 days in the late summer of 2000. Shot in and around the greater Los Angeles area, Long Beach, Burbank, out in the Calabasas Ranch area and then the San Angelo, across the mountains. It was just sort of approximating a Virginia idyllic suburban town in the greater Los Angeles area by virtue of composite.
John: Great. And why did you choose Los Angeles? It was for ease of actors mostly?
Richard: It was a combination of ease of actors. And there was a commercial strike happening, I believe, in the summer of 2000 which made a lot of crew available to work at low rates. And during the summer when everyone’s kids are out of school, a lot of people in the below the line world, they want to stay in town. They want to shoot in Los Angeles.
And if they’re taking a pay cut to be with their kids, as opposed to going to Vancouver or Toronto where a lot of the runaway production was happening, we were able to get a big crew for cheap. And it made sense to do it in LA as opposed to going off to Toronto which a lot of people were doing at the time.
Craig: I have a question about that’s I guess about how at the origin of this, at the beginning of Donnie Darko, you’re writing a movie, and when we write a movie normally the movie is designed to be the sum total of what we’re presenting to the audience artistically. What’s interesting about Donnie Darko, among other things, is that it was ahead of its time not only when it came out. I think it’s actually currently still ahead of its time in this aspect. That the movie isn’t the total picture.
You wrote a book that appears in a movie that is almost required, really, to complete the experience of the movie. Was that something that you did intentionally, or did you write the movie and then say, “You know, there’s this other part of this. There’s a website and a book and an additional amount of experience that’s required to augment the experience of watching the movie.”
Richard: There’s this expression called “scope creep” which is my dad is a scientist and worked at NASA for many years. It’s when the scope of a project continues to creep outward. And you don’t realize it’s happening. That’s my issue with all of my projects. They’re always becoming bigger and longer than can be contained within the sort of two-hour format.
And the book that is written by Roberta Sparrow, Grandma Death, in the story is called The Philosophy of Time Travel. And Donnie as a character is reading it and obsessing over it. And as a writer, and as the sort of avatar for Donnie, or vice versa, I was wanting to know what was in that book. And I was obsessed with completing it. And I had kind of rough draft sketches of it coming into my head as I was directing the film. And then as we were editing the film I went and wrote out all the specific chapter titles and some of the essential pages from The Philosophy of Time Travel.
And as we were trying to edit the film down it was clear that that kind of stuff wasn’t going to ever make it into a film, a version of the film that would run lower than two hours. So, it was something that I said, “Let’s put it on the website. Let’s have it be a tangential piece of information.”
I’ve kind of really gravitated towards that kind of thing in all of my films because it’s an overflow of information, but it’s also I guess they call it transmedia is what the word for it is now. And so it became sort of a transmedia thing with this elaborate website that we built with this company in London. And it did become more kind of essential information and I kind of worked it into the director’s cut of the film years later.
But, again, it’s scope creep.
Craig: But it’s interesting to me because in order — I didn’t quite understand, and this is going to lead into another question, I didn’t quite understand if there was a certainty to the movie until I read that additional material and then I thought to myself, okay, there is a certainty to this. There is an answer to this movie in a sense. Not complete. No movie gives you a complete answer, but there is at least a guided solution to what you’re seeing and what was intended here.
But you seem to be saying that you didn’t even quite have that solution yourself until you were in post-production, which is fascinating to me, because it’s almost like you built a very interesting puzzle box, but you didn’t quite know how to solve it yourself until the very end.
Richard: Well, I think the solving process or the completion process really does go through the editing. The writing process continues through editing. And even when you do reshoots. We did do one additional reshoot. It’s not a reshoot, because that implies that you —
Craig: Screwed up a scene.
Richard: You screwed up and you redid it. It was an additional — it was one additional day of photography we did after the Sundance premiere of the film which was James Duval waking up at the end as part of all the characters waking up from the tangent universe and from the dream experience that they had. Whether it was a communal dream or an actual alternate universe is left up to the gods to explain, because no one can ever answer that question.
But, the studio that bought the film six months after its sort of disastrous Sundance premiere was like, “We really wish there was a shot of Frank alive waking up at the end so the audience understands that he’s still alive and he was part of that experience.” And I’m like, oh wow, I wish I could have shot that.
So, we actually went to a little stage in Burbank and set up a little set and got the cameras and we shot James Duval waking up with those drawings on the easel…
Craig: Right. And touching his eye…
Richard: Touching his eye.
Craig: Which was a great little moment.
Well, let me ask you this question. What happened at Sundance? [laughs] What happened there? How did it make you feel? And how do you feel about it now?
Richard: You know, everything happens for a reason. And that was the journey that this film was meant to take. But, it was a situation where at Sundance 2001 we had this huge amount of hype going into the festival. A $4.5 million budget was relatively large for a Sundance film at that time, even for now it’s a very healthy budget. And the film looked like it cost a lot more than that.
And we had big movie stars. And it had time portals. And it had all of these sort of components where you read the summary in the Sundance program and you’re like, “What in the hell is this?” There was just this big curiosity factor. And we were also the first film officially in Sundance competition history to have digital effects.
Craig: Ah, interesting.
Richard: And so immediately that was a little bit of a, you know —
Craig: Oh, so you guys were like sellouts all of a sudden.
Richard: [laughs] It was a very huge showing at the first Eccles screening and everyone was there. All of the buyers. Everyone, you know. Harvey Weinstein was there wearing a Donnie Darko hat.
Craig: Oh, god! Harvey! What the hell?
Richard: Well, you know, it was overwhelming. And when the credits rolled at the end it was just — there were applause from plenty of people who loved it, but a whole lot more people who were just freaked out, and disturbed, and —
Craig: Who were just, WTF? [laughs]
Richard: Yeah. It was just like, did that guy just kill himself? Did your hero just commit suicide?
Richard: And then it ends, you know. “Whoa! I don’t know how comfortable I am with this.” It was a shell-shocked reaction and it was not a movie that made people feel good as they left at the Eccles Theater. So, immediately all the buyers sort of backed away very quickly. And it was kind of like we had the Ebola Virus. At that time movies would sell very quickly or they wouldn’t.
Richard: Now, just everyone knows that sometimes it takes a month, two months to sell, and it’s okay because the market has changed. But that was the time where everyone pounced or they dropkicked the movie out into the mountains. So, we got dropkicked.
Craig: You got dropkicked into the mountains. I mean, obviously the story ends well. There is an interesting, I don’t know if there is a lesson to be taken from experiences like that, because I think every experience is different. But I wonder do you walk around with a little bit more confidence knowing that the last time people kicked you into the mountain they were wrong. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I can’t tell.
Richard: Well, you know, listen. I take everything with a grain of salt. And I look at any struggle or mountain that had to be overcome as just a part of the process and kind of a learning experience. And I just try to take all the knowledge and absorb it and continue to just understand that everything is a process and to be really strategic and to try to just hone my filmmaking in a manner that things get easier.
I remember I asked Tony Scott when we were working on Domino, I was like, “Tony, does it get easier with each film?”
And he was like, “Oh, no. Rich, it gets harder.”
Richard: And it was sad to hear that, but he said it with a grin. He said it with a grin of a man who absolutely loves to make films, more than life itself. But he was kind of just conceding that it can get more difficult. And, I don’t know —
Craig: And it did get more difficult for you in a sense.
Richard: Well, I mean, listen, there are always new challenges, but I think a lot of it is you sometimes can design your own difficulty without realizing it. Or, you can manifest it. And I think it’s learning how not to do that and it’s learning how to just sort of figure out how to make concessions or collaborations or judgment calls that will just help make the process easier, but still get what you want.
John: I look at your career and I look at Rian Johnson’s career, because you are both writer-directors who try to make their own films and try to do their own things. And each one is really challenging, and difficult, and has very specific worlds built around sort of how it all sort of fits together.
One of the things Rian has done though is he’s gone off and directed TV, which is the chance to practice that craft of directing independently of having to have the onus of a movie. Has that been interesting to you? Have you considered doing television? To do your own show or someone else’s show?
Richard: I’ve kind of, you know, I’ve kind of flirted a little bit with the idea of television here and there. And it’s something that I absolutely want to do at some point. But I’ve been so consumed, particularly in the past three years with writing feature screenplays. I’ve just been on a writing binge for about three years now.
Craig: For yourself or…?
Richard: For myself. For myself. For purely selfish purposes. [laughs] But in a way that I’ve just been trying to actually refine my craft and write a lot of different scripts in various different genres, places where people wouldn’t think I’d be able to, I’ve gone there. People want to, again, always put you in a box or a category, so I’ve spent the past three years writing a whole bunch of different kinds of films that no one would expect from me.
And I think with television it’s more of like you can create your own show, or you can come in and direct a pilot, or you can come in and direct an episode the way Rian did brilliantly with Breaking Bad, which is we all know now one of the great shows in the history of the medium. And I think Rian is smart, and savvy, and talented enough to have kind of figured that out early on and was able to go in and really do some wonderful work.
And I admire him for doing it. And I’m envious of him for getting to work in that series because it’s so amazing. So, as for me in television, I think I just want to get one more feature under my belt and then kind of see how the timing works out and whether — you know, how I can kind of really make a mark in television in a meaningful way where I don’t feel like I’m just sort of directing traffic or just getting a paycheck.
Richard: I want to do it for the right reasons. And I want to really be — I’m one of those people, I don’t know how to fake something. I’m really idealistic and probably to a fault in a lot of ways where I just want to make sure I have authorship of it.
But, again, sometimes you don’t have to have complete authorship of something for it to be fulfilling. You can really come in and be a partner, or be a —
John: Let’s talk about the places you could work right now. Because it seems like all, my recollection, all three of your films have been for different places and for sort of newer places. So, this first place was Pandora who put up the money for Donnie Darko. Who did Southland Tales?
Richard: Southland Tales was a combination of about eight different equity sources. Universal International was the foreign investor, along with Wild Bunch who had France. And I’ve worked with them also on The Box, my next film. And then Sony bought the film for domestic rights. And then Samuel Goldwyn distributed in a partnership with Sony. So, it was a —
John: Yeah. They have sort of this weird relationship between them.
Richard: Yeah. It was like a Trivial Pursuit pie piece of eight different — so, I think there were lots of people involved with Southland Tales because it was such a complex, elaborate film. A $17.5 million budget film. So, that was a big Frankenstein conglomeration of people. And then The Box was a company called Media Rights Capital.
John: Which is also equity.
Richard: Which is also equity.
Craig: Right. They’re associated with William Morris Endeavor.
Richard: Yes. And they partnered with Radar Pictures, owned and operated by Ted Field. And those two entities partnered with Warner Bros. Pictures who took domestic on the film. So, it was essentially an equity-funded film with domestic distribution in place before we started shooting.
So, it was kind of a studio film in a lot of ways, but most studio films today have equity from an outside source. It’s more of a distribution P&A deal. But then they’re giving notes on the script and they’re approving the wardrobe and the hair for the actors. And micromanaging as they’re prone to do. But that’s the reality of the business and you’ve got to do it.
Craig: Well, don’t you think that there is a certain, if you’re investing money in a Richard Kelly movie, at some point I assume they all look at each other and say, “Well, we could attempt to do the thing we normally do, but it’s not going to work because Richard Kelly.”
Richard: Well, you know, the one thing that I’m proud of with all my movies is I put the money on the screen. There is always a production value that surpasses the budget in terms of what people think it costs and what it really costs. So, I always put the money on the screen. But I also end up shooting tons of scenes that don’t make it into the movie. And I always end up with like 45 minutes of deleted scenes.
And it becomes really difficult to cut the movie down to under two hours. And that’s one of the things that I’ve learned, particularly in the writing process, and I’m going through it right now on a project where I’m just like I’m not going to have any deleted scenes. I’m literally going to have —
Craig: Well, good for you. That’s a very good goal to have.
Richard: Yeah. I’m going to have nothing in the script that isn’t absolutely necessary and it’s scope creep.
John: It is scope creep.
Craig: It is scope creep.
John: We’ve talked about Gravity a lot on the podcast recently. Craig, did you finally see Gravity?
Craig: Uh, what?
John: [laughs] Craig still has not seen Gravity.
Craig: I saw Walter Mitty.
John: Well, very good. I’m proud of you.
Craig: Can we talk about that? [laughs] I saw that.
John: You cannot talk about that. We can talk about Gravity for one second because Walter Mitty, I suspect, probably has some scope creep, but Gravity has no scope creep. That is a very lean movie. And it’s one of the things I think is actually interesting about making movies for the big screen versus making a TV series. Because I look at these situations where you have — you’ve built this entire world, this entire universe. You clearly could have built a whole series of Donnie Darko and sort of what that universe is.
And Donnie Darko might also have been fantastic as a series, or as a limited series, or that kind of thing. Or the way American Horror Story is, those limited series where it makes that run through.
Craig: Definitely true for Southland Tales, for sure.
John: Oh my god, Southland Tales feel like it’s —
Craig: It feels like it’s a series that got sort of compressed down.
Richard: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, ultimately I still want to do an animated prequel to Southland Tales and a final kind of cut of it that would be the size of like a limited run miniseries, you know. But, you’re right, because I was doing transmedia with graphic novel prequels and my mind was overflowing in the scope creep sense of feature film evolving into transmedia. And again, we’re now in this sort of new world of the internet, Netflix limited run series that sort of are bridging between film and television in a lot of ways.
John: But to me it just sounds like J.J. Abrams in terms of ambition but you don’t have Bad Robot behind you. You don’t have 100 really talented elves to do all the other stuff that could do that thing. And so in order to up your sort of productivity if you want to do those kind of things, maybe you need more elves?
Richard: Yeah, yeah, I think everyone could use more elves. I think if anything I’ve been the elf storing away all the Christmas gifts for the past three years and just really getting a lot of material ready so that my hope is that starting next year that I’m kind of back behind the camera and I’ll have a pipeline where I can be working consistently at different budget levels, whether it’s a feature film that costs well under $10 million, or a feature film that costs well over $10 million and in different degrees. That hopefully there’s a way to just continue working with a consistency because, you know, it is a situation where I feel like I’m a director first and foremost and a writer in the secondary position.
But I’ve been doing so much writing over the past three years that I finally feel like, okay, I’m starting to finally feel like a real screenwriter. And now I’m kind of really ready to go enter the second act of my directing career I guess. And I’m always just trying to get better and not be complacent.
Craig: You have an interesting challenge because on the one hand I think it’s great that you’ve made the reduction of scope creep a goal. And I love that you’re saying my goal is to not direct a deleted scene. That should be every director’s goal. I completely agree.
On the other hand, what makes you unique and what is part of what is attractive about your work to your fans is the scope creep. It’s a funny thing. How do you become a better Richard Kelly but still be Richard Kelly?
Richard: Well, I think it is, you know —
Craig: Did I just freak you out? I just freaked you out, didn’t I?
Richard: A little bit. [laughs] Because I’m going through that right now. I honestly am. But I believe that there’s a way to get it all within a framework of the two-hour timeline and still have the complexity and the density — sometimes people are afraid of the word density because it can read as something that’s cumbersome or medicinal or hard to get through or impenetrable, which are adjectives often used to describe my work.
Richard: [laughs] But when I say density I like to think of films where you can watch them over, and over, and over again and see new ideas, and see new themes, and laugh at different nuances. And I’m just trying to make sure to hold onto that, but to make sure that it’s — I’m not just going to have a 2 hour 45 minute cut of the film, you know.
John: It’s interesting what you say about density because a thing I’ve noticed in some films is that you recognize that characters have relationships before that scene started, which is great. But sometimes they’re referencing things that are not germane to the scene and therefore it’s pulling you out of the scene that you’re currently in. And it’s a thing I try to always be mindful of is the audience only has the information about what they’re seeing in front of them.
So, you want them to believe these characters have relationships and they existed before they walked on screen. You can’t have them be so fascinated or distracted by what those things could be that they’re not paying attention to what’s happening there right in front of them.
You start to lose the audience’s confidence in your ability to tell a story. And it’s such a tough balance. And I think TV gets away with it more because you just have more time and more hours. And you can have that extra scene to establish how Tyrion got into that situation.
Richard: I was going to say the wonderful thing about a lot of TV is you look at a brilliant episode of Mad Men, or Breaking Bad, or some of our greatest shows and you think some of the best scenes might have ended up being deleted scenes in movies, you know.
Craig: No question.
Richard: Because there’s the time to breathe and to see the character doing something that might seem incidental or not really necessary to the main through line of the story but it’s very fascinating stuff.
Craig: Yeah, David Benioff and Dan Weiss ran into a big problem on their first season of Game of Thrones because they had never done television before and they were short. They just didn’t have enough episode. A lot of the episodes were running short. And HBO basically said you kind of need to give us at least 50 some minutes here. You can’t give us a 42-minute episode.
So, they went back and just added scenes. They were pre-deleted scenes. [laughs] They weren’t even scenes that they felt were necessary to begin with. Now they’re adding them in to just fill time. And some of them are the best scenes in the series. They actually learned a great lesson from that. In television sometimes these quite moments where these characters — you can afford them in television. And we can’t necessarily in film.
And so I think it’s a great thing that you’re addressing it. And I guess for folks who are listening there is a great lesson for all of us that you go and you make a movie like Donnie Darko and it’s a cultural touchstone and the thought of changing even a frame of it would make many, many people of that generation shriek, of a certain generation shriek.
But the person who created it continues this kind of endless self-evaluation and this self-recreation, which I think is amazing.
Craig: Did I freak you out again, Richard? Are you all right?
Richard: I’m constantly freaked out, you know, by life. So, you know.
John: Craig, you didn’t learn that at Austin Film Festival? He’s always a little bit nervous. And it’s often because you’re telling Leigh Whannell to like figure out ways to kill Richard.
John: That was a long [crosstalk].
Craig: Killing Richard Kelly is, for whatever reason, it’s just more entertaining to consider than killing, I don’t know, other people.
Craig: It’s more of a challenge. I feel like he would fight back really hard.
Richard: I hope none of the listeners of this podcast decide to follow through.
Craig: Yeah, don’t kill Richard Kelly. By the way, don’t kill him if for no other reason than he’s mine to kill.
Craig: My quarry.
John: Now, Richard, a thing we do on our shows every week is a One Cool Thing and I should have warned you about this ahead of time. So, you can think about it while we do things. You actually mentioned one of them at the Black List party. You sent me an email about it which could potentially be a great One Cool Thing. Do you remember what that was?
Richard: Oh god, what was the email?
John: That science foundation thing?
Richard: Oh, yes, yes.
John: So, when we get around maybe that can be your One Cool Thing. Craig, do you want to start? Should I start?
Craig: Well, you have a big one. I think you should go last. Mine is really easy. Someone tweeted this to me and I jumped on it and then people continued to tweet it to me as if I didn’t know, which is kind of exciting. It means that I’m a certain kind of person that likes a certain kind of thing and everyone is figuring it out.
It’s this thing called Coin and it doesn’t exist yet. This company is a startup company and they’re taking preorders, but it’s just one of those things like the Nest where I went, oh cool — if that works it would be great. So, we all have a bunch of credit cards and debit cards in our wallet, and I don’t like having lots of things in my wallet. I’m constantly going through and getting rid of stuff.
So, they came up with this thing called Coin. It’s the size of a credit card but it is electronic. It syncs up with your phone over Bluetooth, secure Bluetooth, and you essentially scan your cards into your phone with one of those little scanny things that they send you. And then take a picture of your credit cards. And then it pipes all that information and syncs it into the one coin card. And then there’s like a little touch thing on the back of it that lets you select which card you want to use at any given point. And it has all of your cards on one card.
I don’t even have that many cards and I got so excited about this. So, anyway. That’s my One Cool Thing. Doesn’t yet exist. As you point out, most of my One Cool Things are things I haven’t actually experienced, but I want to.
John: We will put a link to that in the show notes along with the video that Adam Lisagor did showing it. It’s a very clever idea. Essentially, it looks like a credit card but it can change out its stripe. You just push a little button and it changes what the stripe is. And so when you run it through whatever little machine it will show up as a different card.
John: And that’s a very clever idea.
Richard: Interesting, yes.
Craig: Yes, Richard Kelly. Now, what is your One Cool Thing?
Richard: My One Cool Thing is something called the Science and Entertainment Exchange.
Richard: The Science and Entertainment Exchange is a organization that puts on a monthly symposium for screenwriters and producers and anyone who is interested in really, really cutting edge scientific discourse. And a symposium of probably an audience of about 100 people that are in attendance with a very elaborate audio visual presentation. And at least three to four very high level scientific guests there to discuss an issue and as it might relate to your storytelling.
John: So, what are some recent examples?
Richard: Some recent examples, there was one held at the DGA Theater on bioethics. And it was this wonderful discussion of bioethics with four prominent scientists and John Spaihts who is a screenwriter who wrote Prometheus and the upcoming Passengers was the moderator of the event. And it was just a discussion of different bioethical issues facing our world, whether it’s organ donation or stem cell research or something to do with — there’s a huge flu outbreak and there’s only ten respirators left in the hospital. And when it comes down the last respirator there’s a 14-year-old girl and a 63-year-old man.
Richard: You have to give it to one of them.
Craig: Girl. Give it to the girl!
Richard: What is more ethical? And then they have everyone text message their answer up to the big screen, like who should get the respirator. And then they put another wrinkle into it. They say, “Well, the little girl has this terminal disease and the man has created, the 65-year-old man has created some of the most seminal works of fiction in the world and has a Nobel Prize for literature.”
Craig: Nah, give it to the girl.
John: His best days are behind him.
Craig: She’s the girl, I mean, give it to the girl.
Richard: They keep adjusting the ethical dilemma and everyone re-text messages their answer. And you see how the data is changing and where people are in terms of their perception. You know, that’s only the beginning, but it’s just this really fascinating discussion. And then a month later there was an FBI agent there to host a symposium on psychopaths and the science of psychopathy. And she was like a modern day Clarice Starling. She’s like the real deal. And she was giving you all the — this audio/visual presentation about serial killers and their profile and their disposition and their behavioral habits and the way that they blend into the world.
And it’s this really disturbing and fascinating discussion of psychopaths. It’s just really great use of science and how to implement science into your work with these amazing people that you probably wouldn’t get to meet in this kind of environment in everyday life.
Craig: That is cool. I would have enjoyed being at a seminar on psychopaths and watch — I would like to watch you, Richard Kelly, watching the lady talk about psychopaths.
John: Well, Craig, you would find it very helpful because like, oh man, they’re onto me for these reasons so therefore I’m going to have to change up my game completely.
Craig: No, psychopaths never worry about being caught because they’re — not that I would know, but Richard Kelly —
John: Oh, that’s right.
Craig: Richard Kelly and I can have a side discussion about what it means to be a total sociopath.
Richard: They have a lack of empathy.
Craig: Yes. A total lack.
Richard: That’s the big thing. It’s very disturbing.
John: Yes, it can be quite disturbing. So, my One Cool Thing is actually an app. It’s an app called Hotel Tonight which is an iPhone app and it’s incredibly useful if you find yourself in a city without a hotel room. So, essentially at noon every day across the nation — noon locally every day across the nation, it goes online and you can find cheaper hotel rooms for whatever city you’re in.
And so last weekend I found myself in New York City and I needed a room. And so I went to it. It was actually very smart, and good, and easy to use. It’s much faster than going through Expedia and everything else.
Craig: What’s it called again?
John: Hotel Tonight.
Craig: Hotel Tonight. I usually use Grindr when I need a room in New York.
John: That’s another effective way to find it. But then you have to share a bed, or a couch, or something.
John: And you never know.
Craig: It’s cheap.
John: There could be needles or other drugs involved.
Craig: There usually are.
John: A little party and play for you.
So, Hotel Tonight was the app. And so the reason why I found myself in New York is sort of the bigger story. Last week on Thursday I got the call from the producers saying, “We thought we could go through the spring with Big Fish, and we’re only going to be able to go to December 29. And so we need to tell the cast because we want to tell the cast before the cast finds out from somebody else.”
And so I had to sort of fly secretly to New York so to not warn anybody that this was happening. So, I had to get there, get in early at night, use the Hotel Tonight to get the room.
And so I showed up at the Neil Simon Theater and it was actually really happy to see everybody there because it was our Sunday matinee, so it’s 3pm. So, I show up there a little bit early. I deliberately wore all black so I could sit back with the orchestra. And so I got to see the whole show with the orchestra. And I got to sort of hug everybody and be happy and be so excited to sort of join the whole cast.
And just be the cheerful like “I’m just here to support you guys” kind of look because I didn’t want anyone to be tipped off before going out on stage that there was bad news coming.
So, what happens, this is, you know, I didn’t want to miss this because it was the end of this part of the journey, but it was also… — I don’t know. I think as a writer you — at a certain point you start to accumulate experiences. And I didn’t want to not know what this felt like and just to sort of not know what it felt like for this thing to have an end date to it.
So, at the end of the matinee, current comes down, we keep everybody on stage and the producers break the news. And it was surprise, and heartbreak, and shock because we’ve been selling out all the shows and there was a standing ovation every night. So, it was from their perspective like well how could this possibly happen.
And you don’t go into full explanations there. I won’t go into full explanations on the podcast. But essentially we knew how much money we were making week by week in November. And that was enough for us to be turning a small profit. But, in February, the numbers will naturally go down because —
Craig: It’s a dead zone.
John: Broadway is very — it’s a dead zone. Broadway is very seasonal. So, we knew that we’d be about 30% lower than that in February. And at 30% lower than that we wouldn’t be profitable. We wouldn’t be able to keep the show running in February.
And so because of that, the theater does the same math and they say, “You’re not going to be able to hold onto the theater come February. We want you out sooner.” So, it becomes this whole negotiation about when do you leave the theater, how it’s all going to happen.
This was a chance to make our money through the holidays, make as much for everybody as we can make it, and sort of know when we’re ending.
So, my function with seeing everybody on stage was to sort of say, “You’re awesome. We’re incredibly thankful to have this group with us to make the first version of Big Fish.” There will be more versions of Big Fish. And coming out of this process we will be able to license the show and we’ll have future productions of it because we had this first Broadway production.
John: Also, I could remind people that this wasn’t the end. It was the middle. And it’s that weird thing where we still have seven weeks left. And so people can still come see the show. And we will probably sell a lot more tickets because the end is —
Craig: Right. There’s a limited supply now of shows.
John: But the whole experience of this part of it reminds me of as we talked about the show on the podcast, it’s a little bit like film in that you’re always working on one thing. There’s one project you’re working on. And every night you’re working on making this one thing, unlike TV where you’re doing different episodes.
But it’s like TV in the sense that it’s just a continual process. And your ticket sales are sort of like ratings in a way. And so if your ratings fall below a certain level the network, or in this case the theater, kind of cancels you.
But it’s also like a business. It’s like that little startup. And this process of closing down is much more like a startup, like a tech startup that sort of run out of money and that you have to, you know, you’re relying on your weekly cash flow in order to pay for your marketing or pay for all of these things. And at a certain place the numbers just won’t work out. And they won’t work out for every show. Like every show will close. The Book of Mormon will probably close at some point in 30 years…
John: Because the numbers won’t work out. And so everything has an end. It also reminded me of sort of this sense of expectation in that one of the things that I think is so smart about what we’re doing in TV right now are those limited series where you know there’s ten episodes. And if there’s another block of ten episodes, great. But it’s designed to be ten episodes long.
And if we had come into Big Fish saying like, “We’re going to run for 12 weeks through December 29,” that would have been awesome. But it’s that sense of the sort of moving goal lines, like you never know when you’re really going to end, that you sort of — you can always kind of pull failure out of success.
Craig: Well, you know —
John: Things in my head.
Craig: I have to say, I mean, obviously I was upset when I heard the news. And upset for both the people in the show, and poor Ryan the Giant. He seemed to take it very hard. And everybody that was involved in the show seemed to really love being a part of it. And obviously meeting Andrew and, of course, following your story. I mean, it was heartbreaking in a sense.
But, you did it. I mean, you mounted a Broadway musical. It ran. You got some terrific reviews. The audience was in tears and they were applauding. And it happened. And the fact that there is a certain amount of external success that needs to occur financially in order to make it happen for a long amount of time is rough and this is life.
But, I just want to thank you for kind of taking us along on the journey with you because we’ve been doing this now for awhile. And I’m starting to realize that we’re chronicling our lives on this thing to some extent.
Craig: And, you know, I’ve certainly had my dark night of the soul when every critic in America punched me in the mouth, again, last February. And so I know that this is hard, and it’s emotional, and it’s difficult because we unfortunately must repeatedly open ourselves up to pain every time we open ourselves up to care about what we do.
But, the pain will subside and the achievement is permanent, which I think is wonderful.
John: And it’s one of the reasons why it was great to have Richard here on the episode this week is that Donnie Darko is a film that went through those sort of highs and lows, where you had the experience of everyone loving your script, and then the challenge of actually trying to get it made. And then the elation of getting it made. And then the challenge of the first reaction at Sundance and not knowing how it was going to be perceived years later.
Things never really end. They never really stop. And Donnie Darko is a thing that that keeps going.
Go was a movie that I loved, my very first movie that we had so much excitement and enthusiasm but it hugely underperformed. And yet I’m so grateful that it’s a thing I got to do.
And so that’s one of the sort of general lessons to take about all the work we do is you were able to make something. You were able to create something that exists in the world because of your efforts. And that’s something not a lot of people can say.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And so it’s a luxury of what we get to do.
Richard: Absolutely. In the end, also you mentioned time travel at the beginning. The lesson is that time destroys everything, but time also heals everything.
Richard: I don’t know what the message of that is.
Craig: Geez, you just blew my freaking mind, Richard Kelly!
Richard: Destruction is a form of creation.
John: I agree with you there.
John: Wow, this guy is deep —
Craig: God, Richard Kelly.
John: It got deep in the middle, too.
Craig: Look how Richard Kelly can do stuff. He’s so amazing. I feel like he needs to go. [laughs] I just have to take care of this on the side.
John: Richard, thank you so much for being our guest on the episode.
Richard: Thanks for having me.
Craig: Richard Kelly, you’re the best man. Thank you so much for doing this.
Richard: All right. Thank you, Craig. Thank you, John.
John: If you want to write a question or talk to me or Craig, on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Richard, what are you on Twitter?
Richard: I am @jrichardkelly.
John: So, people can tweet you if they have questions about things?
John: If you have longer questions for me or Craig, the best address is firstname.lastname@example.org. That is where we will gather up questions so we can do Craig’s favorite kind of episode, the one he doesn’t have to prepare for at all, which is the question-and-answer episodes.
John: A reminder to everybody to set your alarm so you wake by 10am tomorrow to buy tickets for the live show in Los Angeles if you are planning on coming to that. And thank you guys all so much listening.
Craig: Thanks Richard Kelly. Thanks John. Bye.
John: Thanks. Bye.
- Tickets are on sale tomorrow morning for the December 19th Scriptnotes Live Holiday Show
- Richard Kelly on IMDb, Wikipedia and Twitter
- Donnie Darko, and on Amazon
- The Donnie Darko Book
- Scope creep on Wikipedia
- Coin for all your cards
- The Science and Entertainment Exchange
- Hotel Tonight
- Big Fish is on Broadway through December 29th
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli