Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Defining genre, part of 2010 SBIFF Writers' Panel: It Starts with the Script.
(Music playing.) Roger Durling: Let's start with Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air." (Applause) Scott Neustadter, "500 Days of Summer." [00:00:18.0] (Applause) Nancy Meyers, "It's Complicated." Alex Kurtzman, "Star Trek" and "Transformers." Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious." Pete Docter, "Up." (Applause) Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker." (Applause) And please welcome an old friend of the festival, moderator Anne Thompson.
She writes for indieWIRE, and she has a great podcast, Oscar Talk. (Applause) Anne Thompson: Thank you very much. We have an amazing group this year and they have already all amassed an unbelievable amount of awards and nominations and wins, and we were not going to go into the long list that each of them has at this point. Jason Reitman and Nancy Meyers have been here before. Welcome back, old veterans. Jason Reitman: We're old pros.
My first question for the panel, a rundown, we'll run down and we'll start with Jason at the other end, all of your films have defied the rules of what a standard genre would be. You've paid no attention to them, as far as I can tell, even Star Trek. So go down - explain what genre your film actually is, if you could define it. Jason Reitman: The genre of my film is a midlife crisis-comedy-tragedy.
Anne: All right. How about you, Scott? Scott Neustadter: We always called ours a - it's a coming-of-age story masquerading as a romantic comedy. Jason: Hm, nice Scott: That's how we always talked about it. Anne: And Nancy? You don't own to romantic comedy. Do you? Nancy Meyers: Pardon me? Anne: On this one, on "It's Complicated." Nancy Meyers: Relationship comedy. Anne: And Star Trek, what is that? Alex Kurtzman: A sci-fi brother story. Anne Thompson: Geoffrey? Geoffrey Fletcher: I have an answer.
that's probably annoying, but, first of all, I don't know. I'm too close to it, and I really don't know. One could say maybe it's a coming-of- age story, but so many of the films I love, they sort of transcend or defy the genre. It's like I don't consider "The Searchers" a western or "Star Wars" science fiction. So, I don't know, but perhaps a coming-of-age? It's a stretch, Geoffrey: but something along those lines. Anne: Perhaps, perhaps. Pete? Pete Docter: At varying times, we refer to ours as a coming-of-old-age story, (Laughter) and also an action adventure starring an old man, so? (Laughter) Anne: Mark? Mark Boal: We really thought of it as a love story between the two, between Sanborn and James.
No. I mean, it's a war film and my brother described it as an art-cowboy-rock-'n'-roll war movie, and I'll take that. I think that's a good description. Anne: Well, back to the idea of romantic comedy. Nancy and Scott, why has this genre fallen into such disarray and disrepute? What's wrong with it? Why is it such a disaster? Why does it need to be reinvented? Nancy: Go ahead.
(Laughter) Scott: Well, I think that a lot of times you can tell that it was made - actor A, actress B, obstacle. How long can we keep that obstacle going? Throw in some jokes. The romantic comedy, like the comedy wasn't coming from the romance. There wasn't really any romance in the relationship. It was a lot of packaging. I think audiences can smell that. And they still kind of go, which always made me scratch my head.
Jason: Maybe that's what's wrong with them, is that people just go anyway. Scott: Yeah. So they make more of them. That's what happens Jason: The audience isn't teaching us a lesson enough. Scott: Yeah, it's your fault, basically. Jason: Yeah. No, I think it's best to throw it back on them as much as possible. Don't take-- Anne: Well Jason, you're playing around with a romantic comedy too, in a way, in "Up in the Air." Would you deny that? There is romance in it, of a sort. Jason: I think - I don't know.
I made a movie about a guy who fires people for living. I wouldn't exactly call it a romantic comedy, but I think, at the end of the day, romance is a technique, and that it's one of the techniques that we each have in our bag. I think that's the best way to defy genre. If you think of genres as techniques that you can use, and you can use multiple techniques in the film, you're bound to make something more original, rather than if you just follow the genre for where it is. Anne: Nancy, "It's Complicated." Nancy: Yeah. No, I was thinking about your original question.
I think there is something sexist at play here in a romantic comedy if you're going to star a 28 year old woman - and I don't think they're going to work that hard on it. I don't think they're going to attempt to do well. Honestly. Because you don't have to get George Clooney in this movie. So, I think they toss those movies away a little bit in the development process. Not saying that the development process leads to great work, but you know, I think it's kind of like they'll make one, and it's like over there, and they don't worry about it that much.
Anne: When you write "It's Complicated," you're not necessarily aiming it just at woman, right? Nancy: Which they? Me? Anne: You. You, Nancy. Nancy: Am I aiming it for women? I'd like them to come, yeah, but no, I'm not. No, because, I mean, I write pretty big parts for the men. I try to get interesting men in my movies. I think men like to see themselves on the screen doing things that are other than, bigger than what people really do.
Men have relationships. They fall in love. They get heartbroken... I think. (Laughter) Anne: Well Alex, you produced a romantic comedy in "The Proposal," which is one of the most successful of the year. A lot of people don't know that. Why did that one work so well? What did you do right there? Alex: I am admittedly very limited in my experience on this, because that was the first romantic comedy I had ever worked on.
I think that it started with 'everybody hates their boss,' before it became - the romantic comedy element was second. It was 'everybody really wants to get their boss on their knees,' and that was, I think, the fire that started the development of that. We actually developed that with someone who was running our company, who then went on to become a great screenwriter, and that was really exciting. But because I'm not an authority, I don't think I could speak to it in the way that these guys could. Anne: So Geoffrey and Jason, you both adapted books for this.
How, was that a helpful thing, or was it really difficult? I mean having something to work from. Talk about that, Geoffrey. Geoffrey: Well, this particular book, it was both very tough and very fun. It's tough because we've got the voice of a semi-literate character and there are some very difficult moments that are happening.
To make that into something that's cinematic and accessible, but still retains the impact of that powerful, powerful book, was a bit of a journey for me as well, difficult every day, but fulfilling every day. I think the way in for difficult material is, some kind of identification, and I fell in love with Precious, probably in page one or two.
And I suspect it's like parents who struggle for their children, where they might look back one day and wonder how they did it, but if you feel so much for them, you figure it out. Anne: Thank you. Jason? Jason: Yeah, well first, I'm really impressed by the adaptation that you did. I can only imagine how tricky it was in addition, because you had a beloved book that you're adapting, and that must be terrifying when you know that people are really waiting for this movie, and they're going to be looking to you to see what they did, what you did.
In my case, I had a book that was about flying, that literally came out the week of September 11th and was immediately buried. No one ever read "Up in the Air." Jason: So I did not have Mark: I read "Up in the Air." Jason: Sorry? Mark: I read "Up in the Air." Jason: Well, yes, but you are a literary. Mark: It was a best-seller. (Laughter) Jason: I was worried about you Mark and you alone. Mark: But point taken, point well-taken. (Laughter) Jason: Frankly, I find when adapting, look, there is part of it that makes it easy, in that you are stealing someone else's genius.
And it's the best writing partner on earth, because they just give, give, give, and never argue with any of your notes. However, the tricky part is trying to figure out what is the difference between a book and a movie. In the case of "Up in the Air," there was things that were very cinematic that I wanted to use. There was a main character, whose philosophy I found really intriguing, not only his attitude towards firing people, but his attitude towards living alone, living seamlessly. I loved his obsession with air miles seeing that I'm obsessed with them myself, but there was a lot that needed to be added to make it a movie.
The tricky part is finding new stuff that works with these characters that exists in the book, and then deleting stuff and not feeling guilty about it.