By Hipolito Navarrete, Managing Editor/Publisher
There is no doubt that one of the most mesmerizing events at the Santa Barbara Film Festival is it’s Writer’s Paneland this year it was made up of Oscar-nominated writers Luke Davies (“Lion”), Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”), Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”), Mike Mills (“20th Century Women”) and Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water”) as well as Phil Johnston, co-writer “Zootopia” and Rhett Reese, co-writer of “Deadpool.” It is not only entertaining to hear the stories that gave birth to the celebrated films, but also some of the very difficult choices they had to make in order to keep a balance that is necessary between a creative choice and a business necessity. As an example in order to make “Deadpool” work in order for the character to be given the life it needed for it to work, they needed to rethink the structure of the script, thus allowing the character to break the “fourth wall” and talk directly to the audience. This was the riskiest choice that the writers and producers made, and it fit Ryan Reynolds’s personality perfectly. The most important piece of advice that they all concluded, without necessarily stating it, was that they all believed in the stories passionately. In the case of “Arrival,” Eric Heisserer, after reading the story, wanted to make sure other people would experience it. Although he pitched all major studios, none backed “Arrival”; they passed because they could not see how it could be executed. He decided to shoot it on spec so that the story would get a shot, eventually, someone saw his passion and financed the film.
The obvious is on stage, all of these writers are male, including Theodore Melfi, who adapted the film “Hidden Figures” from Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book. I am not sure it got addressed, but it did not seem to create a significant problem with the audience as this was also not asked during the Q&A. The writers were all obsessed with carefully reviewing the time of the events and of the dialogue. There is no slack for writer’s who are writing about historic events, this is critical and delicate work. They are all meticulously aware of their positions and constantly seem to be driven by how to create a moment that would resonate and define the story in a single scene. For Melfi, one of those moments happened when two of the main protagonists found themselves on a newly “desegregated” bathroom. The white supervisor excellently played by Kirsten Dunst meets with Octavia Spencer’s character. Vivian Mitchell ( Dunst) tells Dorothy Vaugh (Spencer) that she had nothing against her; the response is so heavy that the emotional charge was felt in the theater, “I know you believe that.” To arrive at moments like that, these writers continuously find ways to be of service to the story and the characters. They are fully aware of what they are trying to accomplish, they are prepared for the whispers of their muse, because of all the work they put into their business.