Written By Summer 2012 : Page 28
Written by ricHard Stayton portraitS by jilly Wendell A Gift of Independent How Zoe Kazan grew up to create Ruby Sparks . A n audio transcription cannot adequately communicate the experience of interviewing Zoe Kazan. While articulating a memory or insight, she writhes, gestures, tugs her legs and feet onto the chair, stretches. Only her eyes remain still. It’s obvious why Kazan must write and act. The 28-year-old’s first produced screenplay, Ruby Sparks, premieres July 25. She co-stars as the titular character, a girl under the spell of an introverted novelist named Calvin (portrayed by Paul Dano) whom she modeled on authors J.D. Salinger and Jonathan Safran Foer. Co-directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who chose Kazan’s script for their first feature since Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, Ruby Sparks is an enchanting mix of magic realism and love story, a tearjerker about a lonely guy. The daughter of accomplished screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and granddaughter of the late 28 • WG A W Written By SUMMER 20 12
A Gift Of Independent Means
How Zoe Kazan grew up to create Ruby Sparks.<br /> <br /> An audio transcription cannot adequately communicate the experience of interviewing Zoe Kazan. While articulating a memory or insight, she writhes, gestures, tugs her legs and feet onto the chair, stretches. Only her eyes remain still.<br /> <br /> It’s obvious why Kazan must write and act. The 28-year-old’s first produced screenplay, Ruby Sparks, premieres July 25. She co-stars as the titular character, a girl under the spell of an introverted novelist named Calvin (portrayed by Paul Dano) whom she modeled on authors J.D. Salinger and Jonathan Safran Foer. Co-directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who chose Kazan’s script for their first feature since Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, Ruby Sparks is an enchanting mix of magic realism and love story, a tearjerker about a lonely guy.<br /> <br /> The daughter of accomplished screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and granddaughter of the late Director Elia Kazan, Zoe was raised in Santa Monica where she attended elite private schools. After discovering acting, she enrolled in Yale University’s undergraduate theater department. There, she studied writing with poet J.D. McClatchy and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Donald Margulies. She started a play under Margulies, who advised Zoe to “write in a way that scares you”; ultimately titled Absalom, her Arthur Miller–influenced family saga successfully premiered at the 2009 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, and was applauded by drama critics. Her second full-length play, We Live Here, produced last year at the Manhattan Theater Club, was received less kindly.<br /> <br /> Since graduating from Yale in 2005, Kazan has maintained a steady, constant trajectory in her acting career, from earning Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Actress award for The Exploding Girl to playing Meryl Streep’s daughter in It’s Complicated [written-directed by Nancy Meyers] and an aspiring writer in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles.<br /> <br /> She resides in Brooklyn with Paul Dano, dividing her time between stage and film. While in Los Angeles for a movie role, she visited the Writers Guild for the following conversation.<br /> <br /> Richard Stayton: I understand you read scripts in early childhood?<br /> <br /> Zoe Kazan: My mom wrote a children’s movie when I was about five, and she asked me to read it. So we read it together, and she asked, “What do you think about this part of the story?” She was using me as a test audience, and I just really loved it. I loved her asking me, and I loved the kind of pure story aspect of reading a screenplay.<br /> <br /> You were five, and you can remember this?<br /> <br /> I remember it so clearly. I remember what room of the house we were in when she was asking me these questions. At my house, the scrap paper pile was always old scripts—scripts that my parents were mentoring or scripts of friends of theirs or their own. So I would be drawing, doodling, and then turn the page over and read these snatches of dialogue, like a cryptogram, little pieces of information.And then my parents, as I grew up, would give me scripts to read and ask for notes. I know it sounds really dumb. But I think it started because they were writing BFG [The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl]. Then they wrote this adaptation of Matilda [also by Dahl] and talked to me about it. When I got older, they would give me other scripts. And I was always curious.<br /> <br /> What sort of notes would your parents ask for?<br /> <br /> “What parts did you like? What characters did you like?” And on adaptations, “Was there anything from the book that you missed that isn’t in there?” You’re always good at something as a kid, and I was really good at reading. I read really fast and far ahead of my age group. I was always reading, and it was my favorite thing to do. I would wake up at four a.m. so that I could read for hours before I had to get up for school. The great romance of my life has been the written word. I would read anything. I was a little bibliophile. So if a script was lying around the house, I’d often pick it up and read it, even if I wasn’t supposed to. And I always loved movies. So those were the two things that my parents saw early, and I think they were just engaging me on what I seemed interested in. And they still give me their scripts to read.<br /> <br /> In an interview, you said they would sit at the dining table and give each other notes. And this, you said, made you feel like the house was burning down.<br /> <br /> I can’t believe I said that. It’s a funny thing because my parents are great to each other. They have a very happy marriage.I can remember them fighting just a handful of times.Since there wasn’t a lot of argument in the house, these [notes sessions] sounded to us like an argument. [My sister and I] were oversensitive to it because those discussions seemed so much more tense than anything else between them.<br /> <br /> A Child’s Garden of Screenwriting <br /> <br /> When did you first start writing?<br /> <br /> It’s awful because when I talk about this part of my childhood, I sound like the world’s worst, most precocious child.<br /> <br /> I’ll be the judge of that.<br /> <br /> Okay. I was interested in storytelling before I could write.So I wrote with stickers. I would tell my mom a story, and, “The bunny...,” and put the sticker on the page, “and the kitty...,” put the sticker on the page, “and they’re going here, and it’s a rainbow world.” I would make her write out all the parts that I couldn’t write with stickers, or I would draw the parts out and make her write them out. I would say, “How do you spell the?” “T-H-E.” Like that. My first memory of reading is the subtitles on a silent movie. And my first memory of writing out a story is on those butcher-block pages that are really long. I always wanted to be a writer. I went to a progressive school [Wildwood in Mar Vista], so you could do whatever you wanted most of the time. I would write during class, and then during recess on the playground, I would read my stories to my little girlfriends. I always wanted an audience.<br /> <br /> How did your classmates react to your dramatic readings?<br /> <br /> Like, “What’s next?” And I never finished anything. I was a kid; I had no attention span. But writing was definitely what I thought I wanted to do. I wrote a poem when I was seven, and it got put in the school newspaper, and then I was going to be a poet. I would read Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore, and my mom would give me a lot of encouragement.I would give her my poems and she would show them to her friends. You get positive reinforcement, you keep doing it.<br /> <br /> So in a way your parents were mentors and in a way they weren’t.<br /> <br /> I would hesitate to use that word, mentor. Everything I did was special and perfect because I was the first-born kid. But eventually, you have to feel like you’re doing it for yourself and not for the praise of somebody else. And that is what happened to me when I started acting in high school. I felt like, “Oh, this is totally mine. This is all for me. The pleasure I get out of it is the pleasure of doing it.” And even though I got some positive reinforcement, it wasn’t for that. And that bled over into my writing. Suddenly there was pleasure in just having things be private. That’s when I started not showing anybody my writing and writing more for myself. There were many years where I just wrote things for myself and stopped showing them. And they got buried in my computer, and they’re still there. Unexplored years there.<br /> <br /> Spoiler Alert: Ruby Sparks <br /> <br /> So I think we’re ready to talk about Ruby Sparks, your first produced screenplay.<br /> <br /> I’ve never been interviewed just about my writing before.It makes me very nervous.<br /> <br /> Let’s go back to the beginning of the process.<br /> <br /> The germ of the idea came in a flash in the summer of 2009. I was walking home. I’d been all day on the set [acting in happy thank you more please, written by Josh Radnor]. I got dropped off on our street corner, and there was a mannequin in the trash, and it scared me—I thought it was a person.This was late at night. So I went on home, and I started thinking about the Pygmalion and Galatea myth. It’s always been a myth that’s interested me. Pygmalion, the sculptor, in His studio, looking at his sculpture in the dark, turns his head and he thinks he sees it move. I’m afraid of the dark, so I’ve had that experience of being in my house and think I see something. I thought that must have been how the [Pygmalion] myth occurred to someone. What could I do with that myth?<br /> <br /> This happens to me a lot: I’ll go to sleep and my brain will continue working on the problem. I always have a little pile of ideas, so I had been working on a couple of other ideas, outlining them and starting to sketch out the first few pages. And then I woke up in the morning and had the germ of the idea. This hit me, and I thought, Oh, that’s much more commercial than anything else I’ve ever attempted to write! I really thought, Oh, that’s a romantic comedy. I saw it so clearly.<br /> <br /> You saw the whole story when you woke up?<br /> <br /> Yeah, really like a chunk in my head.So I sat down and wrote the first seven pages. And Paul [Dano] was in the house, and I said, “Come over here and look at this,” and he did. And he said, “Are you writing this for us?” And I was like, “Oh, I guess I am.” It hadn’t occurred to me. So I write about 15, 17 pages, and then I got stuck, and I was like, “All right, I’ll just leave it alone.” I went off and did Meek’s Cutoff [written by Jonathan Raymond], came back, and we moved apartments.And I started work on A Behanding in Spokane [by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh]. That play was 80 minutes long, and it was fairly easy emotionally.And it was the first time I had my own dressing room, and I thought, Well, I should be writing during my day, and I should finish ‘He Loves Me’ [initial title for Ruby Sparks]. By that point, I had fixed the problem, in my head.<br /> <br /> Do you remember what it was that got your writing stuck?<br /> <br /> I wasn’t sure what kind of movie it was. I didn’t know if it was a comedy or if it was a drama, and I didn’t know how serious I could get. Once I started to figure out what I wanted to write, then I didn’t have the problem any more.<br /> <br /> What did you want to write?<br /> <br /> There’s the version where [the novelist] just fucks with her the whole movie, and it’s a broad comedy. I realized that I was more interested in writing from my own experience about what it’s like to be in a relationship where you feel the person loves the idea of you rather than you. I had been in relationships where I felt so, so loved and so, so lonely, because I felt, actually, completely unseen.I wanted to write about that, and about what happens when you try to control the other person, or when the idea of the person eclipses the person. So when I realized that I wanted to write a more serious version of this movie, then all of a sudden my imagination opened up to me, allowing me to walk through the door. I wrote the first draft in a matter of two or three weeks. Just like me on the schoolyard reading to my friends, I made Paul read every page. I would go to my dressing room four hours earlier [than curtain call] and write 15 pages, and then get on stage and do this thing, and come home with my computer and open it up. And Paul would be half-asleep, and I’d be like, “Read!” If he would laugh, I’d be, “What are you laughing at? What’s funny?” and then, “What do you think?” And he would be, “Well, keep writing.” Which is what he always says; he never gives me very much.<br /> <br /> Good.<br /> <br /> Yep, good boyfriend. And then I got to the end of it and had rewritten as I was going along, so I did a very minor polish and then sent it to my agents. This was April or May 2010. They put together a list of six producers they thought might be good for it. Everybody I met with who liked it said, “This is going to be very hard to finance with you and Paul in the leads.” Then Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger said, “This is a very hard time, but we’re going to make this movie. We’re going to make it if we make it for $100,000 or we’re going to make it if we make it for $10 million, but we’re going to make this movie.” And Paul had said, “Jon and Val should direct this” [Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris]. So I said to Ron and Al, “These are the people I had in mind, while writing it. But they have passed on everything. They haven’t made a movie since [Little Miss Sunshine, 2006], and they are probably not going to.” But when I decided to give the movie to Ron and Albert, the thing that I loved about them is theirs wasn’t a defeatist attitude; it was so hopeful. And I have very much attempted to operate in the same way, which is like—well, let me rephrase.<br /> <br /> Growing up with screenwriter parents, I see how hard it is.I was not a naïve person going into my career. I have watched my parents struggle to get things made, or have things made, or have it go really badly, or them be disappointed, or have trouble with a director. Of course there’s the joyful things too, but I didn’t think it was going to be easy. Despite the fact that I have a wild streak of depression in me, I come from a pretty grounded background. At every stage of this movie getting made, my parents have said to me, “Celebrate now because nothing else is guaranteed.” <br /> <br /> And that is very much how I go through my life. But somehow I have this wild optimism in me at the same time.Part of it is just genetic, and part of it is that I’ve worked very hard to be happy. Allowing myself to have joy is a big part of what I try to do. So we sent it to [Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton], and they read it in August 2010. I was in Angels in America that fall, and the week that we opened was the week that I received their first ream of notes on the script.<br /> <br /> What sort of notes did Valerie and Jonathan give for Ruby?<br /> <br /> I would say that the script has not changed substantially since they first got it, but it has changed for the better and extensively. They’re much more attuned emotionally to the audience than I am. I wasn’t thinking about the audience.They helped me make the highs higher and the lows lower, And the romance more romantic and the heartbreak more full of despair. They were very attuned to what is the journey that we’re taking our audience on, and they helped me shape the movie in that way and are the most amazing collaborators.<br /> So we started working together in late October, and then Fox Searchlight came in with the money in April, and we were in production in July.<br /> <br /> That’s remarkably fast for a feature. Did anybody say, “No, we can’t have you and Dano as the two leads”?<br /> <br /> We had made it a condition of our deal. Fox Searchlight were the first people truly that we approached about money.And they came to us actually. A big thing for me and Paul was that we wanted to retain as much control as possible. So I didn’t try to sell the script. We only sent it to independent producers because I wanted us to act in it, and I knew that if we lost control, that wouldn’t probably be the case.<br /> <br /> And if you did give up control, it would be rewritten.<br /> <br /> Yeah. When we made a deal with Fox Searchlight, Jonathan and Valerie agreed to put it in my contract that I couldn’t be rewritten, so that was a big thing. I was the only writer, and Fox Searchlight said they would allow it if Jon and Val agreed to it, and they did. It was just a dream scenario, in so many ways.<br /> <br /> What were some of the directors’ notes? Their changes?<br /> <br /> There was a different ending to the movie. I’d say the last six, seven pages of the script were totally different. They thought the ending that I had was not as emotional as the rest of the movie. I loved my ending because I felt like it was bittersweet. And they said, “It’s not romantic enough. He’s gone through this whole journey, and we have to forgive him, and we also have to feel hope at the end.” And I heard that, and we talked about a couple of different endings. Then, like usual, I woke up one morning and thought, Oh, that’s the way it ends, and wrote this version of it.<br /> <br /> That was the main change. What are some other things that we changed? I can’t even remember. But truly, most of the notes that they gave me were like, “We need to make the stakes higher here,” or, “We need to care more about Calvin’s [the novelist’s] feelings in this scene.” So the notes were about tempering it. One of the amazing things about them is that they really do want it to be on the page beforehand.They don’t want to wing it; they don’t want to improv; they don’t want to fix it in editing; they want it to be there on the page. So I thought that I would be done rewriting in time to shoot it. But then we got on set, and it was like every other day, there was, “This actor doesn’t want to say these lines,” or, “The staging is different than it was in the script, so we need to fix that.” There was always something to do, rewriting wise.So that was also an education, having to do that at the same time as I was acting in it.<br /> <br /> Can acting in something you’ve written make you feel schizoid?<br /> <br /> I feel as if the acting in this movie completed the writing process. Ruby, as a person, as a character, came to me in the same way [Calvin] says, “She came to me wholly herself.” And that’s how I feel about Ruby and about Calvin actually.They were so clear to me the second they came to me in my head. It’s not always like this, but it felt like hearing voices, like they just talked to me and I wrote it down. And for this screenplay, I never wrote an outline. I felt like it was coming to me in these chunks. And I feel like with Ruby, when I started acting, I got a whole other set of information: the ways in which she was different than me. Half of the work was in the writing, and the other half was in the acting.<br /> <br /> A lot of my process of growing up has been about mitigating my energy and channeling it into positive places instead of negative places and being able to use it for my benefit rather than to my detriment. And [writing provides] a life raft, to always have something I’m working on, and no expectation on it, so I can be in my little space. And I always work on multiple things at once so that if I’m having a bad day, there’s something to focus on and put my energy into, sort of a fishing line cast out into the future. That is helpful for me because there’s no continuity in an acting career.<br /> <br /> And of course there’s another part of this, which is writing for Paul, who I’ve been with for a long time now. Calvin was very clear to me, but also Calvin was clear to me because I wanted to bring out things in Paul that I see in him in his life that the world doesn’t see in Paul. So it was fun for me to get to think about making Paul do things that he doesn’t like to do.<br /> <br /> Why does your novelist use a typewriter instead of a laptop?<br /> <br /> Calvin, Paul’s character, is a romantic. So he has these romantic, old-fashioned things. Even just being a novelist is a kind of old-fashioned job. I thought that he would have a fetishistic relationship with that [typewriter], and because it’s a kind of magical object in the movie, even though it’s not literally magical. I have a very emotional relationship with my computer. It’s a really old, beat-up, white MacBook, like a plastic thing with stickers, decals. I’ve had it for five years, and I’ve just put so much into it. Of course it’s a totemic object for me; it has more meaning than almost anything I own. And it literally has more meaning because there’s actually stuff inside of it.And I’m scared of upgrading from this computer.<br /> <br /> My mom has pants that I called her “writing pants”: They’re Loose and feel good and don’t distract her. Growing up with writers, I’ve seen the gamut of all these things that you do to trick yourself into thinking that there’s some magic thing that’s going to let you unlock. Calvin had this experience as a teenager, where he wrote this thing, magically. It came out of his brain. It is magic. I wrote this movie in my studio apartment, and now it actually has its own life; it is a thing. I gave birth to a thing, and then other people helped me bring it to life, and now it’s their thing and their creation. It exists in the world outside of me. It’s like a child. And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. I don’t know how some thought I had is now digital, a physical thing with all this work put into it, a unit of mechanized production. It has its own aura, and it has nothing to do with me. So that’s a strange thing, and Calvin has experienced that. He had this magical experience of being a teenager and having something miraculous happen to him [a best-selling novel that becomes a modern classic]. And of course that object [on which he typed the novel] is endowed. And I just don’t think a computer tells the same story.<br /> <br /> I didn’t specify a manual typewriter; I just said a typewriter. I grew up with the sound of my parents working on electric typewriters, so I think that’s sort of what I was picturing, that hum.<br /> <br /> There haven’t been many Hollywood love stories that work as well as Ruby Sparks. And it’s not a chick flick. It’s uniquely from a guy’s POV.<br /> <br /> Everybody has a dream of love. Part of what I’m writing about is the danger of turning a subject into an object, and to simplify someone, objectify someone in a diminutive way. That’s very dangerous.I actually think it’s borderline abusive.And it’s one of the things I’ve felt as a woman. I’m a very girly-girl, and I’m a very diminutive girl, and I was always precocious, and sexually precocious too. Girls like me can get objectified or misunderstood in a way that’s incredibly misogynist. Like I said earlier, I’ve felt lonely in relationships, where I felt like the person you love is around me somewhere, as if it’s ions in the air, and I’m at the center of those ions, but you don’t see me. You love the sort of shape around me and not actually me.So that’s one of the things that I was writing to.<br /> <br /> You told a publication that your mother read the script and cried.<br /> <br /> I can’t believe I said that! Right after I wrote it, I was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge walking to work when my parents called. And they said, “We loved it,” and, “It’s so great!” I try not to give them my work too early, and I had given them very specific instructions, like, “These are the kind of comments and notes I want, and these are the kind that I don’t want.” When my dad came to see [Absalom], he typed up some notes afterward and sealed them in an envelope and wrote on it, “When you’re ready for notes.” They’ve been honest about their opinions, and they’ve been very good about giving me my space, but when I’ve asked for notes, they’ve given me honest notes.And they said [about Ruby Sparks], “This is really great,” and they gave me a couple of notes, and I sort of listened a little bit, but mostly they loved the first draft. Right before we started filming, my mom said, “Can I read the final draft that you’ve written,” the shooting script, and I gave it to her.And it was the first time she’d read it after all the work I’d done with Jon and Val, and yeah, she cried, and that was super meaningful for me.<br /> <br /> Have your parents seen the finished film?<br /> <br /> Yeah, they’re really proud. They’re very funny. Like, my mom will tell a homeless person how proud she is of me; she’ll go up to anyone and say it. But she won’t say it to me. They’re afraid I’m going to get a swelled head, which is hilarious. My brain is much more about trying to stay present tense.When Jon and Val agreed in November that they were definitely doing the movie, and it was Thanks Giving and my parents were visiting, I cried. And my parents were like, “Enjoy this, because there’s no guarantee about the next step, or the next step.” Anyway, they think I’m going to start thinking well about myself, but they don’t need to worry about that.<br /> <br /> Does it concern you that some might say your success came through nepotism?<br /> <br /> It doesn’t weigh heavily on me in my creative life. I don’t sit down when I’m writing and think about my parents being writers or my grandpa [Elia Kazan]. When I go to set as an actor, I’ve always been incredibly self-possessed in really particular arenas. In this [writing] arena, I feel like I don’t have those ghosts sitting on my shoulders.<br /> <br /> But I find it very upsetting, the way some people think about my life. It makes me feel guilty or like I’ve done something wrong. The thing is, it’s a mystery. Obviously, I’ve been lucky in so many ways—lucky to come from the family I do, but mostly because of who they are and what kind of parents they were, and the way they raised me. I know doors have opened because of my last name, that people take the call, take the meeting, see my reel. But the business is littered with the offspring of parents who have been successful. I don’t mean that in any kind of pejorative way. I understand feeling envy. Everybody feels envy. People throw around words, and I think, Do you even know what the word nepotism means? It’s an advantage, and that’s the way the world is. People are born with different advantages, intelligence, or beauty. My best friend always says—it’s so dumb, but she always says, “Do people say about, like, pick an actress, Kate Bosworth, ‘Oh, she’s only getting work ’cause she’s pretty?’” I feel like everybody has their own challenges. And it’s very hard, but, well, I’ve got great parents. That’s my advantage.<br /> <br /> And frankly the pleasure of doing my work outweighs any pain of what someone I don’t know and who doesn’t know me might say.<br /> <br /> You’re succeeding pretty much on your own, outside the Hollywood machine.<br /> <br /> So far. Honestly, this has been such a miraculous and strange experience, having this movie happen so quickly, and in what feels like such a perfect way. Every first choice that we made has happened, which is very strange and wonderful. And I’m pretty sure it’s never going to happen like this again, where all the pieces come together in a way that is personally satisfying, artistically satisfying, and best for the movie. I just don’t think it’s going to happen again. So I’m trying to enjoy it and be present with it. It’s just a very special time in terms of DIY.<br /> <br /> Role Model<br /> <br /> While growing up, in our house there’d been a lot of talk about films, and what the camera is doing, and scripts. At age 20 or 21, right after graduating from yale, i was having trouble trying to write my first screenplay. How do you move from the First act to the Second act?<br /> <br /> My mom [robin Swicord] gives a lecture on structure when she goes to schools, an hour-long talk from notes, on the concept that everything in a movie must earn its place. One thing causes the next thing, causes the next, causes the next. And i understood that in theory, but in practice i didn’t really know how to make that happen. I didn’t understand how someone’s inner life could subconsciously make them do something, without the character becoming passive.<br /> <br /> “i keep running into this problem with my script,” i told her. “How do you activate somebody’s subconscious in a way where it becomes destiny?”<br /> <br /> And i asked her to sit down and give me her lecture on screenwriting. I’d never heard it before.<br /> <br /> She said, basically, “What are you writing about? What are the themes? How does each character and event tie into the themes?”<br /> <br /> When she writes, my mom makes an outline of every page of her script. She numbers 1 through 120, and budgets how much time each scene is going to take. Once you’ve set up all the characters and established what’s going on, then what happens in the Second act? It’s not some magic pill; it’s budgeting. How much time is each thing going to take?<br /> <br /> How do you make a protagonist active rather than passive? Events arise out of character, and if they’re random, then have them be random, but tied into the theme. In some ways her lecture is Screenwriting 101, and in some ways it’s aristotle’s Poetics. Her lecture’s a good touchstone.<br /> <br /> But i don’t use it the same way that she uses it. For me, it was much more like a key unlocking a door. And sometimes i’ll be writing, and i’ll be like, “i don’t know where this is going,” and i’ll look back over my notes from her lecture, and something will key in my brain.<br /> <br /> —Zoe KAZAn<br /> <br /> Director-Mentors<br /> <br /> After jonathan dayton and Valerie Faris co-directed their award winning Little Miss Sunshine, six years passed before their second film. Why wait so long? “the script is important to us,” answers Faris.<br /> <br /> “it needs to be written,” adds dayton, only half-joking, “first, before we shoot.”<br /> <br /> When they received Zoe Kazan’s Ruby Sparks, it already had attached a proviso that she and boyfriend paul dano must portray the lead roles of a novelist and his captivating discovery, ruby. In addition, any purchase had to contractually keep Kazan attached as the sole screenwriter; legally, she could not be rewritten.<br /> <br /> Rather than seeing this as an insurmountable obstacle, dayton and Faris saw the packaging as a reflection of their own personal condition. They’re a creative couple too, like Kazan and dano, and like the novelist in Kazan’s script were struggling for the perfect story to follow a spectacular debut. Rather than being a deal-breaker, Kazan’s maiden effort became the deal maker. Dayton and Faris prefer working with newcomers, as they had with Michael arndt on his Sunshine.<br /> <br /> Faris explains their preference for early-career scripts: “there’s definitely that strong, singular voice of a writer when something hasn’t been rewritten by a number of people.”<br /> <br /> Dayton read Zoe Kazan’s screenplay and, “i liked that it dealt with issues of control, and of how we treat the people close to us. And that it’s about the creative process, the way a work, as you continue with it, does take on a life of its own.”<br /> <br /> “Her story was told with such economy,” Faris says of her first read, “and it had a beginning, middle, and end. It was all there.”<br /> <br /> Ultimately, according to dayton, “When we both connect the way we both connected to this script, there’s a confidence we can make it work. And when we like a script like we liked this script, our contract with the studio states that we will protect the script and its writer.”<br /> <br /> For the next six months, Faris and dayton and Kazan rewrote Ruby Sparks. “early on we gave her notes, and she came back so quickly with revised pages that were strong. It was mind-blowing how quickly she could turn around our note.”<br /> <br /> Faris agrees with her partner: “She could rewrite herself and not be precious with things. She’s so open and not compromising. If we pushed her in a way she didn’t want to go, she’d let us know. It was unusual for someone to rewrite themselves and not make it feel forced or pressured.”<br /> <br /> Dayton recalls a singular realization during the collaborative process. They had sent notes while Kazan was acting in the 2010 off-broadway revival of tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Such a demanding play didn’t allow time for rewrites. Their sympathy increased after reading New York Times critic ben brantley’s review of her as “a valium-popping shut-in, obsessed with the fraying of the ozone layer and given to elaborate hallucinations. Kazan’s Harper, an etiolated blonde who suggests a corn-fed country girl lost to urban blight, has the conviction of her delusions. And in Kazan’s sharply graded, passionately felt performance, she becomes the production’s nerve center.”<br /> <br /> But dayton soon discovered that “she’d be backstage during the play working on the script, and she’d call us during intermissions and between scenes. We couldn’t believe it. Ruby Sparks happened more quickly than most films, and that’s due to her focus and hard work.”<br /> <br /> —rs
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