Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Scott Frank & Company

The 'Lookout' Outlook

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Joseph Gordon-Levitt Movies on DVD

As all screenwriters eventually must, the talented Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with the dramatic thriller The Lookout. Aside from his talent, Frank has enjoyed a very lucky career, seeing his screenplays for the most part produced by the right people at the right time, resulting in films like Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991), Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate (1991), Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty (1995), Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998) and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002).

In the new movie, a kind of dramatic thriller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star that suffers a terrible car crash. Four years later, he attempts to re-organize his life despite the debilitating after-effects of brain damage. He works as a janitor in a bank, where Ms. Lange (Alex Borstein) tries to help him advance to the level of teller. He lives with the blind Lewis (Jeff Daniels), whose attempts to help Chris sometimes come across as a hindrance. One night Chris meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who may or may not have gone to Chris' school, and who has big plans. Apparently, once a year, Kansas banks are full of farm subsidy money, and the time to strike is now. Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino, Bruce McGill and Sergio Di Zio are among the terrific co-stars.

Frank, Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Brick) and the British-born Goode (Match Point, Imagine Me & You) recently came to San Francisco to speak about the film.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: To start, I was thinking about the "Goldilocks" scene, in which Lewis tries to get Chris to remember the fairy tale by starting at the end and working backward. Scott, does that bear any relation to the way you work?

Scott Frank: I'm aware of the end. I have an ending in mind. I don't start there. When it's more about engineering and being editorial, you think about it from the end to make sure it works right, but I don't think I conceptualize it from the end, the way he's talking about. He's giving it to him as a way to stay organized and to stay focused. But I do think we organize our lives around stories. Everything he says about stories and storytelling, I completely agree with.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I'm not a writer, but it appealed to me a lot too, because we do make sense of the world with stories. I think when you use the word 'story,' people tend to trivialize it, or think that you're making something up. But to me the word story doesn't mean that. It's a way of making sense of the world. The news is a story. History is stories.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: What about that hockey sequence? It only appears in the film for a few moments, but how was that done?

Scott Frank: We shot it in four hours. It was day zero. It was the Friday before the Monday that production officially began. It was about a six-hour day-- all we had the rink for. We rehearsed it and rehearsed it. I did very little directing that day. I just sat back and watched it happen; it was so organized. There was no room to go: 'Oh! You know what we could do?' We had to get on the ice, film it and get off.

Matthew Goode: It was by far the most rehearsed thing.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The funny thing about the hockey sequence was that even though it's one scene in the movie and we only shot for four hours, it was actually a big part of getting ready to do the movie for me. I realized as I was training, it became about more than just the hockey scene that was going to be in the movie. Suiting up with all that gear, and getting on the ice and playing, and playing hockey is really hard. It's probably the most physically demanding sport I've ever tried to play -- by the time you're done you're soaking wet with sweat -- and getting into that mentality of the jock, of the guy that plays hard, of the guy that won't quit, of the guy that'll take the pain, 'cause hockey hurts. The exhilaration of that, the whole thing became a really big part of it for me, even though it's only in the movie for a minute.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: One of the best things about this movie is the fact that you have these almost random moments that are not explained, like the wheelchair in the corner of Chris' room, or the guy in the walker who barges into one scene.

Matthew Goode: That's one of the things I love about the script. As far as my character, there's no exposition as to where he comes from, what his background is, why he's doing this, and what he hopes to achieve. He's just doing it. Which gives you a huge amount to play around with.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: This is not a criticism, but it occurred to me that Chris shouldn't be driving in this movie.

Scott Frank: Someone else brought that up. There are different stages of recovery and kinds of injuries. I interviewed many people with head injuries and some of them drove and some of them couldn't. It depends on the seizure issue, really, and whether or not the seizures were being managed. If you're on seizure meds and you're not having seizures frequently, there's no reason why you can't drive. That kind of motor skill is probably as least as good as a sixty-year old driver. It's very hard to take someone off the road.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It has to do with the time I think. When Chris first came out of the coma, he probably couldn't drive, but it's been four years.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Joseph, playing a character like this must require a lot of checking and balancing. How did you do it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I don't know how I did it, but I think the mind is a powerful thing, and if you focus enough on trying to change it, you can. When I really noticed how much I had gotten in there, was once we had finished. I realized I couldn't really put two sentences together very well and I really was kind of depressed. It took me a while; it actually took me starting another job to wake the hell up and get out of it. Stop Loss, the Kimberly Peirce soldier movie.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Joseph, I have a theory that of all your scenes, the most difficult to play was the one in which you ask the bank manager for a job as a teller. Your character recites a memorized speech, which is actually the opposite of acting. How did you handle that scene?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I actually probably learned those lines less well than other lines in the movie, so that I'd have to struggle with them a little bit. Of course, by the end of the night I'd said them so many times, it wasn't a struggle anymore.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: So we know that you shot in Winnipeg, doubling for Kansas, but how cold was it? The film takes place in winter, but was it really cold, or did you have to make snow?

Matthew Goode: It was definitely winter.

Scott Frank: We had plenty of snow. We had snow and freezing cold weather. It was really, really, really cold. We'd get memos: "Do not lock your car. If your tires appear square, that's normal." It was 20-30 below.

Matthew Goode: The cameras didn't pick up a lot of the cold, when you're breathing out. It doesn't seem as cold as it actually was.

Scott Frank: I was more worried about, at night, when we were doing those summer scenes when they're driving in the car for the accident. It was freezing and I was hoping we wouldn't see anyone's breath.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Matthew, your character spends a good part of the movie with a bullet in his gut. Most moviegoers know all about the gut shot from Reservoir Dogs, but how did you go about modulating the pain from scene to scene?

Matthew Goode: I did look up on the internet a little bit about injuries that you can get from firearms. There's actually quite a lot on there, what to do. To stem the blood, apparently, one of the best things to use is a credit card. 'Cause it really seals, it can actually seal a wound. I knew it was fucking painful, but I really honestly didn't know how I was going to do it until we were in there with makeup. And suddenly you become aware however you're standing or sitting that there's going to be the throbbing pain, and your body's going to go into a bit of shock and adrenaline. It's not until you move in a certain way that you're aware of the pain. It's sort of latex, so you can feel it move on the skin, and you can react to that, to a certain extent.

Scott Frank: That scene on the ice when he's got the gun in Joe's face when they're all standing on the ice rink, that was the first day of shooting for him. He had to play gut shot, and so it was out of order for him, and it's amazing how well he did it. We didn't shoot it sequentially, so some days he was gut shot and some days he wasn't. It's very tricky keeping track of that.

Matthew Goode: I was scared shitless that first day. A) we're on the ice, slipping around. B) I'm doing an American accent, and I'm not sure what's going on there. And then you've got a gun, so you've got all the blocking and it's cold and you're out of sequence. Scott was brilliant, making sure you knew where you were on the arc of your character.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: I'm pleased that you cast Alex Borstein in this. She's an old college friend of mine.

Scott Frank: She's a friend of mine, too, which is why I gave her the part. She's my next-door neighbor where my office is. She's a brilliant actor. I love her face. I always tell her I love her face. She only shot for 3-4 days but she ended up spending the whole two weeks with us in this remote little town, 'cause she was just having fun. She just wanted to hang out. She and her husband Jackson would just come by. She's a good one.

Matthew Goode: I love that bit. I never got the joke. "I don't know how long Mrs. Lange's gonna be around..." [The bank manager says this line, then the film cuts to Mrs. Lange smoking a cigarette.]

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Carla Gugino is lovely too.

Scott Frank: We all love Carla.

[Everyone emits heavy sighs.]

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Scott, did you work on her TV show "Karen Sisco"?

Scott Frank: Not really. I was a consultant. Someone else wrote it. I actually asked them not to make the series.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Scott, since this is your directorial debut, I was curious about the catalyst. Was there a specific moment or a specific director that made you decide to do this?

Scott Frank: It was a lunch with Larry Kasdan that made me realize that I've been waiting too long and I'm really bored, and I don't know how bored I am. Two things happened. I keep a journal once in a while. I'm too lazy to write in the journal because I'm writing all the time. One night a few years ago I sat down to write in the journal, and I wrote all this stuff, and I went to put the kids to bed and I came back to write and I had lost my place. So I was flipping back and I started reading. I'm going: Wait a minute, it looks familiar; it looks like I wrote it, but it looks funny. And I realized that a year apart, I had written the same shit. I want to make sure I don't do this anymore, I need to do that, I really want to do this. Nothing had changed in a year. I had evolved zero. It flipped me out. And then coincidentally, I had lunch with Larry Kasdan and he said so what's going on and we're talking and I said I'm doing another re-write and I'm trying to finish this other thing and then when I'm done with the re-write I might finally write this. And he said to me: That's exactly what you said to me a year ago. When are you going to direct? You said to me a long time ago that you wanted to direct. And then he gave me the John Gregory Donne quote: "just wanting to be a screenwriter is like just wanting to be a co-pilot." And I went home literally nauseous. And it wasn't the sushi. I told my wife, and I started to say: I've been waiting because the kids are young and I don't want to leave home. And she said, you've got to quit hiding behind me and the kids. If you really want to do this, you should do this. David Fincher was then the director of this movie, and when he fell out, I said: I need to seize the opportunity.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Did you have a hard time convincing the suits to let you do it since it was your first time?

Scott Frank: No. I'd been offered plenty of things to direct, even things that I haven't written. It wasn't convincing them to let me direct, it was convincing them to let me make a movie like this.

Matthew Goode: And when they did, they gave you total free rein.

Scott Frank: Total free reign. I have to say: the suits were not suits. They were really great. The producers, Miramax, never once did they make me make changes. This is the new Miramax, which is very different from the old Miramax.

Matthew Goode: Which is why I'm in the film.

Scott Frank: And not Gwyneth Paltrow.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: Joseph, speaking of that, they've been sitting on Killshot for a long time, haven't they?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: To the Weinsteins' credit, they put enough trust into John Madden to let him re-shoot a huge portion of the movie. And John's making the movie a lot better. And it should come out soon.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: He's tweaking it now?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: He's more than tweaking.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: I was curious about the restaurant that Lewis wants to open with Chris, "Lew's Your Lunch." Does everybody have a secret dream of opening a restaurant?

Scott Frank: Well, in the movie, it's such a ridiculous idea. It's so clearly a "Lewis" idea. It's another example of someone imposing their agenda on Chris. The only one who's being honest is Gary. He's telling the truth: you're not independent, you have no friends, you have no life, you have nothing. You think you're doing fine; you're not. Whereas Lewis, because Lewis doesn't want to be left alone, so "Let's open this restaurant together." He kind of imposes it on Chris. I wanted to make it a real Lewis thing.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: But in real life, doesn't everybody secretly want to open a restaurant?

Scott Frank: I would open a bar that serves food. You can get a steak.

Matthew Goode: With an 'Unhappy Hour.'

March 15, 2007

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