This week, I sat down with one of the most legendary and successful screenwriters/producers in Hollywood, Oscar® Winner Eric Roth. Over a 50+ years career, he's well-known for writing or producing films like Forrest Gump, A Star is Born, Mank, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, and the list goes on.
The critically and commercially acclaimed American drama, Forrest Gump is an adaptation of Winston Groom‘s 1986 novel of the same title, adapted by Eric Roth in 1994.
The story depicts several decades in the life of Forrest Gump, played by the incomparable, Tom Hanks, a slow-witted but kind-hearted man from Alabama who witnesses and unwittingly influences several defining historical events in the 20th century the United States.
The $55 million budget film grossed $683.1 million at the Box Office and won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and three Golden Globes awards.
With a dream to pursue writing, he got his start working crew on a bunch of independent movies being made by some experimental filmmakers at a local studio (the Millennium will film workshop) while studying at Columbia University and later transferred to UCLA Film School.
While on the climb up, Roth got the opportunity through his good friend Stuart Rosenberg, to rewrite the script for the Paul Newman movie, The Drowning Pool, at the tender age of 20 years old.
Last year, Roth co-produced the multi-award nomination biographical drama, Mank. mank earned ten Oscar® nominations and six Golden Globe Awards nominations.
1940. Film studio RKO hires 24-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles under a contract that gives him full creative control of his movies. For his first film, he calls in washed-up alcoholic Herman J Mankiewicz to write the screenplay. That film is “Citizen Kane,” and this is the story of how it was written.
A Star is Born, co-written by Roth became a 2018 phenomenon. Director, co-writer and lead actor, Bradley Cooperand Lady Gagabrought steaming chemistry to our screens in a way that had been lacking. The film grossed twelve times its $36 million budget which is more than any of the other three versions of the musical romantic drama film.
Seasoned musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers, and falls in love with struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer – until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
A must mention amongst Roth’s screenplays is the 2008 screenplay adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Academy winner Mahershala Aliand Taraji P. Henson.
The film tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backward with consequences.
I could go on and on, through the extensive list of incredible writing Eric Roth has given the world, but you can listen to our conversation to hear all about them. Even his Television writing and producing on shows like House of Cards, The Alienist, and the upcoming remake of the science fiction classic Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
I've been a fan of Eric's work since my days working at a video store. It was truly an honor to sit down and talk shop with a master of the craft. Enjoy my conversation with Eric Roth.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Eric Roth. How you doing, Eric?
Eric Roth 0:14
Good. I'm doing good. Thank you.
Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show, as we were saying earlier, before we got on, I am a huge fan of your work over the years. And, and during my formative years in the video store. Some of your early works. I've watched, like suspect and wolfen in a couple of those things. And I just had Whitley on on a on another show that I another podcast. A wonderful writer. Yeah. Oh my god. Wonderful, wonderful. Humans.
Eric Roth 0:46
That was a special job for me. I mean, I came on to rewrite it. And Michael Wadley directed it and have a quick story. And stop me when I tell too many stories that relate to my age. I think more than anything, I'm Michael. I remember. I was remember watching a movie called The man who skied down Everest. And when he got a captain as a true as a Japanese guy who went to climb Mount Everest and ski down. It wasn't really so much skiing down he, after a bit, he opened a parachute and the parachute. But I said wait a minute. Somebody had to be the cinematographer on this who filmed this. Michael Wadley. And Michael went on to do Woodstock. And and then I met I met Michael on this, which Alan King was a producer was really an interesting movie. The whole movie was kind of interesting. Albert Finney and everything.
Alex Ferrari 1:42
Oh, yeah, it was you know, it's it was a remarkable good movie. Yeah. Going back to going back through some of the older films they do. At the beginning of your career. I started seeing the cast. I'm like, Oh, my God, is that said James Earl Jones. Is that is that that's it? It's like, it's like they're young. They're their kids. It was amazing to watch. Um, so how did you get into the business?
Eric Roth 2:04
Um, well, I, I think a few routes one. I went to let me see which way I could tell the step tale. I went to Columbia University as in graduate school as an English major. And I, I started to find myself gravitating towards kind of making short films. And so I switched over to the film department. And still, I still took a lot of English classes, because writing was what I wanted to always do. And I got to be crew on a bunch of very independent movies like literally with like Bob Downey senior movie called Baboo 16. They were very busy. A lot of movies being made from a place called the Millennium will film workshop, a guy named Adam schwaller. And a lot of experimental filmmakers, real New York, guys, you know, and we everybody sort of switched off crews and things on those and I was busy. I was making some shorts and I thought I wanted to be a director. And I actually had an opportunity to do a kind of compete for something that I had thing that was going on at USC with a little short I made and it got me a little bit of a cachet in that sense. But the thing that was a big difference in my life was that I was at UCLA and I entered the Samuel Goldwyn writing award. And I'd written a script that I actually tied was Collin Hagen's, who wrote Harold and Maude and then went on to write that was his that was his script. And he went on to write nine to five. And I think he died of AIDS, I'm afraid to say but he was a wonderful writer, and literally was the day after my first child was born. I was quite young, and the $500 paid for the baby. So I wanted a COBOL award. But more importantly, it got me an agent. Got me an agent, and I must say, that was 1970. Basically, I've been working ever since you know,
Alex Ferrari 4:20
the business has changed a bit over the years.
Eric Roth 4:24
Yeah, I mean, some some of it I've been either I can't say for good or for real, but like House of Cards was mined with David Fincher. And that's certainly changed the business, you know,
Alex Ferrari 4:35
right. And we're gonna get into into house of cards in a bit.
Eric Roth 4:39
But uh, yeah, for a while I was kind of treading water. I got a couple of little movies made and did some rewrites. I mean, I went to I always tell the story, which is a lovely story that I was friendly with Stuart Rosenberg, who directed Koolhaas Lu can, it worked together on later on? We worked on the onion field, but it's like my work as a young writer, and he brought me on to rewrite the Drowning Pool, which was a Paul Newman movie. And I was literally I think 19 or 20, maybe 20 years old. And I had on No, I mean it so amazing out this for good, you know, 50 odd years.
Alex Ferrari 5:25
So let me ask you a question when you're 19 working on Paul Newman film because I mean, at that time, Paul Newman was Paul Goodman. He was falling so when
Eric Roth 5:36
he called my house people against quit fucking around Alan a friend. I went down there and I bought a new HP I always tell the story the same way. So I've told this before, but I bought a new pair corduroys and I had a new briefcase. And I walked on the SAT and Newman said there was him. Joanna Woodward, Tony Franti, OSA, a couple other people that were mean no known actors, and he said our saviors he felt that there was a was a wonderful experience. I got to know Paul quite well, we remained friends for the rest of his life in a certain way. And Stewart had a kind of up down kind of career, but was was a nice man. And when he hit he was really a good director. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 6:26
So So what would So would you consider that your first big break?
Eric Roth 6:32
I think I think winning that award and getting me the agent was a huge thing. I was on a tiny little movie that was only released in America for like two weeks. But it was an original piece that I wrote with an oddball interesting man who was a director for Billy Graham, religious leader. Sure, he made his religious films and he wanted to do a les film set in Israel. And we I wrote a little love story for him. And we went to Israel that was then that was shot in 1970, I guess. Yeah. 69. And that was one and the other break I had was after the gold one where I'd written a script called the dead time. 5050 which was a oddball kind of, in keeping with the times the kind of they make a lot of and kind of, say anarchistic kind of movies or movies that were, you know, they were in keeping with that on this not anywhere as good as mean streets or something or easy, right, you know, these movies that were like, abstract, I guess better words. And I wrote a movie called 5050. That Bob Mulligan signed on to do and Bob Mulligan was famous for Kill a Mockingbird, and fear strikes out and he made some wonderful movies. He's a real kind of old timey director, and George C. Scott was going to do it and the premise was about a guy who is in a dangerous profession is turning 50. So I'm looking at that point, at whatever age I was, I thought 50 was so old is beyond. petrified and it was an odd little movie. And we Scott decided eventually not to do it with the star who was a guy named Jason Miller, who is in Exorcist as the young priest and also happened to win the the Pulitzer Prize for a play he wrote called the champ that championship season. He also was, he's married to Jackie Gleason's daughter. He was an interesting man, he had some drug issues. He was a father too. I'm trying to think of the actor's name now who doesn't have the same name as him but he was married to the father the son was married to try and think Anyway, my name is old man's memory. He's a pretty well known actor and the father died young from some drug problems I think but he's an interesting guy a wonderful actor kind of look like Garfield, I guess, you know, a little bit and the movie was movie was briefly. Tarantino loves a movie thought was one of the most interesting war movies and, and it opened a can and, you know, lasted very small time in America. But yeah, that one, I think got me a little more on the map in that sense.
Alex Ferrari 9:29
And then used and then you were off and running now. Yeah.
Eric Roth 9:32
Then No, I mean, yeah, I mean, I would get I was I was a good bargain for people for the price that I was charging and, you know, things that didn't get made and things are disappointing. You know, one of the one of the decisions I made that was not a good decision, I went back and did work on it as rewriting but I was asked to do the onion feel. I mean, I'm sorry, I was asked to Cuckoo's Nest. And my agent as also at the same time asked to do the onion field, which is A huge book at the time. And my agent said to me, they'll never make the Cuckoo's Nest movie. And I said, Oh, really? Okay. And so I decide I chose the other one. I was friendly with Michael Douglas. And I actually came back and did some work on it, but it's one of the great movies ever made. And it sure, yeah, I'd say probably, even though the guy who wrote it, I think is probably one of the greatest screen writers, whoever is Bo Goldman, won an Oscar for it. And he also won an Oscar for Howard Melvin. But he, he was a wonderful man, we he and our close friends from both like the race track, so we used to go to the racetrack. But anyway, he that was a movie I wish I had started from scratch.
Alex Ferrari 10:45
Now, you, you obviously, you know, had a successful career as a writer. And you know, as writers listening know, writing is not easy. It is a it's a it's a tough thing to have to come up every day and go in, what is your writing routine? What has kept you going for all these years at such a high level?
Eric Roth 11:04
Well, I mean, I the high level, I guess he had to thank God for something, you know, I don't know. Whatever, whatever alchemy makes up. What makes you may be good and not believe me not so good in many places. I've had real failures where I thought they were good. And, and most I think I could blame me in most respects. One, I think I blame a director on but I but I always tried to pick things that would have some lasting quality. I mean, I may have been wrong, you know, but I thought these things I can that will kind of attribute to me. Well, when I'm getting to the end of things, you know, when you look at the credits I have so I've been lucky that way. I've worked with everybody from Kurosawa through Marty through Spielberg, you know, so I've been lucky with incredibly talented filmmakers.
Alex Ferrari 11:50
What did you work on with corsola
Eric Roth 11:52
I did a little movie called Rhapsody in August that I just I wrote, you wanted to, and I think is one of my bigger claims to fame quite honest with you not because it's, he want there's a part in it for Richard Gere, who was friendly with and, and criticized wanna meet, it's a guy who is supposed to be an American who's marrying the main characters, a Japanese man's granddaughter, and, and there she lives in Hawaii. And Richard, he wanted me to write his part, which would be an American, and he felt uncomfortable quite getting that written through translations. And so I wrote all the scenes between the daughter and the Son and
Alex Ferrari 12:35
I have to ask you, what is it like working with course,
Eric Roth 12:38
was like, you know, really fascinating, mostly was, you know, we had many conversations, he spoke, I don't think he spoke much English and so translated. And then when he sent me the script, I just was so taken with it. If it was, it was written like a haiku. It was just, you know, he'd he'd write the answer the anteil. I mean, you just do two or three words. And it always gave me gave you the sense of what he wanted. And then you had me when I wrote my prose, which is very sort of Jewish, intellectual, psychoanalytic garbage, maybe, but, you know, it just was so different, you know? And, but it was like, a wonderful, yeah, it was like, we never matched, you know, they didn't have zoom or anything, then, you know, so we just talked on the phone, and he invited me over, and there's some reason I couldn't I think I just had a baby or something. And so I could go and, you know, but it's a great honor to have even been in the same breath of him with him. And he gave me a lovely, thank you on the movie and all that, you know,
Alex Ferrari 13:39
that's, that's remarkable. So So as a writer, what is your daily writing routine?
Eric Roth 13:45
My I sort of looked at writing as a job in a good way. I mean, I'm always thrilled to be able to sit down if I can create and I look at as a great adventure journey, you know, all those things, all those kind of cliche things, but it's always true. And I get to be alone and you know, sort of dream and try to make those dreams come true. I I do it like, I mean, I'd read once and I don't know if I this is what I didn't copy this, but I read this about john Cheever. And I've told this story many times he would get up at like, let's say eight o'clock and take a commuter train in from New York, Long Island. And he would go to a basement, little tiny basement room that he had it he rented his his office and quotes with the boiler and everything and he take off his pants, and he take off his dress shirt, and he'd sit in his underwear and work. Okay, so he worked till 12 o'clock. This is a story whether true but I like his pocket
Alex Ferrari 14:47
visuals are fantastic. Yeah,
Eric Roth 14:49
he'd get a 12 o'clock he put his pants back on his shirt ties tight but his jacket on go out and have a one Martini lunch. He'd come back at one you work till five, with his clothes off, he can put his stuff back on, you know, neatly fold and put it back on, go and take the commuter train home. That was his as if he went to work came in for a job, you know. And that's how he looked at it, I think you'll find most writers, not all. But most writers have some schedule, you know that whatever it is, could be goofy, they might write in the middle of night, they can write things in a month, they can write things in a year. But there is some kind of if somebody scheduled, I started about eight o'clock, and I'm done by noon or one and I dig around the afternoon, then I go back to work in the evening, not for very often, unless I'm really feeling it. And sometimes I don't sleep much I get up in the middle of the night and do it, you know, so, but I find it I find it mostly a joy in a way. In other words, I love that. And then and obviously, if you're successful, it makes everything so much easier. You know, you actually can not have to judge yourself against everybody else and start feeling the pressure. What's the next job and all those things? You know, so it's easier for me to say, you know, but that's my schedule. I mean, I've talked about this a lot. Also, I work on a, an old, an old movie, I don't have final draft, I have an old old program that requires me to have a das base per computer. So it's that's how old it is. It's called movie magic. Movie master. I mean, it's it went out of business. Like when it couldn't it couldn't figure out how to the people who made it couldn't figure out software, so you could email it. So they went out of business, but it's exactly the same function nasality as final draft is mine uses function keys, and they use tab keys for the exact same process. And but I like it, I mean, for a number of reasons is I'm superstitious. So I don't need to change. It's a pain in the ass. But it's good. In some ways. It runs out of memory after 40 pages, he had to open a new file. But that's a good way for me to sync Are you done with this app yet? Because you very good. And so it's also very safe because it's not on the internet or anything. So because I've had stuff that they've come to take out of here that they were worried with on my hard drive and all right, but it I and I and the other funny thing about it is and I don't know why I did this as this because I'm such a Luddite, you should have a white piece of paper that you're typing with black type on right like a typewriter on to look like against. And I for some reason have a black background with white. And I'd like thought I'm now I'm used to it now. So you know and so at some point, the thing goes over to the production company and they're gonna make the movie. And they they turn it into their final draft and and then I really don't even have the script anymore. I any changes I make they have to go retype them or I have somebody retype them into final draft you know,
Alex Ferrari 18:05
very cool now, do you when you start beginning when you begin to write? Do you start with character or plot when it's something original?
Eric Roth 18:16
Even was not original? I start with actually what I call theme. Okay. What What is this really about? You know, I'm saying don't not the story, but what is what's going on here? You know, what is this? What is this? And then after that, I'll think I'll lock up the story. And then I'd say character and story would be the same to me an incredible importance and I'm very I'm very diligent with character because I think they all should sound different. I always tell a story about how I rewrote a little movie from Michael Cimino called. Was it with Mickey Rourke? You're the drag. And I got to be friendly with Michael and, and I saw that he had given Mickey Rourke a wallet, which had everything that was, you know, the character would have in a wallet like photograph of a daughter, he supposedly had his draft card, whatever it was, and even down to like the detail of like a fortune he got from a fortune cookie, you know, that he kept like some people do. And I bet I'll bet you that probably Mickey Rourke never looked at it, but he had it in his back pocket and he knew it was there. And that that's how I look at character so that you have to have every understanding of the psyche, a psycho psychological portrait of the guy what does he sound like? What does his background I mean, you know, even down to smaller characters in the piece, so that each everybody's voices different. So any that's Yeah, so character, character, I don't know which is a B and C but character, gods in the details of all the reasons To do so you're using the stuff that's right. And then then the most important facility to be a really great writer and very few reach this, and I don't think I've reached it, some great novelists do is to be able to write sub textually. And that's to be able to write not about what's going on in the scene, which most people find themselves doing. Because it's just, it's, it's what we know how to do. But it's, you know, sort of earning the explainer. And you're telling things that people already know. And if you can avoid that and do it metaphorically, in a way, it's very hard writing, but it's a, it's what really good writing is. And there's and when you see a good movie, normally, you'll see a lot of really good metaphorically metaphorical writing, or the subtext of it. And some directors, I think, Marty Scorsese is a subtextual. Director. He doesn't need to have use, sometimes it's obvious what he's doing. Other times, it's not. And so it's, it's a real gift. And when the great playwrights can do it, you know, Shakespeare, I'm putting myself in company, but he didn't need to write about you know, that on the third, three weeks from now we're going to go do X, Y, and Z when people all know, I know, we'd have some other big concept. And that's what steam is, right? What is the concept of this movie? I was told once by Elvis Mitchell, the ex, who's who does the NPR show on film, and he's really, I used to be a New York Times film critic. He thought my movies were about loneliness. And I when I thought about, I thought he might be right, because I mean, if I started thinking of all the films, I wrote that, that might be the most pervasive theme, and main, and maybe sort of underlying all sorts of things about my own life, you know, so so I have that. And I also, I've never written a novel. And I keep thinking I should have and I want to, and I think I'm a frustrated novelist, because I write very, I think, pretty good prose. And I'll tell you a quick, sweet story. I tell. Brad Pitt was doing we were doing a read through of Benjamin Button. And I had what I think is pretty good prose. And Brad says, after someone read the pros, the narrow, you know, what the stage directions and you know, what people are supposedly feeling and what's going on? Brad says, look, Eric's got a pros Boehner.
Alex Ferrari 22:28
And I can imagine him saying that, actually. And I can imagine him saying that that's,
Eric Roth 22:35
it would be free. I was like, 30 people in a room doing a retreat with Fincher and everybody, Cate Blanchett, and whoever else?
Alex Ferrari 22:44
It's funny. Now you you have adopted some amazing novels over the years, how do you approach adapting someone else's work?
Eric Roth 22:53
Well, I mean, I think some things you have to try to be a little bit sacrosanct with because the work is great. And if the work seems like it's not, maybe not, it's not about great or bad or good for the thing, what what lends itself to be dramatize, you know, so, you know, I've done just recently, this killers of the flower moon, which is, was it you know, it's a really herculean kind of task not because, but to tell the story in this head, give it the size it deserves. Plus do it with some grace and elegance, that I didn't have to really change very much the dramas, basically all there, that's more the thematic of it about sort of, Marty and I agreed to about this the disappearance of sort of making the Native American invisible and that we're all culpable in a way, but also, the characters were all laid out, and, you know, how do we have shadings with each of them? And then, and then I but I didn't have to invent protect. I mean, I had to dramatize certain things. But other other books are more problems were problematic and different, like Doom was kind of
Alex Ferrari 24:01
how it's almost unadaptable
Eric Roth 24:04
Yeah, it's voluminous, you know, but you start eventually coming down to what the size of the thing hopefully should be. I mean, my scripts are usually too long. And a lot of it has to do with me, as I say, writing all this prose about what's going on, but if it's not, if it's not a book, that's particular, I mean, I've done a number i a lot has been, but I consider a lot original writing. So Benjamin buttons a good case, because that was a short does the art magazine article of Scotsman sherald of Genesis art wrote, and it was an article really wasn't very good. He did it for Colliers, and he, he just did it for the money, you need the money and but he had the idea of a guy going, you know, aging backwards. It's great. Yeah, which is a wonderful concept. And what does that mean? And then you can get into the theme of the piece, which I think is for me, it was like, well, who are the people you meet along the way of this journey? You know, either way, you're going forwards or backwards, but he But that I started just from scratch and inventing what the story was, you know, because the story he had was nothing that worked for me, you know, I'm saying and it really anybody who reads it, no matter how much you love us, because shall will say maybe my story is not any better. But his story was not something you write home about really was just a job for him. as best I can tell, Forrest Gump the book was kind of farcical to me in certain respects. And so I, I made it and it failed a couple times other people tried it and had no luck. So I had sort of free rein to do what I want it with it. And so I just took my imagination where it went and came up with a bunch of things that he said that seemed people seem to latch on to, you know, and and I looked at that as like doing candy, you know, it's, it's a journey of this guy through life. I'm trying to think what else in the main, though, is like, being a dramatist? In other words, you have to and I think we said this, I don't know, David said, his father said, or I said that which is relevant on manque that when they're talking about, you know, about Citizen Kane, because you can't, with the line we have is, to the extent of you can't show somebody's whole life in two hours, all you can do is give an impression of their life. Right? That's, you know, another part of it. So no matter what the book was, if I adapted it was to try to do the best to tell the best story you know, and, and yeah, summer dad stars born I think is adapted. But we started from scratch on that one. You know, we'd have to go roll whatever movies Munich music, Munich was pretty close to book, I don't think it would step for adding some more, kind of some ingredients that weren't really dramatic, per se will be more dramatic in the sense of the way Steven can do things with stucks trucks being stuck by little girls on the phone and stuff, which is not wrong. But it's so you have to count that that stuff was event invented a lot of that.
Alex Ferrari 27:11
Now, you mentioned Forrest Gump because I mean, obviously, you know, Forrest Gump by the time you started writing for his computer already been 20 years in 20 odd years in already. So you weren't, you know, you're you weren't a kid anymore. So you were a very seasoned writer at this point. But I think that Forrest Gump, at least at that point in your career, was a hurricane. I mean, it is it is a cultural milestone, it is in the Zeitgeist. I mean, people still constantly say all those lies you know, you never know what it like, you know, all the chocolate like, life's like a box of chocolate and everything, all those wonderful catchphrases and for people who weren't around to experience it and 94 year younger screenwriters in 94 I mean 94 was an amazing year Pulp Fiction, and yeah, it for us. I mean, it was a thing.
Eric Roth 28:02
Yeah. I mean, like, you know, talk apples and oranges. But if you want to talk great art, I would I would go with Pulp Fiction, you know. I mean, I love Forrest Gump beans obviously the world to me and world to a lot of people and has sentiment and heart and you know goofiness and but fiction was a pretty, pretty lasting movie that of its kind and, and ours is lasting in a different way.
Alex Ferrari 28:27
Right? They're very so different in so many ways, and both you and quit and both won the Oscar that year for original and, and adapted, but they couldn't be more different films and so different. But yet both of them are everlasting, and completely timeless. But what was it like even at that stage in your career to be in the middle of that hurricane? Because, I mean, it's
Eric Roth 28:51
obviously you can't expect that you don't know. Right? I have no clue I had met. I had met Tom Hanks. pretty early. And we were gonna do something else together. And then I was offered that book and I said, What do you think he said, Let's go for it, you know,
Alex Ferrari 29:09
and that was Tom woods. It's not that was before Robert Zemeckis jumped on board or was wrong? Oh, yeah.
Eric Roth 29:14
Yeah, it was actually there are two or three other directors that looked like they were going to do it. One was Barry sonnenfeld. One was a penny Marshall. And and Steven Steven was very interested in doing it at one point. And but I had the advantage of knowing Tom was going to do it if he was a music star, but not anywhere. He's not he wasn't quite Tom Hanks. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 29:37
it wasn't posted post Forrest Gump. I post Forrest Gump columns.
Eric Roth 29:41
This is pre Forrest Gump and he was actually I think when I met him. I think he was filming.
Alex Ferrari 29:49
Didn't you do Philadelphia wasn't doing Philadelphia?
Eric Roth 29:51
No, he's done that but even before when I met him, he was doing the Ron Howard movie with You know about the mermaid?
Alex Ferrari 30:02
Oh, yeah. Oh god splash splash. Splash. Yeah,
Eric Roth 30:06
I think that was his. I think that may have been his first break from television Bosom Buddies or something,
Alex Ferrari 30:12
I think was it close to but that was his big break, then splash, splash blow. But,
Eric Roth 30:18
but as big as he was he was I mean, Forrest Gump was hard to get made. Because if we wrote a script, I wrote a script that Warner Brothers wasn't keen on didn't quite get it. And fortunately for us, the producer, when do you find them a very good producer, she was like 24 years old. She was married to mark Canton who ran the studio, and was able to get it in turnaround, otherwise, I don't think they'd ever put it in turnaround. And we took it to paramount. And Brandon tartikoff, who's one point the president of MVC, really nice man and really smart. He was in the head of paramount, and he, he agreed to do it, I mean, develop it. And Tom came in and pitched the whole thing. You know, so it's easy for me having to sell it with Tom sitting there saying, because I'd say and he's sitting on a bench and whatever we had envisioned at that point, we hadn't written, right. And he Tom acted out what we'd talked about. And Brandon said, Great, you got to deal and, you know, I did whatever work I had to do. And then we went out looking for directors and and then Zemeckis came along, you know, he read it and said, this is for me, you know, and he was a big, obviously, wonderful, big director. And that was amazing. You know, so
Alex Ferrari 31:37
yeah. And then and then it was off and running. And, I mean, obviously, it was, it was just such a cultural cut that you were such raising, you
Eric Roth 31:44
know, you know, no, of course not. No, but and also, because there's a lot of fights about the money about what we could film and not I mean, because there's, you know, there's fights with the studio, I remember Bob saying, there's a lot of blood under the bridge, he said on movies. And he did everything known to man cleverly, to get around some of the budgetary restraints, he would take a crew on Sundays, just literally four or five people, which would be Tom cinematographer on making up himself and, you know, a couple of production people and they'd fly off to go to that whole run was done on Sundays. They fly to Maine from we were in South Carolina, they fly to Maine, shoot him running to the lighthouse, get back on the plane and come on back.
Alex Ferrari 32:33
I was wondering how they did that. Because I mean,
Eric Roth 32:36
we didn't really have the money for it, it was more about the money for it. And we we thought this was pretty special. But we also thought we could just be drunk, you know?
Alex Ferrari 32:47
It's tough. It's tough. Yeah. When you're in the middle of
Eric Roth 32:50
all this movie, I mean, another one. I've done substantial movies where you can kind of get a sense of, you know, what's, what's solid about it. And you couldn't tell on this one. So when we got done, we started, you know, when Bob was finished, and he started preview it. And we had, he always did previews for his movies in a very small theater, Paramount, and then a little bit larger theater somewhere, I think, in the valley, and then a big big theater in San Jose. And we had incredible reaction in a little theater, and with whatever, got, you know, a test screening and they were like humongous numbers. We went to the one in the valley, I think it was as my memory serves me, well. It got to incredible numbers. And everybody started getting a little nervous now this week, and there was really almost no criticisms of the movie. And everybody just was delighted with it. And, you know, had 18 million favorite moments, all kinds of things, you know about feeling good about Forrest Gump. And then we showed it up in San Jose to a huge theater that had like a balcony, and I don't know, it must have seemed like hell, 3000 people probably didn't. But I remember sitting on the balcony, and you can see down It was one of those theaters that didn't have a middle row. So anybody getting up to a bathroom at a walk across, like 30 people, you know, 50 people. Anyway, we were flying home, we were on a paramount plane. And either Sherry Lansing, or who is president then in the studio, a wonderful woman, or john Goldwyn, who is her second in command was looking at the cards, you know, and he did percentages and all I said, you just went into Raiders of the Lost Ark land. Because there was like, 98% 99 Yes, favorable. And we they knew how that we had something that was a monster, you know, they know but they, they did a magnificent marketing job with that poster. You know, things like that. And then I knew I knew I was in business. When I went in the race. I was in a race track, like getting in line to bet. And I heard someone say like, you know, starting to do the accent. I won't you know, he's doing Forrest Gump. Right.
Alex Ferrari 35:04
Now, I've heard I mean, over the years, I mean, I've talked to every screenwriting guru, so many different screenwriters, and one constant thing that it's always talked about is in order to have a story, you need conflict. That's what gets the story across. And I remember one day in film school, my screenwriting instructor said, you always need conflict, except for one movie that pulled it off. And it's Forrest Gump force doesn't have any conflict. And I want to ask you the question what it because force just seems to be the world around them is conflict. But he himself, and you start analyzing towards the end, there is a little bit more conflict, but I just want you to kind of analyze
Eric Roth 35:45
your pay, if you want to. Yeah, I think that's true. I mean, it's a it is Candide, I mean, there's been a number of other things that are like candy, where people take a journey in the conflicts within the journey. But it's also a sort of the conflict is he going to get from point A to point path. And also, I mean, the other thing, I always felt there was a conflict was about the fact that he wanted this girl to love him. So he right loves. So the love story would be the center of the peace, I guess. And then these other things, he believes in his mother and God, you know, and where's God betraying him? And, you know, I mean, it's, it's like, I would say, a more sophisticated version, I'm not saying better or worse, but was like, being there was conflict and being there, once he steps what you know, there's a potential conflict of a guy who, you know, is having, you know, certain issues, you know, so he has mental issues, you know, intellectual issues, and he steps into a world that he's just fine with, where, you know, he says things that everybody thinks what he's saying is, you know, the most genius thing ever said, and they all run out, but, so being there was like that. No, we didn't have the normal things, you're gonna get thrown out of your apartment, and that his mother, you know, was gonna, you know, lock them up, or we didn't have any things, you know, so that, and that those were mostly from the book. I mean, nothing was different netway from the book. I mean, that was his his story. And, and I think there's, I mean, I think that's, I mean, the other thing I you know, the other rule was never use voiceover. I've been one of those guys who keep those things. Well, all the great filmmakers ever, including, if you like Forrest Gump, he uses voice over Marty, his voice over and every movie,
Alex Ferrari 37:33
Shawshank Redemption, not so bad.
Eric Roth 37:35
Not so bad. I'm saying that I always found that funny. There was a guy that famous, co wrote the whole screen. The books got,
Alex Ferrari 37:43
I think it was Robert McKee, Robert McKee. And he said, Never use voiceover. If you ever use voiceover in your script, it's all relative. I mean, because voiceover is a crutch sometimes,
Eric Roth 37:53
but conflict is I mean, I remember saying I won't mention who it is who's always a pretty well known actor who wrote a script and sent it to me. And I said, it's really well written. And I think you've, you know, you've got work to do some of the characters in this, but you're missing the one I agree, the big C, you have no conflict in this. So I mean, I think you do need to know what the conflict is how you show it, how you do it. I think there's probably varying degrees. And I probably have to, you know, probably ask somebody else who's smarter about these things to me about what would be the conflict in Forrest Gump? I don't know. Well, good now. Well, maybe it's him versus a universe in a way the irony is in the universe. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 38:38
I would agree. I would agree with you. In other words, look, I
Eric Roth 38:40
mean, all these ridiculous things, you know, which we always we always were taken by, you know, how ironic or sort of ludicrous the absurdity of rah Reagan getting shot or, you know, john, I mean, of john or Bobby Kennedy, I mean, all these things, all the assassinations, and, you know, wars we entered into, and I mean, in other words, it's all slightly insane, you know?
Alex Ferrari 39:04
Well, the whole story is, is the whole story is slightly insane. In many ways. It is, but one of my favorite lines in the entire movie, and it's not one of the famous lines is when he opened up the letter and he goes, I invested in a fruit company. That's right. And I didn't need to learn I didn't need to worry about money anymore. One less thing.
Eric Roth 39:26
Yeah, well, I don't know why I don't know why I came to me I said it'd be kind of funny if he owned Apple
Alex Ferrari 39:32
because we all say that they
Eric Roth 39:33
actually say if he you know, he would have to cap the stock but that by whatever the price was, then they figured out that next to like Tim Cook he would he would be the second largest stockholder of Apple if he didn't sell it you know, he just kept it
Alex Ferrari 39:48
yeah him and jobs were like they're neck and neck. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, cuz everyone always jokes like I should have bought Tesla. I should have bought apple at eight bucks. You know?
Eric Roth 39:57
Why the same thing with when we did house a car For Netflix, not one of my genius, financial people want Netflix. She said buy Netflix stock. It was at like eight. I didn't buy a nickel. I mean, I would have done. I'm not. I don't invest much in anything, but I would have probably, I don't know, a couple
Alex Ferrari 40:17
bucks. bucks in there. Exactly. Now 900 hours, something ridiculous like that. Now you have you have collaborated with some of the most amazing filmmakers in history. We were just talking about Kurosawa, obviously Fincher Spielberg, Michael Mann, like, how do you collaborate with such established and then sometimes even legendary, like a Kurosawa or Spielberg? Or
Eric Roth 40:45
was it was less of a collaboration in the sense that he trusted me to write this character? And he, he didn't like he told me just could we not have him say this? Or was Yeah, sure. That was a little easier. It's very long distance, you know, Michael Mann or Spielberg.
So it each was different, because as some of them were writer directors, right. So Michael Mann was a writer also. So we had a shorthand together. And he's a tough guy, and we fought like cats and dogs about stuff, but I can't hold my own. And I always I also believe, to just be honest, that it's not capitulating, but I think you'll find a say you have my way, and you'll have Fincher his way. And it doesn't have to be the highway, then, you know, I'm saying you there might be a third path that that makes you feel you've created what you felt was accurate, and right for the material. And so does David Davis is a little tougher. Dave is very, Dave is very logical about what he wants and wants. Nothing wrong with it. Whatever one line is said that whatever comes back has some logic to it. It's a response. I'm a little more fanciful in the stuff I've done. So I've never looked at things that way. Michael Mann is wonderful writer and very analytical. And he came up with a great thing for the insider, which turned out to I think needed, and I would have never thought of it. He there's a scene early on. And we were talking earlier about, you know, trying to write some text the as, as opposed to expositionally, which is as bad writing mostly. But we Michael felt we needed to lay out for the audience quite early. What were the pet impediments to this guy? And what was what would what would needed to be accomplished. So we have a scene setting was supposed to be the CBS kind of kitchen where they're having like a lunch, and it's all exposition, which is not something I'm all about. But he said, we need to get this guy lawyer, we need to get this guy that we need to go talk to this guy, we need to get him out of his contract. In other words, and those were the kind of Michael's analytic about these were the kind of points we had dramatic points we were gonna have to overcome to become, you know, where the drop the dramatics worked for the movie succeeding. And it was a wonderful moment.
Alex Ferrari 43:06
Yeah. And I mean, I've had so many people on the show that have has worked with Steven. And I've just found so amazing how many careers he's touched. And early on, you know, Kevin Reynolds and john Lee Hancock, and like, he's the one that opened doors for people. He did. He's to me,
Eric Roth 43:26
I never had that relationship with him. I actually knew him when he was very young, he roomed with somebody I wrote a TV movie for okay. He was probably 18. And, and he was mean even that a wonderful entertainer, wonderful, a&r, dramatic director, he's, he has his own way of working. I mean, it's quite different than a lot of the people we're talking about. And he wants things in certain ways he had, one thing I liked about working with him was the Kathy Kennedy, who I adore is his producer. And she always send the pages to Stephen. And Kathy would then call me and say, here's what he likes and what he doesn't like. And I like that. So so when you went in, and I went to meet with them about this the work, you don't get your backup right away, you know, they've been getting a beef or you get insulted or your feelings hurt, or whatever it is, you know, about the work, you already know what's in you've thought about it, why is this not working? Why is it? How can we make this work for him and all that? So yeah, he was an interesting guy to work with. And it didn't come out. I mean, it wasn't holy. He felt at some point that we he wanted to have a little bit of a different voice. And he brought in Tony Kushner, who I adore, and a friend who was one of the great writers and in our lease in theater of Angels in America, he wants something a little more intellectual than some of the things I was writing. So, you know, I was wounded by it to some extent, but it all worked out in the end that we ended up having a movie that we're all very proud of, you know,
Alex Ferrari 44:56
yeah. And now you're working with Marty
Eric Roth 44:58
on Marty, Marty and I are supposed to work on two or three other things. And this was Marty's a dream. I mean, it's like to me, Fincher and him are very different in their approach to eating or char. So then Steven is too, but I mean, there's just these two guys, I know better, I've done thing to thing that Dave and I know, Marty over the years. And Marty, completely said, feels like you're a thoroughbred, and you should have your hand and just try to invent and imagine anything you want, he'll figure out a way to try to do it. And if he doesn't think it works, he just tells you in the nicest way. So he said, Let's, let's try it this way, you know, and, and he'll take you off, whatever you might get stuck on, you know,
Alex Ferrari 45:40
yeah. And he has that art, he has the ability to the almost the political aspect of being a filmmaker, it's like, as opposed to some other directors who are a little bit more hard, hard handed about it. Marty softer. And he's just knows how to play the game so well, that by the time you're over here, you're like, how did I get over here? I'm like Marty's like, this morning.
Eric Roth 46:00
I mean, it's also, you also know he, at least going in that he probably will get the money to be able to do anything he wants. It'll have the backing of a big differentiate on words. Somebody says, like, we can't do that, because it's too expensive, or something. And he'll say to you, I'll try it. You know, let's see what it looks like. If you want to, if you decide you want to run, do the whole movie backwards, or people walking backwards, they'll try it. You know, I'm saying might not work, but he'll try.
Alex Ferrari 46:28
And it's amazing how now Marty is working with Netflix. Because Netflix is basically I mean, please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm gonna say that giving them a blank check, but they're giving them
Eric Roth 46:39
a lot of leeway. He's actually moved on for the moment to go back to Netflix. But I think he he's an app. This is Apple, sorry, who's paying for this? Credit Apple,
Alex Ferrari 46:51
really, but it's going to the streamers though. He's going to streamers now now.
Eric Roth 46:55
I mean, that's where you're going to get the money from. But he does. I know that he wanted this on this that he wanted a certain amount of a theatrical release. It's not just a few days or a week. So he's gonna get that with Paramount's gonna release it theatrically. And then Apple have it part of the service and streaming service. And, you know, it's a wonderful thing for both for, you know, for Apple, I think, the idea of having Marty and Leonardo DiCaprio and Bob De Niro on this kind of big subject matter that will be wonderful fruit subscriptions and all that. And, and I think it's great when those when that when it works out that way? I mean, David has a blank check to a certain extent. I mean, I can't speak to that. But no, but in other words, anything creatively he wants to do Netflix is his home. And they they embrace David the way they should. So they're giving in a way an artist a chance to always express himself. How great is that? I think I think he's earned it.
Alex Ferrari 47:50
So without question. So you were there at the beginning with House of Cards, which it is a one of those moments in time where the business changed. The entire industry changed from the moment that Netflix says we're going to do original programming. And we're going to do and we're going to spend obscene amounts of money on an original IP. We have great people working on it. But it was when that came out. People were like, Wait, what? That was no. I mean, the story goes, which is true.
Eric Roth 48:23
I was sent in so as David the ARIA manual was, I think, trying to sign David more than me, but he wanted me as a client also at the time, and he said, I said, you know this, this is silly, Ari, I'm all for it. I've been the same agent for 32 years, but she and he said, What if I sent you a really great piece of material? He said, I'm always up for material. So he sent me house of cards on video, you know, which was the English show. And I said by Quint, I said to him, this is spectacular. I happen to know it because Michael Mann and alpa Chino, I had thought about doing it as a movie, because it's just Richard the third, you know, that's what it is. Right? So, um, within that, for whatever reason, we never, we never worked it out doing it, but it would have been great. So I said to David, if this is something you want to do, I mean, I think there's a there's a way to do this and not very difficult. Obviously, the work will be difficult, but that this would translate beautifully into an about America is politics. And so we hired a writer of Belleville men who had written a play about I think state of America, I forget the title of but it was a movie that actually George Clooney made, which understood politics quite well and, and Dave was agreed to direct the first couple of three and we got them. You know, that point Kevin Spacey was a great fine and David had worked with him and I and I helped get Robin right because she had been in Forrest Gump and all we were friends in So we've had a great package, I think, and there was an auction then and all the play all the players were there at that point, they came to David's office HBO, and I guess, Showtime, whoever it was, you know, they were We were in business and, and, and Netflix. And Netflix made an incredible offer. And I gotta be honest, I was, I didn't I understood that I thought there would be a place for this in time. But I said to David, I don't think there's enough eyeballs yet for this. And I think I would like to have the water cooler conversation like on the sopranos, they add, you know, at HBO, you know, and I thought there was, you know, the class of the field. And he said, You're wrong. He said, Those people are gonna know he did. And they said, You're a Luddite. You don't know what you're talking about. And this is going to be you know, people are going to watch this if we can make it, you know, attractive enough and interesting enough and dramatic all that. And we were, we were the second the first show is a shows TV Van Zandt did or something about called Oslo or something, a small little thing in Norway, and then then it was us. And obviously, you know, what happened that people start bingeing it and going crazy and, and all of a sudden, they got giant amount of subscriptions, which gave them money to go do other shows. And, you know, I it's a mixed blessing to me, because I'm such a movie lover and love going to movies and a 40 foot screen and everything, but I watch things on my phone, like anybody else, you know, and some things translate some things don't I liked it. It's available to everybody. I mean, one of the things I learned early on was, was not early, but we had like a 23 union of Forrest Gump at USC, and everybody was Bob and you know, Gary Sinise, the Hulk, everybody. And Bob asked the audience, how many people we showed the film first on a screening there. And Bob said, how many how many people have is this the first time ever seeing it on a movie? on a screen? Everybody?
Alex Ferrari 51:58
Of course, there's children there.
Eric Roth 52:00
Can't tell yet. though. I said on TV. So, you know, there's, you know, it's like, Alright, I understand when there's so many more people watching something how beneficial that is, you know,
Alex Ferrari 52:12
I mean, it started with cable and VHS. I mean, that's where movies now. Yeah, big Terminator was made on on cable, you know? And that's where it became.
Eric Roth 52:23
Yeah, yeah. So I was I was behind the curve on that one. And, and so but, you know, now we, I don't know, if we've reaped the wind, you'll sell the Whirlwind or if this is I think it's a mixed blessing. I mean, in the main is probably good. I mean, it was a little little disillusioning to me that they, they, particularly the way they handled it about Doom going right to, you know, day in date with being on the streaming on the streaming service, the same time was being released. But I think they're going to rectify some of that.
Alex Ferrari 52:57
I just read the article this morning, that it's going to be a 45 day window. So they are they are going to do a 45 day window. And Dude, I just literally read it this morning on. I'll call my agent when we hang up, see if I can get some money out of it. Yes, it is gonna be from what I read on on the trends. It Dune is going to be released 45 days, and then I'll end up on max. Yeah,
Eric Roth 53:18
it deserves to be seen. I've seen it as he deserves to CCI a great big screen and have the sound insight and it was so pretty amazing.
Alex Ferrari 53:26
I mean, to be honest, like how do you approach that that subject matter? It's such a,
Eric Roth 53:31
it was pretty daunting. But I mean, honestly, I'm a old hippie, done my fair share of I'm not advocating anybody do this my fair share of hallucinogenics even though I had some issues with the book, but the book is transcendent in some respects, and certainly for when I read a 15 year old boy. And I felt there's a spirit to it that I could probably capture and take you to places you haven't really thought about or seen. And I wrote a big full fat draft and it needed cutting down and Denise Villeneuve did that wonderfully. And, and then I think they brought in another writer because I was I've moved on by then to kind of even more grounded a guy named john speights is really terrific. And so three of us I think ended up creating something pretty amazing. And then Didn't he obviously, I think realized for what I saw, you know, as a piece of real work of art, and really a wonderful adventure and everything else is pretty special. I mean, I would tell you if it wasn't
Alex Ferrari 54:32
Yeah, and I have a feeling that you would have I don't think they know it wasn't when you were gonna tackle star is born. I mean, that movie has been remade with three times before you. This was before. And every time it was a hit from what I understand. And it was always like this kind of cultural touchstone when it came out. Yeah. And then you've got Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and Bradley. Bradley is the director. as well, so first time director. So you've got this, how do you approach telling that story again?
Eric Roth 55:09
Well, I mean, it was an interesting that was that was kind of a challenge. Not the work was very, really challenging. But I don't know, I hadn't had a movie made. And I was so used to getting movies made like every two, three years. And I hadn't had a movie, maybe maybe three years, maybe a little more. And that movie, even though it was nominated for an Oscar, extremely loud, incredibly slow, was not that well received either critically, or box office. And it was a disappointment to me. And there are many reasons why I think I have some things up. And I think that there were some decisions that maybe should have made differently. But, you know, that's, that's what happened. And they offered me the stars born, I said, Is this a good idea for me to want to my Am I too old for this? I mean, not just didn't understand the culture and music and, you know, and be as contemporary as it should be. And I in and they sent me a script, which I thought needed work. And I said, I kind of feel like I've got to, you know, start from scratch. To some extent. There was many some things there, that was certainly good. And I said, I'll, I'll tell you what if they said, you got to do it quickly. And I said, in six weeks, I'll have for you something new. And I think you'll hopefully you'll like it and, and I went to work and Bradley was there every day. And we would text each other in the middle of the night. He was wonderful to work with and had his own ideas about things. And we'd fight like cats and dogs, which I do with everybody. And in the end, we had something I think which was had the humanity that I think I can bring to things and he understood and and i think was a great contemporary story. One of the really wonderful moments for me on that one was Bradley and I and Lady Gaga working her house out in Malibu and it was the first time I had met her actually and Bradley pedigo. And I was going to leave when he did and she said to me mind staying, I said no, she's just like to talk about the character. And we did that and I gave her some I said take a look at Moonstruck how Cher played and was brought you know certain things. And I said I'll do everything I can to make this easy for you because she wasn't she's acted but she wasn't wasn't her, you know profession necessarily. And so, I promised her I'd make things as conversational as possible in the scripted that didn't have to be big monologues and all that and, and now, let's get to Lisa, do you mind if I play something for you? Like, yeah, okay. So she sat down pianist, he played Somewhere over the rainbow and sang it. He was like, Are you kidding me? It's like, Oh, my God. God just walked in, you know, really? He was like, yeah, I'm maybe it was, maybe it was not so accidental. But it was like unbelievable. I mean, it's like one of those moments you'll never forget.
Alex Ferrari 57:55
I saw a private concert by Lady Gaga at her house in Malibu
Eric Roth 57:58
kind of clip some of the songs are thinking about and yeah, and it's it was when I went and watch it with an audience. I was just so thrilled that people just really loved it. And they laughed and they cried, and, you know, the kind of thing that a good love story does. And you know, and I think Brad the Met, you know, added immensely to it. He had some great ideas for storytelling, and he certainly made it feel real and yeah, I think we were we did well together, you know.
Alex Ferrari 58:26
Now, what are three screenplays you think every screenwriter should read? Hmm.
Eric Roth 58:34
Well, I guess you'd have to start I don't know. But it's one of those you know, what's your what's the best movie ever made you as probably 20 you know? Sure.
Alex Ferrari 58:41
That's gonna come to mind.
Eric Roth 58:47
Wow, this is so hard. I mean, I guess you'd have to say Citizen Kane, because it has multiple points of view of one person is probably the first time that was ever done. And that is fresh with me because a mank I would say Chinatown. Because that's a movie that is all subtextual you're saying three is so impossible. I'll give you another I mean, to me, my favorite movie ever is 2000 either godfather 2001. So I don't know how to differentiate between sort of two fairly
Alex Ferrari 59:19
different they're fairly different. But so different, but godfather two's perfect. I always come anytime anyone says godfather I'm like, I will grant you godfather one and two as a warner because it's just as a as a whole that it's perfection
Eric Roth 59:33
to me is you know, even more perfect and in 2001 changed my life in some way. You know, so as I move experience, you know, so absolutely. are there so many I mean,
Alex Ferrari 59:44
oh, no, there's hundreds there's I mean, there's exactly, but three they just kind of like to start guiding people. Chinatown always shows up godfather always shows up. 2001 doesn't show up as much because
Eric Roth 59:56
it's not a script, you would say but look at the sparseness of it and then oh, No movie it said that the use of the by now but but those things have to still be written he had to write down that there's something as to black monolith even though it's from a book I know but especially the whole light of that says the use of ideas. Yeah, I don't know. It's like you know where it is where the things leave off between what the writing is and that's where you get into a whole thing. I mean, one of the famous I'll give you a funny little thing about US Citizen Kane, which is used as a thing about Writers Guild and the whole credit to speak credit. So they say they say what if I gave you a scrip which was about a famous man you know, magnet who owned newspapers and actually helped start a war and was one of the richest men in the world. They lived all alone, you know, sort of cloistered with his girlfriend up in this place. Zana do basically and and you know, at attract his life, you know, from beginning to end and you say it sounds like a pretty great story. Yeah, that'd be great. So you get credit for that, right, Eric Roth, and then someone comes along they, they read it, they sent it to another writer. So is there anything you'd add to it? And the writer writes on page one rosebud, on the last page wrote his book? And I said they get credit to that design. So you know, I don't know. screenplays are a tricky thing. I mean, I think they're, they're a they're a great craft. I'm not sure they're a great art form. You can be artful at it. But their craft, they're you because you can get away without finishing sentences. There's dots and dashes. You're not a player. You're not a novelist. It's a bastardized form a writing of a way. And it's also something that you that you need, it doesn't really exist unless you get amazing movie, you know, I mean, it could be something to read, it might be interesting. And there are many scripts who probably hold their own. There's a famous one called heroine alley that everybody always loved about the plague that a guy named Walter Newman wrote He also wrote cat in a bunch of movies and that but that always holds up I guess, is a great piece of you know, could have been a short story or something but uh, but it's of no value whatever scripts I don't have made, you know, the bid on the floor here.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:09
They're not best selling screenplays like you could still get not
Eric Roth 1:02:11
know you, wouldn't you and you wouldn't even feel they were if you bought them and read them. They might be really interesting visually and interesting. But they're they're such as I say, bastardized form of things.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:22
I always I always, I always tell
Eric Roth 1:02:24
other people would add probably in American screenplays probably add Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid because it created a whole way of looking at, you know, it's so meta in its way. You know, it was very postmodern. So I mean, I could give you all the all the screenplays that matter, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:40
right, of course. But I always I always tell people that screenwriting is arguably one of the most difficult forms of writing because of the condensed amount and like the, the you can't go like a novelist and just
Eric Roth 1:02:54
try to do I mean, good writers do less is more I unfortunately, haven't quite got there. I mean, it I really do. I mean, okay, Eric, you've done okay. Oh, but the director, I've done okay. But the directors appreciate the fact there's a lot more because they can make choices,
Alex Ferrari 1:03:09
and they can cut down. Yeah, I think it's better to have too much cut down, which
Eric Roth 1:03:14
is their job. I think good directors a great editor. Absolutely. Thank you work, we've crafted refashion. I mean, I always say that it's like kind of building as the writer gets to do and then director gets to take on this journey, you know, now,
Alex Ferrari 1:03:29
what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Eric Roth 1:03:37
I would first of all, ask them to please watch every movie they could watch and also read every book they can read. So they have knowledge both forms. I think literature is as important as film literature. Get to know what characterizations are get to know what dramatizing something isn't. Even in comedy. In other words, everything's going to come back to three acts maybe four. I don't care if you stand on your head if you do Pulp Fiction when starts to end and ends up in the being it makes no difference you're still going to have a beginning you're going to start complicating the problem in the second act and the third act you're going to come to either a conclusion by God coming in and a machine DSS Mac and or you can find a catharsis for people that they find organically amongst themselves and the movie is going to end with some conclusion or left left left inconclusive. So these rules will always apply. So I think I don't know I think I'd have everybody try to read and get a sense of what drama is what how does how to describe do this and then also to I don't know some some people and it's like anybody, anything else, some people just better than you at saying so just right to your own level. So I mean that in other words, everybody tries to, you know, say I want to be Aaron Sorkin I want to be, you're not going to be Aaron Sorkin you're going to be whoever you are. And maybe you'll end up being, you know, more valuable and Aaron Sorkin some way, but you'll, but you also may also write for the great comedies or for the most popular movies, and there's no, there's no criteria for any of this. And I think the things that I think people, if you can't write it, I think put it right into talking to a tape recorder. I tell people that all the time, so I want you to do my life story. And I said, you do your life story. You know, and, and talking to a tape recorder, have it transcribed and all of a sudden, you'll have yourself basically a basis for a screenplay, you know, and everybody has something interesting to say about themselves and about their lives. So I think it's true when they say write about what you know, but I would say don't write necessarily what you know, I think write would out what you know, but not specifically necessarily. It'll come in, in any you can't stop from whatever, you know, coming into a screenplay.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:59
And now and what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Eric Roth 1:06:09
I would say in life that I don't need to always be validated. I mean, it's like a whole world of that wanting these trophies and wanting people, you maybe don't critics or whatever you think, you know, starts sort of telling telling you who you are, that you can, you can be yourself without that, and I still haven't really quite learned it, I manage to have anxiety about things, you know, that I, why I do, I don't know, part of who I am about needing somebody love who I may not have gotten the way I wanted it all that thing was a question as either
Alex Ferrari 1:06:45
the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business, right,
Eric Roth 1:06:49
guys still think I'm learning this subtextual thing? The I mean, and you'll find that a great books have it I mean, no as you get it, right. You know, and it's not, it's not something you can quite, I just don't think I quite, I get up to the line. And in many cases, I can do it, and I can't quite always do it. I think also, I think I probably took too much time to write things before I'm a little quicker now. I was a little too, I was a little too precious with stuff, maybe, you know, I just I always wanted it to be the best version of what this was when I turned it in. Even though the next day you just start looking at and go, Oh my god, you know, this isn't so good. But I bet but the other thing is, if you can look at it, you look, it's very simple for me to say things, I get paid a lot of money, I get to live a great life, I get to be with all sorts of interesting people, not only actors and directors, but get to do research on things that are worlds I don't know anything about get to be a journalist of a kind and, and it's a struggle for luck. I have people in my family were struggling to want to be writers, you know, and it's like, and they just got to keep knocking that their heads against it, if that's what they want to be you know, and I know people who have one movie made in four years, and they still writing you know, and yet, that getting up and saying there's that blank page can be either incredibly frightening or incredibly liberating. And I think there's some, somewhere in between, and I don't think it has to do Prohm necessarily with being rewarded. But at least that you can finish it and then then see if you can get a reward out of it may just say, you know,
Alex Ferrari 1:08:35
I mean, I get I get it. But look, a lot of these lead these core things that you're talking about No matter if you've won an Oscar or you've just written your first screenplay apply.
Eric Roth 1:08:44
Yeah, I can tell you this, that after I wrote for won the Oscar Forrest Gump, I was up for a job called the horse whisperer. That there Bob Redford directed and I remember, very, I mean, he didn't say it this way. But we met the first time and he basically said, What have you done for me lately? So I knew, okay, you got to start all over. You know, I'm saying you put yourself all over again. And every time I go up to the bat, you know, it's a little, it's a little less daunting now. Because you have, I don't feel the same quite pressure. But you know, it just but you still want to get these things made. And it's like, then you have to go, I have three things I'm basically working on and starting, and I have the same excitement and a little bit of anxiety about Will I be able to make this different, what is it going to make this stand out whether these voices is going to be unique and but it's like I say I'm lucky to be able to do it.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:42
And there it has been an absolute pleasure and honor to speak to you it has been great and I hope our conversation helps a few screenwriters out there. So thank you so much, my friend.
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- Eric Roth –IMDB
Where Hollywood Comes to Talk
Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)
(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)
Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)
Emmy® Winning Writer/Director/Actor
(City Slickers, Analyze This)
(Smokin' Aces, The Grey, Narc)