It is an absolute thrill to have Jack Epps Jr. on the show today. The award-winning writer, USC Cinematic Arts professor and filmmaker is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He’s best known for writing Top Gun, The Secret of My Success, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda 1997 screenplay.
Jack first became involved in making films while doing his undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester which became Pig vs. Freaks that was later titled Off Sides.
Top Gun was Epps’ big break. He partnered with Jim Cash who was his screenwriting professor at Michigan State University, to write several projects and Top Gun was one of those screenplays. Top Gun’s success was seismic. It became a box office number one grossing $ 357.1 million on a $ 15 million budget while also stacking several accolades including an Academy Award, Golden Globes, and a number of other international film awards.
As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be the best in the class, one daring young pilot (Tom Cruise) learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.
Epps is credited for the original screenplay in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick which will be released this November.
Epps shares co-writing credits with Jim Cash and Hans Bauer for the screenplay of the Anaconda adventure horror film series of 1997 and 2004. The first story follows a National Geographic film crew in the Amazon Rainforest that is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who forces them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.
While the first film did not receive critical acclamation, it grossed $136.8 million worldwide against a budget of $45 million.
In the second film, Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, the premise is quite similar. A scientific expedition team of researchers set for an expedition into the Southeast Asian tropical island of Borneo, to search for a sacred flower for which they believe will bring humans to a longer and healthier life, but soon become stalked and hunted by the deadly giant anacondas inhabiting the island.
Here is a clip of Gordon (Morris Chestnut) after being paralyzed from a spider bite, who comes face to face with death.
These are some classics and I couldn’t wait to chat with Jack about his creative journey—from his work as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions, to his love for writing or reviewing romantic comedies films like Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act.
Let’s dig in, shall we? Enjoy this conversation with Jack Epps.
Right-click here to download the MP3
Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show Jack Epps Jr. How you doing Jack?
Jack Epps Jr. 1:01
I'm doing really well. Nice to be here. Thank you!
Alex Ferrari 1:09
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Um, I'm excited to kind of get into the weeds about your career because you've written some of some of the some, you know, classic 80s and 90s films that I grew up with. And again, the audience will get tired of me saying this, but you had an impact on my video store days when I was working at the video store. Great days. Oh, those. Exactly. So all of all of your films and your especially in the 80s and early 90s, all the stuff that you wrote was like I was there moving the boxes, rec recommending them to the customers got me good. So. So let me ask you, how did you how did you get started in the business?
Jack Epps Jr. 5:41
Well, you know, it's one of those sort of long stories in the sense of, I became interested in film as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, moved out to California because I just fell in love with movies. And I said, this is what I want to do with my life. I actually came out to California be a director, because I was making short films, had no money, virtually no contacts, and the best way to direct was on paper and started writing. And in through a friend I met at Michigan State Anderson House, his dad knew the producer of Hawaii Five O and said, If we wrote a treatment, he could get it to him. So we actually put together treatment called the capsule kidnapping, sent it to his dad who sent to the Phil ECOC, who sent the the showrunner, who then called us and said, We love this idea. So quickly, I sold it exact. So we sold this script, and and had a Hawaii Five o produced very, very quickly, I mean, and then we worked together for a couple years trying to get other things produced. And we sold a Kojak and things like that, but didn't really move forward a lot. At the same time. I had to pay rent. And so I was because I was a filmmaker. I was actually an assistant camera man. And so doing a lot of work on stuff like that. I actually worked for Orson Welles on the other side of the wind. River, what was that? Like? You know, it was really great because it was there is Orson Welles. In the story. How it happened is my wife was my girlfriend at the time. She was working as a typist. And so she got a call from her temp agents agency and said, Orson Welles needs somebody and she she was in Peoria now to film family. So she goes Orson Welles, I know the name but don't worry, just go meet him. Because I knew the less she would know the more he would like her. And so he hired her. And then I said, he got to get me on this film. You got to get me on this film. So I spent a couple months with Orson and Gary Graver on the piano was great because it's Orson Welles omit really nice. I mean, he didn't throw a temper tantrum. He wasn't like this big. He was just Orson Welles. And there's the guy and you some pitching myself. I said, I cannot believe I'm pulling focus on Orson Welles here.
Alex Ferrari 7:58
That's, that's amazing. And that booming voice that he has,
Jack Epps Jr. 8:01
And the whole persona.
Alex Ferrari 8:03
Oh, my God, that must have been amazing. So yeah, so and everyone listening, when you're starting off as a screenwriter, generally it works out that you write a spec pilot for a television show or a television show, and it gets picked up right away and then you start making lots of money just like yourself, correct?
Jack Epps Jr. 8:20
Absolutely not. What happened is I then my my college screenwriting teacher, Jim Cash had contacted me and said, We should write together. And so Jim and I went back to Michigan to pick up my motorcycle to drive back to California. I looked him up. We sat down at the school union, and we pitched out eight ideas. I didn't think anything work. We said, Thanks, goodbye. I was riding back cross country. And I said, you know, this idea actually works. And Jim and I spent the next two and a half years doing about five different drafts and figure out how to write together long distance because he was in East Lansing and I was in Santa Monica. We wrote a script finally, that I felt was ready to take it to go into the business to let out because I had learned enough through internships and things to know that you really have to enter the business at a high level, the script has to be very, very good read. It's got to be a good story and show off your work as writers and storytellers. And that script was called Izzy and Moe. And we got representation to major agency through a friend who recommended us and it got optioned by Bud Yorkin of Yorkshire and Lear. And so suddenly, we were paid some pretty good option money that may both of us say we should stay at this. So we were lucky that our first spec actually got options.
Alex Ferrari 9:47
That right and again, a lot of in a lot of times when a lot of screenwriters think that just because you get the option, it's an automatic production, and that's not the case. At all, most most option scripts don't get into production is that is that a fair statement?
Jack Epps Jr. 10:00
All right, is that the truth? I mean, it's what it what it does is what it puts it. So yes, no is emo never got made, but Yorkin, who was a European leader could not get it made. And so but what it did is it put us on a spotlight, people knew we were there. And then we did a second script, a second spec script, which was called old gold. And that was a sort of Charmin Chase adventure set in San Francisco, about a fortune 100 looking for lost gold from the Nazis that ended up in San Francisco. And then that got that got bought on an auction. And so we earned good money and he was like, Okay, this is now we're throwing ourselves into it. But that didn't get me
Alex Ferrari 10:46
I've spoken to so many screenwriters over the years and known many during my time in the in the business that sometimes you look at an IMDB filmography, and you're like, oh, They've only done three movies. I'm like, Yeah, but they've been working steadily for a decade. And just because they haven't been produced. I mean, they're still pulling in six figures a year, and working on major projects that just either they're rewriting or polishing or Script doctoring. And don't get don't get made. Is that your experience as well?
Jack Epps Jr. 11:16
Absolutely. And what I learned very quickly is that if a studio has a choice between their idea or your idea, they're always going with their idea. So why not develop their ideas, which they already invested in. And SmartKey has yet been tricked into your idea. You have to you have to make it, you've got to own it, but realize that you're writing for them, and you want to make the producers in the studios happy. So we then started writing an assignment. And we had six unproduced screenplays and then yeah, we did Dick Tracy. For four directors that got shelved wasn't kidding me. We then Simpson Bruckheimer. We actually through Jeff Katzenberg was involved in Dick Tracy because it was actually owned by Universal and Paramount. So as a joint production, they had international and domestic rights. And so Jeff Katzenberg liked our work and wanted to hire us after Dick Tracy and I had a breakfast meeting the famous ADM breakfast meeting with Katzenberg. And he rolled out six ideas of which I thought this really interesting idea be stood out to me. Yeah, based on this school pilots called Top Gun. And I thought, wow, I actually got my private pilot's license at Michigan State, they had a flying club. So I thought, Well, if the movie doesn't get made, I'll get to find a navy jet. So okay.
Alex Ferrari 12:46
It's a win win win,
Jack Epps Jr. 12:48
That one get made. So why would this one get made but flying a navy jet? That's a hard thing to get to do,
Alex Ferrari 12:54
You got to go through, you have to jump through a few hoops to get to that tough life to say the least. So So okay, so the original idea for Top Gun was basically it was Jeff Katzenberg, kind of throughout the like, hey, there's a school pilots figure something out.
Jack Epps Jr. 13:09
Well, actually, it was actually, Jerry Bruckheimer, okay, we found an article in a California magazine. Based on that there was a school and there are these pilots, and they were having fun. There was no story, no characters, but it was a potential world. And so Jerry brought it to, you know, the producer will do product to he was had to deal with Paramount, but Don Simpson and Paramount want to develop the idea. And so for for us, it was like, Okay, we had just finished a Tracy and that was not going into production. And so
Alex Ferrari 13:42
This is at 84-85 for Dick Tracy?
Jack Epps Jr. 13:44
Actually, if Dick Tracy was actually in the early 80s, right, I went in for directors on that project.
Alex Ferrari 13:51
And we'll get to that we'll get to Dick Tracy it a little bit down the line. But so so with Top Gun so you're basically on assignment, essentially you you got it was an open assignment. Jerry came up with the the concept of just the world and you guys came up with Maverick and Iceman and the whole thing. I mean, so Okay, so when you're writing this, it's another assignment. You're like, this is not going to get me both hell, we'll have some fun. And we're getting paid to do it. So you didn't think it was Did you have any idea that it was actually going to go into production? Did you feel something?
Jack Epps Jr. 14:24
Well, so basically, sips and Bruckheimer when I met with him, I said, Look, guys, I don't want to do this unless we can actually get the planes but I really don't want to have these like little CGI is not what it is today, right today. Hold off, but then you could not and so they agreed. We went back to the Pentagon. We got approval by the Pentagon. They gave me a technical adviser but even Pete Pettigrew. I went to doubt the NAS Miramar and I got to fly jets and
Alex Ferrari 14:57
you and you were in the back like you The Oh absolutely. Oh, absolutely.
Jack Epps Jr. 15:01
Yeah, that's amazing. A couple of things happen. One is the f 14. Wow, I fell in love with the plane. I really didn't know about military planes at that time. And I fell in love with it for one or two reasons. One, it looks incredibly cool on the ground. It's like, wow, this thing is just the fastest, most beautiful thing ever designed. And to it had two people flying in it a front seat or in a back seat. And I didn't really know about that. And that gave me a relationship. So I already went, Yes. I don't have to have guys going from plane to going on Maverick are you doing in Qatar? Are you so I can actually have these two people and form a relationship, which gave me a core to develop in the story. So I said, Great. We've got a relationship. But I'm looking for all the guys there are great. Get along. And I'm going for where's the conflict? What am I writing here? I've got to look for the conflict. And then it came to me, like one of those bolts of thunder. Lightning is what if one guy doesn't get along? What happens if you got a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb? What happens to this environment? Maverick is born. So I had the conflict. And then we just start building out the story from there in a sense. And I pitched the DOD and Jerry said, Look, we're gonna do a school movie, but it's kind of a real fight in the end, guys. We're not going to have a school. It's got it. He said, Yeah, like Star Wars at the end. Absolutely. That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna do Star Wars. You know, the big dog fights for real stakes at the end. So I did all this research, Simpson Bruckheimer. Great. I said, Look, guys, you got to leave us alone, just let us go away, we're gonna have to find a story. I can't pitch it to you, you got to trust us. And if you don't want to trust us get somebody else because we just can't go through this development process. We have to find it. And they were great. They said guys go away. Afterwards, they said they will never do that again. So we're at able to just find the story, you know, and that was a hard story to find this set in the school. And I mean, so yeah, it's a school guys flying around. What's the story there? And so for us, that was the big thing, breaking that story, finding what that art was, and who those characters were in the relationships and what the whole, the drama of it was.
Alex Ferrari 17:09
And, and I mean, obviously, the top cons of a classic film, and you know, when I was when I've seen I've seen it a million times. But that whole movie is all about character. It's like, the plot is the plot moves things along, but it is about character so heavily as opposed to like, Sherlock Holmes story, which is all plot and character kind of rides along. It. Would you agree? I mean, this is the Iceman and Maverick and his interest and his father and that, that baggage that he's carrying and, and the conflict between him and Iceman, which is just amazing. And we'll talk about all the stars aligning in a minute, but as far as the character, do you agree with that?
Jack Epps Jr. 17:52
Oh, yeah, I mean, I think that that's why we couldn't pitch it. It's almost unpickable script, because it's like, well, what happens? And it's like, because so much came out of the research, I did about 40 hours worth of interviews with pilots. But first, the Pentagon had insisted in there with me, and they wouldn't talk and I said, Look, you gotta get out. I'm sorry, I got to talk these guys alone. And they know I won't, and then they call the Pentagon. So yeah, leave me alone. And then the guys opened up and you know, learn about their lives and met these guys. So they were inspiring as people. But also Gemini were athletes. So we knew what it meant to be on a team and to and to try to make sure you're, you know, the sense of being, you know, one of the stars on the team, you know, you got to be the best, you know, that's part of what sort of the drive for excellence is. But it's a long way to get to your question. We had in the script shift, since the break ever loved it. They loved this movie, but Paramount said, I don't get it. I don't get it. Of course, it's all these planes in the sky. It's like this. So they said no. And they put it on the shelf. So there's number seven unproduced motion picture and so we thought we had something we believed in and so so did Simpson Bruckheimer but not going to happen. So we want went on to a next project Legal Eagles with Ivan Reitman.
Alex Ferrari 19:15
Not a bad, not a bad
Jack Epps Jr. 19:16
project. Not a bad thing. And Ivan was great. And it wasn't until the studio changed. It. You know, the executives and new chickens came in TrackMan cuzzo, who called Simpson Bruckheimer. I said, Guys, we have nothing in the cupboards Do you have anything you want to make? And they pulled the script down and said, Yeah, we got this project we'd like to make and they say go do it.
Alex Ferrari 19:37
That it's just just like that. And then what I find so fascinating about that film specifically is it was a perfect alignment where Jerry and Don where we're coming up they had they had already started building from Flashdance. I think it was in probably a little bit before, but they started to build but they weren't yet. Jerry and they weren't Bruckheimer Simpson company. pletely yet that Top Gun is what took them to the next level. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So you have young producers who are about to explode, they bring in a commercial director who had done one other I think he did what did he What was the other film that he did? Oh, hunger, the hunger. So, vampire so in brought him in, and then this young actor who had been had success with risky business, but yet wasn't Tom Cruise. All these things aligned. And it exploded into this this supernova, essentially. And that movie was a massive for people understood triple net wasn't around at that time. It's a massive hit. And one of the best recruitment tools The Navy has ever added probably still as to this day.
Jack Epps Jr. 20:59
We wrote the movie for Tom, yet we wrote it with him in mind from the very beginning, when we gave the script to Don and Jerry, I said to Don says Jerry, I said, think Tom Cruise when you read this? And and they said Yep, absolutely. And that was the only person that they they went after Tom. Yeah. But Tom, but the ability factors. Part of it was because because of character. You know, Mary is a bit of a jerk. And so he's, he's really arrogant. So you've got to have an actor that you're going to like that you're going to stay with, or else just going to go after this guy. I'm out of here. And so and Tom did that he was the young American, so to speak, and he represented that sort of this bravado and, you know, pushing it at the limit. And, and, and, and they nailed it. They got him and that was in he was great. He actually he understood it. And he's played Maverick for the rest of his career.
Alex Ferrari 21:49
It's such a Top Gun in the car and Top Gun. He said that's well, he developed who Tom Cruise is and Top Gun basically. And he's, I remember some comedians like I love that movie with Tom Cruise with these young cocky white guy. Oh, you mean every movie? Got it? Okay, got it. All right, great. Yeah, I got it. But but but to be fair, though, that is a very slippery slope as an actor and a character to play because you're right. He's arrogant as hell but yet for some reason. You love him. What do you think about Mavericks character? Is it partly how it's written? And obviously how Tom performed it. But I think there there was meat in the script that allowed you to feel empathy towards him. And I think it might be the father baggage that you kind of, because if you don't add that baggage, I don't think he's as there's no empathy there. I don't know. What do you think? Yeah, no, I
Jack Epps Jr. 22:45
think that's all part of the story. And I'm part of it, we made him a second chance character. He was the underdog. Remember, he didn't have he wasn't going first. He had to win. A Cougar had to hand in his wings for him to get in. So he was he was always the underdog. And we tend to root for underdogs. And Iceman, of course, immediately is is a is a great counterpart. And, and that rivalry makes your root for Tom, you want that you want him to stick a nice man's face and you're rooting for him. And and, you know, you also feel for him, you know, he's he wants to do it, right. He's got some stuff. He's got to work out. Hopefully you can work it out. Right. And
Alex Ferrari 23:22
he put but at the end of the day, he's a good guy trying to do good work. And you know, he's trying to be all you can be, as they say,
Jack Epps Jr. 23:31
we've got some things to learn.
Alex Ferrari 23:32
Yeah, no question. And and I mean, how were you excited to know that they were breaking making a sequel?
Jack Epps Jr. 23:37
Yeah, yeah, I was excited. And I was happy that one times involved and Jerry is doing it because Jerry be true to the to the movie. And I know that he'll keep the continuity going with that. And so I think, you know, I'm excited to see it. I've read it. I know, I know what they've done. I can't talk about it, because there's any talk about it, but I think people will like it because it is a continuation.
Alex Ferrari 24:01
It's a true sequel. It's a true sequel. Yeah.
Jack Epps Jr. 24:03
Yeah, it is. It's a continuation. It's it's not just a different movie. It's the characters come back and there's some there's growth and development.
Alex Ferrari 24:10
That's amazing. That's amazing now, so you're ready. Are you worried working to Legal Eagles when before Top Gun gets into production?
Jack Epps Jr. 24:19
Yes. So we went from having seven unproduced screenplays to three films in production in 11 months. Jesus, that's unheard of. It was insane. It was insane. Because suddenly, you have Tompkinson production legalese in production. See for my successes in production,
Alex Ferrari 24:35
she's so so and for people again, that weren't around at the time Legal Eagles will start obviously, Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah and Debra Winger. That was a massive hit. It was and then and then secret of my success, which by the way, personally, one of my favorite 80s films of all time, I watched that. When I was a kid I watched I must have watched that story in that film 100 times because I was I was Michael J. Fox. I wanted it you know, it was During it was during the Wall Street day. So yeah, I wanted to make it in business and all of that kind of stuff. And it was just such a wonderful film. And that was a huge that was a massive hit as well. It was it was Michael J. Fox at the peak of his powers.
Jack Epps Jr. 25:14
Yeah, right after back to feature one. And he was great. I mean, Michael was fabulous. We wrote it for him, we were brought into a rewrite. So basically, it was a screenwriters dream. Frank Price, who was the executive of universal new as well, like, at work? I pitched him an idea. And they said, what if we took that idea and put it into this movie we have wasn't called secret of success, success at that time, something else? And they said, Yeah, sure. So we did a page one and just went through the whole script. But it was great. As they said, We have to start on June 1, because we have Michael J. Fox, and then we have to end by August, something because he's going back to his show, family ties. And, and so they had to shoot what we wrote.
Alex Ferrari 25:56
Oh, so there was no chances to rewrite. So it was perfect for you guys.
Jack Epps Jr. 26:00
Exactly. So we just we just bust through it had a great time. And really, you know, no, you don't you write from Michael J. Fox gives you a lot of fun in the script. And we also wanted to not demonize business as it always is. But as you were saying, people with ambition, and that character, I have a you know, coming to want to make his place in the world. And also, I wanted to do a, I've always wanted to be a big Billy Wilder fan, and wanted to do a, you know, a character who's assuming an identity. So a guy who's playing two identities, I always want to work that and that's really difficult to write that and, and but it was fun. There was a lot of fun to do it. And we were really pleased with the outcome. And Herb Ross, who was the director was a Broadway director, so he liked the words. He wasn't one of your Broadway direct, you direct the words and he wasn't playing with him and was really just going for it. And I thought I thought the movie really worked out well.
Alex Ferrari 26:57
Now with those three films, I mean, it's kind of unheard of for a screenwriting team, a writer screenwriters in general to have that many hits back to back to back in such short amount of time as well. How did the town treat you? I mean, after top gonna loan? I mean, I'm sure your phone was ringing off the hook at that
Jack Epps Jr. 27:15
point. Well, in my as my agent would say, at that time, don't ask they're not available.
Alex Ferrari 27:22
Everybody was reaching out to you at that point. It was you were the belle of the ball, as I like to say,
Jack Epps Jr. 27:26
right, it was that stuff. And because we knew Katzenberg and liked him. We worked at Disney worked on SR act. You know, he did a major rewrite on that. Turner and Hooch You know, Jim, Jim didn't want to write Topcat originally, because he didn't like planes, like flying planes. So he had a phobia. I said, don't worry about it. We'll do it. So he did it for me. And then he wanted to do Turner and Hooch because it's a, you know, he's has dogs. He's like four dogs, and I want to write a dog movie. i Okay, I owe you one. So we sort of traded off it, you know, things just came our way. And so it was it was it was fun. It was different. Because we were unknown people left us alone. And and the more unknown, you got the more of a looking over your shoulder. And that was a very different experience in terms of just how that could change a little bit.
Alex Ferrari 28:15
And for people listening, especially young screenwriters coming up, I mean, yeah, you had a lot of success in a short amount of time, but you had been putting in the years of work. Prior to that, like you said there was seven unpaid or six unproduced screenplays. Yeah, you had representation? Yeah, you'd optioned a few things. But you would have been, it's not like you just woke up one morning and like, Oh, here's Top Gun, like it took you years to get to that place. And I think screenwriters young screenwriters need to understand that you've got to put in the work, and it's not gonna happen overnight.
Jack Epps Jr. 28:45
I think we were actually fortunate that we didn't get our first movies produced, I think we would have grown as writers. No, you're right. You're right. I think we have tapped ourselves in the back and say how brilliant we were. And we would have been very happy at that level. And, you know, first movers are fine, they're good reads. But we had to grow. And we had to work harder and dig deeper, to basically teach ourselves how, you know, just because they were trying to figure out how does this thing work, and to basically, and the more and more we got to character was was really, really the breakthrough, you know, telling stories about people lives in crisis. You know, rewriting is a big part of what Jim and I did together. And it you know, we just realized you had to dig in. I mean, like I said, for Dick Tracy, we went through four directors, and for each director, we did two drafts
Alex Ferrari 29:33
now, so let's jump into Dick Tracy really quickly. So I remember 9090 Very well, it was right smack in the middle of my video store days. So I was it was in the heat and that was Dick Tracy, I think and please correct me wrong. This is my assumption. Dick Tracy got greenlit and got fast tracked into production after Batman came out in 89. Because that kind of just changed. It just changed the landscape. All of a sudden superhero movies. Were it because Prior to Batman for people not understanding because now every week there's a new Batman or Superman or Marvel film coming out, but there was a time there was a time where there was one maybe and it took every two, three years before you'd get orders something like that. Before Batman, there was Superman and Superman had pretty much petered off after Donner left. So when Batman came out, which was a absolute insane, massive hit, Dick Tracy showed up and then Dick Tracy, I, you know, watching it, I mean, it had Danny Elfman music, it had a lot of tonality. From Batman, it was a dark Dick Tracy was, you know, that the world was so it was that way just so beautifully constructed. And the colors were so vibrant, and the PErforM I mean, you had to look at a cast, but Donna ALPA Chino will enforce I am Warren Beatty, it's just amazing. Was Am I Am I correct in saying that? That was the reason why I got fast tracked?
Jack Epps Jr. 30:56
Yeah, I think so. I think it was the, at that point, looking for something to the big superhero type movie like that, and it was ready to go. The script is ready. And in Warren, people saw him as the only that was one of the problems getting that movie made is that Warren was who everybody saw is the Tracy. There's nobody else. And that becomes a problem because we only make it with Warren. And when we start we first started the script with John Landis, who for my business would have been probably the most interesting, wacky, crazy. Tracy. John had that terrible Twilight Zone accident. He exited. Then we got Walter Hill, who was who taught me a lot. Walter was a screenwriter editor. Oh, a good director. Yeah. And he basically taught us a lot. He was funny, because we're a little arrogant, you know, you know, we've been doing really well. And Walter SS do a fix on the script. And we push back to No, we don't want to do this. And he said, Well, okay, I'll do it. I'll write it, don't worry about it. And we went, Oh, hold on a second here. You know, that's not a bad idea. We'll do it. Because you don't want to direct your writing. You want to stay the writer. So we said, oh, I think I understand what you mean. So you know, Walter taught us a lot how to hang in the game, and also how to focus the characters. Well, I mean, you know, and then, Walter, the, as I understand the story, you talked to Warren and Warren said, Can I watch the dailies? And Walter said, No, I never let actors walk daily watch dailies. And Warren said, Thank you, God. Movie crashes, Dick Benjamin comes on to do a cheap version, Dick Tracy. We cut the script down for budget. That doesn't happen. And then Warren ends up after a couple years, languishing, walking over to Paramount and getting the rights and moving the rights to Disney. And then once he's on board, he's driving I taught him we met, you know, more and more. I went met and talked and he's a good director, you know, I mean, so he was should I direct this? I said, Absolutely. You know, we're doing better than you.
Alex Ferrari 32:55
Yeah. And it was it was, I think people wanted it to be the next Batman and I don't, but it wasn't it was a hit. It didn't didn't do good business, right.
Jack Epps Jr. 33:04
It could business it wasn't quite what everyone wanted it to be. It didn't it didn't get the debt super numbers in there. There was to me, there was a lot of things crammed into that movie. Like me, it's even Stephen Sondheim songs. You can't complain about that. But they took up a lot of space. A bit of a musical. You know, Madonna's done. Yeah, I'm surprised no one's done. Dick Tracy, the musical so far since it would work?
Alex Ferrari 33:30
Yeah, Madonna was at the height of her powers as well. So they had to put there has to be a couple of you know, song and dance numbers Madonna, and it has, that's why we're hiring her. So and that's another thing that screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes don't understand is that there's there's just politics involved here. There's a lot of politics involved. And there's a lot of not only egos, but you know, agendas that need to be cramped like you said a lot of things were crammed in because there was so much pressure on that film I'm surprised that it did as well as it did because of the amount of pressure you they were they were hoping for another Batman and that's like that's you know, lightning in a bottle that doesn't happen very often. And it's still it was still good enough that it did do good business but obviously didn't you know break out into what what Batman was but it still holds up very well today. I watched it the other day it was it still holds up very well.
Jack Epps Jr. 34:21
Or the look is great. Richard silver did amazing art direction let's say the colors and Warren was working to create a sort of a comic book structure if you look at the setups are almost like it's by panels comic panel. He was trying to do that specifically. And you know, you've got great roles with with Dustin Hoffman doing mumble Oh, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 34:38
Forgot definitely, of course.
Jack Epps Jr. 34:40
Yeah. No, he's all in everybody come in and do this little stuff.
Alex Ferrari 34:44
Like, exactly. He's just like, hey, can you just come down to do this character for us, please. But when you're Warren Beatty, you could do things like that? Not but I have to ask you though. How did you convert or adapt a comic strip to Twitter? feature film. I mean, it's not like a comic book, if I'm not mistaken. Right? It was mostly comic strips right? There wasn't like this all comic strip was just comic strips like you would read in the Sunday paper. So how do you take that and adapt it into a major motion picture?
Jack Epps Jr. 35:14
I'm a big believer in research. I did a lot of research on Top Gun secret success. We had a technical adviser from business so I could ask him questions about business because I didn't really I didn't want to make stuff up. I wanted to, you know, to, so I could put totally could feel like it's based on something for Nick Tracy. I asked, universal Can you get me all the comic strips that Chester Gould wrote? Like, can you get them and they got me from 1932 The first one Oh, all the way up into the mid 50s. So I sat down and read it like a book. I just literally read every comic strip. And I felt I could I want to understand Chester Gould's writing style, his intention, his storytelling, I want to know his characters. Because I had to be true to this. And I was, I was not the fan on the strip the gym was but I became a huge fan of Chester Gould, the creator, because He created all these wonderful characters. And I fell in love with characters, all that all his ghouls characters, and my favorite being the blank. I just thought the blank was so interesting. So it's like, okay, we're going to construct your own story, because I can't do none of the strip stories at work, but I can take the characters. And at the very beginning, John Landis said he wants to set around big boy Caprice in the roaring 30s, so to speak, 20s 30s. And so that was our original walking orders. That big boy Caprice at the center of the story, so we had to figure out okay, what can we do? And then once I found the blank, I said, Okay, now I've got a character I love. Let's figure out what the story is. And we and we started building that out with the blank at the center of the mystery. And then telling basically, you know, a basically prohibition style type story, which is sort of funny, those tropes and reach out and do those things.
Alex Ferrari 36:52
And the funny thing is now that, you know, Dick Tracy, always just speaking to his watch, and now we speak it to our
Jack Epps Jr. 37:00
exact Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 37:02
It was pretty rare. It's taken. I think that was even part of the Apple ad campaign. They put a little bit of Dick Tracy in there, I think was even the Warren shot of him talking into it as part of the that's part of the ads. Now, you when you did Legal Eagles, you worked with Ivan Reitman, who's, you know, a legend in our business? What was it like working with Ivan and Ivan right after ghostbuster. So he was he was on fire and Fago as they say,
Jack Epps Jr. 37:31
Well, part of that was that our agent was frustrated too, that we didn't get anything made. We didn't get Top Gun produce. So he said, Look, I'm gonna put you in. I'm gonna put you with Ivan Reitman, because they'll make anything he wants to make. At that point, Ivan was the hottest director in the world. And so he had this amuse his idea. He wanted to do a thing about the art world, and why to do sort of a romantic comedy set in the art world and so is up for us to once again, figure out you know, what's the story? Who are the people? You know, it's like, okay, that's the assignment. Now, let's go figure out what it is. So again, I went to New York, went to the pace gallery, interviewed people, you know, just to figure out the environment of building building out the story. He did originally this this is one of the funny things originally he wanted to take the characters from Tootsie, the Dustin Hoffman Bill Murray characters and and that was the original cast idea, and wanted to put them build a movie around those guys. A whole different story, but that's what we got the district attorney and then we got the, you know, the whole the fleabag sort of guy, which gives us the relationship that I've been wanting to explore. Well, he said he we had half a script, he said, Look, I can't wait. I gotta send it to these guys. They won't sit around. Wait, I've been to half a script notes. Give it to me now. So yes, sir. You know, exactly half a script. They said to Dustin Well, Warren had just, you know, talked him into doing what's that crazy movie where you know, that horrible film?
Alex Ferrari 38:54
Which one? Oh, God.
Jack Epps Jr. 38:57
Oh, it star. It's just all right. The Tyson needs to do a star. So yes. So Dustin was available. A Bill Murray said I hate attorneys. I'll never play an attorney in my life. So suddenly, that idea crash. We've got half the script. So either goes, what about a romantic comedy with Robert Redford? You think you could do that? I said, Yeah, we can do that. I can do that. So we got to fly in the Columbia plane out to St. George, Utah, meet with Bob hung out for a couple hours into that world. And, you know, found out that he was, you know, sort of self deprecating guy and make jokes about himself sort of clumsiness, which we Yeah, exactly, really, and, and we see that and said, Well, Bob, we would love to make that as part of the character, which we did. We wrote it with that sort of character. Although when it came to set, he wasn't quite thrilled to play that character. So we got a couple beats of him, you know, dancing to singing in the rain in his apartment chewing on ice cream, so we got a couple of beats out of them. They're sort of out of character, but not as far as we want to go.
Alex Ferrari 40:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now with the thing about Legal Eagles is in those kinds of films. I remember them so clearly where it's a romantic comedy, but there is act, there's action and there's like thriller esque things in like, there's danger. There's real danger. I like remember, like movies like stakeout. And those kinds of that kind of time period. There were a lot. They don't make these films anymore. They're not really made anymore. And they're so wonderful.
Jack Epps Jr. 40:41
Yeah, they are wonderful. I mean, they get made us you can make a thriller like that, right. Hey, you can cope with a good idea, your thriller but but romantic comedies Gemini call them charming Chase movies, right? We were really influenced by North by Northwest in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks started, Preston Sturges. And then these sort of big romantic comedies were something that we did well. But now they don't make those anymore, and they sort of fell out of fashion. You know, a lot, I have to do with the Apatow comedy, and how that came in and changed the whole comic tone. And it just, they became dated, in a sense, I think that's why they've ended up on lifetime. And you don't see those movies anymore. It's just it's it's sort of comedy changes a lot. And in the comedy and and so those will be just sort of went away. I mean, you can still do the biggest action movies like that you should do them in action, and create that the fun. I mean, I think it's Tom's done Mission Impossible. He created that sense of that.
Alex Ferrari 41:41
But those are those but those are mostly action with some humor, as opposed to romantic comedy with some some really thriller esque elements and real danger elements. But it is a romantic comedy. But yeah, action films with humor. I mean, that goes yeah, even bit Beverly Hills Cop, you can argue is it's more of a comedy than it is an action film, but it's pretty even keel as far as thriller and comedy. It goes. Without question. Now, when do you when you start working on a script Do you outline?
Jack Epps Jr. 42:17
Well, you know, the greatest, the greatest piece of advice I got was from a writer I was doing an internship on a movie called Hearts of the West was Jeff Bridges. And the writer was really great. I Tony, Bill gave me the job. I have six months, three months of pre production, three months of production, which really showed me what a movie is. Not not a screenplay. But here's what movies are. And Rob Thompson gave me a piece of advice. I was talking about how you know how he does scripts and all this stuff. And he said, I used the card method. I said, What? Yeah, I use index cards, I break each scene into an index card. And, and that was like a light bulb within on my on my head and changed my life. Because from that moment on, I've been using index cards. So I, I beat out a story, not an outline, because an outline to me. I want I don't start on page one, I don't start the first scene, I start with scenes I like to see. So what's what is the scene I like to see. And then I'm going to look at that scene, it might be a middle scene might be the ending scene. And so I don't work in any linear map method, I basically start to visualize how I see the movie and start to fill in the pieces. And for me, that allows and I also have to see my movie, if I'm doing an outline, it's I'm looking at one page, what's on page four, or five. So by laying it out in a big table, and I married the right woman, she allowed me to have the dining room table for 20 years filled with guards. Wait the small table. And I basically I'd have i movies about 55 cards, something like that. But I go through literally hundreds of them trying to figure out the movie and I replay them. And I use colored cards to code relationships. So the main characters, the white card, and then different colored cards for the relationships to show. So I can track my relationships and subplots through the movie. But I'm able then to read them in columns and see my movie in one glance, I can sit down and I can show before I work in a scene, I can get the beats the character development, and I got a hole here, I can work on the hole and fix the hole. And I also can change cards around it will because there's no it takes a couple seconds to write a new card. There's there's no like resistance to making a change. Right? And when I feel I'm ready, I've got it, then I've got something to write.
Alex Ferrari 44:26
Do you do you start with the scenes or plot? Or do you start with the character first?
Jack Epps Jr. 44:33
Question. The biggest two things I'm looking for is one, what's the story? What's this about? What's the movie? What's the essence of it? And two, I'm always looking for where's the conflict in the story? Because I learned early on you write the conflict. I don't have the conflict. I've got nothing to write. So and then I'm looking for who lives in this world. Who is the person what is their story? What do they want? What are they trying to achieve? What's what I'm looking for? What are they pushing against what's the antagonistic force? What's the opposition? So I'm trying to find whose story it is. I'm looking for major relationships. So I'm looking to build all these things and understand it before I start going to cards. So I have to pretty much know whose movie it is and what I'm trying to tell. And, and that's something that I work out well in advance of beginning to plot the movie. Now, I pretty much know the story. It is.
Alex Ferrari 45:24
Gotcha, gotcha. Now, another film that you did in that time period, which I literally just watched with my daughters, who are young, Turner and Hooch. And I am sorry, I'm
Jack Epps Jr. 45:37
sorry. I always apologize, because I held back, show it to my kids until they were like, a 12 and 13. So to break their hearts,
Alex Ferrari 45:47
it was like, so we watched it. And that was the other thing, dude, like, by the way, spoiler alert, something happens at the end. But but the thing is, but the thing about that is that they were concerned about the ending when it was happening, because they were just like, Oh my God, oh, my God, is he is he? Yeah, but the way you were able to just bring in that light at the end with the puppies was absolutely brilliant, because I hadn't seen it. Since my video store days, I really hadn't watched in a long time. You know, like, sat down and watched it all the way through. And my wife and I both were just looking at like this so much. And Tom Hanks in the 80s was just so brilliant. And that huge. Oh my god, that dog was remarkable. How would it turn around who show up? Because I know Tom. Tom loves to make jokes about these like, Yeah, I did the doc movie. I don't know why did the duck. But he always jokes about it in interviews.
Jack Epps Jr. 46:41
No, no. All the time. Good. Saves money except his academy word Philadelphia. Yeah. That's right. Better accurate. Exactly. I know. I know. Well, it was it was once again, we're working with Disney and Katzenberg, these things go into production. And they literally didn't have things for Tom to play, Tom, you know, because what we what we became known as the guys to come in and bring character to it. Bring story. We're really good. We're good at fixing things. Like I can read the script and say, Okay, I like this. But this, here's what it needs to make it a movie. And so that was they had the dog but we just double down on the world's messiest dog, and we double down on Tom being the world's cleanest guy, and letting that sort of OCD character sort of, you know, be a problem for him and creating a love story and creating a relationship in there. So
Alex Ferrari 47:29
conflict, a conflict was in there just from the beginning.
Jack Epps Jr. 47:32
Right? Absolutely. And, and also, and making you fall in love with hooch is just this grisly, the worst thing that could happen to the character is the best thing to happen in the character. And what was so much fun about that project is that Tom was involved in development. So I would meet with the director and Tom would be there, and he'd be thrown out lines, I'll be writing all these lines out. Thank you. No doubt, you know. And the thing about Tom Hanks, he is who you think he is. He's a remarkable guy. And great to work with as generous as can be. And it was just such a pleasure to have somebody like that in a development meeting, just just helping develop the character because he and his concern was his relationship with OCE, he wanted to make sure that relationship was solid, because that's the core of the movie. And and we worked on that.
Alex Ferrari 48:17
Now the one of the one thing I really think is a learning moment here in the in the in the conversation is conflict, and how perfectly you know, Turner and Hooch were the conflict was self evident. There's no working for the conflict, like you just put two forces on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. And you just threw them together in a room. And it writes itself almost because of that. And I think that is something that screenwriters writing screenplays now are in their stories. I've read so many screenplays, and you know, you're doing coverage and things like that, where the conflict is almost forced, like, it's like, I don't buy that, like, oh, that there's no motivation there. You know, like, the bad guy has this motivation. And the good guy has this motivation. And it's like, really like convoluted. But the core of conflict from just something as simple as Turner and Hooch. It's built in. And I think as you if you're writing a story, having two characters who are just completely on two opposite sides of the spectrum, without any major details, but it's it's very basic, I'm clean, you're dirty. Oh, my God, we've got to live together. It's the odd couple with a dog and a guy is actually do we agree with that?
Jack Epps Jr. 49:32
Oh, absolutely. And it's one thing I learned early in, you know, figuring out how to write and what's what screenplays are about, is using relationships to produce conflict. And I'm a big believer in having multiple layers of conflict. I call them opposition forces. I want to make sure that my characters have a lot of opposition. And no matter where they turn throughout the story, there's a point of opposition there. And there are different degrees. It's not like it has to be everything's huge. It doesn't matter the main character is going on a journey. And the journey is fraught with challenges of different degrees. And what that character is is trying to do is get what they want, but ultimately what they need at the end and in the process trying to get what they want, they bump into opposition characters and opposition situations, which, which helps define the character because we see who is this character? Who is this person? Why do we root for them? What do we want? Are they you know, what's their growth arc through the story, and by using plot and relationship to help tell the story and create conflict. It allows me to explore the character from from multiple points of view, and allows a character to express themselves to different people in different ways depending upon the relationship and a lot and then I'm a big believer in in you don't want to rely on plot all the time. It's just plot. Because what I say is curiosity. Oh, what's gonna happen but emotion is character. And character is about relationships. It's not no no character exist by themselves. I mean, you know, a castaway. They had to create Wilson, because he needed somebody to relate to so what does he do? He creates this character Wilson, who I don't know about you, but Wilson falls off.
Alex Ferrari 51:13
Oh my god. Oh my god, volleyball. Oh my god. It's a volleyball.
Jack Epps Jr. 51:17
Used emotion to it. I'm going Wilson though.
Alex Ferrari 51:21
And you're like I'm Why am I crying for damn volleyball? Like, what? If that's the brilliance of Tom Hanks. That's the brilliance of Bob Zemeckis. It's just the built brilliance of all of that. I mean, that. I mean, how he did not win the Oscar for that before. She's it's great. It's, it's remarkable. And I have to also ask you another great 90 film that you made Anaconda. I mean, where did that come from? The giant snake movie. It's like, it's pretty sharp, NATO. And it's not nearly as bad, by the way. So please, I'm not I'm not comparing them. But the big fun, there's so much fun. There's so much fun. It's fun. But Anaconda. I remember when it showed up. And we're like, Well, this is genius. I mean, this is like, why hasn't? Why hasn't there been a giant snake? Where did that come from?
Jack Epps Jr. 52:09
You know, it was once again, the agents call and said, By the way, you know, Sony is looking for rewriting this. They said, Yeah, you know, whatever, you know, so we just sort of dropped in our laps. And it was a very interesting, it's very different than any other film we've done yet is there, all the CGI was already being done. So the graphics were already being worked on. So we could not change the basic graphic attacks of the snake. But the story from our point of view didn't work, the characters didn't work, there was no antagonist in the movie. And so our job was to basically rethink the story of the characters. So we came on board and recreated, who the characters were all new story of why they're going up to the Amazon, what was happening, all the relationships and people, we created all of that material, and had to weave it around all the CGI effects.
Alex Ferrari 53:02
It's because the attacks were already that's when you have your cards up on the board, like, yeah, these are the 10. We got to we got to navigate this.
Jack Epps Jr. 53:11
We got to make those things happen. So we had to create new characters, and new relationships and new problems and different characters being caught by obviously, because that's not a problem because it hadn't been cast yet. And so that was sort of a fun thing to do. And it's just sort of fun to you know, to kill people. The way I read
Alex Ferrari 53:33
is, yeah, it's Yeah, it is. There's a bit of humor in it, but it is definitely not your typical, you know, as far as your filmography is concerned, it's definitely not secret of my success.
Jack Epps Jr. 53:43
It is yeah, but I'll tell you, it gets from residuals, I can see how many people watch it and it's still one of the most watched movies. So that it was actually during the pandemic. It was a top 10 of Netflix for one week. I was going through my list. Yeah, I'm going down. Oh, what's the top 10 ago? What? Anaconda is number nine for the week. Okay, so that's like
Alex Ferrari 54:02
23 years old. How is that?
Jack Epps Jr. 54:05
Well, it's cast I didn't have any to do with casting. The casting is
Alex Ferrari 54:08
remarkable. Oh, yeah. Ice Cube JLo JLo
Jack Epps Jr. 54:11
Ice Cube. I got to beat Ice Cube years later. And I said by the way, I'm the guy who stuck you in that swamp with the camera. He goes oh, man, he did that.
Alex Ferrari 54:21
He did okay. He did. He did okay. He did well, he did fine. Now one thing you you've said a lot of that you do a lot of rewriting and you worked on on you know massive hits like Sister Act and diehard three and now that I know that you had a hand in diehard three. It makes sense because there's a lot of my two favorite diehards is diehard one and diehard three with four coming up and then two is the last one and I don't even consider any of the other ones. But three was such a wonderful buddy and talk about conflict. I mean, Sam Jackson and John McClement and Bruce on that was great. How do you approach rewriting a script? Because you've done it so often in your life and you have also have a book, called screenwriting is rewriting. So I'm sure you have a couple things to say about that.
Jack Epps Jr. 55:11
Well, you know, rewriting is the key, every writer is going to tell you that, in screenwriting is rewriting is where the title came from. Because you have to be willing to dive in, you've got to be willing to take notes. And you know, we become very precious with our material. We don't want to, we don't want to, you know, make changes. But when you're a professional writer, and the studio tells you, here's what we want, you can't you can argue and get thrown off the movie, that's not going to help you. Or you can stay there and try to protect the movie. And that's, that's what basically my approach is, let me work with and not everybody's an idiot. Let me work with the best I can let me work with their ideas. And the key is trying to figure out not just the specific notes, but what's what are the notes saying in general, and trying to work on the bigger notes, which is the response you're getting from from people. We always were pretty lucky that took the notes we got were brought to one, we're never huge. The biggest note we ever got was John Landis. When we do the first draft of Dick Tracy, we didn't put Jr into the movie. And his first note was Where's Jr. Tracy? We went, Oh, yeah, right. Okay, we have a junior Tracy, in which we had to actually start all over again, because that's the core relationship of the movie. So suddenly, we can't just what you can't do in writing is just plug things in, you have to realize that there's a cause and effect of everything in the screenplay. So if you put something in this scene, it's going to relate to scenes later. And part of that is realizing the way the puzzle fits together and the way that everything sort of works. So we're always approaching, I'm always approaching rewriting, as, you know, while I'm trying to figure out what the assignment is, to figuring out what the notes are, three, getting a game plan, I'm going to address this in a certain way, I'm just not gonna have at it. As a professional writer, I'm trying to save every bit of work I can. So I don't want to rewrite the whole script I love people throw the baby out, and they start all over again. No, I'm gonna try to preserve everything I can, and try to weave it in the new elements into this existing story if I can, but also, I've had words changed all the time. So I'm not precious, super precious on things. I'm only precious on things I know the story has to have. So what's the heartbeat of this story? What's the core emotional moment of this movie about? How does the audience relate to this movie, I'm not going to give that up. Because that does get damaged story. So rewriting is about figuring out what's a game plan and then going at it my approach is to do a series of passes, not to try to do everything at once I like to do character. First, let's make sure we get this character story. Really well told we know who this character is. I like to know what the theme is. And then I thematic balance, I want to make sure that I understand the plot elements are not only telling a good story, but they're helping reveal the character. And this is really important plot reveals character, how our character responds to the plot. Problem is what tells us a lot about the character. And so using my storytelling techniques to tell a story about a life in crisis is what I like to say movies are about lives in crisis. So is my character in crisis is the crisis substantial is enough to motorhome movie.
Alex Ferrari 58:32
Right, exactly. And well, let me ask you a question, though, when you're working on projects, like SR act, and diehard three, I know a lot of a lot of screenwriters don't understand why some people get credit and while others don't, you know, Lee, you know, technically on their name on it, how does that work? And can you explain a little how the DG that the BGA kind of, you know, police's, that situation. Sure. Well, the
Jack Epps Jr. 58:56
WTA was founded basically, for to to award credits, that's what went on strike for because in the 30s, you know, the studios would give credits to their brother in law and whoever it was, and so writers had no say in what how they were credited, and that's what the original one of the original strikes was for. So the DGA, WGI handles all of the credit determination. There's a a anonymous arbitration panel that is convened, and they basically read the materials and there's rules that the guild is laid down and how credit is determined whether story credit screenplay credit written by credit the different layers of different different credit and depending upon the work that you've done on the script depends upon what credit you deserve
Alex Ferrari 59:43
so it so that all right so that makes perfect sense because obviously Sister Act had and diehard three both have a lot of your touches, I can sense a spirit
Jack Epps Jr. 59:53
is there Yeah, they definitely do and sister acts as sort of a sore point with me because we were advised not to see credit because The movie was a disaster on the set.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:13
And, and I always felt bad about that, because I really liked the script. And so then of course, we went to well, you know, but we went to the premiere and I went like, Well, that was unfortunate because it there's a lot on Gemini in that movie, and we we feel a kinship to it. But you know, that's when they got away. So we're glad that we could basically put so much into it. It
Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
was it was it was there. I didn't I never heard that. I mean, I think I might have heard something in regards to the being a disaster onset and in nobody I knew no one was expecting subtract to be a monster hit.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:46
No, no, but I think any. Right and then from the first I was sitting at premiere for the first note, I went on it. And it was, it was not read for whipping Whoopi Goldberg. Originally, she was at Les cast, who was the winner for I'm trying to think of the actress to Broadway actress. I can't think of right now.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Okay. Oh, she did. She did other movies. Yeah, yeah.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:12
I can look it up.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:14
Because now I'm fascinated because I cannot see Sister Act with anybody else other than the will be called her.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:18
No, no, she was the perfect cast. Absolutely. She was a perfect cast. That Midler.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Oh, that myth. That would have been an interesting Sister Act. It wouldn't have been the same by any stretch. No, but it would have been interesting.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:33
Yeah, that was for bet Midler. And she didn't want to do what she said about two rows in front of me at the premiere. And I could tell that she slouched I think she even knew Oh, I you know, but what the was the perfect cast? Yeah, I think I think we bet I think she was in a good job. She's a talented actress, it would have been funny, but what the elevated that movie and made into what it was, what it is. And I think that was a brilliant casting that made it as a standout film and still is.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
And where can people find your book screenwriting is, is rewriting.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:02
It's on Amazon,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:03
it's on Amazon. And you run and you run it basically, because you want to help screenwriters, I wanted to kind of help them in that kind of process. Because rewriting it's hard, especially when you're not a professional writer, and you're like, become precious, and like, I can't do this word. And I know Stephen King's, like, just kill your babies.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:20
Well, it is you have to let go and letting go is really hard. And also how to approach it is hard. Because people get overwhelmed by notes, they get overwhelmed. They don't want to do it. They tend to take it personally, they tend to feel they've lost. You know, part of things about being a writer is the creative, creative people, we have a lot of insecurities, we there's a lot of imposter syndrome. And so now you're rewriting Oh, they found me out, and all this sort of stuff. And it's important for writers to know you're not alone. All writers virtually feel that. And that what you have to realize it's a process and that scripts don't get, you know, oh, I've written something. It's brilliant. Well, maybe there's some brilliance in there. But right now you got to get to work and make it into a movie. And be willing to let go of your darlings. And and realize that notes and feedback are what help you to write a better script. But my book is about how to approach it. How do you approach a rewrite, and it's not easy. And I tell you that you get 100 screenwriters in a room together, they all do it differently. So there's no one way to do it. This, this book presents My Way, which is really about organizing, I believe that you organize a rewrite and prepare for a rewrite. If you organize it, then all the sort of the right call the circle confusion of these notes, what should I do? Where's the answer? I don't know I'm doing it, you're gonna find me out. If you start to put it on paper and you start to organize it into categories, character plot, theme, scene structures, you know, just relationships, if you start to break those notes down and then address the notes that you're going to the most important for you. Oh, okay. These are the ones that start first to lay this thing out. It will get better over time, if you're willing to give yourself time which it's, it's, you know, it's the process, not the product. And that's where we're young writers have had, they want the product. And I can tell you that what was what the advantage of Gemini having seven unproduced screenplays is it became the process. We didn't believe there was a product
Alex Ferrari 1:04:24
right? Apparently our career is just gonna be writing stuff that never gets made.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:04:28
And there are guys who have as you say, you've earned a good living and never gotten a single thing made right. But are super talented writers. Absolutely talented. And there's no good reason that and my favorite script is never got produced. And it just Well, there it goes. That's just how it happened yet got close, got close and never got got done.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
I've read I've read script by by scripts by screenwriters that I'm like, This is awesome. This shoulder masker like this. This is amazing. This is remarkable. And there's tons of those scripts scattered on shelves and how Would from decades and decades, I remember when Billy went back and got the body guard and Unforgiven, out of the archives, and they brought it back out and look at turn into two hits, there's always these two. So it's about not only the talent, and the skill, but luck being at the right place at the right time.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:05:18
There's a lot of luck, but I also think it's staying with it. Right? Just you know, Damien Chazelle, said he had he had no the plan, you know, there's only a plan. And that's it. If you're in for it, you're in for it. Which means that you've got to be willing to dive in, do the hard work that has to be done. I also any writer listening to this, find yourself a writers group. Don't be out there. There. No matter where you are, what city you're in, there are people doing what you're, what you're doing, find them get together, give each other feedback, you're writing support group, it helps, it helps to get feedback. Secondly, you need people just to help keep you in the game. And realize that you will get stronger, the more you stay at it. And if you want to become a better writer, learn to be a rewriter because that's where you get stronger, because it teaches you how to be a better writer, because what you find out is I want to rewrite, so I'm gonna make sure I have all this shit down right from the beginning, so that I don't have to do this next time. So I'm gonna make sure my characters have a really good story. They have a really good strong one. I'm gonna make sure that I have great opposition in my story that I understand, you know, what is what is driving this movie and what the emotional stake is for the reader in the audience. I mean, those things you've got to have.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?
Jack Epps Jr. 1:06:41
Chinatown. Robert Towne who I basically interviewed my book, which was great talking about his rewriting process, and I think it really was because everybody's different and but Robert, it's he's really opens up and he's honest guy. It's, it's really amazing. I think that's a great script. And not on old script, but I love it is the apartment. Yep. Oh, yes. Come up a couple times here. Yeah. And I say that because to me, that script had a huge influence and Gemini because the character development, the storytelling, the emotion of it, Billy Wilder and Aiello, diamond are amazing. Just amazing screenwriters. You and I don't, it's always hard to say what is that other one? I'll tell you what's a good one to read? Okay. Read go look for the first draft of goodwill. Honey. Not not the one that got produced? Yeah, go read the first draft, or the first draft of Back to the Future? Hmm. Okay. Because what you see there are two scripts that that don't work too well, they got some real problems, especially back to future. And then you see what they ended up doing through a series of rewrites and needs. It teaches you that, that those guys you know, they didn't hit the ball of the park in the first swing? You know, they barely got the first base. And and it's it's I think the port is read scripts and didn't work. But the movies did because it shows you okay, they really work this they took the idea and and built it out. And they see what works. Oh, I see why this movie works. Now of course. Yeah. How could why were they it seems obviously to have those elements that they weren't there. And that the back the future off? You know, it is the the ending takes place. They had to get to a nuclear power plant to power the car back to get back to the future. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So it's this whole big thing that goes through this news. There was no clock tower. But But universal said, Guys, we don't have the funds for this. We can't do this. You got to do we got to do it on the standard lot. So they looked at the clock tower, and they said, alright, well, we'll have lightning hit the clock tower. You can't imagine the movie without it. I know that but he wasn't there. And they basically, you know, they just they just were okay, here's how we made it work.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
And it gives us hope. When you read when you read scripts like that gives us hope as screenwriters and filmmakers. You're like, look, they look like geniuses. And they are in many ways, but they don't not everyone hits it out. Like no one comes out of the womb, and writes the great American novel or the great American screenplay. It takes work, and even the best ones. I remember Casa Blanca, they were writing it on the on the set,
Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:23
writing on the set. Absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
And it's one of the best screenplays ever written. And it's like they were just trying to figure it out. You know, what looks like genius to us was some some screenwriters in there going, I don't know how we're gonna get to next.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:37
You know, I asked Robert Towne. I said, Does it ever get easier? And he said, eff No, no, and he wrote to me is one of the great screenwriters of all time and Robert, you've written all these great things is never easy. You know, it's so I mean, and that's the truth. It is a hard thing to do. But the most important thing is, is that one you're telling a story you you're passionate about. You have characters that that have a story to life going On a crisis at the heart of your movie, and or your TV show, why do we care? What's our emotional state? What does the audience care about? Why is it important for this character to basically achieve their need at the end of the movie, what it is emotionally that they need not only just the physical thing that happened, but what does it mean to them emotionally?
Alex Ferrari 1:10:20
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business
Jack Epps Jr. 1:10:23
today? I would say that don't be frustrated, it's going to take time that what you need to do is to read a lot of scripts, see how they work. Make sure you have a support group writers group so that you know you're getting feedback as you're going along. Know when your script is ready, that's a question I get a lot is, when do you know your script is ready? You know, because there's a thing of, I don't want to send it out, I don't want to send it out. I don't want to send it out. Eventually, you have to let it go. Which means that you're telling your story as best as you can, or the feedback you're getting from people and you do need to get feedback. Is it you know? Is it not like to the heart of the story, and then send it out, take the bumps, whatever happens and then start another one? You have to continue? It's not it's not? I've seen so many people I have this one idea. My one idea. No, no, my pitching story is so I go, you know, you try to go pitch ideas, right? So I got the pitch I want to sell. I walk in there, it's my you know, my eight minute pitch. I've got my song and dance routine of doing the whole thing and they go, what else you got? Alright, now I got my three minute pitch. Alright, here's this one. I really like this one. They go Alright, what else you got? I get my thumbnail is 20 seconds ago. I love that one. I mean, so you just don't know what is going to hit. You don't know what's gonna strike the chord. Right? But if you write from your heart, and you write from your passion that will come through as a writer, and it's got to be a good read. This is a reading process. It's got to be a good read. And again, Damien Chazelle is listening to an interview he had on on fresh air. And Robin, I think it's Robin grosses and said, Damien, you did all these sort of horror movies and all these rewrites. What did you learn from that? He said, I learned how to make them turn to the next page. Credit. Is that to me, I CIA? Holes. I got chills because I think he's a cool character. And no, he learned how to hold their attention and make them read to the end. And I thought that's just brilliant and simple and honest.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
That's amazing. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Jack Epps Jr. 1:12:39
I think understanding character, understanding what character was and I had a tough stay ahead. here's the here's a story how I learned the meaning of what how to write character and what true character was. This, Andy and I had sold a Kojak and we pitched the idea of a cop who shoots his partner. And we want to get the script screenplay. So we sold the idea for it. Right? Okay, they bought the idea. So we kept going and pitching to the showrunner. Okay, here's what the show is. He goes now I don't like that we can't came back and came back. We never got the script. We didn't get it. We watched Kojak. I watched the hired somebody watch the episode. And it blew me over like like a bolt. Okay, we were pitching plot. This veteran writer wrote story of a character. And the whole episode was about this character, and about his life and about his wife who was having a drug habit. And she was chained to a bed, and he was out there and he kills a partner and his whole life is falling apart. And all we were doing was doing people chasing running around shooting is like, no, the emotional core. That's what character is. And that taught me that I needed the center of my stories to have stories about people and lives that we relate to.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:48
Yeah, and I think and I've said this many times on the show before is that you remember character, you remember Indiana Jones, you remember James Bond, you might not remember all the details of the plots of those films, but you definitely remember those characters. And that's, that's what we're not emotionally attached to plot plot is just a vehicle in my opinion, you're attached to the you're emotionally attached to character, what happens to them, if they're going to make it if they're not going to make it, they're gonna find love, they're not gonna find love, or they're gonna beat the bad guy, or they're gonna beat are they the bad guy, whatever that is. That's what you are attached
Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:21
to. But you still have to have a good plot.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:24
Again, it's a vehicle. It's a it's a vehicle because it's
Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:28
what it's what pulls us through it. But you know, and you have to have isolated you know, cool shit happens. You have to be a part of it's a piece as well, it's sort of it you know, I'm good at set pieces. I love writing set pieces. They're fun to write, I think it's one of the joys of writing action movies is creating thinking of big set pieces. And it's hard to think they're really harder to write than people would think of, because it's all been done. You know,
Alex Ferrari 1:14:49
it was a lot easier in the 50s 60s. To come up with these kinds of things.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:53
It's really hard to write something new and so but but if there if we don't care about that person at this center of it. It doesn't matter what happens. Um, it's not about the explosions. It's about the person in the explosions. And we're worried is he going to get out of these motions? and at what
Alex Ferrari 1:15:09
price? Right I mean, drastic Park is about dinosaurs. But we're not emotionally attached to the dinosaurs were emotionally attached to the characters and running around in that park. It's yeah, and I think sometimes I think some sometimes screenwriters get a little bit too uppity when it comes to plot. Like you were just saying with your when you were pitching Kojak.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:15:30
Yeah, yeah. Well, that's it. I mean, you have a tendency to Well, it's funny because you actually have to pitch plot, it's very hard to pitch character, because character development you but you have to have it there. And you tell it, and then you guys say, Okay, here's the story, because I'm looking for what are the events, and then how this person was woven into the story. But it's, that's that's pitching, which is a whole different game in itself.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:51
I've had many episodes about pitching just on pitching alone. And it's always tough. It's an art. It's an art form. It's an absolute art form. And last question, three of your favorite films of
Jack Epps Jr. 1:16:01
all time. Oh, three are favorite films of all time. Okay, well, we already mentioned one, which is the apartment because it just, I saw that when I was really young, and I never could forgive Fred Astaire no matter what made me Fred. About Yeah, no. Okay. All right. So and so I love that movie again. I like Chinatown for how it works and how it weaves? So isn't it? Yeah, it just is one that is, you know, you it's got a great sense of place. In the end, I'll tell you a movie that really had a huge influence on Gemini was the sting. Oh, that makes him ID that makes sense. I mean, yeah, it's because it totally kept you off guard off balance expectations. And the movie just it tricks you so many times. It was really and David S word want to wrote a wonderful script that basically I went to school on June, but we broke that script down every line every just the way it was done.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:59
And do you do you advise that to screenwriters to actually like take structure from other other screenplays and just maybe use it as inspiration to, because if it's been if it's been not storyline, but structure of like, this happens at this point, this happens at this point, and kind of start off, it's kind of like a roadmap a little bit. And it's gonna probably change obviously, as you write it. But I've seen a lot of I mean, if you look at I've said this so many times, if you look at Fast and Furious, it's Point Break, it's Point Break with cars. I mean, that's exactly the same story.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:17:27
Yeah, no, I think the danger is make copies, right? The danger is, I'm going to make a copy of something because I really liked a lot, doing homage to it, you can love it, and have a feeling and tone of it. But you got to tell your own story. And yes, you can learn how we structurally put this type of movie together what have successful movies, I mean, I I'd like to break down and understand how movies work. And and you know, what the core of the storytelling is? So yeah, I mean, absolutely. You can go in I mean, every all art is referenced from something else. But you want to make it yours. And yours is who that character is, what is the story? What's that emotional relationship going on? Because that then makes it yours. I'm not a big believer that this things have to happen on page 30. And page 40. In this sort of, I'm a big, I don't believe in that. There are there we definitely have a three act structure and culture. So as a beginning, middle and end we'd have we definitely have coming out of a first act where a character is thrown into a situation. I believe that I've learned that a mid mid term midpoint Plot Turn is really good. If you have something happened in the middle, it makes your second act easier to write because as a writer, the hardest place to write is the end of the second act. That's that's really hard, you know, easy. First acts are easy. endings are fairly easy. If you know if you set it up well, you can edit. But that big middle is really where it's hard. So you got to keep that middle moving. And that's where that's where I use relationship to keep that middle moving.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:56
But Jack, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to the tribe today and in sharing your knowledge and experience in in your screenwriting journey with us today. So thank you so much, Jack. I truly appreciate it, man.
Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:08
It's been fun. It's been fun chatting with I feel like we've been chatting for a long time. Like, I've known you for a while.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:12
Thank you my friend
Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:15
Pretty comfortable to do.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
- Jack Epps Jr. – IMDB
- Jack Epps Jr. – USC Cinematic Arts
- Book: Screenwriting is Rewriting: The Art and Craft of Professional Revision – Amazon
- Watch: Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid – Amazon
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook