Penny Pinching

If you’ve ever wondered about the specific ways that the corporate mentality can damage the art of filmmaking, check out this interesting exchange between screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin on their latest Scriptnotes podcast.

They’re talking about how producers often decide where a film will be shot based on what city offers the best tax breaks rather than the needs of the script, and Craig Mazin talks about his own experiences on Identity Thief, which he wrote.

John: So, Identity Thief was Georgia, correct?

Craig: Identity Thief was shot in Atlanta.

John: Okay.

Craig: The movie was obviously always meant to be a road trip. … And I remember talking … at length with Jason and with Seth Gordon about the kind of road trip we wanted to do. And the one that we wanted to tell, because it’s important, I mean, everything is intentional. And we sort of wanted to show a cross country road trip that we hadn’t really seen.

You know, for instance Due Date had just done a really good one from Atlanta to LA, and they kind of cut through that southern swath and through the Grand Canyon. It was such a great look. And they got near the Mexican border. But what I hadn’t seen was a trip that I had actually done when I was younger, which is kind of a Boston to Portland kind of feel, that cutting across the top of the country, through the rust belt, and through dairy country, and then out through kind of big sky and all the rest of it.

… And ending up in the Pacific Northwest. And so much of what the characters look like and dress like and how they live, plus Boston is such a great town in terms of look.

John: Oh, it’s great.

Craig: And Portland is really interesting. And Portland is also interesting because of the communities that are just off it that are actually kind of trashy and depressed.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I was screamed at. I’m not joking … I mean over the phone I was screamed at, and I was told the movie has to be shot in Atlanta or it’s not happening. And … given that the whole thing had to be shot in Atlanta, the physical production people were quite convinced that we could fool the audiences by making a road trip from Miami to Atlanta. [laughs]

And I was like, that’s a day. First of all, everything looks the same. That’s the whole point. So, how will you know you got anywhere? Forget what it does to the characters and all the rest of it. And it was an enormous fight and in the end the best I could do was get to, okay, it’s a drive from Miami to Denver, but not really Denver, Atlanta. And then pay for a second unit to sort of fake our way through St. Louis.

It was depressing, because frankly what ended up happening was the Denver scenes were just generic because frankly Denver and Atlanta are kind of generic looking cities.

John: They really are.

Craig: So, that stuff was just sort of generic. The Florida stuff was generic. And the road trip was boring. You know, you didn’t get a sense of scope or feel or the bigness of what it means to be out on the road in the middle of nowhere, just big, big…it just killed me.

John: The only sort of big wide moments you had were some of those giant tree-lined highways. And you used those for like the times when they’re walking around a bit.

Craig: … It’s generic, you know? … But this is the thing, it just bums me out … And it’s not like we were saying we have to shoot the movie in Los Angeles. And it’s not like we’re saying we can’t shoot a big chunk of it somewhere where there are tax breaks. Nor are we saying, “Okay, the movie that costs $32 million, if we do it the way we want to would cost $52 million.” It wouldn’t. It would have probably cost $37 million.

John: It would have been just fine.

via Scriptnotes, John

If you haven’t listened to Scriptnotes before, it’s a great podcast “about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.” Anyone interested in screenwriting should definitely check it out!