THE DIALOGUE DVD Reviews: Interviews with Screenwriters Paul Haggis and Duo Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

     March 29, 2010

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It’s easy for the role of screenwriters to be trivialized in among the star worshippers and auteur theorists that populate Hollywood, but as the saying goes, there ain’t no film without a script.  The Dialogue looks to shine a spotlight on these creative types, and has amassed an impressive collection 80-90 minute interviews with some of film’s most notable scribes over the last couple years.  You’ll find a review of the editions devoted to Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale) and the writing duo of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Mission: Impossible III, Transformers, Star Trek) after the break.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci The Dialogue DVD.jpgBetween Haggis, Orci, and Kurtzman, you have about six decades of experience across film and television, so there’s plenty of material for conversation.  And while Haggis–with three Oscar nominations and one win–is associated with more personal dramatic fare, Kurtzman/Orci are the go-to guys for the big budget blockbuster with a penchant for science fiction.  If it’s any indication whose work I prefer, I popped the Kurtzman/Orci disc in the DVD player first.

It is refreshing that the duo has no illusions about the type of scripts they generate.  When you’re writing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a looming release date and studio input are as important to the creative process as the internal muse.  One quotes a high school film teacher who, in preparation for a lesson, imparted, “Take Robocop very, very seriously.”  It’s a cool mindset, and really, that’s who you want in charge of a reboot of Star Trek.  As Kurtzman and Orci have dived head first into producing, they are a prolific pair, and you can see how they bounce off each other during the conversation.  As an exercise, the interviewees are given an object which they must develop a movie around: Kurtzman and Orci rattle off three intriguing ideas in no more than a minute.

By comparison, in his interview Haggis is handed a necklace; he stares at it for a bit, and recounts a sprawling, emotional family narrative.  Though Haggis has some blockbuster experience thanks to the Bond franchise, he generally works in a much quieter realm than Kurtzman and Orci.  Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of his work, but his self deprecation kept things light in spite of the interviewer’s obnoxious attempts to deify him in the room.  His television background–which hilariously includes Diffrn’t Strokes, The Facts of Life–isn’t one you wouldn’t expect from the man who can call Crash his own personal soapbox.  But Haggis is nicely self aware of his own career path, and he came through on the other side with plenty of entertaining stories to share.

The entertainment value of any given interview probably depends on how much you like the work of the interviewee, but that’s common sense: if you didn’t like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe the Nia Vardalos DVD isn’t worth the $8.95.  The interviewers are a bit too quick to praise a bit too effusively, but mostly ask the right questions to get their subjects talking.  The series seems especially designed for aspiring screenwriters–the website includes study guides designed for high school and college students.  If you happen to be one, by all means find a writer you like and check it out: it should prove informative.

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