Beer, wrestling matches fuel scribes' imaginations

Sun Dec 14, 2008 6:47pm EST
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By Todd Longwell

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If Nick Schenk wins an Academy Award for his "Gran Torino" script, his acceptance speech should include a shout-out to the folks at Grumpy's, the bar in northeast Minneapolis where he wrote it in longhand over the course of several weeks in 2007.

"I'd have a frozen bar pizza, throw darts, sip a beer and scribble," Schenk says in a thick Minnesota accent that makes him sound like a character from "Fargo." "The bartender, Tim Kennedy, is one of my best friends, so I'd ask him questions. I'd say, 'Tim, what's the dumbest name for a man?' And he'd say, 'Glenn with two N's.' There's a joke like that in the script, and I think that came right from Tim."

On an average night at Grumpy's, Schenk would consume three Summit pale ales ("The best beer made in the United States," he says), but he insists it wasn't the alcohol that was fueling his creativity.

"The bar was great, because there was noise in the background and there was stuff going on, so it was casual," explains Schenk, who wrote the initial story with friend Dave Johannson. "When I sat at the computer, it was like, OK, it's time to work now,' and it was intimidating. With a pen, you just let it go."

Obviously, this isn't the way screenwriters typically work, but aside from using a computer, it's hard to pinpoint any "typical" process. And this year's crop of contenders for the best original screenplay Oscar is more motley than most, employing a wide variety of stimuli to tweak their muses, from flinging pencils into the ceiling to strip club sojourns.

In the case of "Changeling," screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski had 6,000 pages of documents relating to the case of Christine Collins (played by Angelina Jolie), a woman in Los Angeles in the late 1920s convinced that the missing child returned to her by police was not her son. The challenge for Straczynski was shaping them into concise cinematic form, and for that he simply applied his stringent daily writing regimen.

Typically, Straczynski writes new material from about 8 p.m. until 4 a.m., crashes for a few hours, gets up and revises the previous day's work from about 1 or 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., then starts the process all over again. Once he had the structure of "Changeling" worked out, he was able to pound out the script in 11 days.

"I write 10 hours a day, every day, except my birthday, New Year's Day and Christmas," Straczynski boasts. "I've had two vacations in 20 years."   Continued...

<p>Nick Schenk, screenwriter of director Clint Eastwood's new film "Gran Torino" poses at the film's world premiere at the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, California December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>