This week notes from a BFI event in December last year – a screening of MOLLY’S GAME, followed by an interview with its writer / director AARON SORKIN –
‘I wasn’t at all interested in poker. I’m still not. Not until I met Molly Bloom that I saw there was a film that wasn’t like the book.
Hundreds of meetings with Molly. A real-life movie heroine. She’s built out of integrity – that’s what made me want to tell her story. I like to write romantically and idealistically.
One of the things not in the movie – several of the Russian mafia guys lived in Trump Tower. Very little chance that Trump didn’t know that they were members of the mob living in his apartments.
Molly and I have become very good friends. I like her very much. ‘Defining success is being able to move from failure to failure and maintain enthusiasm.’ Churchill.
I simply met Molly and wanted to tell that story. I don’t use a different font when I write for women.
Drama to it because I hadn’t seen this character in movies before. Why didn’t Brad Pitt have a girlfriend in Moneyball? Because it didn’t advance the story at all. – same with Molly in Molly’s Game. I tried but the scene didn’t work. If you can cut a scene then you probably should cut that scene.
While writing the script I didn’t really have any actor in mind for the role. I never do – I’m playing all the parts. As a result of that it’s hard for me to see anyone playing the parts. Jessica Chastain was on a short-list, then no,1. I watched all her movies again. We had a meeting not an audition – to see if I could discover if she would be willing to take direction from a first-time director. Three minutes into the meeting she leant forward and said – this is stupid, you should just give me the part.
I never looked to move into directing. I’ve worked with some of the best directors. When I write something I want the best director to direct it. Usually that’s not me. On THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin (the producers) thought it was me. But they made a last-minute offer to David Fincher and he accepted immediately. The big reason I directed MOLLY’S GAME, I was very aware that there is a natural gravitational pull in the story towards glamour etc. I didn’t want this to swing heroism and romanticism – it’s not a poker movie – we don’t care who wins a hand of poker.
I am a sports fan. At 2am on ESPN they broadcast poker. I have a respect for the game. I never believed it was a game of skill – but it is. Molly was able to convince me of that. On set the supporting cast of poker players would play poker. The extras made money off them – they were all pro poker players.
For whatever reason – and I’m proud of it – when it comes to who gets credit / blame I’ve been sharing it with directors ie I’ve always felt the maximum amount of pressure. ‘At what point is a man going to mansplain something?’ ‘Is it Sorkinish?’ John Lennon – ‘I’d rather have a band than a rolls Royce.’ I know what he meant – I’d rather be part of a team in something of which I’m proud.
Social Network – I spend a lot of time before the actual writing begins – to the untrained eye it looks a lot like someone lying on the couch watching sports.
I need to find a tension and an obstacle. 1st scene in Social Network – in bar. It suddenly occurred to me these were the youngest characters I’d ever written and that I needed to write in their language. I did half a page in this way but it was ridiculous. I had to write in the way that I write. This is the last time I dabbled in something that was completely unnatural to me. The first time was adapting my stage play ‘A FEW GOOD MEN.’ Before this, I’d never even read a screenplay. I just read and watched every play. Climbing the walls wondering what Rob Reiner (the director) was expecting from me. The script was due. To hell with it, I found I had to just write. Don’t try to figure out what everyone wants and try to give it to them.
There are a million ways to prepare beef but if you try to please as many people as possible, it will be a Macdonalds burger every time.
Actors improvising – it’s against the law. Doesn’t happen. In comedy – Judd Apatow – a genius at it. In drama – Paul Greengrass wants controlled chaos, many takes people shouting over each other. I don’t. I like the sound of dialogue. To me dialogue sounds like music. I saw the play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ at age 9. I didn’t understand it but I liked the dialogue.
I wanted it to sound written. (Compared himself – tongue-in-cheek – to Shakespeare.) ‘Now I’m not Shakespeare but actors will find they can’t ad-lib here. I’ve never had to tell an actor that.
It’s important to me that Molly likes the movie. She trusted me with her story, and her father’s – I don’t take that lightly at all. I ended up showing her the whole thing as I was writing it. I was very proud of it. I relaxed the no-veto in the scene involving her father, but she didn’t want any changes.
Charlie the lawyer (Idris Elba) was the only fictional element. I needed that character for my own purposes. I never spoke to her real lawyer. Charlie goes from saying – ‘You don’t need me, you need a publicist’ to ‘You’re my daughter’s role model and I’m good with that.’ That was my journey as a writer with the story.’
Finally this week a couple of recommendations –
Theatre – Yous Two by Georgia Christou at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs runs until Feb 24th. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, a warm, honest study of two complicated and engaging characters.
TV – Inside Number Nine. BBC iplayer. I’ve discovered this rather late in the day and have so far only watched the first two episodes of series 2 but they’re the best two things I’ve seen on British TV in the last few months. Brilliant scripts, brilliantly acted. They show what can be achieved on a small budget in very limited interior sets as long as you have a knockout script. So much more powerful and satisfying than so many of the big-budget international co-productions I’ve been watching recently!
The next newsletter will be on Friday February 23rd
All the best
Feb 9th 2018