Kenneth Lonergan

Paychecks: Famous Screenwriters Working On Lesser Pictures

By Sean Tuohy

All writers want to be artists. They want to be respected. They want to be loved by the public. That’s all great, but nothing beats paying the bills. Sometimes even the best artists have to work for a paycheck.

Screenwriters are well known for this. A screenwriter can win an Oscar on Sunday, and by Tuesday is working on “Failure To Launch 2: Lifting Off Harder.”

Sometimes you need to pay the rent by writing an awful movie!

Kenneth Lonergan

Oscar-nominated writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has an impressive resume of films under his belt. “You Can Count On Me,” “Gangs of New York,” and, 2016’s critical darling, “Manchester by The Sea.” He is one of the most beloved screenwriters because of his in-depth character studies.

Paycheck Script: “Fool’s Gold”

Remember when Matthew McConaughey was the “alight, alright, alright” guy and not “Oscar-winning actor” guy (okay, maybe they are the same person)? Back in those days, McConaughey paid the bills by showing up in every rom-com he could he find. The gold star—this will be funny in a second—being “Fool’s Gold.” A married couple gets a divorce but then finds gold. That’s the plot line. And, yes, Lonegan did an uncredited rewrite on the movie that features Kevin Hart saying “fakade” instead of “façade.”

Joss Whedon

Simply say Joss Whedon’s name and somewhere within a 26-mile radius a nerd gets a boner. The man is a storytelling treasure on both the big and small screens. He has written some of the greatest episodes of television (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly”), and he assembled “The Avengers.”

The guy knows how to write.

Paycheck Script: “Waterworld”

Back in 1996, Kevin Costner was what we like to call a “bankable star.” During this time, he decided to make a film that took everything we love about “Road Warrior” and put it on water. Despite all the snickering, “Waterworld” was not a giant bomb. It actually made a profit, but it was panned by critics and, behind the scenes, it was considered a “hellish set.” Between actors almost drowning, a director abandoning the film, and the movie going over budget, it must have felt more like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Whedon was called in at the last minute to work on rewrites. He famously called this time period “seven weeks of hell.”

John Patrick Shanley

John Patrick Shanley—“JPS” as the cool kids call him—is considered one of the greatest American playwrights. His plays have won respect and awards. In Hollywood, his’ scripts have been called “fantastic,” and his 2006 film “Doubt” won every award under the sun.

Paycheck Script: "Congo"

A talking gorilla.

“Congo” features a talking gorilla. I know that isn’t the whole plot, but for the life of me I don’t remember the actual plot. I know the film was based off of a Michael Crichton novel, and I know that Tim Curry is awesome in it (when is he not awesome?). Otherwise, this a movie filled with awful stereotypes and a talking gorilla with lackluster special effects (even for 1995). There’s also this exchange:

*Shit hitting the fan*
Ernie Hudson’s character: “What about them?
Laura Linney’s character: “Put them on the endangered species list.”


Somehow listed among the credits, after gorilla handler but before craft services, is John Patrick Shanley as the screenwriter.

There is one upside to this train wreck of a film. The great Ernie Hudson has stated that his character is his personal favorite from his career.

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The Great Literary Accomplishment of 2016 May Have Belonged To A Film

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea"

By Alexander Brown

2016 is getting a lot of flack for being a lousy year. Yes, some lovely, talented people passed on (as they do every year), and an election didn’t go the way many Americans wanted (as it does ever four years), but really, I don’t think 2016 was all for not because how can 2016 be so nefarious when even amidst all the doom, gloom, and social media meltdowns, it also happened to give us Kenneth Lonergan’s "Manchester by the Sea," the best film I’ve seen in years.

(Full disclosure: Nothing in here can be considered a major plot spoiler. I want you to enjoy the film as much as I did, and the less you know the better.)

Saying something is the best anything tends to read like empty, click-baiting hyperbole, but as far as dishing out accolades is concerned you’ll find far greater praise heaped upon the film if you take a quick run through Rotten Tomatoes, or if you simply ask a kind, older moviegoer—my kind of moviegoer—if they have seen any good matinees recently.

It’s a movie that feels so lived-in that characters forget where they parked their cars, phone service drops during crucial moments, and no two people are ever having the same conversation at once. It’s as if you’ve parachuted into a strange but familiar town for a few short weeks, only you keep coming across the same people in their day-to-day lives.

Our protagonist Lee Chandler—played sublimely by the more talented Affleck brother, Casey—is even taken out to buy furniture when his older brother Joe helps him move into a basement apartment in Boston, at a time in Lee’s life where he is choosing to live in exile and in constant penance for his actions. (I’ve never seen someone be gifted furniture on film before. It’s not exactly a white-knuckle moment but it’s funny and sweet and they add up, I swear.)

Even the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea serves as its own character. The early-winter winds coming off the North Atlantic rip through the scenery. School children talk about a performance of "Godspell" that the audience will never be shown. We witness a terrible high school band warming up for a gig that, thankfully, we will never see them play.  

If that at all sounds dull it’s far from it. In fact, its main accomplishment may be that it takes what could be a rather traditional character drama and turns it into something much more profound. It’s so personal and honest it moves along with surprising inertia. It’s not so much a drama as it is a comedy. Not so much a comedy as it is an exercise in observational cinema, or cinéma vérité. Not so much an exercise in cinéma vérité as it is a stab at the Great American Novel.

There is grief but it’s not about grief. It’s sad without being melancholy. It’s funny without the jokes feeling crafted on. No grand transfigurations takes place, only those familiar little moments that make up a life set against the edge of the world overlooking the sea. We’ve seen stories like that before. Be it in a dog-eared copy of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, or, in a far more mainstream comparison, in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Late in the film we arrive at what traditionally should be the emotional catharsis of a film. Two characters meet and the stage is set for Lee to be unburdened, only he doesn’t want to have the conversation. He physically and mentally cannot do it, and you believe him. He leaves.

Nothing about that unique moment, or the dozens of personal, unpredictable encounters that came before it necessarily lends itself towards being a captivating viewing experience, but it is.

In my mind, that makes "Manchester by the Sea" far more than just a film.

That makes it literature.

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