THE LOOKOUT - Q&A with Scott Frank
You wrote the script for THE LOOKOUT some time ago?
Ten years ago. It took a long time to get to the screen but it was almost made several times. At one point Sam Mendes almost made it. He and I were working right after he made AMERICAN BEAUTY and then he went off and made ROAD TO PERDITION. At another point David Fincher was going to direct it but he went off and did ZODIAC. So I was left with a script that I really loved. After David left [the project] I really thought this was exactly the movie I wanted to make and I decided that I would direct it myself. Because it was not a big movie I think that always made people nervous about it. That is because people prefer to go and see a more event driven movie.
So when did it all come together?
It came together because a company called Spyglass - in the person of Roger Birnbaum - had read the script and initially offered to co-finance the movie with DreamWorks. But at the last minute DreamWorks decided they didn't want to make the movie and Roger decided that he and his partner would finance the movie themselves. We got the budget to a reasonable place so that the risk on their part wasn't too huge. It also enabled me to be able to make the movie I wanted to make. There were no preconditions about casting or anything - they just said to get the best actors I could find for each role.
Where did the idea for THE LOOKOUT come from?
It came from a couple of places. I knew someone who had had a fairly severe head injury and I had seen that person's identity and personality change over night. I thought that was interesting because you spend your life trying to get to know yourself and then one day you wake up and you don't know yourself at all. I never knew where I was going to locate that character but at the same time I was reading about little banks in rural parts of the country that were getting a lot of farm subsidy money. These banks were in small towns and did not have a lot of security. Some of the buildings were not even built as banks; they were old car dealerships or whatever. And I wondered why nobody had robbed these places. Then one day I woke and this character I had been thinking of was suddenly in the middle of this idea. The two ideas became one and I really am not sure how or when that happened.
So did the script flow once you had the idea?
It was very tricky because there is a fine balance between the character aspects and the thriller aspects. So some of it went easily and never changed over the course of 10 years. Some it was constantly being fine tuned and tightened and re-arranging and even re-inventing. The most significant change was there was a sub plot with his roommate was grabbed before the robbery and that was how they coerced him into robbing the bank. His roommate also had this relationship with Lovely because she was in charge of keeping an eye on him in the basement where they had him locked up. But that got cut out of the script.
Were you slightly nervous about directing?
I wasn't slightly nervous, I was horribly nervous. I was not directing because I thought my screenplays had been ruined by other directors. It was quite the opposite, I felt very lucky to have worked with these directors. I felt I could never do as good a job as any one of them. The reason I directed was really because I was bored with myself and I wanted a completely different creative challenge. And directing was great - life changing, I loved every minute of it. It was incredibly difficult but it woke up a part of my creative brain that had been asleep for quite some time. It was a terrific experience for me.
So you want to do it again?
I would love to do it again, if they let me and if I found the right piece of material. I'm not sure that I could do it just for the sake of it; I would have to find something that I could sink my teeth into - something that meant a lot to me.
How did you decide on your great cast in THE LOOKOUT?
I had seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt in BRICK and MYSTERIOUS SKIN and he was terrific. I wanted to meet him after seeing a trailer for MYSTERIOUS SKIN. That happened after I had seen a lot of young actors for this role and I was getting nowhere. But that glimpse from MYSTERIOUS SKIN excited me. When he walked into my office for the first talk I knew he was the guy. The character that Jeff Daniels plays was always going to be blind. I was blown away by his performance in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and I went after him and begged him to do this movie. Jeff added a lot of humour and warmth to a movie that otherwise could have been icy cold. His role was hugely important. I cast Matthew Goode as an American hoodlum because he was so good in the audition. He nailed the role so that you never ever thought of him as that guy from MATCH POINT. His whole look was different and so casting him felt like a really exciting move to make. Isla Fisher - like Matthew - came in late in the process. There were other people I had been thinking about but Isla and Matthew completely changed my mind. When they walked in and read I knew it had to be them.
Why did you film in Canada?
Because it was less expensive than Kansas and the geography of the Great Plains was practically identical to Kansas.
What about the weather?
The weather was horrible up there. It was very cold - 30 below - and we were outside at night. Often I would ask myself if I was moving on to the next shot because I got the sot or because I was so cold and miserable. There was a location where we got rained out. Four weeks later we returned to that location and got rained out again! Also we had gone there because of the snow but one day the rain melted all the snow and I had to use CGI to get snow in the background. That was for one shot when Matthew was on the ground, dying. Instead of snow the background behind him was like a lake of melted snow by the end of the day. Watching the rain fall and my snow disappear was a lot of fun.
What about the scene when Matthew reaches for his inhaler?
A: It was supposed to be kicked back to him but it just barely made it and that was a much better way to go. So that was how we used that shot. There was even one we shot where he smashes it with his foot.
Did you ever alter the script as you filmed?
When I saw that it was not working or there was a better way to do something that was what I did. It was always about telling the story. For instance originally the scene when he goes to Lovely's house just as she was leaving was a whole different sequence when she said goodbye. But I didn't think she would talk so we eliminated all that dialogue.
Where did the idea of the fireflies at the beginning of the movie come from?
One of the producers Walter Parkes had seen them in Italy and we were talking about the opening of the film and when Walter mentioned this that was the instant answer to how we should open the movie. It was very difficult to film because we did not have a lot of time and we lost hours because it did not get dark to very late and it started getting light very early because we were so far north. It was also very cold and the poor kids in the car were in Prom dresses.
What gave you the biggest kick about directing?
Working with the actors was the most interesting part of the whole process. It was a very satisfying experience.
I am adapting a book, which is the story of a 28 year-old guy who has married a 40 year-old woman, and when she dies suddenly he has to look after her 15 year-old delinquent son. It is a very dark, funny piece. I have just spent three years writing a western. It is called Godless and is about an outlaw on the run who seeks refuge in a mining town where all the residents are women because the able bodied men have been killed in a mining accident. He is hiding from his gang who are destroying the countryside as the look for him.
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