By Junsui Films | July 2011
The award-winning screenwriter behind Moon talks exclusively to Junsui Films where he discusses his career and tell us about his latest film, Blitz.
Junsui Films: Let’s start with your background and your journey into screenwriting.
Nathan Parker: At the age of thirteen I moved from London to Los Angeles. In high school I wrote novels, plays, screenplays, even poetry. I attended Bennington College in Vermont and majored in creative writing and playwriting. I went on to receive an MFA from Columbia University in playwriting. In my twenties I had no intention of ever being a screenwriter; to tell you the truth, I turned my nose up at film. I lived in New York for nine years and had some plays performed off‐off Broadway; I also wrote a couple of unpublished novels.
By the time I was 30 I had written tons, but had never made a penny from my writing. I considered giving up. I did give up, briefly. But inevitably I came back to writing. When I did, for some reason I turned my sights to screenwriting. I can’t exactly explain why; it just seemed like the right time. This was mid 2005. I wrote half a dozen spec scripts, learning the craft and experimenting as I went along.
In December, 2006, I read a book called Blitz (by Ken Bruen), which I loved. By a stroke of luck, the man who had optioned the book, producer Brad Wyman, I happened to know. When I first moved to L.A. with my parents he lived next door to us in his mother’s pool house. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Brad in nearly twenty years.I wrote him an e‐mail re‐introducing myself and explaining that I was now writing screenplays and would relish the chance to adapt Blitz for the big screen.
Brad requested some of my spec scripts, which I sent to him. He liked the scripts and my writing, but was quick to point out that nothing in my spec work suggested that I was a good fit for Blitz, which has a very particular style and stone. (My spec scripts were mainly small, character driven indie‐flicks.) At the time I was so hungry for a break, I told Brad I would adapt Blitz for free. Brad quickly wrote back: “No, don’t do that—but I’ll tell you what, write 25 pages on spec, and if they are good, I will give you a writing deal.” This was my big moment. All the writing I had done up to that point, certainly all the screenplay work, went into those 25 pages. I sent the pages to Brad and he wrote back: “You nailed it.” Thus I had my first writing deal. And soon after, a career.
I really owe it to Brad for giving me my break. Maybe every writer has a Brad Wyman in their past—someone who takes a chance on you. It’s a crucial thing, but not easy to come by. After I wrote Blitz, I was able to get an agent in London. Subsequently I landed the Moon gig. I moved from London to L.A. shortly after, with Blitz and Moon as my writing samples. I was able to get a U.S. agent and started working in Hollywood.
JF: Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your career as a writer?
It’s difficult to pick just one person. Growing up I was influenced by many writers. F.Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, Henry Miller, Milan Kundera, Harold Pinter, to name a few. But probably the person who had the biggest influence on my writing was Gladden Schrock, my playwriting professor at Bennington College.
I studied with Gladden from the ages of 18‐21; these were seminal years for me. It was Gladden who encouraged me to write plays. I had written two plays in my senior year of high school for fun. I showed one of these plays to Gladden. He said I was talented. I wanted to study fiction, but when I arrived at Bennington as a freshman I discovered to my dismay that all the fiction workshops had already been filled by upper classmen. But there was a spot open in a playwriting class. So I began studying with Gladden by default. It was a happy accident. Gladden was not only tremendously encouraging—which is so important when you are young—but also taught me invaluable lessons about storytelling and character that remain with me to this day. Playwriting is not a million miles away from screenwriting, after all. I was very lucky to have such a great teacher at such a young age.
JF: How did you become involved in Moon?
After I wrote Blitz, I got an agent in London. She told me about Moon, which was an open writing assignment at the time. Duncan (Jones) usually wrote his own stuff with his writing partner, but Duncan was busy directing commercials and his writing partner busy on a Warner Brothers movie. So Duncan and Stuart Fenegan (Moon’s producer) looked in‐house at Independent Talent (my agency) for a writer.
I think I may have been one of several writers who went up for the Moon gig. Initially I read a two page treatment by Duncan, which was quite skeletal. I couldn’t figure out if the concept was very cool or very silly – in science fiction it is often a fine line. I also knew the film would be über low budget, and with the technical requirements inherent in the material—clones in particular—I wondered how it would work.
I met with Duncan and Stuart at Soho House in London and both men impressed me. I asked Duncan why he wanted to make this film, and he responded with something like, “I wanted to see what it would be like to meet yourself.” I immediately knew that he was approaching this material from the right angle, and was much more interested in the job.
I was not an obvious choice for Moon. I’m not a sci‐fi geek, and my knowledge of sci‐fi films is limited to the big boys, such as 2001 and Alien. But I did a crash‐course in sci‐fi, watching the likes of Solaris, Silent Running, and Outlander. I wrote a 4 page treatment explaining to Duncan and Stuart how I would approach Moon. Since Duncan had more or less figured out the plot, I mainly wrote about thematic stuff. Duncan wrote back to me after reading my 4 pages saying, “You brought tears to my eyes.” My agent called me to say that I was hired.
JF: How did you find it working with (co‐writer) Duncan Jones, knowing he was also directing?
The process began with the two of us meeting up and exchanging e‐mails. I had lots of questions for Duncan. In the early stages of the collaboration I was immediately impressed by his professionalism and intelligence. Being the son of a rock’n roll icon, I somehow imagined he would be scatter‐brained, but the opposite was true. He was great at answering my questions and getting me research materials—articles, DVD’s, etc. When it came time to actually write the script I made it clear to Duncan that I would need to go away and write it on my own. I needed to put my own imprint on the material. As the director, and the man who had come up with the story, there was never any question that it was Duncan’s baby—but I needed to play nanny for a while.
Due to what I can only describe as naivety on my part, I told Duncan and Stuart that they could only have me for 6 weeks. I did this partly to protect myself. I wasn’t receiving much money for my services, and didn’t want the process to drag on. However, by setting these parameters, I had just given myself a punishing deadline; in retrospect, I think Duncan and Stuart were quite happy to agree to it.
I wrote the first draft in a month. I then received notes from Duncan, Stuart, and the co‐producer Nicky Moss, and wrote a second draft in a week. After they read the second draft Stuart wrote to me: “We are happy with the script so far, we may come back to you for that other week you owe us, but for now you are done.” But they never did come back to me for that other week! So I only worked on the script for 5 weeks total, which is pretty amazing to me.
JF: Moon was released to tremendous critical acclaim and nominated for various awards both in the UK and the US. How do you feel the film’s success has changed you as a writer?
It hasn’t changed me as a writer. In the end, my relationship with writing remains the same. The film makes me proud, and sure, I have more confidence knowing that I wrote the screenplay for a film that came out so well.
Also it’s nice to have written a film that people have seen. I certainly encounter people who have never heard of Moon, but a lot have. It legitimizes what I do. Out in L.A. when you tell people you are a screenwriter, they assume it’s not your day job. People say “I’m a screenwriter,” when really they move furniture. To be able to reference a film that I have written is very handy. And certainly the film’s success has helped my career.
JF: Your latest film, Blitz, is quite a departure from Moon. What was it that attracted you to the project?
I loved the book’s sense of humour, the rhythm of the dialogue and prose, and the gravitas of the characters—they felt like real people. I have a very eclectic taste and enjoy working on different kinds of projects. If I wrote in the same genre over and over again I’d get bored. I love many different kinds of films, therefore like to write many different kinds of films. But back to Blitz, ultimately it was about digging Ken’s writing and wanting to type his words into Final Draft.
JF: How did you approach the challenge of adapting Ken Bruen’s novel to the screen?
Blitz was a very straightforward adaptation. It’s written in the third person, dialogue heavy, and already structured like a film. The biggest thing was choosing what to leave out; unless you’re writing a mini‐series, you can’t put an entire novel into a script.
Another challenge was trying to recapture Ken’s prose and dialogue. Ken has a very particular writing style, he’s like an Irish James Ellroy, and I wanted this to come through in the script—I wanted to channel Ken. This wasn’t just a case of copying him verbatim, because in different areas I needed to elaborate and tweak things, so I had to learn how to speak “Bruenese.” Eventually I became quite good at Bruenese. Ken actually wrote to me after reading my screenplay and said it was better than his book. Ken is extremely generous, and may have sunk one too many pints of Guinness when he wrote that, but even so, it was very flattering, and needless to say made me feel like a million bucks.
JF: Any future plans you can tell us about?
For the last year I have been working on a project for Working Title/Universal called The Cup of Tears with director Gary Shore. You can watch Gary’s Cup of Tears trailer on YouTube. (And get a good sense of the genre/terrain.) Gary made the trailer for 20 thousand Euros in Slovenia. I have been hired to turn the trailer into a feature length film. It’s been a big challenge, but one I have enjoyed. I always prefer to work with a director, as opposed to a team of executives around a table. Working Title has been great about staying out of the way and letting Gary and I get on with it.
Moon & Blitz are available now on DVD & Blu‐Ray