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Michael B. Druxman screenwriter of KEATON

Michael B. Druxman, screenwriter of Keaton's Cop (1990), Cheyenne Warrior (1994), Dillinger and Capone (1995)

Interview by: Gregg Delso

Gregg Delso: Welcome to the Screenwriter's Utopia Mr. Druxman. You've written for film, stage and television, do you prefer one over the others? Whats the biggest difference in the three?

Mr. Druxman: Well each area has its pluses and minuses. From a strictly artistic standpoint, I like writing for the stage, because the playwright has total control (in theory) over his material. Producers and/or directors cannot change a line of your dialogue without your permission.

Film usually pays better and allows you to work on a broader scope, but, once you take the money and turn in your script, you have absolutely no control over what other people do to it. Often, your original work becomes totally unrecognizable when you see the finished film. That can be very painful.

In episodic television, the work goes very quickly. After all, you are working with a set formula and characters. In many cases, you work out the script with the story editor scene-by-scene before you start writing, thus the actual writing becomes little more than a connect-the-dots exercise. This limits your inspiration and creativity. But, its easy money.

Which of those areas of writing got you started in writing and what/who were some of your earlier influences?

Mr. Druxman: I'd been writing books ["Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films," "Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes," "Merv," etc.] and magazine articles about Hollywood and the film industry for several years before I started to make gains in the dramatic area. My first successes with the "spoken word" came with my one-person plays. In fact, I had been writing screenplays for ten years before I sold my first one.

I always wanted to be a part of the film business...ever since I was a little boy. First, like all kids, I wanted to be a "movie star"...then "an actor"...then a director....but, by the time I was out of college, that was all out of my system....At some point...and I don't quite know when...I knew that I wanted to write stories, because, after all, writing is the most creative aspect of any movie, play, or whatever. It's the basic foundation of them all. Everything else is "interpretation."

I'm not a big reader. I much prefer non-fiction to fiction. Books that influenced me: DRACULA & THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA scared the shit out of me. I read both of them when I was 13...late at night with my closet door slightly open.

John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH also had a major affect on me. I particularly remember the very visual chapter about the land tortoise, trying to maneuver its way across the desert.

Movies themselves, more than anything else, certainly encouraged me to want to pursue writing. I had an insatiable appetite for them. [These days, I'm much more difficult to please.]

Movies that dealt with writers were a definite influence: ACT ONE with George Hamilton as Moss Hart (Bad as it was) was a major inspiration, as was PEYTON PLACE and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. That one, though it didn't deal with writers, really got to me emotionally.

My very favorite films: THE GODFATHER TRILOGY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, CASABLANCA, FIELD OF DREAMS (Had a major effect on my life.) and CITIZEN KANE.

You mentioned your "dissatisfaction" with how a few of your earlier scripts turned out as compared to CHEYENNE WARRIOR. How were you able to come away with more of what you envisioned in CW, as compared to the other films?

Mr. Druxman: Very simply, with the exception of a few cuts and a line adjustment or two, the producer and director of CHEYENNE WARRIOR shot the script that I wrote...and, I think, filmed it very well. Some of the performances -- Pato Hoffmann, Rick Dean and Kelly Preston -- were first rate. 95% of the writing in the finished film is my work...and that is very satisfying, because I was very proud of that script.

Is there anything a writer can do beforehand to keep as much as possible of his own story in tack before the producer/director/studio have their "input"?

Mr. Druxman: Get hired as the director. Or, if that doesnt work...pray.

CHEYENNE WARRIOR is set during the civil war. Did you do a lot of research beforehand? What methods did you use? Where did the idea for the story come from?

Mr. Druxman: Im very big on researching my scripts. I believe in getting my facts straight.

In the case of CHEYENNE WARRIOR, I did a lot of reading about the Cheyenne in that Time-Life series on "The Old West," and also made sure I had my information correct on the types of guns (such as the Henry rifle) that were being used back then.

My original script indicated that much of the Indian's dialogue should be in their native tongue (with sub-titles), so I even sent away for a Cheyenne dictionary, which didnt do me any good. The Cheyenne alphabet is in a script that one does not find on a typewriter/computer keyboard.

The original idea for CHEYENNE WARRIOR came to me about 20 years ago. I wanted to do a non-musical version of "The King and I" as a western....But, westerns were quite unpopular for many years, thus the story went on a back burner, but was not forgotten. The success of "Dances With Wolves" motivated me to finally sit down and write it.

Do you view CHEYENNE WARRIOR as a film with a message? It says a lot about tolerance and race relations that could be applied to society today.

Mr. Druxman: Certainly it has a message -- a very viable one -- though that's not the reason that I wrote it. Im not a big crusader. I just want to spin good yarns.

Are you a fan of the western genre?

Mr. Druxman: Gangster movies and westerns are my favorite genres.

I particularly like the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott classics [i.e. The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, etc.], as well as the films that Jimmy Stewart made with Anthony Mann [Bend of the River, The Far Country, etc.]. Other favorites: The Searchers, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Gunfighter, The Big Country Duel in the Sun, Red River, Unforgiven, High Noon and Shane.

What's a typical working day like for you? Do you have a rigid writing schedule, that is, a specific set time for writing?

Mr. Druxman: I usually do my best writing in the morning, after I walk my dog, drink my coffee and read the paper.

Ill write for 2-3 hours, then stop the actual writing for the day. However, for the rest of the afternoon and evening, Im planning what I will do the next morning.

When I sit down at the computer, I always know what Im going to write, so that I get my work done quickly.

Many of the readers are new writers working day jobs, typically nine to five, trying to break into the screenwritng field. What advice would you give to somebody whos trying to move from that nine-to-five-type world to the world of a professional screenwriter?

Mr. Druxman: Do NOT give up your day job. It's a rough business out there...even after youre established.

Okay, here comes the commercial: In my recently published book, "How to Write a Story...Any Story: THE ART OF STORYTELLING" (The Center Press, $11.95), I have a chapter that explains how I sold my first script, and how others might sell theirs the same way.

What spurred you to write your series of one person, two-act plays-Hollywood Legends? Did you have any special criteria that you used in determining who your subjects would be? How's the response been? You have about 9 or 10 now, do you plan on writing anymore, and if so who?

Mr. Druxman: I like new challenges, and the idea of a full length monologue was very intriguing. Most of the famous writers and political figures had been done, so I decided to do a famous movie star, and the obvious choice was Clark Gable.

That play had a successful run in the Greater Los Angeles area, and I started writing more (Spencer Tracy, Carole Lombard, etc.). Soon, some film people were commissioning me to write plays for them, which is how my Al Jolson play came about. Comedian Jack Carter hired me to write it for him, but he didnt like the first draft, and I, ultimately, wound up owning all the rights to it.

JOLSON has been the most successful of my eight one-person plays/musicals. Earlier this year, it played a sold-out 7-week run at the Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota.

I just finished another one on Maurice Chevalier, but I don't anticipate writing any more...unless somebody commissions me to do it. Frankly, although I enjoy writing them, they are not an easy sale to theaters.

What are your current projects and plans for the future?

Mr. Druxman: Currently, I have an assignment to adapt a Henry James novel into screenplay form. After that, I have a couple projects of my own that Ill probably tackle: a historical gangland novel based on fact, and an action screenplay, the idea for which came to me when I visited Scotland last fall.

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