Brad Mirman, BODY OF EVIDENCE
March 11th, 2004
Interviewed by: Kenna McHugh
Question: Brad, give us a little background on your career. How long have you been writing? Where did you begin? Did you go to college, etc?
Answer: I didn't start writing seriously until about 1987. I had written short stories before and even started working on a novel, but I never gave much thought about screenplays. To be honest, I don't remember what it was that made me write my first screenplay. I do remember living in a small apartment in West Los Angeles and writing it on a manual typewriter (an experience every writer should try so they can really appreciate their computer) and basically having no idea what I was doing. It was sort of trial by error -- I didn't go to college -- never took a screenwriting class.
Q: You wrote "Body of Evidence" which was based on a book. What was that like writing a script based on a book?
A: This is a common misconception. I assume you are referring to "Body Of Evidence" by Patricia Cromwell. Her novel and my screenplay are two different works. "Body of Evidence" (the movie) was an original screenplay I wrote that just happened to have the same title as her novel. In fact, when the movie came out we had to put "not based on the novel by Patricia Cromwell" at the bottom of all advertisements. As for what it's like to write a script from a novel I once did a development deal for New Line Cinema based on a novel called "Mercy". It was an interesting process, in that the a lot of the plot is already mapped out for you. The biggest problem when taking a story from a book to a script is how to bring the novelists narration to life. A lot of what the characters are thinking and feeling can be written in long, descriptive passages in a book... obviously you cant do that in a screenplay. So, you have to find other ways to do this.
Q: How do you determine what is important for a book is not important for a script?
A: Again, you think of the story you want to tell on the screen. In a lot of novels the author will spend a lot of time setting up his characters back story. Where they grew up. What happened to them as a child, etc. In scripts you cant do that. You dont have the luxury of an author, in that you are restricted by a certain amount of pages.
Q: How long did it take you to write the script?
A: The first draft of "Body of Evidence" took about 6 weeks to write.
How many rewrites did you have to do before the final draft was excepted?
A: I think it was three or four. Not for the studio, but for myself.... getting it ready to send out as a spec script.
Q: How do you determine when a script is a final draft. When it is "good enough" for the director, producer or actor to read it?
A: That always a tough one. The way I see it is: I submit my scripts when I am happy with them. In other words, if you spend time trying to please your agent, manager, friends, then all you will be doing is rewriting your script. I am not saying that you shouldnt listen to what others have to say. There is a quote that is very true. A writer once handed a script to a friend and asked him to give him his criticisms. His friend told him, "When a writer gives someone a script to read, he doesnt want criticism, he wants praise." And aint that the truth. When I finish a script I give it to a select group of people. Friends who I have done this with since I started writing. They are people who are not impressed with the fact that I actually wrote a screenplay... and they are not afraid to tell me exactly what they think. My manager has read everything I have ever written. She has a very good sense of story and often pushes me to the next level. Sometimes I dont agree with her notes... and when I feel that I have done everything I set out to do in the screenplay, then its time to send it to the studio.
"You have that 'little voice' in your head telling you that is it good or it sucks."-Brad Mirman
Q: Is it easy to trust your own judgment on whether a scene is working or not?
A: I dont know if "easy" is the right word. Sometimes it is very hard to know. There are times when I just get a very vague feeling that something is wrong with a scene, but I cant put my finger on it. I usually step away from the screenplay for a few days and it comes to me. I know other writers who just move on to the next scene and come back to the scene that is giving them problems. This is something I cant do. Since a screenplay is one, interrelated work... what you write in one scene can put the spin on scenes that follow. When I write, I build off each scene that came before, so it drives me nuts to even think about going forward when I know there are a few blank pages behind me. In the end, you know if it is working or not. You have that "little voice" in your head telling you that is it good or it sucks.
Q: Do you ever go on the sets of a movie to do rewrites while the film isbeing shot?
A: On "Knight Moves" I was on the set everyday reworking the scenes. On "Body Of Evidence" I only went to the set once. I was so upset with the changes to my script that the studio made that I really didnt want to have anything to do with it after I sold the script. "Highlander III" I never went to the set once. On "Truth or Consequences" I was there everyday and Kiefer and I would often rewrite scenes during lunch and film them later that day.
Q: You wrote the third sequel to "Highlander". How much research did you do on the other sequels to write the third? How did you know what woulddrive the characters? Did you collaborate with the other writers?
A: I had seen the original Highlander many times. In 1990 I was hired to do a rewrite on a screenplay that Christopher Lambert was attached. The film was never made, but Christopher and I became great friends. After the disappointment of Highlander II, Christopher felt horrible. When he was approached by the producers to do Highlander III he asked me if I would write the first draft as a favor. Since he and I are such good friends it wasnt that difficult to write the character because there is a lot of Christopher in the character of McCloud. When I wrote the first draft I was living in Buenos Aires and I sent it to them. After that I didnt have any other involvement in the project. I know there were other writers after I sent in the first draft. I still dont know what changes they made to the script as I have never seen the movie.
Q: I could be wrong, but I get the idea you like to write about villains or people with a darkside. Is that true?
A: Writing about people with a dark side is always more interesting. Ask almost any actor and they will tell you that villains are great to play. Im not talking about cardboard cut out villains, but if you write the antagonist with the same detail and consideration you write the protagonist, the antagonist usually will be the role with more depth. One thing I love about film is: In Truth or Consequences we follow four criminals. Now they are all bad, so what I find people do as an audience is, start to look for the good qualities in the bad people. Film has an interesting way of doing this. Kiefer Sutherland' character in TOC is about as bad as they come... and yet, almost everyone who has seen the film in screenings like him the best. Since it is only a movie we suspend belief, we allow ourselves to buy into the premise. Take these same people and tell their story on the six oclock news and you would have a very different impression of them.
"As human beings, we are by nature, flawed. And it is these 'flaws' that make characters believable on the page. To watch someone on the screen for two hours who doesn't share the same qualities as the audience is boring because people don't relate." -Brad Mirman
Q: Do you believe a hero is more interesting if he or she has flaws or maybe is vulnerable?
A: Absolutely. As human beings, we are by nature, flawed. And it is these "flaws" that make characters believable on the page. To watch someone on the screen for two hours who doesnt share the same qualities as the audience is boring because people dont relate. Give characters an obstacle and make them vulnerable and you have something interesting to watch. I am not saying it must be a flaw that you have experienced... it only has to be something that the audience can recognize and relate to.
Q: How concerned are you with the audience when you write the script?
A: My first response when I read the question was "not very", but I dont think thats entirely true. There are many ideas I have had for a screenplay that I havent written because I felt that the a lot of people wouldnt be interested in the concept. Being a professional screenwriters means that if you want to sell your material, then you have to cater to studios and studios cater to audiences. You want the people who read you scripts to enjoy them. You are the story-teller. It is your words that opens doors to new worlds and lets the audience peak behind the curtain into private lives. Movies that make a lot of money, or are critically acclaimed share one common characteristic: They appeal to a broad section of the movie-going public.
Q: Are you concerned about making sure the message of the movie comes across?
A: Not all screenplays have a message, and even when they do you could ten people read it and have ten different messages. I think if you are writing a script that has "a message" then you want to make your point without preaching. You want to present as many sides as you can and let the audience make up their minds. Many writers underestimate the intelligence of their audience. They hit them over the heads trying to make their point.
Q: When you write a script, what is more important the plot or the characterization?
A: Thats a question I get asked a lot. I can only say this: A great plot with under-written characters doesnt work... and a great characters with an under-written plot doesnt work. Its kind of like the chicken and the egg. While plot moves the story, characters hold your attention. In my mind they have to work hand in hand with each other. Character driven pieces are harder to sell, because its the characters that drive the story. Go in an try to pitch "Fried Green Tomatoes", "The Piano" "Shine", "Slingblade" or any character-driven piece and see how far you get. Yet, go in a pitch a high-concept plot and you can get a deal. I would say the studios are more "plot-driven" they want to be able to see the idea. They figure they can always work character development into the script later.
Q: What genre of writing do you like the most?
A: I am known for writing thrillers and action. Although the first big spec script I ever sold was a comedy. I dont like to think in terms of genres, but in story. If I like the idea, if I felt I can deliver it, then I will write it.
Q: Would you like to direct a movie from one of your scripts?
A: I have a script that I wrote last year that I want to direct. Its a small character-driven piece. I already have several actors that want to do it, but I cant mention their names because we havent made a deal yet. If everthing falls into place, it should start filming within the year.
Q: Sometimes it can be tough for a struggling writer, what advice could you give to writer who is still trying to "make it"?
A: Perseverance. Perseverance. Perseverance. If you want to make it as a screenwriters it has to be because this is what you want more than anything in the world. Its that drive to make your voice heard that is going to carry you through all the rejections and closed doors. If you are doing it for any other reason than that its going to be a very long road. All I can say is that when I started I didnt know anyone. I wrote and I wrote. I would meet someone, who was friends with someone, who knew a guy who worked as an asistant for some producer and I would follow that trail.
Q: Did you ever doubt your success? If so, what did you do to overcome that doubt?
A: Of course. I just keep writing. I felt that if I could get just in the doors and let my writing speak for itself than I would have a chance. Its sad, but you can be the greatest writer in the world, but if you dont get a few breaks in the beginning... if a little luck doesnt come your way then it can be very difficult. What I did was to keep on working... keep on telling myself that I had what it takes.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished a new thriller which will going out to the studios next week. I havent written a thriller since "Body Of Evidence" and thought it was time to write one.
Click Here to visit Brad Mirman's Website
This interview may not be republished without written permission by The Screenwriters Utopia and Kenna McHugh.
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