Home   Audio   News & Reviews   BPM Smith Blog   Events & Links   Contact Us

News & Reviews

WORD: Interview with ‘Out There In The Dark’ author Wesley Strick

Wesley Strick is a longtime script writer who wrote Martin Scorsesi’s Cape Fear and executive produced/co-wrote this year’s Love Is The Drug, among other films. St. Martin’s imprint Thomas Dunne Books just published his debut novel, Out There In The Dark, a neo-noir story set in 1940s Hollywood that’s been compared to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Day of the Locust. Strick talked with WORD’N’BASS.com Editor BPM Smith about Hollywood, the challenges of novel writing, and Ronald Reagan.

WORD’N’BASS.com: You’re best known for writing Cape Fear for Martin Scorsesi. Do you have an anecdote about Scorsesi you can share?

Strick: What kind of anecdote?

WORD’N’BASS.com: I don’t know, something that we all don’t know already, something that captures how he is.

Strick: A year after Cape Fear we tried to do another project. I’m the first writer he let on set. ‘Til then he kept them away, even friends he worked with like Paul Schrader (Editor’s note: who wrote Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Richard Price (The Color of Money, Clockers), but when the time came to shoot he banned them ‘cause he was self-conscious and neurotic. People said, ‘Don’t fantasize about watching him shoot, it ain’t gonna happen.’ As we got to know each other working close for two, three months he’d lowered his defense. I said, ‘Marty, can I hang out for a week or two and watch the shoot?’ That’s the first time he got uptight around me. He said, ‘Well when I shoot with Deniro it’s a closed set.’ So I backed off because I wanted him to work, but in the end he said to come to the set. So I made a point of staying away from his line of site but eventually he asked the TAs if they’d bring Wes. He realized he liked having a writer around to bounce things off him. After we'd finished he’d fly me to New York to the cutting room where they had a lot of edits. He needed to lose 40 minutes and wanted to see where we could make trims. When I made suggestions he’d do it. Partly because Cape Fear was his first and only thriller, so he knew I had that experience and he’d defer to my sense (of pacing).

WORD’N’BASS.com: Sure, because Scorsesi had done these gangster films like Mean Streets so Cape Fear was out of his genre, right?

Strick: I love his earlier movies. But they weren’t about fast pacing and you never knew what kind of film he’d do. But Cape Fear was a change. We stayed friendly and later tried to do a project with Warren Beatty but that never came to fruition. Because he’s Warren Beatty. We lost touch about six years ago. That happens in Hollywood: you work together, then hug and kiss, and then work takes you elsewhere.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Everyone remembers Cape Fear but you’ve been a prolific screenwriter a good 20 years.

Strick: They still want to hire me. I was considered a hot screenwriter but I considered that ‘hot writer’ stuff to be bullshit. It just means you’re offered a lot of crappy projects.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Between you and me, 95 percent of what Hollywood produces is crap anyhow.

Strick: I agree. It’s tough because you’re serving a lot of different masters: the studio being one, the audience being another, so you’re working for a monster that’s salivating in some ways.

WORD’N’BASS.com: After these two decades working in film, why’d you get into novel writing?

Strick: By a kind of fluke. I wasn’t looking for material to use in a novel. I was cruising along happily writing scripts. One day I stumbled across, totally by accident, an anecdote about director Douglas Sirk. He made flicks with Rock Hudson... Have you finished the book yet? Because I don’t want to give away the ending and ruin it for you.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Not yet, I’m about half way through. You also don’t want to blow the ending for our readers, so how about just giving us a hint without the whole thing?

Strick: Well, in the ‘30s he worked in Berlin under another name but he got so disgusted with the Nazi propaganda, he was desperate to get away. He got out of Germany and came to Hollywood and had to reinvent himself. Something happened in his personal life that was tragic, beautiful, haunting, strange, and heart breaking. There’s a whole novel there, I realized. Without thinking of writing a novel, ‘cause I’m not a novelist. I thought of wrestling it into a screenplay but in the end realized it’s a book.

WORD’N’BASS.com: So this was a gamble in a way. I mean, you’re a screenwriter you’re not a novelist.

Strick: I had mixed feelings about it because, as you know, books don’t pay that well and they take a long time to write and I didn’t know if it could get published. So it was a big risk but worth the shot. It was a time when nothing I was being offered was mouth watering. So I decided to take four, five months to myself and get a first draft done. I got run-of-the-mill offers (to write screenplays), so it was kind of fun to say no. Producers asked, ‘Don’t you want to eat?’ They were surprised I wouldn’t come to their office for a meeting. At that time I was buzzing with the novel. After five months I had the first draft.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Five months is a pretty good turnaround for a first novel.

Strick: I’m used to working on a schedule so for a writer I’m pretty disciplined. Sometimes I got excited enough where I’d wake at 6 am and get 10 pages done before breakfast. It was like I was on meth.

WORD’N’BASS.com: You say your writing background is what did it, so would you say being a screenwriter is a pretty good training ground for a novelist, what with the deadlines, storytelling and whatnot?

Strick: Many of the tools you’re working with are the same. The difference is scripts are not meant to stand alone as literature.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Another difference between being an author and a screenwriter: you’re on a book tour right now. This week you’re here in San Francisco. Later it’s New York City. Is this public visibility a big jump from being a screenwriter?

Strick: In some ways. I had lots of publicity on numerous projects that were visible. Writers get a decent amount of attention in Hollywood, at junkets doing interviews, things like that. But this book is totally mine; it’s not a collaborative process. I’ll have to take the credit and the blame. In films, if it flops they can blame the screenwriter or the director or the producer. But this one came out of my head. That’s the upside.

WORD’N’BASS.com: I see some of the screenwriter in your prose. You use parenthetical notes here and there that could be like a fast-take edit in a film. Is that how you intended or am I reading this wrong?

Strick: Maybe so. I’d have to look at an example.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Well, I notice you do that with Roarke, the former detective who’s a movie studio goon.

Strick: It works because the story is at a movie set in Hollywood. So it’s got a movie within a movie quality. Maybe that’s something I should get away from (using parentheses). But that’s interesting you bring it up, so I will now claim it’s thematic.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Yeah, use that in your future interiews. Your prose style is also pretty visual. Are these things you credit to your screenwriting background?

Strick: I’ve lived in L.A. for the past 20 years. Coming from New York, it was exotic. The palm trees, the legendary structures, things that were only seen in movies until then. That all stayed in my mind. To this day I’m like a tourist driving around L.A. Even pulling onto a studio lot, I think, ‘Wow, here I am at Warner Bros. Here’s where they filmed Casablanca.’ Films are visual and that’s where I lived. This book is about the movies and the illusions people fall victim to. One theme of the book is how they believe more about what’s on screen than the reality right under their noses. Some of the tragedies in the book are about that. So the visuals are an important element of that.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Out There In The Dark’s setting is 1940s Hollywood. What prompted your to choose that period instead of say, contemporary Hollywood?

Strick: I was stuck with it. I had that director anecdote. Once I had that I was stuck in that period, whether I wanted to be or not. There’s much to be made of that period. The downside is it’s been done, like Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, you want to retain your own voice and not be like James Elroy. You’re revisiting a period that’s been done by some real giants. On the same token, I didn’t have a choice.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Is Hollywood a city where everyone wants the dirt on everyone else? Say your competition, the other players?

Strick: I think it is. Look at Anthony Pellicano. You might have heard, he’s been wire tapping major Hollywood players. It would seem that regardless of what they say about how Hollywood normalized itself and now behaves like corporate America, with Pellicano you realize maybe it hasn’t changed. It makes perfect sense because there’s so much money to be made. But every year fewer movies are made, which means competition gets fiercer.

WORD’N’BASS.com: You might have some people reading into Out There for dirt on real life people. Aside from the director character, are any of these other characters loosely based on anyone?

Strick: Harley Hayden is based on Ronald Reagan. He was dating (actress) Jane Wyman, who became his first wife before Nancy. Many of the other details came direct from him. He worked as lifeguard. The main thing I took from Reagan is his bland ambition. He had an ‘aw shucks’ quality but you know he had to be a killer because he charmed himself to the top, not just Hollywood but the top of America. He had to have a lot of self-belief. My character has that as well. It’s like Peter Sellers played in Being There, if we question was he wise or an idiot? We’re not sure. Harley is also near-sighted and never served in the Army. Instead, he made films about being in the Army. After he made all these films the public thought him to be a war hero. People believe what they see in films. In America we originated the danger of this idea.

WORD’N’BASS.com: So after you’re done promoting Out There what’s next?

Strick: A collaboration with David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, Naked Lunch). I wrote the pilot for HBO. We are developing Dead Ringers as a series.

WORD’N’BASS.com: That was originally a standalone movie, wasn’t it?

Strick: Yes. It was a great movie almost twenty years ago. HBO liked the idea, they thought it worth taking a shot on. The actors are going to go crazy about it: twin gynecologists, who share the same girls, the same drugs.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Nice. If HBO buys it would you be the main screenwriter?

Strick: I’d supervise a team of writers. I’d be in charge and co-produce and develop it.

WORD’N’BASS.com: When will you find out if it’s thumbs up?

Strick: I should find out soon, they move faster than the networks.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Can we expect another novel?

Strick: I’m definitely gonna do it. I have been.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Oh, so you’re already writing a new novel?

Strick: Yes. I don’t want to go too deeply into it, though.

WORD’N’BASS.com: How about a hint, just the juicy premise?

Strick: It’s a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, in an emotional growth boot camp for troubled teens. It’ll become like a totalitarian society of teens, in a remote self enclosed location.

WORD’N’BASS.com: That’s the opposite of Out There, which is set in front of everyone in a very visible location.

Strick: Yes, it’ll be a lot different.


< Back to News & Reviews Home



Home  |  Audio  |  News & Reviews  |  BPM Smith Blog
Events & Links  |  Contact Us

Copyright © 2005 WORD‘N’BASS.com                                                            Web Design provided by DiazWebDesign.com