Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Gatins started his career as an actor. He played small roles in films like Leprechaun 3, Varsity Blues and Meet Dave before (and while) writing screenplays for Summer Catch, Coach Carter and Real Steel. Gatins may have originally come to Hollywood to be an actor, but it’s his screenwriting that’s made him a star. And with the release Flight (out on Blu-ray and DVD February 5), his star is suddenly shining just about as brightly as it’s ever going to get.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington, Gatins masterful screenplay for Flight not only turned a movie with a major plane-crash set piece into a small, human drama, but it also garnered the young writer an Oscar nomination.
Movies.com recently sat down with Gatins to chat about screenwriting and his five favorite screenplays of all time.
Movies.com: Is there anything that you wrote in the original screenplay for Flight that you wish had stayed in the film?
John Gatins: What’s great is that Bob [Zemeckis] shot the movie in continuity as best he could, which is an amazing thing to witness. I think it helped the actors to build from one moment to the next. Every scene we shot is in the movie. That never happens. We cut inside of scenes, but we didn’t cut full scenes, so you won’t see deleted scenes on a DVD. It was amazing that we were able to shoot the whole script in 45 days.
Movies.com: How lucky do you have to be as a screenwriter to get the kind of influence on set that you had? That never happens, right?
Gatins: I’ll never have that kind of experience again. For all the years that things went wrong on this movie there was a moment in time when everything went right and that was Denzel declaring it and saying, “I want to make this movie.” Zemeckis, at the same time, saying that he wanted to do it and then inviting me along for the ride.
I had never met Robert Zemeckis. I’d only been a kid who knew his movies inside and out. We’ve now started a friendship that is a lifelong friendship. We are that kind of close, which you can’t ever predict. We just happen to be guys who think very much alike about a lot of things. We drove to work together every day and on the off days we worked on the script. It was really a nice, unexpected partnership.
Movies.com: Do you think screenwriters have the added pressure of having to put together a compelling acceptance speech because they’re writers?
Gatins: [Laughs] Yeah, I think probably so. I haven’t given it much thought. I haven’t really gotten around to it.
Movies.com: Is it one of those things that you put off just because you’re nervous about it?
Gatins: I think so, but I also think that it’s one of those things where getting the movie made was the victory. Everything that’s come since then, like really nice reviews that I thought were spot-on to having the cast and movie recognized for some of this awards stuff, is just icing. The fact that we get to go to the party is amazing. I’m such a movie fan so the fact that I get to go and watch the Oscars from whatever row, I’m stoked. I haven’t really thought about them saying my name at all.
Movies.com: Did you want to be an actor or a writer more as you were growing up?
Gatins: I started off really wanting to be an actor, but that’s all I really knew of the movie business, in a way. Growing up in New York movies, to me, meant the people in the movies who say those cool things. I didn’t think about who wrote what they said until I actually got in the movie business.
Movies.com: What is one tip you would give to an aspiring screenwriter?
Gatins: Know the beginning and the middle and the end of your story. I know that sounds silly but it’s like, “If I can get that far I’m going to be OK even though I’ll write myself into corners.” If I have that footing set, I’m going to be OK.
Movies.com: Because you have your story at least.
Gatins: Yeah, even just the most basic parameters of it. Because I’ve done the other. I’ve started off with a great setup and been like, “Well, now what?”
John Gatins’ Five Favorite Screenplays of All Time
Unforgiven: Perfect. Clean. Human. Vengeance.
Goodfellas: Epic. Endlessly entertaining. I could have watched 85 hours of Goodfellas. The film could have gone on for another eight hours, in my opinion. It’s so good.
Matchstick Men: Surprisingly. It continued to kind of turn unexpectedly, which is a really difficult thing to do.
Looper: That’s a good modern moment and I’m including it just because I can’t get over it. So, so good.
Chinatown: Rich. It’s a super rich tapestry of characters and story. It’s this amazing world.
Flight will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 5.