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01/01/2005 - Interview - George Wing

George Wing is the writer behind the film: "50 First Dates" staring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

Tell me about yourself:

GW: I'm a writer-filmmaker. I went to NYU film school's undergrad program, then moved here to Seattle about eight years ago. I love it here and have no plans to move to L.A. or New York.

At what point did you choose to start writing?

GW: The moment I first seriously asked myself what I wanted to do with my life - at the age of 16 - the answer was clear: make movies.

Are you a fast writer and a long re-writer? Or do you take a long time to finish a script and do very little re-writing or editing?

GW: I outline, outline and outline for months and then write a first draft in ten days to two weeks. For me, the actual writing of the script is only 10% of the time spent, and it's a joy because I've already figured everything out and tested the story by telling it to dozens of people. Then, once I get some initial reactions to the first draft - or once the producers who paid for it have read it - the hard work of rewriting begins. But again, it's 90% planning for the rewrite, 10% actually doing it.

Do you use a particular software program to assist you?

GW: Final Draft is the industry standard.

When did you finish your first screenplay?

GW: Experience has taught me that a screenplay is never finished.

Have you ever entered a contest and/or used a script reading service?

GW: I would not use a ?script reading service', but I have entered and won contests, and I heartily recommend them to all writers wanting to break in. They get you read.

When you started did you take a screenwriting class or just read a couple books? What books had influence on your writing?

GW: I found some aspects of Robert McKee's book helpful, but I haven't found many good screenwriting books. Richard Walter's is good.

What would consider your "big-break?"

GW: My first six-figure deal was with Columbia for "50 First Kisses." (Title later changed to "50 First Dates" - ed.) But the moment I conceived the ending for that script, I knew I would sell it to a studio. In reality, my career has been a steady continuum from tiny options to modest options with better producers, to studio sales and assignments.

When you talk about your big break "50 First Kisses" it almost sounds like this was "easy." Would you characterize it as such?

GW: No, I didn't mean to make it sound like that. It's just... you pay your dues, and pay your dues, and then right when you start saying ?okay I am REALLY paying my dues,' you find that you've already paid a lot of them. If that makes sense.

How did you get an agent?

GW: The way to get an agent is to get a producer first. Then you call the agent of your choice and say "Hi, Gale Anne Hurd wants to make a deal with me and I have no representation!" That's how I did it. Producers are more accessible.

How did you go about finding a producer and getting it into their hands?

GW: The script I was talking about was my ?Dragons', which won the Washington State Screenplay contest. I got several calls from producers after winning.

How does having an agent open doors for you?

GW: A good agent is keenly aware of ?open assignments' at any given moment, and which of those might be appropriate for his or her client. If the studio or producer is already aware of their client, so much the better. These can be rewrites, adaptations, remakes, sometimes just the shred of an idea that someone thinks could be a movie. If you want to play the assignment game, you definitely need an agent, and you need to be able to spend some time in L.A. taking all those meetings.

GW (cont.): As for spec scripts, an agent will keep track of where the appetite is strongest for certain kinds of material. They should also know which movie stars might want to attach themselves, thus making the spec easier to set up. If the spec is question is a high concept studio movie, the agent may choose to ?auction' it in the hope of triggering a bidding situation.

GW (cont.): But be aware that an agent is not the only door-opener. A new class of manager/producers is proving to be an effective alternative (I am represented by both). And as always, a piece of brilliant material is a better door opener than any agent.

Have you ever collaborated on a screenplay? What was that like?

GW: I have collaborated, and would again. It's my fantasy to find an amazing writing partner whose voice and ideas complement mine, but I haven't been that lucky so far.

Have you thought of writing for television?

GW: I don't watch TV so I don't think I'd be good at that.

How many scripts have you sold?

GW: "Sold" is a funny concept. In reality, all these six-figure "sales" you read about are really option/rewrite contracts. Usually the script is not sold outright until the first day of production. But to answer your question in the way it's commonly understood, four.

How do you deal with the fact that your "vision" might be radically changed in the process of the film being made?

GW: It's not ?might be', it's ?will be.' And sometimes it changes for the better. Sometimes it's painful. The trick is to write something so strong that people won't want to mess with it too much.

Is there anything you feel you can do to keep your "vision" in tact?

GW: Yes - become a producer.

When I ask about keeping your vision intact, you suggest becoming a Producer. Would you rather Produce than Direct? And why?

GW: Obviously, directing is the ultimate way to keep your vision intact. But that's a bigger leap for a writer than becoming a co-producer. Most movies have lots of producers involved, with varying levels of influence.

Someone once said "selling a screenplay is liking giving birth to a baby and then handing it to someone and having them bash it's head in with a claw hammer." Do you agree with this statement?

GW: The important point to make here is: You are the person who freely handed your baby over to the person holding the claw hammer. And you did it for money.

What do you do to keep the passion flowing and not get burnt out?

GW: Resist the studio assignment work, unless I genuinely love it. And those projects are hard to find.

Have you ever dealt "writer's block?" How long did it last?

GW: Every now and then I get severely stuck on some creative problem. Sometimes for weeks. There's no alternative but to work through it, and that's where some of the most wonderful material comes from - you invent something great or brand-new, because you were forced to.

Do you think your journey is more the norm or the exception?

GW: I have several writer friends from my days at NYU who are making a living now. It seems to take people 8 years or so. By then you really have your craft down.

Do you think this is a true statement? "It's more WHO you know that WHAT you know?"

GW: I strongly disagree. A fisherman from Nome, Alaska, who knows no one in the business, can write a great screenplay, enter a contest, and soon he'll know dozens of film biz people.

Should writers work more on writing or getting connections?

GW: Writers should work on becoming great storytellers.

How many times have you flown to L.A. in the last year?

GW: Maybe 9 times. I'd like to point out that commuting costs are easily covered by not having to pay California's State income tax.

You have a MAJOR film coming out this fall ("50 First Dates")...how have you prepared yourself for this? Or can you?

GW: That represents creative work I finished several years ago, so it's not part of my daily reality. I imagine I will go to the premiere.

"Heat" and "Power" are buzz words when it comes to the Hollywood Scene. How are you using whatever "heat" you've generated or "power" that you may have to continue to be a successful writer?

GW: The Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore pairing raises my profile, and helps me in negotiations on new projects. Naturally, I hope the movie does good business.

Now that your career is picking up speed - where do you see yourself in five years? Why?

GW: I would like to help turn Seattle into a movie town. If could make feature films with the local community, I would have the perfect life.

What's the most SURPRISING thing you've encountered in Hollywood?

GW: Studio execs are a lot smarter and more literate than I expected. And for some reason, the concept of a protected left turn has not reached Southern California.

What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about yourself?

GW: That I have gone from a blithering idiot who couldn't talk about a project at all, to someone who, at times, can sell a pitch.

Do you have any advice for any first time screenwriters out there?

GW: Don't write a screenplay. Seriously, that's my advice. A screenplay is not the unit of currency in the film business, the premise/story is. Too many people dash off a first draft of a half-baked premise and then convince themselves, that because it's properly formatted, 110 pages, and bound with brass brads, it must be a valuable property. Your valuable property is your brilliant original story. Develop THAT, test it by telling to complete strangers, until it works like a Swiss watch and you know the characters intimately. Only then should you write it, and then it will be great.


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