Oscars: Screenwriter John Logan talks “Hugo,” “Rango” and “Coriolanus” — AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: The only thing bigger than the films John Logan wrote in 2011 are the films he’d credited with writing in 2012 and beyond.

He’s credited with an early draft of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” He penned the latest installment of the James Bond franchise, “Skyfall,” for director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig. And he recently signed on the dotted line to write the screen adaptation of the smash Broadway musical “Jersey Boys.”

But it’s the three films Logan wrote in 2011 – “Rango,” “Coriolanus” and “Hugo” – that has his name buried deep in the heart of the ongoing Oscar race. “It’s kismit,” Logan told me. “Movies have their own internal time table. You never know when they’re going to achieve critical mass.”

The marathon comes to a head Tuesday morning, when nominations are revealed. We’ll see if Logan can add to his current nomination total of two. (He was recognized for penning “Gladiator” and “The Aviator,” also with Martin Scorsese.)

On the eve of the Oscar nominations, here is the gregarious, honest and refreshingly enthusiastic screenwriter, John Logan:

HollywoodNews.com: You have talked about how long it took to make “Rango.” How collaborative was it? Were you there for most of the process to keep changing dialogue or was it pretty much set in stone?

John Logan: It was pretty established early on, but we spent a long time getting it there. And it was the most mad cap experience I’ve ever had making a movie. We did most of the heavy lifting at Gore Verbinski’s house, away from a studio and away from society. The [creative team] was there, and we would walk around, through the hills, or sit in the backyard and hash things out. This involved a lot of acting on our parts, as we popped up and played almost all of the characters. We wanted the movie to have an off-the-cuff feel, an idiosyncratic energy.

But by the time you get to doing a story reel, the language and dialogue had to be set. And so once we got the actors in to record it – and we sort of filmed them doing it as if we were doing a live play – it was all pretty set. Though we did use that process as an excuse to further explore these characters and to let the actors improvise around the text.

It was more fluid then I think animation usually is.

HollywoodNews.com: And yet, it’s so drastically different than “Coriolanus.” Tell me how you became involved with Ralph Fiennes’ Shakespeare adaptation.

It was years ago, and it came to me because of my great affection for Shakespeare. The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare, and just falling in love with theater.

I’d always thought, from the time I started writing screenplays, that sooner or later I would try my hand at adapting Shakespeare. And I always thought “Coriolanus” was the one that I was going to do. I think that it’s a very cinematic story. And very modern. But not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that anybody in the world would want to make a movie of “Coriolanus” until I met Ralph Fiennes! [Laughs]

We have similar contact. Kathryn Bigelow is a dear friend of both of ours. We met, and he sort of pitched me his take on the movie, which is exactly how I thought it should be … very modern. And we just dove in and did it.

HollywoodNews.com: You always wanted to bring Shakespeare into a modern time?

Completely. Well, with “Coriolanus.” If I were doing “Winter’s Tale,” I wouldn’t. But this, because of the central character, seems to me to be very modern. It’s less about the contemporary parallels, of which there are many. What I find particularly filmic and modern is the character of Coriolanus. He is a very complicated, murky individual. He’s deeply, deeply complex. And one of the things that draws me to people I want to write about is the examination of deeply flawed characters. Whether it’s Charles Foster Kane [in “RKO 281”] or T.E. Lawrence or Norman Bates. The people who we don’t understand, but the camera can let their internal lives come out. And that’s why, to me, “Coriolanus” was going to make such a great movie.

HollywoodNews.com: Shifting to “Hugo,” as we run through your impressive credits from the year, I’m curious if you connected with the topic of film preservation in the same way that Martin Scorsese does?

It’s less about preservation for me as it is understanding where you stand in the continuum of your art form.

I think we all stand in the good grace and on the backs of those who came before us in the movies. It’s shocking to me when I meet film people who’ve never seen “Night of the Hunter,” who don’t know “Vertigo,” “Intolerance,” “Top Hat” or “The Band Wagon.” Who don’t understand who Ben Hecht was. To me, it’s very important to know the lineage of your art form, whether it’s in the theater or movies, which are the two forms that I like to explore.

Clearly, there’s that thing in “Hugo” that is about the acknowledgement of the masters of the form. And I know Marty connected to that, as did I.

HollywoodNews.com: One topic that emerged from “Hugo” was the advancement of 3D technology, as Scorsese figured out how best to use it to aid his storytelling. Does 3D change the way that you write, and if so, how?

It certainly did in my case. Once the decision was made to go to 3D, it encouraged me to write a different way. When I write screenplays, I try to imagine the whole thing in a sort of virtual, 3D environment anyway. So it encouraged me to find ways to go into things and through things, so I wrote more sequences of Hugo going through the tunnels, of the camera going inside of the automaton to see how all of the pieces work. Or simple things like the dogs being a Doberman and two Dachshunds because those are long dogs that would look good in 3D.

HollywoodNews.com: Ah, that’s interesting.

Right. So it absolutely informed a lot of decisions in a really exciting way.

HollywoodNews.com: Would you like to potentially go back and do “The Time Machine” in 3D?

[Laughs] No, I’m leaving H.G. Wells in my past.

Awards Alley brings you the best Oscar coverage. Click below to read our exclusive interviews with:
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– Producer Jim Burke for “The Descendants.”
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– Producer Grant Heslov for “The Ides of March.”

For complete Oscar and Film Festival coverage, visit our Awards Alley for the latest news items, reviews and interviews all season long.

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