Movie making may have changed, but it still relies on a solid script. On Recode Media with Peter Kafka, screenwriter-novelist-director Scott Frank discussed his career in movies and how, in the age of Netflix, writing and directing for TV is where the darker stories now go.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. It’s powered by Digital Media, that is a real company with a weird sounding name. I am here with Scott Frank. Pretty straightforward name.
Scott Frank: Hello, Peter.
Hi, Scott. Thanks for joining.
Thanks for having me.
You do many things. You’ve written a book. We’ll talk about that. You’re making a cool Netflix show with Steven Soderbergh. You’ve made a couple of my favorite movies, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a recent one, “Out of Sight” is one of my all-time favorite movies.
Should we go through your entire IMDb?
We could. We can do whatever you want.
What’s the best way to describe you? Writer, director, all of the above?
I think all of the above. I’m directing more these days than I was before, so probably I think going forward I’ll do a lot more writing than directing.
Probably when you listen to this podcast, Scott’s newest project that you can consume will be “Logan.” That’s the adult Wolverine movie, is that the right way to put it?
Yes, sure hope so.
You’re a writer for that one.
Yes, yes, with Jim Mangold, who directed it.
This is an R-rated superhero movie.
This about a very hard R “Paper Moon.” That’s really what it is.
That’s great. Is that a Fox film?
Yeah, so do they know you’re making it a hard R “Paper Moon”?
They do, God bless them. Jim and I worked on the last one. He directed the one before, and we tried to do something with that, and we got half way. It was a different, we’ll say, leadership at Fox at the time. We only got half of what we wanted to do in the last one. When the leadership changed at the studio, we had a great conversation with them. On this one, we were sort of able to do our un-superhero superhero movie.
This is what people who have been trying to do ... They’ve done it in graphic novels for 30 years now. “Dark Knight” was sort of where it started. Then when it comes to turning these things into movies, they inevitably become movies that are made for younger people.
Yes, and most movies are made for younger people now, as it happens.
Yeah. Is this the first R superhero? Is that possible?
“Deadpool,” which I loved, is also, I think, R-rated and pretty great.
Right, right, right, right. This was in the works when “Deadpool” had come out?
That sort of snapped people’s head back, said, “Oh, you can do this with a movie.”
Yes, yes, we’d been working on it a couple years before that, I think.
That was played for laughs, mostly.
This is not.
This is not. This is a very different tone than that movie, although I happen to love “Deadpool.” I really enjoyed that movie.
Yeah, I liked it. There’s no winking here, this is a real person. There’s real stakes, he happens to have titanium claws.
And doesn’t like superheroes and doesn’t like the whole mythology around superheroes. We’re not linking to other people in the Marvel universe. We’re not doing any of that stuff. We’re not calling back characters. There’s not a scene in the end credits foretelling something ...
Oh, you just unspoiled the spoiler.
That’s coming. It’s its own movie. It’s a standalone movie. Just to go back to the one before this, what we ...
That one was called ...
“The Wolverine,” I think.
That was the one where he goes to Japan?
Goes to Japan. What we thought was really interesting was to have a superhero who is supposedly immortal with all these healing powers, and 10 minutes in, let’s take away all his powers and see if he finally gets what he wants, which is to die. See what happens, and park him in Japan. It was a little like when Harrison Ford was wounded in “Witness” and he was there in Amish country. We thought we could have this interesting romance.
Guy out of time, out of place.
Guy out of time and out of place. He was in Hiroshima. It was kind of interesting. We were partially successful, I think. On this one, we said, “Let’s do where we’re never talking about being a superhero. We’re never talking about any of that stuff. We’ll tell an adult story about growing old, about paying for your sins, and about what it really means. This is a man who’s certainly killed, maimed, injured a lot of people in his life, and has been doing it for a very long time, because he’s lived a very long time. Now he’s face to face with a very young version of himself.”
Superhero movies and their variants are kind of the lifeblood of Hollywood right now. These are big, expensive bets. They make a lot of money. If they don’t do well, studios have to take write-offs and acknowledge it in earnings calls. When you tell the folks at Fox, “Here’s what I want to do with one of the most valuable pieces of IP,” as they call it in your business. “I want to make it not accessible to a big swath of the audience that loves comic book movies.” You don’t say it that way, I’m assuming, but that’s what you’re telling them. How does that go over?
You say you don’t want to repeat yourself. The way to get people to show up is if they feel like it’s something different. Maybe there’s a whole other audience that you haven’t tapped into yet that might be interested in this.
The Peter Kafkas of the world.
The Peter Kafkas of the world — and the Scott Franks, for that matter. I don’t really like superhero movies. I think that when they finally greenlit the movie, it was around the time of “Deadpool.” Even though we’d been working on it off and on before then, I think they saw, “That’s the kind of thing …” You have to evolve in some way. Maybe one evolution to play with is to make it be a little deeper and a little darker, and quite honestly, a little simpler.
“Deadpool” has swearing and it’s darker, but it’s also very much a comic book movie. It brings in the characters from the other franchises, and there’s going to be a “Deadpool 2.”
Yes. This does not feel like a comic book movie. It really doesn’t, except for the powers he has and so on. It’s not really played for that sort of tone. I’d always wanted to write a James Bond movie where you meet him, he’s in a bar, he’s drunk, and he gets the shit beat out of him.
Because he’s just a guy who kills for a living.
He’s just a guy, and he drank too many of those martinis, and there he is. He says something he shouldn’t, and he gets beat up by a bunch of soccer hooligans or something in Britain. We did a version of that with this.
That’s great. I want to talk to you about Soderbergh and Netflix. I want to talk to you about the book that I got to say I’m about 30 pages left. It’s great. Let’s go backwards. You’ve been doing this for a long time. I remember seeing “Out of Sight” in a really hot movie theater with no air conditioning in New York in ’97 or ’98. That was not your first movie.
I’ve been doing it 30 years.
How did you get into the movie business?
I was very lucky. I went to school in Santa Barbara, UC Santa Barbara. I came to LA to write scripts. I’d written a script while I was ...
So you were that guy? Shows up, want to write scripts.
I was that guy. I wanted to write scripts. Didn’t know anybody in the movie business at all. When I was a student at UCSB, I wrote a script called “Little Man Tate.” I thought, “That’s going to be the script. I’m going to sell it for lots of money, and that’ll be that.” Nobody wanted a script about a little kid who went to college. To be quite honest, it wasn’t that good. It read like a bunch of skits about a kid who went to college. I started rewriting it. I got a job bartending, and worked at night and wrote during the day. Lo and behold, after a couple years of that, I met somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and I got my script to an agent. The agent got my script to the right person. Within months, I had an office on the Paramount lot when I was 24 years old.
This was a Jodie Foster?
She ended up doing ... The movie didn’t get made for another five, six years after that.
You broke in the way that lots of people try to break in. Most of them don’t succeed, but you show up. You do something that’s not what you want to do. You bartend, and you try to get your script into the hands of someone who will eventually make it.
I just kept rewriting it over and over and over again. Yeah, and that’s exactly what happened.
Then once you’ve made something or even been hired to work on something, you’re kind of in the system for a while.
Yeah. I was lucky. I was very lucky for lots of reasons. One, I happen to meet the right people. My struggle was all of two years. Literally, I was 24 when I had an office with a bunch of people at Paramount. It was kind of exciting, but when I was there, I met a woman named Lindsay Doran, who was a vice president of production. She taught me how to write. I think I was an okay writer then, but she really taught me how to write. The movie that I spent a long time on, I did a bad movie for Paramount, you can go look it up, called “Plain Clothes.”
Don’t know it.
It’s terrible. It’s always on whenever I have the flu and I turn on the TV. There it is, for some reason.
Who’s in it?
Arliss Howard, George Wendt from “Cheers.” They’re all good.
All right. I’m looking it up.
The movie is just God-awful. That was the first script I got paid to write for the studio. I did that, and took me a year or two to write. Took about 12 weeks to make a bad movie. After that, I began writing a script called “Dead Again.” Lindsay Doran was my executive and ultimately producer, along with Sydney Pollack. They taught me how to write scripts. I was very lucky that I’d found her early on. I kind of got off on the right foot. I see a lot of young writers, depending on who you work for and what you’re working on, it can go either way.
You broke through. Your probably best-known film is “Get Shorty”?
Later after that, yes. Yes.
How did you get your hands on “Get Shorty"?
They offered me the book. It was just ...
Yeah, and I’d passed the first time. I didn’t want to write a book about Hollywood, and I’d had a horrible experience on a movie called “Malice,” which we won’t have to talk about. I was just mad at the business for whatever reason. The producer, Stacey Sher and Danny DeVito and Michael Shamberg, they had this great company thing called Jersey Films. I did a bunch of projects with them. They said, “Are you sure you don’t want to do this?” I said, “All right, I’ll read it again.”
Were you an Elmore Leonard fan? You must have been, right?
I was a big Elmore Leonard fan, but none of the movies had worked, and he was famous for talking about how he hated all the movies, so I was a little wary. I read the book again, and I got to the part where the loan shark and the murderer are talking about how easy it is to write a script. I thought, “Okay, this is a perfect thing for me to do right now.” Then I jumped in, and it was hard, though. That was a tough script to do. We took a couple years to kind of ... I learned a lot on that one as well.
That one’s great, and then “Out of Sight,” another Elmore Leonard.
Came a couple years later.
One of the all-time greats.
Yes, thank you.
It’s weirdly underappreciated, I think.
Yeah. No one saw it when it came out. It was a bomb. It actually didn’t do well.
It’s Jennifer Lopez’s hands down best performance, and it’s George Clooney’s probably best. He’s the most George Clooneyest ...
Steve Zahn is amazing in that.
Yeah, he’s great.
Ving Rhames, they’re all terrific.
Is it Don Cheadle?
Don Cheadle is amazing in that movie.
Don Cheadle is great, yeah.
Albert Brooks. It was a lot of ...
Go watch this movie. Stop listening to this podcast. Go watch the movie. Come back.
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, ever, in the business. I thoroughly loved that whole experience, and largely because Steven Soderbergh just was amazing. We had a great time doing it together. We really enjoyed it, but those books are hard to adapt. I remember the first time I met ...
They’re tough, because they’re all talk. It’s great talk, but the plots, he’ll introduce a character on page 80 who will suddenly become the main character. Even the ending of “Get Shorty,” which is very different than the movie, the character says, “Endings,” something like, “aren’t they a bitch?” He just doesn’t care.
Shows you how little I know, because I read those things, Elmore Leonard books, I love them. They all seem like they’re movies. They play out really well in my head. They’re short.
They all do seem like they’re movies.
Great dialogue, and I read “Out of Sight” and I watched “Out of Sight,” and it seems like you’ve lifted a lot of it from the [book]. This is not easy lifting, but there’s got to be harder work. Maybe I’m wrong.
No, some of it’s easy lifting, and some of it’s very ... “Get Shorty,” half of it is the book, and half of it is new. I don’t want to be one of those screenwriters that trashes the books they adapt to make themselves look better. Those were great books. They were really great books. I took gobs of stuff from both of those books, but they didn’t work as a movie. The shape of them, the story wasn’t an interesting movie. The book “Out of Sight” was more about her than him, but she was just sort of-
Carrie Sisco [inaudible 00:12:31].
Yeah, she was a photograph he saw of a federal marshal, this women in a Chanel suit with a shotgun on the steps of the Dade County Courthouse. He saw that in the news, and he wrote a book about her. That is who she is at the beginning, and that kind of is who she is at the end of the book, where he is this guy full of regret and the road not taken and all that stuff. It was great. It was more fun to write a movie about him with her. “Get Shorty” the same thing. It becomes a lot about the Rene Russo character. In the film, she becomes a studio executive, and there’s all kinds of stuff that ... It just becomes a whole other thing. You have to turn it into a movie.
I’m going to go back and do my homework and reread and rewatch.
How has movie making — and we’ll talk about this more when it comes to TV and books as well — how has that changed since you got into the business? The economics are different. Is the process fundamentally different, or is it the same as when you were breaking in?
The economics are different, so the process is different. Movies now cost a huge amount of money to market. A low amount of money, you may make a movie for 10 million, but if it’s a movie the studio cares about, they’re going to spend over 30 million to market it. The marketing costs are huge. Marketing has become sort of the church for the business. The business has changed fundamentally once it became very marketing driven. It used to be, when I started, say, the creative side of the studio would greenlight a movie. They’re going to do “The Peter Kafka Story.”
But everybody says, “That’s a really interesting movie. We’re going to do that. We’re going to make it.” Then when they’re done making it, then it goes to the marketing people who go, “We don’t know. What do we do? How do we market this?” Then they have to figure out how to market it.
Now, before a movie is greenlit, in the room, the people greenlighting the movie are the head of marketing. It’s not just the creative side. They only have one voice. Everybody has a voice, but no say. There’s the creative side. There’s the marketing side. There used to be the DVD side when that was a market. Now it’s the foreign side. Also, the foreign business, when I was first doing this in the early ’80s, was a small fraction of the overall movie business. Now it is the part of the movie. You can have a movie that bombs here and be huge overseas. Next thing you know, they’re making a sequel. You’re going, “Wait, I thought that movie was a disaster?” Well, it did great overseas.
Great in China.
Great in China, so they’re going to do another one. That has been the biggest change, I think. Decisions are made based on marketing. Some studios are more marketing driven than others. They’re very careful, and so they’re reverse engineering movies. The problem with that, Disney went through this a long time ago, and then Fox until the last few years before Emma Watson, Stacy Snyder kind of took it over. They were so marketing driven that they had a formula, that there were certain things that they did and that they knew. Everything was over-tested and over-figured-out.
The movies are successful for a time, but then they all start to look alike. A Fox movie or a Disney movie back when Jeff Katzenberg was doing this at Disney, they were successful, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” all those movies they were making back then, the fish-out-of-water formula that they had. It works for a really long time, or a long enough time, and then it becomes the snake that eats its own tail. Then there’s a kind of sameness that sets in, and the audience feels it. Then before you know it, your brand name is sort of synonymous with shit.
There’s a logic to it, right? The studio get bigger, bigger, and bigger bets, and of course we’re going to have comic book releases, because we know there’s an audience for them.
Scarier than that is that they’re usually right about when they have a movie, who’s going to see it, what numbers are going to show up. That doesn’t mean they’re always right, but I used to say, “They don’t know what they’re …” They do. Actually, it’s amazing how they can guess who’s going to show up for the movie, but that doesn’t mean that you should use that same decision-making matrix to decide what movie gets made. It’s tricky before you’ve made the thing, it’s hard to know who’s going to show up.
Yep. These are big bets. People win, lose jobs on the strength of them. This is a lower-stakes operation here, but we still have to make money, so we’re going to be back in one minute after we hear from our fine advertiser.
Back here with Scott Frank talking about the past, present, future of making movies and other entertainment. You’re now making a Netflix, what is it, is it a movie? Is it a series?
It’s a miniseries. Six hours.
Miniseries. How many episodes? Six hours. You’re writing? You’re directing?
Writing and directing.
Steven Soderbergh, your former collaborator.
Producing. It’s called?
It’s a western.
Sounds great. Soderbergh, he said, “I’m done making movies.” Then he started making movies again.
Yes, he did.
Did you think he was going to make movies again?
He’s done making movies the way he used to make movies. He’s done going through that whole system we just talked about. He’s done doing that. He’s experimenting with different formats. He’s experimenting with different ways of releasing movies. He’s experimenting, because I think he felt what I just said, which is that the marketing departments, all the people that we labeled as the enemy of art and so on, are right. They’re right.
That’s his motivation for not doing that and doing a Netflix thing or a Showtime show?
Doing something, he’s got something ... Yeah.
Or a Cinemax show.
The Cinemax show. He can find other ways to tell stories that he actually cares about and do other things. He also, there’s a part of him that likes to have fun. There’s a lot of choices he makes, because, “I’m really going to enjoy myself.”
You’re still in the system. You’re doing both. You’re playing both sides.
I’m doing a little of everything, yeah. I don’t know. If I were starting today, I wouldn’t make movies, because most of those movies that you talked about that you liked don’t get made now. “Out of Sight” doesn’t get made. “Get Shorty” doesn’t get made. “Minority Report” might get made. “Dead Again” doesn’t get made. They’re TV shows, probably, a lot of those, or done on television or done in some way.
Right. It’s the new conventional wisdom. That mid-tier of movies has been replaced by the Netflix series.
To a large degree. Not completely, but to a large degree, yeah.
They’re different products, though, right? This is a six-hour miniseries about women in the west. It’s a feminist western?
That’s a part of it, certainly, yeah. A big part of it is a town where all the able-bodied men have died in a mine. Now the women are left on their own for a couple years. You know, they’re hiding a young guy who’s been shot who is a kind of good-bad guy, we’ll call him. The rest of his friends and family are looking for him and tearing up the West. You know that it’s only a matter of time before they show up.
We can see that this fall?
I hope, yeah.
Netflix famously, when they came in and said, “We’re going to start making original stuff,” they said, “You make whatever you want. We’ll do the math in advance and decide if it makes sense for you to make this project. Then we’re not going to touch it.” Are they holding up that end of the bargain? Is that still happening?
It’s the best experience I’ve ever had. They’re definitely holding up that end. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions and don’t have thoughts and have budgets and so on. You still have to be disciplined with them, but they are unbelievable to work for, and were supportive and always helpful. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still waiting.
Yeah, yeah. I know on the money side it seems like they used to maybe even overpay to get people, and now that’s pulling back a bit.
They overpaid because there was no back end. You can’t get residuals or profit participation, because it’s a closed entity.
There’s no DVD money.
There’s no DVD. There’s no anything, no foreign sales. They control everything. Their model is based on subscriptions. When they decide to make something, they’re making something because they hope it will bring in more subscriptions. I’m oversimplifying, I’m sure, and they would probably wince a bit, but that’s basically what it is.
That’s basically what they say.
It’s hard to figure out how you monetize any kind of profit participation in that model.
But you’re making a market rate? You’re comfortable?
Yes, you’re comfortable. They give you a market rate, plus they buy out, in some cases, what your residuals might be and what you would call modest success.
How do you think about making a six-hour series that, since it’s Netflix, it’s going to get all dropped over a weekend? Are you thinking people are going to watch this back to back? Are you thinking they’re going to spread it out over a couple weeks? How does that affect what you make?
I treat it like a novel, that people are going to approach it like a novel. They’ll watch it as much as they want to watch it. For some people, they may drag it out over a couple weeks. Some people may watch the whole thing on Friday night, you don’t know how. Everybody has their own kind of thing.
What’s great for me is it was originally a movie script. I’d written it a long time ago. It was almost made several times, by other directors, and in fact, Steven Soderbergh was the first person I gave it to. Ultimately he said, “I don’t like horses,” which is a problem when you’re going to make a western. Like I said, it was various configurations along the way. Then finally Steven said, “Let’s do it at HBO as a miniseries.” HBO was actually bidding on making it, and they said, “Yes, let’s do it.” I figured out how to expand it, and I thought it would be kind of a reverse adaptation where I could go deeper and do things I didn’t have time to do. Then Netflix stepped in and said, “We want a western.” Then they just kind of ...
They snapped it up from HBO.
Made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
It’s not a project that HBO discarded?
No, no, no.
There’s a bunch of those floating around as well.
No, they wouldn’t.
So, interesting. This is — you overused the word “golden age” — but I think for someone like you in particular, you can’t get your middle-tier movies made anymore, but you’ve got Netflix competing with HBO.
Hulu, Amazon. Do you think, “Boy, there’s a limited window here and I got to make as much as I can while this exists,” or do you think there’s going to be some version of this for the next 20 years, and “I just got to go when I’m going to go”?
I’ve got to say, I’ve spent 30 years realizing I’m done next year. I’m always thinking ...
There’s always a clock ticking.
No matter what’s happening in the business, I’m always thinking low-hanging fruit versus what do I really want to do? Sometimes I err too far on one side or the other. It’s hard to say. There are a lot of shows right now. I think someone said 500-some-odd shows, or an insane amount. I don’t know if you can keep that up. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I do know that my friends who do what I do, they’re all looking at television to do different kinds of stories, because if you’re working in the movies, you’re doing big, giant comic book, “Star Wars,” or broad comedies, or family stuff. Some of that stuff is pretty terrific, but at the same time, if you want to do anything other than those things, it’s harder to do it in the movies. By the way, it doesn’t mean that studios aren’t still developing that midrange. They’re doing a ton of that. They really are. It’s just it’s a harder thing for them to sell.
Mean time, good for you. It’s good for me.
I have an endless supply of great stuff to watch.
Good for people who are trying to ... You can find something. If you want to watch a superhero movie, you can go do that. If you want to watch “The Fall” or “Luther” or “Peaky Blinders” ...
Apple wants to get into this business. They want to start spending money on this stuff.
Everybody wants to spend.
I’m holding up your book, which no one can see, but I’m holding it. It’s a paperback, “Shaker.” It came out last year, right?
Very Elmore Leonardish. It’s your first novel. Was Elmore Leonard in your head while you were writing this?
I think inescapably, probably.
Yeah. What made you decide to write a novel 30 years into a successful screenwriting career?
I actually started it early on in my career. I started in the early ’90s, even before I had adapted any Elmore Leonard, I think. I was 31 or 32, and I had always wanted to write books. I started it, and I wrote close to 100 pages of it, and could never quite get back to it, for whatever reason. I had three kids pretty close together and pretty fast, and just had a life that was hard to go back and work on something that wasn’t paying the bills. It just sort of sat there.
Then about four years ago, right before I started shooting “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” it was the summer. I found the manuscript. I looked at it, and there were those 100, I don’t remember what it was, 90 pages, something like that. I read them, and you have these moments as a writer where you look at stuff and you go, “Who wrote that?” Sometimes it’s embarrassing, because it looks like a high school term paper. That, I read those 90 pages, and I thought, “Wow, what happened to that guy? That’s really sad.”
To the character?
No, to me as a writer.
Oh, to you, the guy who wanted to do it?
Yeah, I’m thinking, those pages, it wasn’t the high school term paper, it was the opposite. It was like, “What have you done to yourself as a writer?” Because when you were 32 versus 52 or whatever I was at the time, you were way more interesting.
Oh, this wasn’t you looking back and going, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
That was you looking back going, “I had something cool.”
I got off the tracks somewhere. It wasn’t even that I thought it was a great book. I just thought, “Okay, why did you stop trying to write a book?” I would say all the time, “I need to get back to my book. I need to this.” Creative people have this happen all the time. Before they know it, their life is done. I sent it to a friend of mine who was an editor at Random House. I said, “Either I throw this away or I finish it. I’ll do whatever you tell me. If I throw it away, I’m going to start a new book. I need to do this.” He called me and he said, “Don’t throw it away. Don’t throw it away. Finish it.” He said, “I want us to publish it.”
It’s very cool. I’m glad you did. It’s a great read. There’s no more new Elmore Leonard coming out, so this satisfied an itch for me. Like Elmore Leonard, it looks deceptively simple. The writing is clean and easy to process, but you do tricky, cool stuff there. There’s a scene there where there’s a cop talking to a convict or suspected convict or a criminal. He’s in the hospital. It’s told from her point of view, and she’s talking. Then you hear what’s in her head. Then all of a sudden it slips into his perspective?
It’s really sneaky how you do it. You don’t announce it. Then you come back to her. That’s cool. Scott had fun there.
I had a very good time.
Do you want to do more of these?
I’d love to do more. I’d love to do more. This is a question of just time.
Time, money, all those things.
Yeah. Time more than anything. I spent a year. I shot a TV pilot that didn’t happen, and I suddenly was faced with a lot of empty time. That’s when I decided to write it. I thought, “I have nothing to do. I’m not going to take another job. I’m just going to work on the book.” It was about a year, and it was easily the happiest year of writing I’ve ever had.
There’s some media critique in here, at least what reads like a media critique. There’s a lot of reference to people capturing stuff on cellphones before they call cops. There’s a lot of talk about people who are fake gangsters, but spend most of their time on YouTube. Was that something that it was in your head that you wanted to get out, or that just came with the book?
Came with the book. The first 90 pages, which were the whole setup, I wrote a long time ago.
It was pre-cellphone. It was ’92, ’93.
Then by the time I came back to the book, all that stuff was happening. By the way, when I sold the book, it was written for the Northridge earthquake. It was in period.
We should tell people this is like a gangster hard-boiled detective with a mystery past, and it’s set after a big earthquake.
In a week or two after an earthquake in LA.
Yes, present tense.
Present tense, all the criminal shenanigans that go on in that couple of weeks. Sunny Mehta, the head of Knopf, said to me, “Why don’t you do it in the present day?” I go, “Then you have to deal with cellphones. I hate dealing with cellphones in movies, because it always feels like they’re cheating. Everything happens on them.” He said, “Well, just think about it.” I thought there might be a way to satirize all of that stuff and do it in a way that was ...
Oh, so it’s very deliberate. Okay, cool.
That’s great. It is funny. Cellphones wreck the plots of pretty much any movie you go back and look at now, because the movie would stop. They would call somebody.
Yeah, yeah. Watch any episode of “24.” He’ll get the blueprints to the bathroom down the hall downloaded to his cellphone.
Right, or anything where there’s some kind of mix up, you just call the person. Google will fix it.
It’s on the phone. Yeah, yeah, just text them.
It makes for much less interesting stories.
I don’t think I gave “A Walk Among the Tombstones” enough credit, because we were talking about it before we started recording. Is that your first movie you’ve directed?
No, I directed a movie called "The Lookout" in 2007 with Joe Gordon Levitt and Jeff Daniels.
I do not know that one.
Yeah, well, very few people do.
I was going to praise “A Walk Among the Tombstones.” There was a string of Liam Neeson movies where it looked like Liam Neeson was playing the same hard-bitten cop, three-time loser, etc. I guess he is in this case, too, but this one’s great.
You should go see it. Was this something where you wanted to work with Liam Neeson, or he came to you? How did it come about?
No, we came to him, definitely. Again, that was written a long time ago and almost made with Harrison Ford, and various other actors and directors had come in and out of it over the years. Finally, a director had just ... At one point, Angelina Jolie wanted to play the Liam Neeson part, which was really interesting. It had just fallen apart again with whatever director at the time. My agent said to me, “Why don’t you direct it? What are you doing right now? Why don’t you direct? Why don’t you direct it?” I’d never written it to direct it, which was interesting. It’s how I ended up directing “The Lookout,” which was a great experience for me. I thought, “Maybe I should do it. Let’s just see if we can hold it together.” We did, and I ended up doing it.
Pop culture nerd question for you. There’s a scene I was talking to you about beforehand where you use the song “Atlantis.”
Yeah, the Donovan song.
Donovan song. If you don’t know that song, you do know that song, because it’s featured famously in “Goodfellas” where the killed Billy Batts, right?
In the bar. It’s the iconic scene. You’re making a movie 20 years later. You say, “I want to use that same music. I understand that everyone who’s going to watch this movie has seen the Scorsese movie.” What’s the thought process?
The thought process is, it’s the perfect song for the scene. I’m just going to do it.
You’re just going to do it.
I’ve always had that in my head. I’m just going to do it.
The fact that I’m going to stop and think about “Goodfellas,” you don’t care?
Awesome. Good for you.
I like it.
I just thought, “We’ll see what happens,” but I feel like the scene is so disturbing in its own right and different from the other that let’s see what happens.
Okay. I’ve praised your movies, your books, your Netflix show.
Thank you. Wow. I’m not leaving.
Is there a one-man show I’m missing?
Nope, not yet.
No, we’re good? “Logan,” now, go see that now. Netflix show this fall.
Well, you never know when they’re going to release things.
You make it, you hand it to them, and then they put it out whenever they like?
I hand it to them in July, August, and then they’ll decide when they’re going to ...
Do they sit on things for a long time? It doesn’t seem like ...
I don’t think so. I don’t think so, but they have to have time to sell it.
Sell it, and then usually they put it out on a weird weekend when they think everyone’s going to be home.
Yes. Yes, exactly.
Thanksgiving Day weekend or whatever that is.
My hunch is Thanksgiving Day weekend.
I hope you’re right. That would be perfect.
All right. I’ll be looking for it. Scott Frank, thank you for coming.
Thank you, Peter.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.