By FILM INDEPENDENT
February 2, 2013
Screenwriter Michael Starrbury discovered his love of cinema after sneaking into a movie theater as a young boy to see the classic Prince film Purple Rain. When Apollonia purified herself in Lake Minnetonka, it was as if God, Allah, Buddha and that Hindu elephant was giving him a sign.
Now, he’s one one of the nominees for the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay for The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. During a sweltering summer in New York City, 13-year-old Mister’s hard-living mother is apprehended by the police, leaving the boy and nine-year-old Pete alone to forage for food while dodging Child Protective Services and the destructive scenarios of the Brooklyn projects.
Here, Starrbury talks about the one-page-equals-one-minute myth and why he’s crafting his acceptance speech with Jodie Foster in mind.
Who was the first person you contacted when you heard you were nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award and why?
I’m nominated for a Spirit Award? Holy sh*t!!! That’s awesome! I’m going to tell my wife because she’s the closest person to me and also she’s my best friend in the world.
Will you approach writing your acceptance speech in the same way you do a screenplay?
I try to write my screenplays with actors in mind. That said, I’m going to write this as if I writing it for Jodie Foster. You know, so it’s clear and concise and full of subtext and twists.
What was one thing that you learned while working on The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete?
That the “one page of screenplay equals one minute of screen time” adage is absolutely not true. So much depends on the way that page is interpreted by the director, the actors and the editors. I also learned that [director] George Tillman Jr. is incredible and has an unparalleled work ethic.
How many drafts did it go through?
Mister and Pete didn’t have a lot of drafts. The script we shot was close to the script that George Tillman, Jr. first saw, but he had some notes. Most of what I did for George wouldn’t be considered a new draft, but I did a ton of polishes and tweaks. George likes to try things. I think that made me a better writer. It made me a frustrated writer, but it made me better. I’d say under five drafts for sure.
Was there one breakthrough moment that helped everything fall into place?
The breakthrough moment for me was a scene that I wrote that’s not in the movie. After Mister leaves school early on, the Alice character played by Jordin Sparks is there waiting to talk to him. At the end of their talk, she says something like “Don’t be a stranger” and he says, “Yeah, I’m moving to Beverly Hills.” Well, up until that point I had no idea that was a goal of his. It just sort of came out of nowhere and I went with it. Here’s an excerpt:
All right. Get with me this summer. Don’t be a stranger.
2014 Film Independent Spirit Award nominee, Michael Starrbury
Yeah. I’m movin.
You’re moving? Where?
I know, right?
That moment, a moment that I didn’t even plan for, set the tone for Mister’s goal.
What was the toughest scene in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete for you to write?
Toughest scene was the scene between Sargent Pike and Mister as Pike drives him to Riverview. The idea was to stay away from melodrama but to also reveal enough of Pike’s character to show Mister that this is a guy who can help him. Skylan Brooks and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje add so much nuance to the scene that they elevated it way above my expectations.
Who’s the actor you’d most like to see perform something you’ve written?
[George] Clooney for sure. I already have the project, so if you could help me out with that, that would be cool. Also, I want to write the role that helps turn Anthony Mackie from a star into a superstar.
What was the first story you ever wrote?
Two kids plot to rob the tooth fairy but first one of them has to knock out the other’s teeth.
What’s the best advice about writing that you’ve ever heard?
Write the things that you feel like you can write better than anyone else.
What’s the worst advice about writing that you’ve ever heard?
That the main character needs to be likable. The main character needs to be compelling and engaging. ALL characters need to be compelling and engaging.
What is the greatest line of dialogue in the history of cinema?
It’s a tie: “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster” and “So, uh, you married old Norm son-of-a-Gunderson?”
Tune in to IFC at 10 pm (ET/PT) on March 1, 2014 to find out the winners of the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
By Anthony Ferranti / Intern Blogger February 3rd, 2014
Michael Starrbury is repped by CAA and Caliber Media and attorney Rob Szymanski.