Backstage Interview | 85th Academy Awards

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)


BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW
CATEGORY: Adapted Screenplay
INTERVIEW WITH: Chris Terrio
FILM: "ARGO"

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Q.I'm so happy for you. Congratulations. A.Thank you, thank you. Q.With ARGO, it's two stories that meld into one, and one is more affable and more fun and the other is so much more serious. What was the challenge in bringing those two story lines together but still making it the same film? A.The challenge was to not disrespect the real lived experience of people in Iran and, you know, the hostages and the 444 days and that real house guest and the State Department mixing worlds that were a bit comic with worlds that were deadly serious. But I think the inspiration that I looked to was a character in the film who was John Chambers played by John Goodman, and John Chambers himself was this guy who was cracking jokes and making masks for PLANET OF THE APES, but his other job was making disguises for CIA infiltrations. And with this guy, this one guy, we had this sort of the two tones of the film, and that, in a way, gave me permission to use acerbic dialogue and irony and the wit of somebody like Chambers to tell the story. So I feel like some of the tone was a gift, a posthumous gift from John Chambers. So when I was falling off the abyss in the tone, I would sort of cling to him. Q.I remember when I first read the true life story it seemed so impossible that it actually happened the way it happened. As a writer, was it difficult for you to figure out how to make these wildly implausible truth situations believable for an audience? A.It was difficult. Every screenplay is difficult, but the scene that, for me, embodied the paradoxes and the contradictions was there was a scene of the reading of the ARGO screenplay where you hear these J.R. Tolkien ish mythological, slightly cheesy science fiction lines saying, Our world has changed, the fire of hope stopped burning in this galaxy. And so I thought if we could pull off that scene, if we could have a scene where we get an absurd reading of a screenplay with a blue Wookie and then cut flawlessly to see a real scene that happens, which is in the basement of the embassy, it's called Mushroom Inn under the U.S. Embassy where there was a mock execution. If we can combine those worlds and cut around and feel like it was all the same movie then we'd have our tone, and I think Ben did that masterfully. I think he directed the thing masterfully, Rodrigo made the shots masterfully, Jackie West who did costumes never went over the edge into something that was far more absurd. So I feel that I have them to thank for the tone of the film working because every single element had to there were 999 ways to get it wrong and one way to get it right, and I think they got it right. Q.Congratulations. Ben talks about the fact that they brought him a script that he liked, but of course the combination of you and Ben must have changed that. Can you talk about how the two of you worked together and what you think his tone, his star and his producing contributed? A.Ben, I almost think the fact that he's an actor really, really helped the film because he's so intuitive and he's so interested in human faces and he's such a humanist. So there were scenes at the embassy, for example, where people were waiting for their visas, and you see the faces of all the Iranian people that Ben holds on, and then immediately tells you all these stories you need to know about the fact that these are normal people that are caught up in a political nightmare and a revolution. And I think that as an actor he was always bringing the story back to human faces. So I think he brought something that I don't know if anyone else would have brought because the film never it takes you on this, sort of, thrill ride at times but it always reminds you that are arrows that are being shot politically but they're landing with human lives on the other side of the fence, and so I feel like I owe him the world. Q.Congratulations. My question is, for future filmmakers and writers, what's your advice? A.Well, I always feel wary of giving advice because it suggests that I think I did everything right so you should imitate me. It could be that I did everything wrong and just got real lucky and so I ended up here. But I think it's just to, you know, you have to wake up every morning and feel that you're writing something that you love because writing is such a lonely and depressing profession, I think. So I would say, stick to your scripts of the things you love and hopefully, eventually someone will hear your voice.

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