Twenty-seven writers including John Gatins, Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell were named finalists in nine categories for the 39th annual Humanitas Prize. The writers will compete for $95,000 in prize money to be handed out at the annual luncheon September 20 at the Montage Beverly Hills. The Humanitas Prize was created to honor TV and film writers for telling stories, which “truly and deeply explore the human experience in a way that both entertains and enlightens,” the org says. Of the finalists, executive director Cathleen Young said, “These gifted storytellers made us laugh and cry and ultimately, brought us closer together as a family by deeply exploring what it means to be human!” Click over for the full list of nominees:
One of the intriguing parts of the Oscar race for me is watching excellent movies, and then discovering how much adversity, disappointment and years go into them. Whether you’re even nominated, this part of awards season is a validation of the artists’ struggle, offering encouragement to others trying not to give up on their own passion projects. I’m not sure anyone in this race personifies that more than Flight scribe John Gatins. You can look at Flight and marvel at Denzel Washington’s performance or how much movie Robert Zemeckis put onscreen with only a $30 million budget. But the most compelling back story is Gatins, who wrote a script that fit no studio’s template of a make-able movie, particularly with Gatins’ insistence he direct it. Gatins became a successful writer after acting didn’t pan out. His only directing credit, Dreamer, was a family film about a broken race horse, the furthest thing from an R-rated drama about a coke-snorting drunk commercial airline pilot. It was inevitable that a decade of futility would leave Gatins feeling a bit like Ahab chasing the white whale. But here, Gatins bagged his white whale, even if the price was letting someone else be captain.
DEADLINE: Pulling a jet liner out of a dive by flying upside down seems crazy, but there is a knowing voice that informs the substance abuse struggles of Denzel Washington’s pilot. How long did you struggle with that?
GATINS: It was one of those things where you go to college, and get a mulligan for four years to go through stuff and sort things out. If after those four years the party doesn’t end, that’s when it becomes an issue. I was one of those guys who couldn’t leave the party. I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated from Vassar, and tried to sort it out for myself but just never really could. There were a few really dark years there, and some strained relationships with family and friends. I had lots of people worried about me, until I was able to…
DEADLINE: Pull out of the nosedive, so to speak.
DEADLINE: How did you come up with this movie?
GATINS: I was in Europe, working as a script doctor on Behind Enemy Lines. These naval pilots, very intense guys, told such great stories. Sobriety changed what had been a distaste for flying into a real fear, because I didn’t have a coping mechanism anymore when I was in the air. The Yankees and Mets were playing in the World Series, and I had to get back to see a game. I found myself in this plane sitting next to a pilot who just started telling me all these crazy stories and everything that was going wrong in his life. I’m pretty friendly, but sitting there on this plane, I didn’t want to know that the wife hates you and you’re going through an awful divorce and you’ve got a bad addiction, you’re an alcoholic. And then I had that “wait a second, what if?” moment. Let’s say you had this pilot with an addiction issue, and put him in a plane and there was one of those horrific perfect storm scenarios. Every pilot explained to me that in order for a plane to crash from pilot error, a really crazy series of things would have to happen because they have backup systems for every crisis. I thought, if I can put him in a situation like that, where he has to do some amazing feat of flying, and then later it’s revealed he was loaded, how would we feel about that guy and his heroic act? And what about his own self-appraisal when the media wants to hoist him up as a hero? I wanted to explore the life of this alcoholic faker, trying to convince himself he’s something that’s he’s not.
Paramount’s Oscar Hopeful Takes ‘Flight’ With Bi-Coastal Interactive Launch — Minus Denzel Washington
Paramount, expanding ways to reach awards voters, got interactive Monday with a bi-coastal launch of its Oscar-bait drama Flight, including a special screening and Q&A in New York beamed to four Arclight theaters in the Los Angeles area and another in San Francisco for invited guild members and press. Taking place the day after the film’s world premiere as the closing-night attraction of the 50th New York Film Festival, director Robert Zemeckis, writer John Gatins and several cast members including John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and Melissa Leo took part in the interactive post-screening Q&A that featured tweeted questions from the California venues and live queries from the NY crowd — many industry-voter types. Paramount clearly found a nice way to expand its Big Apple premiere, and it went off almost without a hitch. Almost.
The only downer for the studio was jettisoning the scheduled appearance of Flight star Denzel Washington, who was in attendance for the premiere Sunday night. He “was taken ill” according to the announcement at the outset of the Q&A, followed by audible groans from the audience. For the money being spent on this, as well as its awards launch, losing Denzel had to be a big disappointment for the studio. Still, the rest of this digital-age awards event went off without a hitch with premium network Epix teaming with Paramount to stage the interactive, multi-city event.
Other companies have begun doing this sort of thing including The Weinstein Company, which staged a couple of live interactive events like this last year with Meryl Streep among others. But the major studios, more bottom-line-oriented and not usually on the front lines of new Oscar campaign techniques, are suddenly jumping on board if recent activity is an indication. Last week, Disney/DreamWorks staged a “Conversation With Steven Spielberg And Daniel Day Lewis” following a nine-city screening of Lincoln at which audience members (mostly students) in those cities were able to text questions to the same AMC Lincoln (appropiate name) Plaza theatre that hosted today’s Flight screening. In the past, most awards-season guild screening Q&As (and they number in the hundreds) were simply for the audience that showed up and not usually even taped.
Deadline revealed a couple of weeks ago that Robert Zemeckis was dropping out of the Warner Bros drama Replay so he could direct Denzel Washington in the Paramount thriller Flight. Paramount just made that move official today:
HOLLYWOOD, CA (September 9, 2011) — Paramount Pictures announced today that Academy Award ® winner Denzel Washington will star, and Academy Award ® winning director Robert Zemeckis will helm, FLIGHT for the studio. Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald will produce under the Parkes/MacDonald production banner along with Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, and Jack Rapke under their ImageMovers banner. The movie is set to begin shooting this October in Atlanta, GA.
Paul Greengrass In ‘Fear Index,’ Robert Zemeckis Out Of ‘Replay’ As He Takes ‘Flight’ With Denzel Washington
Back in June, Deadline revealed that Fox 2000 had acquired the Robert Harris thriller novel Fear Index, about a scientist who uses a revolutionary system of computer algorithms to trade on the volatility of the world’s financial markets. His hedge fund is wildly successful until he is targeted by an intruder who breaks into his home. At the time, I’d heard that Paul Greengrass was attached to direct, and his reps at CAA denied it. I wrote it anyway. Now, Harris has said in an interview for his soon to be published book that Greengrass is indeed going to direct and the filmmaker’s reps are now acknowledging it’s true. The novel will be published next month in the UK and January in the US. Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark and Jenno Topping are the producers. and Harris is scripting it. Greengrass next directs the Somali pirate pic A Captain’s Duty with Tom Hanks starring for Sony Pictures.
Robert Zemeckis has officially dropped out of the Warner Bros drama Replay, and the studio is trying to put the Jason Smilovic-scripted film back together with another filmmaker. Zemeckis exited because he has finally committed to direct Denzel Washington in the Paramount thriller Flight.
EXCLUSIVE: Disney doesn’t release Real Steel until Oct. 7, but already DreamWorks is getting the machinery moving on a sequel to the Shawn Levy-directed drama that stars Hugh Jackman. I’m told the studio has commissioned John Gatins, who scripted the first film, to start on the second installment. It’s unusual to see that occur so early, but I can recall it happening when Warner Bros commissioned a Hangover sequel after early tests showed the movie was going to be a big hit. Development on the sequel’s just getting under way, and deals will have to be made with Jackman and Levy. Gatins is repped by UTA.
DreamWorks has gotten strong response to internal screenings of the film, and at a CinemaCon presentation of footage in Las Vegas. The film is a Rocky-meets-Transformers tale of a prize fighter whose pugilistic skills are rendered obsolete when human boxers are replaced by robots. The fighter (Jackman) becomes a boxing promoter and finds a discarded robot that wins and wins. The fighter also discovers he has a 13-year old son, who comes along for the ride as the robot heads toward the top against scary competition.