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From Courier-journal.com

How I got fired from writing for Buffy - Native son set to make mark in Tinseltown

lundi 23 mai 2005, par Webmaster

Ellsworth wrote Wes Craven movie

Louisville native Carl Ellsworth’s first Hollywood movie credit will appear on the big screen this summer when the thriller "Red Eye," directed by Wes Craven, opens Aug. 19.

The graduate of St. Xavier High School (1990) and the cinema program at Southern Illinois University earned a living after college writing for television shows, including the original Halloween episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But his screenplay for "Red Eye" is a welcome breakthrough after a three-year drought of unemployment when he lived on dwindling savings and residuals from his television work.

If "Red Eye," with an estimated budget of $25 million, makes money, Ellsworth, 32, will be poised for a ride to the next level on Hollywood’s ever-changing escalator of success. And even if that doesn’t happen, the money he earned for the "Red Eye" script should be enough to support him through another three years, if necessary, he said.

Ellsworth isn’t a highly visible Hollywood player yet, but he has a couple of things in common with someone who is — megastar Tom Cruise. Both attended St. X, and both have movies coming out this summer that involve one of the most powerful men in the entertainment world : Steven Spielberg.

"Red Eye" is produced by Spielberg’s DreamWorks company in partnership with others. Cruise’s hot summer movie, "War of the Worlds," based on H.G. Wells’ novel, is directed by Spielberg and produced by DreamWorks in partnership with Paramount, Cruise’s production company and others.

The two former Louisvillians haven’t crossed paths, but Ellsworth has met Cruise’s cousin, actor William Mapother, and several of Cruise’s writers.

The son of Louisvillian Polly Ellsworth and Carl Ellsworth of Detroit recently talked with us by telephone about the ups and downs of Hollywood from his home "over the hill" in Studio City, where he lives with violinist Gina Greenwood. His comments have been edited for space.

How did you get started in Hollywood ?

I flew out on a one-way ticket on Southwest and had some Southern Illinois contacts, but they couldn’t help me out. At the end of the week, I was about to come back to Louisville, and I got a job as a production assistant on Suzanne Somers’ talk show. That lasted for six months.

I made enough contacts and continued working as a production assistant on several sitcoms. ... It was great experience, very humbling, hellish at times. After a while, I had to stop doing that for my sanity. So I began to write sample TV scripts.

What was making you crazy ?

Fourteen-hour days. Making deliveries at 3 a.m. I was living in my car in L.A. traffic for most of those days.

Tell me about "Red Eye."

It tells the story of a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams). She’s just attended her grandmother’s funeral in Dallas and is on her way back to Miami when she meets Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). ... Just when she thinks she has met a charming guy, it turns out he knows more about her than she likes. ... He needs her help in a plot to assassinate someone on the way to the hotel.

It’s more of a suspense thriller in the vein of Hitchcock. When people see Wes Craven is directing, they assume this is another horror movie with blood and gore, but it’s not that at all.

How did you get the idea ?

I was really inspired — this was several years ago — when I read a first-draft script of "Phone Booth," because it was simple but exciting at the same time. ... I wanted to shrink that space between the characters and have your good guy sitting next to the bad guy for an extended period. ... On a plane, you always wonder about the person sitting next to you : Who are they and what are they about ?

How many movie scripts have you written ?

This was my first feature screenplay and the first one to sell.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer ?

There wasn’t really a day that I decided. I started writing puppet shows in the basement when I was 6.

How did you break into writing scripts ?

I wrote an "X-Files" script and gave it to a fellow production assistant, who gave it to his writing partner, who was working for a literary agent. ... He liked the sample and said, "This is good, Carl, what else do you have ?"

Then I wrote a sample "ER" script ... the "ER" script really opened a lot of doors.

What has been your worst experience in Hollywood ?

One day I was called into Joss Whedon’s office (creator of "Buffy") expecting to get notes on the script, but he said, "Carl, we are taking the script away, and we have nothing else for you."

They fired me. It still shakes me up to think about it. I had never been fired before.

As I look back, there are so many reasons. It just wasn’t a fit. ... When you are a staff writer, it’s an entry-level position, and you have to learn when to pitch ideas and when not to. At that time, I was a little too green, and I don’t think I was able to capture the voices of the characters in high school.

It was a personal blow, and I had a classic depression — I couldn’t type a word. That lasted about six months. ... I got back going with "Animorphs," a Nickelodeon show.

Do you worry that you won’t be able to write on contract ?

It’s definitely a worry to me. I am learning to do that now. "Red Eye" was something I was inspired to do. What happens here when you sell a script and actually get a movie made, people’s perceptions of you change. One of my worries is living up to people’s expectations. ... It’s all part of writer anxieties. My girlfriend actually compares me to (screenwriter) Charlie Kaufman (depicted as a nervous, blocked writer in "Adaptation").

What movie genre do you prefer ?

Action/suspense. I came out here because of "Star Wars" and "Die Hard."

What is Wes Craven like ?

He is the nicest man you would ever want to meet. He’s just an old pro, very laid-back, but he knows what he wants. He has a great sense of the story and what may be problematic in the script. We just hit it off from the get-go.

What makes you happiest about being part of the Hollywood movie industry ?

Just being part of the magic, which has turned me on since I was 5.

Who is the most famous Hollywood person you’ve met ?

Steven Spielberg. I had a meeting with him. He weighed in on the "Red Eye" script early in its development.

Were you sweating ?

For some reason, I was very calm. He came in for 30 minutes, and it was all business. ... He watched daily footage. And a few weeks ago, he saw and signed off on the movie itself. I heard he really enjoyed the writing and called the movie "a guilty pleasure."

What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters ?

I would just quote Dean Devlin (co-writer of "Independence Day"), who said, "If you have the disease, then go for it."... Dreams do come true, and I think I’m proof of that.


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