Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eric Bogosian on "subUrbia"

What point were you at in your career before you started the play version of subUrbia?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Talk Radio (the play and the film) as well as the solo show Sex, Drugs Rock & Roll had garnered much greater interest in my work. Most importantly, excellent young actors were attracted to my script.

Do you begin with story, character or theme?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I begin with character and theme. The theme dances around in my head, almost like an editing device as I put my characters in motion with a story. But before anything, I think of the people who will populate my stage.

In the case of subUrbia, I began with five student actors in workshop playing the characters. I had them simply hanging out and discussing a variety of topics. There was no plot to speak of in the first set of pages.

How did you create the characters?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: The characters are there within me. They are the archetypes I "need" to conceptualize my inner world. In the case of subUrbia the cast of characters derived almost directly from the cast of characters who, in my mind, represent my friends from my high school days.

In some cases, the characters are transpositions of myself. There are parts of myself in Jeff, Pony, Sooze and Nazeer.

How important is having a theme before you start to write?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I always begin with a theme. It usually morphs as I'm writing but in the long run, the theme must have importance for me in the present, as I'm writing. I need the theme to do my writing, but I don't mind if the audience doesn't see the theme or misunderstands what the theme is.

In the case of subUrbia I don't think many people "got" the theme as I originally conceived it. (And what is that? you might ask. My answer is: Too complicated to explain, that's why I write plays. If I wrote themes, I would be a scholar and write thesisses.)

When it came time to adapt it into a screenplay, were you writing to a specific, pre-determined budget?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I'm sure there was a set budget, but I didn't know what it was. Rick Linklater acted as producer with his company. All I knew was that we would hew closely to the play and that I could "open" up to other locales if I so wished. And I did.

In making the adaptation, were there any moments that you hated to lose?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: No. I look at movies very differently than stage. If a moment is a moment that works on film, I keep it. But film demands that the story continue to unfold. That being the case, I snipped away at some of the longer more static speeches in the play and I don't regret it.

How did you work with Linklater?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: Rick gave me my head, so to speak. He wanted the screenplay to be as close to what I wanted as it could be. We created a script that we liked, that met the needs for length. I did all the cutting of the original.

We ironed out some thematic/action aspects in the last moments, especially when Tim is telling off Jeff in the parking lot, throwing food at the store. It had taken the entire run of the play and another production of the play for me to understand what was really happening there.

Beyond that, we reached a conundrum at the very end, tried different endings, actually shot them and finally decided to stick with what we had.

What did you learn from working on that script that you still use today?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: It's good to have a sense of how the director is going to shoot the film, what sort of style. In this case, Rick used a lot of two-shots and it was constructive to know that in terms of scene rhythm.

Do you think there's really such a thing as an "independent" movie?

ERIC BOGOSIAN: I don't know what "independent" means to other people. Having written and acted for film and television studios, I do feel that the corporate presence overloads the writing task at hand with "too many cooks."

My two features (subUrbia and Talk Radio, directed by Oliver Stone) and one TV series (High Incident with Steven Spielberg) were all "independent" of the studio in that the directors acted as producers. As such they were "independent" and as such, they gave me my independence.

Given our track record, I'm for more independence, especially for seasoned directors like Stone and Linklater. Once a director has established himself or herself, I think a studio should let him do his thing.

When that happens, and it does, (Gus Van Sant, Robert Altman, Tim Burton), the result is "independent" cinema.

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