What: Ben and Harper arrive in Joliet, IL, their destination. Needing some new clothes, they do a bit of shopping. The choice of store and sales clerk (Whitney) is no coincidence.
INT. DRESS FOR LESS - CASHIER – LATER
Whitney ringing them up –
Whitney: Take it you guys don't live around here?
Harper: I live in Chicago. He's from... up there.
Ben: Up north.
Harper: Where it's calm and peaceful and everybody's happy all the time...
Whitney: Never been. Not that I've been anywhere.
Ben: You should go.
Whitney: Don't know anybody in Canada.
Ben: I meant anywhere.
She crinkles her brow, who is this guy? The register coughs –
Whitney: Price check -- be right back...
He watches her go. Harper watches him watching.
Harper: Damn. You want a piece of that?
Ben: Excuse me?
Harper: Can angels even do it?! Isn't that against some major Bible commandment thing?
Ben: I'm not -- and I wouldn't even if I was -- which I'm not –
Harper: If you knocked her up, would the kid be an X-men?
Neely: Let’s to back to the beginning, or rather your beginning. Did you know you always wanted to write?
Brandon: I always knew I wanted to be in this industry.
Brandon: Unfortunately, and I say it with a smile, I grew up in the industry outside of the industry. My father, Joe Camp, was a writer, director, producer in Dallas, Texas. He created the character “Benji,” the shaggy dog, if you recall the movie. But he did all of it independently, completely outside of Hollywood. I grew up on sets, so I was cursed from the beginning. Both my parents begged me, begged me to please go be a doctor, a lawyer, a biologist or an anthropologist, go be anything but this.
Oh well, like father, like son, I suppose. I didn’t know any different. I missed the first grade because I was in Greece where my parents were shooting for a year. Then all of a sudden I was dumped back in school wondering “what the hell is this? I don’t understand this environment at all.” I was used to roaming around with extras and eating off catering trucks. It was a very strange thing for me to land back in the “real” world.
I told my parents that, unfortunately, whether they liked it or not, they had cursed me with this industry.
Neely: To discover the romance as a 6-year old is hard to compete with.
Brandon: It truly is.
Neely: What’s your background – college, major, horoscope?
Brandon: I'm a Gemini, I like coconut ice cream.
I went to school at Northwestern in Chicago. I majored in Speech. I did not major in radio/television/film; as a side note, I was not accepted into Northwestern's super duper screenwriting program. I still have the rejection letter. But I did take one radio/television/film class and dropped out after the very first day because it was just entirely too artsy for me. The professor, and I use the term loosely, came out and asked us to introduce ourselves as a camera. As in, what is it that we’re looking at on the wall? Of course everyone in the room is talking about the fact that they’re a 16mm black and white camera and they’re focusing on the thermostat that resembles… You get the picture. I left, never to return.
Neely: How did you get that first entertainment-related job?
Brandon: My brother had worked with Scott Rudin. I interned for Scott one summer during college, then he asked me to come work for him after college and I did.
Neely: Tell me about Scott Rudin. Did he throw things at you? How accurate was “Swimming with the Sharks?”
Brandon: He did throw things, but not at me. “Swimming with the Sharks” was a Disney film compared to the real gig. But just talking about Scott, there’s really nobody smarter than Rudin in town. He truly works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. We would come in after a day of shooting at 1:00 in the morning and have to get back up at 5:00 or 6 and I would check my voicemail and there were messages left at 3 and 4 in the morning, messages about scripts that he had read overnight. Truly, nobody works harder than him.
Honestly, he ruined it for me. I was way too young and naïve to realize that he really was the exception not the rule as far as producers go. Later, when I was a writer looking for producers to partner up with, I just assumed they all were going to work as hard as he did. I assumed that they would all have the same level of taste that he did. What a slap in the face it was to realize that that was not the case at all.
Frankly, I feel that most producers in this town need to look up the definition of producer in the dictionary because in my mind, making a few phone calls does not a producer make. Rudin’s taste is incredible and he bets on himself and he takes risks. Truly, working for Scott was real film school. I worked for him for about a year and a half and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Neely: My dream job would be reading for him. So if he’s out there and reads this – Keep me in mind!
We talked about the risks that he takes, because sometimes I look at the best sellers that he buys and I don’t see how some of them will be done visually or what can be cut in the adaptation. And a lot of them don’t make it to the screen. But his choice in what he takes is truly intellectual in a town where people generally can’t even spell the word. Intellectual isn’t just a dirty word in the Republican party (Brandon laughs), it is generally an unknown word in Hollywood.
Brandon: You have to respect the fact that he takes the risks that he takes. There have been a number of books that he’s purchased out of his discretionary fund when studios have said no to him. And in the age of downsizing and the age of tentpoles and movies that are based on brands and remakes, he does take risks. As I think back, I watched him battle Paramount with “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” They really did not want to make that movie. But Scott was also a hitmaker for them at the time, so he forced their hand. I can’t say that the film was a box office success, but I’m so happy to know that that film got made and that he fought for it to get made with a first time director, no less.
Neely: That would be Steve Zallian who also wrote the screenplay.
Brandon: But who ever would think of taking a risk on a book about some kid playing chess. Are you kidding me? But he did and he continues to do it. And that’s what’s truly inspiring about the Rudin Machine, if you will.
Neely: According to your credits it was quite a long time between being an assistant and having something of your own produced. How did you get that first assignment?
Brandon: The very first script I wrote was a spec that was completely derivative of “Die Hard.” Frankly, it was terrible. It was almost a page by page rip-off of “Die Hard.” It created a bit of a feeding frenzy in town. A lot of agents wanted to represent it and it looked like it would sell. But at the end of the day, it didn’t.
What I learned from that process was not to try and beat the system. Write from the heart. You have to really care about what you’re writing, otherwise, nine times out of ten, it’s going to end in disaster.
I know there have been some success stories – people who just crank out these scripts. They don’t really care about them and they figure out a way of spinning the roulette wheel and it lands in their favor every single time. I’m unfortunately not so blessed. If I don’t care about it and my heart’s not in it, it usually just seems to die on the vine. But I’d written a spec, a family film, that ended up selling to Disney for about as much money as this phone call will cost us from AT&T. Seriously, by the time I paid off the WGA, once I was invited into their club, I think I had two cents left to my name. It almost cost me more than I actually made. But at least it began a career and I was writing... but I was writing for shelves. I was fortunate enough to be writing and getting paid to do so but the movies weren’t necessarily getting made.
At the time I was writing fart joke comedies that I didn’t love, to be honest, but it’s the way I felt that I could break in. I was making a living. It just wasn’t something I was really proud of.
So many of my friends outside the industry couldn’t understand how it was that I had a mortgage, a house, a car yet never had had a single movie made. I had to explain to them what the Hollywood developmental process is, that often you are just writing for shelves.
So I was doing that for a while and then finally sat down and really wrote something I was really passionate about. I never thought it would sell but it did, surprisingly enough, and it launched me into a different arena genre-wise. It was much closer to “Limbo” and where I like to “live.” The irony is that it was the frustrating feature film developmental process and not getting my projects made that drew me into TV in the first place.
TV moves so much quicker. It’s one of the things I love about TV. You have to fill that 30 or 60 minute slot come hell or high water. There's only so much talking or development you can actually do. At some point you actually have to film something. You’ve got to get to work and make some decisions. That’s what led me to TV and is one of the reasons I continue to work in it.
Neely: What was the feature that sold and set you on the path?
Brandon: It was a project called “Dragonfly.” It’s something that I wrote with my former writing partner, Mike Thompson. It meandered in development hell for many years and then became a movie that I like but don’t love. It’s very far removed from the script that we sold. But at least it propelled us into a completely different arena.
Neely: No more fart jokes.
Brandon: No more fart joke comedies, no more fart jokes.
Neely: Did you have any mentors or major influences in the business?
Brandon: Scott Rudin was a mentor; my father was certainly a mentor; my mother (who produced my father's films and ran his company); Bob Benton was a mentor (although he doesn't know it).
I was actually working for Rudin at the time and spent every day on the set of a movie called “Nobody’s Fool” that starred Paul Newman, among others. I spent a lot of time with Bob – casting sessions where I was usually a fly on the wall. He probably wouldn’t even remember that I was there. I learned a great deal about the writing process from him.
And frankly, there were a hundred crew members that my father worked with over the years in Texas that I grew up with, if you will, who taught me so much about production and the nuts and bolts of making movies. They all were mentors to me in different ways.
Neely: There’s never a proper place for this question, but it’s one I’ve meant to ask others. Given the difficulty in attracting interest in a pitched project or in film scripts you’ve been passionate about, how do you handle rejection, as rejection plays a major role in this business?
Brandon: It absolutely does. I think you have to hang on to the good times. I think you have to keep multiple irons in the fire to keep yourself sane because it’s going to be a roller coaster. And I think it’s really important to remember that 'Nobody knows anything.' Just because They (with a capital T) say no, often with an air of authority, does not actually mean They are right. You might not be right, but it doesn’t mean that they’re right either.
Back in the day, my father was passed on by every single studio in town at every single stage of the game -- while trying to get “Benji” out of his head and onto the screen. He pitched it, everybody passed. He wrote it, everybody passed. He raised money, he filmed it, everybody passed. He then had to go raise some more money to distribute it himself, literally one theater at a time. And thank god everyone was so smart to pass, because at the end of the day my father owned it...and now look.
Only after everyone saw the success did they then rush back to him and plead forgiveness and say they were just kidding and that they actually loved “Benji.” But at that point he no longer needed them. So I watched rejection in play while growing up. To this day, I am still astounded that he had the fortitude to withstand not a day, or a week or a month, but years of rejection. He held on to that core belief that he had - that he had something that would resonate with audiences. So that keeps the fire burning for me. I think you just have to trust your instincts and trust your gut and keep moving forward.
Neely: Who have been some of your literary influences?
Brandon: They’re all over the map. Richard Ford, Mark Twain, Lemony Snicket, believe it or not. They’re all over.
Neely: Elaborate a little more. Do you have kids?
Brandon: I do. I have two kids. A 13-year old daughter, 13 going on 30, literally scaring me to death every day; and I have an 11-year old son. But I digress.
Neely: The reason that I ask that is that when you said Lemony Snicket, I’m wondering when you developed these particular influences – your youth? College? Adulthood? And are there those that were developed when you had kids and you saw what was out there for them?
Brandon: Definitely. To be perfectly honest, I think I’m a kid at heart and I’ve regressed further since having kids but in a good way. It’s like when you walk into the living room and your child is just staring out the window laughing. You ask her what she’s laughing at and she says “Nothing.” She’s just sitting there giggling and that can’t help but take you back to your childhood. I think it was Spielberg who said “Stay a child.” And I really believe that. They have helped me remember some of the books and stories of old that I loved so much, and then other ones as well. I mentioned Lemony Snicket because it’s child-like and playful, but it’s also a little rye and sarcastic and probably a little bit like me.
Neely: What are you reading right now?
Brandon: I’m reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and loving it.
Neely: What are you watching right now?
Brandon: I’m catching up on “Breaking Bad” and “Top Chef.” I hate to say it; it’s the one reality television show that I watch. I’ll admit it. And other than that, I’m watching my kids and I’m watching my computer screen and the ticking clock because of all the deadlines I have.
Neely: Do you watch anything with your kids?
Brandon: We watch old movies. We started movie night a few months ago because I was finding that some of the movies they were loving I was hating. So I felt like I needed to introduce them to some of the classics. I don’t mean like the old black and white classics, I’m talking about things like the John Hughes’ classics. So we’ve gone back and started to watch some of his old movies. Now their favorite movie of all time is…
Neely: I just knew you were going to say that.
Brandon: I’m so happy to have introduced them both to it. I was so hopeful they would love it but they didn’t just love it, they’re obsessed with it. The fact that it has transcended all the movies that are out there now and everything on the Disney channel… I love it. I’m so thrilled about that. Hughes was a master.
Neely: How about past favorites on television or in film, besides “Ferris Beuller.”
Brandon: Of course I’ve already said John Hughes. Most Amblin movies. Spielberg – huge fan – the magic of Spielberg. Zemeckis. Coppola. Scorsese. “It's a Wonderful Life” is probably my favorite film of all time. “Shawshank Redemption.” And every bad TV show throughout the 70's and 80's I mean “Airwolf” rocked, okay? (Neely laughs uncontrollably) I’m not ashamed to say it; I can own it. (Brandon laughs)
Neely: (still laughing) Don’t stop there. What else? Don’t be embarrassed.
Brandon: I liked “Fantasy Island,” okay? I might be a little embarrassed to say that but I loved it. I would skip “Love Boat;” I’d let my parents watch that. But then I was right there for “Fantasy Island” every time. “Knight Rider” – I mean, too cool. “Hart to Hart,” my all time favorite. I actually would love to do my own take on a new “Hart to Hart.” I loved that show. Now it is getting embarrassing. I have to stop. (Both laughing)
Neely: Do you think you are more influenced by what you see or what you read?
Neely: Come on. Explain. I won’t let you off the hook that easily.
Brandon: I think anything of quality influences me. In fact, it really pisses me off because I’m frustrated as to why I can’t do that. Why am I not that smart? Why am I not that creative? Why am I not able to invoke tears like that, or laughs like that? It can be a movie; it could be a television show; it could be a 30 second commercial; it could be a book or a picture book or a photograph. I mean, I’m all over the place. I am moved by the human experience. If you saw my “Evernote” notebooks you’d think I was a mad scientist because it’s anything and everything from billboards that have moved me to reminders to watch “Breaking Bad” to strange photographs. It’s all over the place. I don’t think I isolate it.
Neely: So you respond to emotionally visceral experiences.
Brandon: Absolutely. Yes. And they can come from any place at any time. I’m moved by people’s stories. Somebody could be talking about something that happened to them the day before and that to me could actually become the seeds of an amazing story.
Neely: Besides “The Spectre,” do you have any other projects in the works?
Brandon: I have a movie at Walden that we’re scheduling and budgeting right now. I have a project based on a series of books that I just set up at Alcon that we’ll announce in the next week or so. I have a half hour television pilot that I wrote for Lionsgate. We’ve been meeting and sitting down with actors. I’m writing and directing it and it’s dark and irreverent and yet still very heartfelt at the same time. It’s off-network, much more cable driven. A few other things here and there, but those are the ones keeping me up at night right now.
Neely: That’s an extremely impressive palette.
Brandon: We’ll see. It’s some days yes and some days no. (laughing)
Neely: This was so much fun for me. Thanks so much for spending the time because I know how busy you are, actually busier than I had imagined. And especially, thanks for sharing your wonderful script. You can never have too much sardonic in your life.
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