Janet Scott Batchler [Interview]

 

 

Hello Folks! We have another absolutely wonderful interview to share with you all. Today’s interview subject is a screenwriter who has brought some incredible fun to the world of cinema through her work. Janet Scott Batchler, and her writing partner Lee Batchler, happened to work on two very specific projects that affected me personally at two very different times in my life. The first, if you haven’t guessed it from the absolutely hilarious (right? c’mon) photo above, is from within the world of Batman. Janet helped bring to life, the film that not only features my favorite performance of Batman (from Val Kilmer), but the film that felt it was made exactly for me at the time. And that film was Batman Forever. Arguably a wonderful film that moved away from the very serious (also incredible, I will add) and dark Tim Burton world, and brought the story of Batman back into the more outlandish stylized nature that it was always portrayed on screen prior getting the Burton treatment. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Burton and Christopher Nolan routes that Batman took, but I will definitely go on the record and say that Batman Forever is a film that was just SO MUCH FUN! And so much of that fun should be credited to Janet Scott Batchler. In terms of cinematic achievements, of course it constantly be compared to what The Dark Knight did, but it really shouldn’t. They are two very different tellings of stories of similar characters. And if you are a fan of comic books in general, you’ll probably understand this more than most.

The other project that Batchler brought to the world was the absolutely incredible My Name is Modesty, a screen adaptation of a very specific book series that I was very well aware of, although not well versed in, due to my young teenage obsession with all thins Quentin Tarantino, which was rampant in late 90’s and early 00’s. I was 10 years old when Batman Forever came to the world, and 19 years old when Modesty came out. Two very different people within myself existed between these times, and Batchler just seemed to be the person who was capturing my interest in focus of the moment at these exact times! It’s such a lovely coincidence.

And we are so excited to have Janet grace our digital pages today. So Folks, please enjoy some incredible words from the absolutely brilliant screenwriter as we talk Batman, Modesty, and so much more. Enjoy!

 

 

When did you first discover your passion for writing? Was it something you had always dreamed of doing professionally? And what specifically set you on the path of screenwriting?

I began writing as a very young child, for fun and self-expression. Writing was something I could always do. However, it never occurred to me to think of it professionally growing up because no one encouraged me that it could be a possibility. In fact, a career counselor told me that it was a ridiculous idea, especially for a woman. So I didn’t take the idea seriously. But when I met my husband-and-writing-partner-to-be, I began to think: Hey, maybe this *is* something I could do. And from the first time I started to dabble with screenwriting, I felt completely at home.

What was your very first paid gig as a writer? Were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still affect your work today?

I honestly don’t remember my first paid gig as a writer. But I do remember the first time I *didn’t* get paid. I was working in development for a TV movie company. We had been approached by a network to create a TV movie about Chernobyl. A writer was hired, but I was asked to do all the research. Okay, fine. But when the writer turned in his treatment, it was unreadable, poorly plotted, and ignored all the research about what actually happened. My bosses knew they couldn’t turn in something like this to the network, so they asked me to rewrite it. I did a page-one rewrite. My treatment went to the network under the official writer’s name, the project was greenlit to script, and the official writer was paid for the treatment… and I went “Wait a minute.” I left that company soon after (and the writer’s first draft of the script was so horrendous that the project was scrapped).

 

 

In 1995, a film that you worked on came out that was one of my absolute favorite films, and remains my favorite comic book movie of all time, even with the influx of other comic book movies recently. And that film was Batman Forever. I was 10 years old when it came out, and it blew my freaking mind! So how was this experience for you? Where you already a fan of the world of Batman or comics in general? 

I was a big Batman fan growing up — it was really the primary comic book that I followed. Writing Batman Forever and having a tiny part of the Batman legacy was a truly wonderful experience.

Another absolutely incredible film that you wrote was one that I would enjoy much later as an adult, and that would be My Name is Modesty. The director of the film, Scott Spiegel, is actually an old friend of ours here at TWS. I am curious to know where the idea for this film come from? What made you want to tell this tale?

My writing partner and I were actually approached by Miramax to write a large-scale, big-budget Modesty Blaise movie, which we did in fact write. Although we read and studied all Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels for the project, it was not based on any of them. One storyline of the movie involved reconnecting Modesty to her mentor and teacher Lob, who is mentioned only in passing in the novels — but that was the storyline that most fascinated Harvey Weinstein, for whom we were working…

However, while we were finishing up the large-scale screenplay, Miramax realized that their rights to Modesty Blaise were about to expire. In late January, they informed us that they had to have cameras rolling on a Modesty Blaise movie by early April — about 9 weeks away. And they asked if we could write a low-budget story featuring Modesty that could be prepped and shot in that unbelievably short time frame. We thought the best way to approach that would be to tell a story about Modesty before she became an international crime boss, before she teamed up with Willie Garvin — and we decided to dive deeper into that time period of her life, staying as faithful as possible to the little we knew about it from the novels. We were working with very limited locations and budget, so decided to key in on the time when Modesty worked at a casino, and built the story from there.

I’m very proud of the large-scale Modesty Blaise script that we wrote, by the way — one of my favorite pieces I ever worked on. But it got caught up in the Miramax/Disney divorce — I’m not sure anyone really knew who owned it. And after Peter O’Donnell’s fairly recent death, it’s unlikely that it will see the light of day as a movie, sadly.

 

 

I also noticed that the film was “presented” by none other than Quentin Tarantino. How did the addition of Quentin to the project come about? I know that him and Scott have a solid history together, but how did he manage to become involved with this specific project as well?

Quentin was involved with the project from the beginning. While I don’t remember how he became involved, he has a long history of loving Modesty Blaise. (Look at what John Travolta’s reading in the bathroom in Pulp Fiction.) Quentin was in fact the person who brought Scott on. Someone else was prepping the project, but when Quentin read the script, he loved it so much that he wanted to offer it to Scott, who stepped in to direct.

Another project of yours that I truly enjoyed was the 2014 film Pompei. The story of Pompei is a truly fascinating story to begin within, but you managed to make it even that much more compelling. Having actually been to Pompei, I can say that it is an eery place to be and to realize what exactly happened there. So I am curious to know what inspired you to tell this tale? Have you been to Pompei?

I have never been to Pompeii — but given that we needed to visit Pompeii in 79 A.D., we wouldn’t have been able to make the trip anyway. We were inspired because we find disaster movies fascinating, a chance to explore what people do when faced with a life-or-death situation they’ve never anticipated. Humans go through a very distinct psychological process when facing disaster, which is fascinating to journey through as a writer. My writing partner and I realized that a modern movie had never been made about a real-life disaster so legendary that people still know about it 2,000 years later. While the final movie was significantly different from the script we originally wrote (which raised $107 million overnight at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival), our personal journey diving into the history surrounding the disaster was very satisfying.

 

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Waiting to see what the future holds. We have a movie casting, we finished a movie at the end of last year that’s out to directors, I’m on the second draft of a movie I’m writing with my daughter, and we’re in the early stages of a new project. Most immediate: I’m a screenwriting professor at the USC film school, and I’ll be wrapping up the semester’s grading this week and getting ready for summer to start.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Some friends’ photos from their anniversary trip to Berlin.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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