Rich Wilkes [Interview]

 

Happy Friday, Folks! We have an absolutely amazing interview to share with you all today! I love all of our interview subjects in their own way, but this one is very special to me. Today we have some words from the brilliant screenwriter Rich Wilkes! Rich is an absolute genius when it comes to storytelling. I say this because his work is some brilliantly varied, beyond anything you could imagine. We discuss this a bit in the interview, but far be it to say that Rich’s work has a range from writing one of my favorite coming-of-age-what-the-fuck-do-I-do-now? type of films, Glory Daze featuring a perfectly goatee’d Ben Affleck, to a Hollywood blockbuster starring Vin Diesel with a title that would be permanently engraved on my asshole step dad’s arm for the rest of his hopefully sad and miserable life….oops, got a little personal there. Sorry. Anyway, it all wraps back around to one of his latest stories that has completely shocked the world in terms of content and just down right damn good writing, the amazing Netflix Original film, and one of the most well done biography adaptations ever, The Dirt. And, shit, dude wrote fucking Airheads! And he so humbly doesn’t even realize how important of a film it truly is, which just makes him even more of a god damned GOAT in the world of storytelling in the world of film.

So Folks, I shall stop my fanboy gushing and airing of step-daddy issues and just ask that you enjoy these wonderful words from the absolutely wonderful human being that is the great Rich Wilkes!

 

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What was your initially ambition to get into the world of film? Was it a passion that you have had since a youth, or did you just happen to find yourself in the business one day?

I always loved movies, but I never knew you could actually work in movies. I always thought of it as a distant, insider industry you had to be born into. This was pre-internet, and I had never even heard of film school. I went to college to be a writer, a novelist I guess, which I figured you could become by just writing a book. The notion of screenwriting first came up when I met kids from LA who demystified Hollywood for me, and made it sound like a real thing you could actually do if you tried hard enough. So even though my school didn’t teach screenwrting, I wrote a screenplay for my senior thesis, and kept pushing from there. Unless you’ve got family connections, I don’t think you can just “find yourself” working in movies. The movie business is like any other specialized industry. You have to fight your way in. Say you want to be a breakfast cereal box designer. You eat cereal, you study box design, then you move to Battle Creek, Michigan, and start banging on doors. No one offers you Count Chocula. You go to war for Count Chocula.

 

What was your very first paid gig in the world of film? And where there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that affects your work to this day?

I was first paid for a script I wrote during my first year of grad school at the American Film Institute. I had submitted for a fellowship at Touchstone Pictures, and they liked my script enough to option it for $10,000. That was a fortune, because at the time I had a $500 car and was surviving on the Taco Bell .69 cent menu and gas station hotdogs. I immediately dropped out of school and the ten grand kept me afloat long enough to get the next job, which was a pitch for a movie called Airheads. That was 28 years ago, and I’m lucky enough to still be doing this for a living.

 

25 years ago, the incredible film you penned, Airheads, came into the world and has had a cult following ever since. Looking back over the last quarter of a century, how has it been to watch the impact on fans of the film over the years?

I’m not actually aware of a cult following for Airheads. Every once in a while someone will say they liked it, or they grew up with it on cable, which is awesome, but that’s about it. Is there money in cult followings? Do you get acolytes? I’d love an acolyte.

 

 

The following year, you made your directorial debut with a film that was one of my absolute favorites films growing up, and still remains one I can always go back to. And that film is Glory Daze. I’ve always thought that it felt like a very personal story, so I am curious to know where this story came from? How did you know that this was a story that you wanted to tell?

Oh, thanks for saying that. Yeah, it was a personal story, based on my own graduation weekend with my friends at UC Santa Cruz. To put the most pretentious spin possible on this, I drew from Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat and tried to make the simple vacating of a house feel epic (to the characters, anyway). Leaving college is a distinct turning point in the lives of many young people. It might seem like a small thing to the outside world, but to you and your friends, it can feel monumental. That’s what we were trying to get at, without too much added adornment. See, at a certain point the script was set up at a studio. The big studio note was to have an evil fraternity full of obnoxious jerks buy the house and evict our crew. Throughout the movie our guys have beef with the frat, until they finally destroy the house, leaving the frat boys with a smoking ruin. That might be awesome,but that wasn’t the movie we wanted to make. We wanted it to be more Diner, less Revenge of the Nerds. It seems to ring true for certain people, so at least some people get it. Oh, and the script for Glory Daze is the one I mentioned earlier, that I wrote at AFI and that got me on my way.

In recent years, you worked on the acclaimed biopic about the notorious Motley Crue, entitled The Dirt. It was definitely a very interested adaptation to some larger than life events. So with that, I am curious to know what drew you to work on this project?

I grew up on Mötley Crüe, but had long outgrown their music in favor of punk rock. Then Neil Strauss’s book The Dirt came out, and it was the most brutally honest biography I had ever read. They go hundreds of pages without ever talking about the music. There are entire albums they don’t remember recording. Every other book about a rock band is a hagiography. This one made no bones about the fact that they were more into the lifestyle than the art, and I found that fascinating. It was written at a time when the band was broken up, so they just didn’t give a shit. So I petitioned for the job, and wrote a chaotic script with four contradictory narrators, most of whom are suicidal, and back in 2004, David Fincher was set to direct it. It was going to be like Fight Club, with these lost, fucked up guys doing fucked up shit.

Unfortunately, the Movie Gods saw fit to kill off that version, and the script floated around and got rewritten by other writers for another fifteen years before finally getting made. During that time, Motely Crue wound up reuniting and put out two more albums and toured the world, and consequently started reevaluating their legacy. I don’t think they would write the same book today. Anyway, the finished film (which is AMAZING) isn’t as nihilistic as I originally saw it. But it’s a decade and a half later. The script had to evolve or it would stay dead. And Jeff Tremaine, who fought for years to direct it, has much more experience making movies people actually go see than I do. I wish Jeff would direct all the other scripts of mine that have blown up over the years.

You’ve written and worked on projects in a plethora of different genres. From screwball comedies, to big budget action films, right back to the aforementioned indie drama. So with that, I am curious to know what you believe they all have in common? Whether it’s Airheads or XXX? What is your ultimate end goal in penning these stories?

Here’s the truth: you work on a miriad of things in your career, but you are untimately judged by what actually gets made. I love writing movies like Airheads and XXX. I also love writing period dramas and quirky comedies and baffflingly experimental stuff. Not surprisingly, the bafflingly experimental is hard to get financed (even with Fincher attached). So I become known for a certain kind of film, but that doesn’t necessarily define me as a whole. It’s frustrating to not have your more snooty, “intellectual” stuff out there, but what can you do about it?. It’s like Tarantino said, In the end, all you have is your filmography.  You just keep writing and try to improve and hope that one day you get to show your other colors. As for what these disperate projects have in common, everything I write has at it’s core an identical thematic that only I can see. Trust me, it’s not worth thinking about…

 

 

Of all the sets that you have spent some time on, in whatever capacity, what would you say was the best crafts service you have ever experienced on a set?

Airheads had a crafty who always had dogs ready, with all the fixin’s, at all hours of the day. Dude should be running a studio.

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

After waiting 17 years to get The Dirt made, I realize I have zero insight into the future.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny.

 

 

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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