Storytelling comes in all shapes and sizes, from all different kinds of writers. Some tell small, simple stories; others work on a larger scale. But all, in some way, build worlds. We might be taken to a small, rural town or another world that features pirates and killer crocs. Ahead of Pan‘s release, I spoke to screenwriter Jason Fuchs about how he started, writing, the screenplays that got him to where he’s at today, and what it means to build worlds that are transporting.
A lot of screenwriters have a tough time getting that initial push, so I wanted to ask if it was something you naturally fell into? What’s the A-Z on how you got started in screenwriting?
Well, I started acting at age 7, and acted all throughout childhood and high school. And I knew really wanted to do more than that. I didn’t know I wanted to be a screenwriter. But I wanted to get more involved in the process, but had no sense of what that path might look like. My writing career really began in a bizarre way. Between junior and senior year of high school, I was starting to look at colleges and thought, “Oh gosh, I need to do an internship somewhere.” So, I got an internship at a place called the Global Information System (GIS) based in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. And I’ve always been very interested in foreign affairs and politics. And I ended up working with them that summer and went to Virginia, and when I left Virginia, they hired me to be an intelligence analyst. And from there, they promoted me to be their UN correspondent, and I ended up becoming a UN correspondent for GIS. At this time, I’m a freshman in college. So I eventually quit that and ended up writing a script that was eventually given to Fox Animation, and would be used as a writing sample, and that writing sample prompted them to call me up to see whether or not I’d be interested in coming on and writing Ice Age 4 (Ice Age: Continental Drift), which was a life-changing moment. It changed everything.
That’s a hell of a unique story.
[Laughs] It’s very, very unusual. It was one of those extraordinary, wonderful experiences.
And Ice Age transitions well when we’re thinking about genre as a screenwriter, and with Pan in mind, do you find yourself gravitating towards a specific genre every time you write?
I love all kinds of stuff. But the challenge of having success in only one particular genre is that you then get offered exclusively in that genre. It’s somewhat challenging because you want to do grown-up stuff and you want to do all kinds of stuff. And I really wanted to do Pan; I wanted to do Pan for a really long time. I pitched it to pretty much every studio except for Warner Bros. and everyone passed. They all had competing Peter Pan projects, so I was in a situation where no one was knocking down my door to get me to write, but I had opportunities I hadn’t had before, but they were exclusively in the sort of family, animated-oriented realm. And so I took a bit of a risk and was passing on things and was really looking for something that I felt would shift the perspective of what I can do as a writer. And then I got hired to write a script called Break My Heart 1,000 Times, a supernatural thriller. But writing a script like that was darker and based on a book for me, and my perspective helped people perceive what I could do as a writer.
Behind Pan, Ice Age 4, what’s the process look like? On a day-to-day basis, when you sit down, what does your environment look like?
First of all, to do this, you have to be totally Type A and work-obsessed and driven. I tend to work very late, and sometimes you have to hand in your pages because you have to shoot the next day, and you’re just hanging on for dear life trying to get your pages in in time for the cameras to roll. And usually with a rewrite or a draft, I’ll wake up around 11:30 or 12, I’ll read what I wrote the night before, I’ll try to make sense of it, hopefully there’s something salvageable, and then I’ll keep writing to 5:30 or 6 in the morning. And I was working on a script ’til, like, 7 last night and then woke up bright and early to get to the junket today. It’s constant. I cannot remember the last time I took a day off from writing.
You are more intense than me, but I think it is important for everybody, even people who don’t consider themselves writers, to write every day. I think it’s a healthy thing to do, small, big or in-between.
Yeah, and I genuinely feel compelled to write. It’s not like I wake up and say, “You gotta write every day.” I think if you have to do that, then maybe you aren’t writing the right thing. I’ve been lucky that the projects I’ve been working on, I’ve been genuinely excited about. And the other thing I’d say that helps me is, hard work is huge, but so is temperament. I think temperament is a huge, huge part of it. Particularly working as screenwriter in this industry, there’s a tremendous amount of stress and a tremendous amount of crazy people. And that sort of goes with working with talented, artistic folks, but if you can not let things get to you, and if you can be punched in the face and come back for more, I think you will be able to go a lot further than a lot of people. And not being a dick is also nice.
It’s true! It’s such a collaborative process that I think if you are a genuine and respectful guy, I think that helps. You know, I was involved from beginning to end [with Pan], and part of that is because Joe Wright is extremely inclusive, extraordinary collaborative and creative, but I think Joe also sensed that I was someone who was going to take notes on certain ideas, and we have to have everyone involved to make the best movie possible. You just have to go through these processes reminding yourself how lucky you are to be writing for a living.