|INTERVIEW with JONATHAN DAVIS|
|Jan. 8, 2009|
|Jonathan Davis is one of the quirkiest guys I’ve ever met. His notions of comedy are mercurial and cerebral, his delivery wholly his own. He knows a lot about a lot of things, but is never a snob about any of it. Every successful person in Hollywood is a bit of a character, and Davis is certainly more than just a bit – he is totally his own creation manifested. His voice is so distinct in his scripts, it’s hard not to imagine Davis himself playing those characters. It was this unique voice that broke him into the business with a spec script so strong Warner Bros. gave him a two-picture deal. That led him to write DUKES OF HAZZARD the motion picture for the studio. Davis has gone on to sell numerous projects including UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT for Columbia Pictures, SNOBS VS. SLOBS for Disney, and a TV show for Cartoon Network that is apparently being kept under tight wraps. He has also written for the anthology 24/7 published by Image Comics.|
THE FIRST TIME I HEARD ABOUT YOU WAS A FEW YEARS AGO IN THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER WHEN THEY ANNOUNCED WARNER BROS GAVE YOU A TWO PICTURE DEAL BASED ON THE STRENGTH OF YOUR SPEC SCRIPT "TO LIVE AND DRIVE IN LA." TELL ME ABOUT THE JOURNEY THAT GOT YOU THAT TWO PICTURE DEAL.
After college, I moved out to LA, and I ended up working as a script reader. Every day, I would drive to and from work, picking up scripts, evaluating them, returning them, and every day, I would look out my car window and see all these sexy people, just driving around aimlessly. They have these middle turning lanes in LA, where you can turn left or right, also known as "suicide lanes" because it's really easy to get in an accident, supposedly, and I guess it made me think it was a great metaphor for how self destructive people can be, especially in their 20’s. So between the sexy people and the suicide lanes, my synapses fired, and I wrote an adventure, sort of a sarcastic adventure, incorporating those elements. I wrote it. And rewrote it. Moved back to NY. Rewrote it again from the point of view of someone who was much more removed. The script ended up becoming quite personal, as I was obsessed with exploring under what circumstances people change and how they change. Anyway, after 40 quadrillion rewrites, while still living in my cramped NYC loft, I sent out the script, the first script of mine that I had ever sent out - with its then title "Suicide Lane" - to my former roommate in LA, who didn't work in features, but knew someone who did, and she liked it and sent it to an agent, that agent, in turn, signed me, and sent it around town. An exec at Warner Bros thought it made for a great writing sample and hired me. And soon enough, I was back in LA, where I never thought I'd ever return, driving amongst the sexy people again, all because I wrote a script making fun of them.
I REMEMBER READING THAT HOLLYWOOD REPORTER ARTICLE AND THINKING, "LUCKY BASTARD. I WANT TO MEET THIS GUY." THEN COINCIDENTALLY WE ENDED UP AT THE SAME MANAGEMENT COMPANY, AND THE GREAT THING ABOUT OUR MANAGERS WAS HOW THEY GOT ALL THEIR WRITER CLIENTS TOGETHER ONCE A MONTH TO SPIT-BALL IDEAS AND WORKSHOP. I REMEMBER AT THESE WORKSHOPS YOU WOULD VENT ABOUT DEVELOPING DUKES OF HAZZARD. CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF THOSE DEVELOPMENT STORIES?
Based on the car chase sequences and the rebel attitude of my first script, Warners thought I'd be a good match for DUKES. They felt my style would end up dovetailing with the project. I'm a pop culture nut, so I was familiar with the property, but I wasn't so sure a dude from Boston would be a great match for the DUKES OF HAZZARD. The executive suggested I watch "Jackass" and I got a sense of what the approach should be.
Although, not completely, I was in over my head. At the time, I had never written a mainstream movie or anything resembling mainstream. The script that got me noticed was small, personal, and I struggled to make the jump to a more commercial sensibility. The transition was tough. It's like when your voice cracks when you're a teenager, and you don't have your young voice anymore and you don't have your adult voice yet and you end up freaking out.
I was learning on the job. I mean, really, my first approach to DUKES entailed inter-cutting between an arraignment court room scene and the car chase that landed our boys there, followed by the narrative jumping ahead again and again and again, and constant flashbacks to catch us back up. I wanted the plot to jump like a skipping stone, enabling me to make it a really long car chase. I couldn't quite articulate to the execs my intentions, and I was just too green, and those huge meetings over there freaked me out. I'm a writer, and I didn't really quite know how to talk about the process. I wanted Daisy Duke to be bisexual, and I wanted her to be in an unconventional love triangle, and I was under the impression that this was a good idea for a family movie. I can see why execs felt the need to bring in writers after me. I needed a little more seasoning. And now I am older and wiser. So I'm glad I had that.
I'm really lucky that Warner Bros decided I had talent, plucked me from obscurity and gave me a shot. Some of my ideas did make way into the final product, so I got a credit, and I got to see my name on the big screen. All in all, I'm grateful.
WHAT WAS THE LIFE OF A SCRIPT READER LIKE? DID READING ALL THOSE SCRIPTS INSPIRE YOU OR KILL YOUR CREATIVE SOUL?
I was working for Showtime, and this was before Showtime was a major player, before Weeds, before Dexter etc, so it was the studio/network that got scripts that everyone else had passed, and these scripts were awful, and believe me, I wanted to like them, but they were awful, offensively bad, and it was inspiring because I thought, “Wait, if this is what's getting passed around town, I can do better than this!” When I would come across a script I did like, which happened only about 4 or 5 times, those scripts really popped and I'd pay attention to what made them work. When I started writing my first script, I gave a lot of thought to the reader, as I didn't want to torture him or her the way I was tortured. So in that sense, it helped tremendously.
But -- it was hard to write while swamped in those bad scripts, it was a little soul sucking. I left LA for awhile. For me, I had to leave the industry to break into the industry. But I broke into the business ass backwards, and I'm not sure I'd recommend doing it my way.
YOU'VE SOLD A COUPLE OF PITCHES AS A MEMBER OF THE JOB FACTORY. PLEASE EXPLAIN WHAT IS THE JOB FACTORY.
Job Factory are made up of 6 screenwriters, including myself, all talented guys, Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson (FOUR CHRISTMASES), Greg Coolidge (EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH), Josh Cagan (the upcoming BANDSLAM) and Rob McKittrick (WAITING…). I've occasionally partnered up with them to write comedy projects. We'd written a couple movies for Disney, and it's a blast writing a movie with friends and challenging each other to make it better and funnier. We are all busy with our own individual careers but if an idea comes up that makes sense for all of us to get together again, we will, as we are all great friends and it's a lot of fun.
YOU'RE ALSO A PUBLISHED COMIC BOOK WRITER. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST COMIC BOOK YOU READ? AND HOW DID IT GET INTO YOUR HANDS?
I will never forget my first comic book. It was a Marvel book. TRANSFORMERS #14. I read it at summer camp. It had two things that I really loved: robots and Bruce Springsteen. If I remember correctly, and I do, it featured Beetle (a Volkswagon in those days) attending a Bruce Springsteen concert. To this day, I can think of nothing better than attending a Boss concert with a friendly robot that is also a talking car. I'm still holding out hope that this will happen for me as a birthday gift or something. After I read that book, I told my mom that she was wrong, comics were most definitely not trash, and I proceeded to buy comics every week for the rest of my life.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE COMICS?
Besides Transformers #14? I was really into the New Universe. I think I was the only one who cared when those books were cancelled. I wish they'd bring it back, even though no one reading this interview has heard of it.
I loved Mark Waid's run on CAPTAIN AMERICA and FLASH. Peter David's run on THE HULK. Christopher Priest's BLACK PANTHER. Most recently, Grant Morrison's run on ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Alan Moore on anything.
AND ARE THERE ANY YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADAPT FOR THE BIG SCREEN?
Well, yes, there's a book called Fierce, an exciting book by Robert Love and Jeremy Love that I would love to turn into a supernatural Bourne Identity.
YOU WERE VERY DRUNK AT LAST YEAR'S COMIC-CON, SPECIFICALLY AT THE WILLIAM MORRIS PARTY WHERE I INTRODUCED YOU TO SOME ATTRACTIVE LADIES. DO YOU INTEND TO GET AS DRUNK AT THE NEXT COMIC-CON?
It's hard for me to plan so far in advance, Mike. But hey, people were buying. If anyone who is reading this would like to buy me drinks at Comicon 2009, preferably drinks with hard alcohol that look like they came from outer space, please come find me at the W hotel. I might be out of rehab by then.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR INFLUENCES? AND WHY?
Writing-wise, Bruce Springsteen and Joseph Heller are two of my biggest influences. Bruce for his brutal honesty, and Heller for seeing everything for the big joke it really is.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? DO YOU WRITE EVERYDAY? DO YOU WRITE AT HOME OR IN A CAFÉ?
I try to write in the mornings or very late at night. I tend to think too much, so the closer I am to just waking up or going to bed, the less second guessing I'll do. When I know what I am writing, and I've outlined fairly well, I write every day. When I don't know exactly what I am writing, I struggle a bit more and probably annoy everyone around me.
I write at home because I have an office and silence there. It's not easy to write with other people around me. I'm either writing in total silence. Or I'm writing to an album or playlist that really gets me in the mood. Writing is a lonely profession so I also go to my manager's office for the camaraderie and company of other writers. I'm not sure how much writing gets done there, but it puts me back on an even keel to talk to other writers.
YOUR AGENT, JON HUDDLE AT UTA, IS ONE OF THE BEST GUYS IN THE BIZ. I'M WORKING CLOSELY WITH HIM ON SEVERAL PROJECTS. TEALL ME HOW HE CAME TO REP YOU.
That script that I rewrote over and over again, he read it, and he called me right afterwards and said, "I just want to let you know that I love your voice and want to rep you, and I don't need to see anything else." He was at a big agency in LA at the time. This was encouraging news for me and my diet of ramen and peanut butter. A week later, he called, and I'm still idling away in NY, and he said he had moved over to another big LA agency and he said "Do you mind coming with me?" And I said, yes, I did, as I had really gotten attached to the first place, with all the guys at the water cooler and the nice carpeting, which I thought was hilarious.
Anyway, I love Huddle, as he knows, and I couldn't ask for a more honest and loyal guy repping me. Now quit reading this, Huddle, and go back to rolling calls.
YOU'VE BEEN A WORKING SCREENWRITER FOR SOMETIME NOW. IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT HOLLYWOOD THAT STILL SURPRISES YOU?
Your penis size. For an Asian guy, it's remarkable. (*For the record, Davis hasn’t had the honor of viewing my penis, but he is safely assuming it is large in size due to my naturally commanding presence.)
WHEN YOU TELL WOMEN YOU'RE A SCREENWRITER, DOES THAT TURN THEM ON OR OFF?
I prefer to lie and tell them I'm a cop. That's how I met Leila.
YOU ONCE INTRODUCED ME TO ELI ROTH, WRITER/DIRECTOR OF HOSTEL, WHO YOU'RE GOOD FRIENDS WITH. WHAT'S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN YOU AND ELI?
We went to summer camp together. My bunkmate was his younger brother Gabe, who many years later, ended up being my roommate in LA. Eli was a little older (still is!) and had a killer Peewee Herman imitation, and he would occasionally come to visit us late at night and give us absconded buffalo wings, which we immediate deemed "wicked" because we are all from the Boston area.
I KNOW YOU JUST SOLD A SHOW TO CARTOON NETWORK. CAN YOU SHARE ANY INFO ON THAT PROJECT?
I'd have to kill you, Mike Le.
I BELIEVE YOUR DOG, WALLY, IS ACTUALLY GHOST WRITING YOUR WORK. TRUE OR FALSE?
If you ever get the sense that my work is infused with love and hugs, then that's definitely him with his paws on the keyboard.
Don't Forget To Validate Your Parking © 2007-2009 Mike Le