'Foxcatcher' screenwriter E. Max Frye's path to the Oscars
Long before a movie set is built or an actor is hired, a script is written. There is no pat way this is done. Writers that work in the motion picture industry all follow their own unique way of creating a story. But when it comes to Oscar time, it is evident that the smallest event in a writer's life can make a huge impact and forever change that writer's future. Thus is the case of Oscar-nominated screenwriter E. Max Frye of "Foxcatcher."
"Foxcatcher" is a dramatic telling of true live events that occurred with when tycoon John E. du Pont hired two Olympic wrestlers to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his private wrestling camp named Foxcatcher. The film has an all-star cast including Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. In this exclusive and in-depth interview Frye looks back on his past, how certain life events have led him to his given profession and the crazy and exhilarating parts of becoming an Oscar nominee.
Frye grew up in the town of Eugene, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. His high school had two distinct sides: one side, where the gymnasium stood was were all the jocks hung out and on the opposite side stood the art buildings and the school's theater. Frye was one of the few students that spent times on both sides. Although a self-proclaimed jock, Frye loved the arts and studied painting and drawing. Then one day, while walking on his high school campus, fate intervened, "the drama teacher came up to me one day and asked me if I would be interested in trying out for the school play.
"I tried out with my friend that was the school's quarterback and we both were in the play. I even took some acting classes from the teacher. That was my first exposure to dramatic storytelling."
Frye went on to college and lived a Europe for a while. Eventually, he decided to attend film school. It was then when he took a mandatory writing class and discovered that he had an innate ability to write dramatically, "That was it!"
"Foxcatcher" has been a project of Frye's since 2007. Frye and director Bennett Miller shared the same agent and Miller was impressed with another script that Frye had written. Bennett Miller had just been coming off the huge success from his film "Capote." Frye was very impressed with "Capote" and the two took a meeting to discuss Bennett's new idea - which eventually would become "Foxcatcher," "He said it was a sports story about wrestling and I remembered what had happen in the news about du Pont."
The two sat in a coffee shop in Soho and Miller talked about the story he wanted to tell. Miller had collected quite a treasure trove of information regarding the Foxcatcher facility and the story of what took place there. He had interviewed wrestlers, had innumerous facts about the case and even depositions. Miller knew there was a story be told from this event, "We knew it was more than a story about a crazy rich guy that shoots a wrestler. And it had to have that Bennett Miller touch. That was the interesting thing to me, and let's be clear 'Foxcatcher' is not a biopic."
Frye worked on the script for about six months, "I finally got it to the point that there was a story and we figured out the characters and then the writer's strike happened. I had spent far longer than I intended on the script at that point. When the strike ended, I had other obligations and Bennett, having already worked with actor/writer Dan Futterman on 'Capote' had Dan take over the script writing."
Frye has only glowing things to say about the writer that completed the "Foxcatcher" script, "Dan did a fantastic job. Which is rare for writers to say. Dan was really great. The script was on the black list (a list of the best unproduced scripts) and so I watched from afar and knew he was doing something right."
Then "Foxcatcher' had another setback. There was a financial crisis and Miller lost his financing for "Foxcatcher." Miller went on to do "Moneyball," which went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards.
After the success on "Moneyball," Miller and Futterman returned to work on "Foxcatcher," "Dan worked on it some more and eventually it attracted the actors that it attracted and the financing was in place and there it was. We didn't work on the script together, but we both feel that it was a great collaboration. And honestly, I don't remember what parts I wrote and what parts Dan wrote. And he feels the same. It was a pretty unique experience."
With the casting of Steve Carell against type, the film and Carell's performance have received a lot of critical acclaim. Yet even Frye was dubious when he first heard that Carell would play the character of du Pont, "I was a little stunned when someone told me that Carell got the part. But I think that it was a pretty insightful piece of casting, given that the film is so relentlessly dark. If there is any levity in the story is the way Steve plays the part. He doesn't do it with any of the slapstick stuff, it's nuanced. It allows accessibility to a very dark character and I don't know that somebody else could have brought that to the character."
On the morning of the Oscar nominations, Frye had his phone turned off. He had an early morning meeting and actually found out while in coffee shop that he had been nominated, "After my meeting, I turned my phone back on and it was just insanity. It was crazy. It's something I have never experienced before. In many ways, it's a good thing - but it's also distracting. I am trying to finish a script right now.
"I know it sounds cliche, it transcends your career and you are considered to be one of the best screenwriters for the moment. I have always held writers in high regard, possibly because I am one. In that sense it has been really fun and exciting. I've done numerous panels and Q&A's with other writers and the other nominees and it's pretty interesting hanging out with them.
"Writing is a pretty lonely profession. At least for me. I don't usually collaborate with other writers. When I write, it's a lot of time by myself. I really don't hang out in the film community in New York and so it's been fun. That's been the best part - meeting other nominees and hanging out with them."
Come Oscar Sunday, if Frye wins the screenwriting Oscar he has decided to let the moment take him and say something from the heart, "I am pretty good at improvisation I got to say. They already told us at the luncheon that we are only allowed 45 seconds. And if you are in a group, only one group member gets to talk."
Ultimately, what is incredibly interesting about E. Max Frye's path to becoming an Oscar-nominated screenwriter is that when he was young he was open to venture to both sides of his high school. He was both an athlete and an artist - and it was both of those vocations that enabled him to write a story about the wrestling world, the Foxcatcher facility and the three men who came together for a goal that ended in the most stunning a tragic way. Had Frye had not had both experiences as a youth, "Foxcatcher," may have never taken enough form in the beginning to eventually become the Oscar-nominated film it is today. Amazing!