'Foxcatcher' screenwriter Daniel Futterman discusses his second Oscar nod
When we reach a certain age in our youth, we start to envision our future and the endless possibilities, especially for those that can dream. Three teenagers that were indeed dreamers, met at a summers art program in New York in the 1980's. All three would go on to do great things. One would win an Oscar for Best Actor, one would become a sought out for Oscar-nominated director and one would successfully work as an actor on stage and screen and also craft some of the best screenplays in film history. These three young men were Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bennett Miller and Daniel Futterman.
In 2006, these men gathered again at the most prestigious film event of the year, theOscars. All three were nominated for their work in the film "Capote" (a film that depicts a short time in Truman Capote's life as he prepared to write his book "In Cold Blood"). Of the three of them only Hoffman brought an Oscar home with him that night, which was no surprise to anyone who had seen his portrayal of Truman Capote.
Now two of the three men will be returning to the Oscars red carpet for their second chance at Oscar victory. (Sadly, Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away just last year.) This time the film that has brought them attention for their stellar work is the movie "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, Daniel Futterman discusses how his career has taken shape and changed over the years, the influence his wife Anya has had in his career and how honored he is to be considered one of the best at his trade.
After high school, Bennett and Hoffman went off to NYU and Daniel Futterman studied English Literature at Columbia University. After graduating he applied to few graduate programs, but Futterman was still thinking about a career as an actor, "I had applied to few graduate English programs - to get a masters and a PhD. I got into the Columbia program, but what I really wanted to do was act. I gave myself only a very limited amount of time. Patience is not one of my great virtues. I told myself I would give myself two years and if I wasn't working I would go back to school - which is an absurd amount of time. But I actually starting making a living right at that two year mark."
With a thriving acting career, Futterman felt something was still missing, "I felt I was meant to be a writer. I enjoy acting. I often lost roles to Mark Ruffalo, Billy Crudup and Phil Hoffman in my 20's. I don't know if I ever got out of my head as an actor. You can be in your head as much as you want as a writer."
The turning point in Futterman's career started when his mother loaned him a book, "My mom had given me a book by Janet Malcolm called 'The Journalist and the Murderer.' It was about Joe McGinniss and his writing about Jeffrey MacDonald. It's the story of a journalist that is not being entirely honest with his subject. It's a brilliant book and it examines the amorality of being a journalist that uses his subjects. I was thinking I might make a good play."
The subject of his first writing project even became more clear after reading another book, "Then I read a terrific biography about Truman Capote by Gerald Clarke called 'Capote: A Biography.' There were a couple chapters that deal with this section of his life (when Capote wrote 'In Cold Blood') and it resonated for me and I thought it would be a great way of getting at that story. 'In Cold Blood' is a book that we've all been exposed to, but I think the most interesting character is not in the book, that's Capote himself."
Then fate took a hand in Futterman's career through a romantic relationship with Anya Epstein. An accomplished writer and producer, Epstein also has the distinction of being the granddaughter of Philip G. Epstein - a screenwriter that along with his twin brother won an Oscar for writing the classic film "Casablanca." Epstein and Futterman were married in 2000.
He described how Epstein helped him to create his first screenplay, "It wasn't until I met my wife Anya Epstein did I actually understand what goes into writing a screenplay. She was very strict with me about writing a detailed outline, every scene needs to form the narrative, don't just write a scene because you think it will be interesting. She was absolutely right and important in figuring out how to tell that story. Many, many years later I gave it to Bennett and Phil. Eventually I got to make a movie."
Futterman received his first Oscar nomination for his very first script. He commented on how this changed his career, "It's just of all of sudden you're on a short list of possible people to write things. Particularly when you have written something where an actor had done so incredibly well (Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in 'Capote') in the role. It opens actors up to thinking that that person knows how to write a part. From my acting career, I feel I understand what actors go through. I'm always interested in writing things that are playable - interesting of course, but playable."
After the success of "Capote," Bennett Miller had a new project in mind, the story of the Foxcatcher facility and the story of du Pont and the Schultz brothers. But Futterman wasn't as enthusiastic about the idea, "We talked and talked about it and he told me he was interested in the story. I honestly wasn't clear on the story he wanted to tell. It didn't really click with me. He ended up working with E. Max Frye which was great for the project. Max played a enormous role in this. I heard about this story before Max' involvement. Max and Bennett figured out how to craft what was essentially what was 12 years of a story into about 18-24 month period. The storytelling really had a peak and an urgency to it. And they were able to do that."
After a lengthy writers strike, Frye had other obligations and Futterman took over the script writing, "I thought Max did incredibly important work. I felt very much in sync with him in term of where he was heading. Very few people get a script right on the first draft. I know that if he had time, he would have done more drafts. I never spoke to him at the time, but I felt I was headed in the direction he was headed in. And now that I have met him, he agrees with that. I know we would have come up with the exact same script by the end. It's a complicated story and finding the clear narrative was important."
Steve Carell plays the pivotal role as du Pont and his casting may have raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood, but Futterman had a different take on the casting, "I loved the oddity of that choice. You could see, particularly in his performance in 'Little Miss Sunshine' that Steve had a depth to him as a person and as an actor that he hadn't gotten to exhibit all that much. And he was obviously was prepared to do just that in "Foxcatcher." It's an incredible performance."
Now Futterman is a two-time Oscar nominee, but he was not expecting an Oscar nomination this time around, "I did not expect it. On the morning of the nominations, I walk my daughter to school and then I took the dog to the park. I got a call from my wife Anya, who was watching the announcements at home. I really was shocked, obviously thrilled. I did not think that given the strength of so many other movies that I would be recognized. It's incredibly nice and moving to be recognized by people who you admire, who you admire and know. For them to say that you've done something interesting, valuable, and we want to recognize you is very moving."
Futterman was also stunned by the other nominations that the film received, "I asked who else? And Anya told me Steve, Mark and Bennett. I don't think anybody expected Bennett to be nominated as well, although he is totally deserving of the nomination. A lot of it was a big surprise. And then it went to a kind of elation to what? There was no best picture nomination and there was only eight best picture nominations (out of a possible ten). I don't know what the thinking on that was or how that happened but it's a little weird for a director, script and both categories of actors to be nominated and the film to be absent from the best picture category. I felt really badly and I still do, for John Kilik and Megan Ellison (the producers). They put so much into this movie and to not have that effort recognized was a disappointment."
Futterman knows that the "Foxcatcher" script is not favored to win, but still the thought of a possible win has crossed his mind, "I have certainly thought of the people I would want to acknowledge, but I don't have anything fully formed. At large just because I really don't think it's going to happen. But we shall see."
It really is incredible that the two screenplays written for motion pictures by Futterman have both been nominated for an Oscar. This speaks to Futterman's gift as a writer, and even to the support his wife has given him. I have a strong feeling that, if not this year, Futterman will be gracing the Oscar stage at some point in his career and will bring home his own Oscar. Wouldn't it be nice to put it alongside the Oscar won so long ago by Anya grandfather for "Casablanca?" Well, one can dream!