“Scott: Let’s talk about your Nicholl winning script “Devils At Play.” Here’s a logline I found for it:
“In the Soviet Union, 1937, a worker of the People’s Commissariat for internal affairs finds a list of traitors, which he thinks is going to be his way out.”
What was the inspiration for this story?
James: I was cramming for a mid‑term for a Soviet history course at NYU. I was reading a book by Robert Conquest called “The Great Terror”. There is a chapter in there where Conquest breaks down what the arrest process was like. When you’re arrested, how many people could you expect to share your prison cell? What were the strip searches like? When you were interrogated, what were the sort of methods they would use?
Reading that, reading the details, I started to see flashes of the story. It was inspiring, but it was a script that I knew would take a very long time to research. I didn’t have the time to devote to this project until I graduated and received the WGAE Fellowship.
Scott: Putting on a conventional wisdom hat, right? You’ve got a period piece set in the Soviet Union in the 30′s. You got a deeply flawed protagonist. There’s a lot of violence, and torture. There’s no real love interest per say. You used flashbacks, which some people in Hollywood aren’t fond of. The conclusion, which is beautifully realized, is definitely not your typical Hollywood happy ending. Were you aware that this script was cutting against conventional wisdom on so many fronts?
James: To be honest, I didn’t think about that. I just tried to tell a story to the best of my ability. I think it becomes problematic for us as screenwriters to create only what we think is going to sell, or only what we think is going to attract attention. It’s better just to write as well as you can, and hope that it creates opportunities for you afterwards. At the end of the day, you just have to tell the stories you want to see on film. That will be your best writing.”
The Reading takes place this Saturday, 18 May 2013 at the Crowley Theater here in Marfa. Click here for more information and to RSVP for this free happening.