David Scinto Interview
David Scinto, screenwriter of SEXY BEAST, 44 INCH CHEST and GANGSTER NO. 1, in conversation with Industrial Scripts back in 2010.
Going back to the beginning, did you always know you wanted to write?
I’ve always written things: poetry, songs, stories. I never really had the idea to write films until I decided to learn a bit more about film, which I did from a friend who was working for a film company, and an ex-girlfriend, who was gifted with an incredibly poetic sensibility. They helped me with my first script, more or less as editors, but I taught myself my own technique, and that was a good way to learn, to just throw myself into it.
And was it always screenwriting, or did you ever think you wanted to be an author, a poet, or a songwriter? When did you first think “I want to channel my efforts into writing scripts and films?”
Never consciously happened. When we learnt that we were going to be receiving more channels, Louis, my former writing partner, thought there might be some money in it, so we simply picked up a pen and gave it a blast. We just had a laugh kicking ideas around and seeing what landed.
So SEXY BEAST was your first produced script. How many scripts had you written prior to that? And how did you come to work with Louis Mellis?
I met Louis at a party. We were both actors. We discussed stuff. Films, theatre, art, music. From talking through ideas, we wrote a play, GANGSTER NO. 1,which was produced at the Almeida theatre in Islington. From that we got our first commission to write the screenplay. The final draft that we wrote of GANGSTER NO. 1 remains, in my opinion, one of the best scripts we ever wrote; there isn’t a single word of fat in it. We worked hard on it. Sadly, in other hands, GANGSTER NO. 1 was ruined. Bastardized. Mutated. The director of the film had very poor taste and judgement. Amateur. They should have given it to Nick Roeg. He wanted to do it. That would have been something. An event.
Do you see that commission as your first break as a writer? Did you have an agent at that point?
Initially, as the play went on, there was a big fuss being made of it, people suddenly got interested. Soon after we got an agent. Agents, like leaches, attach themselves to you. They’re a necessary evil. The commission followed.
How did the commission for GANGSTER NO. 1 segway into SEXY BEAST? What was the chain of events?
The experience with GANGSTER NO. 1 went bad. An actor was attached to the project who was simply ill-suited. Not that he was a bad actor, he just wasn’t right for the role. In fact very, very wrong for the role. So after much painful deliberation, we extricated ourselves from the deteriorating situation. Taking our names with us. It was a very difficult decision. A very difficult thing to do, not something I enjoyed. As it turned out the actor was removed anyway. SEXY BEAST was born, out of a reaction to all that chaos and soap opera. Initially it was an incomplete stage play, entitled, GANGSTER NO. 2, as we were writing a trilogy. We were naming our pieces like paintings, drawing a lot of inspiration from the art world. We used Francis Bacon as a source of reference for GANGSTER NO. 1, Hockney was mentioned for SEXY BEAST and Magritte for 44 INCH CHEST.
The character of Don Logan is one of the most iconic in the recent British movie landscape. Can you tell us how you came to form him?
Just through improvisation. Louis and I improvised the work. We did think at one point quite consciously that what would be quite explosive, is that situation when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object – something’s got to give. We had that in mind, so we would get inspired by each other’s portrayal of Don. We would sculpt it on each other. So when Louis or I was doing Don, Gal’s reaction would come from coping with Don’s onslaught. It was all born out of improvisation. It’s music, jamming, picking up an instrument and playing away. You don’t know where you’re going, but it’s sounding good, or crap as the case may be.
Do you think your time as an actor has helped with your writing? Do you think that acting and writing are more closely connected than people think?
Everything helps. Building a character, dressing them, breaking them down, finding the zone and slipping into it. We both felt that character was plot. When we were improvising you come to realize what comes out of the mouth of one character can determine what’s going to happen later on down the journey of the story. So, no question that it helps, you can get under the skin of the role, and when you know where that character’s mind is driving, you can give it some, put your foot down.
What’s your typical writing process? Do you try to write for a certain amount of time per day, pages per day, or is your process more organic, where you work when The Force is with you?
Whilst working with Louis, we once wrote a script in ten days. Sometimes it would take us two weeks before we even started. We often met for a coffee, or if it was an afternoon, we would meet in a pub, and start kicking ideas around. There’s different ways of approaching it. When we actually went to work, I would notice that the ash trays would start to fill very quickly and start to resemble hedgehogs, so it was extremely unhealthy. Now, writing solo, time is different, time is mine. I write because I want to, when I want to.
Moving on to 44 INCH CHEST, how did you come to be executive producer on the project? How was that process compared to previous projects?
It was just meeting with the director and producer on occasion and answering their question, but ultimately the credit means nothing. I’ve since learnt that a writer is not a part of the film-making process. Once you deliver the script and the production company pays for it, they will close the door on you. They will only give you a call when they need you.
In recent years SEXY BEAST has garnered a real cult following and there’s great respect and love for the film. In terms of 44 INCH CHEST, do you think over time that the same thing will happen, or do you see it as a more piece of work?
It’s a more mature film than SEXY BEAST. I think it’s suffered a little bit. I think at times there were weak decisions taken. But such is the film game. I think the performances are brilliant. I think Ray’s brilliant, and John is brilliant. They all are. I suppose time will tell.
You’ve obviously worked in the US studio system as well. How was the experience compared to writing a project for a producer over here or writing within the UK scene?
You are sent an idea, and you look at that idea. If you feel there is enough in the idea to develop, you present your take. The thing about stories is that they are all clichés now. There is nothing wrong with clichés, they are beautiful things. If you take the view that a cliché is a diamond, and that there are so many angles to it, you just have to find an angle that very few people have approached it at.
As far as this digital revolution that we hear a lot about, how do you see that unfolding and impacting?
I don’t know, I just do what I do and I’ll always keep trying to do it the best that I can. Digital is here, but I think the problem we have got is with storytelling. Storytelling is a classic art form. From the year dot, when all those little kids would sit in the cave around the camp fire in little bits of fur, it must have been quite amazing when someone drew the first cave paintings, as that must have been like the first film in the eyes of those little kiddy neanderthals. Just stick to story telling, classic storytelling. But when you see something like PAN’S LABYRINTH, which uses CGI so intelligently, it’s just amazing. Inspiring.
Would you ever go back to writing for the stage? Is that an area of interest going forward or not really?
I wouldn’t kick anything out of bed.
As far as your advice to a new screenwriter coming into the business, what would you say to them?
Be deaf to the word ‘No’.
What have you learnt in your career in terms of the writing process?
I’m still learning, but essentially, I’ve learnt that it’s all about the work, that is what matters above all else. I’ve actually learnt a lot from my experiences as a writer. There’s been some hard calls, hard decisions, but overall, it is about the story I tell, what I put on the page.
What have you seen in recent times that you’ve really loved? You mentioned PAN’S LABYRINTH before.
PAN’S LABYRINTH was a bit of a shocker for me to be honest. When I first saw it, it absolutely haunted me. The music, the story, and the performances. Beautiful. Also a Sicilian film called RESPIRO. A few years old now, but a simple, passionate, tale. Very refreshing in these CGI-saturated times.
David Scinto Quick-fire round:
Favourite film of all time? APOCALYPSE NOW
Best Script you’ve ever read? Our version of GANGSTER NO. 1
Favourite other screenwriter/writers? Barry Keefe, Harold Pinter
Favourite Directors? Nick Roeg, Luis Bunuel, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Favourite Performance by an actor? James Fox as ‘Chas’ in PERFORMANCE
Favourite TV Show? Deal or No Deal
Favourite Movie Star? Marlon Brando
Michael Mann or Martin Scorcese? Martin Scorsese
Shane Meadows or Ken Loach? Ken Loach because of KES, but I do like Shane as well
Pacino or De Niro? De Niro
Carey Mulligan or Emma Watson? Emma Watson only because I don’t know Carey Mulligan
Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal? Chuck Norris
Last Film you saw? THE WHITE RIBBON
Last film you loathed? Hmm?.
Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? My wife, Andreia.
Teenage movie crush? Claudia Cardinale.