The Big Knife
The lone Hollywood screenwriter (or so one assumes) without a personal tale of abuse and humiliation lives in the heart of the Richmond District. Ehren Kruger, the 26-year-old writer of the thriller Arlington Road, is riding a wave these days -- but wisely figures it's just a matter of time before he feels the shark's choppers.
Consider his luck on Arlington Road: While the financiers demanded a lighter ending, the studio (not to mention Kruger and director Mark Pellington) held firm to the writer's original downbeat denouement. After much vociferous debate, a plan to shoot two different finales was ultimately defeated. "That was the war we didn't want to lose," Kruger recalls. "Once they have both endings, then it's the one that tests better" with Reseda audiences that's used.
And while writers are often unwelcome on the set, Kruger spent several weeks at the Arlington Road shoot, tweaking the dialogue. It was only Pellington's second feature, so it's understandable that he'd appreciate the help. But Kruger also hung out for a month in Vancouver, where veteran director John Frankenheimer, Gary Sinise, Ben Affleck, and Charlize Theron were preparing to film Kruger's heist script, Reindeer Games. The "noir throwback" (to use Kruger's phrase) is slated for a December release.
All well and good, but you really know you've made it as a Hollywood screenwriter when producers hire you to rewrite or "doctor" somebody else's screenplay. Kruger just finished the daunting task of reworking Texas Rangers, a western penned by John Milius (Red Dawn); now he's working on a remake of Bell, Book and Candle.
"At this point I'm kind of a genre screenwriter," the Washington, D.C., native and NYU film school grad says. "I haven't written scripts that transcend genre or fuse genres." An admirer of Hitchcock, Carol Reed (The Third Man), and Fritz Lang, and a fan of the rediscovered low-rent masterpieces Out of the Past and Night of the Hunter, Kru-ger points out that genre films often age better than "prestigious" star vehicles. "I would be more than happy to be considered a writer of quality B-movies," he confides.
Yes, but doesn't every screenwriter harbor a secret desire to direct? "Having seen all the pressure that rests on a director's shoulders, it's almost like managing a construction project rather than pursuing an artistic vision," Kruger says. "Were I to direct something, it would be small-scale, a tiny budget with unknown actors. Unless you're a real powerful director, you're not in control of a film -- the money is."
Which brings us full circle, to Hollywood, where Kruger worked in programming and development for four years before moving here in '97. "Los Angeles," he says, "is a very insular community and terribly, detrimentally competitive." Expect a very different vibe when Kruger appears at the Film Arts Foundation on Aug. 18 for a casual and candid "Focus on Screenwriting"; call 552-8760 for more info.
The Last Waltz
Local phenomenon Genghis Blues is in its second week at NYC's Cinema Village, and just opened to great reviews at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Santa Monica. Roxie Releasing is distributing the crowd-pleasing music documentary. ... The Examiner picked up an Orange County Register review last week when Lourdes Portillo's Selena doc, Corpus, aired on KQED. Portillo's a local filmmaker, but you wouldn't have learned that from the out-of-towner's piece.