The BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series: John Logan

This last Tuesday, leading screenwriter, John Logan, spoke at the BFI as part of their Screenwriters’ lecture series. TFR went along to see what he had to say about working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

John Logan has worked on the scripts for an extremely diverse range of films – from historical epics, like Gladiator, to children’s animated comedies such as Rango. He has also worked within a variety of genres, taking on the world of science fiction with films like Star Trek: Nemesis and The Time Machine, while venturing into adventure films with The Last Samurai and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. He’s even adapted stage musicals into screenplays, such as was the case with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In doing so, he’s worked alongside some of the world’s most renowned directors including Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and Steven Spielberg.

Despite the fact that he is now a BAFTA and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Logan actually started out as a playwright in Chicago. Writing plays was and still is, he tells us, his first passion. Whilst speaking at the BFI, one of his main pieces of advice to other writers was to understand the works of those who came before you – including those who were writing before the age of film-making, such as Shakespeare. In fact, Logan’s love of Shakespeare resulted in one of his upcoming feature films: Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus.

Logan claims that, when it comes to being a screenwriter, Oliver Stone told him how to do it. One of the most legendary screenwriters of all time, Stone worked with Logan on his first major screenplay, Any Given Sunday. He’s also received advice from director Ridley Scott who, perhaps ironically, told him to “write less words” – advice he passes on to other screenwriters who share his tendency to write overly long speeches for their characters.

His other top tip for writing a successful screenplay? “Don’t be afraid to reach for the big line”. Having written a number of ‘big lines’, such as Gladiator‘s “At my signal, unleash hell,” he’s a fan of dramatic moments and outlandish statements. However, he admits that there’s a big difference between writing such lines when you’re sat on your own putting a script together, and having the guts to present them to a director such as Ridley Scott. Most importantly, however, he stressed the importance of still being interested in the subject matter of your script and the plight of your protagonist – even after countless drafts – because if you’re not, then no one else will be.

Logan’s other upcoming projects include the highly anticipated Bond 23, directed by Sam Mendes – which, despite being sworn to secrecy, Logan hinted could see the return of the iconic villain, Blofeld. During the audience Q&A session, Logan was reminded that he once stated that “Bond should always fight Blofeld”. When asked whether he still believed this to be the case, Logan simply smiled and replied, “Bond should always fight Blofeld”.

Logan has also written the script for Hugo, a 3D family adventure film based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The film – starring Chloë Moretz and Jude Law – marks the second collaboration between Logan and Scorsese, the first being the 2004 biographical drama The Aviator, and is due to be released 2nd December 2011.

Other screenwriters will speak at future lectures in the series include Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Babel), Frank Cottrell Boyce (Hilary and Jackie, 24 Hour Party People), Paul Laverty (The Wind That Shake the Barley, Sweet Sixteen) and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) – purchase your tickets for the 2011 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series on


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