I recently had the opportunity to screen Danny Collins, the directorial debut for Hollywood go-to screenwriter Dan Fogelman. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, I’m not surprised; but I’m sure you have heard of, or seen, at least one of his movies. Fogelman wrote screenplays for Cars; Tangled; Crazy, Stupid, Love; Last Vegas; The Guilt Trip, and of course Danny Collins. We had a great conversation, and he even broke some news about a show that has recently captured my heart, Galavant.
I told Dan I really enjoyed Danny Collins and so did my “manly man” father. Dan mentioned that he was pleased we both liked it, and hoped we were able to bond over the experience and that the film contains some elements not found in other films of the same nature.
I explored with Dan who he wanted the audience to conjure in Danny Collins, as I myself saw Neil Diamond. Dan confessed that they used interviews from many ’70s era singers to breathe a little nuance from each into Danny Collins. Of course, as Dan elaborated, Danny Collins is based on a true story about songwriter Steve Tilston. Tilston didn’t deal well with the pressure of writing, so he only wrote briefly. But, decades later he discovered a letter from John Lennon where he had encouraged Tilston to organize other songwriters, including his personal phone number and the matter-of-fact words . . . “What do you think about that?”
Fogelman was enjoying the success of Crazy, Stupid, Love, but he was going through major writers’ block when he happened upon the Tilston story. He immediately fell in love with it.
I wondered if he had Pacino in mind for the script at inception. He admitted that he never writes a script with an actor in mind, except this time. And that perfect casting led to casting another part in the film, that of Danny’s son. Seems Pacino loved the script but had only one request, that Bobby Cannavale play his son. And casting helps when your directorial debut has master talent on board like Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, and Jennifer Garner . . . all incredibly professional actors.
We discussed this fact, and Dan mentioned how his “Holy Shit” moment occurred when he was having tea and discussing a problematic line with Pacino and Plummer at Pacino’s place. Still, Dan was not overwhelmed working with such stars, maybe if you asked him that a few years ago his answer would be different, he admitted.
Dan was thrilled to see his cast from Crazy, Stupid, Love all at the Academy Awards, and Julianne Moore grabbing Best Actress this year. It was encouraging to see that independent films presented so prominently at the Academy Awards this year. We had a brief discussion about our mutual love for Birdman, and how he admitted he could never write a script like that. He just writes what he knows and writes what a large group of audiences would appreciate. He doesn’t assume Danny Collins will be perceived as a blockbuster, but he hopes it touches a few hearts. In fact, one of the funniest lines in the film comes at a time when the audience is nearly in tears.
I couldn’t let him go without telling him how much of a fan I am of Galavant, a show that he confirmed is getting a season two! And of course, we discussed one of my parents’ personal favorite Fogelman films, Last Vegas. Turns out that is the only film that Dan’s father actually likes that he’s written. Personally speaking, I like plenty of Dan’s films.
I finished off the interview by asking him if it is easy or challenging to shift from writing a screenplay for children and families and then write more adult driven work. I was surprised to hear that he doesn’t have a style or function; he starts with an idea and develops his characters. After the characters have been established, the story can start to take more form. From there, he has everything he needs to just write. And write he has, and we at FilmGrouch certainly hope he continues to keep writing.