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Screenwriter Jason Fuchs: From Short Films to 'Ice Age 4'

Meet Jason Fuchs, screenwriter of Ice Age: Continental Drift. Fuchs has more under his belt than the sequel to a giant box-office hit, he's also an actor, producer, and screenwriter with more projects in development. My guess is he made a pact with the Devil, as at the mere age of 26, has accomplished more than most middle-aged writers. Script discussed Fuchs fantastic blast into the industry. No doubt, we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

SM: Which came first, screenwriting or acting?

Jason Fuchs

Jason Fuchs

Fuchs: Acting definitely came first. I started acting, professionally, when I was seven. Screenwriting is still, it feels like, relatively new to my life. I really didn't get into screenwriting until college when I wrote my first feature based on a writing internship I'd had that turned into a job with a private intelligence service back in high school. And it was a mediocre script, but a good big idea, and it got me my first agent, and I've been writing ever since.

SM: How has being an actor helped your writing?

Fuchs: Well, it helped practically and creatively. Practically, I already had an acting agent, so, when I wrote my first script, I asked my talent agent to show it to her agency's lit department, so, it gave me an in I otherwise probably wouldn't have had. Creatively, it helped in a variety of ways. First of all, I'd been reading scripts since I was seven years old, so, I was really familiar and comfortable with the structure. That was huge. And, to be honest, the most valuable way in which my acting background helped is with pitching. If you're good in a room, as a writer, that's a big asset. And I love to pitch because I love performing. Whether they buy my pitch or not, I'm genuinely very happy to have anyone pay attention to me for 10-15 minutes. And that comes from the acting. Or maybe the acting came from that. Either way, it helps.

SM: You’re been signed to write The Clock Without a Face and also hired to adapt Break My Heart 1000 Times. What do you anticipate the challenges of adaptation to be compared to writing your original work, The Last First Time?

Fuchs: Well, I think the challenges of adaptation are less scary when you're not dealing with, you know, a TWILIGHT or a POTTER. I have so much respect for writers like Melissa Rosenberg or Steve Kloves because you have to really balance the demands of a very large, passionate fan base and I can only imagine the pressure that adds to the process. With a project like CLOCK, it's a very successful book, but it doesn't come with that same crazy global awareness or fan intensity and so it's very freeing because it allows you to really put your stamp on the material. With CLOCK, it's really so different from the book, the linkages are really just the energy of the book and the central device, but we kind of ran with it from there and pretty much built an original story from scratch, which has been thrilling. With BMH, the book hasn't come out yet, so, there may yet be that kind of fan base, but even potential fan base aside, it's a much truer adaptation. CLOCK feels "inspired by." BMH is very much "based on the book." So, I'd say the biggest challenge when you're adapting something great - and BMH, the book, is absolutely phenomenal - is finding the right way to say things in film language. It's very easy to adapt too loyally and then you may have something that beat for beat is identical to the book, but ends up being far less true to the spirit of the book. Some stuff on the page is scary that just wouldn't be scary on screen. Do you adapt it identically and end up with a not so scary scene? No, you have to prioritize that what the author was going for a frightening experience on the page and your job, as the screenwriter, is to find a way to express that in an equally scary fashion on-screen. But, it's difficult, because as a fellow writer and also a fan, I want to be respectful of Dan's work and get it right and make him proud of the film, as well. And so one of the most validating moments of the process on BMH was getting a kind email from Dan saying he loved the first draft. That meant so much.

SM: Where did you come up with the brilliant idea of The Last First Time?

Fuchs: Well, I was just wondering what it would take to lose my virginity at one point and I thought, "I bet if a meteor was going to hit, I could pull this off." I obviously no longer think it will take a meteor; I feel like if I just keep trying, I'll get there.

SM: Are there special challenges in writing a script knowing the goal is for you to have the lead role? Or does it just make it more fun?

Fuchs: It really makes it easier because you have an immediate in with your lead character. You don't have to find a way to put yourself in his shoes. You're just there. Plus, no one can say, "I feel your character wouldn't say that." You can just say, "No, that's what I'd say," and move on with life. The real trouble is when you write yourself a part, described as you, written for you, by you and someone goes, "Yah, I don't know if you're right for this." You just sort of shake your head and go, "Mom, I'm 26, stop giving me notes."

SM: You have quite the range of talents, from the indie film Holy Rollers (Hasidic Jews as drug dealers) to the family film Ice Age 4. Do you want to do more indies or are you now bitten by the studio bug?

Fuchs: Thank you. HOLY ROLLERS was important to me as an actor because it's so easy to get type cast and that role really proved I could play all kinds...of Jews. The whole Hebrew spectrum. I have zero preference, to be honest. I think my tastes, creatively, on the writing side trend towards more commercial, studio-y material. Spielberg, Zemeckis, George Lucas, those are the types of filmmakers who were my touchstones growing up in terms of the films I fell in love with that made me want to be in the business. On the acting side, I really enjoy all kinds of roles. Dustin Hoffman has the sort of dream career in my mind, you know, where you can do TOOTSIE and KRAMER VS KRAMER and everyone buys you in those roles equally.

SM: You also wrote, produced and starred in the short film,Pitch, that went to Cannes. Any advice to writers who are taking the leap into shorts as a way to get discovered?

Fuchs: Shorts are an amazing way to break in if you want to be acting or directing in addition to writing or if you have no access to people in the business. If all you want to do is be a screenwriter and you know, literally, one dude who's a reader for Relativity - don't waste your time on a short. Go write a brilliant feature. If you don't have that cousin in the UTA assistant pool, however, a short is a great idea because if it starts getting lots of views and buzz, then suddenly people are paying attention. That said, that attention span is short and you want to have something to follow that up with. They're going to say, "What else are you working on?" and if you don't have a script to give them, they may not remember you or have the same level of enthusiasm about you in 6 months when you finish your first draft. So you have to be strategic, I think. For me, a short was a big deal because I wanted to use it as a platform to show what I could do as a comic actor. Most of my acting at that point was dramatic and I wanted to do more comedy and so that was kind of the goal in writing PITCH. In addition, it was about building confidence in myself. I did not know if I could write a feature comedy, so, I thought, let's see what happens in 15 minutes. If 15 pages go okay, maybe I'll try 100. 15 pages got made into PITCH, which, like you said, had this really wonderful response, and it gave me the confidence to write THE LAST FIRST TIME.

SM: Reading other interviews of you, I was struck by how fearless you are, like the time you were in high school and used your UN identification from work to get into a club. Has that ballsy attitude helped you navigate Hollywood?

Fuchs: I don't know how ballsy I am, but I do know that if you are semi-talented and have an ability to be punched in the face repeatedly and just keep coming back for more, you will be okay in this business. I really believe that. I work very hard at my craft, I think I have a certain amount of talent, but to the limited extent I've been successful or at least employed, I feel it's largely been because of temperament. I think if you can stay calm and cool and positive and not let things get to you, you can find a place for yourself in this business. And that can be hard because it's an insane business. But if I have a strength, it's less ballsy-ness and more an ability to be resilient and not let things get to me.

SM: You’ve tackled shorts, indies, acting, writing, producing, and I’m sure many things we can’t print. What’s your ultimate goal?

Fuchs: Things you can't print?! What the- where did that come from??? You found out about my thriving career in adult films, clearly. My ultimate goal is to be writing, acting in and directing films that I can be proud of. I want to be making big, feel good, exciting, thrilling, funny movies - the stuff I grew up watching and was just totally bewitched by. Some of my favorite memories are of the first time I saw the movies that mean the most to me. I can remember watching Superman fly for the first time with my dad, I can remember sitting in a theater covering my ears when the T-Rex lets loose in JURASSIC, I remember watching Billy Crystal tell Meg Ryan all the reasons he loved her. Those moments are really special moments in my life. And I want to build some of those of my own. That's the goal.

SM: Do you ever stop to soak in how much you’ve accomplished at such a young age, or do you just keep plowing through without looking back?

Fuchs: Well, that's a very flattering question, and I may disagree with you a little on how much I've accomplished, but it's actually kind of a struggle to appreciate what I've done so far because I feel so far from where I want to be. I'm incredibly proud of the work I've done, especially ICE AGE, which I just am so excited about, but I constantly have to remind myself to be appreciative of what I've done so far even if I have a long way to go. I tend to be mostly forward looking and focused on what's next and how to build the career that I'm so hopeful I'll be able to build. But I do try to balance that with a sense of pride in where I'm at now even though my instincts are just to plow ahead. But dissatisfaction and ambition, I think, are not unhealthy motivators. I'm extremely happy and extremely dissatisfied all at the same time and I suspect I will be that way for a long time.

SM: What would be the one piece of advice you’d give to either a teenage writer or a 40+ one out there who everyone scoffs at because of their age?

Fuchs: I feel a little too early in my career, really, to be giving anyone advice. So, buyer beware when it comes to career advice from a 26 year old, but I would say the most liberating thing about screenwriting is that age matters far less than in almost any other area of our business or of any other business, for that matter. If you can write, you can write and you can do that for the rest of your life. You may have ups and downs, but you don't lose that ability and you are forever one great script from your life being changed because that's all it takes. And that's a constant motivator. You are always one brilliant script from everything being different. You can be 17 or 70, but if you produce something wonderful that studios think can make money, that's all that matters and then in the blink of an eye, your life is very different. If you're an NBA player who's averaged 8 points and 12 minutes a night for ten years, you're not going to turn into an All-Star in season ten. You are who you are. That's not true of a writer. You're always one great script from a star on Hollywood Boulevard and maybe you won't get there, but it's a wonderful career to pursue and a wonderful life to lead where there's always the possibility of something wonderful just over the horizon. Which is to say, I guess, that the best advice to a prospective screenwriter is never give up. Just keep fighting. Just keep writing.