Joshua Stecker is a freelance entertainment journalist based in Los Angeles. His bylines include The Hollywood Reporter and Death & Taxes Magazine. Stecker is the former west coast/web editor of Script Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @joshuastecker.
“I decided to write a script one day,” says Ziggy Darwish, as we begin our interview via Skype. He’s in Australia, I’m in Los Angeles. It’s 3 p.m. where he’s at, 10 p.m. in L.A., and we’re about to have a 30-minute conversation about his first produced feature screenplay.
Having interviewed a vast amount of screenwriters since joining the ranks of Script in 2007, I like to think I’ve heard nearly every “starting out” story. Inspiration to write a screenplay can come from the most random of places. From Aaron Sorkin writing A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins while working at a Broadway theatre, to Kevin Smith finding inspiration to write Clerks by working at the same convenience store the film would eventually be shot in. Every “starting out” story is different, but the one common trait that links all these success stories together is passion.
Ziggy Darwish has one feature screenwriting credit to his name, the film we’re speaking about this evening, Bordering on Bad Behavior. It’s funny (downright hilarious at times), a bit dark, a bit slow in parts, but ultimately pays off at the end. It’s a strong first feature film, with a scene-chewing performance by Tom Sizemore that reinforces that, despite his personal foibles, the man can still act.
Here’s the pitch: the three soldiers – a Lebanese, Israeli and American – get locked in a room on a base in Israel with nothing but some weed and conversation to keep them from killing each other. Punches are thrown, philosophies are shared and truths are revealed. Sounds interesting enough.
Since I’m not a critic, it’s not my place to pass judgment on the film during our interview. I just wanted to know how and why Darwish, a former Royal Australian Navy sailor turned popular personal trainer and author, decided to sit in front of a laptop one day and craft a screenplay.
“I just wanted to tell a story,” he says. For Darwish, it was really as simple as that.
Born in Australia to Syrian/Lebanese parents, Darwish never knew anything about the Middle East until his teens. He would join the Royal Australian Navy and soon after, September 11 happened.
“There’s this bullshit in the world between your color, your religion, your race,” explains Darwish, who now lives in Dubai. “I got into personal training, as we all seem to do in Australia (laughs), and many of my clients were Jewish. We were really cool, they were like family. I went to their weddings. You name it, I was invited. I became one of them. But here we are, me being an Arab that they’re supposed to hate, and I’m supposed to hate them. And here we are as best friends, that’s reality. But the media, after September 11, everyone bags the shit out of Arabs. I’ve been to Israel, I have a lot of Israeli brothers and sisters. But I had enough.”
It was evident that these feelings in Darwish needed an outlet. An Israeli friend suggested he watch a film called Lebanon (2009), about a platoon of Israeli paratroopers in a tank during the First Lebanon War in 1982.
“I watched it and said to myself, I can write a script. And that was it,” he says.
So, as a budding screenwriter without any real sense of how the industry works, he cranked open a Microsoft Word document and pounded out 40 pages of dialogue in two weeks, which would eventually turn into Bordering on Bad Behavior. He then showed it to a journalist friend who tipped him off to some screenwriting programs to help with formatting.
“I thought to myself, I’m going to shoot this by myself. I was a man on a mission, I was possessed,” says Darwish. He did not end up directing the film, that job went to South African director Jac Mulder, but he did secure a $2M budget from an investor friend in Dubai, and production began.
Bordering on Bad Behavior stars Tom Sizemore as Bob, an American CIA agent; Bernard Curry as Baz, a Lebanese soldier; and Oz Zehavi as Ari, an Israeli soldier. It’s a politically incorrect, dark comedy, where, as explained in the press notes, “a Lebanese soldier stumbles upon a top-secret, Israeli base where he encounters an Israeli soldier and an American CIA agent. A scuffle ensues and, in the melee, the center’s emergency lockdown mechanism is triggered. Realizing they are trapped for six hours, the sworn enemies must figure out how to not kill each other.”
Using the tried and true movie formula of less locations = less expense, Darwish “put three assholes with three different perspectives and locked them in a room.” Banking on his military experience, he says, “What’s in the movie is what I used to do in the service.”
“You see, I wanted to have an honest conversation,” explains Darwish. “Arabs think the way Baz does, Israeli Jews think the way Ari does. In creating Bob, I had a lot of friends that I used to train that worked for Halliburton. I got Bob’s redneck, Texan flavor from my Halliburton buddies. These Texas guys were highly intelligent, many had multiple degrees, but at the end of the day, they were still all, 'Fuck those Arabs.' That’s how Bob was created.”
The film is an exploration of the tragedies of a post-September 11 world and a war that neither man has much of a stake in. The three characters are forced to evaluate their lives, their alliances and ultimately one another. Will they end up killing each other, or could some humane, common bond be found amongst three people who, judging by how the media and popular culture have portrayed it, should be mortal enemies because of race, religion and nationality? Did I mention this was a comedy?
The film shot for four weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. Darwish was on set for half the time. When asked what the hardest part about writing his first feature was, Darwish simply responds, "Nothing," but was quick to clarify.
"I know this sounds crazy, but nothing was tough, the whole thing was a pleasure," he says. "Actually, the hardest part was getting constructive criticism. The hardest part was writing 140 pages and someone telling me I needed 90 pages max. Writing was the fun part! The hardest part was to stop writing."
Riding on the adrenaline of finishing Bordering on Bad Behavior, Darwish has written a couple more screenplays he's hoping to see into production. But Bordering holds a special place that carries a personal message.
“It’s three blokes with three perspectives, and at the end of the day, it’s about why can’t we all just get along? That’s all I wanted to say to the world. Let’s have a drink, a joint if you like, and just chill, man.”
Bordering on Bad Behavior is out on DVD now and is available on Amazon.com. View the trailer here.
Format your screenplays with the industry standard software