We were inundated with questions for top Hollywood screenwriter David Benioff, so thanks for all your efforts. Read on for David's thoughts on Edward Norton's hairline, why he owes his career to Spider-Man, and how getting mugged was helpful for writing sword-and-sandals epic Troy.
What is the meaning of the title 25th Hour? Krista van Domburg
Thirteen publishers rejected the novel. After six months and a collection of polite "no's" I figured the book was doomed to a binary existence on my hard drive. But along came an editor named Kent Carroll, who agreed to publish the manuscript. He had one condition: change the title. Kent thought the original title, Fireman Down, would lead people to believe the book was about firemen. Fair point. He suggested The 25th Hour (the book title has a "The"; the movie does not; I don't know why). The story is about a man with one last day of freedom. The 25th hour is the hour between freedom and imprisonment, the hour when life changes irrevocably for one group of friends. But in a 24-hour day, the 25th hour is also the impossible hour, an hour that doesn't exist, that can only be created by the imagination.
How did you find working with (and writing) for Spike Lee and Edward Norton? Did they contribute anything to the screenplay for 25th Hour? Ian Hylands
Both men are extremely intelligent and stubborn. The movie got made because they willed it into creation - when was the last time Disney funded a movie about a convicted heroin dealer? I had met with other directors about the script, and most of them didn't even realise the script was adapted from a novel. When I met with Spike, on the other hand, he had the book in front of him, dog-eared and underlined. Oddly enough, he convinced me to make the script more faithful to the novel. For example, there is a monologue in the centre of the book that I call the F**k monologue. I hadn't even considered using it in the screenplay because it seemed impossible to dramatize. But Spike loved the scene and I wrote it into the script as the F**k montage.
The first time I saw Edward on set he pulled back his hair and showed me his widow's peak. In the book, Monty Brogan has a widow's peak, but I hadn't mentioned it in the script. But Edward so wanted to be in character that he wore a prosthetic widow's peak for the entire shoot.
Spike and Edward both contributed to the script. Several one-liners are Spike's. More importantly, Spike wanted to direct an honest movie about contemporary New York, which meant directing a movie about post-9/11 New York. The novel and first drafts of the script were written before the attack, but the city changed, and pretending nothing ever happened would have been cowardly. Most of the 9/11 references in the film are visual. I wrote a couple of lines but that's basically the work of Spike and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto.
Edward is masterful at improvisation - sometimes he and Philip Seymour Hoffman would deviate from their lines, but it almost always worked because both understood their characters so well. Also, there's a scene near the end of the movie where we see the characters from the F**k montage again. That was Edward's idea.
What experience was the catalyst that led you to writing 25th Hour? Louisa Thorman
Attending the funeral of a friend who died of a heroin overdose, and seeing his dealer a few pews in front of me. Also, going to a party for a guy who was about to begin a prison sentence the next morning. It seemed like such a strange purgatory, the moments between freedom and incarceration. And there's good drama in strange purgatory.
I thoroughly enjoyed 25th Hour when I saw it in New York recently. The American press emphasised that the film concerns life and mood post 9/11 in NYC. Do you feel your original story has benefited or been hindered by moving the plot forward to reflect the new status quo in NY? Nathan Tanner
Thank you, Mr. Tanner. As I just mentioned, I feel it would have been cowardly to avoid the subject. The city changed and there's no use pretending it didn't. That said, I do think the American press focused on the 9/11 aspect of the movie, but the American press focuses on the 9/11 aspect of everything, so why should this story be any different?
25th Hour (the movie) is not about 9/11. But it is about New York City in the months following 9/11, and anyone who lives there (or even spent some time there in those months), knows that 9/11 infected everything.
How do you handle the pressure and the responsibility that comes with adapting The Iliad - one of the most important books in literature? Mirtha
I don't type my sentences on an arena's pitch, surrounded by thousands of cheering or booing fans - I don't feel pressure to please a crowd. While working on Troy, I can't think, Oh my Lord, this is the mother of all epics, the cornerstone of Western literature. If I screw it up, classicists around the world will issue a fatwa and assassinate me with bronze daggers.
I can't measure up to Homer. His composition has survived for nearly three millennia and remains the world's most beautiful and mournful depiction of war. But the story of the Trojan War does not belong to Homer. The characters he employs were legendary long before he was born. Dozens of different versions of the War have been told, and my script ransacks ideas from several of them. The script is not, truly, an adaptation of The Iliad. It is a retelling of the entire Trojan War story. So I'm not worried about desecrating a classic - Homer will survive Hollywood.
Other than The Iliad, what sources are you using for the Troy screenplay? Mary
The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Robert Graves' The Greek Myths and a good detail of critical literature, particularly the work of Bernard Knox, whose introduction to Robert Fagles' superb translation of The Iliad is probably my single favourite work of Homeric analysis.
I was wondering why The Gods of Olympus were excluded from Troy, as they all played a big part in The Iliad. Steph
Troy is an adaptation of the Trojan War myth in its entirety, not The Iliad alone. The Iliad begins with the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon over the slave girl Briseis, nine years into the war. The equivalent scene occurs halfway through my script. Meanwhile, The Iliad ends after Priam returns from Achilles' shelter with his grim cargo - long before the construction of the Trojan Horse, and a good 20 pages before my script ends.
This is a massive story that we're trying to tell in two-and-a-half hours. The narrative is crammed with some of literature's most intriguing characters: Achilles, Hector, Helen, Paris, Priam, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Patroclus, etc. All these characters have to emerge on screen as fully realized human beings. The battle scenes have to mirror the epic confrontations Homer described. The journey of the thousand ships from Greece to Troy has to be depicted. Everything takes times, and we're not making a 12-hour miniseries. We're not making a trilogy of three-hour movies.
There is no such thing as a faithful adaptation. Even when I adapted my own (very slim, very un-epic) novel, I had to eliminate one of my favorite characters, because there simply wasn't enough time to tell his story along with everyone else's. Every adaptation requires that the screenwriter make difficult choices - and in particular, difficult cuts. In the case of Troy, I chose to tell the human story: the story of Helen's love for Paris, of Achilles' epic duel with Hector, of the fatal trap that Odysseus sprung on the Trojans.
The gods do not appear on screen but their presence is everywhere and their influence profound.
What is your take on Helen of Troy? Was she the ultimate bad girl, or a victim of circumstances beyond her control? Cat
Well, neither, really. Tolstoy must have thought about Helen when creating his Anna - a woman famed for her beauty, bored with her marriage, abandoning her home for a dashing but somewhat feckless suitor. If we strictly adhere to the mythology, it would be fair to call her a victim of circumstances, for she was the prize Aphrodite gifted Paris upon being awarded the golden apple. But, as stated ad nauseam above, the gods are not floating about Mt. Olympus in this telling, and there is no deus ex machina. If Helen's will is free, the choice is her own, and the consequences on her own conscience. I think - I hope - that the script doesn't judge her for the choice, but doesn't shy away from depicting the devastation such a choice inflicted on innocent people.
If Troy is well received, do you think there would be any chance of a sequel, maybe in the form of The Odyssey? And would you write the script? Mike Devreux
As this is Hollywood, I'd say if the movie makes money (as opposed to whether it's well received or not), there's an excellent chance for a sequel. So an Odyssey is possible, or the studio could go in a different direction and take on The Aeneid. Either way, I wouldn't want to take myself out of the running prematurely, but currently I'm not keen on the idea.