Production Notes: ‘The Story of The Story’- Screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s ‘Maps To The Stars’
PatheFilms has posted the full production notes for Maps To The Stars, which I’m posting as a series at this blog. These notes are incredibly informative about the characters, the L.A. setting, the story, and the cast. In this post I’m presenting the portion about how this movie came to be. David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner had wanted to get this film made for a long time.
The content in this section of the production notes has quotes from both men, and of course, the producer Martin Katz, whose last film with David Cronenberg was 2012’s Cosmopolis (also a Cannes official selection in competition- as Maps is next month!)
I hope you’re enjoying this series at this film blog. You’ll find all my individual posts easily accessible any time you want to read up on this, at my top menu bar under “PRODUCTION NOTES”, with a drop-down menu to guide you. You don’t have to read all at once, you can come back at your leisure.
The Story of The Story: Bruce Wagner and His L.A. World – ‘Maps To The Stars’
“Maps To The Stars connects the savage beauty of writer Bruce Wagner’s Los Angeles with the riveting filmmaking of director David Cronenberg and a stellar ensemble cast to take a tour into the darkly comic heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts. The result is a modern Hollywood Gothic at once about the ravenous 21st Century need for fame and validation — and the yearning, loss and fragility that lurk in the shadows underneath.
The incendiary mix of Wagner and Cronenberg has been two decades in the making.
The origins of the story go back to the 1990s when Wagner – then a struggling actor/writer working as a limo driver, not unlike Robert Pattinson’s character in Maps To The Stars – began a screenplay encapsulating his experience of Hollywood. In what would become a major career theme, he dove headlong into all its roiling contradictions: the glory and the wickedness, the ambition and the delusions, the soaring excess and the spectacular falls. The story took many turns over the years, as Wagner developed into an acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, but after a decade, Wagner decided to show it to Cronenberg, since the two had long talked about working together.
‘With its themes of the dark side of ambition and fame, I felt only David could make this movie,’ says Wagner.
Indeed, though it would take several more years before the project would come together with the right cast and financing, Cronenberg was immediately intrigued by the fearlessness of Wagner’s screenplay, which balanced on a razor-sharp line between comedy, horror and invigorating honesty.
‘It’s a story that is really of the moment and it also ferociously attacks the moment we are living in, culturally, pop-culturally, technologically and in every way, which I really admire. I think that is Bruce’s strength. He is not afraid,’ says the director. ‘The force of Bruce’s script was so compelling and so charismatic, I felt I had to do it.’ ~Director David Cronenberg
Cronenberg is equally known for not flinching from any subject, and for making films that are as challenging and substantial as they are suspenseful and visually compelling. Early in his career, he made series of vivid, fantastical thrillers including Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, eXistenZ and Spider. More recently, his filmmaking has become even more expansive with the high-style crime thrillers A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, the psychological, sex-infused historical drama about Freud and Jung, A Dangerous Method, and his adaptation of Cosmopolis which takes place almost entirely in a billionaire’s limousine on one fateful trip through the city.
For Cronenberg, Maps To The Stars was another chance to switch gears entirely – into what he calls
‘It’s a family drama, just not the usual kind of family drama.’ ~ David Cronenberg
Indeed, the Weiss family at the center of the story includes a self-help guru father, a teen hearthrob fresh from rehab, a manager mother intent on keeping her son’s price in the stratosphere, and a mysteriously scarred, banished daughter dangerously obsessed with trying to re-enter the family circle. Living amidst the insatiably rich-and-famous, they are neverthless driven and haunted by dark forces they can’t seem to escape.
‘Of course a family in Hollywood that has eaten of the Hollywood apple – that has eaten of the desire for celebrity and achievement in the public eye — is not going to be a normal family,’ Cronenberg notes. ‘Bruce’s father was in the business and he grew up with all of that, so I think he really is able to evoke the distortion and the pressure on a family trying to play the game.’
As outrageously extreme as the Weiss family is, Cronenberg saw Wagner’s script as having more than just satirical bite – and he took a performance-based approach to exploring the complex depths of the characters.
‘The interesting thing about Bruce’s script to me is the tension that he creates between satire and a very intense kind of reality,’ the director explains. ‘We could have gone in an exaggeratedly comic way with the Weiss family — but I wanted to mute that a bit. I wanted to see each character played as realistically and as low-key as possible under their very pressured circumstances.’ ~ David Cronenberg
Over the years and even during production, Wagner and Cronenberg continued to update the script so that it would feel a part of the immediate now. ‘Every time we had another go-round at trying to get the movie made, Bruce and I would go through the script and say, ‘Oh, man, we better forget that reference, that’s obsolete now,’ explains Cronenberg
Throughout, Wagner says he trusted Cronenberg implicitly.
”There was no compromise in writing this script, for better or for worse. It really came from a place of darkness that I hope becomes light in the end,’ comments the writer. ‘I knew that David understood both the darkness and the light of it, because I think those qualities suffuse all his work. So I felt very grateful and fortunate.’ ~Screenwriter Bruce Wagner
Meanwhile, in 2011 Cronenberg introduced the script to producer Martin Katz, while they were making Cosmopolis, and soon after, the project began taking off in earnest. Says Katz:
‘I’ve read a lot of Bruce’s novels and I’ve enjoyed reading him in The New Yorker – so I was drawn to the tone of the film. It also marks the very first time David has filmed in the U.S., and since it’s a film about celebrity obsession in Western culture, to have the chance to film in Hollywood was both poignant and exciting. It’s fundamental to the story of how this family was formed.’ ~Producer Martin Katz
Once the film got off the ground, Wagner continued to stay close to the creative process, with Cronenberg inviting him to stay on the set and write on-the-fly. Day by day Cronenberg turned to Wagner with queries about subtleties in the dialogue, even pronunciation. “Bruce was a perfect validity check,” says the director. Wagner in turn says:
‘David was gracious letting me be part of the production, but I really felt that whatever I wrote was, in the best sense, in his hands. And he brought something so mysterious to what I had done.’ ~Bruce Wagner
Mystery is indeed elemental to Wagner’s screenplay, which is as rife with the undead as any haunted house or Shakespearean tragedy. [More on the ghost story aspect later ~BuckyW]
PLUS: From Production Notes on Robert Pattinson:
“[Pattinson] was one of the first cast members to sign on, which Martin Katz says helped buoy the project.”
‘Robert’s enthusiasm for Maps To The Stars is one of the things that really got us underway. Jerome is not a large role but it’s significant in the story and his joining the cast gave us a terrific amount of momentum,’ recalls the producer. ‘In a sense he is playing Bruce Wagner, who was himself at one time a limo driver and unemployed writer.’ ~Producer Martin Katz
Photo: David Cronenberg, from FilmTV.it site, assumption that photo credit goes to Maps To The Stars stills photographer, Caitlin Cronenberg.