‘Safe House’ Screenwriter Talks about His Heroes and His Movie
by Jason Harris
What do actors Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, and Nicolas Cage and directors Simon West and Antoine Fuqua all have in common? They all have worked on projects written by David Guggenheim.
Guggenheim’s first screenplay, Safe House, was just released on DVD this past Tuesday. This was his first spec script sold.
“I got spoiled with this one.”
According to Guggenheim, a spec script is a screenplay written by someone who is not getting paid for it.
“You can spend a year of your own time and still not get paid. But the good news is that you have a fully completed script as opposed to a pitch where you go in with a sort of broad idea. This is a good way of packaging your whole story.”
The screenplay was sold in February of 2010, which was two years and a day before it was released in theaters, Guggenheim said. It took him about three months to write it.
“I was running out of time. I had a kid literally coming around the corner. If I didn’t sell something I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sustain a full-time job and full-time family and a writing career.”
If a screenwriter is living in New York, a spec script is the way to break into Hollywood and get people excited, he said. He had been writing them for 10 to 12 years before selling his first one.
“I couldn’t even process what was happening,” Guggenheim said about the sale of his first screenplay.
According to Wikipedia, Safe House was Washington’s second highest grossing movie to date. Guggenheim is “really proud of [his movie].”
“I didn’t think it would make $40 million opening weekend. I’m happy people liked it.”
He believes Washington was the first one cast in the movie and Reynolds was cast second.
“I can’t imagine anyone else doing it,” Guggenheim said about Reynolds portraying Matt Weston. “I think you see a totally different side of Ryan that you don’t usually get to see.”
Guggenheim has been inspired by a number of Hollywood writers such as Robert Goldman, Robert Towne, Lawrence Kasdan, Shane Black, and Joss Whedon. He considers all these writers, “character driven writers who have written huge action movies.”
“All these guys are amazing teachers.”
He considers Shane to be living the writer’s life, whom he considers a person who went off to write his own movies, which started with Lethal Weapon.
“I like that his scripts are his voice,” he said about Black, who is “generating new original material.”
Whedon’s name came up because Guggenheim had recently seen The Avengers, which he considers “incredible writing.”
“This is writing you try to achieve.”
The advice to would-be writers is always “write what you know,” he said. He claims he “doesn’t really know that much.” He does have five movies from the 1970s that have inspired him. Those movies are Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, Marathon Man, All the Presidents’ Men, and The Conversation, which Guggenheim considers “incredible.”
His advice to writers is to “keep writing.”
“If one script doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you are not a good writer. That script had issues. Learn from that and keep writing. Just don’t give up.”
Guggenheim has worked with Tony Scott and Ron Howard and is working with McG right now, but would love to work with Stephen Spielberg, he said. He loves working with other writers too.
“Those are my idols,” he said, referring to other writers. “I get much more nervous about meeting writers that I have been following then, like, the biggest director in Hollywood.”
This screenwriter doesn’t have any other aspirations other than to write.
“I would prefer just sitting in a room writing …”
Along with his next movie Stolen, which is in post-production, directed by West and starring Cage, he is co-writing a novel, Exile, with his friend, Nick Mennuti, which will be published by Little Brown.
This article appears on the DVD Snapshot website.