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“I need the truck,” is the first line in the script for Mojave. It comes on page five, and not until page 17 does a real conversation emerge. There are a few lines here and there in the opening, but screenwriter William Monahan introduces Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) purely through action. The artist, struggling with success, drives out to the desert to reflect, which Monahan once did himself.

What if someone like Thomas or Mr. Monahan, but far worse, was also in the desert? That’s when Jack (Oscar Isaac) appears, a highly educated and highly dangerous drifter. Thomas and Jack’s war begins with a conversation about the politics, the human condition, and Ahab’s missing leg.

And we dive into the details of Mojave during our conversation with Monahan, which begins after the jump.

The dialogue is dense and rich, but not all of it made it into the final film. The meta thriller still embodies much of the script’s spirit, but according to Monahan, simply because of how the business works, he had to meet a running time, which he also experienced on his directorial debut, London Boulevard.

The screenwriter behind The DepartedKingdom of Heaven, and The Gambler is still quite pleased with the final result, though. Monahan was kind enough to discuss the script, the finished film, and more with us. Here’s what the refreshingly candid storyteller had to say.

Looking at those first 20 pages, it’s rare to read a script that lets us understand character through action.

Yeah. That was a very important thing to me and to us. And then, of course, if you look at the picture, you see that initial material may not all be there. It was certainly shot. I’m glad to talk to somebody who’s read the script.

Why did the opening shorten in post-production?

Well, it’s everything…It’s just a situation in the industry. There are two things happening to films now. Studios are making fewer films and taking less risk with them, going on the sort of algorithmic model. You know, hitting all the quadrants, etcetera, shenanigans and bullshit they get up to.

So the studios are making fewer and safer movies, while independent pictures, by their very nature, generally have to come out at 90 minutes. I can’t tell you why. I don’t fucking know why. But it seems to be the case.

You’ve read Mojave and you know also that most films that cast up and finance and go to the floor are at 120-odd pages. And each page in the script is a minute of film. So what you are looking at usually on screen with an independent picture is 90 pages of what you shot. You shot the full two hours. That’s what you were all there to make. Then it becomes to certain market forces and things like that and running time concerns. That’s just the way it is.

I’m sure it’s slightly painful losing those pages, but it seems like you just accept it for what it is. 

Well, you have to. Remember, the first reduced film I was ever involved in was Kingdom of Heaven, which was an original screenplay. That was one of the biggest sort of smart epics ever made. And it came out with an hour missing from it. You have to wear that. There’s no way around it. Because when people see a film, they think it’s how it was written and shot intentionally and don’t realize that decisions were made, rightly or wrongly, in post-production.

And so, the writer and the director are presumed to have intended to have done exactly the film that people are watching. Of course that’s one of the most naïve mistakes and criticism, but it’s one of the most inevitable. We also had the experience of Kingdom of Heaven coming out later in the full director’s cut. People generally reacted as, “Oh, shit. This is a fucking masterpiece.”

It can be a problem. Somebody like Orlando [Bloom] in Kingdom of Heaven calibrated his performance to the whole piece. You work on the whole piece. You don’t expect it to be reduced.

Right. It alters the performance.

Yes. And also, a film can become a little bit of a different thing, because quite apart from anything else, what’s most important about a movie, part of the structures of nuance that aren’t always visible to everybody. I mean they completely affect the movie. They make a movie work as a whole. So if you start taking odds and ends out for one reason or another…

I’ve seen, not in this particular case, but I’ve seen beautiful sections of photography come out of a movie simply because it was viewed without music on it. And no one could understand it as cinema unless it had music on it.

Now, you as writer or director, you hear that score in your head. But you can’t really convey it to anybody else when they are looking at dry picture. It’s important to remember that you are dealing with kind of increasing low attention span sometimes on films and people watching them on devices and stuff like that and being used to more flash and bang and that sort of thing, and occasionally being more used to simplicity. You have to watch out for that.

One of the ways to recover from what may be an inevitability in this business may be the decision to write it in 90 pages. At least that way nothing can come out.

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