Wednesday, April 16, 2003

SCPA grad scripts 'Monk's action

Hollywood's tough place to keep work, screenwriter says

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Within five years of earning a film degree from New York University in 1985, Cy Voris was working in Hollywood, writing tales of action-adventure and fantasy.

Cy Voris
Today, the Cincinnati native and 1981 graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts and his writing partner Ethan Reiff - whom he met at a Reds-Mets game - are celebrating their highest profile project to date, Bulletproof Monk, opening in theaters today.

The movie pairs Chinese superstar Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) with Seann William Scott (American Pie, Road Trip) in a tale based on comics from Flypaper Press, the publisher that spawned Men In Black.

Voris and Reiff had the rare fortune of not only selling their first joint script, Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight, but seeing it made into a theatrical movie. Their work together also yielded a video series, Josh Kirby: Time Warrior and a short-lived TV show, Brimstone.

Voris is the father of two, an 8-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl, with his wife, Robin. "Ironically, on our first date I took her to a Vietnamese restaurant and a Hong Kong action movie in New York's Chinatown."

Did "Bulletproof Monk" turn out as you imagined it when you were writing?

Yes and no. The script is almost exactly what we wrote and also totally different. Our first draft was a much more subversive, dark, irreverent action movie. When the director, Paul Hunter, came on board he wanted to lighten the tone throughout ... making the movie more suitable to an all-ages audience.

What do you like best about the finished film?

I like the relationship between the Kar character, played by Seann William Scott and the Monk, played by Chow Yun-Fat. That was always at the heart of the story and I think it managed to translate very well to the big screen.

Anything you would change if you could?

We're just the writers on this movie. When we actually direct one of our own scripts, then I'll be qualified to answer that question.

Did you know you were writing for Chow Yun-Fat?

We actually got involved in the project because of Chow Yun-Fat's interest in the comic book. My partner and I were big Hong Kong film fans since the mid-1980s, and saw this as a great opportunity to create a character specifically for Yun-Fat. In most of his American movies he's just the strong, silent man of integrity and action; we knew he could also be playful, light, charming and funny.

Do you ever write with a particular actor in mind? Any examples?

Not really. Movies are such fluid and organic things that quite often the actor you have in mind when you create a character and the actor that eventually gets cast in your movie are polar opposites. Yun-Fat is the only actor I've ever written specifically for who actually ended up playing the part.

As a writer, do you learn anything from actors?

It's always interesting to see actors play your dialogue; it helps you know what translates well to performance as opposed to just words on a page. Sometimes all you have to do in a script is give an actor a piece of business, like, "He does a funky handshake with his opponent," and the two actors will create a whole scene from that one suggestion.

What made you choose screenwriting?

Making movies is not cheap. All it takes to write is a piece of paper and a pencil - and some ideas and a good story. I got into screenwriting because it's an inexpensive way to make movies - in your head, then down on paper.

What is the hardest lesson you had to learn after you got into the business?

The hardest thing to learn about the business - the thing that is never talked about - is that breaking in is only the beginning. Staying in is the hard part. The great myths of show business are still to this day all about breaking in. But that's just how the industry weeds out the amateurs from the professionals. .... Once you're in, it's very competitive. You can't really coast along on your laurels because there's always somebody else with a great idea for a movie right behind you, waiting for his or her shot - and there's only a few movies and TV shows that get made every year. It's a little like being a gunfighter in the Old West: Somebody's always gunning for you and your rep, so you better stay quick on the trigger - or with the keyboard, in this case.

What do you wish you had studied more when you were in college?


Present movie excepted, what do you consider your best work?

I think my best work is the short-lived Fox TV series that Ethan and I created, wrote and executive produced in 1998-99, Brimstone. It was a supernatural cop show starring Thirtysomething's Peter Horton as a dead NYPD detective returned to earth to hunt down 113 escapees from hell and Smallville's John Glover as the Devil. ... We still get fan letters from people about it.

"Men of War" also credits John Sayles. Did he re-write you, or did you re-write him?

It was actually an old Sayles script that some producers bought and wanted to make for action star Dolph Lundgren! The Sayles script needed to be brought up to date a little, more action scenes added and, most importantly, had to be made into an ensemble movie because the producers were worried that Dolph just couldn't carry the movie that John Sayles originally wrote. And that an audience wouldn't sit still to watch Lundgren tackle all those great John Sayles monologues. ... We were actually pretty deferential to Sayles' original script and the finished movie is actually quite a good little action flick. ... Probably the only time we'll ever get a chance to rewrite John Sayles.

Studios are remaking more old movies than ever. What is your attitude on remakes?

Hmmm. Why remake great movies? Why not remake bad movies and see if you can make them better.

What are your three favorite books?

Orson Welles: Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow, Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Black Boy by Richard Wright, Gladiator by Philip Wylie, Hamlet by William Shakespeare and The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill - oops, that's too many.

What do you find the best thing about being from the Midwest?

The best thing about being from the Midwest is that there's tons of people from the Midwest in the arts, movie and TV business. Even the director of photography on Bulletproof Monk (Stefan Czapsky) was from Cleveland.

What do you miss the least about Cincinnati?

How 'bout what I miss the most about Cincinnati. The riverfront, Zino's Firehouse, the Reds, Ollie's Trolly burgers and fries, and Fountain Square.


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