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Interview: Screenwriter Roberto Patino discusses Cut Bank (2013)August 2nd, 2012 at Thu, 2nd, 2012 at 12:32 am by samuelhwolfe
Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to speak with screen and television writer, Roberto Patino, about his new film Cut Bank, which will hit screens in 2013. Patino, who has previously worked as a writer for the television series Prime Suspect and currently writes for the critically acclaimed television series Sons of Anarchy, discussed with me a wide array of information regarding his first feature film, including: the source of his inspiration, the search for studio funding, his reaction to the star-studded cast, and his opinion of first time feature film director, Matt Shakman. Patino also shared about his favorite films and television shows growing up and dished out some priceless advice on what it takes to make it in the wild world of entertainment.
Cut Bank, is set to be released in 2013 and will star Ben Kingsley, Armie Hammer, and John Malkovich. Directing the film is Matt Shakman, who has received distinguished praise for his work in television. His resume is massive and includes such well known titles as Psych, Weeds, Mad Men, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and House M.D. Shakman describes Cut Bank, his first feature film, as “a director’s dream: a great visual world and a brilliant collection of characters to populate it.”
My interview with Roberto Patino:
SW: When did you first get the “film bug”?
RP: Middle School.
SW: Who are a few of your favorite screenwriters? Directors?
RP: Screenwriters — Paddy Chayefski, Robert Towne, Coen Brothers, Steve Zailian, John Logan, Aaron Sorkin, Eric Roth, and Quentin Tarantino
Directors — Paul Thomas Anderson, Scorcese, Old school Michael Mann, Fincher, Clint Eastwood, early Peter Bogdonavich and Sydney Lumet.
SW: Growing up, what were your favorite films or TV shows? Do these influence your work today?
RP: Lots of favorite movies: Braveheart, Chinatown, Network, Casablanca, 12 Monkeys, Heat, Godfather, Scarface, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Blood Simple, The Last Picture Show, Training Day. American Beauty. The Rock. And TV: Arrested Development. The Wire. The early seasons of NYPD Blue. Hill Street Blues. And absolutely, they influenced my tastes and notions of what I consider to be cool. Tension. Paranoia. Power struggles. Loss of control. Taut, sparse stories. Flawed characters that we love to hate and hate to love. I think this all shaped the kinds of stories I love and love to tell.
SW: So where did you attend college? Did you work on film related projects at the university level? If so, what types?
RP: Harvard University. Film-wise, I took one 16mm film documentary film course. But mostly just literature courses and creative writing courses (play writing, screenwriting, etc.) I took a stab a few short films on my own time, but they weren’t very good. I was in a really melodramatic point in my life I think, and so my stories were wicked sappy. Lots of tearful embraces and doors slamming.
SW: What was the first entertainment-related job you landed after graduating from university?
RP: After I graduated I went to grad school at USC for a year. And that summer I got a job through a friend working for writer/director David Ayer. He wrote one of my favorite movies, Training Day. And he was directing his first studio movie, a cop thriller called Street Kings. I worked for him for free as his assistant – anything from “hold my view finder” to “get my breakfast burrito and make sure it has chorizo.” It was incredible, though, because I had free reign on set and was privy first hand to this guy’s process. He was the one who kind of kicked my butt and told me that if I wanted to write, I should write. I dropped out of USC and wrote a tiny war movie that I got a manager from. I tutored like 15-20 hours a week to pay the bills.
SW: Regarding Cut Bank, how did the story come to you?
My girlfriend, now wife, was moving from Boston to LA and shipping all her stuff in boxes. They all came one by one, so I was making daily trips to the post office, and it was in this time that I saw a sign for rewards that the United States Postal Service offered. They’re for things like if you know of someone mailing drugs or money laundering through the mail, or stealing mail — if you report these kinds of things with evidence that can hold up in a courtroom, you’re entitled to cash rewards. The largest reward is for someone who can provide evidence as to the murder of a mail man on duty. I thought to myself that there’s got to be a way to scam this system. And from there hatched the plot of the story about a guy who wants to get the hell out of his one-horse town, so he fakes the murder of the town mailman to collect this reward money and leave.
SW: Why Cut Bank? What drew you to the area as a potential story telling opportunity?
RP: I’m from Miami, and growing up my family took these epic cross country road trips to Yosemite or Yellowstone. In one of these we stopped in Bozeman, MT and I remember being unsettled and fascinated by how different life was there in relation to Miami. I liked it a lot. So that’s why I chose Montana. As to why Cut Bank in particular, well, my parents would make me be the copilot so I wouldn’t drive my sisters insane (I could get pretty annoying). So I often just stared at the road maps. And I remember really liking the name Cut Bank, which wasn’t far from Bozeman. (I also really liked Liberal, Kansas — there’s definitely some kind of movie in that town). Anyway, I actually flew up to visit and researched the town pretty closely. I guess I have a thing for small towns. Maybe because I’ve lived in big cities my whole life.
SW: How has the project progressed? How did it flow from script progression/completion, studio interest, and then finally to funding and assembling a cast?
RP: Well, I wrote it. I knew it was a small indie-ish film but it felt really good. I finished it like August of 2009. My manager at the time sent it to a few agencies and I hooked up with these two fantastic agents who liked my sensibilities and believed in the script. They blasted it all over town and it got pretty good responses. The script made this list called the Blacklist, which is basically a compilation of the year’s most-liked unproduced screenplays as voted on by execs around town that comes out every December. That drew a lot of good attention, and it made the studio rounds. But we got the same answer over and over: “Love the script, but it’s too small of a movie.” These days it’s either big sweeping films or horror films that cost lest than a mil to make. Everyone is really into those “found footage” movies like Paranormal Activity that are super cheap to make. Not too much room in the market place for a low budget small town thriller. It’s been a long slow road. Coming up on three years pretty soon. So instead, we decided to put this project together independently and we set out to attach talent. First came the director, Matt Shakman, who is represented at the same agency I that I am. He put together this incredible visual presentation and starting to meet with actors that our agency connected him with. That’s how we first landed Malkovich in like November of 2010. Then came Armie Hammer in late winter 2011, who was getting some great buzz from The Social Network. Then there was a while there where momentum cooled and the project came close to busting. We reached out to Ed Zwick, who’s done epic movies like Glory, and Shakespeare in Love and asked him if he would “mentor” the project as an Executive Producer. He liked the script and helped get the other actors. So fast forward to February 2012 suddenly we have the rest of the cast to date – Ben Kingsley, Michael Sheen and Teresa Palmer – and suddenly there was a ton of momentum again. We had what they call a “package” – script, director, producers, and cast — and now just needed the money. We hooked up with a foreign sales agent. These people pre-sell the distribution rights of movies before they are made to foreign countries, like the equivalent of Paramount Distribution in Germany or Japan. Based on the package, a foreign distributor will pay a certain amount to distribute the movie once it’s completed. And scrapping together all the pre-sell values for the countries across the world who will buy our package (assuming they do), that’s how we wrangle our production budget to make the film. It’s all very complicated; I’m learning as I go. This pre-selling happens primarily at big film festivals, like Cannes, which is where the Cut Bank team will be next week trying to sell this movie so we can produce it. If it all goes to plan, we are slated to start shooting late in the fall. So there are still some hoops to jump through. It’s a very tenuous process, especially since up till now, we don’t have money — all the actors are attached because they want to be. Not because there is a paycheck promised. So hopefully things go well next week and beyond and we gather some firm financing to help cement the project. Thus far, though, it’s proved to be the little train that could.
SW: Matt Shakman is set to direct. Any opinions about him or on his past work?
RP: Matt’s incredible. I’ve gotten to know him really well in this process. He’s scary smart. Incredibly prepared. He’s going nowhere but up. He’s been directing off-Broadway plays since he was 23 and TV shows since he was like 27. His credit list is incredibly long and impressive. And he’s worked his way up to direct pretty fantastic fare, like Mad Men, Six Feet Under, and House, M.D. He’s widely regarded as a terrific guy to work with. Cut Bank will be his first feature, and I’m confident he’ll execute a fantastic film. He gets the tone and characters perfectly.
SW: There are some big names attached to this film. What was your reaction on hearing about the cast?
RP: Shock mixed with anxiety mixed with giddiness.
SW: Working full time in the industry, do you still have time to enjoy TV and movies? If so, which ones do you enjoy the most?
RP: Absolutely. I loved 21 Jump Street recently. Last year I loved Midnight in Paris and I thought Drive was incredible. Really looking forward to this summer’s Oliver Stone movie, Savages. It could be awesome, or just a shlocky flop, but I’m in. And of course, I’m dying to see The Dark Knight Rises. On the TV end, I love Breaking Bad. If you haven’t watched that, go get all four seasons and lock yourself in a room for four days and watch. It’s some of the best story telling in the modern era, I think. Love New Girl and Modern Family. Boss on Starz is fantastic. I’m currently writing on Sons of Anarchy, which I think (unbiased opinion here) is also fantastic. Girls and Game of Thrones on HBO are guilty pleasures, though they can get silly at times. Really looking forward to The Newsroom and House of Cards.
SW: Any advice to industry hopefuls?
RP: Invest in yourself fully. It never makes sense to do this and there is general a more immediate offer available. But take time and give yourself a chance to prove yourself. Take risks. Show up for work everyday. Be prepared. Do your homework. Be patient. Be brutally honest with yourself, but also be kind. I’ve learned that most of the time you can be your own worst enemy or your own best ally. You want the latter. Constantly asses your progress and where you want your next steps to be. Stay focused. Do what feels right to you. And practice your craft daily.