For scriptwriter, the fairy tale continues

March 22, 2006,0,7553833.story?coll=cl-books


For scriptwriter, the fairy tale continues

By Susan King
Times Staff Writer

March 20, 2006

Seven years ago, Russell Gewirtz and his father profited handsomely from the sale of one of the family’s clothing stores in New York City. “We made a lot of money from the property,” said Gewirtz, a former attorney. “So when I was 33, I found myself with a nice nest egg and no real career in front of me.”

For the next few years, he lived a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams as he traveled between Cannes, Brazil and Miami Beach: “I basically didn’t have to wear socks for three years.”

It was during his travels that he began to write the screenplay to the heist thriller “Inside Man,” which opens Friday.

Directed by Spike Lee — “Inside Man” is one of the few films the filmmaker didn’t write or co-write — the film revolves around a New York detective (Denzel Washington) called in to negotiate a hostage situation at a bank. Clive Owen plays the thieves’ ringleader, and Jodie Foster is a manipulative power player.

Gewirtz, now 40, admitted that having his first screenplay turned into a major feature starring two Oscar winners is something of a “fairy tale.”

“I had never studied screenwriting,” he said. “I just watched a lot of movies.”

It was while working at his father’s retail business a decade ago that Gewirtz discovered he had a talent for writing. “I wrote a bunch of short stories about things that happened to me, all of which were very funny and tongue-in-cheek.”

It wasn’t long before he thought about writing a script. “I would sit in the movies and know the words before they came out of people’s mouths. You get a taste of what’s good and what works. Eventually, I kind of thought I could write a better movie.”

Gewirtz ran into a producer friend five years ago at Cannes and delivered his pitch for “Inside Man.” “He loved it. He said, ‘Let’s work on it. You write and I’ll guide you through the process.’ ”

Within a year, the script was in good enough shape to take to an agency. Ten days after Gewirtz signed with an agent, the script was sold to Universal. It took three years, though, to hit the screen.

“Ron Howard was to direct at the time [of the sale],” said Gewirtz. “Then it went through ups and downs for a while, but we obviously landed in a very nice place.”

Enter Lee, the outspoken filmmaker who burst on the scene 20 years ago with “She’s Gotta Have It” and received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for 1999’s “Do the Right Thing.” His films, which also include “Malcolm X” and “Clockers,” often explore hot political and social issues.

Gewirtz said the script went through a few changes, adding that Lee “brought more of that New York and Spike Lee feel to it.”
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