John Gatins has dabbled in acting, writing, directing and producing in Hollywood since the early ’90s. “Flight” is one of his longest-running and most personal projects, spanning 10 years of writing and introspection. Gatins, who wrote movies including “Hard Ball”, “Coach Carter” and “Real Steel”, spoke with several college newspapers to discuss his latest project.
So, John, obviously, you’ve been able to do a lot of movies. What can your fans expect from “Flight?”
I think that a lot of times we get caught up with what a movie is before we walk in. Hopefully this movie is something that surprises people. It’s funny, it’s got a serious subject [and] it’s got a very conflicting, complicated character that carries the story. And it’s got Denzel in this insane performance [as Whip] that you have to see.
Why did you choose to set this [movie] on an alcoholic character like Whip?
I was the greatest college student that there ever was. But, for me, that party never ended, so I have a personal weigh-in to this story. I got sober when I was 25. When I started writing the script, I was probably 31. It was such a big part that alcohol played in my life, up until I got sober. I was working out some of that stuff that I thought about as a younger guy having troubles with my Whip-like issues.
What is it about Denzel Washington’s character as it makes him a character that can carry a film?
We ask you early on to commit to this unreliable narrator, because he’s f—ed up a lot of the time. And you’re thinking, ‘Can I really root for a guy who does these things?’ Then he does something miraculous and you’re, like, ‘Geez, who is this guy?’ He’s a very conflicting character. Denzel walks onscreen and you immediately want to believe in him. He’s heroic but he’s also got a lot of darkness. By the last turn in the movie, you’re saying, ‘Wait, am I rooting for this guy or not?’
How did you like working with Denzel Washington?
He really does his homework. In every scene, he had a scale, a degree of intoxication that he was in [for that scene]. He was always thinking way ahead about different things. He started living it before we even started filming. There wasn’t anything we shot that was, like, oh, we couldn’t use it. Everything was dead on.
Was it hard to separate yourself from the characters?
I always feel like I write myself into every movie a little bit, even inside each character. I hear a bit of my voice, because all I’ve got is my life experience that I can put in and try to find authenticity. Specifically because of what [Whip] is struggling with, it was very personal to me. It was not that hard, honestly. I just put a lot of my own personal conflicts, especially as a younger guy, in his headspace.
Was there anything that really inspired you to want to tell this story?
For me, I was sorting through a lot. When I started writing this movie, I didn’t have any kids. I have three now. My life has changed tremendously from the time I started writing [to] actually watching it with people. It was a really strong transition that I made in my mid-20s. Thankfully, it’s still a change that exists in my life today, and my life is really good because of it.
Why do you think it took you so long to complete this script, aside from having a family and different life changes?
Part of it was that when you have a deadline, you tend to hit it. But I didn’t have a boss. No one knew I was writing it. So, I wasn’t getting calls from people like when I’m working for a studio. I hope to never have to go through that again because it wasn’t easy. I had some drafts of the script that were 160, 170 pages. I had to go back and do a lot of editing.
A lot of your past projects deal in athletics and sports. Was “Flight” a deliberate departure from that?
I think that part of me wanted to write about something closer to my personal vest. My initial idea came from [there]: this guy who was circling the drain in his personal life but had a big job and was amazingly talented. Drunk or sober, he’s the best pilot walking. I had writer friends who were like, ‘what are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I’m writing a movie about an alcoholic commercial airline pilot.’ They always look at me and go, ‘Whoa, really?’ The reaction I got always made me think that I was on to something.
When you write a script, it’s your vision. It gets to the director, and they filter it into what they want. Then, the actors filter it as well. Was there anything in “Flight” that varied from your original vision?
So much of [the script] is really true to what’s on the screen. Having worked on the script for so long, the detail is really dense. I would describe the [scene] for three paragraphs, just because I could. So, actors were looking at it like, ‘I can smell what the plane smells like.’ So – very faithful [to the original vision] I guess is the answer.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.