'Logan' Screenwriter on How a Failed Pilot Led Him to a Novel 20 Years in the Making

Scott Frank's 'Shaker' finally happened thanks to a happy accident, while his work on the final Wolverine saw him make "an emotional, smaller personal story where it's not the fate of the world."
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp./Photofest; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Dafne Keen in 'Logan' (inset: Scott Frank)

With Logan, screenwriter Scott Frank is finishing a story that began 17 years ago, but surprisingly, helping complete Hugh Jackman's run as the the clawed mutant Wolverine isn't the longest-cooking project Frank has lent his talents to of late.

His novel Shaker, which he completed just before beginning work on Logan and is out now, was decades in the making. He started it early '90s and left it to languish as his screenwriting career took off and kept him working on movies such as Minority Report, Marley & Me and The Wolverine. It was only after what seemed like a professional setback that he found his way back to Shaker.

"I directed a failed pilot for FX in Miami. At the last minute they didn't pick up the show," Frank tells Heat Vision. "All of a sudden I had all this free time, and rather than take on another screenwriting gig, I decide to finish the book."

Shaker centers on Roy, who runs errands for organized crime figures in New York but has come to Los Angeles to kill a man for his employers. After accomplishing the hit, he comes across a different crime scene that complicates his life in unexpected ways. As the novel goes on, you learn that Roy once had a very different life than where he is now.

"I'm fascinated with identity and who you are vs. who you were," says Frank. "I love hearing people's stories and you find out, 'Oh my god, the first part of their life, it doesn't even match the second part of their life.' Or people ending up in places they weren't fated to end up."

The book takes place in the midst of an earthquake rocking Los Angeles — and for a time, Frank had envisioned keeping the setting of the book in the period when he began writing and having it set amidst the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. But Knopf Doubleday convinced him to make Shaker modern day — and embrace all sorts of storytelling challenges that come with it, like the role smartphones now have in recording events and instantly turning someone into a media star.

He pivoted immediately to Logan after completing the book, working alongside director James Mangold.

"While I was writing the book, Jim had been working with other folks on various incarnations of the material and I would read those scripts, and he and I would talk about it. And then pretty much as soon as I finished the novel, I jumped into Logan, because we decided we would write a brand new movie."

The film received glowing reviews and is in the midst of a big opening weekend, with the R-rated movie praised for not being a conventional superhero story.

"We made it an emotional, smaller personal story where it's not the fate of the world. It's his own kind of sanity and redemption at stake, instead of some sort of larger, apocalyptic scenario that these movies are always confronted by," says Frank. "And instead of trying to sell action figures, we can just tell a much darker, more personal, more adult story. I always believed you could locate a superhero in a really adult genre story. And I pitched it to Jim as, 'Let's do a super, ultra-violent version of Paper Moon.' "

Shaker is in stores now, and Logan is in theaters. 

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