'Off the Cuff' Podcast: Screenwriter Wesley Strick on Making 'Cape Fear' and 'Arachnophobia'
The prolific writer tells #THRdpodcasts about his career working with Scorsese, Spielberg and Nichols - while still suffering from the occasional box office bomb.
"Because I'm a New Yorker, the idea of a Hollywood career seemed impossible," Wesley Strick says in this episode of Off the Cuff, in which the man who wrote such classic films as Final Analysis, Arachnophobia, Cape Fear and Wolf explains how he ended up with such a successful career nonetheless.
From his earliest job as a music reporter in downtown Manhattan ("They would say, 'Can you go to this bar on the Bowery and see a band called The Ramones?'") to his stint as an orderly in a mental hospital, Strick spent his twenties like most people do - getting by. While working as a word processor at a life insurance company, a college friend of his who had had some luck with screenwriting told him, "I don't know what you're doing right now but you should stop and write a screenplay." Strick's reaction to this "out of the blue" suggestion?
"I didn't have much else to do other than try it," he says.
Strick talks about buying Syd Field's Screenplay to learn the three act structure and then quickly churning out his first script, for Final Analysis (which he sold to Warner Brothers "so quickly my head was spinning"). He explains why it's easy to love Los Angeles when you're working ("It's like when they give rats cocaine"); how it was his idea to give the fear of spiders to Jeff Daniels (and the rest of the world) when Steven Spielberg asked him to re-write what would become Arachnophobia ("You're welcome, America") and why the crew on Cape Fear had a running bet that Strick would be fired by director Martin Scorsese during shooting ("Don't let me see you," he remembers Scorsese warning him). He also explains why working with the late Mike Nichols on Wolf was an entirely different experience altogether.
"When you were alone with Marty he would only talk movies," he recalls. "With Mike, he would talk movies but he would also talk gossip. He was a great gossip."
Strick's latest movie, the dark thriller Loft, is a remake of a hugely popular Belgian film but received mostly poor reviews upon its much-delayed release, which Strick is the first to bring up, with the kind of humor and humility only a true veteran of the business can pull off with any sincerity.
"When you go down in flames I think you sort of have to take stock and understand where you came up short and why," he says. When we ask what advice he's received over the years that helps guide him to this day he cites producer Walter Parkes, one of his first mentors, who once told him, "You're trying to stuff ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag."
"I think of that all the time now," says the self-described over-plotter. "That was good advice!"
Listen to Strick's full interview in this episode of Off the Cuff, and be sure to subscribe to #THRpodcasts on iTunes for all the latest episodes.