“The truth is I don’t have a dream project. My dream project is always the one that’s about to shoot.”
Talk to most screenwriters and they have one story close to their heart that they are dying to see up on the bigscreen. But relentlessly pragmatic English screenwriter Tony Grisoni doesn’t. Then again, Grisoni has so many irons in the fire, he isn’t like most of his peers; he has four features in production, and plans to expand his directorial debut short into a full-length feature.
Grisoni made his name as a frequent collaborator with Terry Gilliam, first adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and later writing “Tideland” and “The Brothers Grimm” (uncredited).
Among Grisoni’s current projects is the script for Oscar-nommed Brit thesp Samantha Morton’s directorial debut “Unloved,” a trilogy of feature films revolving around the hunt for the notorious Yorkshire Ripper serial killer, and expanding his short “Kingsland.”
That’d be plenty for most scribes, but Grisoni is never one to stand still; he will shortly commence a rewrite on Gilliam’s revived project “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” The original ill-fated production was cancelled in 1999 after a series of disasters painfully documented in doc “Lost in La Mancha.”
Grisoni alternates between the role of traditional writer — “I love sitting on my own with a laptop staring out the window wishing I could write something,” he jokes — and something much more hands-on; he reminisces fondly about his experience on Michael Winterbottom’s semi-improvised drama “In This World,” on which he not only wrote the script but ended up learning how to do makeup.
Grisoni is clearly in his element workshopping with actors. He’s in Nottingham, England, with Morton working with nonpro young actors to iron out the script for “Unloved.” He and Morton co-wrote the script and have planned every scene, but the dialogue changes daily. “The screenplay is something which is constantly in flux … it’s a very exciting way to work,” he says.
“Unloved,” a telepic to come out of Channel 4’s first-look development deal with Revolution Films, is a child’s-eye examination of the U.K.’s government-run system for orphans and children in danger. The project is very close to Morton’s heart, as she spent time in the system herself. To Grisoni, that closeness is key. For his directorial debut, the 22-minute short “Kingsland,” which recently premiered at the London Film Festival, Grisoni, as well,stuck to what he knows best. The story revolves around the lives of immigrant Kurds living in Dalston, the gritty, multicultural East London area he has lived in for more than a decade. Plans are afoot to expand the short, which is based on the framework of Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and his Brothers,” into a feature he will direct.
Serial killer story “Red Riding” has been a massive three-year undertaking for Grisoni. The strength of the books and the experimental nature of the project, with three different helmers — Julian Jarrold, Anand Tucker and James Marsh — shooting three separate films, is what piqued the screenwriter. Shooting has completed on two of the three pics with the third — Marsh’s “1980” — under way.
What makes Grisoni such an in-demand scribe is his willingness to accept a challenge and no-bull approach to his craft. “I don’t like the academic approach to screenwriting. It has to part of actual filmmaking and the filmmaking process, otherwise it’s nothing more than a bunch of words on a piece of paper.”