« Sandra Bullock Early Audition Tapes | Main | Down But Not Out »

Conspiracy Theories with 'Anonymous' Scribe


I really don't get all the nasty reviews aimed at "Anonymous," which opens today. I loved the film and thought it operated both on an epic costume drama level and as a delicious soap opera, with some great performances from the likes of Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave. It seems like most of the bile is aimed at director Roland Emmerich, who has the nerve to try something new after action blockbusters like "Independence Day" and "2012." Isn't it funny how directors can get typecast, too? Even though he made a pretty solid period film with "The Patriot," it seems some people are still determined to pigeonhole him.

Anyway, climbing down off my soapbox...I had a great interview with the film's writer, John Orloff, that was to be published in another magazine. But since they've folded and neglected to pay me, I'm pleased to post it here, after the jump,  in hopes it gets some love for the movie. I truly urge you to check out, I found it far superior to most things in the theater right now.

--Jenelle Riley

John Orloff Takes on History with 'Anonymous'

John Orloff owes his career to a conspiracy theory. In this case, the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, a fairly prevalent belief that the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a member of the royal court of Queen Elizabeth I. Orloff was first introduced to the theory in his early 20s, when he had just graduated UCLA Film School. “A friend told me all about it and showed me a documentary on it,” Orloff recalls. “And I thought, ‘Wow, that would be an amazing film, if only somebody could figure out how to write it.’” That somebody would end up being Orloff himself, though it would take almost 20 years and countless drafts. Now, Orloff offers his take on history with the film “Anonymous,”a sprawling drama from director Roland Emmerich that is a Shakespearean tale in its own right.

Orloff didn’t immediately leap into penning “Anonymous”; he admits he was far too intimidated. “I couldn’t imagine writing a script that put dialogue in Shakespeare’s mouth,” he says. “So I didn’t really do anything about it for years, other than researching more about it, for fun.” In the 1990s, Orloff was working in advertising when he began dating an executive at HBO who would eventually become his wife. “HBO was making a lot of films based on non-fiction ideas at that time,” he notes. “She would bring home scripts, and a lot of them were horrible. So I sort of pitched my idea to my girlfriend, who said I should write it. She said, ‘If it’s no good, you don’t have to show it to anybody.’”

Orloff notes that this happened before the onslaught of the Internet, which meant he had to do extensive research in libraries, reading not just books about the Oxfordian theory, but books on 16th Century politics and drama production and biographies on all the people who would be characters in his screenplay. He finally finished his script, then entitled “Soul of the Age.” Two months later, “Shakespeare in Love” came out. “I thought I’d had this great, revolutionary idea of making Shakespeare a young, handsome, sexy actor,” Orloff says with a laugh. “It felt like such a fresh idea 12 years earlier, but suddenly I turn around and Joseph Fiennes is doing it. So that kind of put the kibosh on things.”

Though the script didn’t sell at the time, it provided Orloff with his breakthrough in screenwriting. A friend who read scripts for CAA passed it around to some agents, one of whom eventually passed it on to Tom Hanks. Orloff eventually landed a job writing two episodes of Hanks’ HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” “It was my first spec and it got me an agent and got me into a lot of offices, and ultimately started my career,” Orloff notes.

Orloff would go on to see two of his scripts made into movies; the Marianne Pearl story “A Mighty Heart” and the animated “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” but he long assumed his pet project would never get made. Then, seven years ago, he went to meet with Roland Emmerich, best known for big-budget disaster flicks like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” Orloff didn’t think he was right for the film Emmerich was talking about, and said so. “So then Roland said, ‘What else have you got?’ And I did what I’ve done in 100 other meetings, which was to talk about ‘Soul of the Age’,” Orloff recalls. “He was getting more and more into it, and finally he asked to read it. Two weeks later, I get a phone call saying he loves it and wants to buy it.”

That was only the beginning of a seven year process for the pair, during which the script changed dramatically. Originally, the story centered on de Vere, Shakespeare and actor-writer Benjamin Johnson, who was involved in the cover-up. It was Emmerich who brought in the idea of developing a story involving Queen Elizabeth, who had only been a minor character in earlier drafts. “Roland had read many theories about Edward and Elizabeth having a son together,” Orloff reveals. “I’m not sure I believe it personally, but it’s a fascinating idea.” Orloff then began incorporating flashback scenes detailing Edward’s early years, where he romances the queen. “As a result, the script went from a movie that might have been similar to “Amadeus” thematically, to a Shakespearean drama in the sense of politics and sex and violence.” As a result, Shakespeare is reduced to a minor character in the film, which focuses more on Edward’s personal life and how his writing affected a growing rebellion.

Orloff says the most difficult part was figuring out the script’s structure. “It was an incredibly complicated task, it took me about 25 drafts,” he notes. “I had so many choices: is it a biopic, is it a mystery, is it set now or then? It took me a long time to figure out.” Admitting he’s not “a big outliner,” Orloff says he likes to discover as he’s writing. But that often means mistakes and wrong turns. “At first I would feel like I wasted time, but now I believe wrong roads can be valuable. You learn more about your characters, or write a bit that is still a good scene, just not right for that movie. So I constantly go back to scenes I’ve rejected and steal something from them.”

Orloff also admits he’s not great working on a set schedule, although he’s improved now that he has kids. “They don’t allow you to be quite as free with your time,” he notes. He does like to mix up where he writes, but moving from his office inside the house to an office outside the house to writing in coffee shops. “I have a problem going into the same room every day.” He also listens to music when he’s working, often making a set list for a particular project. “For ‘Band of Brothers,’ I listened to the soundtrack to ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ ‘Anonymous’ was Enya, and a lot of Elizabethan lute music.”

While Emmerich might seem an odd choice to helm a dramatic period piece, Orloff says they had a wonderful collaboration. “Roland is much more interesting, complicated filmmaker than I think people give him credit for,” he notes. Orloff was on set every day, and even involved during pre-production. Even while shooting, he says he was constantly rewriting. And while it’s a thrill to see his movie finally completed with Rhys Ifans playing Edward and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I (in flashbacks they are played by Jamie Campbell Bower and Redgrave’s real-life daughter, Joely Richardson), Orloff says the making of the film was probably his personal high point. “Walking on the sets and seeing the people in costume was almost more amazing than seeing the movie done,” he notes. “It was incredible to see these people making this thing that I had been carrying in my head for so many years.”








Dig This


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Conspiracy Theories with 'Anonymous' Scribe:


The comments to this entry are closed.