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Production notes, photos and promotional video © 2007 Miramax Films
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A THRILLER DRIVEN BY EMOTION: SCOTT FRANK PLOTS THE LOOKOUT

A THRILLER DRIVEN BY EMOTION:
SCOTT FRANK PLOTS THE LOOKOUT

Scott Frank, the acclaimed screenwriter who makes his directorial debut with THE LOOKOUT, loves thrillers, but even more than thrillers, he loves great characters. This first became abundantly apparent in his early career with his screenplay for the imaginative and romantic thriller DEAD AGAIN, directed by Kenneth Branagh, as well as his moving tale of a misunderstood child genius in LITLE MAN TATE directed by Jodie Foster.


Director Scott Frank with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode

Frank also became known as the ultimate adapter of one of the most character-driven crime novelists today, Elmore Leonard, with the run-away hit GET SHORTY. This was followed by OUT OF SIGHT, an unsparingly clever adaptation of another Leonard novel that put the zigzagging romance between a rogue criminal and a female Federal Marshall front and center.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, and featuring the breakthrough performances of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, the film garnered Frank an Academy Award® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Now, with THE LOOKOUT, Frank puts one of the most unconventional and compelling sets of characters he’s ever written at the heart of an audacious small-town crime. His lead character, and completely unlikely hero, is the kind of person that writers typically avoid – a braindamaged janitor who appears to have little hope for any of the things people usually strive for in life: love, money or a meaningful future. Heartbreaking and seriously damaged, Chris Pratt might not be what anybody expects as the big gun of a heist movie – but that’s exactly what intrigued Scott Frank.

“I’ve always loved those European thrillers that were dark and interesting and full of people that you really care about,” says Frank. “There’s this overriding sense of dread and suspense because you’re so invested in the characters – and I always wanted to write a movie like that.”

Two additional elements conspired together to inspire Frank to pen THE LOOKOUT. “I knew someone who had a pretty horrific head injury and the fascinating thing about him is that, when woke up, he was somebody else. I thought a person going through that kind of terrifying situation would be very interesting to locate inside a thriller,” he explains. “And while I was thinking about that. I read a little about the banking situation in the Midwest and how there were all these little banks that would once or twice a year receive USDA money, so that on one particular night there might be several million dollars in a vault that usually contained very little. These two stories started to come together and THE LOOKOUT flowed from that unusual person in that unusual situation.”

Frank grounded THE LOOKOUT in a searingly realistic and consistently fascinating portrait of Chris Pratt’s descent from an idolized young athlete with what he confesses is “the perfect life” to a young man living amidst the confounding labyrinth of brain damage. Frank gave Chris a series of bizarre yet medically true-to-life elements of traumatic head injury: a lack of short term memory, which causes him to have to write all essential information in a notebook he must carry at all times; lack of inhibition and emotional liability, which causes him to blurt out things he doesn’t mean to say and to be swept away by intense emotions that come out of nowhere; and a complete lack of organization skills, which can turn a simple task like opening a can of food into an epic battle.


Jeff Daniels as Lewis and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Chris

It’s no wonder that Chris comes to rely on the savvy of his room-mate, Lewis, another of THE LOOKOUT’s deeply fascinating characters – a blind man with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor who literally tries to lead Chris’s way through the darkness.

“These are characters who I think have a real emotional pull,” says Frank. “And I wanted the suspense of the film to emanate first from that.”

The story of THE LOOKOUT first came to Frank early in his career, when he began building on the bare bones of the screenplay with producers Walter Parkes, Laurence Mark and Executive Producer Laurie MacDonald, all who would remain devoted to the project for more than a decade. “Without Walter, this movie would never have existed,” says Frank. “He was key in the development, even traveling with me to Kansas City early on to conduct research for the screenplay.”

“Scott first told me the general idea for THE LOOKOUT in the late 1980s and it was literally one of the first pitches I heard as a producer, but soon after, Scott got LITTLE MAN TATE off the ground and put THE LOOKOUT aside,” recalls Mark. “The project continued to evolve over the years, but I always felt this movie was in Scott’s DNA. What’s exciting about it is that it is an emotional thriller, and very much a tale from a writer’s heart. The touchstone here is the theme of how stories get you through life and how sometimes you have to start at the end and work your way back to the beginning.”

Adds Walter Parkes, who would soon become the co-head of DreamWorks Pictures, after first developing the project at Amblin: “What always fascinated me about this project is the blending of genres – on one level, it’s a taut crime thriller, but on another it’s also a pure character piece about a kid trying to find his place in the world. The whole theme of the Golden Boy who loses everything is so compelling and universal, and one I think that has always been important to Scott.”

Parkes was especially intrigued by how the screenplay integrated action with insight into the inner workings of the human brain. “I had previously been involved in AWAKENINGS about the neurologist Oliver Sacks and one of the wonderful things Sacks does is to look at the gifts that neurological deficits can bring. It’s really interesting that Chris Pratt turns out to have certain strengths that allow him to save the day in a completely unexpected manner,” says the producer. Even as Scott Frank’s writing career took off in all kinds of unexpected directions, the tale of Chris Pratt continued to haunt him. The script continued to go through new iterations, drawing the attention of some of Hollywood’s top talent in various tantalizing configurations, but never quite happening. “For years, THE LOOKOUT was one of the great un-produced screenplays in Hollywood,” notes Parkes. “What was clear is that this was a very singular piece of writing, and eventually we all started to think this was a fitting piece for Scott to make his directorial debut.”

But taking a chance on a first-time director brought a whole new complication to what was already a daring screenplay with an unconventional hero. Just as the project once again began to flounder, Spyglass Entertainment producers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum came to the rescue – and added their considerable support to putting the long-awaited project at last into production.

Barber and Birnbaum have a knack for spotting thrillers that break the mold, as they did with the acclaimed box-office phenomenon THE SIXTH SENSE. They were instantly impressed with what Scott Frank had accomplished with THE LOOKOUT. “We thought it was a terrific story – at once a taut, smart thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat and a very emotional experience for the audience,” says Birnbaum. “It’s a truly remarkable piece of writing and we loved it so much, we knew we wanted to make it.”

They also supported the idea that Frank should direct the picture, despite his lack of experience behind the camera. “When we met with Scott, we realized that he already had every single shot in his mind and a great overall vision for the film,” says Gary Barber. Adds Birnbaum: “Scott clearly has all the makings of a great director, as well as an amazing writing. He’s very clear, very professional and most of all, very passionate. As a young director, he likes to share ideas and kick things around and quite honestly that makes the whole process of making the film much more fun and creative.”

After so many years devoted to developing the screenplay, Parkes and Mark were equally impressed with Frank as a director. Says Parkes: “What was surprising is that Scott never let his creative ownership of the movie get in the way of his directing. I was really impressed with his ability to let go and allow the interpretation of his material to happen organically.” Mark continues: “Scott really has his wits about him as a director. He proved to have an extraordinary way with actors, with a very natural feeling for how to guide them in complex performances.”

Now, Scott Frank faced what he knew would be the biggest hurdle to making this story work on the screen: finding the cast who could do his iconoclastic characters justice.

NEXT:
A BRAIN-DAMAGED HERO: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT PLAYS THE LOOKOUT
At the heart of THE LOOKOUT’s building tension and intensity is Chris Pratt, a young man whose very life has become an insoluble mystery without any clues, even before he becomes involved in a bank heist...

 
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