Studio 360

Tales From the Script

How John August fell in love with screenwriting—and illuminates the craft for aspirants.

John August and some of his movies: Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
John August and some of his movies: Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Photo illustration by Studio 360. Photos by Markus Wissmann/Alamy Stock Photo, Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo, and Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo.

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When you sit down to watch a film, you may or may not be aware of how much you see on screen was actually planned by the screenwriter. John August didn’t know that, not until he watched the film The War of the Roses with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner for the first time. “I was watching a videotape and it finished and I rewound the tape. Then I started playing it again and I started writing down everything people were saying and what was happening. And I was like, oh, there IS a plan here. It’s like a play in a way.” He did the same thing with episodes of Star Trek, making notes on the dialogue, the movements of the actors, what he saw of the backgrounds. He didn’t realize he was actually training himself to become a screenwriter.

Since then, August has taken us on all sorts of journeys, from a rave party that goes terribly wrong in the film Go, to the southern gothic fantasy world of Big Fish. He’s known for writing the movie version of the 1970s TV classic Charlie’s Angels, and for his projects with director Tim Burton, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride. His next film is the live-action retelling of Disney’s animated classic Aladdin, which stars Will Smith and is directed by Guy Ritchie. He’s become a sort of screenwriter’s guru, with stories and advice for writers on the Scriptnotes podcast he co-hosts with Craig Mazin. August was recently at the Austin Film Festival, where Studio 360 talked with him about his craft and how he’s approached some of the films he’s written.

This podcast was produced by Studio 360’s Jocelyn Gonzales.

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