Martin Carr chats with screenwriter Nick Santora about Quibi’s Most Dangerous Game…
In conversation, screenwriter Nick Santora is measured with his responses, self-effacing to the point of being humble and passionately engaged with process. Whether that is the writing itself, elements of show production or the genuine pleasure which comes through in fostering ideas through to fruition. A veteran of shows including Prison Break, Lie To Me and the forthcoming Reacher he remains eloquent and seemingly in awe of the opportunities his job afford him.
MC: For those who are maybe not familiar with your work, how did you first get into screenwriting?
NS: It was twenty years ago and I was an attorney and it just wasn’t my calling. I always wanted to be a writer and so I wrote a screenplay kind of for fun to see if I could do it and submitted it to the New York International Independent Film Festival. They had a screenwriting competition portion to the festival and it won. Off that the screenplay got a little bit of attention and David Chase who created The Sopranos read it and offered me an opportunity to write one episode of The Sopranos and that was my first produced episode of television.
MC: That’s a pretty good first gig.
NS: Yes it certainly was. Then of course that helped move my career forward and I haven’t been a lawyer since. Well I haven’t been a full time lawyer since.
MC: So how would you describe your writing routine on an average day?
NS: I write in the mornings and afternoons then spend evenings usually proof reading what I wrote, which is when I get down to what I call the science of writing. When you have to really look at the stuff you wrote with a critical eye and make it better, but the morning is when I like to get going. If I have a show going at that time I usually go to the office and work in the writers’ room with my fellow writers, which is always a joy and a privilege. We break story together, sometimes I’ll be in editing or in production meetings or whatever else needs to be done. It’s a very intensive job in show and production which can be nineteen hour days and you going to bed at two and getting up at seven. It’s a little crazy but I enjoy it a great deal and I’m grateful that I get to do it.
MC: How did you first get involved with Most Dangerous Game?
NS: About seven years ago if not longer a screenplay was brought to me that was written by two very talented writers Josh Harmon and Scott Elder. It was brought to me by producers and that was really the creation of this concept and project. All credit goes to them and I want to stress that because they did incredible work. I was asked if I could do a pass on the script by these producers and I liked what (Josh and Scott) wrote so I did a pass. The producers had put on some thoughts and notes which they had and as the process goes you add some stuff, tweak some stuff but the genesis was all (Josh and Scott).
Then years later I had an idea going to take that concept and do it as a television show. So we set up a deal where the original writers would be involved along with PBS studios and me, then I went out and sold it to NBC and it was going to be a new show hopefully. However the executive who really loved the concept was Jennifer Salke, then Jennifer soon got the job to run all programming for Amazon Prime. Then as so often happens, when the person who really loves your project leaves it ends up going nowhere. So Most Dangerous Game was not going to happen at NBC. Then a few years pass and this Quibi platform comes about and I had a meeting with Jeffrey Katzenberg at Quibi and they felt Most Dangerous Game would be perfect for them.
Then what I had to do was take a fifty page pilot and turn it into a hundred and forty page movie. Plus you had to make it work for the Quibi platform in short bites or chapters. I did that and we wound up casting incredible actors on this project, we got an amazing director in Phil Abraham and it got made and now hopefully people are enjoying it. But I really want to stress that it was the two original writers that made this thing happen.
MC: How did the nature of the ‘quick bites’ concept influence how you shaped your existing script?
NS: The ‘quick bites’ concept influences the story telling greatly and it does so in a positive way. I was forced to be a better writer by the nature of this platform, because I had to tell an interesting story. Not only over two hours of storytelling, but each seven to ten minute chapter had to an interesting story in and of itself. So each chapter has to have a beginning, middle and end and that end has to be designed in a way that it creates a twist or turn or reveal or a cliff hanger that makes the viewers want to watch the next episode. I found it required me to be much more disciplined than you might be say if you were writing a two hour movie script.
MC: Did the ‘turnstyle’ technology impact in the same way during your writing process?
NS: To be honest when writing the script the ‘turnstyle’ technology did not really factor into my writing, however it factored into my producing. I had to have multiple conversations with our director to make sure we had an interesting visual in both the vertical and horizontal image of our story. Luckily someone like Phil Abraham who is a visual genius took that challenge and ran with it. He had a third camera always running dedicated to the specific vertical shot that was prepped and laid out long before we ever started shooting. We always knew what that vertical would be and no one was ever figuring it out on the day of filming. Which is a credit to our director and production team to make sure we had that planned. I can’t tell you how many phone calls, conference calls and meetings we all sat in planning it and working it out. All credit for that goes to our DP, director and incredible team.
MC: Bearing that in mind how did the final film differ from what you were originally given to work with?
NS: The heart and soul of this story was really unchanged from the original concept of the first two writers. It’s really the story of a young really physically fit and athletic person who provides this incredible challenge to these people participating in this game. What I liked about this story from the beginning was that these hunters had a code, which was they would never hunt someone who hasn’t agreed to be hunted, they would always follow the rules, they would not involve innocent people. The fact that there were rules to something so absurd was just very interesting, which is also the part which gets people excited when they watch it. That this is a world unto itself with its own set of rules.
MC: How do you think Quibi as a streaming platform will influence the entertainment industry going forward?
NS: I think Quibi has the opportunity to be a game changer. I know that they have made great efforts to put real quality content onto mobile devices. This isn’t grab a camera and shoot something in your back yard five minutes entertainment. They are spending six figures a minute on their product which is super high quality and the level of talent is phenomenal. We have Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz in this project so I think all signs point to a thumbs up for Quibi.
MC: Considering the influence of streaming services on our viewing habits, where do you think cinema sits in that equation?
NS: I believe there might always be a group of people that like the communal experience of watching things together, so it might continue unabated. Because podcasts are basically radio having come back, who thought radio shows would be popular again? So streaming and being able to set up incredible viewing experiences in your own home are definitely a new development but can I say that no one will ever go to the movies again, if I knew that I’d be trading in stocks.
MC: In terms of projects you are working on right now, what’s exciting you at the minute?
NS: I’m working on Reacher which is exciting and a very well respected book series by the incredible Lee Child. Plus I recently finished writing a movie that’s based on a bunch of rag tag blue collar guys, who decide to rob the billion dollar car collection from the Petersen auto museum here in Los Angeles. I’m doing that with the cooperation of the museum and it’s a heist comedy.
MC: Can you describe your perfect Sunday afternoon.
NS: My perfect Sunday afternoon would be everyone in the world was healthy, Coronavirus was gone forever and people could go out and hug their neighbours and have a big BBQ together. Hopefully that day is coming soon.
Many thanks to Nick Santora for taking the time for this interview.