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Host Luciano Saber talks with The Queen’s Gambit co-creator-showrunner-writer-director Scott Frank (Godless, Logan) about adapting Walter Tevis’ novel. The Queen's Gambit is Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series to date and explores the true cost of genius via a young chess prodigy's coming
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Host Luciano Saber talks with The Queen’s Gambit co-creator-showrunner-writer-director Scott Frank (Godless, Logan) about adapting Walter Tevis’ novel. The Queen's Gambit is Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series to date and explores the true cost of genius via a young chess prodigy's coming-of-age story.
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I have the privilege of sitting down with Scott Frank to discuss his latest project, his career and the business of writing. But Scott, before we get into the interview and the queen's gambit on Netflix, let me just mention to our listeners a couple of things. Scott Frank worked on some of the greatest projects ever produced, like Minority Report, for example, Logan and Wolverine, among many others. He's a writer. He's a director, executive producer and two time Oscar nominee. He won the Writers Guild of America Award for best adapted screenplay for Out of Sight. Scott Frank, Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for having you know, you've worked on great productions, you know, now you're in business with Netflix, one of the most if not the most watched platform entertainment platform. That is. I'm so be a fan. And I'm sure a lot of our listeners, especially industry folks, are asking, What are you doing that works, that works for you. The luck is definitely a big part of it. I've you know, I've been doing this since 1984 when I was 24 years old. So I've been doing it quite a long time. And from the very beginning, I was very lucky in that I sort of fell in with the right people. I had just written Little Man Tate in college at U C. Santa Barbara and I've been knocking around L a trying to sell it or, you know, in rewriting it constantly. I am skipping a lot, but I ended up getting an agent in that agent, put me together with Lindsay Duran, and and Lindsey changed my life. And if it wasn't Lindsay, if she wasn't the first person I really worked with, I don't know if I would have had the kind of career I have because she really taught me how to write. I thought I knew how to write, but she really taught me how to write. And she was an executive at Paramount then, and I, actually a 24 had an office on the Paramount lot. Andi wrote a couple of movies for them, including Dead again, and on that she really. I really learned a lot on that movie with Lindsay, and she ended up producing its end up, leaving the studio and ending up working with Sydney Pollack, who became a mentor of mine. And that's another way. I've been lucky. I've had great mentor Sydney, and Bill Goldman was my mentor. You know, I've had a lot of people who have really shown me the way over the years. I've been very, very lucky that way. And the the other secret, I think, is just I'm never the smartest person in the room. I try to be the dumbest person in the room. You know, Ben Hecht has that great quote. You know, the famous screenwriter. A movie is on. Leah's Good is the least talented person associated with it. I try very hard to always be that person. You've done such a fantastic job with every single thing that you you laid your hands on. So So you know, congratulations for that. But I'd like to discuss with you your process off course. How you got started is you just mentioned what attracted you to this business and the defining moment of your career. The one thing that puts you above and beyond everything. But first, I want to bring to light your latest project that the queen's gambit, right? I mean, did you go into Netflix and say, Hey, I want to create this This miniseries about period piece about chess I mean, was that received? What was the genesis of this project? That was pretty much it we had done. We've done godless together on, and it was a very good experience. And, um, it had done well. And the Queen's gambit was a novel I've always wanted to adapt, going back many years and build with Warburg. The producer had shown it to me, and after Godless, I thought, You know, it's a mistake to do it as a movie. We should do it as a limited Siri's because there's so much happening in the book and I was really, um, relieved or grateful, even that that Godless was not a movie. And I tried to make it as a movie for many years until I made it as a miniseries, because I don't think it would have worked as well. So that's I gave them the book. They had passed on a bunch of things already after godless that I've been trying to get them to make. I figured they would pass on this, and they for some reason they bit bit hard they loved. They are very, very smart. Thio bite on this because it zits an excellent piece. But before I get into my thoughts about the peace, um, you know, why don't you set it up and give us sort of like the elevator pitch for for the queen's gambit? Sure, it zits about it takes place during the Cold War of the fifties and sixties specifically, and it's, um, about a young female chess prodigy. You you pick her up in an orphanage in Kentucky when she's about eight years old, and they used to keep the kids compliant back then with tranquilizers, you know, the equivalent of, say, Valium. So So by age nine, she's already a drug addict, uh, completely addicted. Thio. These little green pills. Um, the other significant thing that happens in the orphanage is she sees the janitor chest by himself in the basement, and something about the board and squares and everything captures her attention, and he ends up teaching her how to play chess. He's very quickly that she's brilliant at it and insanely gifted, and it's her story as this young chess prodigy from she's adopted. When she's like 15 years old as a teenager by this very lonely housewife in Kentucky, and it's sort of her story, Um, where she's her own antagonistic is constantly battling with various addictions, she in anger and so on. Her mother went nuts. Her mother was a kind of brilliant mathematician who lost her own mind, and she's worried that's happening to her. And you. You follow her life, ultimately until 1968 or so when she plays the Russian grandmaster, Um, actually, for the third time in this story, But she plays him in Moscow is Ah, is a 22 year old girl. I made a note while watching the pilot episode, and and it reads something along the lines of the Queen's gambit is an excellent example of character development and an education in building suspense. I would encourage emerging writers, seasoned veterans showrunners and suspense lovers alike toe watch the pie. I mean, you wouldn't think that in a chess piece you have so much suspense built up and the queen's gambit, I guarantee I mean, it will target your heartstrings. The human interest story was so very well developed. Scott, talk to us a little bit because our audience members. A lot of them are emerging writers, and they'd like to know, How do you approach character development? It's good question. Um, I just spent the most time on that. You know, I mean, structural craft things to me are stuff you just pick up as you go. But character is always the kind of nuclear reactor for any good story. Everything comes from that for me and the plot I've never been much good at. Okay, And then this happens. And then this happens. And then this happens because you have a lot of people in the script that air behaving just because the script said so. You know, I've always liked stories where you define these people at the top and they drive the story. It's why I'm not much of an outline. Er, I don't know how to write treatments. I don't know how to do that. So I get start, you know, the characters all sort of I'm chasing them to a degree, but I just spent a lot of time on it. That's what I do. I think most writers don't and I think that they think of ah character. More is an attitude or a type than a real person, and they're all good or all bad or funny or whatever it is. And so I think the most interesting people for me to write are people that are kind of all of those things at once. That air kind of live in that in that I always like to say the gray area, um, but the that's for me, the fun of it, And that's what I spend the most time, months and months, just thinking about the characters, even if I'm dead.
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