behind the scenes writing monster's ball
Seven years ago Will Rokos and Milo Addica were two actors who were living in Los Angeles and trying to get work. They shared experience growing up in violent households, and decided to write a screenplay about how the cycle of violence can be broken. They holed up in a Santa Monica apartment and wrote quickly, initially envisioning a micro budget production in which they would star, eventually completing the screenplay for "Monster's Ball".
The script became more than a personal project for Rokos and Addica when Hollywood took notice. Top actors such as Robert DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones and such directors as Sean Penn and Oliver Stone were at various times over the last few years attached to the film, but with these stars came the need for large salaries. And large salaries made budgets balloon. And ballooning budgets made executives uneasy, causing them to demands that Rokos and Addica soften certain elements of the screenplay. These were demands that the writers were unwilling to meet, and as a result "Monster's Ball" shifted from one home to the next, stewing in its own unique circle of development purgatory before the film was finally financed by Lions Gate Films in the spring of 2001.
After going through years of coming this close, writers Addica and Rokos at this point retained all rights to the project as well as a thoroughly sceptical attitude. The key to getting the rights to their script, explains Urman, "was that we never asked them to change any plot after every other potential financier had insisted on changes." The writers were also able to fulfil their original goal with "Monster's Ball" when they were promised small roles in the film. Rokos plays the prison warden; Addica plays a guard.
Ultimately, "Monster's Ball" would be directed by American independent director and Swiss native Marc Forster, who was born and raised in Switzerland. In 1990 after completing his Swiss Maturity degree, he moved to New York and studied film at NYU, graduating in 1993. "Reading "Monster's Ball" for the first time I had the immediate impression that I was dealing with a story of interrupted silences - that this would be a film that did not rely on a lot of exposition or dialog to establish its characters, " says Forster.
"The silences I am talking about come from the characters' interior life and personal conflicts; the drama would arise from the times when their own perception of their stance in the world is exposed. Leticia knows that she is trapped in a prison as much as her husband is, and her violence towards her child arises from self-hatred that comes when she recognizes that she cannot change their situation. Hank, too, sees himself trapped in the shadow of his father and a legacy of hate - but it is not until the death of his son exposes the legacy that he can change his perspective, that he can change his destiny."
"I approached the material - which was heavy on incidents but not on dialog - by focusing on how characters reacted to what was going on around them," says Forster. "This means that I encouraged the actors to present their characters in all their desperate humanity, which I hoped would make labels like "sympathetic" or "unsympathetic" seem entirely beside the point. Most of the characters in "Monster's Ball" have those vulnerable, vicious, misunderstood and unforgiving traits that all flower from the same root, the absolute need to be loved. Hank and Leticia must experience great loss in order to realize this. For Hank, it is not a sudden moment of understanding: he recognizes his need to be loved when he ultimately recognizes his recurring need to care for someone after years of hard work to not care for people, placing more importance on ritual. For Leticia, the moment she recognizes her need to be loved comes instantaneously, when Hank exposes his emotions late at night, in a parked car. Hank is by nature reticent, prone to internalize everything; Leticia, after years straining to hold everything together, is easily moved to emotional outburst."
Recently, screenwriters Rokos and Addica were asked by the trade publication Variety, what was the worst advice or studio note on a script they ever got? Their reply: "Not enough dialog."
36-year-old Will Rokos was born and raised in Hickory Flats, Georgia. He graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in literature. His adaptation of Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel "The Ox- Bow Incident" was produced Off-Broadway at The Little Theater in New York City 1989 and at the Missouri Rep in Kansas City in 1992. His original play "Most Wanted" was produced in Stockholm, Sweden in 1992. His original screenplay "Bleeding Heart," the story of a Korean American vampire living in New York City, was filmed in NYC in 1992. Another of his original screenplays, "The Swedish Job," is being produced by Janet Yang and is scheduled to film in Stockholm next year. As an actor Will has appeared on Broadway in "The Tempest" in 1992, many Off-Broadway and regional productions; as Marty on the soap "All My Children," and Officer Mike Briggs on "One Life to Live" in 1993 and 1994.
Born in 1963, Milo Addica grew up in SoHo, Manhattan. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he studied theatre before coming back to the city where he acted in numerous plays Off-Broadway. In one of these plays he met Will Rokos whom he later collaborated with on Monsters Ball. He studied at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Acting and took a playwriting course at Hunter College where he wrote his first play and saw it produced Off-Broadway at The Little Theatre. Moving to Los Angeles in the early 90's working in television on numerous shows including "thirtysomething," "LA Law" and some movie of the weeks. During Monster's Ball's production period, Milo co wrote a script for "Man-Made." Since then, he has adapted two books, "One Foot off the Gutter" and "Mack Bolan" and is currently working on a script for director James Marsh with the Film Four Lab and his own work, which he plans to direct.
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