Being Flynn  

by writer/director Paul Weitz

Over the course of seven years I did thirty drafts of my screenplay adaptation of the book Another Bulls**t Night in Suck City, a beautiful, funny, dark and lyrical memoir by the poet Nick Flynn. More perverse than the fact that I wrote thirty drafts was that Nick read almost all of them. He must have thought I was insane. But my Kafkaesque writing process amused him.

The book posed two questions that are important to me: Are we fated to become our parents? And what is the relationship between creativity and ego?

The events of Nick's life are extreme. He didn't know his father growing up. He would get letters from prison (where Jonathan Flynn was incarcerated for passing forged checks) in which his father would claim, "Never fear, I will soon be winning the Nobel Prize in both Poetry and Literature."

In his twenties, a budding writer himself, Nick found a job in a colorful, pressure-cooker environment, working at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter in Boston. This was the setting for his reunion with the father he hadn't seen since childhood. Jonathan, played in the movie by Robert De Niro, arrives, outsize ego intact, demanding a "private room for the evening." Thus begins a battle with Nick (played by Paul Dano) over who is going to write the destiny of father and son.

De Niro stuck with the project over the course of six years. This was a story in which a father is a legendary figure to his son, and I felt that the subconscious weight of the great performances De Niro has given—Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Deer Hunter, The King of Comedy, among others—would help put the audience into his son's shoes. There aren't many characters as complicated as Jonathan Flynn, and there is no actor more capable of bringing us close to a problematic character than De Niro.

His attitude towards the shoot was exemplified by a day, one month before shooting was supposed to start, when I found out there would be a blizzard the following day in New York. I needed snow for a section of the movie when Jonathan has been so out of control at the shelter that he has been barred, and has to stay out on the street in the cold. I called De Niro up and he got in whatever costume he had, and we went with a cameraman in a blizzard to shoot, student-film-style, with no permits. Shooting in the financial district during rush hour, the camera, and the star, went unnoticed.

When I finally got to make the film, the circumstances were all I could have dreamed of: Paul Dano, one of our best young actors, sparring with De Niro on-screen; Julianne Moore, Lili Taylor and Olivia Thirlby rounding out the cast; Badly Drawn Boy, who did the music for my brother’s and my film About a Boy, doing the score. It almost made up for not getting to write another thirty drafts.

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