When the “Miracle on the Hudson” occurred with Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger flying in to do a near-impossible touchdown with a US Airways plane on the Hudson River, it was inevitable that there would be a film about it. It would be a complex matter too, as there was a matter of seconds to make a decision after two engines failed because of bird strikes, yet all 155 people on the plane survived. Things needed to be explained, especially about the aftermath for the crew and passengers.
That’s where screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (he produced “Elf”) came in. A longtime producer/writer, he was chosen to adapt Sullenberger’s book for Warner Brother’s “Sully,” with Tom Hanks starring as Sullenberger and Clint Eastwood directing.
Here, Komarnicki takes time to talk to Moviehole about the complicated film, along with his tips on writing and his two main supports, his wife Jane and his faith.
Moviehole: How did you get started in writing?
Todd Komarnicki: I wrote a short film for a friend my senior year in college, it was intoxicating, it was unreadable and there was no spark of talent whatsoever, but I was convinced that was what I was supposed to do. I moved to L.A. and I was sitting on the floor in Altadena and I taught myself to write. I was hired to write a movie when I was 22, it’s been my job ever since. I have no method but only one book that I’d recommend, “How to Make a Good Screenplay Great,” by Linda Seger — it’s technically clear.
I write novels as well, and I tell people at conferences that you can still invite me when I speak at schools and I say, “I’m going to give you my entire speech, then I will stand there and say ‘go home and write.’” Not everyone who writes can write, even the best writers have to do x amount of work to get it out of their system; they have to write terrible scripts before you get any good. You will find out if you have the temperament and the discipline to be a writer.
It has been said “The desire to write followed by a lack of writing is the desire to not write” (from a quote by Hugh Prather). At the end, they have to commit to the arduous side of it. There’s a lot hand cramps and smudged ink that need to occur before a premiere. In the end you have to sit alone in a room and write.
Moviehole: How did you get involved with this project?
TK: I went out for the job. A lot of people wanted it, but thank God they chose me. I one hundred percent thank God for the whole thing.
Moviehole: You had a long hiatus from writing, why?
TK: I never stopped writing. They only make five percent of the movies written – I never stopped writing, I sold 18 TV pilots and they weren’t on the air. It’s who I am and what I do and I’m always at it. It’s an odd job. It’s not uncommon among writers to have very few things produced.
Moviehole: Was it hard to adapt the book? What were the challenges?
TK: I had a great leg up because I built a great relationship with Sully, his vulnerability and openness allowed me to find the story within the story. This is what the job entails, a lot of research and learning about airplanes and geese, the untold story and his life, it was challenging. I think things that are difficult are inherently good.
Moviehole: Did you speak to Sully himself? Did you interact with Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood a lot?
TK: Absolutely, these guys were so inclusive, I was over-blessed on this movie, they were so generous. I’m often feeling over-blessed. This week the movie is about to come out and I am running out of ways to say thank you. This is a pretty blessed time, my wife Jane is what I call a “Todd whisperer,” she calms me down. She is my prayer warrior.
Moviehole: What do you advise new writers about how to break in?
TK: It doesn’t matter how you break in, there’s an amazing quote by Steven Martin with Charlie Rose, and he talks about “if you get good at what you are doing to break in, it won’t be a question of breaking in” (see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teAvv6jnuXY). It’s got to be about the work, about great materials.
Moviehole: Who are your writing idols, books or films?
TK: I love Walker Percy – he’s an amazing Christian author and physician who became a novelist. He wrote “The Moviegoer.” I also love Frederick Buechner. On the film side, the best script I read was “Jerry Maguire” and I wish I’d written that script (it was by Cameron Crowe).
Moviehole: Do you have a writing method?
TK: I wrote mostly out in restaurants and bars since we have two small kids – there’s no way to write at home.
Moviehole: What are your big hopes for the future?
TK: I live very much in the moment, I just keep breathing, keep telling stories, keep seeking Christ and keep loving my family. All that good stuff.
Moviehole: Upcoming projects?
TK: “The Professor and the Madman,” I wrote the original draft in 1998 and 99 – it’s a true story of the creation of the Oxford English dictionary, based on the book.
Also “The God Four” – that’s a dead’s poet society theme in the world of prep school rowing with Michael Douglas as the coach. I’m directing that and it starts shooting in April. The last thing I finished was called “Greatest Gift” – about how “It’s a Wonderful Life” became “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I also finished “King David,” a biblical epic about King David for Warner Brothers. We are after directors right now and we are looking.
Movehole: Anything else you want to add?
TK: Yes. See “Sully” in IMAX!