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Interview: Mark Heyman, “The Skeleton Twins”

Mark HeymanOne of the most talked about dramas on the current film festival circuit is THE SKELETON TWINS, which stars two Saturday Night Live alums, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.

THE SKELETON TWINS’ screenwriters Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson, who also director the film, won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

The WGAE Write On Blog spoke with Mark Heyman, who was nominated for “Best Original Screenplay” at the 2011 Writers Guild Awards for BLACK SWAN, as he brings THE SKELETON TWINS to the Nantucket Film Festival.

Your film, THE SKELETON TWINS, is in the midst of a successful festival run which includes opening the Nantucket Film Festival this week. For those who have yet to see the film, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s about estranged twins who coincidentally cheat death on the same day, causing them to come back together and confront how their lives went so wrong. But eventually they realize that the key to fixing themselves lies in fixing their broken relationship. 

How did this story come to you? Have you ever had a near-death experience you can share?

The story came about through a lot of conversations between me and the director/co-writer, Craig Johnson, over countless cups of coffee in various New York coffee shops.  There are personal elements from both our lives integrated into the story. My only brush with death came from a scuba diving accident incidentally (scuba diving is a key thread in the film). I’d gone very deep, and came up too fast. I ended up getting the Bends, and needing to be taken to a decompression chamber. 

What is your writing process like on a film like THE SKELETON TWINS?

Craig and I note-carded every scene, and would divvy up who was going to write each one. Then we’d share what we’d done, give thoughts, and trade scenes. It was very collaborative, helped by the fact that Craig and I went to film school together and are very close friends. 

Do you have any particular scene from THE SKELETON TWINS that you felt translated from the page to the screen in a completely different way than you could have expected?

The famed lip-synching scene exceeded my expectations by a thousand percent.  It wasn’t so much different than I imagined; I just could never have imagined it turning out quite as amazing as it did. That’s what happens when you have people like Bill [Hader] and Kristen [Wiig]. 

What was it about the scene that moved you?

It just works on so many levels. It’s funny and entertaining, but it’s also poignant and real. The whole thing has an arc and payoff, which is a pretty amazing thing considering all they’re doing is mouthing the words to a cheesy 80’s song.   
What movies, television shows, books are high on your radar right now?

I’m a TV junkie, so pretty much all the “must watch” TV shows are on my radar. GAME OF THRONES, MAD MEN, TRUE DETECTIVE. FARGO, etc. It’s an embarrassingly long list. Book wise, just finished The GoldFinch, which I enjoyed, and reading a lot of nonfiction.  

If you could write for any fictional character from television or film history, who would it be?

Don’t know. That’s a hard one. If it’s a character I really love, then I wouldn’t really want to write for them, because I wouldn’t want to mess with something that’s working so well.

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