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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

He got HBO's vote

May 25, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times
  • ?RECOUNT? SCREENWRITER: ?I would say that what HBO really responded to was my genuine passion for the project,? Danny Strong says.
?RECOUNT? SCREENWRITER: ?I would say that what HBO really responded to… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

As an actor, Danny Strong has appeared on TV in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gilmore Girls" and "Clueless." He is also the writer of HBO's "Recount," which airs tonight amid perhaps predictable grumbling about accuracy from the real-life people involved in the 2000 presidential recount.

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So what's it like when the real-world characters in your film suddenly come to life and start objecting to it?

Yeah, you know, first off, they're objecting to a film they haven't seen. It is a little premature. But I understand that if they feel they don't like the portrayal, they'd speak up against it.

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You don't sound flapped.

Because the film is accurate and fair and truthful.

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But you haven't heard from [Florida's secretary of state at the time] Katherine Harris. No! That's because she doesn't want to criticize the film until she's seen it.

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Hey, you're a writer now. Were there earlier things that didn't go anywhere?

I had written four scripts before I sold "Recount" as a pitch. Each script furthered my writing career but didn't sell, so I didn't make a dime in those four years, five years. My second script got me a manager who is an outstanding literary manager, and it got me meetings. The script after that really kind of blew up. I ended up taking 50 meetings with producers and got signed by an agent. And then my next script didn't really do anything.

These were all comedies. I was trying to write studio high-concept comedies like "Liar Liar." Because those are the types of scripts that are most likely to sell. After my fourth one didn't sell, um, I was pretty depressed. . . .

I realized that not one of those scripts is a movie I would want to go see. I was writing movies to sell, not because I was trying to create something that I really loved.

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Do you have any good recommendations for people pitching things?

I would say that what HBO really responded to was my genuine passion for the project, that they felt that I genuinely loved it. That's why they were willing to take a chance on a writer who wasn't in the guild. Because they thought that if this works, it could work great -- and he doesn't have a quote so it was as cheap as they come. And they rolled the dice.

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Did you seek out advice once you were trying to structure it and trying to put it together?

No. I didn't watch anything either. On my previous screenplays, I would go rent a ton of movies that were kind of similar to what I thought each movie was gonna be. . . . Specifically, I didn't want to rent episodes of "West Wing," I didn't want to watch other political films. I thought if I did that, then the script would end up sounding like a wannabe, inferior Aaron Sorkin script.

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Are you in some alternate Hollywood?

I know, I'm so in an alternate Hollywood on this project that I'm just enjoying the ride. And my next script I'm just gonna try to learn the lesson, and just try and do stuff I love, you know. I'm working on a really wonderful project right now that I love.

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Is it a Jim Carrey comedy?

No, it's about a mermaid that becomes a poker player. Actually, it's the story of Brown v. the Board of Education. I'm doing it for Universal. Gary Ross is gonna direct, and Tobey Maguire is attached.

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How did you enjoy the White House correspondents' dinner?

I sat next to [longtime Washington Post executive editor] Ben Bradlee. I live in L.A. -- I don't live in New York, I don't live in D.C. These political people that I watch on TV almost every day are not part of my daily existence at all, so I was star-struck. Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich and Colin Powell!

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Did you get a sense of just how thick that scene is?

Yeah. They were all right there. They all talk and they live in each other's world. . . . You read about them and you witness it from the news, and you think that they're all mortal enemies -- but in fact, they're all eating dinner.

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Isn't L.A. a little bit like that too, though? You could say that about David Geffen and whomever, right?

You know, I'm not in those circles, so I wouldn't really know.

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But you were on "Buffy"!

I was on "Buffy." It still doesn't get me into restaurants. And I still use it to this day.

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