Grant Heslov, the screenwriter and producer of the monuments men, talks to Olivia Cole about the way he writes screenplays with George Clooney, and how the looting of museums in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was similar to the Nazi looting of art in the second world war
How do you and your writing partner George Clooney work?
Our writing style hasn’t evolved. We sit at a desk together and we don’t leave until we finish basically, for the day. I use a computer. He uses a pad and paper. Writing a screenplay is like writing a big puzzle and so the hardest part I think is getting the story. We work a lot with three by five index cards. Once we have the pieces in place then we start writing scenes and then we start moving pieces around the board… When we have a good chunk, then we actually read them out loud together and he’ll play half the parts and I’ll play half the parts.
How do you think Monuments Men speaks to other films you have written together?
You have to remember, we were just coming off of doing a very dark small political piece that was very cynical [The Ides of March] and we were really looking to do something fun and big. Good Night and Good Luck is really about the idea of speech and about standing up to the bully and this really deals more with the question of what is culture and to what extent is it worth protecting? Is it worth losing a life for one’s culture, one’s artwork, one’s history? That’s the central question of this film.
What price do you put on a work of art?
I think it’s worth protecting at all costs, but I also say that’s easy for me to say, because I’ve never had to really do it. But these brave men did and some of them did lose their lives, so to me that has to make it worth it, otherwise they died in vain and I don’t think they did.
The Ides of March also has this element of a moral standpoint, and of standing up to a bully. Where does that preoccupation come from?
I think probably from being bullied maybe when I was young and I know I speak for George as well, you never want to see people bullied, you don’t want to see somebody who can’t defend themselves. I don’t think I’m saying anything out of school that very few people like a bully. But there are a lot of them out there.
Were there any contemporary reference points for you?
We talked a lot about Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was overthrown and the museums were looted. That’s no different to what’s going on basically in our film. And also a lot of the art that was stolen still hasn’t been returned either to collectors or to museums so that’s a discussion that I hope is raised as well.
The Monuments Men is released in the UK on 14 February 2014.