Fandor’s Sean Axmaker talks to John Gatins about his journey to penning the screenplay for Flight.

You could say that Flight is new territory for John Gatins. Before he finally got the film off the ground, a journey that took twelve years from his first draft to principle photography, he was a specialist in scripting such sport-centric stories as Hard BallCoach Carter, and Real Steel. It was an unexpected change of course for an artist who never set out to become a writer in the first place. Gatins studied acting at Vassar, moved to Hollywood in 1990 with acting dreams, bartended to make the rent between jobs (which included such direct-to-video productions as Pumpkin Head 2 and Leprechaun 3), and drank to ease the disappointment. His first screenwriting gig came out of nowhere, but he found he had a knack for it and it led to more jobs.

While not exactly autobiographical, the roots of the drama are from Gatins’ own experiences—he was five years sober when he started writing the script—refracted through his own fear of flying and our cultural fascination with heroes and their fall from grace. He had hoped to direct the film himself (he previously directed Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story), but a drama about addiction is hardly a recipe for blockbuster success and it remained unproduced until director Robert Zemeckis and actor Denzel Washington took an interest. So Gatins reluctantly gave up his hopes of directing, but in return he saw his dream project on the big screen with one of the biggest and most respected actors in Hollywood in the lead. He also earned himself an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, his first ever nomination.

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