Diane Drake is the screenwriter of the film, Only You, starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Diane has sold a few spec scripts to Hollywood and is currently nearing completion on another.
Since this interview, Diane has added the major hit "What Woman Want" to her credits.
SSSD: Spec Screenplay Sales Directory
DRAKE: Diane Drake
SSSD: How did you get your first agent?
DRAKE:I was working in development as a Vice President of Creative Affairs for director Sydney Pollack at the time, so my position gave me a lot of access to agents. On the other hand, that situation was a bit tricky, too, as I wasn't real anxious to broadcast the fact that I was looking to move from the development ranks into writing. But I'd decided it was time to take a chance, so I wrote my first spec (at night), then contacted five different agents at rather small agencies. Luckily, a couple of them liked it, and one of them agreed to sign me. That script (a dog & cat story) never actually sold, but I did get a small option on it from some independent producers. The script also helped me get a writing assignment from Hanna-Barbera, which then got me into the WGA and bought me the time to write "Only You" (nee "Him"). .
SSSD: Do you think about a story's commercial potential before deciding to write it?
DRAKE: I don't think you can let the marketplace completely dictate what you're going to work on, if for no other reason than the fact that you'll always be behind the curve. However, perhaps from having worked in development, I do consider whether or not I think my idea is, in fact, a movie, and second, a movie anybody's going to want to make and see. My intention is not to create these scripts so the pages can sit on someone's shelf - the goal is to see them made. In order for that to happen, somebody's got to think there's money in it for them to do so.
SSSD: How do you create multi-dimensional characters? Do you write character bios first?
DRAKE: I don't write formal bios, but I do consistently ask myself questions about the characters, including, "Is this what this character would really do under these circumstances?" The point being, you don't want their actions to be dictated solely by the necessities of the narrative. But it's often a chicken and egg situation - you know what you want to have happen plot-wise, what you want them to do, and to a certain extent that determines who the character has to be. I also think it's an organic process, the more you work on something, with any luck, the clearer the characters' voices become.
SSSD: What was the first script you sold and how did you sell it? If that script wasn't "Only You", tell us how you came up with that idea and how did you sell it?
DRAKE: "Only You" was my second script, and I suppose you could say the first one I sold. And I wish I could tell you how I came up with that idea - these things do just kind of come to you. I can tell you that when I was a kid it seemed everybody had a Ouija board, and if you were a girl, you inevitably seemed to ask it who you were going to marry. I also am intrigued by the idea of what I call "universal fantasies", and wish fulfillment stories, and certainly to find the perfect person seems to be a pretty common one.
The script sold in four days. For some reason, it just seemed to strike people's fancy, and we had strong interest from Demi Moore and Julia Robert's agent, Elaine Goldsmith, so that helped propel the sale.
SSSD: If you did any rewriting on "Only You" once it was sold, please tell us about some of the changes and why they were made.
DRAKE: I worked with the director, Norman Jewison, on it for about six months, and that was a great experience. Mainly what we did was try to make sure the scenes were "playable" - that is, actors could really do these things, that they didn't just work on the page. We also eliminated some of the broader slapstick which I'd had a tendency to fall back on in the original draft. Subsequently, I was re-written by someone else, and I think it was then that perhaps my tone (that of a romp, of a lark, and of a character who was aware that what she was doing was silly, but who wanted to do it anyway) was changed, and the script became a somewhat more serious meditation on the subject of "destiny".
SSSD: "Only You" was very interesting because your main character, played by Robert Downey, Jr. doesn't appear in the movie until well over 25 minutes. Did you originally script it that way? If so, why did you go against the rule that says you should introduce your main characters within the first ten pages?
DRAKE: Well, although it is a romantic comedy, Robert isn't really the "main" character. It really is her (Faith's) story, and the nature of the story dictated that his character not appear until well into the film (more like about 40 minutes). Since the story is really about her search for this person, she couldn't exactly find him the minute she steps off the plane in Italy. But Robert Downey Jr. was so terrific and brought so much life to the film, it was always a frustration. I think everyone wanted him in it sooner.
SSSD: Since much of the film takes place in Italy, did you have to do a lot of research? If so, please tell us how you went about it.
DRAKE: I had been to Italy once, on kind of a whirlwind tour myself, and loved it and wanted to go back. It's truly such a magical place, obviously very romantic, and one that I felt hadn't been seen in all its glory on the big screen much recently, except perhaps in smaller, independent films ("Enchanted April", "Cinema Paradiso", etc.) There's also a novel called "Up At the Villa" by Somerset Maugham which I love that I brought into Sydney Pollack's company some years ago. (I understand it's finally about to start shooting). Anyway, the novel's setting which is integral and very atmospheric is Florence in 1939. It really captured my imagination, and stayed with me and I always thought it would be fun to set a story there. So, I was inspired by things like that, novels set there, travel books and magazines. And since "Only You" was a story told from the perspective of someone who wasn't Italian, but was an American traveling there, that made things easier.
SSSD: Were the many beautiful locations used scripted by you or decided upon by someone else?
DRAKE: They were scripted by me. Again, the nature of the story dictated that the characters be on the move. But the characters go to Positano late in the movie because I wanted to go to Positano.
SSSD: You sold another spec called "Ladies' Man" to Caravan. What can you tell us about that story, and how did you come up with the idea?
DRAKE: It's in turnaround. When Hollywood Pictures was eliminated and Disney's slate was cut way back, we were on the list. So, it's available.
SSSD: Any suggestions for writers trying to break into the business?
DRAKE: First, I think it's a great time to be trying to do that. There are so many more resources out there, what with the internet and all, than there were even six or seven years ago. I think it's important for people to realize that this is a deceptively difficult craft, and to really dedicate yourself to honing your skills. See all the movies, take all the classes, read all the scripts and books, and talk to all the people you can. And once you've done all that (and continue to do that), then you have to deal with the fear. Writing can be a very scary thing, but I think you have to trust in the journey, and trust in your own voice. And then strive to, as Steve Martin says, "be so good they can't ignore you."