Interview with Gary Hawkins on His Screenplay “Joe”


Bill Hawkins, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, early 1960s. Photograph by Betty Hawkins. Gary Hawkins says his late father was his image of Joe as he was writing the screenplay.
Bill Hawkins, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, early 1960s. Photograph by Betty Hawkins. Gary Hawkins says his late father was his image of Joe as he was writing the screenplay.

I’m getting congrats now, because one’s chances of getting a film made are very slim, but I did the real work a decade ago. – GH

Filmmaker and Center for Documentary Studies instructor Gary Hawkins is indeed getting congrats as his screenplay Joe began production in November 2012 and looks to premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival this May. The film is based on Larry Brown’s 1991 novel by the same name. In an interview on the CDS Porch blog, publishing intern Joel Mora speaks with Hawkins about Joe, Larry Brown, screenwriting and the filmmaking process.

From the interview, one learns that Hawkins screenplay isn’t a recently conceived project. When Mora asks about the work’s background Hawkins says, “I wrote the screenplay a long time ago and I sent it out, but no one optioned it so I threw it in a drawer for almost a decade.” It was only in recent conversation with David Gordon Green that Hawkins’ Joe entered the discourse. David read the screenplay and loved it – and the rest is history. It spread from Green, to his agent, to CAA (Creative Artists’ Agency), and eventually landed in the hands of actor Nicolas Cage, who will be starring as Joe. Having Cage play Joe brings an interesting aspect to the film, though Hawkins mentions the one figure he saw as Joe when he was writing the screenplay – “I’ll tell you who I had in mind – my father, Bill Hawkins. He was a welterweight champ, 82nd Airborne, smart and funny, but violent, in and out of jail a lot. Fought with the deputies, same as Joe. Drank a lot, a good-looking ladies man…Stayed off to himself, same as Joe. The truest similarity was probably a shared nihilism. So there wasn’t a big gap between the character Larry dreamed up and the man who raised me. None of that was foreign to me.”

Joe isn’t the first project in which Hawkins deals with Larry Brown. He came to know Brown’s work while looking for “self-educated southern authors who wrote themselves into prominence,” and what he found in Brown was a Mississippi fireman “who began to write in his spare time at age thirty and quit his day job when his publications began to pay.” As part of the Rough South series, Hawkins documented Larry’s life and work. He says Joe is just another adaptation. As a filmmaker, it has been interesting for Hawkins to see his Joe adaptation surface as a film under someone else’s direction. This, he says, is part of the collaborative “hand-me-down” process of screenwriting and filmmaking – “David ran with my blueprint, adding his own ideas along the way, and Cage interpreted David’s direction in a way that made sense to him…all four of us are fundamentally divergent thinkers, so there was a lot of door-opening along the way, too.”

Currently Hawkins is working on a screenplay set in New Orleans and a quasi-doc project, but he can’t say much just yet. Concerning advice for writers, however, he concludes with this: “If you want to learn to write, you must live life and you must write. Those are the two things that you absolutely must do. You learn to write by writing. The same goes for living life…you have to get out there.”

Read the full interview here.

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