2023 SBIFF WRITERS PANEL Featuring Ruben Östlund, Daniel Scheinert, Martin McDonagh, Todd Field, and more
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 11: (L-R) Moderator Anne Thompson, Daniel Scheinert, Kazuo Ishiguro, Lesley Paterson, Martin McDonagh, Rian Johnson, Ruben Östlund, Sarah Polley, Tony Kushner, and Todd Field speak at the Writer's Panel during the 38th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at The Arlington Theatre on February 11, 2023 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

2023 SBIFF WRITERS PANEL Featuring Ruben Östlund, Daniel Scheinert, Martin McDonagh, Todd Field, and more

Kazuo Ishiguro (Living), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), Tony Kushner (The Fabelmans), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), Lesley Paterson (All Quiet on the Western Front), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), Todd Field (Tár)



The tribute started with an introduction from Roger Durling, Executive Director of the festival. Durling pointed out the sheer impresiveness of the panel before introducing a series of clips, one for each of the films represented by the panelists.

Following the clips, the panelists took the stage, with Kazuo Ishiguro (Living), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery), Tony Kushner (The Fabelmans), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), Lesley Paterson (All Quiet on the Western Front), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), and Todd Field (Tár) all joining.

Conducting the panel was IndieWire Editor-at-Large, and she began by asking each of the panelists about their path to becoming a screenwriter.

Kazuo Ishiguro made note of the fact that of the selection of writers on the panel, none were your stereotypical hardbitten screenwriter. In fact, the panelists came from a whole host of eclectic places, including Kazuo’s own history with novels. For him, literature always seemed to be the main attraction for him, though Living allowed him to tye a lot of ideas from his work together.

Rian Johnson started out in the world of film as a kid, just making movies with his friends. As he grew, his work expanded, with the screenwriting side of things initially just serving as a vehicle for creating his own projects. However, he eventually fell in love with it.

Lesley Paterson was originally a triathlete, though the imagination and world-building exercises conducted during training helped her to move into writing.

Sarah Polley was an actor as a child. However, once in her 20s, she dropped out of the profession, realizing it wasn’t the right thing for her. Eventually, partly because of the powerful experience she had watching The Thin Red Line, she decided to move into the filmmaking world, falling in love with it upon making her first short feature.

Daniel Scheinert shared that he (along with Daniel Kwan, the other half of The Daniels), came up in the industry through their work on music videos. He never quite imagined himself, noting that Kwan was more of the traditional writer. However, as they looked to direct their own projects, writing became important.

Todd Field began his journey into writing upon learning that he needed three short scripts written for an upcoming directing program at AFI. Speaking with his father-in-law, Bo Goldman, Field heard a few key pieces of wisdom, advising him to unplug the phone, get up at the same hour every day, and write at the same hour every day. Following these words of advice, Field managed to get the scripts done.

Martin McDonagh started off by writing plays, though his dream was always to work in the world of film. Eventually, he created Six Shooter, an Oscar Award-winning short that set him down the path toward screenwriting success.

Ruben Östlund shared a key part of his idea development process, pitching his ideas to everyone he knows. This helps him to refine his story and allows him to tap into the experiences and stories of those around him, further refining and building out his ideas before hitting the page in earnest.

Tony Kushner was originally an acclaimed playwright, coming into the world of film through an encounter with renowned filmmaker Steven Spielberg. After editing a collection of writings exploring Judaism and Zionism, Spielberg got in contact with Kushner, eventually asking him to do a draft of Munich. Thus began a frequent and fruitful collaboration between the two.

Kazuo shared an anecdote about a chance encounter with Living star Bill Nighy and how it sparked the film itself.

Rian spoke to his efforts to take the whodunnit form, something that used to be a mechanism for exploring the challenges of the time, and dust off the cozy period elements that have managed to creep in, making it once again a sort of microcosm of the larger world. He also responded to the idea that his Miles Bron character was a one-to-one critique of a certain tech titan, noting that his focus was more on the workings of power structures and a more general jab at the world of tech douche-bags.

Lesley shared a story about the overlap between her athletic and film pursuits, explaining that she had to win a triathlon with a broken shoulder to make the money needed to keep the film rights to All Quiet on the Western Front. Which she did. She also broke down the idea behind the opening of the film, explaining that it represented the main theme of the film, that to some, uniforms mattered more than the people who wore them.

Sarah dove a bit deeper into the development process behind Women Talking, sharing that she actually wrote different script passes for each character in the film, helping to track it all out and give the characters space and respect. Sarah also touched on the decision to keep the threat off-screen, noting that to her, showing sexual assault is rarely additive, both in terms of understanding and messaging.

Tony talked about the process of getting Spielberg’s life story and convincing him to turn it into a picture. Apparently, Spielberg had considered the idea, with Kushner even doing a draft of an episode later on in the story of his life. However, it wasn’t until Spielberg’s mother passed and his father was in his hundreds that things changed. After a particularly volatile experience working on West Side Story together, the pair did some interviews around Spielberg’s past to sort of deal with the tension between them, eventually convincing Speilberg it was time. Speaking to the film’s somewhat unorthodox structure, Kushner noted that it was very different for Spielberg, but also that the sort of epic, episodic nature, covering 3 states and 12 years, was always non-negotiable.

Daniel talked about the pull towards something bigger he felt after going through the Sundance circuit. In that way, Everything Everywhere All at Once was almost his and Daniel Kwan’s shot at a Marvel film, with the pair looking at what they would do with that kind of large-scale action piece. Daniel also spoke to the sheer length behind the film’s development, with constant delays giving him and Kwan the space to really refine the script.

Todd also spoke to the development process, taking special note of the sort of free reign he was given on Tár by Focus. The character had been running around his brain for some 10-odd years, with the focus more on her role in a particular power structure than her specific relationship to classical music. Todd had met Cate 7 years prior and was astounded by her ability to think like a filmmaker, really engaging with projects holistically.

Martin talked about the tonal balance of his work, thinking about his projects more as dramas than comedies. He also talked about a certain scene in Banshees as pivotal, helping to open the audience’s eyes to another side of his characters. As for the hard artistic bent towards isolation represented by one of the characters in his work, Martin noted that he doesn’t quite subscribe to it.

Ruben went into the elements from his real life that made it into the film, like a fight with his wife about who should pay the check early on in their relationship. He also spoke about the lengthy process of editing the vomiting scene in Triangle of Sadness, sharing how the months spent in the editing room desensitized him to the grossness, a fact he became aware of upon seeing it with a new audience.

Kazuo noted that as a relative newcomer to the form, he didn’t quite have one, writing more freely, as he did with his novels.

Rian shared how his dad took him to a writing seminar with Robert McKee, helping to inform his understanding of structure, something he values highly in the writing process.

Lesley explained that she works with another writer, often focusing more on structure while he works more moment to moment.

Sarah said that for her, the process changes from film to film, with the added responsibility of children forcing her to grab every second she could to get the script down, helping her to be less precious about her work.

Tony noted the sheer terror he feels while writing, hoping to avoid it at all costs and almost having to trick himself into it.

Daniel talked about how important collaboration is to him, with the process being very messy and drawn out and requiring a constant slew of new approaches. Todd spoke about how important working with others was and the difficulty of truly knowing when you’re actually ready to start writing.

Martin, unlike many of the other panelists, is not an outliner, preferring to let the writing happen and the ideas/events surprise you, a process which gave us the idea of Brendan threatening to cut off his fingers in Banshees.

Ruben likes having an idea in his head, letting it bounce around and attract other sources of inspiration. He also talked about the importance of not keeping your ideas in, letting others hear and play with them.

For Kazuo, it was the ending, struggling with the burden of creating something that really allows the film to linger in the audience’s mind.

For Rian, it was a key expository character introduction scene partway through his film.

For Lesley, it was figuring out how to differentiate the action sequences.

For Sarah, it was making a key apology really cover all that a character needed to hear.

For Tony, it was understanding what the audience needed from a scene where two characters have strange, but telling reactions to a film.

For Daniel, it was managing to lay the dramatic groundwork of the film while still getting the audience into the fun of the project.

For Martin, it was creating an ending with both subtlety and sincerity.

  • For Ruben, it was dealing with the structural decision of having the movie almost start anew in the third act.


The 38th Santa Barbara International Film Festival will take place LIVE February 8 – February 18, 2023. Official events including screenings, filmmaker Q&As, industry panels, and celebrity tributes, will be held throughout the city, including at the historic Arlington Theatre. Passes for the 2023 Festival are on sale now at sbiff.org.

Last year, SBIFF had a triumphant return to in-person screenings, panels, and events. The festival had 48 world premiere, 95 U.S. premieres, with honorary awards feted on Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Stewart, Penélope Cruz, Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Caitriona Balfe, Ariana DeBose, Alana Haim, Ciarán Hinds, Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Simon Rex, Saniyya Sidney, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kenneth Branagh, Jane Campion, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and Steven Spielberg. Historically, organizers are expecting A-list guests to once again ascend to Santa Barbara, making it a must-stop location on the awards circuit, and delivering an unprecedented number of films with many World and U.S. premieres. The film lineup and schedule will be announced January, 2023.

About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 37 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 100,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community throughout many free educational programs and events. In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.

February 11, 2023
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