David Weil, Writer of “Moonfall”
The list of David Weil’s achievements is quite extraordinary. In 2013, his first spec script Half Heard In The Stillness was featured on the Black List, Hollywood’s annual survey of the town’s “most liked” screenplays. Last year, his second spec Moonfall, a sci-fi noir about a murder on a moon colony, was the subject of a bidding war, with A-list directors interested in the project. The project ultimately landed at Audax Films with Ram Bergman (Looper, Star Wars: Episode VIII) attached to produce. Since then Weil has sold a pilot concept to HBO, a pilot script, Consent, to Anonymous Content, and a seven-movie franchise based on Arabian Nights to Warner Bros. Yet writing wasn’t always David’s first passion.
“I wanted to be an actor,” he says. “I wrote my first script, Half Heard In The Stillness, because I wanted a role in it.”
David moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Harvard with a degree in political science, which he describes as “the most fascinating application of drama and theatrics there is.” He also studied dramatic arts as a minor, immersing himself in the work of great playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tom Stoppard. David found himself increasingly drawn toward acting, and even interned for Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions in New York.
“I was the intern for his assistant, and I got to organize his office. He keeps all his scripts from all of his roles and I got to look at the notes he made on them. To peek behind the curtain and discover the secrets, choices, motivations behind Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta and Vito Corleone was transformative – it was a rare master class in character and storytelling.”
After graduating David moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He says his urge to write came out of wanting greater control of his destiny.
“I just wanted to create something. It was tough going from audition to audition and getting rejection after rejection. There were so many gatekeepers. For me, writing became a thing that I could control. It was the thing I could do at three o’clock in the morning in my boxers. It was something I could wholly possess that was special to me.”
When David set about writing his first screenplay he was inspired by the great playwrights he had read in college.
“I didn’t read any how to books. I read a lot of plays and screenplays and watched a lot of foreign movies. There’s a foreign sensibility to my script Half Heard. It’s not a conventional screenplay.”
Half Heard In The Stillness is the story of a young man who is inadvertently rescued after living 10 years in the basement of the child predator who abducted him. While he struggles to reunite with his family, a detective in charge of the case investigates the link between his discovery and the recent disappearance of another local boy.
“I’m a true crime fanatic. At ten years old, while the others kids were watching Nickelodeon, I’d stay up watching America’s Most Wanted. I grew up with the white picket fences in the idyll of suburbia where everybody knew everybody’s name. I’ve always been attracted to what lies beneath and curious about the unfamiliar, the duality and otherness. What lies beyond those manicured lawns and behind the closed doors? What’s beyond that veneer of perfection? It’s that David Lynch element that’s intriguing and exciting to me.”
David’s acting manager helped get the script around town, where it got considerable buzz.
“They started sending it out and it grew through word of mouth. I came to Los Angeles with no connections, and I really believed in this script. Good material finds its way. Good material is just undeniable, whether it’s from Eric Roth or the guy flipping burgers at In-N-Out. I truly believe that great material rises to the surface.”
David signed with agents and was promptly sent out on general meetings all over town. At the time he regretted not having any other scripts to show, as Half Heard was the only screenplay he’d ever written.
“It’s important to have other material under your belt, because if your script catches fire there’s great opportunity to have your other work seen and produced. Just keep amassing work. At some point, if one of them hits, you can place the material out there as well. I didn’t have other material at the time, and I wish I did.”
David quickly set to work writing his next spec script, although the process would take much longer than he expected.
“I wanted to do something different, something big and boundless. I wanted to do sci-fi, which was hot in the marketplace. I also wanted to write a noir piece. I love Chandler, Hammet and Cain. For me it became an interesting exercise to see if I could marry the two genres. It’s been done before, but it hasn’t been done often. I wanted to create one of the first noir films on the moon.”
Writing Moonfall ultimately took 10 months, due to the research involved and the intricacies of the plot.
“I disappeared into the world of hardboiled detective fiction of the 40s and 50s, re-discovering the rhythm and language of classic noir. I returned to my hallmarks – Vertigo, Chinatown and more modern noir, Fargo and No Country for Old Men, and thought if I set this on the moon, what would that look like? The conventions of noir and sci-fi are so similar. Both genres explore the plight of a stranger in a strange land. Both excavate and identify the ills and dirty notions of society and corruption and our place in the world. There was a lot of research and theoretical research I took some chances on. I visited SpaceX and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CIT. It was a really long process.”
After completing Moonfall David sold a seven-movie scriptment to Warner Bros. based on the mythology of The Arabian Nights.
“When you go around town you find out that everyone’s looking for IP, especially properties in the public domain. They’re doing remakes and reimaginings and reinterpretations of great fairy tales and great pieces of literature and folk lore. I grew up truly loving the tales of The Arabian Nights. It was a piece of property that hadn’t been worked on in a while.”
David put an enormous amount of effort into the pitch, ultimately writing a 300-page bible of the world he has created.
“I created a universe, aspiring to the likes of Marvel and DC, filled with characters and worlds using The Arabian Nights as a foundation and playing off tropes and ideas. I reinterpreted Arabian Nights in this Dark Knight meets Game of Thrones tone and aesthetic.”
Now, David is working on a pilot script he pitched to HBO, and is in pre-production on Half Heard In The Stillness. David now also finds screenwriting books useful, and has two that he returns to.
“Now before I embark on a new project I read Story by Robert McKee and The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. For me those are the bibles. Mostly because they don’t preach or mandate. They simply offer brilliant guideposts. Those conventions have been important to me.”
David also believes one of the keys to being discovered as a writer is to be fearless when showing your work to others, as to revise and rework material as needed.
“Don’t be precious. Too often we are terrified with what we write. We’re nervous it isn’t good enough, fearful that others won’t understand it the way it’s intended, and we can be apprehensive to put it out into the world. Don’t be precious in terms of showing others your work or revising and reworking. All those things will get you closer to the screen.”