WRITERS' ROOM Q&A: JAIME BROWNE
Jaime Browne is an award-winning screenwriter whose credits include The King (with Kris Mrksa), The Mule and Brothers’ Nest. For TV, he has written for The Straits, SeaChange, Laid, and The Secret Life of Us.
Who are you heroes in writing?
My actual heroes, ones who I would be intimidated to meet, are all songwriters - Paul Kelly, Aimee Mann, Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, and Billy Bragg, all poets and narrative storytellers somehow at the same time, sometimes both in the same song, in the same verse, in the same line.
The screenwriters who fascinate me and yet often infuriate me are Sorkin, John Milius, Tina Fey and Steve Zaillian.
But to keep it local for a moment, Shaun Grant is my favorite Australian screenwriter by far, not a lot of laughs, but always fascinating and somehow truthful, and unlike me he can write a killer scene without everybody just talking the whole time!
In terms of authors I did read a lot of Dostoevsky as a teen cos I was pretentious but now my favorite author is Carl Hiaasen.
Favourite piece of screen dialogue?
Easily one of my favorites is an exchange in No Country for Old Men where Llewelyn is leaving his trailer home to give water to a bad guy he left in the desert and he says to his wife, "If I don't return, tell Mother I love her". And his wife says, "But your Mama is dead". And he pauses and replies, "Well then, I'll tell her myself". It's just so cool and actually unrealistic, cos obviously he knows his Mother is dead. You could argue, I guess, that he is so stressed he’s forgotten. But I think McCarthy and the Coens included it because it was so cool, so sad and somehow gothic and really speaks to the stoicism of the men and women in the film. The other killer line in the same film was when Tommy Lee Jones and his partner were inspecting a terrible crime scene, and his partner says, "Looks like there was some trouble". And Tommy Lee says, "Well, if it ain't, it'll do till trouble gets here". Just great and apparently a Texan way of agreeing with someone who has stated the obvious. And I'll be honest, I say it often: "Collingwood are 50 points down, they are in trouble" - "Well if they ain't, it'll do till trouble gets here".
But OK. If I can let my ego in for a moment, the line at the end of my last film, Brothers’ Nest, where it's all on fire and there are bodies and blood and the Sarah Snook character asks the Shane Jacobson character, "What happened here?" And he looks around at the car he set on fire and his dead brother laying in the dirt and he thinks of his murdered Mum and Step-Father, and replies, "just family shit". That gets quoted at me a lot and I'll take it.
Best excuse you’ve used (or heard used) for missing a deadline?
I'll just say there are a lot of writers who are getting Covid right around their delivery date. And they get it more than once regardless of Covid positive immunity...not me of course...
Worst note you’ve ever received?
Notes are hard. The worst are when too many people get involved and you get conflicting notes where one person thinks the first act is perfect and then someone says, “No, tighten it up.” Then someone else says, “Make it longer.” I'm going through that at the moment. The other note is the note that comes with a declaration of an issue along with the solution. That really puts me off. But the note that sticks with me is a director telling me I couldn't allow the lead actor/character to leave a scene, as it took their power away and the actor might not like it either. I have never made peace with that one.
What song best represents your career?
This is a tough one. I can't think of any that represent my career exactly. I guess, like a lot of us, I feel like I didn't have the odds in my favour growing up so sick, in a wheelchair, isolated. So it would be something inspirational like "Harder Than You Think" by Public Enemy. When writing something set in Australia, I listen to a lot of Cold Chisel. And "Letter to Allan" is so dark and beautiful, just an opera in itself. I guess "Standing On the Outside" connects to those of us who are outsiders. My email is "Before Too Long" from the Paul Kelly song and that might represent things, before too long I'll write something truly great!
Favourite cinema hero and villain?
Claudia Gator is my hero, she plays the daughter of Big Earl in Magnolia. She has addiction issues, trauma and a burgeoning relationship with the John C Reilly cop character. I don't know what it is, but she’s inspiring. Her heroism is to keep going and keep loving. The final scene, the final shot has never not made me cry. My parents are heroes and they have never had her issues but they just keep going and keep loving so maybe that quiet heroism really connects with me for that reason. On a lighter note, my favorite villain is probably Nurse Ratchet. As someone who spent years as a kid in hospital, I fortunately never ran into this kind of Nurse, but there were a few Doctors who were heartless and that kind of institutional villainy that is legal, and yet so unkind, is really hard to accept. But in terms of both a villain and hero, Ledger's Joker is amazing and does make some good points. Pure villains, honorable mentions must go to Harry Powell in Night of The Hunter and Alonzo Harris in Training Day.
If not a writer, what would you be?
I love the research part of my job, particularly the hunt for info and interviews. I've been in slums built in cemeteries in Manila and torture tunnels built by the Japanese in WW2 in Thailand, I've been in Northern Territory bars I'd never have just walked into cos they're so dodgy, met poachers and drug dealers and murderers and police and doctors who’ve told me their stories. I have gotten to know heroes like the late great QC Frank Costigan and villains like the late not-so-great Andrew Fraser. On my first feature length project, The King, I got close with this lovely lady we based a character on, called Val, and her review of the film was the only thing I worried about the whole time. Fortunately, she felt we did right by her. So maybe I’d do something involving research, perhaps in factual storytelling. I've been doing some mentoring recently through the AWG and that has been really lovely and feels important and not so selfish ,which writing feels sometimes.