When series regular Steve Kloves ducked out of writing the fifth Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, producer David Heyman turned to Michael Goldenberg. Goldenberg is no stranger to challenging adaptations, with Contact and Peter Pan among his credits. He immediately felt he had a strong vision for JK Rowling's fifth Potter.
"By the time I'd finished reading the book the first time, I knew what I thought the film should be about," he explains. "As I came across a major event that seemed obligatory or a terrific movie moment, I wrote down a one-line description in a notebook, and by the end of the book I had several pages of one-line descriptions. I had an outline probably 20 minutes later."
Goldenberg argues that screenwriters have to come to a project with a point of view. "(Producers) want somebody who has the vision, who can say it's got to be this way."
There were five pre-production drafts, and running rewrites during nine months of production, but Goldenberg's vision of Phoenix as a personal and political coming-of-age tale survived the just-under three years it took to move from blank page to release.
The writer describes making Phoenix as "paradoxically, the most indie experience I ever had". Development meetings involved director David Yates, Heyman and producer David Barron. "Those were terrific sessions. Oftentimes, those are the worst moments. When you're getting notes from producers, it can be quite contentious ... but this was very liberating."
Goldenberg faced a very different challenge adapting Maurice Sendak's children's book Where The Wild Things Are for Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's Playtone.
"I would much prefer to have an embarrassment of riches in the case of Harry Potter, than Wild Things where really it becomes about inventing an original story," he says. So he spent time with the author and his work to write a first draft. But his involvement with the project ended when director Spike Jonze came on board. "Spike wanted to take it in a slightly different direction and wanted to work with Dave (Eggers) on that, which is kind of par for the course with Hollywood."
"(Where The Wild Things Are) is a striking contrast to me vis a vis all the Harry Potter films," he muses. "As successful as they've been, they have all been written by one writer, start to finish - no teams, no writer for the action and a writer for the dialogue and a polish for the humour - and that's a tribute to David Heyman and a more European respect for the writer. What's sad is how infrequently that happens."