Cheat Sheet: Gary Ross


Gary Ross

Date of Birth:

5 November, 1956

Place of birth:

California, USA

Special moves:

Writing, Directing, answering quick-fire general knowledge questions

Films include:

Big, Dave, Lassie, Pleasantville, Sea Biscuit, The Hunger Games

What you probably already know:

At the moment there’s probably only one film Gary Ross is talking much about, and that’s The Hunger Games. Released here on Friday and already causing a storm with critics world-wide (including us, oh come on we totally count as critics), not only did Ross direct the first in Suzanne Collin’s dystopian trilogy, he also wrote the screenplay, getting interested in the franchise after watching his daughter devour the books in a matter of days. He’s known for running most of his creative decisions by his kids – teen twins named Claudia and Jack – often stating that they’re the smartest people he knows. Does it count as arrogance if you’re technically referring to your own genes? Anyway, he’s already confirmed that he’s ready and willing to helm the next in the franchise – Catching Fire – and we couldn’t be more certain of the safe qualities of his hands.

But heck, is it any wonder he was able to crank out such a brilliant screenplay? He was handed an Oscar in 1988 for the screenplay of Big (he was one of two writers, the other being Steven Spielberg’s sister Anna) and was immediately put on script-rewriting duties for films such as Lassie, Beethoven and The Flintstones. He then tried his hand at a bit of political satire with the univerally loved Dave, following it up with the sublime Pleasantville. The film was a critical hit (though fell at the box office to the mighty Truman Show), and proved Ross as one of the most original writing talents working in mainstream Hollywood. Something about Tobey Maguire seemed to hit Ross in his happy place, as he teamed up with him again for Seabiscuit (writing, directing AND producing for God’s sake), and then in 2008 he helped write some rubbish about a magic mouse that no-one really bothered with (The Tale of Despereaux).

Anyway, the point is, he’s a man that likes to work with people he knows are good. The Hunger Games is his first film that lacks a William H Macy (a fact he laments in interviews but stands by the fact that there simply wasn’t a part for him) and considering his praise for Jennifer Lawrence (in an interview with SFX he said that “a talent like (hers) comes once in a generation” – it wouldn’t surprise us if whatever he does next has a role with her name on it…

What you probably don’t know:

He was never going to be a screen-writer, DAMMIT. Ross’s first love was the great art of novel writing, and after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania he settled back to life working on a fishing boat (yep) in order to pen his great epic. But having published a (relatively insignificant) first novel and given an advance for his second, he found himself unable to complete a second book. Advance spent, inspiration waning and debts piling up, Ross applied for a US gameshow entitled Tic-Tac-Dough and WON FIFTY BLOODY THOUSAND DOLLARS, allowing his brain the space it needed to finish the damn thing and presumably his feet the fine leather brogues they’d been craving all that time. His small success as a novelist saw him approached by Paramount pictures to produce a screenplay and – four screenplays later – they were rewarded with a first draft for Big. The rest, as they saw, was history…

Gary Ross quote:

“Characters are your servants. More bad writing occurs in the name of being character-based, because people chase people that don’t exist — as if there’s some character out there that actually exists that can tell them what the story should be. But that’s just an extension of your own imagination. But we delude ourselves into believing that there’s a person out there that somehow exists and if only the character will tell me what to do. The character doesn’t exist – the character’s an instrument of your will, and expressing what you want to express, and can be altered and modified to more clearly express what you want to express.”

What to say about him at a dinner party:

“In taking inspiration from Aristotle’s Poetics and Shaw’s The Quintessence of Ibsenism rather than other screen-writers, Ross really manages to ensure tight, somewhat traditional structuring whilst being able to maintain a freshness of touch often lacking from his contemporaries.”

What not to say about him at a dinner party:

“Bet he well fancies that Jennifer lass now though, right?”

Final thought:

Ross manages to toe the line between blockbuster-maker and genuine cinema-crafter, ensuring that at the very least, we can be sure that Hollywood won’t be entirely bereft from creativity in the next few years. Here’s hoping that he still pursues his own projects as well as adding exponential value to the brain children of others, and roll on Catching Fire!

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