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The Voice

Steven de Souza scripts success
published: Friday | November 5, 2004


Steven de Souza (right) accepts his Doctor Bird Lifetime Achievement Award from Professor Rex Nettleford at the Palace Cineplex, Liguanea, St. Andrew, on Tuesday. -Winston Sill photo

Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer

HE IS standing in boardroom one at the Hilton Kingston Hotel, New Kingston dressed casually, wearing a baseball cap that isn't pulled too low over his eyes. He looks like somebody's idea of a writer. And he is. Steven E. de Souza is one of Hollywood's top writers and directors. At first glance he seems unassuming but comfortably
confident.

Born of a Jamaican father, de Souza is in the island for the Doctor Bird Awards, of which he is the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. His ease with the interview process shows years
of having had to do this and his stories, analogies and quotes flow quickly.

His wit comes through very quickly and persistently during the interview. Though many in Hollywood consider him an overnight success ­ and in a way he is ­ de Souza points out that he worked in local television and as a freelance writer for almost five years before making his trek to Hollywood, an experience he remarks prepared him for the large scale 'pettiness' to be found in Hollywood.

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

The bionic speed with which he earned a job once he got to Hollywood is the reason de Souza is considered an overnight success. He arrived in Hollywood on a Sunday and by the Monday of the following week he had landed a job as a television writer. "I knew enough to go (to Hollywood) with
sample scripts," de Souza says. As such, a detective script and a science fiction script went along with him. The science fiction script would quickly be 'bastardised' to become The Six Million Dollar Man, while the detective script was cannibalised over the years to appear in
various flicks.

His knowledge of film quickly got him promoted to a story
editor and from there he became a producer, before moving on to produce Knight Rider in 1982, the same year he worked on his first feature film, 48 Hours.

De Souza was brought in to rewrite the 48 Hours script and update the movie, which had been lying around for approximately 10 years. De Souza explained the age of the script by pointing out that the Nick Nolte character was to be played by Robert Meecham, while the young convict (Eddie Murphy) would have been played by Clint Eastwood.

With movies such as Die Hard, Ricochet and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life tucked neatly into his belt, de Souza is most well known for the action movie genre. He explained that his preferred genre of writing is suspense flicks. He argues however that many of his action movies do use suspense.

DE SOUZA'S PEN

De Souza's pen has contributed a fair number of one liners to the action movie genre, from Bruce Willis' 'yippe ki yah' to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "let's party," some memorable lines have come from his films. He points out that the best one-liners
happen organically and simply as a result of good dialogue. "You know you're in trouble," he says, "when you go to a meeting, you don't even have a movie yet ­ and somebody says what's the line for the poster?"

He argues that the studios attempt to decide the memorable line for the movie, but the audience does not always agree. "The audience tells you what that line is, you don't tell the audience," he said.

Despite his years of producing in television and writing and directing for feature films, de Souza has not as yet been credited with a producer's title for a feature film. "The producing title in feature films has become like a totally debased coin," he says. He points to the Producers' Guild move to eliminate the proliferation of producer credits on feature films. The 'buddy-omatics' of Hollywood has allowed stars to simply get their names and their 'buddies' names on the producer list, without actually producing the film.

BENEFITS

De Souza is not unaware of the benefits of being a real producer, however. "My 21st century vow," he says, "is that I'm only going to do work where I'm a producer or a director in order to have more control, up until the moment the star comes and you completely have no control at all."

A part of this control issue is how money is spent in creating a film. "A lot of people think that producing is you go out and raise money, like in those movies about Broadway, but you don't. You're a producer; you're responsible for spending the money that's provided by the network or the stockholders of the motion picture studio or whatever it is."

He explains that his vow is spurred by the belief that blockbuster movies have grown stupider and more homogenous since the late 1990s. He notes that because of the ballooning of the movie budget, the number of financiers demand that there be no obscure references.

With the development of digital technology and the realisation that audiences do not merely want 'pretty pictures' de Souza believes that Hollywood is on the brink of a cost revolution. With several productions already in the pipeline and other ideas
fermenting in his brain, it is a revolution that will not pass
him by.

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