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Inside scoop for latest Clint Eastwood film 'Sully' - An interview with writer Todd Komarnicki

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Todd Komarnicki provides a closer look into the making of 'Sully.'

Todd Komarnicki, a writer, producer and director, shares insight into the making of Clint Eastwood's "Sully," which saw a $35.5 million opening weekend.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Todd Komarnicki is known for writing scripts for "Perfect Stranger," "Sully," and "Resistance."

He produced the Will Ferrell Christmas film "Elf" and shared he has teamed up with Warner Brothers to write a script for King David.


In an interview with Catholic Online,  Komarnicki shared some behind-the-scenes information of the making of "Sully," what it is like to be a Christian in Hollywood and what an inspiration both Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood are.

Komarnicki became a writer after writing a short film for a friend. What began as a helpful hand resulted in Komarnicki getting "bitten by the bug."

He packed up, moved to Hollywood and spent the next 28 years writing.

While working on "Sully," Komarnicki described the "exhaustive" research that went into understanding the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) process, laws, what happens in bird strikes and what an A320 could do in the air and on the ground.

All the research came together beautifully to produce a film that truly catches the audiences' attention and highlights director Eastwood's dedication and talents.

According to Komarnicki, Tom Hanks' portrayal of Captain Sullenberger was "just perfect."

Audiences so far tend to agree.

When asked what it was like as a Christian writer in Hollywood, a place that, at times, is known for its less-than-moral lifestyle, Komarnicki responded: "I became a Christian just before I started writing in L.A. and so, for me, I don't know what it's like to be in Hollywood as anything but a Christian.

"So I, I don't have anything to compare it to and I don't feel like, well, I don't sense it impacts me but I also trust that God is the gatekeeper of my destiny and not the studio executive or some invisible hand that's -are against me.

You know, I know God has plans for us. They're prosperous and loving and filled with blessing. As it says in scripture, a full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

"And he built us for joy and that's what he wants and if I was supposed to be doing something else, if I was supposed to be in another industry, or if I was making homemade place mats in Wyoming, whatever it is, there would be challenges and there would be a need to rely on God's grace so I just cling to the cross and let everything else fall by the wayside.

"If you're ... under the spell of temptation, you can be an insurance guy in Kansas city and go to the hotel bar and destroy your life. And it's available, sin is everywhere so it's really about just being who we're called to be - wherever we are.

"Just be the person, the full person that God wants us to be since we are the one version of ourselves that will live. He has a plan for us and he loves us and that's all we need you know, seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

"We don't have to worry about anything else if we just keep our eyes on Christ."

To read more about writing for Hollywood, being a Christian in "the biz," what it was like working with Hanks and Eastwood, and for a hint at a possible upcoming Warner Bros. film, read the entire script below WARNING! SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!:


Me: Hi, hi Mr. Komarnicki.

Komarnicki: Hello Catholic Online Monique. Hi.

Me: How are you today?

Komarnicki: I -I'm loving your name. Monique.

Me: [laughs]

Thank you.

Komarnicki: If you um, if you ever married one of my cousins you'd be Monique Komarnicki. It'd be really cool sounding.

Me: Actually, my nickname is "Nikki" so I think it would be even better sounding.

Komarnicki: Nikki Komarnicki!

Me: [laughs]

Oh my gosh!

[laughs]

Well, how are you today?

Komarnicki: Oh, I'm flying. Literally. I'm so-I'm so happy. I'm having so many beautiful conversations with loving people that have connecting to the movie and it just feels like blessing after blessing.

Me: That's so great to hear. Yeah, I'm with Catholic Online and I'll be writing -I saw a screening yesterday so I'll be writing a review of that and I had a few questions for you so we can post like a quick little transcript and see what it's like to be a Christian writer in the industry.

Komarnicki: Bring it on, sister.

Me: Alright, well I guess my first question would be what got you interested in writing in the first place?

Komarnicki: I wrote a short film as a senior. I just did it as a favor for a friend and I got bitten by the bug and pretty much stopped every other plan mid-stream and decided to move to Hollywood and be a screenwriter.

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Me: Wow.

Komarnicki: And it was, yeah, it was certainly a prompting of the Spirit. It was not based on any talent I was showing. But I got out there and kept working at it until somebody bought a script and I've been blessed enough
to have it be my only job that I've ever had. Twenty-eight years now.

Me: Oh my gosh, that's amazing! Well, actually, I saw that you've been a writer for several films, you've also produced, directed, and even had an acting role in "Perfect Strangers," correct?

Komarnicki: Well, I wouldn't call it an acting role. The producer, we were all just hanging around and we had a bunch of people to have to give testimony in a courtroom scene and they were like, "Uh, hey Todd, you wanna jump into wardrobe? We'll put you in the movie." So that was just for kicks.

Me: Oh, that's cool though. So then out of all of those jobs-

Komarnicki: Yeah, no, I make-I make no appearance in "Sully." I did not want to be on a plane that was going down in the Hudson River.

Both [Laughs]

Me: That's fair. So then out of all of them, your favorite would be writing, that's what you prefer to do?

Komarnicki: I think that's mostly who I am. I enjoy producing and directing but in the end it all comes back to me sitting with my legal pad and pen and telling my story. That's where I feel the best and get the deepest sense of accomplishment and feel that's what I'm supposed to be doing with my life.

Me: Oh, that's great. So, what is it like to be a Christian in Hollywood?

Komarnicki: Okay, everybody should have to hit a buzzer when they ask that question. Literally every interview winds up with that question. I think you guys send an email around each other like, "You gotta find out! Get the answer! That's the one secret he won't tell us! He won't tell us because-" Well, you're gonna laugh at my answer.

So here's my answer. I became a Christian just before I started writing in L.A. and so, for me, I don't know what it's like to be in Hollywood as anything but a Christian. So I, I don't have anything to compare it to and I don't feel like, well, I don't sense it impacts me but I also trust that God is the gatekeeper of my destiny and not the studio executive or some invisible hand that's -are against me.

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You know, I know God has plans for us. They're prosperous and loving and filled with blessing. As it says in scripture, a full measure, pressed down and overflowing. And he built us for joy and that's what he wants and if I was supposed to be doing something else, if I was supposed to be in another industry, or if I was making homemade place mats in Wyoming, whatever it is, there would be challenges and there would be a need to rely on God's grace so I just cling to the cross and let everything else fall by the wayside.

Me: Well that's good to hear because there's always a concern of whether or not like, maybe an issue of morality appears or, you know you never know what might happen. Hollywood is known for so many things and not everything in its past is pretty, so you haven't encountered any-

Komarnicki: Well, the whole world, the whole world is like that. If you're, if you're under the spell of temptation, you can be an insurance guy in Kansas city and go to the hotel bar and destroy your life. And it's available, sin is everywhere so it's really about just being who we're called to be - wherever we are.

Just be the person, the full person that God wants us to be since we are the one version of ourselves that will live. He has a plan for us and he loves us and that's all we need you know, seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

We don't have to worry about anything else if we just keep our eyes on Christ.

Me: That's wonderful. That really is. Well, now that that's out of the way, the red buzzer question-

Both: [Laughs]

Komarnicki: What's it like being Monique at Catholic Online? Everybody wants to know! Tell me everything!

Me: Maybe in the next interview!

Komarnicki: Okay, Groovy.

Both: [laughs]

Me: What was the research process like for "Sully" and how did it differ from your past fictional story research process?

Komarnicki: I would say it was exhausting and exhaustive.

Me: [laughs]

Komarnicki: So I had all the NTSB hearing stuff to investigate myself and I had to read everything possible about what an A320 does in the air and on the ground and everything about bird strikes and you know, months and months of research on that stuff.

And then, of course, reading and annotating Sully's book that he wrote with Jeff Zaslow. And then finally, the research of spending time with Sully and memorizing him as a man so that I can represent him fairly and justly on the page.

Me: So would you say Tom Hanks did a good job portraying Mr. Sully? Sullenberger?

Komarnicki: As we say in New York, as we say in New York - this is highest praise - "Fughettaboutit."

Me: [Laughs]

Komarnicki: He is just perfect! There's not a wrong note - and he's also such a gentleman. I love Tom Hanks. I'm so lucky to call him my friend now. He's just an amazing human being.

Me: Oh yeah, oh he did a great job. I mean, you know when the plane was going down you could see him visibly shaking and it's just like, Oh, you know that adrenaline was going through the actual -you know,  Mr. Sullenberger. You know, he was just -he stayed calm, he knew.

He was responsible for so many lives, there were babies -it was great. I thought that it was an amazing performance.

Komarnicki: I whole-heartedly concur.

Me: [Laughs]

Um, I did notice, when it came to the dialogue, that after a while, Sully's character just stopped trying to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that the people on board were people and he stopped referring to them as people and he started calling them, he actually said, and I quote, "155 souls on board."

It was like he was really trying to break through to them that, hey, you're not talking numbers, you're talking people. So I wanted to know if there was any other specific dialogue like that for audiences to keep an ear out for.

Komarnicki: I know -Oh, that's great. I'm glad you noticed that. Yeah, this guys is deeply human and it's, it's the moment, also, for his wife when she realizes that he was one of the people on the plane. He wasn't just driving the bus. He was a person that they could have lost.

He was a person they could've lost.

And it's deeply important that we get outside of thinking of this as an abstract news thing and get inside and realize that it could've been us. It could have been us and without the greatness of that pilot and without the hustle of all the first responders and the caretaking of all the passengers, without everybody working at a really high level pulling in one direction, it wouldn't've been a happy ending - there'd be no movie.

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So it's a beautiful reminder that we have a real-world impact on everyone we see every day and we can have it for good or we can have it for bad. And what we're really called to do and, when life is in the sweet spot for all of us is when we do it for good and we do it for each other.

Me: Yeah, I mean that's definitely -I mean, Sullivan's [oops!] character says it at the very end, too. He's like look, it wasn't just me. I wasn't that x in the equation, it was everybody. We were all pulling our weight, and then they had that wonderful scene with the credits, you know, several scenes, where it had the actual survivors introducing themselves, talking about it.

You know, Mr. Sullenberger was there, he was talking, his wife was there. It was so touching I mean there were moments where it was so real to me that I actually teared up and when the plane went down, I actually caught myself praying that they would make it safely!

[Laughs]

It was -it was directed so well! it was excellent!

Komarnicki: Oh, that's great! You're so empathetic! You're the perfect audience member! That's brilliant!

Me: [Laughs]

But man, I  mean, I know it was directed by Mr. Eastwood and he just did such an amazing job. Were you able to communicate with him at all or see what his process was like?

Komarnicki: Absolutely. Yeah, he's so, he's so inclusive. He likes to shoot the script as-is once he loves it. I did one small rewrite for him but then that was it, he shot what was on the page.

Ans so I, when I was on the set it was really to watch him work peacefully and calmly and professionally and he was 85 at the time and he's the only person that never sat down. He was the only person that never left the set.

I mean he is just dogged and he is committed to making great art and he does it. We're really blessed to have him as a filmmaker in this country and, what I just, I love the man.

Me: Oh yeah, quite an inspiration. Definitely. So, is there anything else you'd like our audiences to know before they go see the film?

Komarnicki: I would just like to advise them that they might need a hanky or two.

Me: [Laughs]

Komarnicki: It's, it's a bit of a tear-jerker but in the end, it's tears of joy. So it's a beautiful thing. You have every kind of tear in this movie so I would say it's a two-hanky movie.

Me: [Laughs]

A "two-hanky movie." I love that.

Komarnicki: So I would say it's two hankies, two hankies and no panky.

Me: [Laughs]

Nice. Well, since it looks like we might have an extra minute or two, is there anything else, any other projects you're working on at this time?

Komarnicki: Yes, I just finished "King David" for Warner Brothers - a big Bib-Bib-Biblical why is it hard to say that? A big Biblical epic about King David from the Bible. I mean he's never had a movie that really has done him justice so I just finished that and we're asking directors -hopefully we can make that.

Me: Oh my gosh, that would be great! I mean, King David, to have his story actually told accurately, even part of it told accurately would be amazing to see on the screen. How exciting.

Komarnicki: Oh, it's totally grounded in scripture. It's not invented. The scripture story is brilliant and so that, it's -it's steeped in the scripture.

Me: So, did you just decide that you wanted to write it or were you approached by a team?

Komarnicki: No, they had been trying, Warner Bros. had been trying to crack it and then, and sort of put it aside and, after "Sully," and that was, you know, "Sully" was a Warner Bros. movie, after that they said, you know, "is there anything you'd like to do?"

And I said, "Well what have you guys been working on?" and they mentioned King David and I said, "Jeez, well I'd like a crack at that and I shared with them my, my vision for it, that was rooted in Biblical stories, you know, the Biblical truth and I was able to, by the Grace of God, win them over.

And wrote that script. That was quite a journey. I've adapted a lot of books but when the book in front of you is the Bible, boy, you're awfully attentive.

Me: Oh, yeah. I can imagine. I'm very excited. I really hope that you guys find a-a-do you have anyone in mind to be the director for that film that you would prefer?

Komarnicki: Yeah, but I don't want to say, I don't want to say because, you know, names get out there but it's only gonna get made if it's an A-list director, so, because it's very expensive. So we need to find someone - there are a handful of people that we're gonna go after and you'd recognize all of the names.

We're gonna go secretly.

Me: That's fair.

Komarnicki: Well, let's talk about it next time, Monique.

Me: Okay, yeah, I'm sorry. I had a coworker - a coworker was begging, "Please, just one name."

[Laughs]

Komarnicki: That's hysterical. I can make up a name. I can say, "You know the great Swedish director Sven Benderson? Yeah, we're talking to him."

Me: [Laughs]

Aww, he's shaking his head going, "Dangit!"

But thank you so much, I mean it's been such a pleasure talking to you.

Komarnicki: Same here, Monique, same to you.

Me: Well thank you...I really appreciate it.

Komarnicki: ...I'm really appreciative of your candor and your appreciation and thank you for taking time to talk to me.

Me: Oh, no, thank you, thank you.

Komarnicki: God bless you, Monique.

Me: Alright, God bless. Bye

Komarnicki: Bye.

---


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