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Liam Neeson in The Marksman


TROUBLE IN SIGHT: A hard-luck Arizona rancher played by Liam Neeson scopes out his fate in director Robert Lorenz’s 2021 film The Marksman(Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment)



The Marksman Writers Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz Watch Their First Produced Script Shoot to Number One



After a decade of persistence with the screenplay, ‘We knew we had hit the bull’s-eye’ at last, Kravitz says



By Greg Beaubien

By GREG BEAUBIEN     March 16, 2021

Email: gbeaubien@moresbypress.com


CHRIS CHARLES AND DANNY KRAVITZ ARE STILL PINCHING THEMSELVES. After years of revisions, lifts and letdowns, the screenwriting partners recently watched their first produced script—director Robert Lorenz’s compelling thriller/drama The Marksman, starring Liam Neeson—shoot to number-one at the box office for two consecutive weeks after being released Jan. 15. And now, as coronavirus cases recede and theaters reopen in New York City, Los Angeles and other markets across the country, The Marksman is finding an even larger audience.

Charles and Kravitz had labored over the screenplay for a decade, seeing their hopes for the project rise and fall as different directors and stars would take a look and then take a pass. But the writing pair’s persistence and faith in the script has paid off.

“As a writer you can have moments of uncertainty,” Charles, 37, tells Moresby Press. “But if you believe in it enough, and you refuse to give up, it will get made.”

Neeson plays Jim, an aging, down-on-his-luck rancher in southern Arizona who has lost his wife to cancer and learns he will soon lose his land to foreclosure. While driving along the fence at the Mexico border, he encounters a young mother and her son who have just crawled through an opening to enter the United States. Cut by the fence wire, her leg is bleeding.

On the Mexico side, a black SUV appears. Men step out with guns, demanding the woman and her child. Jim, a former U.S. Marine, pulls a rifle from his pickup truck. The men on the other side start shooting. Jim returns fire, killing one of them. The woman is also shot and dies soon afterwards. It turns out she’s carrying a backpack full of the drug cartel’s stolen money. One of the men, Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), is the brother of the man Jim has killed. With his gang Mauricio drives to a border crossing and enters the United States to chase his money and his revenge. Jim and the boy, Miguel (Jacob Perez), though strangers to each other, are thrown together and embark on a journey across America toward the home of the child’s relatives in Chicago—and perhaps toward better understandings of themselves, with the cartel on their trail.


Screenwriters Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz on set of their film The Marksman


BASKING IN THE GLOW: Charles (left) and Kravitz on-location in Ohio for The Marksman. (Photo courtesy of Chris Charles)


Before writing the script, Charles had been reading about the controversial “Minutemen Project,” a coordinated militia of armed volunteers who after 9/11 began patrolling the U.S. border in an attempt to stop illegal immigration there and to protect the country from terrorists. Some praised the Minutemen as heroes doing a tough job that government authorities lacked the will to carry out, but others denounced the volunteer border guards as dangerous, racist vigilantes. While researching the issue, “I was very troubled,” Charles says, “but I also thought it would be interesting to tell a story about characters caught up in the conflicts down there, because nothing is black and white. Everything is complicated.”

When Charles first pitched the story of extralegal border patrols and drug-cartel violence—a script then called “The Minuteman”—to his writing partner, Kravitz “wanted no part of it,” Charles recalls. But Kravitz, who teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago (where Charles was one of his students in the early 2000s) came around “once we started to dive into the characters and discovered who they were,” Charles says.

The story depicts Jim sympathetically. It shows him help, rather than intimidate, the people he finds attempting to enter the country illegally—before he turns them over to immigration authorities. Prior to his confrontation with the cartel members, Jim assists the injured mother and her son, but tells them he will call border agents on his walkie-talkie to come and pick them up.

As a writer, Charles is drawn to themes such as “the importance of relationships and human connections, intergenerational dependency and people helping one another in need—sometimes when it’s not the easy choice to make,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed having contrasting characters in situations like this, who get to know each other and grow. And road movies are a great way to explore those dynamics.”

Even with its action and violence, The Marksman is a “beautiful story about two people helping each other,” Kravitz tells Moresby Press. Neeson’s character Jim has reached the end of his rope, “But because he’s a good person and has this belief system that requires him to do what’s right, he ends up sacrificing everything for another human being. From that first draft, we knew we had hit the bull’s-eye, or gotten close to the bull’s-eye.”


‘If you believe in it enough, and you refuse to give up, your film will get made,’ Chris Charles says.



Through years of working on the script, “We had a lot of ups and downs,” Charles recalls. After a table-read with his colleagues at Beverly Ridge Pictures in Chicago (where Charles was then vice president of marketing and had cast and associate-produced the 2009 crime drama Chicago Overcoat, starring Frank Vincent), “the feedback Danny and I got was that our entire Act Three was pretty awful. It’s tough to get that kind of criticism after you’ve spent a lot of time with something, but they were right. We completely re-envisioned the end of the story. It was a powerful lesson for us. Good criticism is invaluable in this business, to know when you’re getting good feedback and to act on it.”

With his business partner John W. Bosher, Charles was busy starting Throughline Films, a production and sales company that helps independent filmmakers complete and distribute their projects and sometimes produces its own original content. Kravitz, meanwhile, was teaching and pursuing a music career, while also publishing books and working on other screenplays. 

Writers will toil over books and scripts that are never published or produced, “But as long as you’re enjoying it and growing as a writer,” Charles says, those efforts “may lead to that next thing that gets made, to that next friendship or connection that you need to get you further along in your career.”

While they worked on The Marksman during nights, weekends and vacations, sometimes “a year would fall off the calendar and we hadn’t really touched the script,” Charles recalls. “There were definitely, for me at least, some darker days, where we’d do a bunch of revisions, get it out to a big director or actor, and then get a pass. Our producer would say, ‘We’d better go back to the drawing board and rethink some of these scenes.’ But Danny and I always believed that the movie would get made.”

“We just kind of knew it,” Kravitz says. “We had faith that it would all work out. We were like, ‘There’s no way it’s not getting made into a movie.’”


Jacob Perez and Liam Neeson in the movie The Marksman


BOUND BY CHANCE: With cartel assassins on their trail, Perez and Neeson cross the country in The Marksman. (Open Road Films / Briarcliff Entertainment)


Kravitz’s manager—Tai Duncan at Zero Gravity Management in Los Angeles, who would also be a producer of The Marksman—eventually got the script to Robert Lorenz, Clint Eastwood’s longtime producing partner. “Robert had directed Trouble with the Curve, and he was looking for his next feature,” Charles says. When Lorenz read The Marksman, “He loved the story.” Through 2019, “We did some revisions with Rob, and it was an incredible experience. To collaborate with an artist like that was like taking a master class.”

Lorenz “expertly brought the film to life,” Kravitz says. “He was generous, supportive and thoughtful in his collaborations—someone who earns your trust, because he’s so good at what he does. He’s a great guy, and a great director and producer.”

Once Neeson was attached to star, “we had the green light,” Charles says. “I was thrilled.” As an actor and a person, Kravitz says, “Liam is the most decent, professional guy, an artist through and through.”

Over the years of script revisions, Kravitz avoided frustration because “we enjoyed so much the process of continuing to work on it and improve upon it,” he says. “Having it made into a movie was an awesome bonus.” Seeing the film succeed is “so rewarding and gratifying. This was the first script of mine that was good enough to be a movie. And next thing I know, it’s directed by Rob, Liam’s starring in it, and it’s number-one at the box office. I couldn’t imagine a more fortunate way of it all going down. It feels really good.”

Perhaps in hindsight, “through rose-colored glasses, it seems easier than it was,” Kravitz reflects. “Because when your career starts going well, everything does get a little easier.” Still, he says, though he and Charles might have one foot in the Hollywood door, their future success as screenwriters is far from guaranteed. “It’s so easy to write a script that’s almost good,” Kravitz says. “But getting it from almost good to good enough to be a major motion picture is really difficult. The thing about the arts, you always have to keep producing good work.”

To watch or buy The Marksman, click here.

~

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Greg Beaubien's first novel is the critically acclaimed psychological noir thriller Shadows the Sizes of Cities

noir thriller novel set in Morocco, Shadows the Sizes of Cities by author Gregory W Beaubien




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