Screenwriting as a Second Language

by Translation Guy on February 7, 2012

Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson and directed by Oren Moverman opens in major cities the weekend of February 10. Moverman, a screenwriter by trade,  took a sprawling  script by crime-fiction writer James Ellroy, adapting the story from the LAPD corruption scandal of the late 1990s into a vehicle for a searing performance by Woody Harrelson as a bad cop going badder. Also riveting performances by Ned Beatty, Signorey Weaver, Ben Foster, among a long list of amazing actors.

I saw an advance screening, and I promise the film will blow you away. Come back here to this post and flame me if it isn’t so. Full disclosure, Oren has asked all his friends (our daughters went to nursery school together) to help him plug with some authentic word of mouth, which I am doing here with great pleasure , as I love the story and the storyteller both.

Rampart is one of those archetypal American stories  –Los Angeles as sunburnt underbelly, where noir reigns in the name of the law. A corrupt cop brought down in a corrupt town, we’ve seen it on the screen so many times before, but this time its real, maybe even realer than real.

This dark American dream brilliantly realized is Oren’s signature. Two years ago, in his directorial debut, Moverman made the  The Messenger, the untold third act of Army Strong; from boot camp, to baptism by fire, to burial detail. Again starring Woody Harrelson, this time paired with Ben Foster, the two careen from door to door notifying next of kin that someone they love has fallen.

These stories, like all of Oren’s earlier work, grab at the heart of the American experience, and in extremis, bare its soul.

But Moverman was not born American, or speaking English. He grew up in Tel Aviv, speaking Hebrew, and got his Hollywood dose via dub and subtitle. It wasn’t until his father got transferred to NYC that Oren really nailed down his English while in high school.

Then after his military service in Lebanon in the Israel Defense Force, the bright lights drew him back, where he spent all his free time learning to write English, and he learned to write it really, really well.

So this big-shot Hollywood screenwriter is writing in his second language, in his second culture. There is a story he tells, of sitting on top of an armored personal carrier advancing through a desert where every bush was burning, and it was so wrong, that Oren deciding that he would do everything he could to get as far away from that place as he possibly could.

And now, via English, he has. Interesting that some of the greatest writers in the English language chose to express themselves in this their second language. Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov are an inspiration to any ESL student who aims to learn their language well. These giants master their second tongue so thoroughly that their prose becomes a mirror to their own language, and freshens that stem of story for us natives, who then take it as a story of their own.

Please check out this powerful new voice in American letters in Ramparts, opening this weekend.

But check out this trailer first.



  1. Gerald Lam says:

    Motivation is huge when learning a language. Glad to see that Moverman had his. Unfortunately, while working in education for more than 20 years, I just don’t see the motivation for kids to learn english well. Hopefully, Moverman’s story can reach a few kids and motivate them to learn english well, too.

    • Ken says:

      Will isn’t free.

  2. My wife speaks a few languages. She bounced around Europe as a kid and made it to Canada as a teen. English was her fourth language. I was born and raised in the states. I studied and attended advanced classes. Her English skills far exceed mine. For some reason, some people just have the motivation to do everything as good as possible. Moverman must be the same way.

  3. Shakabra says:

    Oren Moverman got a nomination for best original screenplay for The Messenger. I hope he gets another nomination for this one. It really looks like a thriller.

    • Ken says:

      Smokin’ good. Don’t miss it.

  4. WojtekZ says:

    The trailer definitely has me hooked. This looks like a pretty tense film.

  5. For anyone to be able to completely think (and do) in a second language is amazing. Serious will power and motivation are needed. My hat is off to him and what is is accomplishing via his art form.

  6. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from what Moverman has done, but whenever I see a foreigner who works entertainment in English instead of their first language, I always think it must be because there is a bigger audience for what they do. As an english speaking moviegoer myself, I am glad he has chosen to work in English because after seeing the Messenger I am sure to see Rampart.

    • Ken says:

      All roads lead to Hollywood and Vine, Britton.

  7. Big Daddy says:

    I was an instant fan of Moverman after his earlier work. This movie, however, really looks like a masterpiece. I hope that all his hard work is paying off for him. I think he is an inspiration to many people who are struggling learning new languages. I know I took my high school French class and barely passed, but I didn’t see the need to put forth much effort. I wish the best for anyone out there learning a language out of need.

  8. Xan Xing says:

    Woody has done some crazy stuff and for that I think he is very under rated. I have been a big fan of his since way back on Cheers. I plan on seeing this movie.

  9. Ian Chu says:

    I was at the Toronto film Festival last September and saw this film. Great film and Woody should get a nod for this.

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