Chris Weitz at SH Writers Conference

Chris Weitz’s father, John, was a fashion designer, best-selling writer, businessman, a champion car racer, yachtsman (member of the East Hampton Yacht Club and Sag Harbor Yacht Club) and a wartime spy. His tastes and interests ran the gamut. Perhaps it is this influence that has made Chris’s enormously successful career in the film business so unpredictable and genre-free. And his mother, Susan Kohner, who lives in Sag Harbor and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, also played a large role in guiding Chris and his brother Paul, who are collectively known in Hollywood as The Weitz Brothers.

Their first collaboration was as co-writers on the animated film Antz, featuring Woody Allen and Sharon Stone. They were also co-directors for one of the most commercially successful teenage films of all time, American Pie. [expand]

On Saturday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m., at the Avram Theater at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, director, producer, screenwriter Chris Weitz will talk about his work in an interview with Annette Handley Chandler, the Screenwriting Conference Director of the Southampton Writers Conference, which began yesterday.

After the wild success of American Pie, Chris’s next film was another genre-leap. About A Boy, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, was a sophisticated, nuanced romantic comedy featuring Hugh Grant.

Admitting that American Pie is “not my demographic,” Chandler said that About a Boy is one of her favorite films. “As a former film producer, when you have a film come together in the way About A Boy did, it’s a miracle. A terrific novel, excellent adaptation, very strong camera work, terrific production design, great acting and a memorable soundtrack. The audience walks out of the film having had a terrific experience.”

Initially, when Chris and Paul approached studio heads about making the film, there was some reluctance. They had just made American Pie, a teenage, gross-out raunchy romp of a film, why would they want to take on an adaptation of a literary work?

Well, Chris graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English Literature, “they’re these scholarly, erudite guys,” Hugh Grant said of the brothers. “I’ve never worked with directors who read Trollope between set-ups.”

“A director has to be open,” Chandler said, “the most important quality is to understand the material and translate it into something visual. About a Boy is a film that could have been very static, but Chris managed to bring the scenes to life, he knows where to put the camera; there’s always movement.”

Chris then went on to tackle The Golden Compass, a “logistical nightmare, and he pulled it off beautifully,” Chandler said. “He just keeps pushing the envelope.” He got the job to direct the film after approaching New Line Cinema with a 40-page unsolicited treatment. He has also served as producer on a number of films including two directed by his brother, In Good Company and American Dreamz

Then, in November of 2009, he broke box office records as director of the sequel to the epic vampire film Twilight called The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which had the largest midnight opening in domestic box office history, grossing an estimated $26.3 million.

And just when it seemed that Chris’s career trajectory would be making films with big budgets, lots of action and special effects, his current film, which just opened in theaters, has defied expectations. Called A Better Life, the film is about a Latino gardener and his son in Los Angeles searching for their stolen truck.  As one critic said, “No matter where you stand on immigration, A Better Life is must-see viewing, poignantly revealing what it’s like living confined to the shadows of contemporary society.”

Film clips of Chris’s films will be shown during the interview. Other programs open to the public during the Southampton Writers Conference include a panel on Friday, July 8, at 7:30 p.m. with Patricia McCormick, Chris Barton, Susan Raab, Connie Rockman, Leonard Marcus and Emma Walton Hamilton on “Children’s Lit: All Grown Up.”

Marsha Norma, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright most known for Night, Mother and Broadway’s The Color Purple, will be present as the Ensemble Studio Theatre presents a reading of her latest work The Master Butchers Singing Club, based on the novel by Louise Erdrich, on Sunday, July 17, at 8 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 cash or check at the door for public events. For reservations, call (631) 632-5132 or visit [/expand]

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