Robert Towne's impossible mission

Robert Towne
Scriptwriter Robert Towne is famed as a "script doctor," who comes in to finish problematic productions. He won an Oscar for "Chinatown" and was nominated for "The Last Detail" and "Shampoo." He has also directed a number of films, including "Personal Best" and his current project, "Ask the Dust."
Image courtesy of Robert Towne

Robert Towne is a screenwriter who won an Oscar for "Chinatown" and was nominated for "The Last Detail" and "Shampoo." He is best known in Hollywood however as a "script doctor." That's a writer who comes in and polishes, or sometimes completely rewrites, a movie script -- occasionally as the film is shooting.

Robert Towne
Robert Towne in the MPR studios
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Towne is in Minnesota to talk about screenwriting at a special presentation at the Walker Art Center. In addition to screening clips from his work, the Walker will screen Towne's latest film, "Ask the Dust."

He'll also talk about his skills as a script doctor. A few years back, Tom Cruise brought him in after seven or eight writers had failed to produce an acceptable script for "Mission Impossible 2." It had already taken so long that director John Woo had developed all the action sequences for the film.

Towne was given the task, if he chose to accept it, of writing a script knitting it all together. It was just six weeks before shooting was scheduled to begin. Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr asked Towne what it took to get the job done.

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