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Doc Fixer Monroe Explains Writing 'Summit,' 'Sound City,' 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 4, 2013 at 2:05PM

Mark Monroe came to this year's Sundance Film Festival as the writer of three distinctly different documentaries--"Sound City," "Who is Dayani Cristal?" and "The Summit" (new trailer below). The writer of Oscar-winning "The Cove" and this year's Oscar-shortlisted "Chasing Ice" is proving to be a valuable asset.
Dave Grohl in "Sound City."
Dave Grohl in "Sound City."

AT: Which of the three Sundance films did you do first?

MM: I got involved first with “The Summit.”  From the beginning, from scratch.  A great friend of mine and the man who gave me my first credit, John Battsek at Passion Pictures--I wouldn’t have a career without him; he refers me to people who come to him--he referred me to this Irish filmmaker who he had talked to, Nick Ryan. He was connected to this story, he knew people who were on the mountain (K2) that day and he was interested in the sherpas.  He had made some short narrative films and done some documentary work, but he wanted somebody to help him with the story--it was very complicated and complex.  So I wrote a treatment with Nick.  We Skyped from Dublin and we talked about it for a few weeks.

AT: How did you know what the story was?  What access did you have to the material? So many times, documentaries are found as they go along.  They change, they morph, they evolve.

MM: All documentaries are found as you go along and as they morph.  The art of writing a treatment is to ask someone for money.  If I can be honest with you, that’s what it is.

AT: This is what you want the "The Summit" to be.

MM: Right.  This is what we can see right here, from this position.  And that movie had a lot to do with (mountain guide) Pemba and this untold story of the sherpas and how they had been lost in the shuffle of the Western media’s response and the 24-hour new cycle’s response to a tragedy on K2. (Nick) had contacted Pemba and had many conversations with him, and through Pat Falvey and another executive producer who’s a climber himself in the film, he had contacted Wilco.  We had articles and different things like that in order to write a treatment.

AT: You helped the filmmaker focus on the story; so many documentary films get lost in the details, in the woods.  Were you there throughout the filming?  A documentary is all about structure--what’s the time frame, when are we revealing what information?  Do you work with the filmmaker and the editor?

MM: Yes.  Initially, it’s a lot of work with Nick, because he’s going to interview all these people.  So I help him with questions.  From the very beginning, from the treatment even, we wanted to jump into the story.  We didn’t want to explain ropes and names and tents and everything for forty minutes before everything happened, we wanted to be on the mountain within ten minutes and to have someone fall to set it in action.  So we knew we wanted a complicated structure to go with the complicated movie.
AT: And so you were also figuring out who was the focus of the movie?

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Chasing Ice, The Cove, Sound City, Who Is Dayani Cristal?, Gael García Bernal, The Summit, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews , Festivals, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.