John August Makes Movie Magic

It may sound queer, but John August never realized that one could be a screenwriter. No, August spent his formative years in Colorado, where he churned out fantastical short stories, which he continued penning while studying journalism. A certain script, however, changed all that:

It wasn’t until I had gone through college that I read my first screenplay – I read the script for Sex, Lies and Videotape and realized that images are happening, the movies really is happening on the page first.

August’s focus soon switched to films, where his taste for fantasy scored him some winning scripts – and killer collaborations, including three Tim Burton-directed flicks: Big Fish, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and The Corpse Bride. He also penned and directed his own feature, The Nines, which starred Ryan Reynolds.

It’s not that August can’t get enough fantasy. He learned to play the game:

As I’ve had the luxury of going through the process, I’ve gravitated more towards fantasy movies, which have been getting made in the last ten years. It’s not a genre that I’m dying to write, but I’m fortunate in that I’m good at doing it.

August recently opened up to our editor about a lot more than just his movies, like whether or not staying in the closet qualifies as a lie and why he never rebelled against his Colorado upbringing. Never fear, movie loving reader, we also get a bit of dirt on his latest project, Shazam!

Andrew Belonsky: Did you always want to be a writer?

John August: I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what kind of things I would write. I always wrote short stories, I wrote for the school paper.

AB: You were always in the thick of it as a kid. What was the appeal of writing for you?

JA: I think it was – like most writers – this ability to create a whole new universe that was inside and being able to control it in a way that you couldn’t control your outside.

AB: How old were you when you came out to your family?

JA: I didn’t come out until I was twenty-three. When I got through college – I had been living in Los Angeles for a year – and I came out when I went back to my family.

AB: And how did that go down?

JA: It turned out great – all coming outs are challenging, but I had no drama or blowouts or anything bad. It was classic – I could have done it years before that.

AB: How did you find the courage to do it, then, if you feel like you could have done it before?

JA: As you go through life, you enter some stages where you’re allowed to sort of re-declare your major – a lot of people come out when they first go to college, a lot of people come out after moving to a new city following college – and that was really my area. So, I came out when I came to Los Angeles. It was about really figuring out who I really was while I was here. Then it was a matter of going back and telling everybody, “By the way, here’s all the stuff I wasn’t telling you”. I also think the fear of coming out isn’t so much that people are going to be bad or reject you, it’s you feel bad about lying to people for however many years it was before you came out.

AB: But is it really a lie?

JA: It’s dishonesty. You can make whatever distinction you want to make, but if in your heart of hearts you know something and you’re misrepresenting who you are to people, it feels like a lie.

AB: So, you came out to your family when you were twenty-three. When did you know definitively that you were gay?

JA: Probably only the year before that. I knew internally since I was about eight years old, but I hadn’t had a boyfriend, I hadn’t had sex in any meaningful way that a grownup thinks about it.