Zodiac Screenwriter on His Overlong Spec Script and Convos with David Fincher on the ‘Passage of Time’

Author Robert Graysmith, director David Fincher, producer Brad Fischer, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Photo: Margot Graysmith)

Caleb Hammond
March 2, 2022
MovieMaker

James Vanderbilt wrote the screenplay for 2007’s Zodiac on spec — meaning he wasn’t commissioned to write it. So he began cutting it down before he sent it out to studios.

“I was just like, ‘This script is too fucking long. No one is going to read it.’ And I think the original script they sent out was 150 pages. It’s the thing you shouldn’t do, is write a 150-page script,” Vanderbilt tells MovieMaker about the film, released 15 years ago today.

Even when David Fincher agreed to direct the project, Vanderbilt was still concerned about its length. But much to his surprise, scenes were often added in development, not removed.

“In the spec, I had written the whole sequence with Brian Cox, and the morning show where Zodiac calls in, and then I cut it before sending the script out,” Vanderbilt says.

“And then one day Fincher was like, ‘You know, Zodiac might have called this morning show?’

“I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote it.’”

Fincher, who had spent months doing his own research on Zodiac, was impressed.

“You did?” he replied.

So Vanderbilt sent him the previously-cut 15 minute sequence.

“And he goes, ‘Well, this has got to go back in,’” Vanderbilt says. “And so it just kind of kept growing.”

Eventually Fincher sat Vanderbilt down and told him to “stop worrying about the length. I’m going to just make everyone talk very fast,” Vanderbilt says.

True to his word, “if you watch the movie, it is very bip, bip, bip, bip — everyone is talking very fast,” he adds.

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