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The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Writer-Director Nicholas Jarecki on Arbitrage

Over the next few weeks, Vulture is talking to the screenwriters behind 2012's most acclaimed movies about the scenes they found most difficult to crack. What pivotal sequences underwent the biggest transformations on their way from script to screen? Today, Arbitrage writer-director Nicholas Jarecki reveals how Richard Gere helped shape the financial thriller's most pivotal scene. He told his story to Kyle Buchanan:

It's the scene with Robert (Richard Gere) and his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) in Central Park after she discovers all these financial improprieties in the company. When I originally wrote that scene in the earliest draft, he was giving his confession to his right-hand man, and it wasn't his daughter. Additionally, in the very last scene of the movie, a random extra was the one who introduced Robert at this charity event, not his daughter. Now I had a reading of the script about a year before I shot it, and this great actor Stuart Margolin said after, "Hey, I know I'm just a stupid actor, but what if his daughter introduced him at the end?" I thought it was brilliant, and luckily he didn't sue me at the Writers Guild arbitration! But you can see that in my earliest thinking, I didn't understand the conflict in the father-daughter relationship properly.

Once I realized it should be his daughter he's confessing to in the Central Park scene, because that would be the Aristotelian way to do it — I steal everything from Aristotle — it was still a tricky scene. Everyone's spent the movie wondering, "What was his crime, what was his fraud?" so that had to be dealt with in an expedient way, but it was also important to see how she would respond. She's a threat to him and she could expose him, so what he's really asking in that scene is for her to become complicit and to keep quiet.

One of the enormous pieces of luck I had on this film was that I had a one-month rehearsal process. One day, Richard and Brit and I sat around the kitchen table and started talking about the scene, and we ran through it a couple of times. Right away, we saw some unexploited opportunities, so I took some notes, rewrote the scene, and reprinted it. We did that about eight or nine times, and it was going so fast that I eventually had them stand over the laptop and I was just typing it in as they were improvising shit, so that we wouldn't waste paper.

A wonderful thing that came out of this improvisation — and I hate to reveal it, but I must — is that Richard wrote the line after she says, "You should have consulted me, I'm your partner." Richard stood up and said, "You're not my partner, you work for me. Everyone works for me." He really thought that was the crux of the character, that in his hubris and megalomania, he had read one too many of his own press releases. It was so beautiful that I had to write it down.

Photos: Nicholas Jarecki; Nicholas Jarecki; Nicholas Jarecki; Nicholas Jarecki; Nicholas Jarecki