The first draft of the screenplay was over 200 pages, which is 100 pages more than the typical screenplay.
It was about a “burned bloke in a bed,” which held no appeal to Hollywood producers. And the fairly inexperienced writer/director’s last film had been a flop.
That fairly inexperienced writer/director was a fellow named Anthony Minghella, a short, bald man with a sturdy build who paused before he spoke, liked tortoises, and loved writing. Hard as writing was, Mr. Minghella believed “working hard with art is one of the great pleasures of life.”
The stories he wanted to tell were ones, he said, “which insist on a dog fails-to-eat-dog kind of world.” Mr. Minghella hated misanthropy.
For two years without pay, he worked hard with his art. Drafting and re-drafting and re-re-drafting the 200-page screenplay until a blueprint began to emerge.
Twentieth Century Fox picked it up, told Mr. Minghella to cast ‘big’ names, Mr. Minghella told them he’d cast the ‘right’ names, Twentieth Century Fox dropped it.
Some days, Mr. Minghella thought he was out of his mind. “You would absolutely be justified to say to me, ‘What the hell have you done before this film to make you think you could make this one?'”
But this was a story Mr. Minghella wanted to tell. So, he stood by it. Stood by it long enough that Miramax came in, stayed in, kept hands off.
“I’m slow and I’m determined,” was how the man who liked tortoises described himself.
And five years after Mr. Minghella started that 200-page draft, The English Patient came out.