By Marianna Levine
Living in Sag Harbor was a conscious choice for writer Bill Collage. Although he writes for mainstream Hollywood, he preferred to stay on the East Coast, being an Easterner himself, rather than move to LA for work. And Sag Harbor does seem like an appropriate choice for him considering the last screenplay he wrote was an adaptation of “Moby Dick”.
But Collage is clearly not a man afraid of a challenging project. His newest, with his LA-based partner Adam Cooper, takes him far from our native shores and deposits him in an ancient and oft traveled desert. Collage has recently committed himself to writing a new adaptation of the story of Moses and the Exodus for 20th Century Fox.
Both Moby Dick and Cooper and Collage’s re-visioning of this Biblical classic are part of Collage’s sincere desire “to choose responsible things to work on, such as these classic stories.” But Collage also mentions that working on a Biblical project was something he sought out as a believer.
“I’m Greek Orthodox, but I’m religious in general.,” he said. “Prayer is common in my house, and I don’t shy away from calling myself religious.”
For most people the image that instantly comes to mind when thinking of Moses and the movies is Charlton Heston in Cecile B. DeMille’s now somewhat dated movie “The Ten Commandments.” Although DeMille’s parting of the Red Sea was a feat of contemporary movie effects back then, Collage is excited about what can be done visually with the story now. But that wasn’t his only interest in writing a new treatment of this tale.
What seems to most invigorate Collage about his current project is his newly found understanding of Moses as a character, and his wish to portray a more complex version of Moses the man. He thinks modern audiences are ready and willing to accept a “complicated, flawed protagonists” and that probably wasn’t the case when “The Ten Commandments” was filmed back in the mid-1950s when the United States was in the middle of the Cold War. And Collage points out the politics of a time period can often inform consciously or not a writer’s choices during an adaptation.
Collage explains, “Moses is an unusually difficult character. We want our heroes to be noble and flawless, but Moses was a man not a god, and sometimes it’s hard to understand the choices he made as a man and a leader.”
Although Collage researched his text extensively, he soon realized that he had several questions about Moses and his actions that he wanted to discuss with an expert. That’s when he decided to turn to local Rabbi Leon Morris of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. Collage chose Rabbi Morris because he liked the idea of speaking with someone locally.
“He was able to generously give me so much of his time and there’s something about meeting with someone in person who lives around the corner that’s special.” Collage explains.
Rabbi Morris enjoyed being part of Cooper and Collage’s project. He explained that Collage sought him out in person but also emailed and called him with questions that Rabbi Morris found so interesting and complex that often he had to look up ancient Rabbinical commentaries on certain Biblical passages to answer Collages’s questions thoroughly.
“He is approaching this project with such integrity, responsibility, and respect. He wants it to be legitimately connected to the Bible and not just an entertaining film,” Rabbi Morris articulated.
Collage got his first break back in 1995 when he was working for Fox 5 in New York City. At that time, the director Ron Howard asked to film a portion of his film “Ransom” with Mel Gibson at Fox 5. Collage was the person who granted him permission to do so, but also suggested he could do a more realistic re-write of the scenes being filmed.
Howard took a look at Collage’s re-write, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then Collage has been involved in numerous projects such as the movies “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Accepted.” The latter is about a high school student who invents a college that accepts him after not getting into to any real institutions of higher education.
Collage chose to base himself in Sag Harbor after several years of living and working in New York City. There are numerous things he enjoys about living here as opposed to the City or LA. Although he does have to commute to LA every once in awhile, and he admits it is a long way to travel for work.
Collage declares one of the reasons he likes it here is that, “it’s a very artistic community and a very supportive one. There’s a real competitiveness in LA, but here other people seem to be rooting for you.”
He also explains that as a writer he values “the lack of distractions here. I enjoy being involved in a community and interacting with a lot of people on a personal level. I’m very blessed to know a variety of people here, and for a writer knowing people is like putting gas in a car.”