A tale of double-crosses, murder, and deception, actress Mélanie Laurent’s English-language directorial debut, Galveston (out Friday), has hallmarks of a classic American crime story. But a mystery of another kind unfolded behind the scenes of the gritty thriller in its translation from page to screen: The project was written by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto — who released the 2010 novel upon which the film is based — but credited under a pseudonym, “Jim Hammett.”
Producer Tyler Davidson tells EW that Hammett isn’t a real person, but instead the moniker Pizzolatto chose to use for Laurent’s adaptation. “When Mélanie came on board to direct Galveston, she had a strong vision for the film she wanted to make, and the producing team fully supported that vision, which included her significant contributions to the screenplay,” an email statement from Davidson reads. “Mélanie may have deserved a shared screenplay credit. However, because Melanie was not formally engaged as a writer on the film, and because of the [Writers Guild of America] rule that stipulates automatic guild arbitration when shared credit between a production executive (director) and writer is sought, we elected not to pursue that credit configuration.”
Davidson continues: “My personal opinion is that Nic did not feel the final script reflected his work as the sole credited writer, and his representatives advised us to credit him with his pseudonym.”
WGA’s standards for arbitration indicate procedural rules must be followed in order for a writer to receive a credit on a guild project. If a member of production formally adds or changes portions of the original writer’s script, the arbitration process begins, which involves select guild members reading the script to determine who contributed what to the finished version.
Laurent, a native of France who previously starred in Inglourious Basterds and Now You See Me before directing French-language festival standouts like 2014’s Breathe and 2017’s Diving, tells EW she molded portions of the finished product herself, while inspiration from lead actors also guided the narrative in new directions that Pizzolatto didn’t foresee when he wrote the book. The film follows a hard-boiled hitman named Roy (Ben Foster) who, along with fellow target Raquel (Elle Fanning), survives a bloody deception staged by his menacing employer (Beau Bridges) before going on the run to the film’s titular coastal town.
“If [producers] wanted to make an American movie in the spirit of True Detective, I think they’d have chosen someone else. They had a reason to find a female director from Europe,” Laurent explains, adding that her favorite extemporized moment unfolds with Fanning crying in a bathtub after a particularly traumatic experience in a scene that doesn’t exist in Pizzolatto’s original work: “My way of working involves feeling my instincts. You shoot a scene, go back home, and feel like, ‘OK, I need to change things tomorrow! We need to add another scene because now it’s not working anymore [or the actors] did something strong and so we need to follow it.’ Every day I was like, ‘Sh—, they’re doing so many strong things in powerful scenes,’ so I added moments of life into the script.”
With reference to Pizzolatto, Laurent admits she “never met the guy,” but she headed into the project without feeling the need to conform to fan expectations surrounding the massively popular thematic and aesthetic style of True Detective.
“The big pressure for me was: This is the first shot I had in America [as a director] making an American movie about an American story while being a film director from France. [I was afraid of] not making something good enough and to be able to make another movie there,” she remembers. “The idea was to do something very different. Production-wise and acting-wise, we didn’t want to make anything that looked like a Nic movie.”
Pizzolatto did not respond to EW’s request for comment.
Galveston, which also stars Adepero Oduye and Lili Reinhart, will have a limited theatrical release and heads to VOD and digital HD on Oct. 19.