'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' Writers on Sequel Plans, 'Hard' Choices (Q&A)
Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver tell THR about their screenplay's most head-turning decision and why Andy Serkis is the franchise's "greatest gift."
For those familiar with the original series, it's not much of a spoiler to reveal that the rebooted series is headed toward apes ruling the Earth. But screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver say there's plenty of story to explore before that point.
"It's like with cable TV, we can do a slow burn," Silver tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the characters around Caesar are particularly compelling, so maybe we slow down and spend some time with them before we jump a thousand years in the future."
Her screenwriting partner (and husband) Jaffa says with the rebooted franchise, they wanted to make a "science-fact movie," not a "purely science fiction" one.
"What elements of the world today can we line up so that if the dominoes were to tip over just right, Colonel Taylor (Charlton Heston) would wind up on that beach in the year 3900?" Jaffa says. "We do know where it ends up, so the fun we want to have is what happens between now and then."
You already had written the 2011 reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. What were your biggest challenges this time around?
Amanda Silver: We wanted to provide something new that was special and not sort of a rehash of the first movie. We also really had to figure out how far ahead to jump in time. There were a lot of variables regarding when to pick up with Caesar's story.
Rick Jaffa: When you see the movie, the time jump might seem natural, but at the beginning, there were a lot of different ideas tossed about of when do we start the next film.
A lot of the movie involves sign language. What were the conversations like when deciding to do that?
Jaffa: That really was the next big issue — how far have the apes evolved? Everyone agreed they can't have evolved to where they are all speaking the Queen's English, or even some horrible version of a Western from the '50s where Native Americans spoke in very broken English. Ideas went everywhere from having only Caesar talk to having all of them being able to talk.
How did you finally decide what you did?
Jaffa: Going back to the original movie, Amanda and I did a ton of research about apes and sign language and how apes not only can learn sign language from humans, but that there are documented cases where apes taught each other sign language. That was a pretty hard sell to the studio at first. But the fact that these apes would have elevated intelligence due to the drugs and the virus — then you can make that leap. I think the audience is ready to make that leap too.
Silver: There's the need to make the storytelling muscular and visual — that you are telling a lot through action. You realize we're not writing a movie where apes are going to be discussing things rapidly back and forth. They are going to be acting, and you set up situations where there is a lot of communication going on without words. It is a fun challenge, and it's a great way to tell a story.
When writing the first film, did you worry that the apes would look good onscreen?
Silver: We were terrified! The whole movie hinges on the audience rooting for Caesar and by extension his ape friends. We had written this intimate, emotional story, and we had no idea how it was going to be translated to screen. When we first pitched the story in 2006, the technology hadn't been invented yet. Luckily James Cameron and WETA figured that stuff out.
And you got an amazing performance from Andy Serkis.
Silver: WETA suggested Andy Serkis, and he was the greatest gift ever. He has this amazing ability to externalize his emotions. He plays Caesar from age 2 to all the way through. It wasn't until six months later we were able to really see the visceral performance Andy had laid down and WETA had captured.
Jaffa: We all jumped out of our chairs. We had seen two or three cuts of the film already with Andy and the other actors in their gray leotards. You get used to that and think "OK, this is the film." Then those shots start coming in. On Dawn, the first shots we saw were of Maurice the orangutan (Karin Konoval), and he's in the rain. We literally gasped because it's not just this incredible capture of the performance but his fur is matted. There are drops of water dripping off his nose. It's breathtaking.
Silver: I didn't know it was possible to be better than the first — they were such geniuses the first time — but this one is even better.
From the original movies, we know the apes eventually take over. How do you keep it interesting despite audiences knowing the endgame?
Jaffa: The intention was to make a science-fact movie as opposed to a purely science fiction movie. What elements of the world today can we line up so that if the dominoes were to tip over just right, Colonel Taylor (Charlton Heston) would wind up on that beach in the year 3900 — or whatever it was. We do know where it ends up, so the fun we want to have is what happens between now and then.
Silver: How do we get there?
Jaffa: There are a lot of ways to skin that cat. In terms of the endgame, there's a long time between now and when everything needs to be figured out.
Silver: It's like with cable TV, we can do a slow burn. There's no need to tell the story with these big wide chunks. We can slow down and tell more intimate character pieces. Caesar and the characters around Caesar are particularly compelling, so maybe we slow down and spend some time with them before we jump a thousand years in the future. We'll see. It's a very juicy opportunity.
Have you had discussions about a third film?
Jaffa: There haven't been formal discussions with the creative group, but Amanda and I definitely have thoughts, and I'm sure (director) Matt (Reeves) has thoughts and (screenwriter) Mark Bomback, who we share a credit with on Dawn, and our producers.
What was your favorite scene to write?
Jaffa: There are quiet moments between the apes in the beginning that is just about character. There's one with Caesar and Maurice and the boy Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and that's a quiet moment of connection between an ape and a human.
Silver: My favorite scene is when Koba (Toby Kebbell) points out to Caesar what human work has done to him. It's created quite a few scars on Koba's body, and I loved exploring the brotherhood between Koba and Caesar.