ROUNDTABLE: The Writers Behind Summer's Biggest Blockbusters (Exclusive Video)
THR: Many of you have worked with pretty strong-minded, visionary directors. How do you manage those relationships in terms of what you’re trying to bring to it when those ideas don’t line up?
Orci: Two hats. Always try and act like you’re one of the problem-solvers, like a producer. You put on your producer hat and you put on your screenwriter hat, even if you’re not technically a producer on the movie. Just do it. Acknowledge that part of it is a business, and then be able to be in the problems of the movie that sometimes extend beyond the script. Casting can be its own challenge that somehow affects how the script is being looked at, depending on if another actor’s coming in you can easily take it personally. But if you take a broader view, then suddenly you’re indispensable not only as hopefully the writer, but as one of the problem-solvers.
Markus: Dealing with the director, I generally go into it -- maybe this is my natural self-deprecation -- but I think he knows far more about the physical making of the movie than I do. So Steve and I can sit there and dream up 8,000 action sequences where a tank flies off a cliff or something, and then there’s this moment where you sit down and go, OK, I’m now with the guy who actually has to make a tank fly off a cliff. And if he tells me, “It would be easier to do this,” or, “That’s not going to happen,” I have to respect that, because I have no fetters on me in front of the computer. A lot of the time, their thing is better than my thing, because theirs can actually happen with the physics of the world. So it’s going to hit you harder on the screen.
THR: I guess there are fewer limits at this point given what you can do with CGI. And with animation you have even fewer rules, right?
Aibel: We can, theoretically, do anything. But it’s like any other production, and may even be harder in some ways, because every single element has to be built. So you can have a scene and say, “We need 10 people in the background.” In a live-action movie you could probably go get ten people and have them stand there. We would have to create them, and someone has to design the skeleton that shows how they walk, and rigs them. It’s actually very limiting in some ways, because you don’t have the resources, the time, the manpower or womanpower to build all these sets and create all these characters. It forces you to be more imaginative with what you have.
THR: Do you have an example of how this may play out during development?
Aibel: My partner and I saw our role to be there for the director to remind her at any point, “The story point is this, that the emotion of the character is here, and even though you’re dealing with these huge issues we’ll be there to whisper what the character’s thinking.” We had a scene where the color of the sky was a certain color. It was the most beautiful sky ever, but it made it seem ominous. And we were introducing these characters with this ominous sky, and the audience was a little confused, because, “Those are the good guys, but now I think they’re the bad guys.” So it was this very long discussion about why should the sky be a different color. The story and the artistry all have to work together to communicate the emotion.
THR: In working with J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay and Jon Favreau and Martin Campbell, do you have specific examples of how those relationships played out on a particular piece of the script?
Kruger: We get involved in the process at different stages, but if we had the luxury we could each go off for three months by ourselves and write a draft of one of these pictures -- usually we don’t have that luxury at all! [laughs] But we could do that, and then Jon Favreau could direct the movie, or Michael Bay could direct the movie, or Martin Campbell could direct the movie. As we start to rewrite per that director’s vision, at the end of the process you would have three scripts that no longer resemble the original at all. At that point our job is to make sure we are serving the story best and defending the emotional components of the narrative while working with that filmmaker and what they want to create. If I sit down with Michael Bay and say, “You know what, I see this more as a Paul Greengrass sort of style movie…,” that’s the last sentence out of my mouth and I’m out the door, right? [laughter] But what I do know is that I’m going to work with this director’s very strong authorial vision, and whatever I come up with for a set piece, he’s going to inject with human growth hormone and make it something wilder than I could imagine. But at the point where he says, “I want to cut this sequence because I find it boring,” and it may be a sequence that I feel is critically important to the emotional journey, or understanding the theme of the picture, then I have to stand my ground and I have to fight him. I have to say, “No, you can’t cut it, and this is why…”
THR: And how does that usually work out?
Kruger: If I make my case well, it works out.
THR: Do you have an example from Transformers 3?
Kruger: Well, certainly there are… [long pause] I have more examples from Transformers 2. [laughter all around]
Orci: Two weeks before the [2007-08 writers] strike, we handed him a 30-page treatment, then he went off, he turned it into 70 pages. He started prepping the movie, and because of the time constraints he got totally locked in. We were locked in a hotel room for three months because the strike had just ended, and it was five blocks from Michael’s office. So it was me, Ehren and Alex in a hotel room every day so he could drop by at noon, see what we had, take pages, and then go prep the movie because it’s gotta go shoot!
Kruger: Many of those things, under a normal process, would have been considered a first draft outline. And then suddenly you’re locked into some of those things. And at that point it becomes very difficult -- and very expensive -- to try to rework macro ideas. Added to which, he was a bit cross about us going on strike in the first place!
Orci: He blamed us for the strike. [laughter]
THR: He made a comment recently that the second film was “crap.” Would you guys like to take this opportunity to respond? How did you experience that?
Orci: He said before it was unfair to all of us.
Kruger: It was really an untenable position to be trying to prep -- to put him in that position of trying to prep -- a movie of that scale, where six months out you have to commit to sequences and locations…
Orci: The movie could have been pushed, but he uses all the same people over and over. He considers himself kind of a jobs program. And for him the idea of pushing the movie means all these people that rely on him go down and they’re in between jobs, etc.
Kruger: Also, and maybe Bob you’d agree, a lot it was reacting to people’s feeling from the first movie, “Well, we want to see so much more of the robots and more action, we just got a little taste of it.” I think that that second movie was a bit of an example of assembling spectacles and trying to make the narrative work in a sort of connect-the-dots way, which is not the ideal way to make one of these movies.
Orci: He’s reasonable when he’s not mad at you. You just fight, and he’ll pay attention. When we met him on The Island his first question to us was, “Why should I trust you?” Our answer was, “You shouldn’t yet. Let’s see what happens.” As long as you’re honest and not backing down from what you actually think, most people respect that.