ROUNDTABLE: The Writers Behind Summer's Biggest Blockbusters (Exclusive Video)
THR: Almost all you guys are working on properties that have deep source material and fervent fanbases. To what extent can that influence you and to what extent do you engage with that?
Miller: You have to start as a fan. Look, the nice thing about working for Marvel, on Thor when we walked in there and sat down with them, was that we never had to explain to them what was cool about Thor. They knew! I collected Thor like crazy as a kid, I have the entire Walt Simonson run on Thor. I have my opinions as a fan. Other fans have their opinions and I either agree with them or I don’t. But you have to come to it that way. With Thor, they just released a one-minute clip, and it’s cool, and it’s Thor going to get his hammer, and he fights this gigantic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in the mud, and there’s a cameo of somebody—I don’t know who it is, but he’s got a bow… I saw that, and when I was a kid and I experienced that character, that’s who he was, he was that guy that even without his hammer, if you stuck him in a room with 50 other guys, he’s walking out alive. So seeing fan reaction to material like that is always interesting, because some people go, Wow, that’s exactly what I think he is. And other people say, What? The most difficult thing in terms of watching fan reaction to things is that the fans have a relationship with the source material and they have a relationship with the film material, and the reality is that you’re mainly trying to service the film material less than the comic book material. Fans’ opinions obviously affect your box office, but they can’t affect the creative choices that you make.
THR: What about you, Greg -- in your case you’re basically attempting to launch a franchise?
Berlanti: The comic book itself has changed a lot since I was a kid—maybe I stopped reading a little bit later than I’d admit—[laughter] -- but there were actually other Green Lanterns and whole other stories and other aliens and other things that had come into play. Hopefully, if we’re fortunate enough and we get to do a second one of these, we won’t have to explain all of this mythology again to this degree, because there’s so much of it. But that’s also what separates it and makes it exciting in its own right.
Aibel: Someone’s always going to say to you, “In Green Lantern 2, we need to explain what happened for the people who didn’t see the first one.” And then you say, “Who is seeing Green Lantern 2 who hasn’t seen Green Lantern 1?” It happens with Panda, I’m sure it happens with every sequel.
THR: These days, fans have such an expectation of access to you guys and having their demands met. And the studios now pay more attention to that than they used to, which means you probably get more pressure from that. And you’re probably all down at Comic Con walking those hallways -- surely, you’ve run into fans who have some comments or criticisms.
Markus: Oh yeah. I think if you know you respect the material, you have that, you hide it away, you keep it inside you. [laughs] Then you deal with whatever comes. I’ve gone on the Internet, especially with the Narnia movies, where you have these very fervent people for various reasons…
Kruger: Why did you do that? Why did you go on the Internet?
Markus: Because the only alternative was writing. [laughter] And you go on there and somebody will say, “I can’t believe they’re doing this…” And I’ll get kind of angry, and then I’ll realize more than likely my day has just been ruined by a 10-year-old. You gotta go, OK, but that person cares. I’m writing about something that people care about, which is nice. This has people all over the world typing about it. So you’re like, even if they hate me, this is great! But I also think they are not as stuck in the mud as we might like to think they are, in that they really do have different universes in their head, they have the comics and they understand the demands of the movie. If you shift the mythology a little bit because people aren’t going to accept something that took 40 issues of a comic book to explain [cut down to] five seconds, they’ll realize, Well, that’s better than making a really lousy version of what we already know.
Orci: I think screenwriters have become more visible than they’ve ever been. The screenwriter in the minds of many is the most realistic or accessible entry point to having the dream come true of coming and working here. Because none of us have to look like a movie star to do it. You just have to have a good idea and you have to be able to work hard. So part of it is kind of acknowledging that dream a little bit, and I personally like transparency. I like to try and explain as much about the process as possible. Some people, by the way, don’t like that. Some people don’t like to see how the sausage is made at all. You tell them that some plot decision came out of wherever it came from, even if you think it works great, and some people can’t handle the truth. [laughter] They think it all has to be: I’m going to go in an ivory tower, and I’m not going to be seen for three months, and when you see smoke come out of the top, the script is done. [laughter] It is a little bit of proving you’re a fan, and you only do it on the properties where you have the true respect. Because they can smell it otherwise. Lyndon Johnson used to make sure that whenever anyone wrote him a letter his staff wrote a letter back the next day, within 24 hours. So there is a bit of politics to it. As many hands as you can shake.
Kruger: The scale of these movies that we’re talking about, our job is not really to appease existing fans so much as it is to create new fans. Because if Greg is writing a movie that is going to speak only to men and women who have ever purchased a Green Lantern comic book, he’s dead. The movie’s dead. He’s gotta be true to that mythology and respect that mythology, but he’s got to find the universal themes in it and some new adventure that is going to make people who have never heard the words Green Lantern before in their lives interested in learning about this story. [to Berlanti:] Hopefully, you don’t feel that pressure. [laughter]
THR: Well, he does now.
Orci: Give the guy a break! “You’re dead!”
Markus: “You’re screwed!”
Kruger: Same with Thor, you’re dead! [laughter]
Miller: Hung on the Tree of Woe…
Orci: It’s a campaign. The base has to be happy, but you don’t win the campaign without getting the independents. That’s what Favreau says.
Kruger: Right. In that respect, I don’t think we approach writing a big summer movie any differently than we approach writing a small, independent movie. The fact that someone’s spending $200 million on it or $10 million on it doesn’t really change our process at all. It changes the level of --
Orci: Client services.
Kruger: Palace intrigue. [laughter]
Aibel: When we talk about a movie as successful, there are different definitions. Because people want different things out of movies. And sometimes the things we want to bring aren’t necessarily what people want to find. But if you’re looking to be entertained, does that mean you really care about that character’s speech in Act Two? Or the thing that was so important to the theme? Eh, maybe you just go past it because they want to get to the next explosion. [laughter]
Orci: You said it, the word “entertaining.” Above all, it has to be entertaining. That’s the one thing we left out of the summer movie definition. If it’s entertaining, all else is a little bit secondary.
Kruger: Transformers 2 has a reputation that it wasn’t a great movie. And yet, we’ve had the experience of sitting in the theater and hearing a whole 500-person theater cheer and laugh and walk out of the movie theater happy with their $10 expenditure for those two-and-a-half hours.
Miller: As a fan, in terms of just the Transformers, little things can make a huge difference. The voice of Optimus Prime. I mean, holy shit. Whenever he says, “Autobots, roll out!” I’m just 12 years old and weeping. It’s like you said, the audience isn’t walking out of the theater saying, “You know when Optimus and Bumblebee were having tea together at Marienbad, and they were having that conversation, it really made me think about my place in the world.” Those conversations don’t happen. Those conversations are kind of bullshit, because those conversations are up here. [points to his head] They’re all intellectual. Going to the movies is an emotional experience. And if you’re entertained it’s because you’re brought into the world, and because there’s something that carries you into it.