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LONDON – David S. Goyer, billed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as “a polymath of a writer,” said television is providing writers with opportunities no longer available in the Hollywood studio system.
Goyer, invited to deliver a talk as part of the fourth annual BAFTA and British Film Institute Screenwriters’ Lecture Series, said that in the current climate, the studios will only commit, not unsurprisingly, to established source material for production. Goyer said all the studios “talk about is franchise potential” and an existing recognized audience before thinking about making a big-budget film.
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But he said that as the opportunities for writers shrink in the movie arena in which he himself works — Man of Steel and Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy are on his resume — the TV world is expanding.
Goyer, who also writes and produces TV including Da Vinci’s Demons, said the rise in TV companies commissioning original material and the advent of content buyers for streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm, coupled with the booming international TV market, is keeping writers employed.
The rise of the showrunner — “a different breed of writer” — in the U.S. also ensures that the value of the writer remains high and hands creative power and influence to the writer and creator, said Goyer. In the U.K. there is a whole “layer” of executives in television that simply doesn’t exist in the U.S. — story editors — which isn’t as efficient as having a writer on set every day during filming.
“When they need to check what lies Don Draper has told” in an earlier season of Mad Men, “Who should they ask, the story editor? No, Matthew Weiner, the guy who wrote those lies in the first place.”
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For Da Vinci’s Demons — made by Starz and the BBC and shot in Wales — Goyer “pulled [his] backers kicking and screaming into the U.S. way of doing things,” insisting on a writer being on set every day. He said they had resisted because of the cost of putting writers up — only one of the team of more than half a dozen writers is British; everyone else is American.
Goyer told stories related to a wide range of work experiences over his 26-year writing career, including his work with Nolan, his collaboration with Zack Snyder on Man of Steel, which Nolan produced, and his earlier name-making screenwriting adventures on the Blade franchise starring Wesley Snipes.
Goyer’s work is often credited with carrying a trademark interest in the interior struggles of characters who loom larger than life but have to exist in the real world. He said for him it is always important to root his characters in human reality.
When asked if he was working on Justice League, the Warner Bros. superhero ensemble that counts Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern among its members, Goyer said he “might be, can’t say.”
There was plenty for the fanboy element in the paying audience at the BFI Southbank. Goyer said rebooting Superman for the big screen was much harder than Batman. Why? “Because Superman is not as innately cool as Batman.”
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Goyer is also noted for balancing his work as a mainstream Hollywood screenwriter with duties on penning stories for games Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 & 2.
He pointed out that Black Ops 2 had made far more money than the box office for Man of Steel. He likened writing games to penning TV shows, with each level like a different episode. He described gaming as a relatively nascent art form compared to film, but an art form nonetheless.
Goyer brought clips from a variety of his shows and films, including Da Vinci’s Demons, FlashForward and the Jean Claude van Damme starrer Death Warrant. Goyer’s original script was named Dusted, but the writer said MGM changed it after market research revealed that films with death in the title “tracked well” with audiences.
Goyer opened the BAFTA and BFI event series with the JJ Charitable Trust that will allow scribes to share their experiences.
Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, Pocahontas, A Gifted Man), Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) are to come between now and Sept. 30.
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