ROUNDTABLE: The Writers Behind Summer's Biggest Blockbusters (Exclusive Video)
THR: A lot of these types of movies go through a lot of iterations and a lot of writers. How do you deal with that philosophically and practically when you’re either coming on to something that other writers have worked on or other writers are coming on after you? Leaving arbitration aside for a moment…
Markus: The best experiences that I’ve had have been where you acknowledge each other. We did a rewrite on a movie a few years ago, and the previous writer sent us a nice e-mail saying, “I’m really glad you guys are on it.” We had a dialogue with him. And we’ve now done the same thing when we’ve been rewritten, and whether or not it affects what you’re doing on the script it makes you feel better that you’re not being taken advantage of in some way. You collaborate with people in the art department, you collaborate with the cinematographer -- this is another guy you’re going to have to collaborate with. It’s not delightful when someone goes, “Hey, guess what…”
Miller: “…I’m dating your wife!” [laughter]
Markus: Or, “Guess what, you guys did a great job. He’s only going to change dialogue…” And it’s like, I don’t care about any of the other parts of the script! I only like the dialogue! It’s such a natural part of the process by now, whether or not it’s an incredibly pleasing one. And then, you can often find a way to slip back in the door when no one’s looking and just take it all out again… [laughter]
Miller: We’ve been through a couple of different variations on this theme, and usually it’s been under ridiculous time constraints, so there’s no time to call somebody and have a conversation, or you’re coming into the project in a place where they’ve completely thrown out their idea of how they want to get into it, and they want to start fresh. Your first question is: “Why am I here? What about the material that existed in your mind isn’t the movie that you wanted to make, and we want to go through this process again?” Because you’re coming in to do a service. You’re an artist, you’re a craftsman, you take pride in your work—but you are also trying to help these people spend $150 million! And the second question is: “When you think about what this movie is, what’s the feeling you walk out of the theater with as an audience member?” Because the more you have that conversation the more you can lock into a person’s tastes and point of view and become a bit of a chameleon. And the third question is, you call your agent and you say, “This is great, we just talked to these guys, and it’s all very touchy-feely -- but who am I actually working for?” Knowing who is actually in charge -- and by the way, the answer to that question is always different, because they all think they’re in charge. [laughter] Sometimes it is the director. Sometimes it’s the studio. Sometimes it’s an incredibly powerful producer. And knowing who it is that has to be pleased is key. Because that’s the person that you really need to lock onto. Ultimately it’s their taste that’s going to decide whether or not this is a movie.
THR: Speaking of all the people that have to be pleased, especially on these movies, in some cases you’ve got toy companies, marketers, product partners, comics companies, merchandisers, not to mention the studios --
Kruger: The United States military. [laughter]
Orci: When we were in the hotel, it’s like, “We’ll start on Act I. You figure out which carrier group we need off the coast of San Diego.” [laughter]
THR: What’s the funniest or oddest or most interesting specific example of that interaction that you can think of? You’ve got action figures and plush toys -- to what extent has that actually played into the writing and developing of the script?
Berlanti: We had a lifesize Kilowog, who’s this big hulking beast that’s a friend of the lead characters in the Green Lantern Corps, and now starting to see those toys come out, it’s definitely a surreal experience. The best you can do throughout is go, What would I want to see, and what would I do? It applies to any of the elements in terms of where and how something like DC was involved.
Orci: For Transformers 2, we had to throw in the Chevy Volt. The Chevy Volt came middle of the process. And actually someone had asked me on one of the websites that I talk back on, “Hey, did you have to put the Chevy Volt in?” And I said, “Yeah, we had to stuff him in there.” And I guess someone got an angry call from the car company that the writer had said that we had to stuff the Volt in there. [laughter] Which I apologized for.
Abel: You just said it again.
Orci: I just said it again. And then the giant railgun that we had to get in, where the military’s got this new gun that can shoot a projectile 100 miles off the coast. So now we have to make sure that wherever we are in Egypt it’s close enough to the coast that the railgun can hit the thing at the top of the pyramid.
THR: So the military is pitching you on this?
Orci: “We got this new railgun that we really like…”
Markus: “Can you advertise our gun?” [laughter]
Orci: It’s insane. [to Kruger:] Am I lying?
Any of that on Transformers 3?
Kruger: I’ve had a couple of experiences now with Hasbro and this mythology. Transformers exists because it originated as a toy. They’re looking at a franchise that the last movie grossed $800 million, and they sold $800 million worth of toys. But they never look at it like, “All right, guys? This third movie is an advertising platform for us.” They look at it like, “Whatever’s going to be the most entertaining movie, you go make that. We will inform you of the existing mythology, and we want to be a resource that can help you however we can.” That said, there is a meeting where they will say, “Here are our toy sales for the last picture. These are the characters that really sold well, these are the characters that sold not so great, and these are the characters that really didn’t sell at all. If you so choose…” [laughter] “…not to put in the characters that didn’t sell well at all, if you don’t want to bring them back for this movie, that would be OK with us.” [laughter]
Aibel: You would think that because [Kung Fu Panda] is animated, plush toys come to life, that there would be that pressure. There really isn’t any. Either that, or they just keep it from me. It’s very much, Tell the best story, make the characters and their problems and what they’re going through resonant, and if it connects with an audience then the toys will follow. That being said, Yes, it’s a little strange to see a panda who exists in ancient China in a commercial for Happy Meals. My partner and I will get the scripts and help punch up Po’s jokes in the McDonald’s ads, and it isn’t like, Oh, we’re selling out! It’s, we want people to see our movie.