At this weekend’s press junket for Ninja Assassin, I participated in a roundtable interview with screenwriters J. Michael Straczynski and Matthew Sand. While some screenwriters are lucky to have one project in developement, these two have tons. In fact, the list of projects they’re working on or have been on is rather impressive. Here’s some of them: Brothers in Arms, Red Star, Forbidden Planet, Lensmen, Silver Surfer, WWZ, and Shattered Union.
While we didn’t get to spend a lot of time on any one project, what we did get was updates on all of them. So if you’re curious what’s up with any of these movies, hit the jump to read what they had to say.
And if you’d like to know about Ninja Assassin, here’s a bunch of movie clips.
Q: How does the economy affect your upcoming projects?
MS: Gosh, it’s always hard to tell what’s about to become a movie. Until a movie is in production and even thereafter, is it a movie or not? Dunno. People spend a lot of time trying to figure that one out. I am working on a Denzel Washington project right now called Brothers in Arms about a heroic African-American tank battalion in the second World War that I would like to think could be a movie soon, but that’s beyond my control. I’m working on a giant Timur Bekmambetov sci-fi project called Red Star over at Universal. Again, I’d like to think that could become a movie soon but whether it actually is, beyond my control.
JMS: I’m finishing up Forbidden Planet, a remake for Warner Bros. Doing Lensmen for Ron Howard based on the Doc Smith books. Just signed with Bruckheimer to do a film based on a contemporary American Civil War, and I’m writing a pilot for Fox television.
Q: How close is Forbidden Planet to the original?
JMS: I think if you’re a fan of the original as I am and have always been, I think it’s very faithful to that. We’ve actually decided to show more of the first ship when it first arrived 20 years earlier to sort of counterpoint what’s happening in the present story. But Warners is very excited about it, thinks it’s a big franchise for them and a huge budget, so they’re very much oriented toward getting it done.
Q: Do you have to action it up?
JMS: There’s a little more action but it’s still a strong character piece because it’s based on The Tempest and the idea of a father whose daughter is being courted by, in the original play sailors that are washed up on shore. You need to have that dynamic still in place to respect the original and the source material. So there’s a fair amount of talking but there’s some really cool action pieces in it as well.
Q: Shattered Union, how do you approach the dangerous territory of games?
JMS: That’s less of a danger zone than the political arena because talking about an American civil war right now is dicey to do. It’s also a very timely point to do that story. Right now, if the country were divided geographically as it is politically, you’d be hearing gunfire in the distance right now. That’s probably the bigger challenge is the political aspect of it.
Q: Is your Silver Surfer draft dead?
JMS: What happened was when FF2 didn’t do as well as they hoped it would do, it caused them to call into question a Silver Surfer movie. The script that I wrote picked up right where FF2 left off. So if they do a Silver Surfer film down the road, it’ll have to be its own separate things.
Q: Fans thought the tone wasn’t right. Was yours geared at children?
JMS: It was definitely adult fare. I wanted to tell the origin of the Surfer and get into that whole thing.
Q: Did you complete WWZ?
JMS: Yes, I wrote five drafts.
Q: Is it close to getting done?
JMS: One never knows. The director is attached to it and Paramount really wants to see it done because they have a lot of money invested in this thing. They think it could be a really big film for them.
Q: How did you adapt the first person narrative?
JMS: A series of interviews, so I basically said, “Well, who did those interviews?” And you tell the story of the guy who works for the UN going around the planet interviewing folks to see what happened to them and report on what happened. Through his eyes, you see flashbacks of those storylines.
Q: Zombies are big now.
JMS: Well, they have good agents.
Q: What would Red Star be? Are you done?
MS: Finished a number of drafts. It’s a giant sci-fi project based upon a graphic novel by Christian Gossett.
Q: Do the studios tell you the budget to write for?
MS: Yes, I don’t know your experience but I’m always given a rough sense of a budget. That can change though. You can be writing a $200 million movie and be told, “Oh, it’s 50 now.” Or you can be writing a $50 million movie and suddenly it becomes a $200 million movie. Yeah, you have to be aware of who you’re writing for.
JMS: And it’s just common sense too. Budget grows out of the story. If you’re writing a story with people caught in an elevator for most of the film, you’re pretty sure it won’t be a $200 million movie. Flip side, if you’re doing a big space opera, you can pretty much guess they’re going to do this for a large budget. It isn’t often said up front but there’s a sense you have of what you’re looking at.
Q: Were your zombies fast or slow?
Q: Is Shattered Union done?
JMS: Just starting.
Q: What’s your deadline on the first draft?
As I said, they have a lot of projects. Hope you enjoyed the updates.