I first met Mike Carey about ten years ago. We shared the same agent at the time, and have to admit I struggled to reconcile this friendly, soft-spoken man with comics like Lucifer and Hellblazer, but I soon learned that people who write horror stories tend to be the nicest and most well-adjusted creative types out there. Having written a few horror scripts myself, you soon find that you can put all your anxieties and dark thoughts on the page where they belong.
But it’s a great problem to have. I know plenty of writers who would gnaw their right arm off for an opportunity like this. Though writing without a right arm is surely more difficult than writing with both, so they clearly haven’t thought it through.
I’m also working with Jacqui Wright on a black comedy called KILLER FAMILY CHRISTMAS, and I’ve just finished a pass on a cracking World War Two adventure called THE BLACK SPITFIRE, which I’ve been writing with VFX guru and Spitfire connoisseur Paddy Eason. And I’m also trying to find time to write a novel. I’m about ten thousand words in, and all I need is an extra day in the week and I’ll be fine.
2. How does your work feel different to others of its genre?
I tend to think bigger than most of the British writers I meet. Trouble is, we don’t make many big budget movies over here, so the opportunities to write blockbusters are few and far between… but then you eventually get a reputation as the guy who can write ‘big’, and that gets you meetings. A lot of Brit writers will write a low-budget spec — maybe a horror with a £150k budget — because they think that’s all that will ever get made, and they’re largely correct, but there’s a part of me that wonders if this isn’t just a vicious circle.
People tell me that I write pacy stuff, that it’s often funny with good dialogue. I know that we’ll never be able to compete with Hollywood when it comes to crash-bang-wallop values, so I try to make the characters as interesting as possible.
One of the most gratifying things about watching ROBOT OVERLORDS with British children is seeing them enjoy watching kids that speak like they do, and live on streets that they recognise, having a massive wide screen adventure. If you’re eleven, you’re too young to have seen Harry Potter on the big screen, so this will be a new experience for you. That already marks the film out as different from anything out there at the moment.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I think you simply have to write the kind of movies you love watching. Having been through the process of ROBOTS — nearly four years and counting — I don’t think I could enjoy writing something that didn’t have me skipping to the keyboard each morning. That’s not to say it’s all flowers and sunshine — it’s often hard — but that passion is what gets you through the tricky days.
When I was younger and a little more desperate I would try and write anything. There was one comedy that I was attached to for years, which became a grim experience simply because I was wrong for the job. Tonally, it just wasn’t me and I was wasting everyone’s time. To thine own self be true, innit.
4. How does your writing process work?
I outline like a mofo. Just keep drilling down and down and down until I feel confident that I can start writing individual scenes and sequences. Then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
I like rewrites. It’s the only way to improve. Then when the script is big and fat, I start cutting, cutting, cutting, bare to the bone, as lean as it can be.
I’m also very aware that as a screenwriter, what I write needs to make sense to the director. He or she is the one standing on set on the day with the cast and crew staring at them, waiting for some… er… direction… and if the director doesn’t understand why a scene is still in the script, ie: because I insisted that it stay in due to some emotional attachment that I have to it, then guess how good that scene is going to turn out?
This means I’ve learned to bend a bit. Well, quite a lot. A screenwriter needs to be a bit of a contortionist. If you want authorship, then write a novel.
Well, I’ve waffled on for quite long enough. I’m going to find a few more writers for this blog tour and will post their details here soon, and we can all benefit from their wisdom. Thanks again to Kevin for the tip off!
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2015:The bad news is a sequel is now looking very unlikely, but the good news is that there is a TV series in development. It’s in the lap of the TV gods at the moment, but watch this space for news…
Last week Tempo Productions announced that there will be a sequel to ROBOT OVERLORDS, called ROBOT WARLORDS coming in 2016!
And not only that, it’s the second part of a trilogy.
But, I hear you cry, the first one isn’t even out yet. How on Earth can you be working on a sequel already? Let’s just say that now that we’ve almost finished post-production, our beloved producers are feeling very bullish about ROBOT OVERLORDS. And, like our mechanical antagonists, they are bent on world domination… or a movie franchise at the very least.
Of course, the writer side of me will believe it when I’m on set and Jon is behind the camera again… But we’re working hard on the script and I think it’s going to be a belter.
Be warned, the following contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man then avert your gaze!
Took the family to see the Amazing Spider-Man in all its 3D glory at the weekend.
There were terrific performances throughout; Andrew Garfield has wanted to be Spidey since he was three and he gives his all, Emma Stone is as smart and watchable as she ever is, and Martin Sheen is… he’s Martin Sheen! When he’s not acting, he gets arrested for civil rights protests, and for that, we love him and truly believe that he’s the morally-centred Uncle Ben. Director Marc Webb wrings every drop of acting juice out of his performers, and the 3D swinging-through-New-York stuff was almost worth the extra moolah that the cinemas extort from you… almost.
But the story… The one thing that drives me nuts these days is franchise sequel bait syndrome. I watched so many threads set-up in this story, only to then see them unravelled, abandoned and left as loose ends for the sequel(s): what happened to Peter’s parents, Norman Osborne’s fatal illness, will Peter find Uncle Ben’s killer, to name but three. And had these been cut, the film might’ve been a good twenty minutes shorter, bringing it under two hours, saving my bum from numbness and my eyes from 3D strain.
This strikes me as being symptomatic of the producers being in charge of a bigger franchise. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies had his unique style all over them, he was driving the ship and he told stories that were self-contained. Yes, there were sequel hints at the end, and overriding story arcs, but nothing that bogged down the story you were watching at that moment, and certainly not to the level they do in this new movie. In Amazing Spider-Man there are great chunks – entire scenes – that have little to do with the story you’re watching now and everything to do with the story that has yet to be written. Marc Webb is a fine director, but I’ll be surprised if he’s back for the sequel as this time round Marvel’s producers are running the show and they have a master plan. I guess that’s all well and good for a mega-studio riding high on the success of The Avengers, but there’s an arrogant assumption that I’ll be back for episodes two and three, and at thirty-six quid a pop for the whole family that’s (taps calculator) a lot of money!
I’m currently working in a script that’s practically gagging for a sequel, and I know all too well the temptation to drop in all kinds of hints to whet the viewer’s appetite for future adventures. Fortunately we’ll be working to a very, very tight budget and we can’t afford to waste a word or a scene on this indulgence, so we’re obliged to tell our story and that’s that. So when in twenty years’ time I’m working on Spider-Man 15: We Finally Get Some Answers, and I have the luxury to indulge in franchise sequel bait syndrome, feel free to digitally slap me around the face with this blog post and demand a single story, well told.
Update: I was wrong! Director Marc Webb is back for the sequel. And good luck to him.