Anytime you meet with the Producers and/or Writer of a film it’s like peeking behind the curtain. From these people the story emerged. They guided the words, the look, the feel, the lighting, and the actors. A lot of times we don’t realize all the little things and ALL the people it takes to make a great movie. Below is some snippets from our interview with Don Murphy, Susan Montford, & John Gatins. Hope you enjoy and learn as much as I did:
Q: Can you take us through kind of the thought process of how [UNINTELLIGIBLE] to make this and the target audience and just kind of where are we going for who.
DM: Well it took seven years to make the film. Um, and it started out when Susan and I brought the short story to DreamWorks. And, um, it’s really an interesting, really an interesting question because there was, like, the eternal struggle. Susan and I tend to be very dark. And so we were kind of, with Bob Zemeckis, kind of pushing it over to, like, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] for a heavyweight, you know, the fight gets thrown and the Hugh Jackman character is an alcoholic and all this kind of stuff. Steven, of course, is sunshine and light and so he was like, “Put a boy in there.” He was taking it all, like, to THE CHAMP level. And I think that struggle kind of ended up with, uh, a really good place which is the ROCKY level.
SM:Which also, I also [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].
DM: That’s what John likes to say. So the thought processes, the thought process literally was we thought we were gonna do a dark, twisted movie with robots and, uh, we ended up with a really commercial movie with — that’s not very dark and twisted. A little bit, but not too much.
Q: And then, you’re in the movie.
JG: I am.
Q: So did you —
JG: Call me Kingpin!
Q:– did you get cast for that or were you like “I need to be in the movie.”
JG: Well, I — nothing’s ever easy. Um, but, uh, I was in Shawn’s first movie which is BIG FAT LIAR. And it was funny ’cause the producers were guys that I had made a movie, you know, written a couple of movies for and that kind of thing and they said, “Oh you should put our friend in the movie.” And Shawn, a first time director, was like, “Okay.” So it’s like I show up on the day and it’s like one line with Paul Giamatti where I’m supposed to say, “You put that puppy in Lucite and you’ll have yourself a nice little keepsake,” ’cause he’s sitting there with a broken Jaguar symbol.
And I had twelve hours to think about it ’cause they’re obviously not gonna shoot out the day player. So it’s like they’re doing all this other work or whatever and they get to my scene and there’s like this much light left in the day. And Shawn looks at me sweating and he’s like, “Okay, so you got it?” And I was like, “I, I don’t know what Lucite means. I don’t really know that line. I was gonna say something else.” And Shawn looks at me like, the day player guy. So it’s like I improved this line that then became this joke in the trailer. So Shawn forever thanked me and then it’s like however many years later, he comes on the movie that I’ve written, so it’s like here we are reunited kind of thing. So it’s very funny. ‘Cause Shawn was an actor too. So it’s like we’re both kind of failed hacky actors who like have found other careers. And he’s got a ton of kids too. I mean, so we …
Q: Was the movie based on the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Steel?”
DM: Well, there’s a short story that comes before that.
Q: Oh, okay.
DM: There’s a famous short story called “Steel” by Richard Matheson. Richard Matheson is one of these big science fiction guys with an unbelievable career. Susan and I got to know him. He’s in his late eighties. We just screened a film for him, luckily he liked it. Um, he goes from amazing, from THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in the fifties to I AM LEGEND a couple of years ago. Um, he also is very crucial to Steven’s career. He wrote the movie DUEL, which was Steven’s first movie. And also he was story editor on AMAZING STORIES for Steven.
Q: So they go way back.
RM: So Susan and I optioned the short story, which was only twelve pages, which was also the basis, as you say, of a twenty-two minute TWILIGHT ZONE with, uh, Lee Marvin. Uh, but we only took, we took like five key ideas, key ideas, so you don’t rip the guy off, from the, from the short story and then everything else is [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. Otherwise it would be a ten minute movie.
Q:What was your intended audience.
SM: It was a family film. You know, we think, we would ideally like the whole family to go and see it and all get different things from it, ’cause we think it’s got something for kids and something for parents.
Q: You said you originally wanted it to be really dark.
DM: That’s just us. We’re twisted.
Q:When you decided to go the more family route, how did you balance the lightness and the dark so that you please both audiences?
DM:That’s a writer’s question.
JG: I mean, I think that, you know, Steven was the, Steven added the boy. Always wanted, like, he wanted there to be a boy in the movie, which was not evident obviously in the story or the TWILIGHT ZONE episode at all. So Steven wanted, you know, to add the boy and then, you know, I was working on drafts with Peter Berg originally and he wanted the movie to be very, a really rough relationship between of them, and obviously a lot of that exists still in the film.
But, you know, he also wanted the Bailey character to be, it was a man who was a great machinist, kind of thing, a mechanic who worked with him and that kind of thing. So that was another Steven thing where he was like, “I think that should be a woman so that it gives them something to play.” So the movie kind of, and then when Shawn came on, Shawn obviously has this kind of, crazy, kind of movie magic that he does, you know, with families, you know. So that kind of like helped to it. And then I would say, like, Hugh Jackman, I don’t know that anybody else could have balanced the question, the answer to your question better than Hugh.’Cause you have to think of other actors that you can think of who are guys who can be that tough who you, he’d be nervous about the whole time. Like Hugh plays this amazing role where he can be mean to the kid but you hang in there with him. Like you kind of see something inside and then you’ve met him, I mean, it’s like, he’s the most lovely guy in the world. So it’s like, it’s, I, I give him so much credit for kind of being able to kind of smooth those edges that still make you feel like I’m gonna hang in there with this guy.
DM: Plus there was, there was things that we shot, do you remember guys? Things that we shot then as we developed the movie we — there’s a scene, there’s a scene where the kid actually does, early on, when he’s like give me the money and I’ll get out of here. That’s a scene we actually shot where he runs away.
JG: When he goes. Where the dad says to him, “Fine. Go.” [OVERLAP] And then he has a dark night of the soul and finds his way back. But I mean it’s a little bit of going out of the way to come back to the same place so it was [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].
DM: And that was like, you know, it’s like okay, well that doesn’t really — it makes Hugh a hell of a lot less likable. So.
JG: And you know the thing that didn’t survive the movie that Shawn and I both were kind of bummed about and it will probably be on the DVD is there was a, there was a whole kind of origin story of Max, you learn more about his mom. And there was this whole thing about this butterfly and this butterfly hustle that he had. And then like, he kind of argues with, you know, Charlie about it throughout the movie ’cause he had all these plastic ones and he made it like there was a special one. And then he actually has one that’s special and Charlie says to him, “You don’t get it. You are the butterfly Max.” It’s like, it was about his mom.
ALL: Awww. [OVERLAP]
JG: See. This was the room I could tell that story to. You know what I mean? Because in screenings people say like, “I love the movie but, like, I don’t get why you didn’t like, what happened with his mom and blah, blah, blah.” It’s like, look, we shot it, you know.
SM: Yeah, we loved that scene as well but unfortunately there was a [UNINTELLIGIBLE] constraint and the performance just wasn’t perfect.
DM: It’s true.
SM: And it wasn’t perfect enough to get picked.
DM: And the problem with the butterfly is it’s in a bunch of scenes.
JG: Yeah. Now there’s a problem. So if we lost this one piece we kind of had to lose all of these pieces to it.
SM: We all cried when we let it go.
JG: It was hard. It was hard.
DM: It’s a great scene but the scene never quite played right.
JG :It’s true.
DM: And then we had to cut out the butterfly entirely. But it might show up in the deleted scenes.
SM: Yeah, but we feel, you know, that most people can relate, most kids and most people can relate to a slight conflict with one or either parents. And then there’s obviously the whole [UNINTELLIGIBLE] resolution and you go your moments and [UNINTELLIGIBLE] and then you always love them. And we feel it embodies that quite realistically and sweetly because of Hugh and the way he does it.
JG: Yeah. ‘Cause he has the ar-, remember he had the argument with the kid, when the kid thought he lost the butterfly, the pin, one of the [UNINTELLIGIBLE] this whole thing and he was like, “She gave it to me.” He was like, “And I gave it to her.”
ALL: Awww. [OVERLAP]
DM: One of the deleted scenes that I always miss was, there was a deleted scene, um, after they [UNINTELLIGIBLE] somewhat bonded, after they played with Noisy Boy, remember? We actually shot this. When, um, they’re at a, they’re at a luncheonette.
JG : Oh right! Yes. Yes! Yes!
DM : And you realize, Oh, this kid really does know robot boxing because he starts rattling off —
JG: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DM: There’s only so much you can put in a movie.
Q: So who has final cut?
DM: The director. But it doesn’t, you know.
JG: The hard choices you have to make sometime because it benefits the overall film because of pacing and things like that where you kind of feel like those scenes where it’s like — my sons, for example, would probably shift in their seats and be like, “Oh, they’re talking about the butterfly again!”
JG: “The butterfly! The butterfly!” Meanwhile my daughter would be like, “The butterfly!” But, you know.
Q: What made you decide at the end of the film, during the last battle, to not have him dance into the arena?
JG: We shot it.
DM: It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s — you get it. And now it’s confrontation time. You get to the confrontation.
SM: We thought it was kind of implicit. We didn’t need to make it explicit.
SPOILER!!!!!! If you have NOT seen the movie skip the next question
Q: Did you ever consider in that last battle having Adam actually win?
JG: I’ll tell you what’s interesting. I’ve written a lot of sports movies. And like usually the sports movie is like, oh, you know, the underdog team is gonna win the big game. And if it’s based in truth, which sometimes [UNINTELLIGIBLE] you have to kind of play what actually happened. But what’s funny is Shawn and I said from the beginning, ’cause I said, “Look, you know. I just feel like they’re gonna force us into like making him have to win this.” What’s like lose the battle but win the war somehow? So we kind of kept doing it but no one kept like saying to us, “Guys, he’s gotta win. He’s gotta win. He’s gotta win.” And I was like, we kind of got away with it. And I remember when Shawn called me, I was in L.A. and he was in Detroit and he said, “You know we shot the last piece with Dakota in the, in the movie, but it’s like now we feel like we need this moment where they say to him like how do you feel? It’s like I don’t feel like we have the right thing.” And that’s when, literally, he and I were over the phone I just said, “Well, what if he just says to him they’re calling your bout the People’s Champion?” He was like, “That’s great but does he say to him?” And I was like “I don’t know.” And I was driving in my car and I was like, “Wait!” And I like called him and I’m like, “Did you just say People’s Champion? Sounds pretty good to me.” And it’s like, “Great!” It was one of those weird things where like, we lost the battle but won the war.
DM: Plus if he wins, you know, Susan and I are very hopeful for a sequel.
DM: Apollo and Rocky have to meet again.
SM: Also we felt that was also more realistic too.
JG: Yeah. He wouldn’t ultimately really beat Zeus but, you don’t know. He might in the sequel.
Q: the ending, the family situation’s kind of left up in the air.
JG: Well, you know what’s interesting is I said to Shawn, uh, we were in Detroit, I said, “You know,” ’cause we had already started talking sequel and sequel and sequel. And Shawn, you know, we’re all, I’m very superstitious. It’s like, oh, don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it. The studio was like let’s talk about it. And I kind of said to Shawn, I said, “Should we shoot some weird stuff right now just that we just hold,” no honestly, like, meaning, like, just even Dakota, because Dakota will look so much different right? It’s, like, ’cause he’s a boy who, I watched him grow daily. It’s like my God. So it’s like, he’ll look, in a year and a half or whatever, he’ll look much different. And we kind of toyed with it and we, like, couldn’t come up with anything conceptually that we thought was really kind of, you know, spot on. But, I don’t know. We felt like the movie ends in the ring, you know what I mean? Like you can do that coda but, like, it feels a little bit like your dragging me through it now.
Q: He carries the movie really, really well. He’s such a talent. How difficult is it to find that?
SM: Well, we started off with an older kid who had done quite a lot of movies. And, we actually liked him but Steven said, “Well, I think actually you need to go younger and you need to keep looking.” So we ended up doing this worldwide search where, you know, kids from all over the world were posting videos on the various websites and obviously the casting directors did an amazing job because they boiled it down to a few on there and when we looked at the few we were unanimous that [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. This was an exhaustive search.
JG: And I’ll say too, you know, Dakota is so winning in the movie, it’s amazing, you know. And I wrote and directed the movie DREAMER with the other Dakota, Dakota Fanning, right? And I watched her and her sister, ’cause I spent like a year and a half with them [UNINTELLIGIBLE], so it was so funny ’cause everyone would be like “Can you get Dakota please?” And I’m like Dakota? Dakota?
JG: But, you know, the thing about his performance in the movie is, it’s, there’s a Hugh Jackman element to it that you cannot deny ’cause Hugh is a guy who has kids and we all know it’s like, you know, getting them, drawing them out. It’s like Hugh gives away the movie constantly, like in every scene, to Dakota. He just kind of gives it to him and gives it to him. It’s amazing. It’s, like, and that chemistry is what kind of carries the entire movie. You can watch them argue all day.
DM: Following up on what Susan said and to that, you know, it’s like hats off again to Steven, had we gone with the older kid who is an established, brilliant young actor, everything he said would sound bratty and you’d think it was weird. Now it’s clear the kid’s overcompensating for the fact that he’s in over his head. You feel sorry for this kid saying bratty things as opposed to when he’s fifteen [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
Q: Was the dancing something that you knew that you wanted in the kid while you were doing the search or something that he came up with?
DM: Oh, no he gave us shivers about the dancing.
JG: I’ll tell you what’s really funny about that, if you know Peter Berg at all, it’s like, he’s a pretty hard core dude. So, like, when I put this dancing thing in the first draft that I showed him, he was like, “Ah. It’s like, yeah. It could be brilliant.” He was like, “Well…” But he had an instinct about it and said, you know what, like, leave it there. And then Shawn and I talked and he said, “I don’t know Johnny,” he’s got that Canadian twang, “I don’t know Johnny, I don’t know if it’s, I don’t know if it’s gonna survive.” And I was like, “Well, we’ll see.” And it really came down to casting. It’s like because you’ll, all day long with a kid like Dakota but if the kid had been, again, if he’d been a teenager, you’d feel a little bit like the kid was like really showy and like annoying or something like that. But he gets away with it.
DM: The other thing that’s kind of fun and just a little trivia is that the director was very tight with Anne Fletcher who directed THE PROPOSAL. And so she’s the one that did all the [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
JG: She’s from Detroit too.
DM: Yeah. Which came in kind of…
Q:The dancing plays well . You can see it coming, if you know anything. [OVERLAP] [UNINTELLIGIBLE] is this movie turning in that direction? But it works.
JG: Well, the only thing that forgave it for me is that he [UNINTELLIGIBLE] and he says to him, “Look, you have to do the dance.” And the kid’s like, “No way! Like I’m gonna dance in front of a robot, like, a boxing crowd?” It’s like, “No, you gotta do it. It’s a good hustle.” So it’s like, “Mm, okay,” so he’ll do it.
Q: The scene where Adam and Dakota when they have that whole scene where they walk down the alley together and they have like this moment where he’s like you can understand me, um, but I won’t tell anybody. But it’s not really touched on throughout the rest of the movie. Was that actually more drawn out but cut out?
SM: That was very deliberate to keep it quite mysterious and open to interpretation as to whether Adam’s actually a magical robot or not.
DM: There’s a moment at the end which I think, you know, it chokes up me, Susan and Steven and probably John if he’ll admit it, when it goes to like slow motion and the boy looks over and Hugh’s fighting the fight, right? And it’s at that moment, in my interpretation anyway, it’s at that moment that the boy realizes the robot’s not magical. “What the hell was I thinking? It’s been my dad all along. All I wanted you to do is fight for me, Dad, that’s all I ever wanted, and here he is.” And I think the idea is the boy thinks the robot’s magical. He even says, “That’s the payoff, I’ll keep your secret.” He says that to Dad when Dad’s trying to say, “I love you.”But, but, but he didn’t want to drive it home. He didn’t want to be like, “Oh, is the robot magical?” It’s like, the boy thinks it is.
Q: I thought that way because [UNINTELLIGIBLE] but I really think it’s up to you to decide.
JG: That’s what it comes down, I mean look, it’s the beauty of movies is that, you know, you kind of go and if you buy in and you pay your money and eat your popcorn and you kind of say you know what? It’s like I’d love the robot to be magical. It’s like I want to think that everybody’s got magic, you know? So you want to go and connect with these characters even if it’s a two thousand pound piece of metal.You want to feel like, look, we’re, we’re a family at this p– they’re family at this point. I mean everything they’ve been through. And, you know, the second movie, hopefully, uh, you know, will really explore it and it actually will be more from Charlie’s point of view in a way. It’ll be like what is it? What’s inside? It’s like what’s inside me that makes me connect with him? It?
DM:Are we still going to Brazil?
JG: [LAUGHS] Well, that was the joke. Hugh said to me one day towards the end of shooting, he said, “Come on mate. When are we doing the sequel?” And I said, “I think the sequel opens in a beautiful, like, beach community in Barbados and we hear the shower running and a beautiful woman gets in the shower. And it’s Kingpin’s honeymoon.
JG: It’s the rise of Kingpin. See, we all can dream. We can all have a dream everybody.
Q:You definitely need, like, a connecting to go with it because then you become the robot.
Q: Yeah, the videogame?
DM :Oh, the videogame’s coming out but the toys are already in, um, the toy’s already in.
SM: Are they based on scans of the robot and everything?
DM: No, we were blown away. When they originally did the deal we were like, “Yes! Toys!” ‘Cause I do TRANSFORMERS and it’s all about toys, right? So we’re like, “Yes! Toys!” And then it’s like, “Who’d you do it with? Not Hasbro. Not Mattel. Who are these people?” So we kind of gave up on the toys and then we got to go over a couple of weeks ago, a couple of months ago, to Malibu and we saw the toys and we’re like, “Oh man! They’re so cool!” So we can’t believe how well they turned out.
JG: Is there really no Kingpin doll?
DM: No, no, no. There’s no humans at all, so don’t feel bad [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
JG: All right.
Q: So is there going to be a story where Adam became a robot?
JG: Well, you know, again, uh, you know, Shawn, I was reading, ’cause Shawn and I have been kind of talking, emailing, texting, ’cause he’s been all over the planet, obviously, answering that question and others just because people are like, “Oh, we know there’s a deal for a sequel potentially and whatever.” So Shawn is like, “What do we kind of want to reveal? What do we want to talk about?” And you know, origin of the story of Adam will play definitely in the second movie, you know. It’s not gonna be an origins story, so the second movie won’t be an origin story but that’s definitely a route I want to go like disappear into a little bit and it should live throughout the movie, I think, a little bit.
JG: That’s the thing is we want that guy to kind of be a guy and find him [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
DM: We were so lucky to have Evangeline because she manages to do that big scene when she describes to the kid how great your father was and how it was amazing and she just has this kind of smoky voice and she did a great job.
SM: And she’s very relatable as, you know, the [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] while she’s trying to hold things together.
JG: You guys have all seen the movie?
JG: How young would you guys go with letting a kid see the movie?
I said: Seven
Q: Well for me there’s one scene where they’re —
JG : They get beat up?
Q : Without that scene I definitely would go younger. That’s such an intense scene.
Q: So are you really aware of keeping it away from TRANSFORMERS?
DM: Yes. That’s why we built the robots. That’s why we made it more about the relationship between the father and the son.
SM: And we wanted to make it very realistic and plausible, so this is [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].
DM: Uusually in TRANSFORMERS you’re spending most of your time going, “And there’s Optimus.” Here they actually, we built them.
Q: Since we’re talking about it, it’s very futuristic in some aspects but very now in a lot of other aspects.
SM: But that’s a lot to do with the locations being shot all in Detroit Michigan and also with actually building the robots and we wanted to keep it grounded in that kind of believable Americana.
DM: Plus it’s like 2020 which is only nine years from now. We don’t have flying cars or anything.
Q : Was there a time when you wanted to develop a more sexual relationship between Hugh and Evangaline — I thought the way the relationship was done was perfect. I mean you got the connection. You knew that there was obviously something that had happened in the past but yet you didn’t have to physically show it. Was there ever a time when you — ?
JG: I mean, I think at the end of the day. I mean, for me, at the end of the day it’s, you know, I mean, part of me is writing it from the perspective of a, you know, nine year old boy. So it’s like, yeah, it’s nice to have a girl, and we like her and everything else but it’s like we don’t have to spend, we don’t need to know, you know because this intimate thing.
SM: Well, you could feel they were soul mates, like their souls were connected and that was the thing that was drawing him.
Q: Their entire lives.
Q: She even says, like, “I was there.” You know, he was the magical one for her.
SM: Precisely. That’s really nice.
Q : Thanks everybody.
ALL : [APPLAUSE]
***Disclosure: I attend the #DisneyDreamWorksEvent and Disney paid for my flight, hotel, and expenses, but my thoughts and opinions are my own.***