Exclusive Interview with Dawn of the Apes, Avatar 2, Jurassic World writers!
Husband and wife writing and producing team Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa have been collaborators for over thirty years. In the 90s their credits included THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (which Silver wrote and Jaffa produced,) EYE FOR AN EYE and THE RELIC. But a few years ago they became household names in the movie geek world thanks to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which existed purely because the duo had a novel idea of how to reboot the stalled PLANET OF THE APES franchise. Think it's safe to say we're all grateful to them.
At this point, there isn't a hotter screenwriting team in town; Jaffa and Silver have three major tentpole films coming at us: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (opening this Friday), JURASSIC WORLD and AVATAR 2. They also have the story credit for Ron Howard’s upcoming whaling film, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, Moby Dick story starring Chris Hemsworth.
In the interview below, I talk with Jaffa and Silver about the splendid reception RISE received, the making of DAWN (including the departure of original director Rupert Wyatt), working with Steven Spielberg on JURASSIC WORLD and where they currently stand on the project, collaborating with James Cameron and a team of writers on the forthcoming AVATAR sequels, and plenty more. (I had to get a little RELIC talk in there!)
Compare the experience of writing DAWN to writing RISE… Obviously expectations are a huge factor.
Jaffa: RISE started with an idea we had that we took to Fox, we said we had an idea of how to reboot one of their franchises. For the longest time it was just Amanda and I writing on our own with notes from a Fox executive named Peter Kang and other Fox people. We developed the first one on our own.
Silver: And it didn't have any heat on it. It was a quiet project that was done in the back halls of Fox. We had a lot of time alone and it wasn't rushed.
Jaffa: The core idea never really changed. If you were to see our first draft, all of the major beats, they remained the same all through the process. It was that way for a long time, about two years, but it was interrupted by the writer's strike. But on DAWN, it was waiting to see how the first one did before they entertained the idea of doing a sequel. And they waited a while, I think it was a few months before we were officially started. And the biggest difference was that now there were a lot of people involved from the get-go.
Silver: That and now it had a lot of heat on it. The first one had done well, so Fox wanted to get the sequel into the pipeline quickly. They wanted it fast, it was a very different writing experience.
Did you work with [original DAWN director] Rupert Wyatt on the sequel at all, or did he depart the project before he had much input?
Silver: We collaborated for a very short while before he left, so we didn't get to work with him as much as we would have liked.
Jaffa: And by the time Matt [Reeves] came on, we had already moved on to JURASSIC WORLD. When Matt came on, he started working with Mark Bomback.
How surprised were you that Wyatt didn't stay on board? I believe the reason was it was going too fast and his vision and the studio's didn't mesh.
Silver: Unfortunately, we don't really have any privileged knowledge about what Rupert's reason was. I know everyone was sad to see him go, he did an amazing job on the first one.
Jaffa: I can't say I was really surprised, because we all worked so hard on the first one that we were a little burnt out when we got started on the second. But you'll have to ask Rupert. I think everybody is really fond of everybody, and I think everybody was on the same team in terms of hoping for the success of the second one.
You probably knew you were making a quality movie with RISE, but was the extremely positive reaction from fans and critics alike a surprise?
Silver: It was a huge surprise, and hugely gratifying. I can't overstate that. From the beginning, when we started working on RISE, our goal was to keep the diehard APES fans happy. We didn't want them to feel that we had gone in a crazy direction; we wanted to pay off their loyalty. At the same time, we wanted to garner a new, fresh fanbase. That we pulled it off was very exciting.
Jaffa: We did think we were on to something very special. But the truth is, you never really know. We were also naive in that we didn't realize that the technology didn't exist. [Laughs] What we were planning, we knew there was no way real apes could be used. And we knew actors in masks would not be the right way to go. But until AVATAR came out, we didn't even really know how it was going to be done.
What made it great was that it wasn't some ridiculous action movie, but a drama with a lot of heart.
Jaffa: Thank you for that. When we pitched it on that first day, we said the idea is that it's a character piece, and the lead character is a chimpanzee named Caesar. They looked at us like we were out of our minds. But the pitch was very simple, very short and clean but with a lot of emotion.
Silver: Andy's performance is amazing. The whole idea depends on falling in love with Caesar, and really rooting for him in a deep way. Even if he makes mistakes. That fell squarely on Andy's performance - and Rupert's shoulders in directing Andy. Andy's performance was brilliant.
Then you went on to write JURASSIC WORLD. Was that something you sought out, or did it come to you?
Jaffa: That was different, we got a call from our agents saying Steven Spielberg was interested in meeting with us for JURASSIC WORLD. And I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch the name!" [Laughs] We were very excited. The first meeting with him was fantastic.
Silver: He's everything you imagine. He's so collaborative.
Jaffa: We felt a personal connection with him immediately, so collaboratively there was a quick meshing of thought and ideas. We were brought on pretty quickly.
Spielberg was thoroughly involved in the writing process?
Jaffa: Oh yeah, very much so. For the longest time, maybe a year, it was just the three of us.
Do you know how much of your vision remains at this stage? I believe Colin Trevorrow and his partner did a lot of work on it, if not started totally from scratch.
Jaffa: Another thing built on what we created, but we did not work with those guys creatively. We don't really know. We had one conversation with Colin. But we really believe in him, the cast is very cool. We're very excited about the experience with Steven and our contribution to it.
What are some of the cool set pieces you wrote that you hope make it in there?
Jaffa: [Laughs] We can't talk about that.
Is the old adage true, that screenwriters are paid well but treated like crap to make up for it?
Silver: [Laughs] It's kind of true.
Jaffa: I don't know about the "paid well" business. The thing about being a screenwriter is, sometimes you stick with it and it works out well, and other times you're replaced and it doesn't work out well for the project. But if your stuff is in it and audiences are moved by it, it's been worth it.
Silver: When it comes to JURASSIC WORLD we're extremely grateful to have worked the way we did.
So now let's talk AVATAR, because it was a big surprise when it was announced that James Cameron would be hiring all these different screenwriters to help him on the sequels. How has the process been so far?
Jaffa: It has been great. Again, it started with a phone call with our agent saying, "Would you be interested in meeting James Cameron and Jon Landau about AVATAR." We said, "Yeah!" The meeting was good, we saw eye to eye. We're very excited about how the collaboration is going, it's a whole new approach to writing scripts. That we're going to be a part of history, in a way, is a very cool thing. We spent an enormous amount of time with Jim and Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno, and a writer named Steven Gould who is writing the novels for the three sequels. We all spent a lot of time in a room last summer, it was very collaborative. Long hours and so forth, but it's been great.
And it's AVATAR 2 you're working on, right? The first one to come out?
It must be cool to be part of such an epic process.
Silver: It is very epic. Jim's vision is huge and detailed and very inspirational.
Jaffa: But to be clear, it's just us writing AVATAR 2, just Josh writing on 3 and so on. But we're all writing with Jim. And we all became very close, it was very fun.
Was it up to you guys to come up with some new worlds and aliens and such?
Jaffa: That's a great question, and we're not really going to talk about it. [Laughs]
Silver: Yeah, we can't talk about it. We'd love to give you more, but we can't.
My final question is, when are you finally going to get THE RELIC 2?
Jaffa: [Laughs] I don't know! That's so funny. The funny thing about THE RELIC was, we were brought on late. That was a unique screenwriting experience in that, we were literally brought on eight days before they started shooting. They had a cut-and-paste draft with three other writers, and that's what they sent to us eight days before shooting.
Silver: We were faxing them pages as they shot. They'd have us write the punchline to a joke, but they didn't know what the joke was yet.
Jaffa: We'd say, "We're sending you such and such scene," and they'd tell us, "Oh, we shot that yesterday." It was like, oh my god.
Silver: It was a technical puzzle.
Jaffa: But hey, it came out.
You seem to really love these big sci-fi movies and monster movies; has it always been a passion of yours?
Jaffa: Probably more me as a kid. I think a lot of it is just coincidence too, but when I was kid I'd stay up late and watch this kind of stuff on TV. Especially the old Universal monster movies, I love that stuff. So probably me a little more, but we've kind of grown on this journey together.
Silver: I was more Ray Bradbury, twisty stuff. I really loved "The Twilight Zone."
Jaffa: Yeah, "Twilight Zone" was huge in our upbringing. And that's one of the great things about APES for us. Rod Serling is like a hero to us, you know? And the original '68 PLANET OF THE APES is really like the greatest "Twilight Zone" ever written, and to think that we got the chance to rebirth that… And we were talking about the reception before, and some of the reviews were comparing it to the original - I couldn't believe I was reading that. [Laughs] We just revere Serling and the original movie to such a degree that it's all really mind-blowing. And DAWN won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction film, which was really gratifying for Amanda and me, be cause we really wanted approval from that community, we really wanted that community to say, "You did a great job." To me, that means more than anything.
Are you working on the third APES movie?
Jaffa: The truth is, we've been working on other properties, existing material, for a while, and so we're excited to be working on something original soon.
Silver: We don't have the bandwidth to figure out what that is yet.
Well, I'm certainly looking forward to it. Thank you for your time!
Jaffa: Thank you, Eric, this has been great.
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