INT: Don Payne
Screenwriter and fanboy Don Payne fulfilled a lifelong dream and goal when he finally scored the opportunity to write the script for a Marvel Comic film. An award-winning writer for the animated TV series THE SIMPSONS, I met him earlier last year when his first screenplay for MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND hit the big screen. Payne seemed just as sincere and pleasant when I interviewed him the second time around on the set of his upcoming film FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. Check out what the comic book enthusiast had to say about the sequel.
I last saw you at the MY SUPER EX GIRLFRIEND junket.
Oh, that's right, yeah. Thats right. That was an interesting movie. I wish it had made more money, but it didnt.
I thought it had a unique twist.
Yeah, me too. I think it suffered from, I mean I still think its great. I'm proud of it, but I think it had a lot of competition during the summer. And I wish it had been marketed more towards the comic book genre I think people were a little afraid of that. I think they were going for more of a romantic comedy crowd, and I just felt like it kind of alienated people the could have helped us quite a bit. And a different type of marketing would have helped us a lot. But I mean it could also be that some people just dont want to see a super-powered woman beating up on a regular guy. I personally enjoy that. That's what I wanted to see, and there it was up on the screen.
Talk about how you got involved with this script?
I have been a Marvel Comics fan since I was very little, and so its kind of been my career path, my career goal to work on a Marvel Comics film. So I told my agent that as soon as I switched agencies that I really wanted to work with Marvel, can you get me in there, any way possible? So he kept putting me in front of [the right people, you know, over and over again, and I think I just wore them down and they gave me an assignment, so
How long did it take you to complete the script?
You know, its such a blur right now. You have to forgive me, because I just, I've been, I got off the plane about an hour ago. I was up till midnight working on a Simpsons outline, then I arrived here about four and a half hours later. So I just got here. So if I'm coherent, I've accomplished something today. But no, it seems to be an ongoing process. I met with him, I wrote it maybe six weeks, eight weeks, something like that? But I've been talking about it with him before for a while, shooting ideas back and forth.
What was your assignment? Did they have specific comic arts they wanted to use in this version of the film?
They knew they wanted to use Silver Surfer. They knew that they wanted to use Dr. Doom. And they had some ideas about where they wanted the characters to be at this moment in their lives, and so I basically just took that and went with it. There are little surprises in there that I dont want to spoil. They had a couple of ideas for it, so
Where are the characters now?
Well, Reed and Sue are engaged, and get married. But Ben is at a pretty good place right now, because it was really just showing he's more confident in his own skin. And Johnny is Johnny. He's got his own issues, and that's, I don't want to spoil it. He's pretty consistent.
Did you stay true to the comics, or is this completely unique?
Well, yeah, I mean...you've always got to go back to the comics. That's the source material. I mean certainly because were doing Silver Surfer story we're pulling from the Fantastic Four, 48 through 50, tonight, and we're also doing 57 through 60, I believe its a Dr. Doom, Silver Surfer story. And some moments from Ultimate Extinction as well, a couple of things about, and then, and some new stuff as well, kind of thrown in.
What was your biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge, well, its always challenging to come on board a franchise that's up and running, especially one that's so important to me, personally and so important to so many people out there. You want to get it right. You want to make it fun. You want to be cute as the comics, but be able to please the general audience as well, and make it entertaining for them. When you write a spec, before you sell it, its this little universe you create, and you're playing God, and you can do whatever you want, and you can do it exactly like you want.
At some point, eventually you have to turn it over and [unclear] describe the process, but at some point you get to play God and make things exactly how you want it. With a franchise film like this, especially one based on pre-existing characters, you can never do that, its always its got a history, and there are a lot of people involved. Its a studio, its Marvel, its the producers, its the stories, the director and you're trying reconcile peoples visions and your own and make it coherent, first of all, and entertaining and fun for everybody.
How much of the film focuses on the dysfunctional family aspect of it and will you offer a whole a lot more action?
Yes. There is a lot of action, but the characters are always based on the dysfunctional family, from the first issue. I think that's how they were conceived. And so there is that, but there is a lot more action, absolutely. We're hitting the ground running. Maybe its a challenge from the first film to try to set up the origins and find the right town, and I think weve done that.
What do you think went wrong in the first one and what did you want to change?
There were certain things I wanted to do and see what went right and what went wrong and what I would kind of change. I thought the one thing I really wanted to do on this was to make Reed Richards more of a leader than what he was before, so its no big scoop, but I thought the character could be a little tougher, and a little more assertive, especially when he's dealing with such strong personalities, he's got to rein them in and be in authority. So that's one thing I wanted to do. I want to make Dr Doom more evil and more like he is in the comics, push him away a little bit from the corrupt billionaire into somebody a little more threatening.
What can we expect to see from Dr. Doom?
And the only thing I'd say about Doom in this is that he's certainly progressing towards the Dr Doom that people know in the comics, much more so than the first film.
Are there any other elements from Fantastic Four that we will see for the first time?
There is, I think everybody has heard about Frankie Ray being in there. His character has dropped in. There are references to other characters that I dont want to go into. See, I dont want to spoil anything. I mean Im a kid who hates spoilers I have to say. I'm paying a visit to the Battle Star Galactica set today, and I guess they're filming the season finale, so I'm conflicted, because I want to see it but I dont want to see it, so its scattering around [in my mind.]
Is there anything in the film that you really wanted to put in but didnt quite make it?
I dont want to go into that, because its something the might appear in another film. So there were a couple of things I wanted to do, but everythings a possibility. The doors not closed on that.
Do you foresee a part three for the movie?
Well, I certainly think the door is open for a Silver Surfer spin-off, and I think that the franchise lends itself to a third film, yes, definitely. There are all kinds of questions left unanswered, which I think could be the support of the future film, but it is self-contained.
What's your take on the Silver Surfer?
I think its more traditional along the lines of the Silver Surfer that actually for economics with its fairly trying to be hybrid. I just saw a documentary, where, online on Me Too, which accurately referred to the Silver Surfer as a fallen angel. And I think thats a good analogy. I think he's one of the most complicated characters in comic history, maybe the most complicated. Because he's done some amazing selfless act by saving his own planet and giving up the woman he loves to save her life, and yet he's become part of this horrible genocide on a cosmic scale, and there's a moral ambiguity there. He's a noble creature who has got a xenon-like attachment from his actions and ultimately starts to become human again
Does the film touch upon his back-story?
It does touch upon his back-story. I think it could be more fully explored in a Silver Surfer movie. I think Silver Surfer is, for a lot of the film a mysterious force, an incredible power, and the FF try and understand what he is and what his presence on the planet means.
What did you like the most about this assignment? How did you picture the Silver Surfer?
I liked it all, man. I've got to say, I mean I loved writing for the four characters, because I know them. They were like a family to me when I was growing up. And the Silver Surfer was great; I mean he's a challenge. Youve got to maintain him as this mysterious guy but also noble and very intelligent and also dispassionate and that's the challenge of the thing. I think hes going to look really cool, from what I hear. He's going to look very tasteful.
Was it a challenge to write about the Silver Surfer without quite knowing how he would be conceived creatively?
[I thought] I'll write it as best I can, and see how they do it. I have confidence that its going to be awesome. I really do. I think the Silver Surfer is really going to draw in a lot of people, for good reason. I think its going to be great eye candy. Its going to be amazing.
Had you written the first part as well, do you think you would have approached part 2 differently?
I think, as I said, I think it was a real challenge writing the first film, because everyone was trying to find their footing, people were trying to find the tone, and find out how their selves within character, and I think it would have been a real challenge for any writer, writing that first film. I have a lot of sympathy for anybody in that situation trying to get a franchise off the ground, because there are a lot of things going against you. Its a big hill to climb. So I don't think, would I have written things differently here, as opposed to the first film? It would be easier to make Doom a malevolent and evil character that everyone knows a lot, having had, the first film certainly, but I think we're getting there.
Can you talk about some of the issues that Reed and Sue will face with their relationship?
I think that they are trying to figure out exactly how to make their superhero marriage work. How is this going to play out? Can they have a normal life and be superheroes? Can they raise a family and be superheroes? That's the big issue I think they face.
Will we see Sues powers have an effect on her physically?
I think when she exerts herself on a great level, you may see another nosebleed. But I think when she exerts herself tremendously, somethings going on in her brain, and it takes toll on her physically. I think they're more comfortable in their powers, and they're able to do things that they might not have been able to do in the first film.
How much did you have to take into account what the hardcore fan base may want?
Well, I know what the fan base wants, because I'm part of the fan base. I'm one of them. I try to stay as true to the comics as I possibly can. But you can't do a literal translation from the comics to the screen. So there are changes you have to make.
Were you very prescriptive of how the Fantasticar would look?
I described how, I didnt give the exact physical description of tires would look like this, and it would be blowing out fire here, but the essence of how it should be. You know, its cool. Its sleek. Its fast. So that was the main thing. I think theyve done a great job. I think it looks really cool from the designs I've seen. I think youll like it.
What are some of the dilemmas the Fan Four face in terms of their celebrity status?
Well, I think that when you become a superhero team and you dont have a secret identity, you run into a problem of celebrity, a lack of privacy, you can't really go outside to a restaurant without being swarmed, and I think this is some of the things that theyre dealing with. Especially Reed and Sue were talking about a long-term relationship, and ultimately raising a family, is it right to bring someone into this world? Especially when you have monsters doming from the negative zone? Thats not in this film. Maybe in the future.
What changes can we expect from the Baxter Building?
The Baxter Building, because theyre more successful and are making more money, has been refurbished. It has Reeds lab. So its not as grungy. Its more high tech. Its slick. I havent seen it.
Which comics did you read growing up?
Surprisingly, I grew up as a Marvel [Comics] kid of course I know Batman and Green Lantern and most of the Justice Society, but I havent been following or reading their comics that much, except for big event things, like Identity Crisis, I read that, I thought it was excellent. And that was our kind of force. That was great.
How do you read the difference between Marvel and DC, when you say you're a Marvel guy? What does that mean to you?
There was something about the Marvel Universe that really appealed to me. It seemed more real to me than the DC universe, partly because it was New York, and Los Angeles, and the characters seemed more flawed in their secret identities than they did with DC Universe. I mean Bruce Wayne was, had his problems but he was also a millionaire, so Peter Parker was somebody I could identify with, at that age, somebody who was picked on, and nerdy, and it was a wishful thing for me. I mean that's what drew me to Marvel. But I liked DC And I've been reading this X Mark.
What do you make of the electronic approach on the new show TV show Heroes?
I love the fact that there are so many characters, so many good stories that can hook you in. If there's one that doesnt really appeal to you, just wait a minute; you're going to get something else that you like. I love that. And they're all origin stories, and all these origin stories are always really interesting. And I like the mystery of it all, like you wonder whos doing what, and what is their relationship? And what is their power?
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