David Hayter Discusses the Challenges of Adapting Watchmen
by Alex Billington
May 31, 2008
While most people know the name Zack Snyder, not too many people are familiar with David Hayter. He is one of the two writers who worked on the screenplay for the upcoming Watchmen. In fact, he was the original writer who adapted the graphic novel before it landed in Zack Snyder's hands and at its current home at Warner Brothers. Hayter was interviewed recently on the podcast This Week in Geek (via WatchmenComicMovie.com) and talked with the guys about the challenges of adapting such a hefty graphic novel. We all know that the original novel is quite brilliant, so what it will really come down to with this adaptation is whether Hayter, and Alex Tse, who worked with Zack Snyder on the script, were able to maintain that same brilliance in converting it for the screen. From this interview, I've got a feeling we're looking at one hell of a film come next March, but we knew that already…
If you haven't already heard anyone say this when talking about Zack Snyder, then I'll remind you. Zack is a fan, as big of a fan as any of us. Even Hayter confirms this, recalling an experience when he visited the set. "And then I went up to Vancouver while they were shooting and he couldn't have been nicer. He couldn't have been more enthusiastic. It was just like two fanboys hanging out and living out their dream. It was amazing." And with that bit of introduction, let's get down to the meat of Hayter's interview. He first discusses how he had to fend off Hollywood's desire to turn the film into something it didn't need to be.
It was protecting the integrity of the project from all the different studios we took it to. I had it at four different studios and it would inevitably come down to the same notes, which were "It's a six-person movie, can we make it about one person?" and "We don't like all these flashbacks, can we get rid of these flashbacks?" Well, we're stretching over events that reach for 40 years, so we kind of need the flashbacks, and it's not about one person, it's about six people. So, I can write you a movie with no flashbacks and only one main character, but that's not Watchmen, that's a different thing, and you're gonna have to pay me again. So eventually, we would part ways with each successive studio as they lost their nerve to make that movie and what we knew.
What any true fans will claim is that the film version needs to have the same depth and complexity that the graphic novel had in order to live up to it. While most of the visual aspect is up to Zack Snyder, that depth is essentially in the hands of the writers - David Hayter and Alex Tse. Thankfully at least Hayter seems to understand the graphic novel and all of its complex levels. And if you need proof, here it is. Hayter was asked about his favorite character from the graphic novel, and goes into a lengthy discussion about Rorschach and essentially the entire concept of the material - which is to bring into question the idea of masked vigilantes and superheroes in an alternate reality.
I mean, they're all great characters, and they all have amazingly detailed character arcs, but Dan is just sort of human. I love Dr. Manhattan as well because I love his problem. He's becoming God and he's having problems with his girlfriend. I just think that's a really great metaphor for anyone who's gained a lot of power in their life and has to try to stay connected to humanity. But the real gold is Rorschach. That character is so brilliant. To me, Rorschach always pointed out the problem of having masked superheroes. As a kid, you say, oh, wouldn't it be great if there was a Batman or if there was a dark avenger of the night who would just come and right wrongs and so on and so forth.
But Rorschach raises the question of well, if you're going to hide your identity and go out and beat people up, are you always going to be beating up bad guys? Who regulates that? Who watches the watchmen? How do you know he's not going to be beating up environmentalists or creationists or whatever? Taking whatever his own personal ideology is and applying that in ways that society as a whole might not agree with. So, I think that's a really brilliant character that takes Watchmen above a standard comic book story and puts it directly into our world. Plus, he's got all the most fun dialogue. "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you, you're locked up in here with me."
Really, not only is Zack Snyder a huge fan of the novel and completely understands the idea, but Hayter, who wrote the original script, definitely understands it as well. And it's that kind of passion and appreciation and understanding that I have said time and time again will really shine through with Watchmen. Hayter didn't try to convert this into a different story, instead he just let the story that Alan Moore had written speak for itself. And that sort of writing in the hands of Zack Snyder really means that we are looking at one gorgeous adaptation of a brilliant graphic novel. You can read the complete transcript from the interview over on WatchmenComicMovie.com or listen to it on This Week in Geek.
We'll always be sure to bring you anything we hear regarding Watchmen as we count down the months left until its release next March. All eyes are focused on The Dark Knight right now, where we'll see the very first teaser trailer for the film. From there, the discussion and buzz will continue, as we head into the San Diego Comic-Con. I'm curious to know whether this sort of discussion from Hayter is instilling even more confidence in the film? Hopefully everyone knows that Zack Snyder is the perfect director and it sounds like Hayer was a perfect choice to write the screenplay as well. Are you concerned about Hayter and Tse's script for Watchmen at all?