Fascinating Q&A with Watchmen Writers David Hayter and Alex Tse
Whether you liked Zack Snyder's Watchmen or not, it's a miracle that it ever made it to the big screen. And before Zack Snyder was ever attached as a director, it was screenwriter David Hayter (yes, the voice of Solid Snake) who was helping guide it through the depths of Hollywood along with producer Lloyd Levin. While listening to the /Filmcast live last night, Dave Chen mentioned a podcast that Creative Screenwriting had released featuring a fascinating Q&A with Watchmen co-writers David Hayter and Alex Tse. The short clip he played had already sold me, but I just finished listening to it and it's incredible, so I have to feature it.
For those who want to start downloading it now, you can grab the full MP3 for this from here.
The Q&A was held after a screening of Watchmen that Creative Screenwriting put on, and was moderated by writer Jeff Goldsmith (who is a superb moderator). The entire 100+ minute podcast can be downloaded here. I implore any and everyone who is a fan of the filmmaking process, a budding or active screenwriter, a Watchmen fan, or just interested in hearing one of the most fascinating discussions you will ever hear, to listen to this in its entirety. It truly was an incredible Q&A to listen to and I'm so glad Dave mentioned it. I've never loved learning about the screenwriting process more than I did in listening to this podcast.
Hayter and Tse (and Goldsmith) cover so many topics in their discussion, including how the entire project developed from the start, how it progressed to the final draft, the changes that were made over the years, some of the suggestions that the studios had, and of course, the updated squid-less ending. Take this little story, for example. Hayter says that he had originally updated Watchmen to be set in modern times because he started writing his version of the script right after 9/11 in 2001 and therefore he was informed by the war on terror and the state of the world at that time. Tse took over once Hayter dropped off at the end of 2005.
For a taste of the kind of brilliant discussion found in this Q&A, I've pulled some of the most interesting excerpts from Hayter's commentary on the ending and the squid and why he decided to change it.
"It takes a lot of setup to introduce an interdimensional space squid, it just does… You can't just say, oh there it is, and look, there's my squid… The difference between the novel and the movie, and this is the real difference, is, we don't have the appendices afterwords. And the whole thing with that storyline is all setup in the Wizard magazine, the stories about the comic book, and it's also setup in Tales of the Black Freighter, to a certain extent - there's stuff about the secret island, these artists… That's all stuff that I would have to spend screen time explaining at the end of a movie where I've already spent two hours explain a lot. Clearly the movie does not shy away from piling information on top of you. But I felt that that was going to come out of nowhere."
"For all of the infinite possibilities of film, I believe, you have to be very circumspect about the number of magical things that happen in your movie." Hayter tangents onto X-Men and the mutant gene briefly, then continues. "You have Dr. Manhattan, who was your element of magic in the story, and then you have the squid, who came out of another dimension and could cast psychic waves of destruction, and that seemed like an extra bit of magic that came in at the end, and needs a lot of setup to justify it. So, it became obvious that if you use Dr. Manhattan, well, it's already setup, and he is the force, and he is the outside threat that has been throwing the whole world into chaos anyways, the has thrown off history. So in the end, it seemed to make sense."
I'm not going start another discussion on the ending, but I think Hayter makes some great points about why the changed ending makes sense and still achieves the same objective as the squid in the graphic novel. It also seems quite prevalent that both Hayter and Tse got the job because they have such an immense appreciation for the graphic novel, which, I think, really shows in their screenplay. Take, for example, some of the development notes which they received from studios: "Cut all the flashbacks, no need for six characters, could it be a buddy movie between Dan and Rorschach, or could the 'blue guy' wear pants."
Another quote from Hayter that I loved hearing was his one rule that he set for himself when writing. "The only set of rules I had were, what if I was a gigantic Watchmen fan - which fortunately I was - and what would I kill me over for changing. And anything that I think I would kill myself over - don't do that." He goes on to add that "there are things that I did to adapt it… to make it, I don't know, more appropriate for film, or give it a cool sort of film [feeling]." However, "we're trying to mimic Alan Moore's voice as best we can," Hayter adds, "I'm just trying to fill in any gaps with my best impression of what Alan's intention was."
If you're now interested in hearing the complete Q&A, which I strongly suggest, head over to the Creative Screenwriting blog to grab the MP3. I hope a few of you find this as utterly fascinating as I did.