Fascinating Q&A with Watchmen Writers David Hayter and Alex Tse

March 18, 2009
Source: Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Watchmen Screenwriters 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.

Find more posts: Cool Stuff, Discuss, Editorial, Hype



Great article - really inspiring in fact. Heading over to listen now.

Darren Albert on Mar 18, 2009


I don't think people are complaining so much about the ending or even the screenplay in general. So it's becoming a little annoying to me that Hayter feels the need to constantly rush to its defense. I understand that he worked very hard on it for several years under extreme pressure from both the studio and from fanboys. I would be equally protective of such an investment of my time. But, at the same time, I don't want to hear it. Hayter doth protest too much. If anything Watchmen is a failure in marketing. The film was destined to be a cult film from the get-go. Audiences aren't familiar with the characters and it's not a serialized story. By focusing on the story instead of the visuals, Warner Bros. could have served the film better by slowly building up word of mouth rather than trying to make it an event film on par with Iron Man and The Dark Knight. If they had done that, a $56M opening weekend in March would have looked like more of an accomplishment rather than the "dud" stigma that is starting to follow Watchmen around.

Tom Brazelton on Mar 18, 2009


@, you've basically summed up how i felt about this movie and couldnt put it into words....

Daniel on Mar 18, 2009


i did like the movie, but i didn't like their ending... reading the graphic novel the squid came out of nowhere, all there was to hint at it was some genetic engineering the company did. When i was reading it the setup to me seemed that veidt was trying to maneuver the soviest and the US out of their posturing stalemate into war so that his company would be part of the rebuilding process so he would make more money, then the end came, the squid came out of nowhere and it sort of put the entire series into prespective but like i said, i was entertained by the movie and I am looking forward to seeing the extended version and the DVD with the story of the black freighter... I know some people were thinking that Watchmen was gonne be a big box office hit, but even though i had a mainly positive response the people i have talked to that have not heard or known anything about the watchmen going in had, in almost all cases, a negative response. It seems that they thought that this was a stereotypical superheroes movie (batman, xmen, spiderman etc) and not a brilliant reflection upon society i hope it keeps making money, pushes past at least 200mil in theatres and the DVD sales should be big

Janny on Mar 18, 2009


Tom, you always know what to say. good job. summed it up nicely. now i'm going to go download that interview.

dave13 on Mar 18, 2009


No.2 hit it right on. I loved the movie by itself, and have never to this day read the comic. If the movie were marketed over the past year that it could carry itself, or so as to introduce the masses to the story and the characters, rather than presuming we were all the so-called "fanboys", then I surely would have bought the comic and read it by now. Instead, it had visual impact oriented trailers that seemed to me to say that the movie would carry itself, which I think it did very much, but everything in the trailers kept talking directly to the "fanboys", saying it was the most something-something comic of all time, and by a visionary director. Yes, the comic was pretty good, and its fans are very supportive, and it's directed by the guy who did 300. Great!! But, now, sell this to the rest of us. I'd barely heard of Watchmen over the last 25 years, and here I am hearing that it's the most anticipated comic movie of all time, a few months before the movie is released, and up until I finally saw it in IMAX I still didn't know what it was about except for what I could piece together from other peoples writings. Still, all in all, I loved the movie completely and consider it a superb production, if not one of the very best I've ever seen in my over 40 years of moviewatching, albeit with a few character flaws of Alan Moore's alternative universe I didn't go for, which I think should go without saying.

Phil on Mar 18, 2009


@janny (4): wow woman, I never thought of that possible ending you mention. I realized what was happening a couple of issues before the last comic but what I was expecting was, although similar, short of what the ending did. The ending for the movie suits perfectly in my opinion. And, is it just me or did you people did not pay attention at all doc Manhattan's winnie? I realized I missed it by when the movie end, not that I was eager to stare at it lol. I actually cried at his origin story and also when they are in mars with laurie.

Rick-Hari on Mar 18, 2009


To me Watchmen > The Dark Knight by a mile.

L1A on Mar 18, 2009


Watchmen is more liked by the "Fanboys" and of course they would back the film good or bad whether it be from a comic, video game, anime, whatever. The movie just didn't click. One big example is The Da Vinci Code by Ron Howard. Big Hollywood director name and a well known book yet the movie wasnt all it was expected to be. Zack Snyder did a fine job. But in the end the product didnt wasnt liked by the masses. People go into a movie more than once because it was good. they hear from word of mouth about a good movie so they go see it. Unfortunately for Watchmen to have a 47%, more or less, drop off its second week was due to bad reviews by hearsay/reviews. Not every movie that is adapted can be good. If there was another director, producer, or even writer etc etc could it have been a better movie? Maybe yes maybe no. /Discuss

Mike Balrog on Mar 18, 2009


The squid always felt like something Dr Evil thought of. It was a lot more believable to just to say what they did in the movie is how it happened. The squid just had that feel of being jammed in there to have a ridiculous amount of weird plot devices in the book. It was entertaining, but not missed.

L on Mar 18, 2009


Watchmen catered far too much to it's fans who are it's base but not a very large market. I thought the film was good, but nowhere near being a great film or even a masterpiece. Sadly, bad word of mouth, mixed reviews and unconvincing marketing put the nails in this film's grave.

SlashBeast on Mar 19, 2009


Sorry - nails in this film's coffin.

SlashBeast on Mar 19, 2009


The first time I read Watchmen, its concept was pretty clear: what would costumed heroes look like in real life. Heroes weren't all pretty, they aged, had flaws... Throughout the movie, I though to myself, “What the hell was Snyder thinking?” and not in a good way. The first scene of the film showed precisely where Snyder went wrong: a fight so over the top it almost asked for the "Pow!" and "Kabang!" of the Batman TV show. Simply said, visually, the movie looked less like real life than a Spider-man movie, or most superhero movies in fact. The only adult content was there because some of Alan Moore's dialogue which was repeated literally (Good Decision). Other than that, Zach Snyder thought an adult film meant full-frontal nudity and gore; it doesn't!

1-7 on Mar 19, 2009


Now I know who to blame for throwing the completely unecessary Rorschach hatchet head scene in. Seriously, that would have played out so much better w/out the gratuitous hacking. Maybe one hack - given his reasoning. Then let the place burn. As Kevin Smith said - and he said it best - they were fucked going into this, no matter what they did, but they took the hit, and the took it in favor of the fans. Good for them. I, personally, was hoping for MORE Watchmen fans to come out of this whole thing. Luckily, it looks like I converted about 5 or 6 of my friends, after I slipped them a bit of toadstool tea before watching it on IMAX. Truly, that was the ideal state in which to absorb the amount of information Watchmen throws at you, in one sitting. I walked out during the child-killer scene, though. Took the opportunity to catch the ending of Slumdog Millionaire, down the hall. What a night!

Django - an Alan Moore Fan on Mar 20, 2009

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