Tag Archives: Rice University

My interview with Hurd and Chaidez about ‘Hunters’ posts to CS magazine

6 Apr

Avoid the Formulaic: Gale Anne Hurd and Natalie Chaidez on Hunte“They are many. And they are angry,” reads the tag line for the new television series, Hunters, which premieres April 11 at 9 p.m. CST on the Syfy Channel. The hybrid gritty crime drama and sci-fi thriller based on best-selling books by Whitley Strieber, puts a new spin on aliens as monsters that look just like us.

Gale Anne Hurds 35-year career as producer reads like a ‘best of science fiction’ list, including The Terminator, Aliens, Tremors, and The Walking Dead. Natalie Chaidez has worked as producer and writer on some of the best recent TV shows, such as The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Heroes and Necessary Roughness.

Gale Anne Hurd and Natalie Chaidez, together with actress Britne Oldford, talked with Creative Screenwriting about the ambiguous nature of character and why screenwriters should never attempt to figure out a screenplay’s plot before writing it.

How closely did you adapt Strieber’s book Alien Hunter: Underworld, for this show?
Natalie Chaidez: Strieber’s book is really a jumping off point. Gale is a long time fan of Whitley and that is how Gale found the project. We then met each other through our agents at UTA. Then the project really took its own path. So we really did deviate from it, although I’ve worked really closely with Whitley.

Whitley came to the set in Melbourne and performed a cameo, you’ll have to look for that in season one.

His new book (The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained, written together with Jeffrey J. Kripal, and J. Newton Rayzor, professor of religion at Rice University), came out recently.

Gale Anne Hurd: There’s also another one (of Strieber’s books) that has been renamed Hunters. It has Julian (McMahon) on the cover.

The show’s antagonists don’t value human life. Did you base the criminals’ MO on ISIS in any way?

Natalie: I landed on Hunters not wanting to do what other shows have done about aliens. I really wanted to create a different mythology. So, I created a group that is behind the eight ball that doesn’t have a lot of resources, that’s desperate, that’s alone, and that’s hungry. That sort of led me into the allegory that hunters are terrorists.

Are there ISIS references? I mean they’re operating as terrorists and that’s who are in our collective mind right now. I think someone looking hard enough will see some references to that, but it’s not based on ISIS in any way.

Gale: This whole process started three years ago, or three and a half years ago. The idea of not being able to look at someone and know if they’re a terrorist just as you can’t look at a hunter and know they’re a hunter. What does that mean, how do you pursue them, and what happens when you do capture them?

Those are some of the issues of the day that we’re dealing with, and people are divided about that, and that’s where great drama arrives because you can have characters representing all sides here. And because it’s dealing with aliens, it’s not pressing those same buttons.
Did you incorporate Homeland Security thinking with the idea that “everybody’s hiding something?”

Natalie: Yes. As Gale says, The Walking Dead are the monsters that are chasing you and Hunters are the monsters inside of you or sitting next to you.’ There is that idea of how close people are, the bad people and the idea that the terrorists are hunting us. That’s something that we’re all scared of.
Gale: I’ll tell one short anecdote. One of the younger actresses in Hunters, Shannon Berry, was reading a book I had sent her, Brothers in Arms: The Story of al-Qa’ida and the Arab Jihadists (written by Camille Tawil in 2011.) It’s about a reporter who poses as a young girl to communicate with real jihadists.

Someone pulled her out of school and wrote a police report. They said ‘we’re worried that you’re going to join a jihadist cult.’ They called her family, but they wouldn’t tell them what it was about.

Natalie: She said ‘it’s research; I swear it’s research.’ That just shows you how real our fears are. My fear is that a school administrator could see a monster in a young girl reading that book.

Gale: And not even know that the book was exposes ISIS as a terrible thing and what their tactics are. Assuming instead that it was a manual about how to become a terrorist.

Natalie: But it speaks to this question as to how high our fear and anxiety is and how our society determines who is a monster.
In Strieber’s book, Flynn has been forbidden to take lethal action against the alien murderers when protecting Earthling civilians. Tell me about this interesting dichotomy and how it plays out in your TV series.

Natalie: Flynn is looking for his wife, Abby. He doesn’t know what she has to do with the Hunters, why she has apparently joined them. How far Flynn will go and what he will do to protect his wife is definitely addressed and what lines he will cross. He will definitely have some challenges.

As The Walking Dead characters spend more time living under duress fighting unknown forces, they become aggressors. How will you handle this same psychological aspect in the series Hunters?

Natalie: Flynn is a vet so he struggles with PTSD. He doesn’t know if what he is experiencing is a product of his symptoms or if it’s real life. The great mystery to me about Flynn chasing Abby is, you never really know the person you love. That’s kind of the fear that we have. Who is inside of you?

The idea that someone or something might be inside of the person that you love is a mystery that needs chasing. He asks ‘Who is this person that I love?’ He finds an answer by the end of the first season.
Like the TV shows Heroes and The Walking Dead, the main theme for the Hunters series at times feels personal. How personal is it and how do you weave that into the storyline without being preachy?

Gale: In Walking Dead, you can identify the monsters. The zombies you can tell; obviously part of the issue there is what happens if the zombie is someone you love or a family member.

But in this case you can’t tell by looking at someone what they are. Like with anyone, whether they are hunter or human, you don’t know what their motives are. So you’re always off kilter in Hunters even more so than in The Walking Dead where the villains make themselves apparent very quickly. That is not the case here.

You have a personal attachment to saving the planet and saving humanity that is very evident in The Walking Dead and also in Heroes.

Gale: What I find most interesting is taking ordinary people, thrusting them into extraordinary circumstances and seeing how they cope, how they succeed, how they fail. And always like in so much of the things that I’ve done, the stakes in this case for failure are global.

Natalie: We are living in a time of epic changes. Whether it’s ISIS or global warming, somebody needs to save the world. Hunters really asks: ‘at what cost?’ and ‘at what cost to ourselves? How far will we go to save the world?’

So it’s a little grayer world than Heroes, literally grayer. We ask an additional question about character: how do you maintain your morality and save your soul while you’re trying to save the world?
Britne, how would you characterize the moral compass of the character you play, Allison Regan?

Britne Oldford: I think it can be completely debatable whether Regan — off the jump — is good or bad. That’s strictly based off of her motives, based off of certain things she may do or why she is working against her own kind.

But also, that question can be posed to any human being. Are you good or are you bad? What makes you good? What makes you bad? Because good people can do bad things. So it’s a difficult question definitely and you’ll see that develop for every single character throughout this first season of Hunters.
Your shows do a really good job at not coming across as preachy.

Gale: Look, there are only complicated questions and no easy answers. That’s what I think any great fiction should be. Which is ‘let’s ask questions. Let’s see how our characters deal with them.’ We’re never going to say that we have the answer and we’re never going to say especially that we have the right answer.

What is one bit of advice you would give a screenwriter?

Gale: My big thing really is the writing that I don’t respond to is clearly where writers have figured out the plot first and they’ve tried to shoehorn characters in to get to a certain point in the plot. You have to know your characters inside out and once you do, they will guide you. They will almost make the choices for you. It’s a mistake that a lot of people who take these screenwriting courses make, who basically say there is a formula for writing and it’s all plot–come up with a plot, and it’s dead wrong.

Natalie: I also don’t do any formulaic writing. My best advice would be to write a lot, and write something good and if it isn’t good, go back to step one and repeat. Basically, that’s all there is to it.

Please see my article posted on Creative Screenwriting magazine by following this link: http://creativescreenwriting.com/avoid-the-formulaic-gale-anne-hurd-and-natalie-chaidez-on-hunters/

My interview with Bill Broyles Jr. posted today to CS magazine

10 Feb

Cast Away for Real: Taking Research to the Extreme | Creative ScIn an exclusive interview with Creative Screenwriting magazine, writer Bill Broyles Jr. talked about why he feels he must always first walk in his main characters’ shoes.

   “You have to ground things in an honestly felt experience of your own. Sometimes that is an experience you’ve had yourself; other times you have to talk to people and try to get into their heads and try to experience what they did,” he said.

He also said the concept for Cast Away in 2000 came from reading Daniel Defoe’s book, Robinson Crusoe and that The Odyssey by Homer helped him to write the plot lines for Apollo 13 in 1995.

Cast Away

In 1999 Broyles called upon Mormon survivalists in Utah to deliver him to an isolated island in Mexico and to teach him how to make fire; then they left him there alone for ten days without food, tools, or shelter.

“I had to learn to make a spear out of rock and I had to spear a fish – or a stingray actually and eat it raw. I had to lick water off of leaves. Everything he (Noland) does in the movie, I did,” Broyles said.

Alone, Broyles discovered his own metaphysical need for companionship.

“I went down to the beach the next morning and there was a volleyball washed up on the shore. It was a Wilson. I put some shells and seaweed on it and talked to it,” he said. “That became like the core of the movie.”

Bill Broyles tall

Broyles called upon his five senses — and then some — to tell his Cast Away story without voiceovers or a musical score.

“What was so powerful was just the sound of the ocean and the silence. I didn’t want the audience to experience anything but what the character did,” he said.

He also recalled the isolation he felt when as a first lieutenant in the US Marine Corps returning to the United States in 1971 after earning the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry in Vietnam.

“I realized that all of the things that were important to me back in the civilized world meant nothing to me anymore,” he said.

In Cast Away, as in all of his films, Broyles used symbolism.

“There is the feeling that the ocean represents both birth and death,” he said. “It’s not human; it’s this other being. It’s kind of a mystical whale. That is all kind of biblical in a way.”

Broyles called Cast Away his favorite film because the character shows what he thinks by doing.

“A lot of it is beneath kind of rational thought – there’s just this kind of instinct,” he said.

“Everything he does, everything he handles – every piece of wardrobe is in the script.”

An everyday object such as a Port-a-Potty became a vehicle, while a FedEx box represented a spiritual totem.

“The thing that ultimately saves him is the painting (image) on the FedEx box that he doesn’t open. That one box that he does not open gives him the image of the wings and he realizes that’s how he is going to get out – on the wings of this Port-a-Potty.”

“I just really enjoyed the visual storytelling of that.”

Broyles stripped away the most elementary of his writer’s tools – words – to create a character – the Wilson volleyball – that he called “my favorite character.”

“Because he is made out of the blood of Tom Hank’s character. In a way, it’s a creation story,” he said.

Broyles said he inevitably experiences a sense of loss every time he watches Tom Hanks character release Wilson to the ocean.

Apollo 13

Broyles’ initial research for Apollo 13 began as a youngster growing up in Baytown, Texas. Later as journalist he wrote about the programs designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“One of my favorite scenes from Apollo 13 was when the crew is trying to make the filter and the guy dumps everything. He says ‘You have to take this and make that.’ I think there’s a kind of fascination with tapping into that primal thing we have,” Broyles said.

“This survival instinct and our ability to improvise and to learn – that’s really fundamental.”

Like the character in Cast Away, the main characters in Apollo 13 get into trouble, they figure out a way to survive, then return home.

“I like a structure that’s simple like that because you can tell the character’s story more deeply,” he said.

Broyles channeled both real life astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 much as he did his fictional character, Chuck Noland, in Cast Away.

“There’s always a part of me in every character,” he said. “You have to really try to inhabit each one.”

China Beach

During filming for the television show, China Beach, actors helped to develop the characters that Broyles imagined.

“Just watching these actors, we used to say ‘they think they’re Marines, but they’re really not.’ They become them, convincingly so,” he said.

In China Beach, experienced actors contributed to the show’s success. Actors Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger and others taught Broyles how little dialogue that he needs to write into his scripts, he said.

“They would say, ‘I don’t need to say this – I can do it with this,’ and so we gradually wrote less and less dialogue. Finally, we would write a scene that just had two words, or we would write a scene that just said ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Or we’d write a scene that said ‘Yes has to mean No and No has to mean Yes,’” he said.

Broyles did more than write China Beach as a multi-dimensional view of the Vietnam War to a television audience.

“Something film and TV can do, besides just entertain, is they can be a way to express and confront those deeper things in life,” he said. “You want it to make people’s lives better and deeper if you can, as opposed to just entertain them,” he said.

Broyles learned to improvise scripts and to use all of his resources in order to save money.

For the episode of “Vets,” Broyles intercut recorded interviews with real veterans talking about their wartime experiences as anecdotes into previously recorded scenes from China Beach.

Writing techniques

Broyles said he interviews and records real people talking about real life events and he also reads a great deal of research before he ever begins to write.

“Often when I start writing, I don’t even look at it (the research.) I put it all aside and just try to feel it,” he said.

“It’s kind of one of those parasite-host situations. If I let the parasite in too much it changes the behavior. So, I am inspired by it – I can’t do the writing without the research. I can’t really write until I’ve done enough research to write.”

Broyles’ attention to detail stems from his formal education at Rice where he earned a bachelors of arts degree in history and from Oxford University where he earned his masters degree in politics.

He also understands the importance of historical accuracy from working a decade as an editor at Texas Monthly and two years for Newsweek. Yet, he admits that he still encounters pitfalls while writing.

“The biggest pitfalls I encounter in writing comes when my writing sucks, or I feel that it does,” he said. “So you have to be able to write things that you know aren’t that good,” he said.

“Then that crappy screenplay is like scaffolding. I build it so that I can see to the next place and then I write the next one.”

During the writing process Broyles often subconsciously includes details that ultimately prove valuable to the success of a script.

“Like those wings in Cast Away on the box. I had no idea why I put those wings there. But when I was trying to figure out how he (Noland) would get off the island, I put in all these different versions – he was rescued by pirates, or by drug dealers. Then I realized he had to get off by himself and he had the wings on the box.”

However, Broyles said he has become his own worst critic.

“I’m rarely satisfied with my work. I’m not motivated by praise ‘this is so great.’ I’m motivated by ‘this sucks; you could do so much better.’ That keeps me going, but because of that I keep getting new ideas. It doesn’t stop.”

Broyles admits that for him, the writing process becomes cathartic.

“I don’t write what I think; I write to see what I think,” he said. “If I don’t write I don’t learn, so I’m always seeing,” he said.

Writing the China Beach television series exercised his talents in a way that helped him to improve his writing process in a non-linear way.

“I was always able to write the future episode even though we were in pre-production on one and filming another and in post-production on another,” he said.

“So instead of going ‘A, B, C, D, E, F, G,’ you say ‘Wait, I can go A, G, and the audience will know exactly what’s so going on.’ So I can cut all that other stuff out.”

Broyles moved from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Santa Fe, New Mexico recently. He enjoys isolating himself in order to write.

“I like to live away from the business of film,” he said. “I just want to think about doing my job, which is the writing and then if I need to go to LA, or New York or London to get it made, then ok, I love doing that.”

However, Broyles prefers writing film scripts to those for television because he enjoys sitting and watching audiences react to his movies.

“The religious celebration around the fire, telling stories or celebrating rituals in the dark — whatever those things are, I miss that with TV,” he said.

“I just feel so lucky that I’ve got to make a few movies.”

Please see my article posted to Creative Screenwriting at: http://creativescreenwriting.com/cast-away-for-real-taking-research-to-the-extreme/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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