David Hayter Talks Movies
Pull up a chair, we are about to have a long conversation about movies with Writer, Actor, Director and Producer, David Hayter.
A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. David Hayter. Many of you know him for being the voice of “Solid Snake” in the old “Metal Gear” series.
But besides his brilliant voice acting career in the video games industry, David Hayter is perhaps one of the most talented writers Hollywood has to offer. That’s no exaggeration. He’s been credited in X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Watchmen, The Scorpion King, Wolves, Warrior Nun, and a few more.
Sit down with David and us; we are about to talk movies here.
Javier: This one’s hard to ask for me because I really like the movie. Back in 2014, you directed and wrote Wolves. I’ve been waiting six years to ask you this question.
The makeup effects were there, (Dave Elsey’s werewolves had a sort of The Howling vibe, that’s always a good thing), the cinematography was there (who doesn’t loves Canada scenery?), the direction and writing was there (you), the cast was there, I mean, Jason Momoa, Stephen McHattie, you can’t do better than that. What do you think happened? Was it a timing issue?
Maybe there wasn’t an audience already built like with The Hunger Games or Divergent? It was a few years ago, but I won’t forgive myself if I don’t open the interview by asking about Wolves.
David: Well, first of all, I appreciate your kind assessment of the film. I agree the cast was excellent, and the creature effects were well executed. The main issue was that when we did early test screenings, the audience support was around 30% (which is the current Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, by the way).
Now, for a strange werewolf action-horror hybrid, I thought 30% was pretty good. But our producers and financiers panicked and lost all faith in the movie.
We did not get the release we wanted, coming out in just two theaters in L.A. and New York, and there was zero publicity put behind it. No one wanted to put in the money. I felt this was short-sighted, as Jason Momoa was already a huge star due to Game Of Thrones, and I knew he would be doing Aquaman in the future. (They had already approached him to play Drax in Guardians Of The Galaxy.) And I knew his performance was spectacular. The man is a living timberwolf. So it was a huge missed opportunity. But I’m so glad you enjoyed the film. Tell your friends to check out the “Unrated Cut”.
Javier: You are filming Warrior Nun, could you tell us a little about that? (Also, what are the main differences between working with Netflix vs working with the big studios? And can we expect some of your writing in the show?)
David: WARRIOR NUN is an action show adapted from the graphic novels by Ben Dunn, which will premiere on Netflix early next year. I had been looking to get some writers’ room experience, as well as some “Showrunner Training”.
The creator of the show, Simon Barry, was kind enough to bring me on, even though it is a strange experience to bring an established screenwriter into a TV writers’ room. Nobody really knows what to expect from you (and your ego). That said, the experience was fantastic. I just sat down to work with everybody else, I got to work with nine amazing writers and break an entire season of television with some excellent, experienced people. I learned a huge amount. It was very different from the experience of writing a studio feature, but every professional production has its rules and strictures and the process was very efficient and creative.
As for my writing, I was involved in the breaking of the entire season, as we all were, and I will have a personal writing credit on episodes four and eight. Hopefully, we will do more seasons of this show. It’s very kick-ass and unique.
Javier: You wrote the screenplay for the original X-Men movie and worked on the sequel as well, then you wrote the screenplay for Watchmen, one of the best comic book adaptations to date right along with Sin City and 300.
Aside from some of the latest Marvel movies (and the Joker, of course), why is Hollywood having such a difficult time translating stories that are already written to live-action films? I don’t want to name a particular film, but we all know which ones flopped. With Frank Miller’s work, the argument is always the same: Miller’s writing is easy to translate to the big screen, that’s why it works.But Alan Moore’s writing isn’t particularly easy to adapt into a live-action film, yet, you made it happen.
David: Well, again, it’s about fear. If you have to spend $150-$200 million on a film, the studio is always going to second-guess the material. Part of what makes a great comic book story is that it is unique, edgy and weird. Studios hate that. And they don’t give any credit to the comic book story itself, as it probably has not sold a hundred million copies like a Harry Potter novel. So they are always second-guessing great material. The only way to get the studios to make a truly great, original adaptation is to have a huge director or star on board.
SIN CITY got made because of Robert Rodriguez, and WATCHMEN only got made because of Zack Snyder. I spent nine years trying to get that film made, and four different studios couldn’t wrap their heads around it until Zack signed on. They would claim they “didn’t understand the script”. Of course, they did understand the script, their notes made that clear. They were just terrified to make something they hadn’t made before, until a proven money-maker told them, “It’ll be great. Trust me.”
Javier: In your experience, if a writer has an opportunity to get in a room with a producer, what should they do?
David: Have a few stories to pitch. I once spent a few hours in a car with a film intern who was helping me pick up my production vehicle. He was a writer, but he never pitched me anything, despite having me trapped, a captive audience. Now, I’m not saying I want to be pitched all the time, but I do know that when a writer gets my ear, it will benefit them to take the opportunity. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but let these producers know what material you’ve got. It may spark a conversation, and it may lead to setting something up. Everyone wants and needs new, fresh material, and young people are a great resource for that kind of thing.
Javier: How do you know when your script is ready? When do you know it’s time to print the entire thing and start pitching?
I go through a rigorous process of outlines, beat sheets and development before I even start a screenplay. So I always begin writing, knowing pretty much where all the twists and turns will be, leaving myself open to surprises along the way, of course. Then, hopefully you have some producing partners, or a director you can trust, who can give you notes. A script can always be improved, all the way through to the final edit. So listen to the people you trust. (Not just some dude who’s seen a bunch of movies, unless it’s Quentin Tarantino.)
Be open to any note, even if it runs contrary to what you’re thinking. They won’t all be right, but all of them probably contain a kernel of truth that a problem needs to be addressed. I find that it takes at least three or four rewrites before I’m ready to take a script out and for the ones that have gotten made, there are typically at least eight drafts that got us to that point.
Thank you for your time David, this was fantastic.
Thanks so much. Excellent questions.