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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Screenwriter Travis Beacham On “Pacific Rim” The Movie And The Graphic Novel

From Crave Online

CRAVE ONLINE: First things first, I just want to say thank you, because after the mess of Godzilla 1998, I was convinced I would never see a giant monster movie taken seriously enough to work the way it looks like Pacific Rim is going to work.

TRAVIS BEACHAM: I hope so, yeah.

CO: Was part of the genesis of this project a response to that – the need to make a monster movie right?

TB: Absolutely, absolutely. Ever since I was a kid, I've been nuts about that stuff. I remember watching Voltron, I would burn out the local Blockbuster and all the old Godzilla titles and everything. I come at it from a place of these being the first movies and first narrative experiences I'd ever had. When I'd gotten into the industry, I was thinking "they should really do a modern robot vs. giant monster movie," and then at some point I just realized that I was the 'they' in this equation. I was a screenwriter, and if ideas couldn't come from me, what was the point? Yeah, I just really, really wanted to see that kind of movie is basically the most honest explanation of where it came from.

CO: Thank you again for realizing that. However, once you get past the initial idea stage, how do you go about writing this and grounding it in a compelling reality? Because it's such a difficult task to make a movie at this scale while also giving it a human element that we actually care about – and we're not just waiting for the next giant robot/monster scene.

TB: When I first had the idea and just wanting to see that on a movie screen, it's not necessarily an idea to begin with. It's just a scene that you want to see. I knew the monster stuff was going to be fun to write, and I knew the robot stuff was going to be fun to write, but I didn't have any idea at all until I knew the parts in between were going to be fun to write. The notion that really changed what the movie was and really allowed it to come together was the realization that it took two people to run the Jaegers. Not only did that make sense practically, based on the size of the machine and how many functions the machine had, but it put the relationship between two people at the core of the movie. How it worked really depended on how well they worked together. They're neurally linked up, you know, their minds are connected. That let the story spin from human character stuff in a way that made sense to me, and that made it an exciting movie to do. Otherwise, I think I would have been at a loss and would never have had an idea to pitch anyone. But it was really the idea that you have two different pilots and their relationship is the engine of this machine that really allowed the emotional subject of the story to come to the surface.

CO: How exactly does that telepathic connection work? Is it all mindspeak or do they actually talk to each other despite the linkup or something else?

TB: They do talk to each other, but they are kind of emotionally synched up, and their thoughts are bleeding back and forth. While they're talking, they're kind of thinking the same thing in an abstract way. The explanation I give is that – when you see the trailer, you see them moving in sync, and I've had people ask why they have to move in sync, and my answer is they don't have to move in sync, but they happen to be moving in sync because their minds are connected. So that's part of what drives the robot, but the whole reason that they're in sync to begin with is that they're kind of thinking the same thing – not in a Borg-like hive-mind mentality kind of way – they're not totally synthesized into one being. They're still two distinct human beings there, but there's a definite flow of thoughts between them. That's where a lot of the conflict of the movie comes from. You have to trust the person next to you so implicitly and so naturally that you can't just be thrown in there with some stranger. You have to make a decision to trust someone and be vulnerable to them for it to work.

CO: Now, the graphic novel is a prequel to the film – does that give us the origins of the kaiju or just their first appearance? Do we ever get the origins of the kaiju?

TB: The movie takes place about a decade or so into the war, as it is. Already, in the first scene of the movie, we're years ahead of when the first kaiju arrived, and Jaegers have been around for a little while, so it drops you in. That's not to say that it's confusing or anything. I think it explains everything you need to know for the movie's sake – you can watch the movie and totally see it as a complete work. The graphic novel is in the same world, but it takes place earlier and shows you how our world became the world of the movie. You get to see the first kaiju attack and you get to see the first Jaeger, and you get to see what it's like to train to be a Jaeger pilot. You meet a few of the characters in earlier phases of their lives. It sets up the world of the movie in a really organic kind of way.

CO: You co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Guillermo Del Toro, but did you enjoy the chance to write the graphic novel on your own, or would you have preferred his input there as well? He seems like a fun guy to work with.

TB: Oh yeah, he's a really fun guy to work with, and he did have input on the graphic novel. It's just that the way our working relationship goes, it's more of a bounce-back-and-forth kind of thing than it is writing at the same time. I'll give him a script, and he'll do tweaks on it. I had a head start on Pacific Rim in that I had the idea in 2007 or something. So, way before the movie got rolling, I just sat on it and let the world come together and percolate for a while before it was in a shape where I was comfortable talking to people about it or anything like that without sounding insane. I think Guillermo is comfortable letting me handle certain things about the world. I'm obviously always eager and grateful for his input when he has time, and he has a great attention to detail and gave a lot of notes. He got pages of the comic at the same time I was getting pages on it. We'd both put suggestions in, we'd both give notes. At the same time, he was working on the movie and splitting his time between this and that. So I can only hope to do right by him if his attention is divided.

CO: So who's doing the art on the graphic novel, and how is it working with them?

TB: I think we have five pencillers on it – it's naturally divided up into episodes. Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, Pericles Junior, Chris Batista and Geoff Shaw, I think are the pencillers that we have. I didn't have a lot of back and forth between them because there were so many. A lot of that was mediated by the editor, but there was a lot of back and forth between them and between me and Guillermo. It was a very, very busy process. We were getting in pages every day. It was great, I really looked foward to getting that dump of files every afternoon and seeing the new things that they were coming up with. At the same time, it was an extremely busy process, interacting with a lot of people.

CO: The question that must be asked, what with Legendary Pictures doing a new Godzilla film as well, about the crossover potential between Pacific Rim and Godzilla – and as a bonus, given Guillermo's relationship with Peter Jackson, might we even get King Kong in the mix? Given how difficult that would be to get a film going with all of that, would you be interested in writing a comic book crossover?

TB: (Laughs) That would be a fantastic crossover. I would love to be involved in that. A lot of that would have to do with the story and how that shapes up. I would definitely hope that Pacific Rim proves its mettle to that extent. I think before any of that, I would love to see Pacific Rim get up on its own two feet and nest itself in its own world, but somewhere down the line, I can't rule anything out. I would think that was just cool and be as excited for that as anyone.

CO: Given the relationship you described going back and forth with Del Toro, I imagine you might have some say in the production process as well -

TB: I wouldn't say 'say,' necessarily.

CO: 'Input,' at least?

TB: Yeah. He's definitely the captain of it, but yeah, I've been more in the loop on it than I've been with anything, and I've been extremely grateful for that.

CO: Have there been any significant changes from your original script?

TB: There have been, yeah. Substantial changes, but all for the better, I think, and they're all coming with Guillermo from a very earnest place with being a fan of the medium and a fan of the story. Your script is always going to get changed, the first draft is always going to get changed, and the worst way it can go down is that it's changed in such a way that you don't recognize the soul of what you started with, and it feels like a different movie. I'm lucky to say that when I see Pacific Rim now, despite all the changes that have come along with doing the production stuff and getting everything worked out, it still feels like the idea that I originally had. The soul of it and the heart of it still feels very familiar to me, and that's just miraculous. I love that that's been the case. It's no great loss for any of the ideas that have been jettisoned with previous drafts because the world is big enough that anything we like that we couldn't necessarily find time for in the movie could find its way into some other iteration of the world. It's been a very, very rewarding experience, and it's a sandbox that I could play in for a long time.

CO: It sounds like a blast, yeah. What kind of tone are you trying to hit with both the film and the graphic novel? I'm assuming it's not going to be as tongue-in-cheek ridiculous as the Roland Emmerich Godzilla, but is it going to be a lot more "slam-bang," or will it be a mix between that and the deathly serious 'holy shit, what if this actually happened?' kind of thing?

TB: It is a total mix of that. I think I would be extremely disappointed if it had turned out to be entirely slam-bang. One of the things that I fell in love with in the beginning was not only the robots and monster stuff, but the character stuff, too. The people in it aren't at all monster fodder to me, but are kind of real, living, breathing people who I'm desperately in love with. The tone of the movie is a very human interpretation of this sort of story. It's wildly fun and the visuals are great, but at the end of the day, I look at it and think it has a lot of heart. I think a lot of that comes through in the graphic novel, too, where we get to find out a bit more about characters who appear in the movie, but don't necessarily reveal all of the details of their lives. Stacker Pentecost, Idris Elba's character in particular, has a very deliberate mystique in the movie, and I think in the graphic novel, you find out a bit more about what makes him tick before you see the movie, and I think that's fun. I wouldn't call it overly solemn or bleak, but it's definitely serious.


CO: Thank you so much. It sounds exactly like what I wanted so badly back in 1998 when that Godzilla movie hit. Finally, someone was going take the giant monster seriously, but… nooo.

TB: (laughs) Yeah. I agree. I agree. I'm so pleased. Given all your questions, I think you're really going to like it. I hope you are.  It feels that way to me.
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