/Film Interview: Evan Daugherty, Screenwriter of ‘Snow White and the Huntsman,’ Talks About The Film’s Evolution and More
Posted on Monday, June 4th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
For anyone out there reading, writing and making movies with your eyes set on Hollywood, Evan Daugherty‘s story of how he wrote and got Snow White and the Huntsman made is an inspiration. Years before studio began salivating over big action fairy tale films, Daugherty had the idea to take the Snow White tale and make it more action-packed via a small supporting character, The Huntsman. His script, originally written in a college dorm room, sat on a hard drive for years until Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland made a billion dollars and SWATH quickly became one of the hottest scripts in town.
Also, for anyone who struggles with collaboration, criticism and change, Daugherty’s story is even more enlightening. Since its first draft, Snow White and the Huntsman has gone though some radical changes. Multiple structures, tones, different characters living, dying, etc. In our interview with the screenwriter, he took us through the entire time line and detailed who changed what, when, how casting forced script changes and much more.
Though reviews of Snow White and the Huntsman were decidedly mixed, its history is fascinating. Read all about it in our interview with screenwriter Evan Daugherty below.
/Film: I was reading a little bit about the conception of this film and I was hoping you could fill in some of the blanks. At the earliest point in the process I read said that you were writing it in your NYU college dorm?
That’s right. Yeah, I wrote it back in undergrad film school at NYU. I was on the production track, so you learn about all aspects of filmmaking and one of them was craft and format and structure of screenwriting. I didn’t write SNOW WHITE for any class, but I got bitten by the screenwriting bug and wrote a couple of scripts in my spare time instead of going to keg parties or something. I was just in my dorm inside my own head exploring fantasy worlds and you know, somehow, I think it was probably the third script I wrote and somehow this crazy idea came to me to tell the Snow White story in a more action adventure way with this small character from the fairytale and built him up into a bigger character, the huntsman character. And yeah I wrote the first draft pretty quickly and it was the first thing I actually thought was really cool that I had done and that was the genesis. It took a long time for anyone else to pay attention to it, but that was the genesis of it.
Around what time was that? You were way ahead of the curve on this thing.
That was I believe in 2003 and to show you how… I mean I was too far ahead of the curve, people did not… I think people enjoyed it or enjoyed the storytelling of it and were intrigued by it, but people didn’t really know in a macro sense like what to do with it. They didn’t understand the idea of doing a gritty, slightly darker, more action adventure version of what is normally considered a more gentle fairytale and now you look at it and it’s like “Clearly that’s a thing that’s very popular now,” to take familiar characters and redo them or reboot them in a grittier way, like that’s very much a trend, but people literally didn’t understand what I was trying to do for a long time, so thankfully the trend seems to have worked in my favor here in the last couple of years.
Sure. Do you think it was Alice in Wonderland that did that? You were already writing after Lord of the Rings, so what do you think it was that set this script aflame in Hollywood as it were?
Lord of the Rings was going on, like my college years were the years of Lord of the Rings, an awesome time to be in film school. I loved STAR WARS as a kid, but I missed out on the experiences of seeing them for the first time. It was before my time and Lord of the Rings, that trilogy felt like something similar to what Star Wars was for previous generations. Lord of the Rings was a big influence on the script, but yes without a doubt the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland and its box office success was the prime catalyst for this new trend of fairytale movies and most of the time that meant studios commissioning writers to come up with an alternate take on a fairytale. I give myself a slight pat on the back for the fact that I had had that script already written and just pulled it off my hard drive and gave it right to the same producers, some of the same producers as Alice in Wonderland, a guy named Joe Roth. As soon as we did that it was kind of off to the races until this very day.
Yeah. Now I cheated a little bit and saw the movie last night, but I also skimmed your draft, which you can find online and you see the structure, you see some of the characters, but it’s way more fairytale and less war-like. Would you say that that was the main thing that happened in the development from your original screenplay to what we see on screen?
Yes. I’ll give a slight bit of back story and say that draft that was sold that you were skimming through still is I would say the conceit and the over all structure is the same, but it is pretty different than the movie, which I imagine you have seen. I sold that script to Universal, but I was also employed to rewrite the script with the director. So I worked on the script for about four or five months working closely with Rupert [Sanders] and it’s at that point that the movie started to shift more and more towards the finished product that will be coming out in theaters and that’s when the director takes over a bit and becomes the prime mover of the movie and they start getting influenced by the concept art that he and the concept artists are coming up with and the production design and the location scouts that they are doing in England.
So all of that stuff starts filtering into the script. So the script that I ended up with after working with Rupert for four or five months is fairly close to the finished product. Now there was still a small army of other big writers who came on and sort of continued that process further and did good work on the movie too, but to your specific question, yes. The biggest change I would say for me, like my favorite more of all time or top three is The Princess Bride. I love the tone of that movie. I love the way it tells a fantasy adventure story, but with a little bit of humor and a little bit of modern sensibility and wit to it and certainly that’s kind of the main thing that has been lost on the process of going from my script to the finished movie. I sort of miss it, but it may have made it a stronger movie, I don’t know. Now it certainly feels kind of like The Dark Knight version of Snow White in its relentlessness and grittiness. By the way, I wanted that grittiness. There was that action adventure element in my original draft, but I know to really embrace that… You can tell from Rupert’s commercials and things that that’s really Rupert’s sensibility. So I think it works well with this movie, but that’s probably the biggest change.
Was there anything that you really fought for that you either won or lost that you wanted to keep from that? Or an idea that you had that you could think of or talk about?
I don’t know about fought for, but one of the interesting processes over the course of the movie through pre-production was the casting of the huntsman. In my original draft another slight difference was the idea that the huntsman was primarily a mentor figure with some hints of an unrequited love relationship with Snow White. As an example, like the original pitch I would give for this movie back in the old days when I first wrote it was. “It’s Snow White meets Luc Besson’s The Professional” where it’s like the huntsman is like the Jean Reno hitman character teaching Snow White to be this strong warrior and fighter. So he was much more of a mentor in the original and the process of the script evolving and then the casting, they started thinking about older casting for the huntsman character, like Viggo Mortenson, Johnny Depp, guys like that, which would have been more that mentor figure. But when Chris Hemsworth became available and it was right after Thor and he was so good in Thor. I thought Thor was really over the top and crazy, but really fun and I thought he was really good in it. There was no way you could cast Chris Hemsworth and not turn up the volume on the love story between the huntsman and Snow White. So now it’s much more of a 50/50 between huntsman as a mentor and huntsman as a potential love interest and that was a big change, which to be honest I was a little resistant too, but knowing a huge portion of movie goers go to see… I mean it’s just a classic element of any story, a compelling romance or a compelling love story or the hint of a compelling love story. I have since been won over by that, but I was a little resistant to that at first.
You mentioned that audiences go for a love story and in the original draft, before you started working with Rupert, she ends up with the prince and the huntsman dies. Do you feel with… I won’t say how that’s different from the movie now, but do you feel like what is in the movie now compromises your vision in order just to go for a sequel?
I will say it could seem like that, but honestly no. The history of the script is so long and complicated that to get it to the original stage would be boring. The original draft I wrote in that college dorm room, the huntsman did survive.
The hunter was my favorite character in the movie. That was my way into it. The huntsman survived for a long time. It was in the rewrites that we did with… We did a little polish on the script with the producers and the director before we sold that script where we kind of realized “Well let’s do this version of the story where the huntsman does die to make a more compelling story.” So that was a weird… That just happened to be the way that the tides turned right before we sold it and then I was actually kind of thankful that the huntsman came back to life in subsequent drafts. I love that kind of a character and I would like to explore him more if people like him and are into him, but I think it’s just a testament to just the fact that the script has gone through so many incarnations and ups and downs that we did survive and he didn’t survive and now he does survive, but I will not throw the studio under the bus on that one.
[Both Laugh] I didn’t think you would.
We didn’t compromise our integrity, but the studio does have notes that you may disagree with, but that one was not necessarily one of them.
All right, two more quick things and Evan it’s been awesome to talk to you. You talked a bit about working with Rupert. Now he is a first time director. How did that collaboration work out? How strong was his vision for the movie and your relationship working with him? What did he bring new to this film?
It’s interesting, because he is definitely a first time director, but he is very experienced in the commercial world. He has directed tons of commercials and that’s really hard work and it’s work where you really have to put a lot of time and effort into thinking about a finished product that’s only 30 seconds long. So he has very strong visual opinions, so it didn’t feel as if one was working with a first time director. It felt like he was very confident in the story he wanted to tell and the visuals that he wanted to go for and hopefully my script was a big part of this happening, but I know a big part of the process was also Rupert coming onboard with a very strong visual presentation to go along with that script. That was part of the reason the script sold and he came up with… He put together a sort of minute long sizzle reel in order to finally get Universal to give it the official green light and so he knows what he is doing for sure. The process of working with him as a writer working with a director was a good process. It’s better than other experiences I’ve had, but it’s tricky. There are some points where you butt heads where it’s hard… It’s so hard to argue with the director, because in Hollywood there’s a lot of disagreements about whether the auteur thing is true or not, whether the director really is the prime author. Really the way it works now is that the director comes on board, he is the major creative force behind the movie and is going to tell the story he wants to tell and as a writer you try to just work with that, collaborate with that, and make the best movie possible. It becomes a little tricky when there will be times when a director is thinking more visually and you’re thinking more story, but it’s this process of… It’s the big leagues and the metaphor I use a lot is… You know, writing a big movie like this is like trying to steer this giant ship through slightly dangerous waters and making sure that that ship stays as upright as possible and you bring it to port in good shape, which I think we’ve done. Despite the changes I’m very proud of the finished product. I think it’s very cool.
Cool, and the last thing. What are you working on now? What’s the next thing we are probably going to see from you?
A slight digression, another movie I wrote has been shot and is being edited right now. It’s called Killing Season, which I think you have posted on in the past. It used to be called Shrapnel and it’s really only like two actors in the whole movie, two characters, and they are played by Robert De Niro and John Travolta.
Wow. Okay, yeah.
It’s sort of a mano-e-mano kind of thing. It’s about as different from Snow White as you can get. It does have action elements, but it’s like a stripped down… it’s like The Edge or Deliverance or Southern Comfort, like two guys basically “two old dudes fighting in the woods.” That’s basically my pitch for it. So that movie is shot and is being edited and hopefully… It’s independently or foreign financed. It’s not a studio movie, so they have to find distribution so I have no idea what the release date of that will be, but that’s a project that’s near and dear to my heart, another passion project like Snow White. So we have that and then the other thing that I’m excited about is I’m adapting and almost done adapting a very cool book called Divergent for Summit-Lions Gate and it’s very much in the tradition of The Hunger Games. It’s like a dystopian sci-fi action film with a female protagonist, which sounds a lot like The Hunger Games…
And Snow White.
Exactly. It’s not a Hunger Games type of a story in terms of the structure. It’s very much like a Top Gun or a guilty pleasure favorite movie of mine, G.I. Jane. It’s a young girl from a humble back ground who has to join this elite fighting force in this future society and get tough and find her inner potential and excel and win the day. So from what I understand, they are very keen on making that movie given the success of The Hunger Games. I never really knew that I would be a lifer of strong female characters, but that seems to be the drops I’m being given and I’m very happy for them. Hopefully Divergent will be the next thing.
All right, cool. Well congrats on this movie and finally getting one out there. I hope it does well. And that’s for reading the site, that’s really cool.
No problem. I’m a fan.