Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 by Peter Sciretta
To promote the pre-order of his first novel, Abomination, screenwriter Gary Whitta (Book of Eli, After Earth) sat down with us for an extensive interview spanning his career thus far. Over the course of this week we will be posting all of the parts of this interview broken up into digestible thematic bites — we’re calling it “/Film’s Week Of Whitta”.
If you missed it, yesterday we ran the first part which featured Gary Whitta talking about growing up with Star Wars, dealing with prequel and special edition disappointment, writing the Star Wars prequel for director Gareth Edwards, and much more.
Today we return with the second installment, with Whitta explaining how he went from being a video game journalist to working as a screenwriter. We learn about his first spec screenplay that got him an agent, a futuristic re-telling of Oliver Twist which never got made into a movie but is now coming out in comic book form. (We have an exclusive look at two pages of the Gary Whitta Oliver Twist comic book.) He talks about writing for video games like Duke Nukem Forever and how that’s different from writing movies. We also learn the screenwriter’s thoughts on sequelitis and the current trend of creating novels and comics as a backdoor way to get “original” stories to the big screen. Read the Gary Whitta screenwriting interview after the jump.
Interview Part 2: Gary Whitta on Screenwriting
Note: The following interview has been split up into five parts. Some questions are being presented out of chronological order so that each post tackles a thematic topic.
Your journey didn’t start with writing movies, it started with a career in video game journalism. Tell me a bit about how that happened and how you found screenwriting.
Aside from movies, computer games were my other big love growing up. The film thing just never seemed like a realistic prospect as a career when I was in my teens so I started typing out my own game reviews and mailing them into the magazines I read. I managed to get a little freelance reviewing gig on Commodore User magazine, so the first money I ever earned writing was bashing out reviews of Commodore 64 and Amiga games while I was still in school. That eventually led me down a whole career of writing and editing magazines in the video game world. I eventually became the Editor of PC Gamer magazine in the UK, and then later the US edition, which is what brought me to the US and also allowed me to start thinking again about maybe trying the screenwriting thing because suddenly I was so much closer to where the kind of films I was interested in were made.
So how did you make the transition from writing and editing a magazine about video games to writing movies?
I wish I could take credit for making a bold leap, but the truth is that circumstances kind of forced me to go for it. In early 2000 I was working in LA as editor of a movie magazine, and when the dot-com bubble burst around that time the company I worked for lost a ton of money and I got laid off. I had for years been telling myself that I would write screenplays and continue to pursue that dream, but the demands of my day job left me with almost no time to really devote to it. Then suddenly I’m unemployed and I’ve got all the time in the world so no more excuses. It’s entirely possible that if I hadn’t lost my job I would never have found the courage to really give the screenwriting thing a go of my own volition. So in a sense getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened so me.
I had enough money saved to live very frugally for about a year, so I devoted that time to writing screenplays. In that time I wrote several, each one a little less horrendous than the last, until finally I had one that I wasn’t too terribly embarrassed to show to people. I sent that one off to various agents and production companies that accepted unsolicited queries, and wound up getting signed by the same management company that represents the Wachowskis and that was how I got my start. We never went out with that script that got me signed, but I wrote one after that called Reaper, about a private detective who works for the grim reaper, which is the first thing I sold, and I think that one is finally getting made this year.
One thing I’ve learned is that the projects you really believe in, no matter how much of a challenge they be to see realized, only really die if you let them. That first script that got me signed was called Oliver, and it was a futuristic re-telling of Oliver Twist which re-imagined Oliver as a kind of post-apocalyptic superhero. That sounds ridiculous but trust me, it’s awesome. Even though we never tried to sell it as a movie, I was determined to get the story told in some form so I ended up re-doing it as a comic series that’s coming out later this year from Image. I’m just glad that the story will finally find an audience in an appropriate medium, but it may also mean that it discovers a second life as a movie adapted from the comic.
Exclusive Look: Two Pages From the Gary Whitta Oliver Twist Comic Book
The following comic book art was created by Darick Robertson.