Posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
While on the set of Zombieland, I had a chance to sit down and chat with writers/producers Paul Wenick and Rhett Reese in a round-table style interview. They talk about the television origins of the project, zombies in an amusement park, a meeting with John Carpenter, Horror comedies, Zombie rules, for the love of Twinkies, possible sequel or television series, the music of the film, writing the Venom spin-off movie for Marvel, Earth vs. Moon, improv on set, The Joe Schmo Show and writing action scenes. Read the full transcript after the jump.
Rhett Reese: I’m Rhett Reese, and this is…
Paul Wernick: Paul Wernick.
Rhett Reese: And we wrote Zombieland and we’re executive producing it.
Q: Tell us the origins, maybe you should repeat it, just if like, people missed it, who weren’t–
Paul Wernick: Absolutely. It started, what? In 2005, summer of 2005 as a spec we wrote. Coming off of reality TV, we wanted to sort of break in at sort of traditionally scripted stuff. And we wrote it as a spec, feeling that the zombie genre had not really been tapped in the TV side. And we sold it to CBS. And went through a little bit of development at CBS, and we did not end up making the pilot. And it sat at Sony TV, who we had been partnered with on the project, for several years. And sort of with the passion of an executive at Sony TV, Chris Parnell, and Gavin Palone, our producer on the project, they sort of presented us the option of sort of turning it into a sort of a back-door pilot, sort of a made-for-TV movie, which we graciously jumped at. And we wrote it what? About two years ago?
Rhett Reese: Yeah.
Paul Wernick: Extended it out from pilot form into movie. Which interestingly, the pilot pretty much stayed the same. The first 60 pages of the movie are pretty much the pilot script, interestingly. And the second 40 pages are pretty much episode two of the pilot script. Right?
Rhett Reese: It’s really true, yeah. We did what we were going to do in episode two and put it in. No, that did change, because Ruben, when he turned it into a movie, wanted it to end really big, so we changed the third act to make it an amusement park and a big fight.
Paul Wernick: It got bigger, surely, over the course of two years that it’s been in development on the movie side.
Q: Was the show always called Zombieland?
Paul Wernick: It was, yeah.
Rhett Reese: Yes.
Q: It’s wonderful that you end on an amusement park.
Rhett Reese: I know.
Paul Wernick: Yeah.
Q: Do we get to see zombies on a carousel or a roller coaster?
Rhett Reese: Oh yeah. Flying off every right you can imagine. Woody, he incorporated all the rides into the action set pieces. So we’ve got zombies flying off one of those blast-off things that kind of shoots the seats up and down. We’ve got multiple roller coasters. What else? We jump a Hummer into a lake.
Q: That’s not an amusement park ride.
Rhett Reese: It is not, you’re right.
Q: It is now.
Rhett Reese: There’s this great moment where this thing called the Rattler, which is this huge thing, pendulum-type device that has all these seats around the outside and it swings back and forth and the seats turn. Columbus runs underneath it and it just misses him. And then some zombies are chasing him and it comes back and just <collision sound>, just knocks them all out of the way.
Paul Wernick: An interesting side note. When it was still a TV pilot, after CBS had chosen not to make it, we were trying to get it off the ground. And we met with John Carpenter, who wanted to direct the pilot of Zombieland. And then ultimately, it sort of transitioned into a feature and John Carpenter went away. But he read the script and loved it.
Rhett Reese: That was a cool meeting, to meet John Carpenter, really fun.
Q: Was it a 12-cigarette meeting? A 5-cigarette meeting?
Rhett Reese: He didn’t smoke a cigarette.
Paul Wernick: Interestingly, though, it was late in the afternoon, because he doesn’t take meetings, what? Before five? We heard a fun sort of story, that yeah, he won’t–
Rhett Reese: He’s a night owl and he won’t take meetings until late afternoon. I hope that’s right. Like, I hate to say that and have him be like, “What?”
Rhett Reese: “You must die!”
Q: What are your experiences with zombie movies before doing this?
Rhett Reese: Well, I was a little bit more of a fan than Paul was, interestingly. But I thought, to me, the thing I didn’t like about zombie movies was that they didn’t scare me because of the slow motion. Like, I always thought they were cool, but I never really felt like that huge urgency and threat. So for me, when they reinvented with 28 Days Later, that was where I felt it got re-enlivened. And then they did it again with Dawn of the Dead. And so back to back, you’ve got these two really, really cool movies with fast zombies. And I just think that to me anyway, the visceral threat of something coming after you in a hurry is a little more engaging than the slow-motion masses slowly moving in on you. That’s a personal preference, but…
Q: Your zombies have basically a shelf life? Is that correct, or is it not correct that after a few months, they die on their own?
Rhett Reese: You know, no. They don’t have a shelf life. But we did talk about, and this was mostly through the make-up artists, how the disease would travel through certain stages. Like, you would get worse. Like, at first, it wouldn’t look too bad. And then over time the pustules and the pus and the vomiting, it would get worse. We never sort of took it to its logical conclusion, that they actually die at the end of that. Because we anticipate eight sequels to this, so we don’t want them to die off.
Q: So the other question is, does your movie sort of throw everyone into the world of zombies, like that’s just part of their lives? Or do you have some back story that you explained how the disease came to be? Or is it sort of left mysterious?
Paul Wernick: It’s left mysterious. We sort of wanted to be a little different than all the zombie movies that start with the governor or the police chief on the TV explaining that zombies have come and why they’ve come. So we sort of, we just wanted to get right into it, which we do in the script.
Q: But there are flashbacks as well. What are you flashing back to?
Rhett Reese: We flash back to–
Paul Wernick: More character stuff.
Rhett Reese: –some pre-Zombieland stuff, just character stuff. Al la Lost, where you’re just seeing a moment from a character’s life. But we also flash back to the moment when zombies first attacked, or when one of our characters, Columbus, meets his first zombie. Because we thought that’s a pretty visceral moment, and so we did flash back to that. We really didn’t want to get into– the whole point of this was to write a funny, entertaining character piece, make it scary, have some action, make it a lot of different things. But we weren’t really interested in reinventing the zombie genre. It didn’t feel to us like we had to come up with a great origin, or we had to make zombies different from all the other movies or anything. We actually sort of took comfort in the fact that we could use zombies, and that answered a lot of questions immediately for the audience in that we’ve all seen zombie movies, we all know that there are different variations, but we largely understand what the idea is. And we just wanted to sort of have that schema in the audience’s head so that we can then not worry about that stuff and just jump right into these characters and what it means to them to be in the world of zombies. At the end of the day, I think that living in a post-apocalyptic world is strangely, at least for me, a vicarious– no, it’s not a vicarious– sort of an ironic fantasy. It’s like this escapist fantasy of like, what would happen if I was one of the most important people in the world by virtue of being one of the people left? And there’s this girl, you know? And it’s like, oh my god, and she’s hot. And oh my god, here we are and there’s no one else around. It’s like it’s almost this chance to explore people in a sort of escapist fantasy.
Paul Wernick: Rhett’s trying to spread a virus, so be careful what you guys eat today.
Q: Comedy is almost a piece of droll profanity to some people. Because you’re dealing with two very sacred genres, that are both hard to achieve. Where is this in the pantheon of like the slapstick or kind of like the Shaun of the Dead type stuff?
Paul Wernick: It’s more grounded than Shaun of the Dead, surely. Like we tried to– Shaun of the Dead has its absurdity to it. It’s hilarious, but it’s absurd. And we wanted to make each moment very real, as if you take away all the zombies and this piece still lives, this movie still lives.
Rhett Reese: Yeah, I mean, Shaun of the Dead is awesome, but it is absurd. They’re throwing records and chopping off zombies’ heads. That could never happen.
Paul Wernick: Here we’re just banjos and–
Q: It’s not like Dead Alive where’s he’s got like a lawnmower and he’s taking out hundreds.
Rhett Reese: Well, it is to some degree. I wouldn’t say it’s sort of the Sam Rami… Essentially this guy who is full of phobias and fears. If that actually worked to his advantage in a post-apocalyptic setting. Because it’s like, those very things that would prevent you from succeeding in life, you’re a shut in, you don’t have anything but the voices in your own head. Those things become useful in a land where– those things now really are dangerous, and they are going to kill me. So the fact that I’m used to avoiding things and being able to kind of think three steps ahead, and use my fears. You know, where those fears would have hurt you in the past, they’re now helping it. And we just thought that was a really interesting– and then you pair him up with a guy who is–
Paul Wernick: Just a kick-ass live-by-the moment kind of guy.
Rhett Reese: Then you see the sparks fly. And you’ve got this fearless guy, who’s constantly wanting to kill zombies, it’s his joy, is killing zombies, essentially. He’s finally found something in life that he’s good at. Like that’s sort of the joke with him is that he’s sort of a, he’s a fuck up, but he has this amazing ability to just fucking kill. So when it comes time to do that, he’s able to do it. So you’ve got these two very different survival strategies that have served these two men well. And now you throw them together and you’ve got the fearful guy saying, “No, no, don’t go there, we can’t.” And then you’ve got the fearless guy just charging right in and saying, “Get on my hip, we’re going in.” So it’s a fun dynamic, it’s a character dynamic.”
Paul Wernick: Interestingly, as you say, horror-comedy. I almost classify it more of sort of an action comedy with sort of mixed into it. Would you say that, Rhett?
Rhett Reese: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like a horror film. It’s strange, it doesn’t–
Q: Are there scare moments?
Paul Wernick: Yes.
Rhett Reese: Yes. I don’t want to say no. But it is a scary movie, it should be a scary movie and we want it to be a scary movie. But it’s not– at the end of the day, we’re trying to amuse you and entertain you from the comedy standpoint a little more than the other side.
Q: Can you talk about the rules a little bit? I think a few people have mentioned rules and not really going into what they are, what’s the importance of them. But I guess they must be important to this. Talk about what they are.
Rhett Reese: Sure.
Paul Wernick: Go ahead.
Rhett Reese: Go ahead. Name some of them.
Paul Wernick: The rules. We’ve got sort of simple rules, like, cardio is a rule, for example.
Paul Wernick: Cardio.
Q: Cardio, okay.
Paul Wernick: Cardio. You know, stay in shape.
Rhett Reese: Zombies lead a very active lifestyle, so should you.
Rhett Reese: What are some other ones?
Paul Wernick: Limber up is another one. And then there’s also just sort of more social rules. Like, what are–
Rhett Reese: Enjoy the little things.
Paul Wernick: Enjoy the little things.
Rhett Reese: Things to help you survive in this horrible situation. Seat belts is another one. You know, it’s like it’s a goody two shoes thing, but wear your seatbelt, because you might be in a situation where it’s going to save you.
Q: Whose rules are these?
Rhett Reese: Columbus, the lead character.
Paul Wernick: Jesse’s character.
Rhett Reese: It’s the 47 rules. And he keeps adding to his list as he goes. So as a new situation comes up, and these rules will come up on screen as he’s doing the various things. The whole movie starts with a montage, essentially, of rules, and why these rules are important. And you see people failing to live by these rules, and then you see the consequences of them failing to live by these rules.
Q: Sort of like those ’50s behavior films they used to have?
Rhett Reese: Yeah, sort of.
Paul Wernick: Exactly, yeah.
Rhett Reese: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sort of. So you’re seeing the failure of other people to follow these rules and the horrifying consequences when they don’t. And then you see our heroes following the rules, and why it helps them survive. And that’s a thread that runs through it.
Q: I’m assuming at the beginning of the story, Woody and Jesse’s characters, are they together at the beginning, or they get going?
Paul Wernick: They meet up, basically on the road. Woody picks Jesse up.
Q: So that’s where the story basically starts. How does it <inaudible>
Paul Wernick: Well it’s the basis of who Woody’s character is, which his he’s a live-for-the-moment kind of guy. He’s lost everything, and all he cares about is sort of the thought of the day, you know. What does he want today? What will satisfy him today? And he wakes up one morning and he’s like, “I want a Twinkie.” And that’s what he sets out to get the whole movie. It’s sort of the drive of the whole movie is this sponge, cream-filled sponge.
Q: With the Twinkie, because it’s something obviously they’d have to get approved.
Rhett Reese: Yeah, yeah.
Q: I was going to say, did you write that before you got approval?
Paul Wernick: Yes.
Rhett Reese: We did.
Paul Wernick: Keeping our fingers crossed. It could have been Little Debbies. It wouldn’t have been as good.
Paul Wernick: Yes, exactly. Mrs. Entenmann’s.
Rhett Reese: We’re pretty reverent of Twinkies. Like, I mean, he talks about Twinkies very rhapsodically. Like, he loves Twinkies. And to us, thematically what that’s all about, is in a world where everything’s gone to shit, it’s those little things that keep you going. It may be a Twinkie– he’s got a speech in the movie where he’s like, tomorrow it might be–
Paul Wernick: Women.
Rhett Reese: –swinging from the chandeliers in the Playboy Mansion, or skinny dipping in the Yellowstone River, or whatever. But today, it’s a Twinkie. And it’s a remnant of things past, and it’s a reason to still want to live at the end of the day.
Q: So I assume that when you talked about it earlier that there is room for more movies? I mean, I assume that at the end of this movie, they don’t completely get rid of the entire world of zombies and some other stuff. Would you have the same characters–
Rhett Reese: Yeah, yeah.
Paul Wernick: Sequel.
Rhett Reese: Sequel. We need a hit first. But we do see these same four characters hanging out together in the future, yeah. I mean, provided none of them die.
Q: It’d be interesting if it spawned a TV show.
Rhett Reese: And we hope it does.
Q: You talked about writing stuff into the script. And you guys wrote a lot of songs into the script, from what I saw. Can you talk about that a little?
Rhett Reese: Yeah, I mean, music is such a big part of films. And oftentimes, it’s left to a music coordinator somewhere down the line. But we just love putting in thematic music that matches what we’re doing.
Paul Wernick: And almost sometimes turns it on its head. It’s the ironic choice that we always want.
Rhett Reese: We’ve got classical music in this. Now, whether we get the rights to all these things, I don’t know. We’ve got classical music, we have John Denver. We have Rage Against the Machine, we have Patsy Cline. There’s a really fun sort of a montage early on where we’re seeing people die all over the world, and it’s set to I Fall to Pieces, by Patsy Cline. It’s a song about love, but I Fall to Pieces, the world’s falling to pieces. And it really, we think it will play well. Again, we have to get rights to stuff like that. So it can be frustrating. Because Woody Guthrie was an example, I was telling you guys earlier. It’s like, we may not get Woody Guthrie’s songs, which would stink.
Q: I could be mistaken, but I think you’re attached to something else that you might be writing.
Rhett Reese: We are doing some other things.
Q: That might be interesting to fandom.
Rhett Reese: I wonder what that might be.
Q: Without mentioning a title–
Q: I could be mistaken, but I think you’re attached to something else that you may be writing that might be of interest to fandom.
Rhett Reese: I wonder what that might be.
Paul Wernick: Is it that animated project we’re doing?
Rhett Reese: No, Venom is something that we’re very fired up to be writing. We have turned in a draft and are waiting to hear back, so it’s early in the process. But it’s a thrill to be writing Venom for obvious reasons.
Q: Did you go in and pitch your take on what this film would be?
Paul Wernick: We sure did.
Q: And the studio was obviously very happy with it.
Rhett Reese: They liked it, yeah. We have to be much more tight-lipped about that one unfortunately. Yet that’s probably what everyone would prefer to hear about.
Q: I’m not looking for specifics on story or anything. I’m just curious about how, did they say to you we’re trying to do this a certain way? Or you just sort of wrote the script you wanted to write?
Rhett Reese: Well, we had certain parameters.
Paul Wernick: They had their 47 rules…
Rhett Reese: I mean, they had parameters for sure. I mean, obviously with a character like Venom there’s a ton of stuff to draw from. Then they had specific rules about, you know, the villain and the backstory and stuff like that, so there were certain things they wanted us… certain parameters they gave us. But largely we pitched them something and they liked it but they had changes, and so we worked on the outline for a long time and then we wrote the script. So it’s definitely a collaborative, with Marvel and Sony and us it’s very, very collaborative.
Q: Are you guys going to just ignore everything that happened in Spider-Man 3 and start fresh?
Rhett Reese: We can’t talk about that. Again, that starts to get into story which we’re not supposed to discuss.
Paul Wernick: Sorry.
Q: So let’s talk about other things you might be writing. Is there other stuff you’re doing?
Rhett Reese: We are, we are. We sold a project to Universal called Earth vs. Moon which is an idea that we had. It’s a science-fiction epic war movie ala, I don’t know, Braveheart or, uh… whatever things can we compare it to. It’s sort of got a little Star Wars in it, a little Braveheart, a little 300 in it. It’s like it’s sort of exactly what the title suggests. It’s big and crazy and, I mean, it’s gonna be awesome.
Q: Who’s fighting for the moon though?
Rhett Reese: It’s a colony on the moon. And the colony on the moon is fighting Earth. We’re very, very excited about it. And we’ve also turned in a draft on that and are waiting to hear back, so we’re in early stages on each of those.
Q: Which allows you to be on set and working here.
Paul Wernick: Yes.
Rhett Reese: Exactly right. We have a little window of time.
Q: So are you guys making changes on the fly on this movie, or are they sticking really close to the script?
Paul Wernick: We’re getting our movie, believe it or not. They’re sticking pretty close to the script. We’re tweaking things here and there, production-wise, but…
Q: We saw something today, an ad-lib that seemed to make it into the… Can you talk a little bit about that?
Paul Wernick: Well, Woody had this great Deliverance, you know, the pretty-mouth thing and it’s funny. I think Ruben, our director, has created such a safe environment for the actors and everyone feels very comfortable and collaborative that, you know, we get these great gems that come out of the day that we wouldn’t have expected at the start.
Q: Now that you’ve started to see footage and you’re on set, tell me about the version that you’re seeing before your eyes as opposed to what you were typing.
Rhett Reese: It’s really similar. Yeah, we’re really, really happy. It’s sort of coming to life exactly as we pictured it. There’s certain things that are different than the very first incarnation, but largely it’s just this getting up every morning and getting a Chrsitmas gift. You’re looking at the tree and there’s a new gift and it looks pretty much like what you wanted. It’s really, really exciting.
Q: Now going from it originally being for TV to now being the full-blown motion picture that it is, how different is the level of violence and horror?
Rhett Reese: Definitely gorier and more violent, yeah.
Paul Wernick: It’ll be R-rated.
Rhett Reese: It will be a violent movie. I don’t think it’s going to be wildly… like a splatterfest.
[Indeterminate Voice]: It won’t be gore.
Rhett Reese: There will be some gore, but it won’t be over the top. That’s just not the movie we set out to make. I think, I don’t know, I’m of the opinion that gore and comedy start to fight each other a little bit, after a little while. At least with, especially with like, I say my girlfriend, because there’s a certain subsection of the population who starts to not get turned off by gore but finds it difficult to both see it and be laughing at the same movie. So I don’t think we’re going to wildly over the top, but it’s violent though.
Paul Wernick: You’ll see some blood.
Rhett Reese: Yeah, it’s violent. It’s a pretty violent movie.
Q: So that kind of raises the question of who did you write this for? Did you write it for a mainstream crowd?
Rhett Reese: Well, we wrote it for ourselves, really. But we did write it for television. And that’s a good point. We didn’t expect it to be a gory thing because, you know, CBS. Network television is what it was intended for. I mean, I shouldn’t say that. We didn’t expect to sell it to CBS, that was a surprise. But we did expect to see it on television.
Paul Wernick: So when we sold it to them, we knew they weren’t going to end up making it. [laughs]
Rhett Reese: We had a terrible feeling. A sneaking suspicion you’ve sold this to the wrong people.
Paul Wernick: We’re like, ‘Wait, CBS? Really? They know it’s Zombieland, right? They know there are zombies?’
Rhett Reese: But yeah, it was intended for a pretty mainstream audience. But it’s not going to exclude anyone who loves gore, it really isn’t. We really feel it to be a very, very satisfying movie for fans of the zombie genre.
Q: What about the casting of Jesse and Woody?
Paul Wernick: It’s just they’re such an eclectic group of actors that we really lucked in and the chemistry between all of them is fantastic.
Rhett Reese: We think without hesitation we can say this is the best cast ever to be in a zombie movie. We really feel like it’s a great… We have two Academy Award nominees, we have a very eclectic, as Paul says, group. And they all come from different backgrounds but they’re all phenomenally talented. And I don’t know, it’s to say nothing against any previous casts, but this cast is just every day we get blown away by what they do. And yeah, Woody’s never starred in action movie before. How amazing is that that we lucked out and he didn’t do it until now because now it’s going to open up a whole new world of Woody we think.
Q: Do you guys ever talk to Matt Kennedy Gould?
Rhett Reese: Absolutely. I’m very close with him. As a matter of fact I met my girlfriend at his wedding about a year and a half ago.
Q: Both of you were on The Joe Schmo Show?
Rhett Reese: Yeah, we’re very close with him.
Paul Wernick: It’s funny. This movie really has, we have the same excitement that we had with Joe Schmo, sort of this lightning in a bottle feel, being on set every day and feeling like, ‘Oh my God, this is absolute gold.’ That’s how we felt on Joe Schmo as we were watching it sort of unfold and we have that same sort of great…
Rhett Reese: Yeah, and the weird thing about reality TV is we never would’ve done it if we hadn’t found what we thought was a really different take on it, a different spin on it. And I feel the same way about the zombie genre as I did about Joe Schmo, which is that we probably wouldn’t have gotten into it unless we felt like we had a pretty exciting, fresh [take]. And we do have that same excitement. It’s cool, it’s funny to feel again.
Q: What does Zombieland bring to the zombie genre that we haven’t seen before?
Rhett Reese: That’s tough. I think it brings a level of depth and emotion and humanity that you may not have seen in zombie movies before. I also think it’s as funny as any zombie movie that’s been done. I hesitate ever to say, there’s so many classic zombie movies, great, great movies, so this is just slightly different. But it’s, I don’t know, I’m not objective. I think it’s pretty funny, it’s really, really funny. But I think this movie could bring a tear to people’s eye. I’m not sure that’s necessarily happened in a zombie movie before, but maybe it has. I don’t know.
Paul Wernick: We shot a scene yesterday that was just really emotional. And it’s just the mixture of genre with comedy with heart and emotion, it’s sort of a delicate dance and I think it’s going to work.
Rhett Reese: We certainly hope so.
Q: One of the things about zombie movies is there’s always a danger that someone could just die. You have these four characters who basically go through the whole movie, are there are other characters around them?
Paul Wernick: You’ll have to see, but yeah…
Rhett Reese: You’re right. It’s easier to start with a bigger cast and then you can kill a bunch of them. But I don’t know.
Paul Wernick: There are unexpected twists.
Rhett Reese: There are definite twists. But I think with the four main characters, the bond of the four of them and the value of that bond sort of outweighs the are they going to live or are they going to die suspense. I think it’s… and again one of them may die, I won’t say, but you’re right. We traded a little bit of the suspense of who’s about to bite it. And that’s a classic staple. And again, in some ways that’s one of the reasons we didn’t do it.
Q: Are there any recurring zombies?
Rhett Reese: There are a couple of zombies that are sort of have much bigger roles and are more important, but not a zombie that keeps coming back if that’s what you meant. There’s no like super zombie, but that said there are a couple of zombies that have a more central role to the plot than most.
Q: But no boss zombie.
Rhett Reese: No boss zombie. [laughs]
Q: No zombies from other movies?
Rhett Reese: No. [laughs] That would be a good idea though.
Q: Are there any throwaway gags or any actors, like a Ken Foree, who might walk by in the background?
Rhett Reese: No, nothing like that. We probably should have. And I think a lot of more recent updates on genres have done a good job at paying homage or [giving] cameos to people who were like… Battlestar Galactica, or there are various examples of that, or Starsky and Hutch. We never thought about that. We probably should’ve done it. Let’s have Bruce Campbell bite it somewhere.
Paul Wernick: Stan Lee. Wait, that’s our other movie.
Rhett Reese: Stan Lee will be in Venom, yes.
Q: Did you write that cameo?
Rhett Reese: Oh, yeah. Stan Lee is in it, yeah. I feel like that’s the one thing we can say. He does appear in our script. And we’re very specific about where he is and why. May he live forever. Let’s hope he’s in many movies to come.
Q: So how about combing the two and getting Marvel Zombies?
[Chatter about Stan Lee and Obnoxio the Clown]
Q: So you said you’re not a big zombie movie fan?
Paul Wernick: I’m not, no.
Q: I think that’s actually good that there’s two of you because there is the impulse to go fanboy on this, to try to throw the references in and try to make it post-modern or whatever. So what kind of fights did you guys have to try to balance that?
Rhett Reese: Not many. It’s funny. We have a really good rapport in that sense because we’re doing all these genre movies, Venom and Earth vs. Moon, and I’m the huge geek and he’s not. So there are times when I geek out, especially on action and Paul’s like… [laughs]
Paul Wernick: I’m like really?! Really?! [laughs]
Rhett Reese: But no actually that’s not true.
Paul Wernick: No, I generally [unintelligible].
Rhett Reese: It is nice to have someone who is just that.
Paul Wernick: It’s the great equalizer.
Rhett Reese: It’s the great equalizer, exactly.
Q: How did you guys first team up?
Paul Wernick: We grew up together and we went to high school together.
Rhett Reese: Yeah, I gave him a wedgie after lunch hour one day and the rest was history. No. He was working in reality TV.
Paul Wernick: I was a news producer and then worked in reality TV.
Rhett Reese: And I was a feature screenwriter. I was writing children’s movies, a lot of kids stuff. And I was over at his place one night and we were watching Big Brother 2…
Q: You really went to high school together?
Paul Wernick: Yeah, we really did.
Rhett Reese: And he was working on Big Brother 2 and I loved Big Brother 2. I got hooked on the show, so I went over to his house to watch it. And that night he was like, ‘You know, we’ve got to come up with an idea for a reality show some time.’ And immediately I was interested but also thought what could I bring from my scripted background to reality so that we could sort of do a hybrid of our talents. And that’s where Joe Schmo came from. That’s the idea where Joe Schmo came from. We had the idea that night and we wound up selling it and doing it together, and then we’ve just been working together ever since. It was just sort of on a whim.
Q: Was it the kind of thing in high school where you guys were like, ‘One day we’re going to write Venom together.’
Rhett Reese: [laughs] Not really. No in fact, I went over to Paul’s house to do a stop-motion thing with G.I. Joe dolls with his older brother and Paul thought it was the stupidest thing. He was right. He was already giving me notes. I was trying to do stop-motion with a video camera. It’s truly impossible to do. Can you imagine? It’s like G.I. Joe is [makes jerky motion sounds]. It was the worst thing ever.
Q: When you do action movies, do you actually write out action scenes very specifically?
Rhett Reese: Very specifically, yeah. Down to the moment. And I catch flack for that. For too much detail, but it’s like that’s the fun stuff. And it’s those little moments in action scenes that make them great. It’s like Jurassic Park, the Tyrannosaurus chases the jeep. That’s cool but it’s so much cooler the moment you see that mirror that says ‘Objects are closer than they appear to be.’ It’s those little moments in action movies that make them better.
Paul Wernick: It’s the little moments in all movies.
Rhett Reese: In all movies, yeah, and in any moment. But action, you can just write, ‘The zombies chase them across, you know, they have a big fight in the amusement park.’ But that’s missing the entire joy of that scene.
Q: Plus, if you left out those directions or details, it would change how the action is completely…
Rhett Reese: In your head, absolutely. So you want to, yeah… Yeah, I’m trying to think of a moment from Zombieland, but yeah, writing the action is true joy. And maybe the director ignores it all. In our case the director is not, which is awesome, but just to get it down there so the reader of the script can visualize it is important.