'Wayne' Producers Rhett Reese And Paul Wernick On The Value Of Pop Culture In Fiction [Interview]

Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have a new streaming series premiering on YouTube Premium today, although they did not create Wayne. They are producing the half hour series for creator Shawn Simmons, and YouTube Head of Original Content Susanne Daniels calls the show "Dirty Harry in high school."

Wayne (Mark McKenna) is a teenager heading south to recover his late father's stolen '78 Trans Am. Wherever he stops along the way, trouble seems to find Wayne, but he's resourceful enough to get out of it and continue towards Florida.

Reese and Wernick spoke with /Film by phone before the holidays, when they also previewed Once Upon a Deadpool and the upcoming Zombieland sequel. At the time, they weren't addressing the news they were attached to a Pirates of the Caribbean reboot, which has since been confirmed. Wayne premieres today on YouTube Premium.

Was Wayne ever a movie?

Reese: No, it wasn't. It started as a spec television pilot out of the head of the genius Shawn Simmons. Shawn is from Brockston, Massachusetts which is a real other side of the tracks kind of town contiguous with Boston. He once as a child saw this kid getting beat up and the kid got beat up by about six or seven kids and then when they were finished beating him up, instead of slinking away, he grabbed a rock and threw it at the back of their heads. And they chased him down and beat him up again. Shawn was inspired by that moment of bravery in the face of violence which is, I guess, pretty common in a place like Brockton. It stuck with him for many years and he finally decided to turn it into a pilot, which he did. He brought it to our great friends Kirk Ward and Greg Coolidge who helped him develop it, and then they brought it to us. We all went out on the town with it and sold it, so it was never a movie.

Wernick: Although, I think the best description of it we've ever heard, and I don't know who came up with this, but "it's John Wick meets John Hughes." Shawn's a lover of film and obviously John Hughes is the greatest coming of age filmmaker of all time, a filmmaker we all grew up with and loved. I think that's something that best describes the tone and feel of this series.

Susanne Daniels has been calling it "Dirty Harry in high school." Would you agree with her?

Wernick: Yeah.

Reese: Yeah, that's not far of either. We always said Charles Bronson at age 15. He referenced television shows like The Incredible Hulk, the original with Bill Bixby, and Kung Fu. We also reference movies like Midnight Run. That's a road movie, but more like anything, you talked about was it ever a movie? Each one of these episodes kind of feels like a little movie to us. It's not one of those serialized situations where the episode just stops and then you pick it up on the next episode. Each episode tells a little story, has a beginning, a middle and an end, feels very satisfying, has heart and drama and laughs. They feel like a mini movie strung together into a larger, more epic story to us.

How long did it take to settle on the name Wayne?

Wernick: Well, Wayne is actually Shawn's dad name, so my guess is he came to it pretty quick. So much of this is based on Shawn's life growing up, he had a Lee Murray who was the golf course protector growing up who kept kids off the golf course, cutting through trying to trim some time off their trip to school. Shawn has such a distinctive voice and I feel like so much of this is drawn from his life, including again, the name of the show being his dad's name. My guess is he came to it pretty quick.

So was there no shortage of inspiration for 10 episodes and possibly more?

Reese: No shortage, no.

Wernick: No, again, Shawn led a fairly interesting childhood being surrounded by the characters that he was surrounded by. Yes, I think Shawn already has in his head through season five I think already plotted out. I don't think there's any shortage of material or fun that Shawn's going to leave on the cutting room floor.

Reese: A very underrated quality of top screenwriters, or the best ones, and that is voice. Your voice is a combination of things. It's where you grew up and it's what influenced you. It's the way you talked. It's what you choose to write about, what interests you. It's about the experiences you've had in your life, and Shawn's voice is unique and it is awesome. It was our goal on this series to make sure he was protected from start to finish and that his voice got onto the page and onto the screen. We do believe it has.

Did Shawn's voice come in a fully formed narrative, or were you able to help him hone it into one?

Reese: Yeah, we had a writers room and Shawn had a nice skeletal vision for what this was going to look like, this road trip down to Florida for Wayne to get his car back over 10 episodes. We had a wonderful writers room that we participated in for a while where we broke the season arc and really helped flesh out all the little details and twists and turns and people they meet along the way and all their voices. That's the hive mind that comes to writing television. It's really nice. We had a group full of very interesting people and I think we all helped serve Shawn and flesh out all the little plot details and character and story details that are necessary when you're telling 350 minutes worth of entertainment. It's a lot for any one person to come up with everything, but Shawn was very much the gatekeeper in the bottleneck and he was the boss. We were trying to execute his vision.

The humor in Wayne is not breaking the fourth wall, but does it still match your irreverence?

Wernick: Well, you tell us. We think so. Again, we're drawn to things that are left of center always. It always appeals to us, something that's not your traditional fare. The mixing of tones is something that I think we're best known for, something we've done in Zombieland and obviously in the Deadpool franchise. So yeah, we always say extraordinary circumstances in an ordinary world is something that appeals to us. This obviously I think falls into that, especially with the mixing of tone. We want you not only to laugh. We think of this as a comedy but we also think of this as many other things: action adventure, it's a road trip and has an emotional story, a love story between two kids who are coming of age. We want you to not only laugh at this but also to feel stuff, to cry, to mine the heart. We think it does all that. It'll be for the viewers to decide but we think it falls smack dab into our "brand."

And it exists in a world of pop culture because there are references to Encino Man and Saw.

Reese: Yeah, yeah, we're a big believer in that. All of our influences, our comedy influences, indulge in pop cultural reference. I never really subscribed to the "Well, you don't want to mention pop culture because that dates your project or it sets it in a specific time." I just don't believe that at all. All of our heroes, be it Larry David or P.G. Wodehouse or Woody Allen, you name it, Jerry and David Zucker, they all made pop cultural references. You want your show to feel like it's not out of time, but in time, that it's actually taking place somewhere and at a specific time. So we don't shy away from that. Tarantino's another example. I don't know, we hate that timeless note when we get it. It's just one of the things we really do enjoy is referencing the time and place that the characters live in.

Wernick: When you do reference everyday life that people know and grew up on, it does ground the movie or in this case it grounds the show in the sense that that's what people talk about. That's what people sit around in diners and talk about. Then they make those references. To us it makes it feel like it's of the everyday versus avoiding it because they want to make a movie that's not timeless feel timeless.

And it's a teenager who references Encino Man, which came out before he was born but he still knows about it.

Reese: Yeah, I think that's an example of classic situations where parents show their kids the movies from their childhood and kids end up knowing something from the previous generation. We're mindful of that. We don't want to have things coming out of people's mouths that wouldn't but that's a pretty common thing. Like, I have my friends now showing their kids Die Hard, showing their kids Predator and Jaws. We thought that was very likely to have happened in Del's household too.

Wernick: My kids, I showed 'em Airplane a couple years ago. "The fog is getting thicker, and Leon's getting larger." My kids say that around the house every once in a while. They obviously weren't born when that movie came out but they've seen it and love it.

How different has this experience on Wayne been from doing the Zombieland pilot years ago?

Reese: Real similar. It was a real honeymoon. The sad thing with Zombieland was it didn't move forward as a series whereas this one did, so that was the big difference, but we like doing TV. There's an instant gratification involved where things just move so much quicker than features. You actually go out and shoot a pilot and suddenly it's cut together and it's done. Then you shoot episodes and they cut together and they're done, instead of two, three, four years passing before you see anything so it was a joy.

Do you have other TV projects in the works?

Wernick: We've got other ideas so they live in our head and we're obviously a little bit busy. We're juggling a lot of things so it's finding the time to devote to it. We only do things we absolutely love and are passionate about. I think you will see more TV from us. It may not be right away but Wayne is just one we love and want to continue for a very long time.

What would be your hopes and expectations for a second season?

Reese: Well, we're very hopeful it will happen and very optimistic that it will. It all depends on audience and views and how many people see it and what the critical reaction is. So it's premature to talk about a second season. That said, we're already discussing it. Shawn's already been off noodling, like he's always sort of writing in his head. We've already spoken about some of the things that he envisions for it and it's awesome. We want multiple seasons of this thing because we think it merits them. We think the characters are deep and rich enough to merit a long, long form storytelling.

Does the first season have a definitive ending?

Wernick: It has an ending. Again, I think it's a very satisfying ending and will hopefully have audiences thirsting for a second season. Shawn quite honestly is already off writing episode one of season two, so we're that excited as I think YouTube is. They've been so wonderful to us creatively allowing us to bring Shawn's vision to life. We want to do this forever, we love it so much and love the characters.