This picks up where we left off with screenwriter Gary Whitta in the Part 1 segment of our interview concerning The Book of Eli. Enjoy.
I remember hearing earlier on that everyone involved wanted to keep what the book was a secret, but that hasn’t really been carried over into the marketing campaign.
Gary Whitta: Yeah, they just changed their minds at one point. Initially earlier on everyone was instructed not to say what the book is and for that to be a part of the twist in the film. At some point, I wasn’t involved in this because that is a totally separate conversation, but at some point they just said, “we wouldn’t be able to hide this, we can’t really do trailers for this, and it’s too big of a part of the movie.” The interesting thing is, that a lot of people are still going in not knowing what the book is. Not everyone reads as much about movies as people like you and me. Some people are going in not knowing what it is and it’s not a huge reveal. It’s interesting the first time you see what the book is.
You see that it’s the bible in the first thirty minutes or so.
Gary Whitta: You see it a few minutes in and it’s not done in a big way with a bunch of lingering shots. The book is just there and you catch a glimpse of it. For me, that was never the twist and clearly there are much bigger surprises at the end of the film. They’re [the Hughes brothers] out there now saying it’s the last bible on earth in interviews and if you dig that then great. I think there’s also a hope that faith based audiences will respond to this film and if they want them to do that then they have to let them know this movie has faith based ideas.
(SPOILER WARNING) At the end it’s a little open ended with Solara, as if it could have been a set up for a sequel or spin off. I’m guessing that wasn’t the intent?
Gary Whitta: No, I want to be very clear about this that that was never intended to be a set up for a sequel. I personally don’t know how you do a sequel to this film. The story is done. The story was about the thirty year mission of getting the book to its final resting place and now it’s there. The idea of Solara going back to clean up that town, which is kind of something you’re suppose to take from that final moment, is really sort of an epilogue. The subplot of what happened to that town and her mother is kind of open ended. I wanted it to seem as if she’s going to go back to that town and take care of business. Is that story as interesting as Eli’s story? Probably not. For me, the idea of that ending was that….although Eli died at the end of the film a part of him lives on in her. That’s why she takes his gear and almost looks a little bit like him at the end of the film. She’s been inspired by him and his spirit lives on in her. There’s even that line in Eli’s final prayer where he say’s,”please watch over her, as you watched over me.” That was kind of there for her walking back into the wasteland not seem as dangerous as you might think it is, because maybe now she has some of that guidance that he had. You can see it on her face, she does a great job with the arc in this movie where she goes from the wide eyed girl to the girl who’s tossing hand grenades. She really matures over this journey and there’s a sense of purpose to that final shot that she is not the same character at the end of this film. People can interpret this either way, but I think she’s got a little bit of the magic Eli had. (SPOILER OVER)
I remember some at my screening claiming how they thought it was a set up for a sequel. Have you seen those reactions?
Gary Whitta: Well, here’s the thing…I don’t even like talking about it, because that was never an intention. If the movie opens, I mean look at Watchmen and how they were talking about making sequels to Watchmen if it made money. That is obviously a terrible idea. Why is there six or seven Saw films? It isn’t because the story is good, it’s because they make money. With this, if there would ever be a continuation with the story I would rather see a prequel.
It would be cool to see that done in a comic book.
Gary Whitta: We’ve talked about that and we’ve talked about a lot of different ideas. I would rather go back and show the origin story and show young Eli. Someone showed me this the other day. Here’s what people do on the internet and I find this fascinating that people are this anal. Someone wrote,”he said he’s been walking for thirty years, but I went onto google map and I typed in to see…”
Those type of nitpicks can get pretty silly.
Gary Whitta: I honestly pity people who get so caught up in that kind of detail that they can’t just sit back and allow themselves to enjoy the story. I think that’s the joy people get now with movies with just trying to pick holes in it. That’s some kind of superior and self-satisfaction they get from finding trivial flaws in film. Here’s what I would say to that: who say’s he’s been walking constantly for thirty years? You don’t know what’s happened to this guy over thirty years.
He does have all those scars.
Gary Whitta: What if he broke his leg and had to spend a whole winter held up? What if he got snowed in? What if he got captured or became a prisoner of someone for over a year by someone who had that book, but didn’t know its significance. There’s all kinds of things that could happened on this journey, he’s been journeying for thirty years. It’s just preposterous how people do that.
I’ve also heard another one from this person who said their main problem with post-apocalyptic films are the cars. That gasoline degrades and thirty years later you can’t keep it fresh and ignite it. Who gives a fuck? I couldn’t give a shit about details like that. That’s not something I or audiences in general care about. That’s the kind of detail that anal retentive people get off on. It’s a shame for me because I’m a tech literate guy from gaming and I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet. Probably more time than I should have listening to people talk about this film. What I see now that really gratifies me is people on twitter coming out of midnight shows saying the movie is awesome. It’s also great seeing the big critics coming out and saying we did good. What you cannot do and what I’ve banned myself from doing is going on the IMDb and Ain’t it Cool boards. It’s a seething pit of cynicism that I just don’t want to have anything to do with.
There’s definitely an audience for this type of film and whether or not it opens this weekend, it’s a shoe in to find an audience on video. (Editor’s Note: The film did open successfully last weekend, making $38M in the 4-day weekend.)
Gary Whitta: Well, here’s the thing: I’m a worse case scenario guy and I’m a worrier. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a kid and here we are almost twenty years later and I got a movie coming out today. You’d think I’d be a nervous wreck and I have been up through the last week leading up to this. I feel like critically we’ve passed a test and we got fifty positive reviews for this film now, that should be good enough for anyone. Unless the tracking is way, way off then the film is going to open. Ultimately, all I really care about is if people like the film. Besides the box office numbers I’m really interesting in seeing what the Cinema Score is. Hopefully people will like it. I don’t usually use twitter, but I’ve been on it…
Retweeting the reactions.
Gary Whitta: Yeah, you’ve seen me on there re-tweeting and I’ve been a bit of a whore about it, but fuck it.
(laughs) I was going to say something similar to that actually, but didn’t want to offend you.
Gary Whitta: Nope, I’m going to do everything I can. Trust me, you’d do the same my friend. I’ve got no shame and I’ll do anything I can do get the word out there. I’ve been holding back a bit lately because I feel like the rest of the machine is taking over and it doesn’t really need me. If you search for Book of Eli over the past twenty-four hours I would say that it’s ninety percent positive. Even on the Rotten Tomatoes community area we’re in the eighties so we’re climbing.
It’s interesting though how it seems like even the people not responding well to the film yet still want to talk about it. That’s not something that happens very often. When you see a bad movie, you usually don’t want to talk about it.
Gary Whitta: That’s interesting and you make a good point that you can make a bad movie that is so boring and dull that it’s not even worth talking about. When nothing in a film raises your interest and in this film even if you didn’t like it you’ll probably going to want to talk about it. That’s some form of success.
One thing that mainly bothers me in general with most film criticism that definitely applies is when a reviewer won’t acknowledge ambitiousness. Even if it’s a negative review you sometimes have to give credit when it’s due. Not a lot do.
Gary Whitta: I’ll tell you something else about that. I read this review that said, “it’s refreshing to see a movie that is earnest and sincere in an a period defined by cynicism and snark”, and that is so true about the internet. I think one of the reasons why we started off so low with the reviews is that they all came from the internet and blog outlets where there’s been a rise of a cynical and postmodern way of criticism. Anything that’s trying to be sincere and earnest it’s honestly like a foreign language to these people. It’s the people asking where’s all the jokes? Why are you trying to take this seriously? It’s sad and I think it’s a sad comment on our culture when movies that really wear their heart on their sleeves and try to say something gets this type of cynicism and snark that I find very unattractive.
If someone wants to come up to me and say “your movie sucks,” I want to know why. I don’t think you have the right to come up to me and say that and not tell me why. You owe me an explanation and give me something that I can use. Tell me if you have an idea about whether or not the movie should have done this or that. I think that critics have as much as a responsibility to take things seriously and have an earnest approach just like the films they’re reviewing do. Don’t be focused on coming off as a smart ass which so much internet film criticism is.
I gotta ask, is there any update on Defenders?
Gary Whitta: Defenders is something we’re just now getting into. When we first set it up we spent a lot of time trying to get the story right and I’ve spent a lot of time working with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. They’re engaged in the story since they’re screenwriters first. There’s been a lot of meetings with me, them and Masi Oka who originally came up with the idea. It’s just been us sitting there cracking the story and holding back from writing the script until we really nailed the story. Obviously some of Bob and Alex’s films have been dinged. Transformers, whatever, but Star Trek did very, very well. I can tell you they care deeply about story and characters. The first meeting we had they didn’t ask me about how many explosions there’s going to be, but who are these characters and what’s the story going to be. I instantly loved those guys, because that’s exactly how I do this. They’re incredibly talented and this is going to be a fun project. This came from a very nostalgic place of wanting to try to recreate the good old fashioned films of the eighties like The Goonies, The Last Star Fighter, E.T., or Tron. Those movies that when we were kids we just sat there with are jaw open with that childlike wonder. I don’t know what happened, but maybe the Harry Potter films are carrying that torch. They just don’t seem to make movies like that anymore. Maybe Avatar which is more of a grown up movie though, but there’s not really that many movies that feed the imagination of kids anymore in a fantastical type of way. That’s what the original idea for this was: to do a real old throwback to a childhood fantasy wish fulfillment. It is basically us trying to make a film as if we were in the eighties making an Amblin film. The amazing thing is that now it’s at Dreamworks and Steven Spielberg is now involved and it’s going to be an Amblin film. It’s crazy. I got my contract the other day and it said Amblin entertainment and I just went “holy shit I grew up with that logo!” It’s just insane this journey and it’s all thanks to Eli.
I would say Pixar is the only company around right now making those type of films.
Gary Whitta: I think Pixar is operating on a level above anything else happening in animation right now. There are the good movies in animation right now outside of Pixar like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Kung Fu Panda, but the Pixar films are the ones that really stick with you. It’s so funny to me that a lot of animated films are just cute furry animals dancing around to the latest pop tunes. Can you seriously imagine a movie about a grumpy old man flying away with balloons on his house being made by anyone but Pixar? No one else would think to make that, but Pixar know they’re good enough to make it work. A rat working in a kitchen. These aren’t commercial ideas, but Pixar say’s fuck it and they believe in the idea. They get it right every time.
Now, is D.J. Caruso involved?
Gary Whitta: I don’t know if he’s officially attached or not, but he’s been working with us creatively. He’s a very talented and smart guy. He’s not one of those directors just worried about what the film will look like, but he’s been engaged in all of our story meetings thinking about the characters and the themes in the film. I don’t know what’s going to happen since he has about eight different movies he’s circling right now, but hopefully he’ll decide on this one. I know that he’s very excited about the ideas.
I really want to see him finally make Y: The Last Man into a series.
Gary Whitta: Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening with that. That’s obviously a great concept and I remember the other day in the Variety review it brought up the whole post apocalyptic genre. I think we did a good job at giving it its own look, but the point is being made now maybe we should be giving it a rest. There’s always the burnt out vehicles and stuff, maybe we don’t need too many of those films in the next few years. So maybe another film about a lone man wandering through a post apocalyptic…I don’t know, maybe that’s why it’s not zooming ahead right now since they feel like there’s been so many of these films lately. But if Eli opens then all the sudden more people will want to make films like this again. Who knows what will happen.
I’m perfectly fine with this massive wave of apocalyptic films, as long as they’re doing their own thing.
Gary Whitta: It’s different ways of looking at it. We tried to do a world that visually has its own look and thematically was a bit darker than other films. I think when you put it amongst I Am Legend, fucking Waterworld, The Postman, Mad Max, or whatever you want to put it with I feel like we can say we’re our own thing. Visually we did our own thing and thematically we stand alone. I think there’s something universal about the end of the world and people are just fascinated and obsessed with their own mortality. We’re all going to die and I think the idea of the end of the world is a fantastical notion that’s universal. I think that’s a recurring theme in books and film that everyone thinks about it. We will see many more end of the world type movies. I actually got one idea that I’m kind of playing around with about the the end of the world, but it’s coming at it in a completely different perspective. It won’t look or feel anything like Eli. It’s not the rusty car version of the ending of the world. That’s the way I think this genre will evolve is by finding different ways to approach the same idea.
You could even say you did that in Eli with the idea of what protagonist are usually conceived as in these type of films. Eli isn’t going to save anyone if it causes him to go out of his way and he’s looking out for his own skin and the book.
Gary Whitta: Yeah, it’s not even just about his own skin though. That’s another scene that I felt very strongly about keeping in the film, where he doesn’t help those people. He’s not going to walk across the street to help you. He’s got a path in his head that he has to keep following. It’s not about risking his own body since he isn’t a coward since he’s protected, but he’s not going to take one step out of his way to help someone else. He’s so laser focused on his mission and that scene also shows that maybe he isn’t the saintly figure you might think of him as. The typical good guy would go help those people out, but that’s not this type of movie. We also thought by doing that it would set up that scene between him and Solara where he turns back to actually help her. She made a big enough impact on him that he would stray off that path.
The Book of Eli is currently in theaters and make sure to follow Gary Whitta on twitter.