Saturday, 27 April 2013

interview: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are one of the most successful writing teams in Hollywood, responsible for such blockbusters as The Mask of Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney’s Aladdin and Shrek. They also run a terrific website for jobbing and aspiring screenwriters at In April 2000 Ted and Terry generously agreed to a joint e-mail interview about their work, concentrating on their most recent credit, The Road to El Dorado - a film which changed enormously between script and screen. A couple of years later, Terry kindly answered a few e-mail questions about the first POTC movie.

Please describe the genesis of The Road to El Dorado. Where did this film come from? What was it like in its most basic, purest, original form? What made it stand out from other ideas?
Ted Rossio: “Before Dreamworks was announced, Jeffrey Katzenberg approached us with a big thick book in hand: Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas. He wanted to do an animated film set in that world.”

Terry Elliott: “He also said something that appealed to us greatly. He said that the reason animated movies made by studios other than Disney tend to fail is because they try to make Disney animated movies. Of course, Disney already makes those movies, and they make them very well. What he wanted to do at DreamWorks was make good animated movies which Disney wouldn't make - specifically, he wanted to tell stories which Disney wouldn't tell.

“This dovetailed with something Terry and I had already been thinking about in terms of the main characters of animated movies. In most cases, the main character is a well-meaning innocent whose only real flaw is that they are innocent - perfectly appropriate to coming-of-age stories, which is what most Disney animated movies are. Plus, generally, they aren't all that funny in-and-of-themselves - the really strong comedy falls to the supporting characters, to the sidekicks.

“The key to the sidekick characters, I think, is that they get to be flawed. They get to be greedy, or venal, or stupid ... they don't always evidence the virtuous, well-meaning traits the heroes have to. In short, they are more anti-heroes than heroes.”

TR: “We had been interested in exploring classic comedic forms in animation; previously, working at Disney, we wrote a version of Sinbad that was a classic screwball romantic comedy. For Road to El Dorado, we hit on the idea of creating a comedy team. There aren't any real comedy teams around any more, and there had never been any animated films with duel comedic leads. So what if we let the sidekicks hijack the movie? What if the leads were allowed to be funny?”

TE: “That was the shorthand for: let's do a movie with a pair of comedic anti-heroes. Which was a mistake, I think; so was our citing the Hope-Crosby Road movies as examples. If we'd just said: let's do a dramatic story with anti-heroes who are funny ... well, maybe things would have gone differently.”

How, and to whom (and how long ago), did you pitch the film?
TR: “If I recall, the story was pitched in treatment form. This would be sometime around the spring of 1995.”

TE: “We were primarily working with Jeffrey, of course, but Steven Spielberg and Walter Parkes (with Laurie MacDonald, head of the DreamWorks motion picture division) were very much involved. The story we came up was one everyone liked very much.”

How many drafts have you written, and how many of those were you happy with?
TR: “Rarely was there a full and complete draft of the film. Occasionally the sequences would get assembled together. Mostly it was worked on in pieces, endlessly revising sequences. I can tell you, though, that I once added up all the pages in the computer, and in the end there were over 5,000.”

The big one: how is the finished film different from what you originally intended?
TR: “We originally intended the film to be good. And that's not a flip answer. When you work in animation, you want things to change, you want to make full use of all the talent that gets assembled. And it doesn't matter that stories or sequences or characters change, as long as it gets better. In this case, the film didn't get better.

“Being a bit more specific, I'd say the biggest change is that the original film was intended to be more ambitious, more complex; containing perhaps deeper characterisations, with an eye toward a more sophisticated storytelling to bring off a more sophisticated theme, and more compelling drama. The finished film was simplified in every respect.”

TE: “Like we said, we wanted to do a movie which had comedic anti-heroes. In the finished movie, the characters are pretty much the ones we created, but the story is such that they come across much more as comic heroes - it isn't necessary for them to overcome their flaws and change in order to do the right thing, they just have to decide to do the right thing. Stories which hinge on a character who has to make a decision - instead of having to change and take an action - are inherently dull stories for a movie. And The Road to El Dorado is ultimately just a dull movie.

“The problem, obviously, was that the milieu that Jeffrey had chosen - no less than the near-annihilation of the Mezo-American peoples and the destruction of their culture - didn't really lend itself to a flat-out comedy, we thought. There had to be enough depth in these characters to allow us to do a story which would allow for some real drama - tragedy, even.

“And the original story acknowledged the fundamental tragedy of the milieu - the city of El Dorado (which wasn't even the mythical El Dorado, it was just the first city Tulio and Miguel found, which they mistakenly believed was El Dorado) was not saved. The people ended up abandoning it to Cortes, and vanishing into the jungles - the people survived (barely), but the culture did not. This was also accurate to history - Cortes encountered a number of abandoned cities on his way to Tenochitlan (capital of the Aztec empire), and was our answer to the question ‘What happened to the Mayans?’

“When my fiancee and I were watching Three Kings, she leaned over and whispered to me, ‘This is the movie El Dorado was supposed to be!" And it is - it's more hard-edged, with no songs, of course - but in terms of the basic movement of the story and the development of the characters, the mix of comedy, drama and tragedy and how they flow from one to the other ... yep, that's it. If you want to see a story which is far closer to what El Dorado should have been, watch Three Kings.”

What changes are you least happy with, and are there also changes that you feel were improvements which you wouldn't have made without other people suggesting them?
TR: “I'm most unhappy with how the songs in the finished film simply don't work. At one time, there was a story design where they did work. The story design changed, the songs, for the most part, didn't. And that was one of our original goals - to do an animated musical where the songs had to be there to tell the story, in the best Howard Ashman tradition. It is, perhaps, the biggest failure of the movie.

“As for improvements ... you have to understand the evolving nature of the animation process. At a certain point, a series of bad decisions got locked in. Then some fantastic work was done by many people to try to rescue the movie around those bad decisions. But do those efforts really count as improvements? Past a certain point, there was always a limit to how good the film could be.”

TE: “There is nothing in the movie which wouldn't be there if not for our original story, but everything that is there is worse ... except for the animation itself, of course. I think the animation is beautiful, even extraordinary. I just wish it had been put in service of a story which was its equal.

“I would be remiss to not point out the animation on the Chief, though, and the work of supervising animator Frans Vischer - he is the one character which really has the depth that all the characters should have had. There's a lot going on below the surface there, and it comes through beautifully in the performance.

“I think the problem is that many of the people who make animated movies know the craft and art of animation backwards and forwards, far better than I ever will. But they seem to overlook the ‘movie’ part of it, or give it short shrift. Movies are stories, and stories are more than ‘Here's the characters, and this happens to them, and then this happens to them ...’ - and, unfortunately, in The Road to El Dorado, that's pretty much all the story there is.”

This is the moral one: obviously I appreciate that The Road to El Dorado is your baby, but let me play Devil's advocate and ask what moral right does a writer have to dictate the final screenplay used? (Or put another way: isn't there something in a director's or producer's point of view of: 'This movie could be so great if those writer dudes would just let go of it and let somebody else give it a spin?') (Or put yet another way, once an architect has sold a house, should he be upset if the new owner puts a conservatory on the back?)
TR: “The screenwriter's moral rights end when the writer accepts a payment, selling the work, without any contractual protections. It's always possible to try to negotiate to protect the work, in conjunction with a payment for use. We didn't have that in this case.”

TE: “Like he says. After it became clear that the movie was not going to be our story, we made the choice to remain and keeping working on the picture - because we still liked the characters, we liked a lot of the visual development that had been done, and we believed - if the right story solutions could be found - it could still be a good movie. Unfortunately, those story solutions were predicated on the ability of the people involved to understand what story is - or to listen to the people who did. Neither happened.”

Now we're onto technical questions: how is writing for traditional animation different from writing for live action? And how is writing for computer animation different from or similar to either of the above?
TR: “Storytelling in computer animation is not appreciatively different from traditional animation, in my opinion. The particular story needs overwhelm any small differences associated with technique. But animation is far different from live action. You've got to be faster, more efficient, more expressive. Because of time restrictions, you're essentially working with a two act structure, like a play.”

In writing a musical, how much say did you have in the songs' placing, style and lyrical content? At what stage are the completed songs added to the script?
TR: “We suggested most of the placement of the original songs - or you could say that Tim Rice picked which songs to write and where they would go. Once you construct a story, it's fairly clear what moments are candidates for songs.”

TE: “We would describe the story movement necessary in the song, sometimes in synopses, sometimes in long letters to Tim, sometimes in finished versions of the scenes, complete with dialogue - sometimes, all of those. Basically, we tried to give Tim as much information as we could, and let him shape the song to match the story. And then Tim would send the lyrics to Elton John, and Elton would do his brilliant thing, and then we would rewrite and rework the scene so that the story and song worked to best effect. Of course, since the majority of the songs were written for the story which got thrown out ....”

TR: “The songs kept moving and changing throughout the entire five year period. Once the choice was made to tell a non-dramatic story, a huge amount of effort went into trying to prop up that story, and make it work. That naturally involved new songs, moving songs to new places, cutting songs, and changing lyrics.

“Tim Rice and Elton John constantly came through with great lyrics and melodies. It's really too bad that, due to poor storytelling and placement, the songs don't seem nearly as good as they are.”

The Road to El Dorado seems to be the first thing you've written (or a least seen produced) since Little Monsters that isn't based on existing source material: what are the pros and cons of originality versus adaptation?
TR: “The biggest advantage to adapting a work is that when it gets screwed up, it doesn't hurt quite as much.

TE: “There's always a point on a movie where people begin talking about the characters as if those characters always existed - as if they were not the product of the writers' choices and decisions and creativity. I remember someone coming up to me and telling me that ‘Tzekel-Kan’ actually means ‘Yellow Skull’ in Mayan, and that ‘Yellow’ was the Mayan colour for evil, and ... and I'm sitting there thinking ‘Well, I'm glad he's excited about the name, and likes the name, and has discovered all this heretofore unsuspected depth, but geez! How does he think it all got there?’”

Everything you've worked on seems to fall into the fantasy genre (Zorro is borderline, but heck, he's a superhero of sorts; and The Road to El Dorado has a statue coming to life or something, judging by the trailers): so how important is the fantastic to your work and can you see yourselves ever writing something non-fantastical?
TR: “I think the essential attraction of storytelling is that it provides a fixed pattern of events in compressed form, which mimics people's experience with life: the future being random, the present being the moment of decision, and the past being choices made. Films in particular mirror life in that they show the end result of a whole series of decisions, hopefully excellent decisions, leaving a fixed pattern that is (hopefully) compelling and artful.

“It's the artful part that attracts people - there's an underlying curiosity that, armed with the insights of that particular story, one might be able to make one's own life more artful. And of course there's just the enjoyment of vicariously experiencing an artfully arrange series of events.

“All of which is long-winded preamble to this: what fantasy does it rip apart the basic nature of life, emphasise a particular aspect, in order to emphasise some particular truth. Yeah, you can accomplish the same thing without fantasy, but it's harder - and boy is fantasy a great tool to get to that 'truth' stuff quickly. That's why I like it so much - if your goal is to show underlying patterns of life, the real truths of life, why not play around with those underlying patterns in the story, too?”

TE: “I like fantasy and science fiction. My goal is to wed non-fantastical characterisation and drama - I guess I'd call it ‘real’ - to fantasy and science fiction stories. It's not an original goal, by any means, and it's been accomplished by others incredibly well - particularly in literature - but it doesn't seem to happen too often in movies nowadays."

Individual questions now on your various projects. For each of these I would really appreciate a brief note on what you contributed to the script, and how happy you were with the finished film. First, Little Monsters - where did this come from, and how did you manage to get it made?
TR: “The film was based on my original (unpublished) short story ... really just a snippet, that Ted liked and was able to flesh out in an amazing way. We wrote an original screenplay, which caught the interest of a couple of producers, and sold to MGM. Neither of us much like the finished film. A common occurrence for us - people buy the script and throw it out, and what they replace it with is obviously not as good ... obvious to everybody, of course, except the people in charge.”

How did Aladdin land in your lap, how daunting was it to work on a major Disney feature, and how did the casting of Robin Williams affect your writing of the Genie?
TR: “We were under contract to Disney, so when the need came up for writers on Aladdin, instead of competing with hundreds of others for the job, we only had to compete with a few other staff writers. We heard about the project on a Monday, met to pitch our approach on a Wednesday, and were working on Thursday. Robin Williams was already cast when we were hired, so we knew the voice and style of acting that needed to be written. Aladdin is by far our most pleasant writing experience; it's the film where the greatest percentage of our writing choices survived to the screen.”

TE: “Yeah, Aladdin was a real joy. All the talk that goes around that movies are a collaborative artform, Aladdin is the only movie we've worked on where that is true - where everyone's intent in the collaboration was to make the best possible movie. I credit Ron Clements and John Musker for that - great directors, in the complete sense of the word.“

On The Puppet Masters, how faithful to Heinlein did you try to be or were you allowed to be?
TR: “Our original screenplay was very faithful to Heinlein. Yet another project where our original script was not followed. It's a shame, too; I still believe that book could make a great movie.“

TE: “Actually, early in the process - I think before we turned in our first draft, even - we suggested the novel could give birth to a franchise, about government agents who investigate all types of strange and bizarre pseudo-scientific occurrences. The studio didn't see that potential at all. Of course, a couple of years later, The X-Files premiered (although I was actually thinking more in terms of UFO, an earlier aliens-and-conspiracy-type program).”

TR: “The finished film is pretty terrible. Key stuff from the book was jettisoned. The end result was a film that seemed derivative; ironic, since Heinlein's work was actually the original exploration of so many ideas; he was almost always there first.”

Why aren't you credited on Men in Black, and is it good or bad that your work on this film is an open secret?
TR: “We aren't credited on Men in Black because the WGA didn't award us credit. Over the years, we've determined there isn't much logic to how credits are assigned by the WGA. As it turns out, pretty much no one knows that we worked on Men in Black; it is in no way an 'open secret.' Even Sony, the studio who released the film, doesn't remember that we worked on it.”

Now for your unfilmed version of Godzilla. Oh man, so many questions! How did you cope with the difference between Western and Asian views of the Big G, especially the determination of Western audiences and critics to deride even the best Godzilla movies as Godzilla Vs Megalon-level crap? What instructions did you have from Toho? Why did you feel it important to create a second monster? Where would you like to see (a) the American Godzilla series, and (b) the revived Japanese Godzilla series, go? Which is your favourite Godzilla film, and which do you think is the best one (not necessarily the same thing)? Sorry to get carried away, but I'm a huge Godzilla fan...
TR: “It was obvious to us that audiences wanted two things from a Godzilla movie: they wanted to be scared of this big unstoppable monster, and they wanted to root for him to kick ass in the end. Godzilla is, after all, the hero. That's why we invented a story that involved a second monster. In the film that was made, neither aspect is provided: Godzilla runs and hides, and we never get to root for him. Stupid mistakes, really.”

TE: “We wanted a second monster because we wanted to move Godzilla from where he was in the first movie - unstoppable destroyer who had to be stopped - to where he was at the end of the third movie - defender of the earth, but still not someone you want stopping by unless it's really, absolutely necessary. A friend of mine, a big G-fan from way back, once said about Godzilla that, ‘It's not that he's a good guy - he just hates other monsters.’

“I think the first one - the original, not the recut/redubbed/Raymond Burr-added American release - is the best one. And you can't beat Monster Zero for a great enemy, can you? After that, they all kind of blend together for me. I've liked some of the remakes/updates ... but that first one, with the skeleton at the bottom of the sea ... great stuff.

“By the way, I am convinced that the whole ‘Godzilla is a metaphor for the A-bomb' analysis is wrong. In the original movie, the scientist who unleashes the weapon which kills Godzilla - metaphorically stopping the A-bomb - takes his own life afterwards. Had he died because he was trying to unleash the weapon, I would buy it - ‘We must make sacrifices necessary to prevent this from ever happening again.’ Naw, I think Godzilla is a metaphor for forces unleashed by man which he has no control over, for which he cannot predict the results, and for which he refuses to take responsibility. This makes the scientist's actions both correct to the metaphor, and makes him undeniably the hero of the movie. And I wish I could remember his name.”

TR: “In the end, there's not much use in our answering questions about Godzilla. It would make as much sense to ask questions about James Bond, or Indiana Jones. Because we've never written a Bond film, or an Indiana Jones film - or a Godzilla film. The Godzilla film that got made didn't have anything to do with our work. Our credit on the film is just another testament to the vagaries of the WGA credit arbitration process.”

TE: “I think it did have something to do with our work, with the basic approach we took to Godzilla - that he had to be presented as a serious threat, as something real. No dancing the jig or playing hoops with Charles Berkeley. That may sound like a no-brainer to Godzilla fans, but at the time we got the assignment, we were the only ones thinking that way. In fact, Devlin and Emmerich had been offered the project before we were, and turned it down because they didn't think Godzilla could be done except as an Airplane!-type spoof.

“Later, after the movie was completed, we met Dean Devlin - the first and only time we'd ever spoken to him - and he said that it was reading our screenplay convinced them that it could be done seriously. Of course, they then chucked our screenplay and did their own, borrowing a few key elements from our story (specifically, Godzilla travelling toward New York with a purpose - although in ours, his purpose was to fight another monster, not to lay a bunch of eggs). So in a way, the Godzilla movie that got made was due to us - but it sure wasn't the Godzilla movie we wanted to see made. This is getting a little monotonous, isn't it? Let's talk about Aladdin some more.”

The story in Small Soldiers - toys that are actually military weapons - is similar to a movie called Replicator which preceded it by a couple of years. Any comments?
TR: “I don't know Replicator so I can't say whether it's similar.”

TE: “Me, neither. The original screenplay was by Gavin Scott, about a kid who gets some toy soldiers that begin to think for themselves, but Steven Spielberg was the one who suggested there be two toy lines, one soldier and the other monsters. Here's the sad thing about Small Soldiers: while I don't think it’s nearly as bad as many of the other movies on our resume, I do consider it to be our only real failure. The story just never gelled. There were mitigating circumstances, but there are always mitigating circumstances. Terry disagrees with me on this one, but it's how I feel.”

With The Mask of Zorro, as with Godzilla, you were reinventing a character who is iconic in some parts of the world and fairly obscure in other parts, so how do you cope? And to what extent is Zorro a prototype Batman?
TR: “The concept of the masked superhero is universal; there was no worry that it won't play around the world. The creator of Batman, Bob Kane, has consistently cited Zorro as an inspiration for his work.”

TE: “For me, you can't beat a guy in a mask with a sword for universal appeal. Of course, I'm of the mind that any movie with one good sword fight is a good movie, so ...

“I do remember reading one review of The Mask of Zorro where the reviewer slammed the movie because he thought we had tried to take this great classic character and turn him into Batman, right down to the secret cave. Of course, Zorro had a secret cave before Batman did. In fact, in the original Zorro stories, the secret door to the cave was hidden behind a grandfather clock - which is exactly what hides the secret door to the Batcave in the comics.

“Actually, here's an odd thing: in our screenplay, the door to Zorro's cave is a grandfather clock. In order to avoid similarities to Batman, the decision was made to change it to a breakaway fireplace kind of thing - which was the way the Green Hornet used to get to his secret garage. And, of course, the Green Hornet was not too dissimilar a character from Batman, right down to the secret lair, the cool car, the nifty gadgets ...”

How was the writing of Antz affected by the knowledge that A Bug’s Life was in simultaneous development?
TR: “At one point, someone found out that the finale of A Bug’s Life involved a storm. We had a storm, and flood, as a key part of our finale. Eventually ours was changed, partly to 'stay away' from what they were doing. Remember, all during production, it was assumed that Antz would be released second.

“As an aside, Ted and I were present during the initial inspiration for Antz, which came from development executive Nina Jacobson (ironically, now working for Disney). Her inspiration for the film had to do with being an 'ant-like' worker at Dreamworks, and Woody Allen playing the role of the slave in Spartacus, and knowing the promise of using CGI to render the bug world ... it was completely independent (and I think it even preceded) the Disney project. There's no way it was imitative of Disney; you could see how it was born.”

How much liaison did you have with Neil Gaiman when writing your unproduced version of Sandman? What particular problems does his unusual outlook and imagination present to an adaptor?
TE: “The hardest thing we had to do on Sandman was find a way to retell Gaiman's stories as a movie without losing what made those stories special in the first place. Our challenge was to do something which Neil had done with myths and legends in the pages of Sandman - telling them in a new way, which was not in violation of the way they were told originally.”

TR: “That's a script that I still think we nailed perfectly. And part of why it's good is because it's far more Gaiman than us. Which is one way an adaptation can work. We met several times with Neil, and it was great to know he approved of the work. The problem - which I still cannot fathom - is how the folk at Warner Bros could spend money to acquire the Sandman property ... and then want to throw it out. His work is among the best fiction ever written, in any form. Why throw it away?”

Please just tell me everything you're allowed to about your Iron Man project at this stage - the world (well, the readership of SFX) is agog.
TR: “As usual, our goals for this project are high. We want to do a smart, tightly plotted, effective superhero movie, with a real character at the heart of it all, and never-before seen action sequences. Why lower your standards just because it's a comic book? The most exciting thing for us is what a perfect time it is for this story. We live in a time when power is being shifted from governments to industry. When Bill Gates becomes the most powerful man on the planet, you hope to hell that somehow he develops a moral centre, for the sake of us all. That's part of what we want to do with Tony Stark.

“Happily, nobody has really done the definitive realistic superhero movie. The movies (for whatever reason) always take a step back, and don't take it seriously. But to fans, the stories are all real - they may be fun, they may have humour, they may be over the top ... but no fan ever thinks twice about whether it really happened. So we have an opportunity here to do a superhero the way everyone wants to see it.”

What can we expect from Zorro Unmasked, and when can we expect it?
TE: “The studio wants to make it, and I know Antonio Banderas is still practising his fencing, so the best-case scenario would be summer of '01. Although there is many a slip 'twixt the cup and lip, as the saying goes. As for what to expect ... well, I don't want to give away the story, but some of the elements are the California Gold Rush, pirates, a threat from Alejandro's past, an old love from Elena's past ... oh, yeah, and Elena in the Zorro outfit. I guess I kind of buried the lead there, huh?”

TR: “I don't have much hope for this project. We're writing a version of a story that was approved, but I'm not sure it's the best version of the story possible. It could turn out we're doing the sacrificial draft on this one - where you have to execute a story as well as it can possibly be done, to prove definitively to the powers-that-be that the choices made were a mistake. But I don't think, in this case, the project will recover from the initial missteps. But who knows? They may get it and love it.”

TE: “There is the problem that as we started working out the story, we came up with a number of ‘This would be cool!’ kind of things. Walter Parkes at Amblin liked half of them and hated half of them, and the Columbia execs liked half of them and hated half of them - and they were literally, no hyperbole here, diametrically opposed. I guess I have higher hopes for the project because Steven Spielberg got involved at that point, and liked all of them ... which means, at the very least, our ideas for what would be a cool Zorro sequel appeal to Steven's sensibilities.”

What is Shrek, what stage is it at, and why has it described as the one animated project that gives Jeffrey Katzenberg worse nightmares than The Road to El Dorado?
TR: “The heart of Shrek is to do a story that plays with fairy tale conventions - to do a story set in a world where people are aware of fairy tales, and in fact probably know the people who were in the original stories. Kind of a Douglas Adams treatment of the fairy tale world, if you will. The problem is that the people involved with the project are unfamiliar with that subgenre ... Terry Pratchett's work, or Piers Anthony, or even Larry Niven. So conventions keep coming up and being proposed as story solutions, but the whole point is to undermine the conventions, go a couple steps past. It takes a particular comic sensibility to pull that off.”

TE: “The problems Jeffrey is referring to really stem from the fact that Chris Farley was so clearly the right choice for the character of Shrek that, when he passed away, it threw a huge monkey wrench into the works.”

TR: “The best hope for the project is that Mike Myers is involved - as well as Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow - and as usual, there is an amazing group of talented people assembled to work on the movie.”

What on Earth is Timekeeper? And how does a script for a theme park ride differ from a movie script?
TR: “We did some work on the pre-show and show for a Disney circlevision project. Just one of those things that comes up when you're under contract to a studio.”

TE: “I think it's still running at Euro Disney or Disney Paris or whatever it’s called now ... you know, the one with the really short lines ...”

You wrote a CD-ROM called Director’s Chair. How can you write something as non-linear as a CD-ROM (especially if it has notorious maniacs like Penn and Teller in it)?
TR: “Director's Chair is a program where users can shoot and cut together their own movie. So there needed to be a movie-within-the-game for people to shoot, and that's what we contributed.”

TE: “It was really about tone - there was the comic version of the movie-within-the-game, the dramatic version, the action-adventure version, the noir version (which was different from the dramatic version) ... but the game itself really didn't work, and was kind of annoying.”

Then there’s Treasure Planet. Apart from the cute title, why set Treasure Island in space? And have you seen Space Island, the 1980s Italian mini-series that did exactly the same thing?
TR: “I'm not familiar with Space Island. But Treasure Planet is going to be great. Why have the big US companies not done an animated film in space? Yes, finally, Titan AE is coming out, but Treasure Planet will be better, I'm betting. The project has been one that Ron Clemens and John Musker have wanted to do for years. This one comes from the heart, and I have high expectations.”

TE: “I believe Ron and John pitched Treasure Planet even before they pitched The Little Mermaid. We did a draft of the screenplay for them just after we finished Aladdin, but the project got backburnered again. I don't know how much of our work - if any - will be in the finished movie, but it doesn't matter. Like Terry, I'm just looking forward to seeing Ron and John's Treasure Planet.

Why has A Princess of Mars still not been made when it has so much potential? Has the success of Disney's Tarzan made it easier to get an animated Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation greenlighted?
TR: “When things work, or they're done right, there is a logic to it. But stupidity defies analysis. So there's just no explaining some of the things Hollywood does. One of them is not making A Princess of Mars.

TE: “When we were working on A Princess of Mars, it was intended to be a live-action movie for Touchstone/Hollywood. Long after we left the project, it was shifted over to the Disney animation division.”

What lessons have you learned from The Puppet Masters that you can bring to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? And has Starship Troopers affected its chances of getting made?
TR: “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress won't be made, at least, not by the folk at Dreamworks. Someday someone might do it. There's just no interest from anyone at DreamWorks in the project right now, and the option on the book has expired. One thing that hurt the project was the release of Deep Impact and Armageddon. The big central payoff image of the novel is the rocks slamming down on Earth ... and after those films, the image was no longer unique, or compelling.”

Any comments on (or explanation of): TuskerJack of SwordsUntitled Dead Guy ProjectLady in the CloudsJingle or Instant Karma?
TR: “Let's see. Jack of SwordsLady in the CloudsJingle and Instant Karma are all stalled in Development Hell, essentially dead. Tusker is going to be PDI/Dreamworks' next CGI movie after Shrek; it's a story featuring elephants. I'm fascinated by the Untitled Dead Guy Project; what the heck is that?”

TE: “Jingle and Instant Karma are two movie we're producing, not writing. They are in Development Hell right now, but I would not characterise them as essentially dead. I would characterise them as essentially being punished for sins which are not their own. We intend to do an Orpheus and rescue them - but, trust me, we won't look back. And what the heck is Untitled Dead Guy Project?”

Is there anything else you've worked on that you're proud of (or think might be of interest to the readers)?
TR: “Have to mention our Wordplay site, a place for screenwriters to hang out: amid the madness, it's nice to have something out there that represents your true creative sensibilities. That's We constantly get a lot of praise regarding the site from writers, so maybe I'll allow myself to think that it's pretty good.”

Finally, a few more quick The Road to El Dorado questions. The title acronym TRTED can be read as TR and Ted: coincidence or conspiracy?
TR: “Destiny.”
TE: “The final ignominious irony.”

What about the Hope/Crosby influence?
TR: “Intentional. Why are there no buddy comedy teams any more?”

TE: “You know what bugs me? In our story, the guys would have been more Butch and Sundance then Bob and Bing. Then the decision was made to jettison our story in order to make them more like Bob and Bing - which, in my mind, meant making the movie really, really funny, with humour that worked on a multiple of levels. And yet, there was a lot of very funny stuff that was either written or boarded which was decided did not belong in the movie. Go figure.”

And, given that your story centres on two sidekicks, the influence of Star Wars or The Hidden Fortress?
TR: “No influence there at all. You might have said Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or The Man Who Would Be King, or Hope and Crosby or Laurel and Hardy or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and then I'd say, 'Yeah, like that, that's what we were going for!'

TE: “In terms of the sidekick-as-lead, the anti-heroes of Seven Samurai or Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark would be more apropos. But, really, for me, it was Hope and Crosby or Butch and Sundance, guys who weren't necessarily virtuous or noble, but always came through for the other guy.”

interview originally posted 22nd May 2007

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