Thursday, November 8, 2012

10 Screenwriting Candidates for Star Wars 7

UPDATE - Vulture is reporting that Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine) is the lead candidate for the Star Wars 7 job.  Disney refused to comment so who knows if it's true, but it's a name I bandied about for this article since he's a Disney guy.  I just didn't see any sci-fi in his background.  If true, I really like the choice.  There are very few writers in Hollywood who know structure and character like Arndt, so he's going to give us a strong draft.  Also, if true, you gotta think Brad Bird would then be the lead candidate for director, since it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to bring in a writer without already knowing the director this close to release, and Bird is Disney's other big Pixar treasure.  

Yes, I'm a dork.  I'm a geek.  When Star Wars appears anywhere in the news, I read it.  And over the past seven or so years, there hasn't been whole a lot of good Star Wars news for me.  The only news that people seem even remotely interested in is whether Lucas will ever release the original trilogy on DVD?  Or is it Blu-Ray?  I still don't know because I could care less.  And I can never figure out if they mean the original trilogy as in without the added scenes or like the original original trilogy, as in without any of the effects he added later to get rid of the 1977 mistakes.  If it's the latter, I'm not sure I even want that.  Do I want to see a land speeder with a mirror on the bottom just so I can say I own the "original trilogy?"  Hmmm...

But this recent news of Disney buying LucasFilm and making three more movies (or is it an unlimited amount of movies? I'm still confused.  Their press release says they're making another trilogy, and then later in the press release, they say they're going to release a new Star Wars movie every couple of years.  Does that 'every couple of years' refer to the new trilogy, or do they mean forever?  This needs to be clarified Disney!  Jesus Christ!) has totally changed my life.  I mean, all you have to do is follow my Twitter feed to know that.  Scriptshadow has become StarWarsShadow.  I even find myself stopping at the toy isle at Target and staring wondrously at the Lego kits for Tie and X-Wing fighters, kits that were too expensive for my parents to get me when I was a kid.  I find myself obsessively trying to convince my lady friend to buy this dress and wear it, like, once a week at least (I'll keep you updated on what she says).  My intermittent checking of Variety, ESPN and Deadline has changed to intermittent checking of  My days are now measured by how many Star Wars rumors I have accumulated.

Which leads us to today's article.  The director rumors are flying.  Matthew Vaughn is getting a lot of pub to direct Ep 7, although this recent article at Slash-Film says he won't.  There are also rumors that Colin Trevorrow, the director of "Safety Not Gauranteed" might be on the short list to direct the film.  Hmm, I question the authenticity of that one.  But it's funny what these rumors can do.  Even a false rumor can give an up-and-coming writer or director a career boost.  I'd never thought of Trevorrow as anyone other than a young indie director.  Just the idea that someone would consider him for Star Wars, though, makes me think he's got more going on than I originally gave him credit for.

But as you know, this site isn't called DirectorShadow (hmmmm?).  It's called "Scriptshadow."  I'm more interested in the writer side of things.  If you want to point to the big fault of the prequel films, it was the abysmal writing.  And I mean it was really really bad.  I know I'm not stating anything new here.  Any Joe with 10 bucks to his name could offer that observation.  But it went deeper than that.  It was the laziness of it all that got to me.  It's one thing to try your hardest and fail.  It's another to give an audience a second draft that's not even close to ready and film it.

Which is why I'm so excited for the future!  Star Wars will once again be written by real writers, not directors putting haphazard unfinished blueprints together that they'll fix while filming.  The possibilities are endless, especially because this isn't just any job.  Whoever takes this job is going to treat it like gold.  This is the franchise of all franchises.  Nobody's going to be filming lazy second drafts this time around.  Which leads us to the candidates.  I've culled a list of ten potential Star Wars 7 screenwriters from rumors, fan speculation, and good old fashioned assumption.  It's time to look at each of them and see what they bring to the table and what they don't.  This will be the most difficult writing job in the last few decades of Hollywood.  Which is why I'm dying to see who they'll pick.  So here are the leading contenders, and what we should expect from each.

Name: Damon Lindelof
Relevant Credits: "Lost" pilot parts 1 & 2, "Lost" episode "Walkabout," "Lost" episode "The Variable," Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z

Like it or not, Lindelof is at the top of everyone's Star Wars 7 list.  Why?  Simple.  For every genre, the studios have a list of the top writer in that genre.  Right now, Lindelof is at the top of the sci-fi genre.  Think about it.  Who would you put above him?  Not only is he involved in all the biggest sci-fi assignments, but he just sold a huge sci-fi spec to Disney last year (which I'm looking for if you have it - ahem).  It doesn't mean he's the right fit, but he definitely needs to be in the conversation.  Now much has been made of Lindelof tweeting dismissively about Star Wars 7, and therefore how he shouldn't be considered a real candidate.  I'm not sure about that.  If a Lindelof deal were gestating, complete Twitter silence on his end would look really suspicious, and hence we'd be getting the complete opposite.

Pros: Lindelof is a great storyteller.  Not writer, but storyteller.  And we need good storytelling back in Star Wars.  Go watch the pilot episode of Lost, or the episode, "Walkabout," which is one of my favorite episodes of TV ever.  In addition to this, Star Wars needs imagination, and Lindelof's got it.  Lost was the most imaginative series ever put on television.  And the extensiveness of that mythology is about as close as you'll get to the extensiveness of the Star Wars mythology today.  Being born in 1973, Lindelof also grew up right in that sweet spot of Star Wars taking over the world.  There are lots of good things Lindelof brings to the table.

Cons: If there's a big weakness people will point to with Lindelof, it's plot holes, using Prometheus as their key example.  Here's my take on that.  Plot holes are typically a result of time.  With enough time, any plot hole can be fixed.  Any writer who gets to that level in Hollywood isn't dumb.  They know when there's a plot hole.  But unlike us, who have years and years to hone our scripts, these guys have months.  I don't know when Lindelof came onto Prometheus and how much time he had.  But for all we know, he could've spent the entire time fixing hundreds of plot holes the previous writer left and he simply didn't have time to hash out the final few.  What I'm more concerned about is Lindelof's propensity to raise questions that don't get answered.  He was responsible for a lot of that in Lost, and I saw it in places in Prometheus as well (I still don't know what the opening scene was with the super-white alien dude drinking black liquid or whatever).  The last thing we need is a bunch of open ends in a Star Wars movie.  I want this thing to be tight.

Name: Jane Goldman
Relevant Credits: Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men First Class

I actually did an interview with Goldman awhile back and was impressed by her screenwriting knowledge.  I must admit a part of me thought she may have been riding on Matthew Vaughn's coat tails, but this woman clearly understands and cares about screenwriting.  Now obviously, Goldman's name jumps into the mix because Vaughn is being mentioned as director, and he'll almost certainly use longtime collaborator Goldman to write it.  So let's take a look at what she brings to the table.

Pros: I really liked "X-Men: First Class," specifically the emphasis on character development and character relationships (I found the relationship between Charles Xavier and Magneto to be flawlessly executed).  You could easily call that film a character piece as much as you could a popcorn flick.  The prequels were absent of ANY interesting characters or relationships whatsoever, so to have someone who cares about character as much as Jane would be great.  I also think Goldman's got the imagination required for a Star Wars flick.  Don't believe me?  Watch Stardust.  It's not a perfect film, but you'd be hard-pressed to call it unimaginative.

Cons: These two can get a little screwy at times and go off the reservation.  In Stardust, the whole seven ghost kings thing was too much.  And I remember an excised scene in an early Kick-Ass draft that had giant spiders crawling on walls that was just...odd.  If too many of these choices start stacking up, the story starts to feel floaty - not desirable for a Star Wars film.  Also, and this is just a feeling I get from interviewing her, but I don't think Goldman's heart is in sci-fi.  Goldman's love skews more towards comic books and horror, specifically zombies (as she told me she's obsessed with them).  If you're going to write a Star Wars film, you have to be absolutely in love with it for it to work.  In many ways, I believe Lucas fell out of love with Star Wars, which is one of many reasons why the prequels felt so empty.  This is a great lesson for any screenwriter actually: Always try to write something you love.  If you don't, that lack of passion will show up on the page.

Name: Jon Spaihts
Relevant Credits: The Darkest Hour, Prometheus

Spaihts is the biggest sci-fi writer you don't know yet.  He busted onto the scene with the high-ranking Black List script, Passengers, about two people who fall in love after falling out of hyper-sleep on a giant empty spaceship.  I din't like the script at first, but over time began to realize that it's kinda genius.  Spaihts used the buzz from that script to get numerous sci-fi jobs around town.  But probably the bigger reason he should be up for Star Wars 7 is Shadow 19.  This is the script that got Ridley Scott's attention and which parts of were used to build the story of Prometheus.  The thing is, all the stuff they didn't use in Prometheus was really big and ambitious and fun, and that's the kind of stuff I'm sure he would throw into a Star Wars film.

Pros: Scope.  Star Wars's scope is as big as it gets.  And you gotta be able to handle that scope if you want to make it work, which isn't as easy as it sounds.  When new writers try to do too much, they get lost, specifically losing site of the little things that make audiences care, like characters.  Shadow 19 makes me believe Spaihts can handle the scope and Passengers makes me think he can handle the characters.   I also like the "unexpected factor" Sapihts brings.  Star Wars has been too predictable lately.  We need a voice who's willing to take chances and go in less-traveled directions.  Passengers, with its strange plot of two lovers having to live out the rest of their lives on an empty spaceship, gets me thinking that Spaihts will do some new things with the franchise.

Cons:  Is he ready?  It takes a certain kind of writer to be able to handle the rigors of writing giant studio material.  Lots of needs need to be met.  Lots of cooks are in the kitchen.  Younger writers want to make everyone happy so they try to incorporate every note given and the script ends up a mess as a result.  More experienced writers know who the true shot-callers are, whose notes they need to apply and whose to ignore, and their veteran status affords them the respect they need to put their foot down when they need to.  I wonder if Spaihts would be pushed around too much.

Name: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
Relevant Credits: Star Trek, Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens, All You Need Is Kill

Before Lindelof was the hot hand in every major sci-fi project in town, it was these guys, and since they've not only worked on a lot of the biggest sci-fi scripts out there, but those films went on to become extremely successful (save for Cowboys & Aliens), there's no doubt Disney is eyeing this pair as a possibility.  

Pros: These two will get the job done.  They're not going to knock it out of the park but they're not going to give you something mediocre either.  You'll get a decent Star Wars movie, and "decent" will probably look "exceptional" next to the recent Star Wars offerings.  These two also know how to keep a story moving.  They've written one of my favorite scripts, "Tell No One," a story that just flies by, and I bring that up because the best two Star Wars movies, Star Wars and Empire, are both "chase movies," which is why they moved so much faster than the others.  We need a writer(s) who can bring back some of that pace to the Star Wars universe.

Cons: I feel these guys are workmanlike.  They get the job done but that's pretty much all they do.  They're not going to take many chances, which means we'll get a fun story, but one that's ultimately empty.  When Lucas still cared about Star Wars, he gave us Yoda - a jedi master who was essentially an old frog.  Talk about chance-taking!  Yeah, we won't get any Yodas with these two.  Also, I feel like their voice is a little too "old hat" now.  We already know what it sounds like.  It's kind of like listening to a new Dave Matthews album.  You kinda enjoy it, but it's just not fresh anymore.

Name: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Relevant credits: Pirates Of The Carribean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Deja Vu

These two are strong contenders.  And by strong, I mean really strong.  They've made tons of money for Disney, and when studios have a formula that works, they don't like to stray from it.  Which means that even though their body of work may not scream out "Star Wars," I could see Disney trusting them to set up the franchise.

Pros: These two are amazing storytellers and amazing at working within the classic 3-Act structure, which Star Wars movies are basically designed to exist in (until Lucas started creating 30-act structures with the prequels - oh sheesh, is there an end to the terrible choices he made in those scripts?).  Look no further than their excellent, if a little dated, website, "Wordplayer," where they constantly stress the importance of structure.  They've also proven with Captain Jack Sparrow that they can create a memorable funny roguish character, something the prequels were missing.  I just feel like we'd get a good old fashioned story with these two.  The script would move where it needed to and take its time when it needed to.

Cons: Due to their ambitiousness, their plots can get a little confusing at times.  After a few viewings, I knew what was happening in "Pirates," but that first time, I had a hell of a time trying to keep up.  That's what was so great about Star Wars.  Even though there was all this elaborate backstory and world building, the story itself was pretty easy to follow: bad guys chase good guys.  I also don't feel that their sensibilites quite fit the Star Wars universe.  They're kind of like Orci and Kurtzman in that sense.  You know what you're going to get with them, but the feeling is it won't quite gel with what you want out of a Star Wars movie.

Name: Lawrence Kasdan
Relevant credits: The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, Raiders Of The Lost Ark

The old man is still in the mix.  I mean, he's gotta be, right?  He wrote Empire!  I heard a long time ago in an interview far far away that he'd never write another Star Wars movie, but things change.  I mean, maybe he didn't want to deal with George's weird story requests at the time.  That issue ain't an issue anymore as he'd be working with an entirely new painter.

Pros: You're bringing back the man responsible for writing hardcore Star Wars' fans favorite film of the franchise.  You'd be getting a darker Star Wars, which is what the core fans want.  But I think the big thing with Kasdan is he really knew how to have fun with his relationships.  From Han and Leia to Han and C-3PO to Luke and Yoda to C-3PO and R2-D2, the dynamic between all those characters was never as good as it was there in Empire.  A lot of that has to do with Kasdan's dialogue, which is easily the strongest in the series.  And it's been awhile since we've heard "good dialogue" and "Star Wars" in the same sentence, hasn't it?

Cons: Is his heart still in it?  Kasdan would have nothing to prove with a new Star Wars script because he's already written a great one.   Contrast this with a young writer who's been dreaming his whole life of getting a crack at Star Wars, and I'm just worried that Kasdan couldn't compete with that kind of energy.  Also, it's been almost 20 years since he's written anything good.  They'd be taking a huge risk on Lawrence, but if he came to them with an amazing pitch and the promise that he'd give it his all, I'd listen.

Name: Travis Beacham
Relevant Credits: Clash Of The Titans, Pacific Rim

If you're a reader of this site, you know this name well.  If not, you probably haven't heard of Beacham. Basically, he steamrolled onto the scene with his screenplay, Killing On Carnival Row, which has since become one of the most beloved scripts in Hollywood, even though its R rating practically ensured it would never be made.  But now that Beacham has started to earn some street cred working on bigger material, the idea of someone plunking down 120 million to make "Carnival" doesn't seem so far-fetched.  One of the big reasons why Beacham's name is in the mix is because Guillermo Del Toro is in the directing fold, and Beacham just worked with Del Toro on Pacific Rim, another big sci-fi project.  If these two combine to do a Star Wars movie, I wouldn't complain.

Pros: World-building.  This guy can build a world like nobody's business.  Go read "Carnival Row" if you don't believe me.  And as we've already established, this new Star Wars saga is going to need a lot of world-building, so we need a writer capable of that.  What I also like about Beachem is his attention to detail.  In "Carnival Row," he seems to care about every little character, every little crevice in this city.  I love when writers know their world that well.  It beefs up the authenticity of the piece, and I'd love to seem him bring that to Star Wars.

Cons: I think his version of Star Wars might be a little slow.  There's such a thing as too much character development and too much focus on the world you're building, to the point where your story sort of falls asleep.  Not to beat a dead horse, but this is a huge mistake Lucas made in the prequels.  He just kept building and building (Naboo, Coruscant, the Senate, underwater villages) to the point where the stories never had a chance to get going.  I'd like to get back to the simple clean storytelling of Star Wars and Empire. Let's have some fun!


Name: Wachowski Starship
Relevant Credits: The Matrix Trilogy, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas

These two are kind of a long shot and would be in it for both writing AND directing, but I wouldn't bet against them being courted.  Cloud Atlas hasn't exactly lit the box office on fire, but the extended trailer alone reminds you what these guys are capable of when they're on their game.  In many ways, The Matrix was the next big special effects leap forward from what Star Wars did originally.  I'd love to see what these guys could do with Disney money.

Pros: These are the writers of The Matrix!  Isn't that enough?  What I like about the Wachowskis is they really hash out their characters, putting a ton of effort into each and every one.  They're good at creating distinct memorable people, something that the prequels were sorely missing.  Outside of Jar Jar, everyone was so plain and forgettable in those films (of course, we only wish Jar Jar could've been forgettable). They're also great at creating villains.  Agent Smith and those freaking Albino twins were badass.  Star Wars is desperate for a new memorable villain.

Cons: Here's the thing with the Wachowskis - they need time to make their scripts work.  The Matrix script was honed over ten years.  The Matrix sequels were written over a couple of years.  The disparity in quality is evident to anyone with a set of eyes.  I also think the Wachowskis lose sight of keeping the story moving in favor of long monologues detailing philosophical rants that really make little sense and that the audience doesn't care about.  Even moreso than Beacham, I'd be worried that these two would slow their Star Wars movie down too much.

Name: Christopher Nolan
Relevant credits: The Dark Knight, Inception

Nolan is a longshot but he's still the most in-demand director in the world.  So if he wanted to do Star Wars, I'm pretty sure Disney would say "name your price."  I just have no idea how Nolan feels about Star Wars.  I know he's a huge James Bond fan, and I'm not sure the James Bond and Star Wars fan bases cross over that much, which makes me think Star Wars isn't his thing.  But what the hell do I know?  Someone from Disney will definitely put a call in to him, which means he's worth discussing.

Pros: He'd rein the world back in a lot.  We wouldn't have two-headed blathering announcers calling Pod-races in a Nolan-scripted Star Wars film.  I get the feeling that Nolan would center his Star Wars around the Boba Fetts and the bounty hunters of the universe.  It'd be grittier.  It'd be nastier.  It'd be the kind of film Lucas kept threatening to make with Episode 3 but never did.

Cons: Let's be honest, Nolan can be long-winded.  He stays around for a lot longer than he probably should, and the good Star Wars films aren't constructed that way.  They're always moving.  I'm sorry, but the whole "take over the city" thing and the six month wait in The Dark Night Rises was akin to watching paint dry.  That kind of pace just won't cut it in Star Wars.  I also think Nolan's gotten lazier in his storytelling over the years.  Watch how he deftly hides exposition in Memento compared to how he sloppily slaps it in there in Inception.  Star Wars movies are exposition-heavy because of all the worlds and cities and characters.  For that reason, badly-handled exposition could kill a Star Wars film.  I'm also afraid he might ground the universe too much.  Nolan seems afraid to let his imagination go wild, and obviously you can't have that limitation when doing a Star Wars movie.

Name: JJ Abrams
Relevant credits: Super 8, Lost, Armageddon

JJ is a huuuuuge Star Wars fan.  In fact, he's so much of a Star Wars fan that he constructed Star Trek to be like a Star Wars movie, figuring that would be his only shot to direct something remotely close to Star Wars.  Well guess what, JJ?  The Mouse House may have answered your prayers.  A Star Wars film is up for grabs and as long as James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, or Guillermo Del Toro don't want it, it's yours.

Pros: Concept.  I feel that JJ would come up with the best concept for a Star Wars movie of anyone on this list by far.  He'd also be able to handle the huge task of mapping out the new mythology.  He also knows how to incorporate mystery into a script like no other, and with him scripting the film(s), we'd likely get a couple of new "I am your father" shockers.  JJ also brings charm to the table, as was evidenced in Super 8, and would do some stellar character work, as we saw him do in that movie as well (with the kids).  With a JJ-scripted Star Wars, I think we'd get a lot of the "wonder" of the series back.

Cons: I'm not sure JJ cares as much about the details as some of these other guys.  The genius with Lucas was that he cared about Monster #8 sitting in the furthest reaches of the bar.  He knew where that guy had been.  I think JJ's more of a "big picture" guy, and might miss some cool story threads or subplots that could emerge from a background character like Boba Fett.  I also feel like we might get "Star Wars Light" with JJ, sort of like we got "ET Light" with "Super 8."  We'll see though.  JJ is a very strong candidate.

Here's the x-factor in all of this.  The person who writes Star Wars 7 has to be a huge Star Wars fan.  It won't work otherwise.  And I don't personally know how all of these people feel about Star Wars.  So I think passion should definitely factor in.  George Lucas lost that passion and we paid for it on the script end.  The crazy thing about this whole decision is that there are so many directors you can point to and say, "They would make a GREAT Star Wars movie," but there isn't a single writer you can point to with any confidence and say the same thing.  Does that mean screenwriting is harder than directing?  I don't know.  But there's definitely no clear cut choice.  Which is why I turn the question to you guys.  Who would you pick?  One of the writers/teams above, or someone completely different?

edit: Some people have brought up Brad Bird and Joss Whedon as possibilities, but the indication I get is that Bird would come on as director, with someone else writing it, and Whedon is focused on Avengers under the Disney blanket, taking him out of the running for Star Wars (even though he'd do anything to change that situation).