Great interview with Jon Spaihts, screenwriter of the upcoming Alien prequel PROMETHEUS. Of particular interest (to us fellow sci fi screenwriters) is what he has to say re: Hollywooding greenlighting (or not) original sci fi IPs in this day and age, versus video game companies which, for reasons given below, seem to be much more gung ho about charging forward with new intellectual properties. Check it out--
Why is it so hard to get Hollywood to greenlight space adventures like your Shadow 19 script? Video games like Mass Effect make insane amounts of money, so why is it so hard for Hollywood to commit to similar movies?
There are some technical reasons why. In game engines, hard shiny surfaces are easy to render, while pliable or complex surfaces are hard. So in a game, spaceships, tanks and armored figures are very approachable subjects. It's a lot harder to render, say, a long-haired girl in a flowing dress chasing a shaggy dog through a garden. That's brutal geometry for a game engine. In games, scifi's easier to achieve than mundane reality.
With film, the opposite is true. Anything available in the real world you can just point a camera at. Fantastic things have to be built, physically or digitally, and that's expensive. Sci fi costs more in film.
All that said: scifi blockbusters have made mountains of money, and are over-represented in the top fifty box office hits of all time. The mighty Avatar first among them, with the Star Wars films and others trailing behind. Clearly the audience will turn out if you execute well. I think there's a ready market for grand space adventures.
But it's got to be a good story on every level: good characters, emotional arcs, sharp dialogue, comprehensible world, clear stakes… it's a lot to get right. There aren't that many people around who can do it well.
Have video games changed the way people think about this kind of storytelling?
Yes and no. Storytelling in games has matured tremendously in the past decade. Some really great work has been done. But the design requirements are totally different, almost the opposite of filmic storytelling.
The central character of a game is most often a cipher – an avatar into which the player projects himself or herself. The story has to have a looseness to accommodate the player's choices. This choose-your-own adventure quality is a challenge for storytellers and, I fear, militates against art.
A filmmaker is trying to make you look at something a certain way – almost to force an experience on you. Think of the legendary directors, whose perspective is the soul of their art. It's the opposite of a sandbox world. It's a mind-meld with a particular visionary.
Do you think films like Prometheus and Gravity could spark a new interest in big space epics that aren't based on an existing franchise?
I want to say yes, but I think those aren't the films for the job. Prometheus "shares DNA" with a pre-existing franchise, and what I know of Gravity suggests it's a fairly grounded predicament movie, without the larger-than-life characters or fanciful story-world that would naturally give birth to a franchise.
To launch a new franchise you need both a strikingly imagined world with a conflict built into its bones, and vivid characters with heroic traits that allow them to the be the backbone of a series of stories. See "Star Wars."