The writer discusses adapting the screenplay as well as his upcoming movie Anonymous, about William Shakespeare
Writer John Orloff's career began when Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg read a screenplay he wrote called Soul Of The Age, which is about the authorship controversy surrounding many of William Shakespeare's most famous plays. That led to an opportunity for Orloff to write several episodes of the Emmy Award winning mini-series Band of Brothers.
In 2007 the writer's adaptation of Mariane Pearl's memoir A Mighty Heart was released starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, and it earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay. Since then Orloff has been hired to pen several high profile scripts, including a film based on the life of "James Bond" author Ian Fleming called Fleming for Leonardo DiCaprio, and an adaptation of The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. Not to mention that his screenplay about Shakespeare, now called Anonymous, is currently in post-production and was directed by Roland Emmerich (2012).
Right now you can see the writer's latest movie, the Zack Snyder directed 3D animated family film Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, which is currently in theaters and is based on the popular series of books by Kathryn Lasky. We recently had a chance to speak with writer John Orloff about Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, collaborating with Zack Snyder, adapting Kathryn Lasky's books, changes that he made, Anonymous and the status of some of his other projects. Here is what he had to say:
To start with, can you talk about your involvment with Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole and how you ended up working on the screenplay?
John Orloff: What happened was that I had written a movie at Warner Bros. called A Mighty Heart that actually didn't get made there, it got made at Paramount but the executive who I had worked with at Warner Bros. had me in her office and asked me what else I was interested in writing. I told her what I had been saying for years in these types of situations, which was basically that I love sci-fi and that I had been kind of pigeon holed by my work on Band of Brothers and A Mighty Heart into that non-fiction historical place. I love science fiction and I actually think as genres they are pretty similar. About three or four weeks later she sent me the "G'hoole" books and I started to read them. As I started to read them I thought that they were really unique and interesting. It wasn't the Tolkien derivative fantasy book that almost every fantasy book is. It's a really unique world with owls and air to air combat, I mean who's seen that before? When I was finished reading them I called up the executive and said that I just had to do it, so I went in and we talked about it. They asked me to do it and I started writing a first draft. While I was writing the first draft Animal Logic was doing test drawings and somewhere along the line Zack saw what they were doing and asked if there was a script yet. So as soon as I finished writing the script he read it and then Zack and I continued working on it together.
What was it like collaborating with Zack Snyder on the screenplay? Were there a lot of changes that the two of you made to your original script once he came on to the project?
John Orloff: Once Zack came on a whole lot of meetings began to take place between myself, Zack and Deb Snyder about how to take the script that I had written, which at that point was quite long and cut it down. The movie is based on the first three books because the first book is not a complete story. The first book only goes with Soren until he escapes the owl concentration camp and that is not a full story. I mean it's called the Legend of The Guardians and he doesn't even meet the Guardians until the third book. So we all agreed that it needed to be the first three books in the first movie. So the first three books are like a thousand pages and my first draft was one hundred and sixty so we had to whittle that down to a hundred and five. So that was the next step of me, Zack and Deb having meeting after meeting and draft and draft, going through the process not only shorting and trimming it but "Zack-ing" it up, if you know what I mean? My first draft I didn't write with Zack in mind. I know people use this term a lot but he really is a visionary director. He has an eye that is completely different than any other director working. You can imagine my leaps for joy when I heard that he wanted to make the movie because I'm a big Zack fan too and when I heard he might do it I was like, "Wow, imagine him directing these aerial combat sequences!" So I got excited and then it just became about how do we trim what I had written and then "Zack-ing" it up.
Can you talk about some of the changes that you had to make from the original source material when you were adapting it to the big screen?
John Orloff: Yeah. Well that has kind of been my thing, adaptation so I'm pretty good at it and I had conversations with Kathryn Lasky. I would call her up and tell her that I was thinking about making a change and ask her what she would think. Just so I could make sure that it was within the spirit of the books. Luckily most of the time she would say, "Oh, I wished I had thought of that." Let me give you an example. In the books, that concentration camp is controlled and run by a whole other set of bad guys from the Pure Ones. The Pure Ones don't even come into the story until book three, so the first thing I came up with was having the concentration camp be run by the Pure Ones and have that be like their forced mine to get flecks, the ultimate weapon in the Owl kingdom. Everyone thought that was great because it really unified two of the ideas from the book together. So that was the first big change and the second, and this would be a SPOILER ALERT, was that in the books a lot of time passes in Soren's life from the first book to the third. He starts off really young in the books, he's barely beyond a child. In the books, as he is trying to find the Guardians a lot of time goes by and in that time Kludd creates the Pure Ones. Kludd is Metalbeak in the books. I said that we couldn't do that because how was Kludd going to raise an army so quickly? How would he be able to learn to be evil? So the other big thing I recommended to everybody was lets make Metalbeak and Kludd two separate characters. Then at the end of the movie once Soren and Ezylryb have defeated Metalbeak, one of the final images will be Kludd sort of wounded and broken in the embers of the fire discovering Metalbeak's mask and taking the mantel of being the next leader on the Pure Ones. All of that was done with Kathryn's blessing and she was really incredibly supportive of both of those changes and agreed that it made for a much more streamlined storyline. So those were the big changes and then it just became about sharing these characters in the most economical way possible. So we began to slice off almost a third of my original draft to make it in the actual movie.
What can you tell us about your next film "Anonymous," which is directed by Roland Emmerich?
John Orloff: What happened with Anonymous was I did Band of Brothers and worked on other things and then I would take meetings. You go into these meetings with executives, directors or actors and you're making small chat with them and then they ask what else you've written. I would always talk about this script called Soul Of The Age because it was my passion project. One day about eight years ago I was in Roland Emmerich's office and we were talking about another movie and he asked what else I had been working on. I pitched him Soul Of The Age and his eyes lighted up. He wanted to read the script so I sent it to him and much to my amazement he really dug it. We started meeting about it and talking about it but then he went away to make The Day After Tomorrow. When he came back he called me and said that he had been reading about the Shakespeare authorship issue and he had a few ideas that he wanted to talk about. So we sat down and he told me about some ideas he had to change the script and they were really good ideas. I thought that he was on to something and that started a process of about twenty different passes of a script that is now Anonymous. It's substantially different from Soul Of The Age but still similar. Roland finally figured out the financing this year and we shot it and now are in post. I hope that people will like the film and I think they will be shocked that Roland has made such a different kind of movie then he has made before.
Finally, are you still working on a script based on the life of "James Bond" creator Ian Fleming for Leonardo DiCaprio to star in?
John Orloff: No. That's one of those things that never came together as much as I had hoped for.
How about your adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles?" Is that still happening?
John Orloff: No, that was one I did a few years ago that just ended up in the development pile. It takes a lot of good luck and just the right moment for a movie to go forward but its one of my favorite scripts that I've written.