Stuart Beattie Discusses G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The screenwriter of this anticipated new film talks about the anticipated summer film and his huge slate of future films

Like most screenwriters, Stuart Beattie may not be well known by name (except for people like me), but more for his body of work. If I were to say 'I interviewed Stuart Beattie" to my friends, they would say, 'Who?' But, if I then said, "The guy who wrote the first Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral and 30 Days of Night," they would surely know that I talked to a talented writer. I spoke with Beattie over the phone to discuss his latest film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which is set to hit theaters nationwide on August 7. Here's what this Australian writer (he also wrote Australia) had to say about his new film.

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Can you firstly just talk a little bit about how you first heard about the project or first came on? Did (director) Stephen (Sommers) approach you or (producer) Lorenzo (diBonaventura), or how did that all play out?

Stuart Beattie: Sure. Lorenzo called me, one night, in September (2007). I had written a film for Lorenzo a few years ago, so we knew each other really well. I got a call and he said, 'Hey, do you want to write the G.I. Joe movie?' I said, 'Yeah, sure. Sounds like fun.' I said, 'I'm going on strike in six weeks,' and he said, 'Yeah yeah yeah. That's plenty of time.' I said, 'You're crazy' and he said, 'Do you want to do it?' and I said 'Yeah, sure' (Laughs). It was fun.

So you hammered it out before the strike then?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah. Basically, I had about six weeks, so I went in and said, 'Look, there's no way I'm going to write you a brilliant screenplay in six weeks. Let me just focus, for now, on the structure, get the bones right.' To me, that's the most important thing, and then worry about polishing the scenes up later. I actually didn't write for the first three weeks (Laughs). I didn't write a word and everybody was freaking out, but they said I had to start from scratch, that I couldn't use anything from any of the previous scripts. So I kind of just started burrowing in and that's what I did for three weeks. I wrote around the clock. I didn't sleep, didn't see my family and all this craziness, but they greenlit it though. So now I'm on strike and they couldn't do anything with the script. They were in pre-production and it was fine because all the scenes that were in that script, the structure of the story and all those characters that's in the movie, all of that was in that draft. The strike ended the day before we started shooting, so I went down and just started polishing the scenes. I started polishing about an hour ahead and then two hours ahead, basically just worked and worked and worked until I got about 48 hours ahead. I was rewriting every day as I went and, because we had that solid foundation, that followed the story, it worked. It was fine, but it was crazy.

There are a few other writers credited on this film, so was all their work before you came on then?

Stuart Beattie: They were all before, yeah. There were various drafts done over the years, but they were all previous attempts, I guess.

I read that everyone loved working with Dennis Quaid so much that you actually wrote a lot more scenes for him, so what was his original role in the film? Was it not quite as big, or can you talk about the stuff that you added?

Stuart Beattie:Oh yeah. It was a matter that, not only that we loved him, but that Stephen was shooting so fast that we had a couple of extra days at the end. We paid for these two other days and we had nothing to do so we were like, 'Let's write some more scenes and get him in the movie more. He's fantastic,' so I just started writing, writing, writing, and we shot and he's actually in the movie a lot more than he originally was. It's just some of the fun stuff that happens when the actor really brings the role to life and it's really great. He actually got a bloody nose on the last day of shooting. He took a board to the face, so he was the real General Hawk. Yeah, we loved him (Laughs).

I also heard that there was a little joke at the end where it was proposed that Snake Eyes actually talks and tells a joke to the team, so was that something that you wrote?

Stuart Beattie: No, that was never in any draft that I did. I think one of the other writers had him speaking, but Snake Eyes never spoke in my draft.

It's Snake Eyes. He can't talk.

Stuart Beattie: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, not in my draft.

The cast is quite amazing here, so did you envision any of these guys for these characters, or is that just something you don't really think about?

Stuart Beattie: I don't really do that, because you never know if you're going to get them. You're just kind of setting yourself up for disappointment so I never do that. Actually, I've found over the years, that actors don't want you to do that because you're writing for them and they don't get to become the characters. They don't want you to write for them, they want you to write the character and they want to become the character, so it's actually kind of counterproductive. I don't do that at all. I just write the character then let the actor become that character.

Can oyu talk a bit about working with Stephen Sommers on this film? All of his films have a very unique visual style to them, so can you talk about what his directing style brought to your story?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah, sure. I mean, he brings this wonderful kinetic energy to everything, you know. He was really like a kid playing with G.I. Joe dolls. He was just having so much fun all throughout the shooting of this and we had a great crew and he loved the world and all that. Yeah, it's just that kind of energy and pacing that was fantastic. He was also the producer so they keep things moving, let the characters breathe and he works great with all the actors on set. No idea is too wild or too crazy. He'll come up with something that he'll mention will be the best idea ever. You'll go, 'That kind of destroys all this other stuff we've done,' and he's like, 'OK, forget it. Don't worry about it.' It's a really great gift, I think, to be not precious about your ideas. Be passionate, but not precious. You can just get attached to ideas and just not let them go and it gets in the way. He has no ego, none of that and he creates this very open forum where you can bring in ideas and throw out ideas and it just makes it a really wonderful, collaborative atmosphere to be a part of. I think it served the film every day.

Just the production itself sounds rather unique, with all the rewriting on set, you just got off strike and you were writing on the fly like that. Was there any part or sequences that you were maybe surprised how they turned out, maybe as opposed to your original draft?

Stuart Beattie: It was a crazy thing to do. I remember saying one time that this is just no way to make a movie. It's no way to make a small, intimate, $5 million family drama all set in one room, let alone a big summer action movie that traverses the world (Laughs). But everyone was just firing on all cylinders and working really hard and it just kind of worked. Yes, it was really challenging, but it was also a lot of fun. As far as a particular sequence, they all pretty much came out like they were written. We were very busy, very early on, because the chase sequence in Paris I remember seeing very early on. I kind of went in there kind of knowing what it was going to look like. I certainly think the ending, the visual set pieces at the end, you can never visualize something that cool. I was really really happy with that one. I think I was so closely involved in the production of the film, I saw pre-viz and animatics, so nothing kind of came out of the film that I hadn't seen a thousand times, one way or the other (Laughs). I never really got a fresh view of the film, in that sense.

You have a number of films in various stages of development and you have your directorial debut coming up with Tomorrow, When the War Began. Is there anything you can tell us about that, or when you're maybe looking to start filming, or any casting news for that?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah. Well I haven't announced the casting yet. We start shooting at the end of September, but yeah. That's coming along really really well. That's why I'm down here in Australia.

Are you looking at locations down there?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah, locations and hiring and casting. We started pre-production this week, so we're in the thick of it.

You have a number of other films in the works, but I'm really interested in both Spy Hunter and Halo. I remember that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was attached to Spy Hunter, so how is that moving along and is he still attached to star in that?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah. I mean, it HAS to be Dwayne. I worked very closely with him, actually, on the script. He is that guy and there's just so much of himself in that character, so it would have to be him for me. He would do it so well, he would nail it so well. He has the charisma, the charm, the acting chops, he's got everything. It's a big movie, so we need a big director to see it through. Maybe if Tomorrow, When the War Began works, and if I do another film, maybe they might let me do that one. Or maybe Halo.

Yeah, can you talk about Halo at all? Did you take anything from Alex Garland's script, or was it a page-one rewrite kind of thing?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah, I wasn't hired to do it, so it wasn't like I was taking anything from anyone's draft. No, from what I know, their stuff is pretty much set in the realm of that first game. My movie takes place before the first game. No, it really came from the point of view purely of a fan who happens to write screenplays for a living. So I happened to go on strike and I had nothing else to do, so I just thought well I thought why don't I write something I'd love to write but probably will never get a chance to write. I just kind of wrote it for myself more than anything else.

If District 9 hits big, do you think they might try to get Neill Blomkamp back?

Stuart Beattie: I have no idea, because I wasn't involved with that or anything.

Can you tell us about Tarzan or Bra Boys or anything else you might have in the works or are looking to start up?

Stuart Beattie: Yeah. There are always things in various stages that have come up. Tarzan, they're talking about budget on that. Bra Boys, you know, it's Russell Crowe's film so we'll get to it when he gets out of Robin Hood. We'll work on that when he gets back down here, but they're all in various stages and things come up and you have to find a way to work it out. That's the joy of being a writer on different things. You're always working on something.

So, finally, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra comes out on August 7, so what would you like to say to all the fans out there about what they can expect form this new film?

Stuart Beattie: You know, I think you can expect a lot of fun. I really tried to make the best G.I. Joe movie I could possibly make, and one that was very respectful of the material. It was treated with a lot of care and we took it very very seriously and it hopefully turned into a fun summer movie, because that's what it is. I am really proud of it, everyone that worked on it is really proud of it. We worked our asses off on it and hopefully they enjoy it.

Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you, Stuart. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with all of your new films.

Stuart Beattie: Thank you so much. Bye.

You can check out all the intense action and colorful characters of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra when it hits theaters nationwide on August 7.