The Knockturnal had the opportunity to sit down with David and Alex Pastor, the screenplay writers of “Self/Less” directed by Tarsem Singh out July 10.
Read what they had to say about their latest project during roundtable interviews.
That was some writing job. That was a complex story to tell.
David: Yeah. It wasn’t as bad. We just sat down and wrote the movie that we wanted to watch. Which I think is probably the only way that we can work. Some people are very good at chasing trains or deciding “ok now a zombie movie that’s what we should do”, but we are really awful at that. We would try to do that and we would just fail miserably! So at some point we just need to sit down and say, “what movie are we excited about, that we would like to write and that we would actually pay like 10 or 14 bucks to see?”
Alex: [Laughs] Especially in New York!
David: Yeah, it was actually a lot of fun to write. When you really believe in something and when you write on spec it’s like you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder. Actually when we first pitched it to a producer we said,“it’s a story about this guy who is in the mind of the wife of the dead guy, who’s body is stolen” and the producer was like, “Woah, woah, woah that sounds depressing. Why doesn’t he, the old guy, have a young hot girlfriend and then he goes to her like ‘Honey look I’m not old anymore. Now I’m like your age. Why don’t we go on the run?” We were like that’s not really interesting.
Alex: We want the work, we want the kid, we want the drama, we want the moral conflict.
David: By the way, they did not produce the movie. I’m talking about a producer we pitched this to before we even wrote the script. Those were his notes. Then we decided, why don’t we just write it on our own so we don’t have to do that and we can do our script.
Is your inspiration partially due to some of the Roman Polanski films from the 70’s? What kind of sci-fi or futuristic dystopian films have inspired your writing?
David: Rosemary’s Baby’s one of my favorite movies of all time . I can watch that everyday.
Alex: Well I’m a big fan of Gattaca, and Children of Men. I love Christopher Ramon. So that is the kind of science fiction that we feel attracted to. I mean I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy a lot, but I don’t think the space opera stuff is something that we write.
David: Not because we don’t want to, but because we would not really bring anything interesting to them.
Alex: But look if Marvel wants to give us a lot of money then [laughs].
Self/Less seems really grounded in reality.
David: That’s the kind of science fiction that we are attracted to – this idea of the 30 seconds into the future. What would happen in a recognizable society, if you introduce this futuristic element? What consequences does that have for people? For us it’s more relatable. What will happen 100 years into the future is another movie. We like this grounded sci-fi with one element that makes everything different.
There’s a Russian billionaire who had this idea that in 2045 there is going to be this scientific moment where they can actually transfer a consciousness into a robot. Did you guys really delve into that? How much of that did you use in the film?
Alex: Well we knew that there were people working on similar technology trying to make it work and what we were writing was not that far off. Who knows if it’s actually going to work or not or if that guy is just going to die in the process, but we knew that it was being investigated and that’s why we felt attracted to the story because it was not such a pipe dream. But in the movie itself there is not a lot of science per se. It is not explained how the device works because I think that at the end of the day the audience doesn’t really care about that but they want to know what happens afterwards. What are the consequences of that on a personal level, and on a social level? That’s just the starting point, the jumping point for the adventure and for the philosophical questions.
Is that something you would do if your body was failing and you were 70 years old? Would you be willing to give it a shot?
David: I think my body is failing already [laughs].
But yeah I think we would definitely be tempted. That’s why we write, because I think it’s stuff that worries us. We would definitely consider it. I would be lying if I said “No, No I’m above this”. I think until you don’t find yourself in that situation, it’s very hard to give an honest answer. It is tempting. That’s why we are hoping that the movie connects with people because everybody can put themselves in Damian’s shoes really well. If it could buy me an extra 50 years who wouldn’t!
David: I mean we like that Woody Allen quote, what was it Alex?
Alex: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.” The whole idea that your movies or whatever your make is going to stand the test of time, and people are going to watch it, honestly who cares? You’re going to be dead anyway. So if Self/Less is a massive success and people still watch it in 200 years, I will still be dead and I won’t know about it.
We all know in the film industry, it’s a mini miracle to have a film actually be made. So as screenwriters can you just talk a little bit about your journey from writing this to actually casting and getting big names like Ryan involved?
David: Well we wrote it back in 2011. Then we sold it to Endgame and Film district which is now Focus. Then we actually went off and made another movie in Spain. The time we had to make the whole movie that’s how long it took them to find a director, to find Ryan and get him to agree to be in the movie. We were off in Barcelona doing our thing, and then two weeks before the movie came out we got a call that said, “Hey guys we found a director, we have an actor, are you guys available to do a rewrite?” We were like well yeah, give us two weeks. We will release the movie and then we’ll be there.
Alex: Yeah, no vacation for us!
How easy or difficult is it for you guys to have this baby and then turn it over to the production company for them to come back with theses actors and directors?
David: It’s an interesting experience for us. It’s like the first time we watched a movie that we wrote but didn’t direct. You look at it and you think maybe I would have done this or that differently, but maybe what he did is actually more interesting than what we would have done. You go in there and you write the movie. You have a very specific idea of what the machine would look like, what the lab would look like, who should play what. The beauty of the film process, which is a collaboration, is that somebody else comes in and they may have a better idea or a more interesting idea. Tarsem was great at just going to New orleans and incorporating what he found in the city in terms of the art, and the music. I think it’s interesting to have that sort of collaboration.
What is your process? Do you guys divide duties or do you do everything together at the same time?
Alex: One of us has the first kernel of an idea for a movie and we pitch it to the other guy. If the other one likes it and is able to be convinced then we start working together. We develop and try to poke holes at the other person’s idea to make sure it works. We’re very critical with each other. From that kernel of an idea we develop it all together.
David: We have conversations to build the story. When we actually write the script then we split. One guy writes one half, and the other guy writes the other half because we cannot write dialogue at the same time.
Do you have a favorite superhero that if you could find a way to write it you would?
Alex: My favorite superhero is Batman, but I wouldn’t dare touch it, I would be too intimidated .
Your current project is this Robert Silverberg short story. Are you a Silverberg fan and what about that particular short story made you want to dive into it?
David: Actually the producer, Wyck Godfrey, he is a big Silverberg fan. He produced Maze Runner, and The Fault in Our Stars and he loved Self/Less. He was obsessed with the Robert Silverberg short story. He had been looking for somebody to turn it into a movie. He sent it to us and asked if we could find a way to crack this and yeah we did. It has been a lot of fun!
Do you want to talk about your upcoming projects?
David: We have this project called “Incorporated” that Pearl Street, the production company of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are producing. We are going to shoot it this summer. We wrote it and we are going to direct it ourselves. We will be directing the pilot and hopefully our series will get picked up next year. It’s for the Sci-Fi network.
With the way that everything is moving with new media, do you guys see yourselves doing anything for online companies like Netflix or anything like that? Do you see yourselves expanding into that or just staying in TV and Film?
David: Well Netflix would have been also a great place to do the T.V. show because at the end of the day it’s television on demand, which for us is the way television works. I never know when the shows are on. I just program the DVR and just watch them. Except of course “Game of Thrones” I have to watch them on T.V. because of spoilers. It’s great that there are all these outlets right now where you can explore stories in a longer format and that you are not constrained by the two hour limit that movies impose. It’s sad that there were a lot of permutations of the idea that we wanted to explore but there was just no time because it was just one guy’s story. Television allows you to create a world, like we are doing with “Incorporated”. It started as a movie but then we realized that the world was just too big and complicated to reduce it to 2 hours so we decide to make it as a T.V. show; that’s the beauty of it- that you can just explore.
Chasity Saunders contributed this this report.