Stuart Beattie is one of Australia’s most successful exports – he’s written some of Hollywood’s most imminent blockbusters including “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Collateral”. Sick of the blisters, Beattie’s pulling the dust cover over the Typewriter for a spell, trying his hand at directing. His directorial debut is “Tomorrow When The War Began“, based on the best-selling novel by John Marsden, which he recently spoke to Clint Morris about.
Great to finally meet you, Stuart…
Likewise! I think I’ve heard of your producing partner?
Yeah. I’ve heard of him. What’s the name of your company?
Shorris? Great! It’s in Los Angeles?
Based in Los Angeles, but as you can gather, I do most of the work from here. I don’t think it matters where you are these days – you can do your business by phone and email and nobody needs to know, let alone cares, where on earth you are. It seems even in Hollywood these days that people don’t like doing face-to-face’s anymore, so it’s all phone calls anyway.
Exactly. Exactly. It’s all Skype.
Indeed. It’s Skype. My latest film is ”Complacent”, it opened there in May, has Cerina Vincent, Kerri Green, Keir O’Donnell.
That’s excellent. I must catch it. And the doors were opened to you by…
The website, yeah. Moviehole’s become somewhat of a beast – so in addition to the hate mail you’ll get from fallen action stars whose latest film you’ve trashed, there’s directors, writers, producers all wanting input… or keen to meet. So it’s been good to me… but as you can see, I’m still having to work the day job [Laughs]
Many still do! Wait, you get emails from the action guys!? [Laughs]
Yeah, constantly. You’d think some of them would’ve learnt to grow a thick-skin by now.
Yeah, exactly! My God!
You’ve got nothing to worry about by the way – ”Tomorrow When The War Began” will be getting a very nice review. It’s, quite simply, one of the year’s biggest surprise packages.
Oh thank you so much, Clint!
I hadn’t heard of the book – and probably only because I’d graduated a couple of years shy of the book being introduced into the school curriculum…
Same here. I graduated in 1989. I had never heard of it. They sent them to me and asked whether I’d like to adapt them. That was my first brush with them. And I loved them – I read all of them within the space of about a week. They were just fantastic – I couldn’t believe it had taken this long to get them onto the screen.
And how long did it take you to get the film up?
Really, really quickly – it was only about two-years again when I signed on. I pitched for, and then I think I officially got it in March of last year. We then did all the contracts. We were prepped by June and starting in September. It was comparatively fast.
It’d seem you’ve done a lot with a little here
Yeah, I think that’s down to the crew and the visual effects people. So many people that were working on the film were either fans of the books – or their kids were fans of the books – so they were suddenly working on a project that was considered ‘cool'; they put all that enthusiasm and energy into it – and plus there were a lot of people who weren’t fans of the book, or hadn’t read it, and they too put all their energy into it. I think I got a hundred-percent out of everybody.
There are seven books in the series, right? But you plan on stopping at the third?
I just think practically you can’t – by the time you finish seven movies the actors will be in their thirties and they won’t look like teenagers anymore. If you can’t say everything you need to say in three movies than… at the end of the third book, they get out, so it’s a nice break.
Oh, they get out?
Yeah, they get away from the war – and then later they go back in. So that sounds like a good place to stop the film series. Then we recast and do a TV series that we pump out every week. The actors stay young and we keep that going for as long as people want to see it. And interestingly the books start to get more episodic in 4,5,6 and 7 so it suits TV more than film. I just think that would be a smart way to do it… if we’re so lucky to get that far.
Will the pressure be on next time around – in the sequel – to add a big name?
There’s a great new character called Major Harvey, who becomes the villain. I don’t know that there will be pressure, but I’d love to cast a great actor in that role.
Not to discount Colin Friels’ cameo in this first film…
Yeah! He’s so lovely, I love Colin, and he was so gracious to come up and do what’s no more than a quick cameo. He lends class to the whole thing.
What also lends class to the thing is that it hasn’t been converted to 3D… any pressure from the studio to do that?
God no, no… I don’t think we’re getting that pressure yet here in Australia, but in America they definitely are. I would’ve cracked it if they’d asked me to do that. 3D is a tool, it’s a storytelling tool, and if it serves your story I’m all for it, but a film like this doesn’t need it. Avatar I get – take me to the world of Pandora – but not Tomorrow When The War Began…
Hollywood is its worst enemy when it comes to 3D. I interviewed Joe Dante recently who said he can’t even get his film, ”The Hole”, which was actually shot in 3D not just converted in post, distributed!
Oh what!? The Hole! That sucks. That really sucks. You look at something like Inception – which Chris Nolan thought against using 3D in, and it worked.
And I hope the success of a film like ”Inception” shows Hollywood that not all films have to be remakes, prequels, sequels or.. in 3D… to be considered viable product!
Yep. Here’s a counter-argument to that though – Inception has Chris Nolan’s name on it, Avatar has James Cameron’s name on it. They’re both insanely-huge director-driven titles. Is there a director you’ve never heard of, with a title you’ve never heard of, out there at the moment? That’s the question.
Were you worried about ”Red Dawn” comparisons? Because I know most of the kids aren’t – they’ve never seen ”Red Dawn”!
Nah, our generation knows Red Dawn but nobody else seems to. But I believe there’s room for more films like that.
And in terms of ”Red Dawn”, you’ve got no worries about the competing remake now, which was originally due for release later this year.
Well, yeah… unfortunately… wow, I don’t know what’s going to happen over there [at MGM]. It’s terrible. I can’t imagine having worked on a film for two years and then having it not being released. Pointless. I hope they find an outlet for it somewhere?
You haven’t been working for MGM have you?
No, No… and because they’ve never had any money. I think I had one meeting about something, and it was really exciting, but they could never deliver the money. For a film like Red Dawn to be sunk like that… it’s just not worth the investment. So I’ve just kind of stayed away from there.
You do a lot of work for Paramount, mainly, right?
And you, of course, wrote ”Spy Hunter” for Universal – which Dwayne Johnson was attached to star in.
I was about the third or fourth writer on that – it was at Universal, now it’s at Warner Bros. But that is a cool project – it’s such a cool character, [it would be] such a visually dazzling piece and that car is just awesome. I was a big fan as a kid. Whenever you take on these types of properties you have to love it. If you don’t, the fans will eat you alive – they’ll see that you’re just hashing it out. You’ve got to love the source material and in this case, I spent sooo many hours of my life playing that game… now I like to think that I didn’t actually waste those hours – it was actually research [Laughs]. I’d love to see the film happen – and with Dwayne Johnson. It has to be him – and his statue is rising and rising and rising. I think it’s a point of : his statue needs to rise a little more, and if I’m going to make it, then my statue has to rise a lot more, and if we can find that happy medium sometime in the next five years I say ‘let’s do it’.
You say you have to love a property to take it on, I assume that means you’re also rather fond of the works of Tom Clancy – having adapted ”Without Remorse”?
I’ve read every Tom Clancy book. Love Tom Clancy. I think Without Remorse is the best book. I’ve always loved it. It’s great. And it was actually pitched to me; I went in to Paramount and they offered me two things – one that I wasn’t that keen on, and then Without Remose. I was like, ‘Without Remorse!? Are you kidding me!?’ I jumped all over that one.
Great book – but I imagine it would’ve been hard to adapt?
The hardest adaptation I’ve ever done. It’s a 700 page book with stories that run consecutively but haven’t nothing to do with each other – until page 699. You can’t do that in a movie, so to make that work, and to make it modern-day, I hard to work hard. I loved it so much that I didn’t want to ruin it…. But I think we got it [right], it’s just a question of when it will happen.
Would you like to direct it?
Yep – and I’ll be chasing it after [Tomorrow When The World Began]. Directing is actually what I’d like to do now – direct some of these scripts that are waiting for filmmakers to do them. The big secret in Hollywood is that nobody wants to make another person’s movie – they want to make their movie. If I do get the job I was thinking someone along the lines of Josh Hartnett [as John Clark].
It’s a great character
Such a great character. Such a terrific story – he brings this woman back from the brink, falls in love with her….it’s the first time he’s allowed himself to feel… and then there’s guys come and just…oh god, it’s just great”, says the writer. “It’s basically what would happen if a trained Navy SEAL took on the drug trade. It’s in the book, but I wrote this amazing sequence, set over one night, where Clark goes after all the drug trade in one neighbourhood…he just goes nuts…kills everybody. What a cool sequence that would be – would be awesome if we could do it all in one shot!
You must be proud as punch to see what’s happened to the ”Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise?
Yeah [Laughs] – I never thought it would be as big as it is, but I did think that the time was right; we hadn’t had a good pirate film in years and years. It had the title that everyone knew, it had the tone that I thought it needed – which is the wink-of-the-eye tongue-in-cheek style, but still lots of fun – and it has Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, so it had everything going for it. And here’s something interesting – I called him Jack Sparrow to try and get Hugh Jackman. But I don’t think you can complain about Johnny.
What are you doing at the moment?
Just seeing this baby out. I feel I don’t want to get pregnant again.
The next step is an important one for you, I gather?
Yeah, and you have to try and beat that sophomore slump, so I have some exciting projects out there – like Without Remorse – that I have to try and make a run for.
Well I hope you get it. Pleasure speaking to you, Sir.
Please is all mine. Keep up the good work!