There’s always talk about the “next James Cameron” but hey – what about the next “female” version?
Nicole Perlman might very well be that person – immersed in science and history with a deep regard for knowledge and research, Perlman is one of the most interesting screenwriters to come along in a while. She’s worked for two years as a co-writer on “Guardians of the Galaxy” and yes, enjoyed every moment of it! So strap yourselves in folks, the next few years look pretty exciting as to seeing much more from this newcomer in the realm of science fiction and even the supernatural.
Moviehole: How did you get into screenwriting?
Nicole Perlman: I went to NYU for dramatic writing, I started out with the playwriting program and did a double major with a film production undergrad and a dramatic writing undergrad at NYU. I wrote a script like a love letter to Richard Feymann called “Challenger” – the script started winning a lot of contests after I graduated. Before I had an agent, I was hired for four or five space-related projects.
I enjoy projects that have a little thought to them like science and history – I was on the Universal Studios project, a Neil Armstrong biopic (which didn’t get made) and I decided to try science fiction. I took a meeting with Marvel in 2009 and they mentioned they had a writer’s program and they were bringing on several different writers who were established – everybody got to choose a project from Marvel, they offered me a few options and I chose “Guardians” to work on. I worked on it exclusively for a few years, then I did some more work on it.
There are so many great stories already out there and truth is stranger than fiction. I do think it’s such a rich realm to explore (science) and I’m on a steering committee for The Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program with the National Academy of Sciences . It’s to introduce scientists to filmmakers to interact more, and a way for writers to be exposed to ideas they wouldn’t have had exposure to ordinarily – they set up events in mostly Hollywood and also New York City.
Moviehole: Is it harder as a female to be taken seriously writing a superhero movie or about science?
NP: It’s so funny, there’s this real resurgence of women in science – I know a lot of women scientists. And there are stories that are rooted in science which illustrate something about the human condition; while “Guardians” isn’t rooted in science and is not a scientific movie, it is this realm in space and what is possible in space.
It was communicated to me that Marvel would like to create a science fiction perspective for the Marvel universe, or logic about why things are the way they are. They are playing by the same natural-based laws, like Thor (film) merged with ideas of physics. There are also themes about loyalty and there’s a character arc – this appeals widely to both genders.
I think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in the action hero movie world, because it’s thought that women are all about emotions, but a good movie is not just about explosions. The idea that women aren’t geeky is dispelled when you go to Comic-Con, there are just as many women as men.
Good films are about characters and people love characters – a movie has got to have emotion behind it and be relatable. Also (in “Guardians”), the idea of creating a family is relatable, some people who don’t have a family create a strong community and that’s a very emotional subject – I think there’s where the heart of the movie is.
Moviehole: How do you come up with ideas and how did you collaborate with James Gunn?
NP: We didn’t collaborate, they brought in James Gunn with his ideas, he was the director and added his “James Gunn flavor” and a few characters and worked off my script.
I never had a problem of not having ideas, I have a huge folder of things – it gets thicker and thicker, like with some interesting story someone told you.
Moviehole: What’s been the greatest challenges writing for this film and how did you handle them?
NP: I think there was so much to work with in terms of having every comic issue of “Guardians” to pull from and lengthy backstories and versions of characters and different characters – I think when you have such a wealth of options, finding the best elements to tell a good story is harder sometimes than to come up with a story completely from scratch.
I remember taking home binders and binders of comics to read – my husband asked me “how is it you have the best job in the world?” (Laughs) I just wanted to do right by the fan boys and not cut out a character and have them feel slighted by that. The story arc is completely original.
Moviehole: What did you do to prepare yourself (research) for writing this film?
NP: I read all the comic books, and even though we used the 2008 run of “Guardians,” I also read the old 1960s-70s version.
When I came in for a meeting in 2009, Marvel didn’t know if they were going to make the “Guardians” ‘60s-70s version or the 2008 version, so I did a treatment based on these characters in the 60s-70s, then I read the 2008 version and thought it was so much better! But in choosing Gamora and Peter Quill, we don’t have Nova himself or Mantis – there’s a bunch of characters from 2008 that I didn’t use.
Moviehole: Are you in touch with comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote an origin story of “Guardians” recently?
NP: No, but he’s on the creative team at Marvel, so he probably read my draft that I submitted when they were trying to decide to make “Guardians” for the summer 2014 schedule.
Moviehole: How do you hope this film will be received, as it’s a remake of a comic book Marvel franchise?
NP: I hope people will trust Marvel’s track record of doing new things in a genre that’s been around for a while; there hasn’t been a sci-fi comedy in a while like “Galaxy Quest,” or “Spaceballs.”
I hope people will enjoy something that’s a little different and I hope they will trust the Marvel brand and that they know what they’re doing.
Moviehole: All these characters (Groot, Rocket, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax) are really different, is that hard to write?
NP: I think it’s a fun challenge in that each character has such a rich backstory, to try to parse which backstory and what to keep.
The backstory informs these characters, but we can’t keep every single element of their backstory. A major contribution I made was Peter Quill’s backstory, we threw out his original backstory and kept some of the elements, that he started off on earth and was abducted as a kid (to space), that’s why he brought keepsakes from home – there was the element of homesickness and the feeling of displaced.
Moviehole: What is your advice to beginning screenwriters?
NP: Don’t write what you think people want, write what your passion is – you don’t want to sound like you are everyone else, you want to sound like you, different and special. Someone once told me to write a movie that would be impossible to make, which would be too whacky and too different and too expensive to make, because it establishes you as a voice and shows how far you can take things.
In terms of writing advice, learn how to take notes and learn how to differentiate your work – you will get a lot of notes and you need to realize your work is not an extension of your identity or your place in the world or your personality. Don’t fight the notes, use what’s helpful; it’s not about you, it’s about this particular script.
Moviehole: Who are your favorite writers?
NP: I love Peter Morgan, Tom Stoppard, Duncan Jones, James Cameron, Patrick Stanley and many others.
Moviehole: Have you ever thought about teaching, as it sounds like you have a lot of great knowledge to impart?
NP: I really enjoy teaching and give a lot of screenwriting notes to my friends for their scripts and they do it for me as well, it helps my own writing – it’s good to have people who are honest for you. It’s on my to-do list (to be a teacher).
Moviehole: What are your future projects?
NP: I’m working on a project with Cirque du Soleil, developing an original fantasy idea – an updated retelling of the Pandora’s Box fable. I got the idea from the Antikythera mechanism relic – it was discovered underwater years ago and no one knew what it was; it was eventually x-rayed and they discovered all these gears. I thought that was a cool story and it turned out to be an astronomical calendar of some sort. I pitched the idea of this Pandora’s Box fable with the Antikythera mechanism.
Another project is an adaption of the book “The Fire Sermon” for Dreamworks, a sort of science fiction YA project. I’m also developing a TV project for Skydance Productions called “A Madness of Angels,” an adaptation of the book which is the Matthew Swift series. I have other projects I’m working on too, like a sci-fi project at Disney called “Terra Incognita.”