They are now one of the hottest screenwriting teams in town (“Olympus Has Fallen”) but they’ve never gone to film school. Instead, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt persisted through nine years of writing hours upon hours, watching countless films, reading loads of scripts and going to tons of meetings.
That hard work paid off with “Olympus,” and now they are back with “The Expendables 3.” Moviehole gets the scoop with these two about the real Sylvester Stallone, writing tips and yes…even watermelon in Bulgaria (it’s the best!).
Moviehole: How did you both get into screenwriting? I know you both met in a screenwriting class?
Katrin Benedikt: We both worked in corporate America – I had loved my job and had a great career, but it wasn’t something I was completely passionate about. I took a screenwriting class in Philadelphia in 2000 where I met Creighton.
Creighton Rotherberger: I had taken screenwriting classes a few years before that, but the bottom line is that neither one of us went to film school – we read scripts, watched hundreds of movies, wrote every single day and went to film seminars.
Moviehole: How did you get together after meeting in class?
CR: Katrin would give me the best notes, it felt like we were on same page, we started writing together – we met in 2000 and got married in 2006, we had the total same sensibilities, it was a natural extension to start writing together.
Moviehole: This is the third “Expendables,” what were the challenges in keeping it interesting and fast?
CR: It was definitely a template and we had to build on that; we wanted to make it bigger, different and better. The challenge was to write literally 16 main characters in a two-hour movie, and how often do you get to write for Zorro, the Terminator, Rocky, Indiana Jones and Mad Max?
KB: The “Expendables” core characters were so distinct in their own right, and with new characters like Harrison Ford’s, they are icons – we know how they deliver lines and their entire personas.
CR: We know how they could deliver their lines, like how Wesley Snipes or Antonio Banderas could totally kill with this line.
We were in Bulgaria for long days on set , writing for eight weeks while they were filming. Bulgaria is an interesting place, with great people and great food.
KB: It has the most amazing food like watermelon – anyone visiting there will understand what I am talking about.
CR: Millennium has their studio there, you have every scene like a mountain or urban setting, country, by the sea, forests, there are all kinds of different settings to allow you to shoot in one place. Bulgaria is also considered the bread basket of Europe where they grow all the vegetable and fruits.
Moviehole: What was it like working with Sylvester Stallone?
CR: This is his franchise, he’s the driving force behind this movie series and we had a great time working with Sly; it’s not every day you are working with a true Hollywood legend. He was a great writer, nothing but gracious – I really enjoyed the experience.
KB: Sly has a great sense of humor and great stories about the business.
CR: He is the only Hollywood star that has opened a number one movie in five straight decades – meaning a movie that he starred in and opened as the star, he is truly amazing. We enjoyed the whole process with him.
KB: We truly admire him, he earned success by his own sweat, blood and tears.
Moviehole: What were the challenges in making this film?
KB: With all the great things that Sly wrote and that the stars are doing, two hours isn’t enough for a film, we wish we could do more.
Moviehole: Who are your writing idols or authors?
CR: I’m a huge fan of Stephen King growing up. Also Tom Clancy and I really enjoyed John Updike and Irwin Shaw, loved those guys.
KB: Stephen King – you can’t grow up in Pennsylvania without reading him. We both love Brad Thor, he writes about scary timely events, he’s a great read.
CR: We also admire people like John Logan, David Koepp, David Mamet, he’s fantastic – with guys like that, you read their work, see how it’s done, and that’s one of the main pieces of advice to anyone wanting to be a screenwriter. You have to read their scripts and see how it’s executed on the page – just read as many scripts as you can, even the bad ones – the more scripts you read, the better you will be as a screenwriter.
You have to do that hard work that’s so good that someone will want to pay you for – see how it’s done, you can see a scene from a movie, but how is it done and how is it crafted?
KB: How does it translate to screen?
CR: You’ve seen the movie and it’s awesome, but how do you go about it? And you need to learn about setups and payoffs.
Moviehole: What helped you both to hang in there for almost nine years, that must have been tough? Why do you think some talented writers give up?
CR: It’s definitely an extremely difficult business to break into. Katrin and I went to tons of meetings, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline, a ton of discipline and sacrifice – you should do this only if you really like it and it’s really your dream.
KB: I think a lot of talented writers do give up, because if you don’t have the financial means to write full time, when you’re working a regular full-time job it takes away from your writing job – but if you’re not working full-time, you’re struggling to pay your bills. The majority of people we know in the industry have paid their dues to get there.
CR: It’s much more the norm where people are struggling for ten years. It’s a great job and we feel tremendously fortunate.
KB: Like “Unbroken”- that took decades to make.
CR: The number one movie we are looking forward to is “Unbroken,” it’s a great story – we love those stories of impossible odds, those stories never get old. I was fortunate to win an Academy (Nicholls) fellowship award for my film script called “The Chosin,” which is set during the Korean War about an amazing story of survival , courage and American heroism. It’s at the Academy, you can go and read it. An amazing true story of valor and courage, it always helps us to see someone overcome impossible odds and how they do it. We’ve written 25 scripts.
Moviehole: Do you have more advice about writing?
KB: You have to be able to deliver on the page and be collaborative and also get an agent or manager on board. They will give you a lot of notes – we worked very close with an agent and manager and did four rewrites on “Olympus Has Fallen.”
CR: You have to think like a producer or buyer, make sure it’s based on a premise that people will want to spend millions of dollars to make it. And you have to have that premise that makes that person prick up their ears.
Moviehole:How do you come up with ideas? Some people like to think alone while others do exercise? KB: We’ve’ never been at lost for ideas, right now we have three or four ideas but we are so busy we haven’t been able to work on them.
CR: We say “What if?” Like taking stories from real life, that’s how Katrin and I came up with a number of ideas doing that, what if? Like the genesis of “Olympus Has Fallen,” what is the most impossible building to come down, how would you do it? You go from there, and some of the ideas can turn into hopefully an enjoyable movie. You must constantly come up with new ideas.
KB: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and keep writing – writing every day also makes you a better writer – when we got the break (with “Olympus”) we felt very prepared to do it and confident.
CR: When someone finally likes something you’ve written, they’ll ask what else have you got? They’ll want to hear that you are an idea generator, they’ll want to know you can keep writing and write script after script.
Moviehole: The box office has been dominated a lot by women-driven films (“Lucy,” “The Heat”) – how can you appeal to women more in this genre, as well as this is very much a male-dominated film?
KB: I think everyone loves to see a strong woman protagonist, and no- one does that better than Luc Besson (director of “Lucy”), he is the best.You always want to go for the widest audience, that’s the goal, you want to serve hard-core fans but the “Expendables” is a fun ride, hopefully they will like “Expendables 3.”
Moviehole: What are your long-term goals?
CR: To keep working on projects we’re excited about.
KB: We are so grateful that we’re excited to do this, to do our passion every day, we are working so hard to do our best work.
Moviehole: What do you want to say to Moviehole.net readers?
CR: Go see “Expendables 3,” read tons of scripts, watch tons of movies and get good at your craft and never stop writing.
Moviehole: What are your future projects?
CR: We finished up the sequel to “Olympus has Fallen,” and we have been hired for multiple projects around town and we’re getting into TV – and we’re always working on original spec screenplays.