If you want the best kind of luck as a screenwriter, try finding an awesome mentor like Akiva Goldsman (“Beautiful Mind,” “Da Vinci Code”) – it sure hasn’t hurt Simon Kinberg any.
Kinberg seemed to be headed for good things even before meeting Goldsman. While still in film school, he sold a pitch to Warner Brothers and went on to write the screenplay for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. His starry career includes the past “X-Men” films and the upcoming “Fantastic Four.”
Luckily for Moviehole, Kinberg was able to take a little time from his packed writing/producing schedule to talk about how to handle big egos — and to give a hint of what’s to come with the next “X-Men: Apocalypse” movie.
Moviehole: How did you get started with screenwriting?
Simon Kinberg: I was always interested in writing. I grew up reading books, watching movies, my dad was a film professor – it was part of my life, but not necessarily what I wanted to do with my life. I tried writing short stories and prose but everyone reading it, said it felt like a movie.
I went back to graduate school and fell in love with the form, the way it looks on the page. From there I became a screenwriter. I co-wrote “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” and I work with writers on other scripts that I’m producing.
MH: What was the most challenging thing about writing “Fantastic Four”?
SK: The most challenging thing is the tone, getting the tone right — we wanted to do something different than the last two movies to make it more dramatic and grounded. We approached the film from the characters’ perspective first, rather than a spectacle.
It’s difficult, but it always makes the movie and characters more relatable. We did a lot of research too. I like a lot of the Ultimate comic book series, the “Fantastic Four” film is based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four series.
MH: To what do you attribute your success (besides great writing)?
SK: I’m very lucky, that I think is part of it, and I had a great mentor who brought me in to world of movies – Akiva Goldsman. He protected me and taught me a ton. Without that kind of guidance, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up. He is a close friend and I spent the last few Christmases and with him and his family.
MH: How do you come up with ideas?
SK: I don’t know how I come up with ideas. I was always a kid that imagined stories in my head a lot. I get to write fan fiction that gets turned into movies.
MH: What do you think of the Marvel film universe?
SK: I grew up with reading the Marvel universe. Spider-Man was a favorite, in terms of the Marvel cinematic universe, and Kevin Feige (producer of “The Avengers” films) is one of my idols. I love the way they (Marvel) tells stories over multiple movies, it’s very inspiring.
MH: Who are your favorite writers?
SK: I have two different answers. For novelists, I love modernist authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I like Dashiell Hammond and Raymond Chandler on the pulpy side. For screenwriters I like Scott Frank, Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin.
MH: What would be your advice to new writers?
SK: Write stuff you love. I think the mistake is that new writers try to write for the marketplace. I think people who work in film can sense that, and want new stories they are passionate about. Writers have to figure out what they like to see and write that. It’s a fair amount of the time that writers write what they think the market wants.
MH: You’ve been a script doctor for many films – what do you think you bring on board?
SK: I don’t remember how I got into it at first. I do less of it now because I’m fully immersed in the things I’m doing. It’s fun to get dropped in with new filmmakers and a new cast, and to work in a quick and intense way, which for me is a lot of fun. You have to handle a lot of stress and get by on little sleep and know how to handle complicated personalities – I listen to them and make them feel heard. You have to be an active listener. I’m a pretty empathetic person; I’m very attuned to how people are feeling. That helps on a movie set where a lot of people have strong opinions.
MH: What will be happening with the next “X-Men” movie?
SK: The next X-Men movie will be the next stage in evolution for the main characters, bringing in new characters like young Cyclops and a young Jean Gray, plus Apocalypse — with some great new actors too. It’s an exciting new crop of talent. We definitely want to surpass the last film, we talked about that a lot and talk about that on the set. We want things to be more emotional and intense.
There are aspects that might be more dark as the threat is more global than it’s ever been, but there will be a lot of light in the movie too with the young X-Men and the fact that the film takes place in the 1980s.
MH: What are your new projects in the future, besides “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men: Apocaplypse”?
SK: I produced “Gambit,” “Deadpool” and “The Martian.” I’m working on the Star Wars movies, I’m writing and producing one of the films and I’m a consultant on the others.
MH: What do you want to say to Moviehole readers?
SK: That I love these characters and comics as much as they do, I’m writing it for the fan in me and for them.
I think the fans will like “Fantastic Four” and will like what we are attempting to do with it, making it more grounded and emotional.
MH: What are your long term goals?
SK: To keep doing what I’m doing. I love telling stories, I’m very happy with what I am doing right now. If I could do this rest of my life, I would be a very happy person.
Fantastic Four comes out on August 7.