Exclusive Interview : Terry Rossio

On his upcoming films – including “Pirates 4”?

Terry Rossio is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand screenwriters – and with good reason; he’s responsible for the resurgence in people wanting to take a trip on Disney’s crusty old ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride. In this Exclusive Interview, CLINT MORRIS talks to the writer of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ trilogy about his humble beginnings (writing Fred Savage movies); the surprise success of ‘Shrek’, and the new film he’s developing with Sandra Bullock – that no studio wants.

What was the first script that you ever sold, and HOW did you sell it? Tell us about that initial battle.
My and [Co-writer Ted Elliot]’s first screenplay sale was the Howie Mandel/Fred Savage film ‘Little Monsters’, first sold to MGM and eventually produced by Vestron. Our screenplay was for the most part unrealised and the film did not do well, but it retains some of the hallmarks of our later work. We sold it through some producers who we met through a contact from a waitress who worked at a coffee shop. But that was not the only route we tried. The thing about breaking into the business is you have to try all possible strategies, it’s only after something works that you know which path was worthwhile.

And was ‘Aladdin’ the film that put you on the map? Did things change dramatically after that?
Yeah it’s funny, when you walk into a room and make story suggestions, those suggestions have a certain intrinsic value. I like to think our approach always leads to smart, workable suggestions; they always have and always will. What changes is the response to those suggestions. You write the number one movie of the year, and suddenly, the exact same suggestions are given more attention, and presumed to be more valid.

Were you surprised by the success of ‘Shrek’?
I was surprised that the movie got so good, surviving a very difficult process. Jeffrey Katzenberg said it was the most difficult film he ever made, and that he nearly pulled the plug twice. It’s a tribute to the talents of many people, including Katzenburg, and directors Vicki Jenson and Andrew Adamson. But once you could see the finished film, it was pretty obviously going to be a success.

How did you get involved in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series?
Strangely, we pitched the idea to make a film out of Pirates of the Caribbean to Disney in 1992, just after Aladdin, and we were turned down. Ten years later a different regime at the studio had the idea, and Mike Stenson at Bruckheimer’s company gave us a call. We pitched the ‘supernatural pirate movie’ approach, and got the assignment.

Has it been difficult to work on two sequels back-to-back?
The original idea was to save money and time, and it didn’t work. Problem was, we got real ambitious, and ended up making two epic films that upon first cut were three hours each. That’s like making four movies at once. Throw in a couple of hurricanes and the usual issues of shooting on location on the water and oh, boy. It’s a miracle we’re making our release dates.

Tell us how Keith Richards is faring over there?
Well you don’t hire Keith Richards to get a guy who shows up in the morning, on time wearing a suit and tie. You get a guy who shows up at night, on time, with a bottle of wine. There were good times on the set.

Online rumors say this is the final ‘Pirates’ movie – but I’m sure Disney has other plans. What do you think? Any more ‘Pirates’ movies left in you?
It’s like the fourth Indiana Jones picture. There are forces in play to make it happen, and forces in play to make it not happen. I think we will try to write a screenplay. I can’t say if we’ll be able to solve the challenge of making a good fourth film, or if our screenplay will be enough to get a film made.

’Déjà vu’ was your first stint as executive producer, too. How did that credit come about?
Deja Vu was a spec screenplay sale, and on a spec screenplay you have a little more negotiating power, so we went for that title. Being an executive Producer allows you to go to more meetings than you get to go to as just the screenwriter.

You’ve been working with Sandra Bullock on a film called ‘Jingle’ – can we get an update on that?
Even the worst Christmas film does pretty well over the holidays, and we have a great Christmas film that nobody wants to make. Go figure.

What else have you got coming up in the near future?
Well we’ve got Pirates III of course, and we’re also helping out Bruckheimer with the National Treasure sequel. We worked on a film coming up, The Spiderwick Chronicles. A couple of producing projects — one called Plant Life, a talking Plant movie, set up with Disney. But really what we want to do next is a western!

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