Or did you think it was a great story that would eventually come out? Jon Spaihts: Two things are always true. Every screenplay is in grave danger of never getting made and every screenwriter is worried about it. And truly original stories have a way of sticking around. So screenplays with good bones tend to linger and get multiple shots at getting made.
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Passengers, however, is a wholly original science fiction concept and, sitting down with ComingSoon. Unfortunately for Jim, something goes wrong with his suspended animation chamber and he finds himself awake 90 years too early. With no way of going back to sleep, Jim is forced to face spending the rest of his life alone.
It was the first thing I sold. It was something I tried to get done at Warner Bros. Through that film, I got set up with an outfit called Company Films. It prominently featured, at the end of the story, a man stranded alone in space. Could there be a story that starts there?
There was colony ships and these grand but isolating vessels, stranded between stars for centuries and the notion of someone being trapped on one of these ships.
The darkness of that grabbed me instantly and it seemed to lead from a series of necessary steps to a story. What would that person do? What ordeals would he go through?
Where would that bring him? How does his struggle for sanity relate to the question of why he woke up in the first place? In one half-hour conversation, the entire spine of the story jumped out my brain. Sometimes that happens. What goes into the balancing act of keeping him relatable and not just pitiable?
There are moral quandaries knit into its fabric. The premise of it encapsulates a number of very hard questions. What am I capable of doing? What am I capable of enduring? What am I capable of forgiving? What are the limits of love for me? What would I give up for love? What would I give up for my dreams? What does love mean for us?
Those are real questions that we all have experienced. What is your trick for balancing that exposition? Way more than the audience actually needs to know in that scene. But then you write past that scene and you find other moments later in the story where other characters could dispense that information.
Then your realize that you can turn around and take some stuff out of that first big scene because that load is being carried elsewhere. You want them to understand everything by the time they walk out. You can take your time doling out information.
When they look back on it, they have the complete picture in their mind. Invariably, a big part of my editorial process is just cutting as much exposition as I think I can survive losing and making sure that the information dispensed is as lean and as essential as it can possibly be.
In practice, no. I wish I did, but I tend not to. Was that something actually written into the script? The Nobel Prize committee did us a service by awarding Bob Dylan a prize. That made him a timeless classic. It made it that much more believable that people would still be listening centuries from now.
I was thinking about how Doctor Strange is a man who is arrogant but who comes to do great things, while Jim is a man who is rather humble who finds himself capable of great wrongdoing.
Do characters like that ever play off one another in your head? Writing is a strange process. I just have a solution and I write it. They probably do affect one another. CS: What was your first conversation with Morten Tyldum like?
He was an ardent fan of the script. We spoke briefly to some filmmakers along the road and some of them immediately wanted to reinvent the story. To remake it in their own image. They were not right for us. Morten understood what was important about the screenplay. He got the moral dilemma and the love story as the heart of the film and the reason for making the film. We always saw eye to eye. It was a very rewarding and convivial creative partnership. A right ending.
There are ways in which we tuned that ending to make sure that everyone understood what we wanted them to understand about the relationship between these two characters. There were a couple of scenes at the end that were written during production to adjust the trajectory of their love story. But I always knew that it needed to end like it ends.
That never really changed. There were adjustments along the way as to how we came in for a landing. But the landing site is now what it was from the beginning.
Has that kind of success changed the way you work? That is an embarrassment of riches. I got to drive around for a few weeks with the town covered in posters for both movies. That was a surreal and thrilling experience. To see more originals hit the screen. I have ideas. I have the scripts in some cases. So that may be happening soon. I hope it will put a little courage into the spines of filmmakers in this town about embracing original stories and embracing original films.
CS: There is also a novel adaptation, though, you have in the works. I think that it, too, has one of the great science fiction love stories of all time. It was written by a guy who was a mathematician, a physicist and a Vietnam vet. I think that story resonates today as much as it ever has, maybe more than ever.
I think that the solution we found that updates the story is respectful, faithful and smart.
Die Filmstarts-Kritik zu Passengers
I postulated a company called the Homestead Company that would find, groom, and then ultimately populate exoplanets as colonies. Ideally, you want a planet like Homestead II, which has a chemical composition extremely similar to Earth but not a biosphere yet. Then, you seed that planet from Earth with Earth life. The reason the Homestead II marketing you see in the film looks a lot like Earth is because it is essentially a parallel Earth. That is, a fertile but ungerminated Earth-like world that has been seeded with Earth life.
Screenwriter Jon Spaihts on the Ending of ‘Passengers’ and How It Changed During Development
Passengers, however, is a wholly original science fiction concept and, sitting down with ComingSoon. Unfortunately for Jim, something goes wrong with his suspended animation chamber and he finds himself awake 90 years too early. With no way of going back to sleep, Jim is forced to face spending the rest of his life alone. It was the first thing I sold. It was something I tried to get done at Warner Bros.