Bill Hillman at Erbzine just reminded me that he published an interview by Dick Lupoff with Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who joined John Carter in April 2009 and did the final rewrite. Turns out Lupoff and Chabon are neighbors in Berkeley. Here’s the interview.
THE MICHAEL CHABON INTERVIEW
What are you doing for John Carter of Mars and how did you get involved?
Well, it was pretty neat. It was chance, and just good luck, because in the mid-’90s, right around the time I moved to Berkeley, about ’96 or ’97, I was working on an original screenplay called The Martian Agent. It was sort of my attempt to work with the John Carter material, the Burroughs, Barsoom material–but in my own way. Partly because I didn’t have the rights, but also because I wanted to play with it my own way. The screenplay was set on Mars in the 1890s, in an alternate reality where the British Empire, through superior technology, had conquered the entire earth — had reconquered the United States — was the unchallenged master of earth, and was now proceeding to the conquest of Mars. So it was about the British Empire trying to colonize Mars in the 1890s. That Mars was my version of Mars, but it was very much in the ERB, Percival Lowell style, with canals, and ancient civilizations, and strange creatures. I was also working with the same stuff of Victorian adventure as ERB. H.R. Haggard. All those great Victorian adventure novelists.
My script was optioned by Fox, and it was supposed to be directed by Jan de Bont, the director who made Speed and Twister — he was very hot at the time. And they did a million dollars of special effects testing over at ILM. So, when I moved up here, I was actually going over to ILM, I went a few times, and had a look at the art they were developing. The thing was going along pretty nicely. And then Speed 2 came out, and it was a disaster. Fox pulled the plug on the project. They killed all of de Bont’s projects that were in development, and in that mass die off my project got killed. And that was the end of The Martian Agent. I put it away. Subsequently, some years later, I took the first part of that script and novelized it, just as an experiment. To see if I could turn it into a novel. I got one chapter into it and then stopped, but that chapter was subsequently published in the first McSweeney’s anthology that I edited.
Then last Christmas, at the end of 2008, I went to a party at the home of someone who works at Pixar. And I walk in, and this guy bee-lines across the room to me saying, “Remember me? I was one of the production artists on your Mars project back when I worked at ILM.” Now he works at Pixar. We started talking, reminiscing about the project. In the course of that conversation he says, “You know Andrew Stanton is doing John Carter, right? Disney got the rights back, and Andrew’s doing John Carter of Mars.” And I hadn’t heard that! I got very excited. I said, “That sounds great. Wow! That sounds like a terrific project.”
A couple of days later, Andrew Stanton contacted me. He said, “I hear you’re really into Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mars. I heard about this Mars movie you had going, and I was wondering if you’d like to just come over and check out what we’re up to and what we’ve done? I’ll show you what we’ve got.” I had met Andrew a couple of times in the past, so I knew him slightly. I went over there, and saw all the cool stuff they had done, production art, models, storyboards, some previsuals. And then Andrew asked me if I’d be interested in coming on board and doing a rewrite. Their script was in good shape. They’d already been through a few drafts.
Who wrote them?
Andrew Stanton and his writing partner, Mark Andrews who is also a story board/production artist, and a graphic novelist, and who worked with Brad Bird on a number of his films. Mark’s a real pillar at Pixar. He and Andrew Stanton had written the script together. They had done a lot of heavy lifting, had worked out and solved many of the thorny story telling issues that the first novel presents.
Is this based on just the first novel?
That’s hard to answer. I guess I’d say if all goes as planned, the first three films — were there to be three films — would more or less cover the same ground as the first three novels in terms of where we would end up, and what would be known to be true.
But the books–they’re serialized novels, from a pulp magazine in 1912 and 1915 or whenever. [RL: I was there : ) – not quite] They weren’t really written with a two-hour, 21st-century major studio motion picture in mind. There are changes that have to be made. There’s not a precise one to one correspondence, as with the Harry Potters — it’s not like that. Nor is it a complete departure, not by any means. The idea was to gather up the important threads of story from all of the first three novels and weave them into a coherent, three part whole, yet with each part standing on its own. As if ERB had conceived the first three books as a trilogy, which he did not, since even with his wild imagination he had no reason to believe, as he was writing the first John Carter novel, that there would ever be a second.
Read the full interview at Erbzine.