Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SFOO interviews David Goyer and Michael Cassutt

It was an honor to interview such a talented pair of authors. David S. Goyer (top left) is a screenwriter, comic book author, film producer and director. His list of writing credits includes: Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Blade II and the TV series Flash Forward. Michael Cassutt (top right) is a screenwriter, American TV producer and author. He's written scripts for numerous sci-fi series such as: the 1985 Twilight Zone; Eerie, Indiana; Outer Limits; Farscape; Andromeda; Stargate SG1 and The Dead Zone. He was story editor for one of my all-time faves - Max Headroom. He also authored sci-fi and spaceflight thriller novels. His short stories have appeared in many pro mags.

AW: Can you share one or two brainstorming "aha" moments from the development stage for Heaven's Shadow?

DG: Well, one of the "aha" moments was to open the book with a nonlinear structure. Initially, the story was completely linear. But it took a LONG time to get to the NEO and we thought it might be interesting to employ some of the narrative techniques that Chris Nolan and I used on Batman Begins. Ultimately, we're glad we did.

We were also surprised with the final fate of some of the characters. There were certain characters that were intended to die at the books end and others that survived -- and as we were going through the various drafts, we ended up changing our minds with regards to some of them.

MC: We also had minor aha moments while simply working through the moves of the story. Realizing, for example, that in microgravity, a rover could be thrown off a cliff...

AW: I loved the moment when, after being confronted with the impossible at literally every step on the NEO, Zack is confronted with something so over-the-top (pod Megan) that it would have broken a lesser man. How did you come up with the new twist on the pod people?

DG: Well, to be fair -- that twist was what started the whole ball rolling. I thought it would be mind-blowing for what was, essentially, an alien starship, to end up containing something quite familiar. That was the genesis of the story. I'm also interested in using science-fiction to explore theological issues.

MC: This was part of David's original pitch -- the moment that I realized I had to work on the project. Not that I shy away from the theological aspects of SF -- I think a lot of the best SF _is_ theological. But I never would have dared this on my own.

AW: What aspect of collaboration do you enjoy most?

DG: I like the call-and-response nature of collaboration. Michael might have a notion -- he'll pitch it to me. It will strike me a certain way and I might make a slight alteration and pitch it back. Something new and different emerges from the back and forth. In this case, the book truly is a hybrid of our sensibilities.

MC: Yes, together we are more than the sum of our parts, or something like that. David has worked extensively in film, which is collaborative... and I've been on the staffs of a dozen TV series, which are nothing but collaboration. So I see the back-and-forth as fun, possibly even necessary.

AW: Can you explain your collaborative process?

DG: We begin by plotting the novel the old-fashioned way. We use index cards on a series of cork boards. That's how we were taught to break stories in television. That's how Chris Nolan and I work on the Batman films. It's an age-old system -- but there's something about the cards that just seems to work. Then, we will dive into various drafts -- kick the material back and forth. Revise, revise, revise... I'm constantly driving Michael crazy by pitching a lot of curveballs in the eleventh hour.

MC: Yes. After the days and hours of story breaking and outlining, and the cards, I will start writing, and David will be dogging me every step with new and/or better ideas. Ultimately HS went through a first draft and two significant revisions. What's there is both of us.

AW: What was the hardest thing about getting this project together?

DG: Probably just the amount of detail. The first novel is, necessarily, heavy on NASA-tech. But we wanted it to ring true. Michael has spent a lot of time in that world and I knew the breadth of his experience would be invaluable.

MC: The first steps of any writing project are daunting. There was a considerable amount of circling the story, the issues, the characters, and the structure.

AW: The characterization in Heaven's Shadow is outstanding. Do you have a particular method for fleshing out a character? Does having a writing partner help to keep your characters honest and consistent?

DG: We don't have a particular method for characterization. I suppose, initially, the characters start as a kind of sketch. But then, once we drop them into various situations, they begin to flesh out themselves. I will say that I am constantly preaching about the need for specificity. I always believe that the more specific you can get with a character's interests, back-story, the better.

MC: This is where screen and TV writing helps.... because, while we take full advantage of a prose writer's ability to stop or stretch time and to inhabit a character's POV, we are both aware that we are, in essence, writing for performance. So we try to "see" and "hear" our characters.... what are they wearing, hearing, how are they standing, etc. I think this all helped the characters come to life.

AW: Can you give us a teaser for the next book? The movie?

DG: The next book deals with the consequences of what the humans have found on the NEO. More specifically, it deals with WHY the Architects bothered to send the NEO into our neck of the woods in the first place. It takes a lot of energy and willpower to put a craft like that into space -- to guide it for so many years. By the book's end, without spoiling too much -- there are a LOT of humans on the NEO. Not just the first 8 astronauts that land on it. So we get into some complicated group dynamics. And I'll reveal one more thing -- "the habitat" the astronauts discover is not the only one on the NEO.

In terms of the movie, I'm just now getting into the screenplay. It's a tricky adaptation. And in some cases, I've found myself writing scenes that we'd abandoned in the book!

AW: Are you working on other projects now that you'd like to mention to our readers?

DG: Well, the sequel to Heaven's Shadow, obviously. Then, of course, I've got two little super-hero movies shooting now -- The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel.

MC: Heaven's War consumes my working time at the moment. I also have a TV project I'm about to start pitching.... in partnership with a writer who is more famous and popular right now than David, or me, or both of us put together.


If you haven't already, make sure to read my review of Heaven's Shadow.

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