Alan Dean Foster Interview
Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 9:32am CSTCategories: Movie Related News, Interviews
Posted by: Darth Bombshell Views: 49,878
O: Since we’ve opened the door to the real world of Science Fiction, let me ask you about your adaptation of the new Transformers movie. I loved the book. I loved the movie. What are your thoughts about it?
ADF: The success of the film was a big surprise to a lot of the people. Most were surprised that it was such a good movie. It was the biggest film of the year. A lot of people expected it to flop because they didn’t like Michael Bay – I don’t understand why people hate him. I never met the man; I don’t know him from Adam. He’s made some big budget movies, some have done well, others haven’t, but that can be said about just about any director. Why does this guy inspire such vitriol?
O: As a Transformers fan, I can tell you that many of my peers saw the designs for the Transformers and flipped out. They had nothing but gripes and complaints about the style Bay chose to use to design them, saying “This isn’t how it should be.” Surely you encountered some of this stuff. But hopefully not as much flak as Bay.
ADF: Not as much because people realized that I had to work with what they were doing and I couldn’t change it. If you can’t change it, there’s no point in dumping on you. This whole problem has a “Never spit in someone’s holy water” theme to it. What those fans don’t understand is that in making a big 100 to 200 million dollar budgeted film – which is more than some countries earn per year – you have to make money back. A general rule of thumb is that a film has to take in 2.5 times the cost to break even, so if you a 200 million dollar film, they have to make half a billion dollars. That’s through sales, DVD, but that’s still a lot of money. So when you make a film, one thing you have to do is figure out how to do this film so that it appeals to 20 other people without losing the other 20 people. This has nothing to do with story but everything to do with simply appealing to that other tiny fragment of the demographic. I thought, as I came into this project. I’m the last one to defend the Hollywood producers, but I thought they and Michael Bay were bending over backwards to listen to the fan websites, and yes, accommodating the people to whom, Transformers is canon. The fact that they took so much crap onto top of that, people in Hollywood, they take a look at that and say, “Look what DreamWorks did, and look what they took in response. Why should we bother to put that kind of effort into our picture? If people aren’t going to respect us for what we’re trying to do, why should we put up with it?” It’s something fans don’t’ realize. You have a 200, millions dollar movie, it’s always 2-3 years out of your life. If Joe from Des Moines writes in and says Optimus Prime shouldn’t have lips, that’s not a decision for him to make. That becomes an economic decision of the company.
O: As for the book, your adaptation of the movie, I was impressed by how true you stayed.
ADF: Thanks. I try to.
O: How did you get into adaptations?
ADF: In 1972, somebody in Ballentine bought the rights to a really horrific Italian movie about a female Tarzan. The character was on-screen for about 5 minutes, played by a diminutive Vietnamese girl that doesn’t look anything like your image of a female Tarzan. It was a horrible low-budget film, but, the guy in charge of promotion and advertising of the film, who got the rights, was a fan. The only smart thing they did was the advertising department got Frank Frazetta do two images, full oils, both of which have been reproduced many times in his various art books, but they don’t say “Rawanna” they say, “Girl With Cat”. Nobody saw the movie; to this day, I’ve never met anyone else that’s seen the movie. So Gena Lynne Del Ray, who had just taken over Ballantine, knew I had a master of fine arts and knew my way around a film script, asked me if I’d do the adaptation to this film about a female Tarzan, and I said, “Sounds great! When can I see a script?” She said, “There is no script. But I can arrange a screening in Los Angeles for you.” So I go down Hollywood Boulevard, into a typical schlock screening room, where they have a little 16mm projector, and run the film, which is all in Italian. So I have no script, and the film is all in Italian. I have no idea what anyone is saying and the film is just so awful. When I finished, I dedicated the book to Frank Frazetta who did the novelized cover. As you can imagine – this being Frank’s work – the cover is exactly what you want a female Tarzan to look like. After that, I did Dark Star, which was a John Carpenter film project. And from those two, I developed quite a reputation as an adaptation writer. I do two or three a year, if it’s something that seems interesting. And I turn some down, sometimes I do spin-off books, too. But don’t do those often because, I didn’t really want to write about Han Solo’s second cousin in Correlia. The Transformers? You know I wasn’t going to do that in the first place.
O: That’s an interesting piece of information. What got you to do it? What changed your mind?
ADF: I asked myself, “Do I really want to do a book about alien robots based on children’s’ toys. And what got me to do it finally was that I thought it would be a real challenge to take a story about giant fighting alien robots based on a line of children’s toys and turn it into a real novel. And that’s what got me into it. The other thing was I knew Spielberg was executive producing it. If there’s a magic word in Hollywood, it’s Spielberg. Even his bad – his not as good movies – like 1941 are worth watching. And he understands Science Fiction! He grew up with it, he loves it, just like Lucas and Cameron, and I knew that he would not do something just to make money, because he doesn’t need money. So I asked for a script and the script; which was much better than I thought it would be; in fact, it was pretty good. This whole sub-line about the teenage kid, there is some very funny dialogue, the characters were very interesting. I liked the fact that the girl was the car buff, and the boy wasn’t. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote a really good screenplay that just happens to be about giant robots. And the way I remember it, the thing that got Spielberg involved was that it was not about giant fighting alien robots, it’s about a boy and his car – that human element that he has in all his movies, and sure enough that’s the basis of the movie: the relationship between Shia Lebouf and Bumblebee.
A lot of the fan criticism that I read, claimed that there’s too much teenagers and not enough robots. And I have to tell them, there may not be enough Transformers for you, but you’re going to go see the movie anyway. However much you complain and bitch, you’re going to go see it, and the producers know it too, so you’re not fooling anybody. The 10000 of you die-hard-live-for-transformers fans are not the ones that are going to make up the budget for this film, and the producers have that in mind. But these guys could have done some very standard things, like the conventional model girls, but they really worked on it. The other gal in the story was a big-time hacker: every nerd’s dream is someone who looks like Angelina Jolie who can sit down and talk about the latest Intel chip, and kick ass every once in a while. It was a very smart movie. But it also could very well be a disaster, too, special effects aside. I always tell people that no matter how good the special effects are, you will not have a successful film without the human element. People go to see Star Wars and they say the cities and battles are great, but they really want to see what happens to Luke and Vader and Leia. All the other stuff is window dressing. And I feel that way about books as well. You can write big ships, and space travel, and big battles, but if there’s not that human interest, whether it’s a human being or an alien or whatever, but if there’s not an emotion at the center, you have no story.
O: What projects are you working on now?
ADF: I have three books coming out by Del Ray. One is my 7th short story collection called “Exceptions to Reality”, and there is a book that resolves 35 years of loose ends about a character called Flinx. It’s not necessarily the last Flinx book, but it ties up all the loose story ends, called “Flinx Transcendent.” I’m also working on a fantasy trilogy that is currently in negotiations. And beyond that, including the adaptation to the Transformers movie sequel, we’ll see.
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ADF did a great job with the prequel and novelization. He truly understood what this movie was going for. Props to him.
Posted by Wheeljack35 on November 22nd, 2007 @ 4:35pm CST
I've known about him for years
He wrote the book for the movie adaption on The Empire Strikes Back
Posted by CInemastique on November 22nd, 2007 @ 9:06pm CST
Foster was the ghostwriter for Lucas on the ANH adaptation, a well as writing what is largely considered the frst "Expanded Universe" novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye.
I generally really like ADF's work, but I could not stand the Transformers prequel novel. It felt really rushed as a project. The dialogue was hackneyed, and characters were developed either sloppily or for no reson (I don't like being explained a character's history and motivation for page when it either doesn't matter, or where it could be better established in dialogue or action).
I realize that Foster probably had pressure on him, and was likely working from an unfinished/early script, but parts of the book were just plain awful.