Written By February March 2017 : Page 54
WRITTEN BY LISA ROSEN PORTRAITS BY TOM KELLER Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick make short work out of long waits. Writers Paul Wernick(left) and Rhett Reese photographed at the The Little Bar.
The Real Superheroes Here
Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick make short work out of long waits.
1. ALTERNATE TITLE: THESE DIPSHITS THINK THEV'RE AS GOOD AS SHAKESPEARE.
For those wondering why the superhero movie Deadpool was nominated in WGA’s Best Adapted Screenplay category, look no further than the film’s opening credit sequence. Set to the dulcet tones of Angel of the Morning, over a frozen moment in the life of an upturned SUV full of combatants, we read:
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX PRESENTS
IN ASSOCIATION WITH MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT
GOD’S PERFECT IDIOT
A few more credits, then:
PRODUCED BY ASSHATS
before the pièce de résistance:
THE REAL HEROES HERE
*Done, sold, give them the gold. 2**
2. OR WHATEVER THAT WINGED STATUE IS MADE OF. THE CALCIFIED HEARTS OF STUDIO EXECUTIVES? ACRVLIC?
Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick lost track of who came up with which faux credits during post-production, but there’s no question who came up with theirs. “Nobody else would have written that,” Reese says.
They’re as surprised as anyone else that Deadpool would give them cause to buy tuxedos. (The film also garnered nods from the PGA and DGA.) “Rhett and I feel like we have that movie in us, the serious drama that’s usually considered for awards season,” says Wernick. “We didn’t think this would be it.”
Then again, they’ve worked on it as long and hard as any prestige film, and created a sort-of-anti-superhero movie, teeming with action and dripping with gore, that’s also a smart, funny, ribald love story. It’s a Marvel marvel. And kudos to the WGA for once again recognizing that comedy is harder than death.
Deadpool started as a comic book series in 1990. Character Wade Wilson was a mercenary with a heart of gold who learned he had terminal cancer. An effort to find a cure eventually turned him into the powerful, disfigured, massively messed-up Deadpool. The series poked fun at its own genre, with Deadpool breaking the fourth wall to comment on the action. 3 The comic won a slew of fans, including star Ryan Reynolds, who attached himself to a Deadpool* film project 11 years ago.
3. I DIDN'T READ ANY OF THEM. I ASKED A DEADPOOL COMIC NERD TO VET THAT PARA-GRAPH. HE OFFERED SEVERAL IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DEADPOOL'S HEALING POWERS COME FROM WOLVERINE; THANOS CURSED DEADPOOL WITH ETERNAL LIFE BECAUSE DEADPOOL FLIRTED WITH DEATH, THANOS' LOVE INTEREST; COMIC BOOK DEADPOOL SHOULD HAVE BEEN AS WELL. NOW HE'S SENDING ME LINKS; THANOS WILL FIGHT THE AVENGERS IN THE INFINITY GAUNTLET; GOOD GOD WHAT PERDITION HAVE I UNLEASHED?
At that point, Reese and Wernick were about six years into their writing partnership. The two had gone to the same high school in Arizona a few years apart, then met up again in Los Angeles after college. Wernick was producing reality television, and Reese was a screenwriter. The two put their talents together, coming up with an idea for a scripted parody of a reality show that was also a reality show in itself.
The Joe Schmo Show stuck an average guy in a mansion with nine other contestants in an elimination game. Unbeknownst to him, everyone else was an actor, working off of loosely scripted plots and improvising around him. The truth was revealed at the end of the game. Reese describes it as “very much The Truman Show in a reality setting.” Adds Wernick, “It was probably the most fun we’ve ever had in Hollywood, even to this day. It was early 2000s, we didn’t really know what we were doing, it was the Wild West in reality TV. We had a writers’ room—it was a WGA show—and then you plug this X factor into it.”
After a couple of seasons, Reese convinced Wernick to try writing a fictional series. Their Schmo writers’ room experience inspired them to use a corkboard and break stories together. Then, as now, they’d split up and go to their respective homes to write. “We leapfrog each other chronologically through the script. So you take Scenes 1 and 2, I’ll take 3 and 4,” Reese explains. “We divide up scenes based on how badly we want to write them, generally—”
“Or how badly we don’t want to write them,” Wernick tosses in.
“A very good point. Then we trade the scenes back and forth, revising each other’s changes. Our basic rule, and most often we follow it, is if the other person changes your line, you’re allowed to then rechange it to a third version, but you’re not allowed to go back to what was there originally.”
Occasionally that rule fails them. “There will be a line that the other will change, and then the other will change back, and then we’ll change back again. At times we can get a little passive-aggressive,” Wernick confides. “We’ll have to jump on the phone and go, ‘How much do you really love this line?’ An example would be in Deadpool, when he says, ‘I’m Audi 5000.’ I love the line; for whatever reason it made me giggle. Rhett kept changing it, and I’m like, ‘We’ve got to keep it.’ Rhett’s like, ‘Nobody remembers what Audi 5000 was,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s exactly right, it’s Deadpool, he can make those obscure pop-culture references. And almost the more obscure they are, the funnier they become.’ Rhett still maintains that it doesn’t get a laugh in the theater. I have been in the room where people have laughed.”
Reese’s even reply: “I think it’s very charming.”
Back and forth the scenes go, with very little discussion necessary. “The iterative process of writing and rewriting and bolding things that have changed, and unbolding when you’re satisfied with them, and rebolding when you’re not, it’s like thesis-antithesis-synthesis,” Reese says. *4 “It really does come together, and you don’t have to talk as much as you think during the writing.” That said, they talk at least half a dozen times a day, but mostly about business. “And how much we hate this person or that person,” Wernick says.
4. WHEN REESE BROUGHT UP THE THESIS-ANTITHESIS-SYNTHESIS CONCEPT, I JUMPED IN AND ATTRIBUTED IT TO PLATO BECAUSE I THINK I'M SMART, AND THEV WERE TOO POLITE TO CORRECT ME. THEN AS I WAS TRANSCRIBING, I THOUGHT, NO, DEER, IT'S SOCRATES! SO I GOOGLED IT. IT WAS FROM GERMAN PHILOSOPHER JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE. FUCKING FICHTE.
Of the many advantages of working with a partner, “the objectivity that a person provides, looking at your scene for the first time fresh, is just invaluable, and something you can’t get on your own,” Reese says. The two have a trust built over decades; they’ve known each other for more than 30 years, and have written together for 17. Reese introduced Wernick to his future wife, married the couple, and is now godfather to their children.
They also have minds that work along similarly skewed lines. Their first film was Zombieland, a zombie movie and a parody of a zombie movie at the same time. “The common thread from Joe Schmo Show to Deadpool is a tone in which we both make fun of a genre and also still are the genre,” Reese says.
The combination makes for a lot of wrangling with tone. How do you go from humor to pathos without making the audience feel manipulated? “Life isn’t a comedy or a drama, it’s all those things wrapped into one,” Wernick says. “So we try to mix tones. It’s not easy; if it’s done wrong it can feel inconsistent. But we try to ground the movie with the varying tones by basically presenting life as you see it.”
Reese describes a scene in Zombieland, navigating a path from tragedy to comedy that they weren’t sure would work. Woody Harrelson’s character, Tallahassee, reveals that his child died, and the film flashes back to the heartbreaking scene. Returning to the present, Tallahassee’s crying. “I think there were a few misty eyes in the audience, because it’s about a father losing his son,” Reese says. “But then a few seconds later—he’s playing Monopoly at the time with real money—he picks up a pile of $100 bills, dabs his eyes with the cash, and says, ‘I haven’t cried that hard since Titanic.’ We sat in the theater and listened as the audience essentially went from deathly still and feeling the emotion of a moment to a big laugh. We thought, We’re on to something here.”
“The spacing of those tones is also very important,” Wernick adds. “If you stay too long in one particular tone, it then starts to feel like you’re in two different movies. It’s exactly why we very strategically bounce in and out of time and space in Deadpool.”
They used a non-linear structure, because otherwise the film would have been frontloaded with the tragedy of Wade Wilson’s terminal cancer. “It’s very, very dark, and very serious, and very sad and tragic, and then he goes on this path and has all these torturous things happen to him and loses his girl, and then he becomes Deadpool, and he’s this crazy motherfucker who’s laughing and telling jokes and talking to camera, and knows that he’s in a movie. Had we told that story linearly—and there was a push to tell it linearly from the studio at one point—it would have been a very dark movie for the first half or two-thirds, and then once he becomes Deadpool it would have become a very silly movie. It would have felt very inconsistent in tone. By creating that non-linear structure, it allowed us to be tragic and dark, and then immediately pop in with some laughs, so the audience felt like, I’m on this ride with him, I’m not investing too much into one particular tone before I bounce to another one.”
“Most writers have that passion project that sits in their desk and gathers dust. It’s usually a small indie movie that tells an obscure
story. Our passion project was a Marvel superhero movie. In a world
of superhero movies each making a billion dollars, we couldn’t get it
off the ground, and that was so terribly frustrating, so demoralizing,
because we believed in it so much. We felt like, if we can’t get this
made, we don’t know if we can get any movie made.” –Paul Wernick
OH SHIT, I JUMPED TOO FAR AHEAD, HANG ON A MUNUTE
Remember how they stopped doing The Joe Schmo Show to create a series? Th at series was Zombieland. Say what? They wrote it as a spec TV pilot and sold it to CBS in 2005, where it sat on shelves for a year and a half, because nobody thought a series about zombies would hit. *5
They credit their producer, Gavin Polone, along with Sony Television, for letting them expand it into a two-hour TV movie that could serve as a back-door pilot. “We basically used that pilot episode as the first 58 pages of the screenplay,” Wernick says. “Episode 2 became the back half and climax of the feature.” As with Deadpool, the film jumps around in time and space. “A lot of people have examined the structure in Zombieland,” Reese says, “subjecting it to Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 analysis. And it’s all BS, because it was literally written for commercial breaks.”
Zombieland came out in theaters in 2009, and was a huge success. The writers became Hollywood darlings for a while, “which we embraced in a real way,” Wernick says. “In the press, the talking point was, ‘There are so many sequels out there, and so many movies based on comic books and toys. Zombieland is this breath of fresh, original air,’ and we came off the success of Zombieland and booked a comic book movie and two sequels, one based on a toy. I’m not sure what that says about us.”
The two sequels were Zombieland 2 and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The superhero movie was Deadpool.
The Deadpool pitch didn’t go smoothly. The writers met with Reynolds and spun a tale that omitted the origin story, since it was such a cancery downer. “He was like, ‘Th anks but no thanks,’” Wernick says. Their agent begged for another shot, and sent over their pilot for an HBO drama called Watch. They met up again for lunch, “and we talked about the pathos and the darkness, and embracing all that amidst all the humor,” and by the time the check came he’d hired them.
They worked with Reynolds to break the story for several months before going off to write it. “Our fear was that we were writing a dark, R-rated superhero movie, and would the studio ever make that,” Wernick recalls. “Ryan said, ‘Let’s write what’s in our hearts, and worry about whether they’re going to make it later.’”
“And then we did worry about them making it later, for the next six years,” says Reese.
“Exactly. All our fears were realized.” Worse, they had to take it out and rewrite another draft every single year, only to watch it get shelved again and again. “It was a very, very difficult six years, because it was a script that we were immensely proud of,” Wernick says. “Most writers have that passion project that sits in their desk and gathers dust. It’s usually a small indie movie that tells an obscure story. Our passion project was a Marvel superhero movie. In a world of superhero movies each making a billion dollars, we couldn’t get it off the ground, and that was so terribly frustrating, so demoralizing, because we believed in it so much. We felt like, if we can’t get this made, we don’t know if we can get any movie made.”
They kept busy throughout the ups and downs, working on other projects. “G.I. Joe gobbled up a year and a half. Th at was a monster,” Reese says. They made another HBO project that wasn’t picked up. “I would say the vast amount of our energy, when we’re not writing, is spent convincing people to trust us. It gets somewhat easier, but you’d still be shocked at how difficult it is, even when you acquire some success and some ammunition to say, we generally know what we’re talking about.” Th at said, Deadpool also taught them “that there is no final no. Something is still alive until the day you die, I guess.”
“Writers on films are generally relegated to the back half of the donkey’s costume,” adds Wernick. “Yes, there needs to be one voice,
the director’s. But it all starts in the writer’s head. So as long
as there’s collaboration and trust, and the director doesn’t feel
threatened by the writer, and the writer doesn’t make the director
feel threatened, it’s such a wonderful experience for everyone
BRING OUT YOUR DEAD(POOL).
Back in 2011, Deadpool director Tim Miller created two minutes of test footage for Fox. “We sat on it for three-plus years, Rhett, Ryan, Tim, and myself, wondering, how do we leak this and not get caught?” says Wernick. “We were like this hapless band of thieves who had this piece of gold that we were trying to get out to the open market and couldn’t figure out how to do it. We’re technological idiots.”
Fortunately, someone savvier leaked it at Comic- Con 2014. They swear they have no idea who. “It was not the people who stood the most to benefit,” Reese insists. The subsequent fan frenzy lit a fire under Fox, and they greenlighted the project. After six years of misery, they went into production within a few months. ‘They’ included the writers, because Reynolds and Miller wanted them on set for the entire shoot.
“We always felt like if we could contribute one little thing every day that helps the movie get better, we’ve done our job, and oftentimes it was only one thing a day,” Reese says, crediting Miller and Reynolds for creating an inclusive atmosphere. “Writers on films are generally relegated to the back half of the donkey’s costume,” adds Wernick. “Yes, there needs to be one voice, the director’s. But it all starts in the writer’s head. So as long as there’s collaboration and trust, and the director doesn’t feel threatened by the writer, and the writer doesn’t make the director feel threatened, it’s such a wonderful experience for everyone involved.”
Even after the shoot wrapped, they stayed on, spending every day in the edit bay, adding dialogue. “A lot of it was written in post, because it’s a man in the mask,” Wernick says. “You can change lines, much like an animated movie.”
Fox marketing then hired them to work with Reynolds on much of the film’s ad campaign. By the end of the process, the studio gave them executive producer credits as well.
Even after all the dicking around they endured, the writers empathize with the studio’s hesitation. “Fox took a massive risk by making this movie,” Wernick says. “There was always the fear that it would appeal to one group of people: comic book nerds.”
OUR HEROES GET A HAPPY ENDING! AND IT'S THE DIRTY KIND!
Surprisingly, the movie tested higher with women than men. “I do think we tapped into something by telling a love story, and giving the movie a beating heart,” Wernick says. Make that two. Lest we forget, Deadpool is, at heart, a love story. (As is Zombieland.) “People are always trying to find that next generation of romantic comedy,” Wernick says. “How do you tell that so it doesn’t feel like boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl? That stale formula works, if you do it right.” Deadpool is the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.
It isn’t just a romantic comedy, it’s a romantic fucking comedy, fabulous in its filthiness. “Blue and classy don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Reese says. “Not to compare this to what we do, but if you look at The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer—”
“Somebody went to Stanford,” Wernick says.
“There’s some really high-minded classy stuff in there, but then there’s bawdy and blue humor—The Miller’s Tale being the prime example—that make you go, Oh my god.”
Adds Wernick, “Mel Brooks and Steve Martin are geniuses; nobody looks at their art and goes, well that’s puerile. By no means am I putting us in that class, but those are our heroes.” *6
6. WERNICK IS TOTALLY PUTTING HIMSELF AND REESE IN THE SAME CLASS AS MEL BROOKS AND STEVE MARTIN.
The film gets super meta super fast. As in the comic book, Deadpool breaks the fourth wall, acknowledging he’s a character in a movie, and cracking on other Marvel movies. *7
7. THAT'S WHY I'M DOING THIS FOURTH-WAL BREAKING STUFF IN THE ARTICLE. IS IT WORKING? DON'T ANSWER BECAUSE I CANT HEAR YOU.
Hence the opening credit sequence. “We weren’t sure it was going to work, but it really does set the tone for an irreverent movie,” Reese says. After all the drafts—adding characters, taking out characters, even trying to rein it into PG-13 territory—they estimate the final draft contained about 70 percent of the first. “Ultimately, I think it was this mix of tones and textures and all that that made it the success it was,” says Wernick. “Because it did feel fresh and original.”
In that vein, up next is Life. This film isn’t meta-anything. “Life is intended to make you sweat the way Deadpool is intended to make you laugh,” Reese says. “We haven’t seen it yet ourselves, but if it works it’s a terrifying thriller about a crew of astronauts in the International Space Station, in a very claustrophobic space, discovering life that comes from beyond earth, and challenged when that life proves to be hardier and more dangerous than they expected.” Starring Jake Gyllenhall and Reynolds, the writers call it an A-lister movie with a B-movie heart.
They’re also in pre-production for Deadpool 2, because apparently a year can’t go by without them working on a Deadpool script. When asked how they were going to make that and their Zombieland sequel not suck, Wernick replies, “Got any ideas?” Says Reese, “You’re trying to find that perfect balance between what’s familiar and what people loved about the first one, and then enough new stuff so that you don’t feel like you’re rehashing the first one.” With the original elements, “you twist them just a little bit.”
They are well aware that most sequels don’t end up as good as the originals. “You’re always working with that fear in the back of your mind,” Reese says. “But you also know there are movies like The Godfather 2, Aliens, The Road Warrior, sequels that at least match if not surpass the original. You try to hit that mark, or at least make one as good as the first, and if you fall short you fall short.”
Wernick groans. “Lisa’s headline for the article is going to be: “Deadpool 2, Writer Says as Good as Godfather.” *8 Leaving nothing on the field, Reese goes deep: “Have I mentioned that breaking the fourth wall goes back to Shakespeare?”
Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/The+Real+Superheroes+Here/2709210/383020/article.html.