Q&A With ‘Watchmen’ Screenwriters

Published 5 years ago by , Updated August 22nd, 2013 at 3:26 pm,

Watchmen co-screenwriter David Hayter recently put out an open letter urging people to see the movie again. The short and paraphrased version of what he said was that people need to go see more movies like Watchmen to show the powers that be that this is the type of quality material we want projected onto our local movie theater screens.

I really hope people do exactly what he urged – although by the film’s extremely disheartening 67% box-office drop in its second weekend, it looks like the fans Hayter was addressing haven’t taken his advice quite yet. Here’s hoping that if Watchmen leaves theaters before people decide to go and see it again, that a lot of support gets shown for it once it hits DVD/Blu-ray in the hopefully near future.

More recently however, Hayter and his co-writer on Watchmen, Alex Tse, did a 100-plus minute question and answer interview over at Creative Screenwriting; an interview which was described by our good friends over at First Showing as “fascinating.” It’s a lengthy interview (you could probably watch over half of Watchmen again in the time it takes to listen to the full interview), but going by just the little bit of it that I listened to, it indeed sounds like a fascinating listen.

Those who have listened to the full interview say that Hayter and Tse talk about all aspects of writing Watchmen, from trying to figure out just how in the world they were going to successfully put it into script form at the start, right up until the final edits about what to cut out and what to leave in. (For those of you particularly interested in their decision to change the ending from the infamous giant squid to what we ended up getting in the movie, you’ll be glad to know they talk about that decision in quite some depth.)

Just as a teaser (or for those who don’t have the 100 minutes to spare), here is a transcript of what they had to say about the change of ending:

“It takes a lot of setup to introduce an interdimensional space squid, it just does… You can’t just say, oh there it is, and look, there’s my squid… The difference between the novel and the movie, and this is the real difference, is, we don’t have the appendices afterwords. And the whole thing with that storyline is all setup in the Wizard magazine, the stories about the comic book, and it’s also setup in Tales of the Black Freighter, to a certain extent – there’s stuff about the secret island, these artists… That’s all stuff that I would have to spend screen time explaining at the end of a movie where I’ve already spent two hours explain a lot. Clearly the movie does not shy away from piling information on top of you. But I felt that that was going to come out of nowhere.”

“For all of the infinite possibilities of film, I believe, you have to be very circumspect about the number of magical things that happen in your movie.” Hayter tangents onto X-Men and the mutant gene briefly, then continues. “You have Dr. Manhattan, who was your element of magic in the story, and then you have the squid, who came out of another dimension and could cast psychic waves of destruction, and that seemed like an extra bit of magic that came in at the end, and needs a lot of setup to justify it. So, it became obvious that if you use Dr. Manhattan, well, it’s already setup, and he is the force, and he is the outside threat that has been throwing the whole world into chaos anyways, the has thrown off history. So in the end, it seemed to make sense.”

watchmen giant squid Q&A With Watchmen Screenwriters

Obviously the squid isn’t all they talk about for the whole interview. But it is an extreme point of interest for fans of the Watchmen graphic novel, who maybe didn’t care for what these two did with the ending of the movie. It’s also just one of the points of discussion which shows that these two (particularly Hayter) aren’t just a couple of writers hired at the last minute to adapt “just another comic book” – they’re real fans like a lot of those out there who were chomping at the bit to see the finished film.

I fully admit that I haven’t yet had the privilege to sit down with a copy of the Watchmen graphic novel, but by the feel I got from the movie (which I loved, by the way), and from what fans have been telling me, if I’ve seen the film I’ve basically read the graphic novel. Whether loved or hated, it seems to be universally accepted and agreed that it’s the most faithful comic-book (or graphic novel) adaptation ever made. And clearly the debate about whether that’s a good or a bad thing is what’s splitting most audience opinion straight down the middle.

From what I can gather about the original graphic novel ending with the giant squid, I’m definitely glad they changed it (about the only thing they did change, by the look and sound of it). From what’s been described to me, it sounds like something that may work on the printed page, but would ultimately just look ridiculous on-screen. If they were to sacrifice anything from the original source material, the giant squid was probably the wisest choice.

If you’re a hardcore Watchmen fan (of either the graphic novel or the movie); are just interested in what goes into writing a movie; or are just looking for something movie-related to kill some time, then you can download the full interview with David Hayter and Alex Tse in mp3 format here.

Enjoy. And then come back and tell us what you think.

Source: First Showing and Creative Screenwriting

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13 Comments

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  1. It wasn’t the loss of the squid that turned me off to the film. It was that it took the elements that were more adult, and made them into gratuitous spectacle (the sex scene aboard “Archie” being one, and showing the prisoner’s arms being cut off without cutting away, being another – even the graphic novel handled both sex and violence more discretely than this, emphasizing them as story elements, not for shock or titillation).

    The other thing that really didn’t work was more structural. Copying the novel panel for panel and tackling scenes in pretty much the exact same order leaves you with a bunch of expository and backstory information overload. In the novel, you can put it down for a bit and pick it up again later. Can’t do that in the movie theater. Can’t hit pause. And it’s dense stuff, despite the trimming that resulted from losing the squid. The result was a tempo that sucked the energy out of the audience (several audible yawns and a few people that gave up entirely during this long stretch in my theater).

    What “The Dark Knight” got so right was that it never forgot it was a movie. It kept all the spirit of what Batman and the Joker were all about and it built a great movie. Watchmen the movie copied the novel to it’s own detriment. It was a comic book that never realized it was supposed to be a movie. If they had just kept the spirit while tailoring the story for the different medium, you wouldn’t be seeing the dramatic drop off in ticket sales we’re seeing now.

    Of course, I think that Watchmen, being a 12 issue compilation, would have been more ideally realized as a miniseries on Showtime, or one of the other premium cable networks. Wouldn’t require as many edits that way as it wouldn’t need to be seen all in one viewing.

    Maybe if anyone gets the nerve up to do it that way a long time down the road, we’ll see it visualized better, but by then, we’ll be even further away from the time period the novel is set in, and it will seem less relevant the further we get away from it (not that I think it is irrelevant or dependent upon it’s setting as the themes it explores transcend the setting – but it may seem that way to the less sophisticated).

    Yeah, this should have been a mini-series.

  2. I’m downloading it through iTunes (Creative Screenwriting’s Podcast). I think this is very interesting, but to be honest with you, I had problems with the giant squid when I first read it when I was 18. Maybe it was my age??

    heath

  3. Ross, you should definitely pick up the book. Much more depth there.

    Vic

  4. Well I’ve heard that this movie is extremely accurate to the nvoel (except for the squid) but I mean does the novel have actual panels of the freaking 20 sex scenes?! I mean I haven’t read the novel but how explicit is it? Cause i know that in 300 zack synder did it panel for panel, but he also just threw in a sex scene for the heck of it. Is that what he did here?

  5. Maybe if they made a movie worth watching, people would should be “urged” to go see it. Give me a break.

  6. “…and from what fans have been telling me, if I’ve seen the film I’ve basically read the graphic novel.”

    So utterly and completely wrong.

  7. I have to agree with jerseycajun.

    Synder spent too much time showing you all the sex and the gore, whereas the graphic novel devoted a frame or two to the same events. Watchmen didn’t need to be as brutal or graphic as it was.

    That said, I did enjoy all of the fight scenes except for the first one with The Comedian, and the last one with the bad guy (I don’t name him to avoid Spoiling it).

    And I think the new ending just worked so much better than the Squid one. I do miss Laurie’s final comments on all the dead New Yorkers, but I think tying the ending to Manhatten just clicked made more sense within the structure of the story. With the Squid, it just sort of happened. With Manhatten, it was kind of being built up to that.

  8. I’ll start by saying that I haven’t read the graphic novel, so I know nothing about the giant squid, but I did really like the movie and its ending. I would have never guessed it wasn’t original because of how well it seemed to make sense with what had happened throughout the rest of the film. I’ll also note that not only have I not read Watchmen, but I have not read any comic books whatsoever. My opinion is from the standpoint of somebody that watched it to watch a movie. Even if I do have a slightly different take than most.

    As for the violence and nudity, I would have liked the movie far more without it. I don’t mind violence so much because I have no problem telling myself it’s just special effects, but wouldn’t have minded seeing some of it go. The nudity though, it’s there, it’s real and I just don’t want to see it. You can tell the same story with different visuals. Shame.

    The pace is another common complaint and I can’t agree that there is a problem. I actually found the story rather easy to follow. Yeah, you have to tuck some stuff away, in the back of your mind, and wait for clarification later, but that’s just life. Not everything is color by numbers, so learning with the characters just seems to make sense. I don’t like being led along. Maybe that’s just my extensive Anime watching coming into play. You never get everybody’s back story up front.

    Now, what I don’t know is what kind of information they cut to make it more [pansy =P] viewer friendly. I’d love to see absolutely everything in one ridiculously long movie. I’m the kind of person that will watch the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy in one go. When you’ve got a good story, tell it!

  9. I personally loved the movie and the graphic novel and looking forward to it coming out on blu-ray and watching the extended director’s cut. It is a tough movie to sell (even though they marketed it like crazy) because it’s not a movie for everyone, more so for fans.

  10. I had not read the graphic novel when I saw the movie, but I did read it after seeing it and I enjoyed both a lot. I actually enjoyed the movie more than I would have if I had read it first because it was all new to me. I know with writing a screen play based on existing work, there is a point where you either stay true to the original work or you change it for the sake of a movie feel. I have to give them credit for staying true (as much as possible) to the graphic novel. I agree that some of the scenes were overdone a bit and we could have lived without them. I think the problem most people who are not familiar with the graphic novel is that it’s not a typical movie story and it doesn’t fit with the standard “good vs. evil” we get from just about everything else (which is why I liked both so much).

  11. There was only two sex scenes? am i correct from what i can recall the scene at Daniels house and the scene in Archie? that really didnt bother me nor the violence. It was the pacing and the fact that i really didnt feel that dr.manhatten was really pushed to save humanity by silk spectre. If that had been better done i may have enjoyed it more. Plus really didnt it seem like it was taking it self to serious? Dark Knight, Spiderman had some ceartin camp to it. there was some character centric humor like an inside joke that we all knew yes this is not real its a movie, Watchmen tried to be far too real and it detracts from the its a just a movie setting. am i wrong?

  12. No, it’s not a faithful adaptation it’s quite dumbed down, it’s just the “wathcmen for dummies” version. Theres no such strong moral issues, all the characters -but awfully and specially ozymandias- are quite blurred and everyone can tell the difference between alan moore’s lines and the lines these two wrote for that script. It sucked.

  13. At the time the book was released, violence and sex scenes weren’t as so graphic in comics. Moore made them more graphic on purpose as either a parody of superhero books or whatever reason. That was the 80s. Snyder did the same thing but since we’re all used to violence and sex scenes in movies, he had to go even more graphic to get the same effect the book did.

    I thought the movie was as faithful as a movie could have possibly been. Yea, there was things I would have liked to see, but I’m fine with the adaptation. The movie can only be so long, some things had to be cut. How could Snyder have possibly done a more faithful version, short of making it 6 hours long and using the squid?

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