Scriptwriters can get a fairly bum deal.
More often-than-not the scripts they pitch don’t get bought, and when they do it either lounges in purgatory or it gets changed and they’re totally powerless to do anything about it. It’s the nature of the game and acclaimed writer, director and producer David S. Goyer will testify to that himself. Yet he never allowed those obstacles to hinder his progress. From his humble days of writing vintage 90’s action flicks for Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal to scripting the genre-mashing Blade and having a hand in creating THE definitive Batman of our generation (that’s until we see his and Zack Synder’s version for BvS) Goyer’s work has ingrained itself in the very fabric of how we perceive story telling for a new generation.
This year is shaping up to be a marquee moment for him, first up there’s The Forest a psychological horror staring Game of Thrones' star Natalie Dormer. Out in cinemas today, Goyer’s role as a producer was very hands-on and in the editing booth with the relatively unknown director, Jason Zada. He also had a producers credit for this year’s critical acclaimed Birth of a Nation, which aired at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Then there’s the tiny matter of some superhero film, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice… apparently it’s going to be a big deal.
The true definition of a triple-threat, we spoke to David about the psychological mind-fuck that is The Forest, his early career as writer and his love for Blaxploitation films.
You already have a great career as a writer and director, why jump on board for a horror film with a relatively smaller budget like The Forest?
One of the great things about horror is that you can craft a very effective, scary film that doesn’t necessarily cost you $200 million. Just look at The Blob or It Follows. When we came up with this idea for The Forest I was also interested in working as a producer with emerging filmmakers. Jason [Zada] was a first time filmmaker in this case and the project dictated the budget. It’s not only about working on $350 million movies, it’s about whatever works for the project.
The Forest doesn’t come off as you’re typical ‘horror’ film. There’s something more psychological to it.
It still is a horror film with supernatural elements but it’s as much of a psychological rollercoaster as well. It’s about a character’s emotional descent into the forest, we’re sort of stripping everything away from this her and she’s going on this physical and psychological journey.
Were you aware of the history of the Suicide Forest [Akoigahara Forest] prior to starting this film?
What happened was I was writing Man of Steel at the time and I came across something online about the suicide forest a few years ago. I have not heard of it before and I was surprised because I’m fairly well versed in spooky things. I did a little Googling and I was doubly surprised that no one ever made a film about the subject before. It was surprising given all the J-horror (Japanese horror) films that have been done in the last 20 years or so. It just seemed like a good setup for a scary film, it’s just one of the most disturbing places on the planet and I’ve always been interested by films that are about a stranger in a strange land.
You’ve got Natalie Dormer as the main character, what made her the ideal person for this role?
I’ve been a fan of her’s for awhile, even before Game of Thrones – which I certainly love. She was our first choice for the project when each of us drew up a shortlist of actresses that we thought that would work and it’s weird that had happened. She was terrific; it’s not an easy role to pull off, 90% of the film was her. It was a grueling production but she’s an incredible actress and also my new favourite person.
Was it hard from a creative standpoint not to get too involved or where you good with taking a back seat?
I’m pretty collaborative, certainly when you work in television that’s something you have to learn how to do. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to start producing because I enjoy collaborating. But I would get involved all over the place, I was in the editing room with Jason, I was on set with him and we would consult. Inevitably sometimes there are certain disagreements but you work them out, it was a good process.
Tell us about the first ever script you sold?
The first script I ever sold was called 'Dusted' and it was actually made. It came out under Death Warrant, with Jean-Claude Van Damme. I finished it when I was 21 and it was picked up when I was 22. A year-and-a-half later I was writing scripts for him and then I did some work for Steven Segal. Gradually I edged towards Blade, which was more along the lines of films that I was interested in doing.
Is it true that with first script that you sold you bought a car that got stolen?
[Laughs] That’s true, stolen the night I bought it.
That must have been soul crushing.
It was but it had a happy ending. It turns out that when you buy a car in the States it’s covered by an insurance rider for 48 hours, so even though the car was stolen the insurance covered it. It wasn’t a silly car. I was driving an old beater with 200 miles and it was certainly on it’s last legs.
Is it true you also wrote the script for the Nicky Fury: Agent of Shield film, which starred David Hasselhoff?
I did write the script that it was based on but at the time it wasn’t written to be a TV film and David Hasselhoff was not involved till years later. It was actually meant to be a feature and somehow or another Marvel sold that and a few others to Fox to make it a TV-movie. Someone rewrote it and I wasn’t there to be involved in the production in anyway.
Was it frustrating for you to see that happen?
One of the things about working as a writer for hire is once you write it and you get paid you don’t necessarily have control over what happens with the script thereafter. A few times in my career I handed old scripts of mine that get sold from party A to party B. It was fine for what it was, it certainly wasn’t the kind of film that I intended it to be. Honestly I wrote it as a feature so I never even contemplated it being a TV series.
How did the gig for Blade come about?
I had heard that New Line was interested in doing it, they had done House Party, and Menace To Society had just come out. They created a niche in doing ‘urban films’ and they were interested in a black superhero. We were finding a superhero from the Marvel property that would fit, we had Luke Cage, Black Panther or Blade. I suggested Blade and I went in and pitched a film to them that was much bigger than they were thinking about and they loved it. That’s the first time I was just kinda allowed to write whatever I wanted it to be.
Blade was a fairly obscure, quite unknown character and you were able to play about with it, add a few liberties with his origin. Do you think you’d be able to that with a comic book character today?
I don’t know, Guardians of the Galaxy were fairly obscure characters. I don’t think you only have to make films out of incredibly well-known characters. Guardians are an example of taking more obscure characters and bringing them into the franchise. I think you’ll see these days people are more wary of changing a character around because there’s a lot more scrutiny, I think it’s more harder to do.
You worked on all Blade iterations, including the TV series and directed Blade Trinity. What kept you coming back to that particular character?
I liked the match up of genres: Blaxploitation, vampire and Hong Kong action. Films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon that hadn’t broken into the mainstream yet and I just thought it would be fun to combine all those and create this crazy genre mash-up. On paper it sounds like a crazy idea but it worked.
Stories surfaced about how notoriously difficult Wesley Snipes was to work with during Blade Trinity. How did you find the experience yourself?
I actually made four films with Wesley and he’s an incredible actor. There was no question that was the most difficult film, he was going through a lot of challenges at the time, there was all this tax problems happening so it was certainly at that crazy time.
The Forest is out in cinemas now.