Interview | David Goyer on Man of Steel, The Crow and Nick Fury
In the first half of our interview with David Goyer, we spoke of the future. Goyer produced the new supernatural thriller The Forest, in theaters now, and he told us all about the difficulties involved in making ambitious horror movies for more than $5 million in the contemporary studio system. He also described the strange position he is currently in, rebooting that Batman movie franchise for the second time with this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in theaters on March 25, 2016.
But today is something different. We called David Goyer back up and got the lowdown on many of his earlier films, some of them great, some of them not-so-great by Goyer’s own admission. As a fledgling screenwriter Goyer sometimes struggled to push his vision through the studio system, and the result was sometimes notorious misfires like The Crow: City of Angels and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a campy 1998 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff.
Goyer is honest about the way these films turned out, and describes his original interpretations of these films, which now will probably never see the light of day. He also explained the unexpected ways in which both Batman Begins and Man of Steel were autobiographical stories. Sort of. Parts of them, anyway.
The Forest is now playing in theaters. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premieres on March 25, 2016.
Crave: What was the first script you ever tried to write, whether or not you finished it?
David Goyer: The first script I ever… I did finish it. It’s actually believe it or not an autobiographical script, which I think probably a lot of beginning writers write, and even though I’ve had some interesting things happen in my childhood I don’t think they were quite interesting enough to be the subject of a movie. [Laughs.]
So after I got that out of my system the second script I wrote ended up being the first script I sold, which was made ultimately as the film Death Warrant with Jean-Claude Van Damme. It wasn’t called that at the time, it was called Dusted. But that was the second script I wrote.
Was there anything autobiographical in Death Warrant?
No. But! There have been autobiographical things in many of my subsequent films including Batman Begins and Man of Steel.
Well the whole concept of Bruce going to Bhutan was based on a trip that I took when I was 30 to Tibet. That’s how we arrived at that idea of him going off to Asia, and I had a lot of pictures that I showed Chris [Nolan] and our production designer. I never thought that that trip would wind its way into a Batman film but there you go.
And Man of Steel much more specifically, an entire conversation that Clark Kent has with Jonathan Kent, where Jonathan Kent says “You have another father” and [Clark] says, “Can I keep pretending that I’m your son.” That’s a direct lift of a conversation that I had with my stepson. So I have to actually give my stepson credit for that.
Can you tell me what it was like watching that scene with your stepson? Do you know how he reacted?
Oh, I mean it was great, but by that point my stepson was a little older so he was old enough to understand the concept. [Laughs.] But it was also just a moving experience watching that particular scene be filmed, because I was there as we were filming it with Kevin Costner. When we were out in the field and young Clark, I believe the actor’s name was Dylan, was sitting in the truck bed with Kevin Costner… we were out in a field so it was a very small crew, there were only about ten of us out there, and it was magic hour. It was in rural Illinois and it was only about three hours from where I grew up, so it was a kind of farm that was… it was all a very surreal experience.
I remember watching that scene and then Kevin coming up to me afterwards and saying, “Did I do okay? How did you feel about it?” Which was just insane that he was asking me that. I was completely choked up and had tears in my eyes and I said, “Yeah, you did great, Kevin.”
So, it was moving. It was moving. I mean, I became a stepfather and a father during the year that I was writing Man of Steel and that experience of being Jonathan Kent and being Jor-El in that regard – you know, having a biological son and a stepson – that’s what gave me the emotional “in” on that film. I don’t think I would have been able to write that film otherwise, without having had that experience as a father and a stepfather myself.
“I was completely choked up and had tears in my eyes and I said, ‘Yeah, you did great, Kevin.'”
Do you feel like you’re a different writer now in every respect? Do you feel like if you went back, you would have written your other screenplays differently today?
Absolutely and I think most writers feel that way. I look sometimes back at older scripts that I’ve written and while there are sometimes things that I like, there are definitely other things that make me wince. And frankly I hope that keeps happening. I hope that ten years from now I look back on things that I wrote now and feel like, wow, maybe I could have changed that or maybe I could have done it [differently]. I think that tends to be based on just life experience. You become a more seasoned, well-rounded person.
Is there a particular earlier script of yours that you’re still just enormously proud of? Do you have a personal favorite?
Yeah, it’s my adaptation of Murder Mysteries, the Neil Gaiman short story. Just the fact that Neil… I happened to be with Neil a couple weeks ago and he’s often cited that screenplay as being one of the best adaptations of his work. The fact that he still feels that way is something I’m enormously proud of. So far that’s the one that got away. That’s the one that’s eluded me in terms of trying to get that film made.
You’ve done a lot of other adaptations. Was your first adaptation The Crow: City of Angels, that actually got produced?
Yeah, I think so. I think so. That is not a particularly good adaptation, but yeah. [Laughs.]
It’s a fascinating film because you were playing off of the popularity of a film that was shrouded in a lot of gloom, and you were making it in this very music video-centric era. I wonder how close is the film that we saw to the actual draft that you wrote.
Well, I did end up writing the draft of the film that got made but the draft that I began with could NOT have been further removed. I mean, it was a female lead to begin with and the prologue started in Victorian England. So that tells you how different it was! [Laughs.] And the villain was a reincarnation of Jack the Ripper!
“I actually knew Brandon Lee and I was not particularly enthused about trying to do a sequel…”
The whole reason that I engaged in that film under the circumstances, because I actually knew Brandon Lee and I was not particularly enthused about trying to do a sequel after the tragic circumstances of the first film… I felt like the only way that you could do a sequel was if you weren’t trying to replicate the first film, if you were taking it in a very different direction. So I pitched and wrote a treatment with a film involving reincarnation and a female protagonist and I felt satisfied with that, and then what started to happen, in classic “development hell,” is that it started to drift further and further and further away from where we began.
I believe at one point I even tried to quit, or maybe I did quit, because I was just so disheartened with the direction that it was taking. And unfortunately that’s all too common an experience sometimes in Hollywood.
One of my favorite films on your resumé – and I do mean this, I actually love watching this movie – is Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD.
Oh my god, certainly not mine.
It’s a strange beast! What was this, and how did this evolve into what we actually saw on TV in 1998?
So at the time, this is relatively early in my career, certainly before Blade or Dark City had been made, I was approached. I believe New World, they don’t even exist anymore, owned Marvel or at the very least had done some kind of deal where they had the ability to develop some Marvel films. This was before Marvel was “Marvel.” I think they might have even been in bankruptcy at the time.
I was approached with the idea of doing a Nick Fury film and they wanted to make it for a price. They wanted to make it for ten million dollars, something like that, and I thought, “Well, it’s espionage. He’s not a superhero. I could maybe do something.” So I wrote what I thought was a classically influenced Jim Steranko Nick Fury movie that had Baron Von Strucker and The Satan Claw. If you know Marvel, I [was] trying to do a Jim Steranko Nick Fury film, but I also think I threw in Arnim Zola as well.
“Blade was the first time that a film of mine had been released where I was unfettered.”
I don’t know, I think Marvel got sold again or [New World] lost the rights, I can’t remember what happened. But that went into purgatory and years and years later Marvel made some kind of deal to do four TV movies at Fox, and somehow they ported over this old script of mine and said they wanted to make it as a TV movie. And at this point my career was a little further along. At the time TV wasn’t the TV that it is today. I wasn’t super enthused about trying to do it as a TV movie, because now we were suddenly trying to make it for $3 million or something like that.
And they said, “Guess what? We’ve got David Hasselhoff as the lead” and nothing against David Hasselhoff but it took it into a camp direction, and they asked me if I wanted to rewrite the script. So I took a pass. I actually wasn’t involved in the production and I don’t know who rewrote me, to this day. So I can’t really speak to what happened then. [Laughs.]
Somebody rewrote me and the movie got made, you know?
Was it cathartic then when Blade came out a couple months later and blew everyone away?
Yeah, because Blade was the first time that a film of mine had been released where I was unfettered. I was allowed to write what I wanted to write without a lot of creative interference. Mike DeLuca at New Line at the time said, “Just write what you want to write. Write what you believe in.” I wasn’t given a lot of crazy notes.
And so it was very cathartic because it was a twofer that year: I had Dark City [and Blade], and both of them represented my and the director’s kind of undistilled, pure visions, and it was the first time I had something made that correctly depicted what I had in my head, where there wasn’t a lot of creative interference.
Top Photo: 20th Century Fox Television
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.