EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE WRITER OF SST: INVASION - FLINT DILLE.
"WAR IS THE NEW NORMAL"
Flint Dille started his career writing and producing television shows (Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc.) while writing interactive novels (The Sagard Series with Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons.). By the early 90s, Flint was designing games (Battle For the Future) and writing movies (American Tail II: Feivel Goes West), wondering how he was somehow going to turn two careers into one. Flint's Gulf War I simulation, released, coincidentally, the same day as the actual bombing began, got him invited to the Air War College as a Speaker for seven years running at the 'Connections Conference'· When CD-ROMS came out, Flint worked on a variety of experimental interactive movies in a variety of roles, from Game designer/Writer Double Switch (a cinematic game) and director, (Terror T.R.A.X.).
In the commercial sector, Flint has worked as a designer and/or writer on numerous games which have either turned platinum, received awards, or both: Soviet Strike, Nuclear Strike, Dragonstrike (1993), Tomorrow Never Dies (1999) (VG), Dead to Rights (2002) (VG), Riddick.
Flint has written four interactive novels, five regular novels, graphic novels and comic books. And now he is the writer of STARSHIP TROOPERS INVASION.The interview by Arkadiusz Grzegorzak.
What is the story behind the development of the script for STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION?
I came on about two years ago. Let’s say June of 2010. I’d just finished working with the producer Joseph Chow on a video game, and he introduced me to the production executive of the film, Tony Ishizuka. They had a lot of the story already. My first mission was to glue them together. It was cool, because I’ve also known the executive producer Ed Neumeier forever. In fact, I went to the premiere of the original film with Ed. On top of that, I’d known Peter Nelson, who’s also an executive on the project, for 20 years. He’d been an actor in an Agent 13 (another project I have in development) audio drama that we did back in the ‘80’s. So it was very familiar turf.
The other thing that was really exciting was that like everybody in the game business, I was very, very familiar with Director Shinji Aramaki’s anime work. Over the years, I’ve probably been in 10 meetings where somebody has said, ‘the game’s got to feel like this’, and then screened the opening of Appleseed. So it all added up to a great package.
The whole trick was figuring out how to dial it in. I did one very fast draft of the script while in Bermuda that summer. Took a couple weeks. I think of it as a ‘throat clearing’ draft. Learn to write the characters, play in the environment, test some ideas, see what works, what doesn’t. We threw that draft into the trash very quickly, but that exercise lead directly to the next draft, written in August, which is pretty much the movie as it now exists. (Make no mistake, there were a lot of rewrites and changes, etc., but it was what I’l call the source draft. All the pieces were in place.
STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION is a 100% CGI film. Are there limits to what a writer can create on paper, and what can be presented on the movie screen?
It was interesting. I’ve done a lot of games, so I have a pretty good idea what can be done in CG – at least what the issues are. Also, I’ve done a lot of classic animation, so I understand those issues. Doing a CG anime film was kind of an exercise is merging those two styles. The stuff I love in the final film is where the two meet (like the wormhole scene).
The huge opportunity here was to do stuff that leverages the assets of CG and Animation. For instance, the power suits, which were too expensive for the first movie, worked out extremely well in this film. In some ways, I felt like I was back doing The Transformers, but with a realistic edge. The whole trick with any new medium is figuring out how to leverage what that medium does well and hide what that medium doesn’t do as well. In live action, faces and mouth movement look realistic, but Power Suits are extremely expensive and have to be used carefully. You go to CG, and the rules change. You go to animation, and they morph again. People suspend different things. So morphing the three mediums (because motion capture gives you a kind of kinetic realism that you don’t have with hand animation – or for that matter CG animation, you’re kind of making up your own rules.
Or let me put it another way. When you sit down to watch classic animation, you don’t expect realistic movement from Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. Bunnies and Ducks don’t stand on two legs and they don’t talk. So you suspend a lot. Your brain says, ‘okay, I’m going to map this ridiculous creature to what I know of real people and laugh at the irony and the deeper truth of how people are actually a little big like blowhard roosters. Wyle-e-Coyote doesn’t talk (except in some weird versions), but we relate to him, because we’ve purchased a lot of things from the real version of the ACME company. So you have that suspension.
With CG getting more and more realistic, the human brain is sometimes uncomfortably confused. It’s called ‘uncanny valley.’ Its that place where your brain matches the graphics to reality and it feels ‘wrong’, because you are confused. There’s a creepy feeling to some realistic CG that is kind of offputting. And if its too realistic, the viewer end up wondering why you didn’t do it in live action in the first place. All of that having been said, I’d love to do a horror film that lives in uncanny valley.
This film didn’t attempt to be anime in the sense that it didn’t superimpose print conventions into the film. You don’t see question marks popping up over people’s heads, or stylized tears popping out to show emotion. This film wanted to live (in my opinion) on the edge between a video game and live action. It's a very powerful medium for a generation raised on video games. Some of the imagery is impossibly beautiful. I remember leaning over to a friend of mine who was sitting next to me in the screening and saying, ‘imagine if you’d seen just that image’ when you were a kid. I think it was one of the spaceship shots when they were battling at Fort Casey. It was amazing. It was like what could only have been a book cover not long ago come to life.
There’s mesmerizingly beautiful looking stuff in that film. And I had nothing to do with that other than to type something like, ‘the explosion is horrific and beautiful at the same time.’ Aramaki and the team made stuff that was better than anything I had in my head.
So, in summary to this winding answer, it was like we were creating a new medium, living on the borders of film, animation and video games. My job was to craft a story that could live in that world.
The film shows the return of beloved characters like Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez and Carl Jenkins. What was it like writing about these iconic characters? Can you speak about the "homework" - how did you research these characters?
There were two kinds of homework. One was, of course, rereading the original book. Very early on, we decided to inspire ourselves with the beginning of Heinlein’s novel. It would give legitimacy to this expression of Starship Troopers and, let’s face it, that opening page locked me in when I first read the book when I was 13 at Boy Scout Camp, so I figured it would work for a modern audience, too. Its simultaneously poetic, futuristic and incredibly honest. It reads like the writing of somebody who’s actually been in combat. It's a metaphor for the whole Invasion experience. Somewhere underneath all the tech is something very human.
I watched the movies. They are great in re-watching. I saw stuff in the 15 year anniversary big screen screening of Starship Troopers that I’d never see before. Its an amazingly well crafted script and film. All-pro stuff. I think that part of the exercise in writing my first, scrapped draft of the script, was paying all of the homage and getting the fanboy out of my system so that I could take ownership of the 2nd draft.
The trick with the characters was to think of what they became 15 years out. They aren’t young anymore. The war isn’t exciting and patriotic any more. The bugs still aren’t defeated. We’ve advanced and so have they. Our characters have been through a lot. They aren’t old, but they are incredibly seasoned. Johnny isn’t a grunt… Carmen has achieved her dream of having a ship (The John A. Warden) only to have it taken away from her, and Carl has gone down a very dark path.
Without belaboring it, obviously, this matches the real world a lot. When the first movie was done, war was a distant idea. We hadn’t been at war for a while. Our last experience in Gulf War 1 had been a blazing success (in no small part due to the real John A. Warden – google him) and we didn’t see 911 and the War on Terror Coming. War could be played in a slightly campy way. A lot has changed in the real world since then and its reflected in the film.
I’ve set this in a world in which war is the new normal. However, both sides want that to change. Carl is doing some dangerous and desperate experiments. The Queen bug is playing out a suicidal gambit. Both sides want to break the stalemate.
Speaking strictly for me. I always liked Johnny Rico and like to see that he’s a general and is advancing. In my version of Johnny, he realized at the last moment that it was Diz, not Carmen. But Diz is dead and there’s a certain grim sadness that will always hover around him. Carmen represents the life and youth he lost. And yeah, she still looks great. As far as Carl Jenkins, I liked the guy in the film, but he kind of gave me the creeps, so I decided to take him that direction. He should feel like a villain in the film, but as we discover, things are a little more complicated than that.
One of the challenges with the ST franchise is villains. The bugs don’t really talk (well, when they do it is in an extremely gruesome manner) and it is hard to relate to them as confrontational villains. So you need villains. Carl isn’t one in the classic sense, but sometimes when the agenda and actions of guys on your own side get twisted and extreme, they can end up doing things that sure as hell look villainous. I don’t want to say much more here. We can discuss it after the film comes out.
As for Carmen, she has to be broken down in this film to be built up. Her source of identity is taken away, and she has to become a Starship Trooper to get it back. Enough said.
Which movie or book do you feel has had the most influence on your STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION'S screenplay?
This movie is, in some ways more intimate than the first movie – at least as intimate as a film that spans galaxies, goes through wormholes, has epic battles between bugs and humans and might determine the future of human life, can be. Its about a team of Troopers bound together by fate in a desperate situation in some godforsaken part of the universe who have to pull together to battle the bugs in an extremely familiar and yet utterly alien environment. I shouldn’t say more than that.
If the first SST was a WWII movie, this is a post WOT movie. We face the enemy of unknown capability and deployment on our turf, but their terms.
How would you define the differences between the tone of the your screenplay (STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION) and Ed Neumeier's screenplays (STARSHIP TROOPERS 1-3)?
Ed’s SST3 was very influential in this script in ways that I don’t want to give away here. He answered a lot of vital franchise questions in SST3 (which you should see in prep for this) in ways that I parasited off of. In some ways, I kind of functioned like a brain bug when I was doing this. Or one of the telepath bugs.
The tone of this is much more modern combat film. Our team of new characters are a mixed bunch of trooper who range from a religious whacko, to a vengeful sniper, to a couple deadbeats who’d probably be in prison if there wasn’t a war to go to, to a mom who’s fighting for her husband’s memory and her kid’s future. They aren’t the fresh-faced kids from SST 1, they are people who know exactly what they’ve gotten themselves in to, and face it nobly.
Do you already have ideas for a possible follow-up (sequel) to STARSHIP TROOPERS: INAVSION? What kind of storyline, aspects of SST universe would you like to explore?
Well, sooner or later, we’ve got to get to Skinnies. That seems like the big thing left to get done from Heinlein’s seminal work. I also want to see Marauder Suit tactics on planetary surface, but some very nasty planet that is not hospitable at all. This is just me, but I’d like to see a moment where the humans and the bugs find themselves on the same side against something that horrifies both of them. I’d like to add to the universe.
Any closing thoughts?
It’ll be fun to talk again after the movie is out. I feel like I had to be very oblique here to avoid spoilers.
Thank you very much.