CS: You’re kind of going through this again right now because you have another movie based on your books over at Blue Sky Films.
Joyce: Yes, it’s been the same problem and it’s finally getting to that place of simplicity. The first version that Jim Hart and I wrote, and we did, I don’t know, twenty drafts of “Epic.” It always was two-and-a-half hours long and it was like, “What are we going to do?” Then I was like, “Okay, I can’t do it anymore. Somebody else is going to have to come in and figure out the way to get this smaller.” So they brought on several screenwriters and they have whittled it down to this simple thing. We lost half the characters. It was amazing. We sat there going, “You know, we could kill off this guy. We don’t even need him.” You get too close to these things and sometimes you have to have somebody come in and tell you what’s not necessary. The first time I met with Jeffrey on “Guardians,” I had a pair of kids that were the entryway into the story, and kids were from one of my other books called “Santa Calls.” That was my first visit into Santa-ness. They were going to be who you followed through these stories, but it wasn’t working. Jeffrey, in the first meeting we had said, “The problem is, I think, is you kind of lose the kids. It really is the story of the Guardians. If you lose the kids, then you can tell the story of the Guardians.” I had those kids in there for eight years and in seven seconds, I knew they were toast, that they needed to go. Jeffrey had the clarity, he’s been doing this a while, so one of the hardest things is hearing those ideas and being able to kill those babies when they need to die.
CS: When I saw the movie, the first thing that struck me was how much I loved those two kids and the fact you had them in the story.
Joyce: But the backstory for the two kids I had was so much more involved. It was 1908 and their parents had been killed. Their parents were actually Guardians. There’s a whole secret other bunch of Guardians that the Guardians use, you know, grown-ups that help out in the struggle. It was almost as much about those two kids and their history as it was about the Guardians and it just got in the way. Honestly, the kids in the movie are something that began to weave into the movie after the bigger picture was figured out. We were like, “We really do need to have a sense of how kids are being affected by this.” So, we very delicately began to weave in the stories of those kids after we’d gotten a lot of the other stuff figured out.
CS: It’s amazing to hear you went back to that and got it to work. You mentioned how hard it is to separate yourself from your work, but at this point, do you see the movie versions of the characters as separate from the books? If DreamWorks wants to make more movies, do you feel like they should live on their own and they can do more movies without worrying about the books and do you feel you’d want to be involved?
Joyce: Well, I mean, I want to be involved, they want me involved; I mean, it worked. Yeah, this is fun. I like doing this. I mean, we have ideas of what else we’d like to do. There’s so much that early on, when I was trying to figure out how to tame the beast, there were huge things that we cut away. There’s a whole section of the Man in the Moon that we realized, even showing him in the movie, opened up a can of worms. It would take 10 minutes to explain, so we just keep him as this mystical thing. You get the sense of him, but you don’t have to understand anything other than they do what he says. But there’s tons more, especially if you read the books. You’ll see that it was the Man in the Moon that Pitch had first fought, and the Man in the Moon defeated Pitch and Pitch was then sort of marooned on earth and unable to leave and wreck havoc.
CS: That’s some of the backstory from the books?
Joyce: Right, and that was the other thing why I did not want to adapt any of the books into a movie. I wanted the books to set up their mythologies and who they are, and the movie would jump off from that. There’s two things that I’ve learned in all this. If you’re trying to adapt a movie there’s always the stuff that people say, “Oh, they cut out the best part,” and I didn’t want everybody to know how it ended.
CS: So you already know how you want to end the series, I guess?
Joyce: Yes, and it’s just murder to be lashed to a specific plot when you’re trying to adapt it into a film. Movies and books are two different things. So I was like, “Let me make up these guys in their world and let’s set the movie 200 years later, and we have all this stuff that we know about them from the books, but they do not compete with that story, they enrich that story.” And DreamWorks was like, “Awesome. We love that.” They were the only guys that actually were totally on board for doing it that way, yeah, so here we are.
CS: I know you’re a big comic book fan and I remember you had a comic book as part of the story in “Rabbit Hole.” Do you see doing this as your chance to do a superhero comic book movie or do you feel like that’s something you still want to tackle or do?
Lindsay-Abaire: Oh, I don’t, because there’s certainly comic book aspects to it, but it’s a group of superheroes gathering together.
CS: It’s funny because every presentation I’ve been to, they have tried to push it off as a superhero movie.
Lindsay-Abaire: “The Avengers” for kids? Yeah, of course. It’s accurate and not accurate at all. I mean, you’re talking about the difference between “Rabbit Hole” and doing this. This came from Bill Joyce, so it’s a very different thing. I’m trying to tell the best version of Bill Joyce’s story, so this is more of a question for Bill Joyce, this is Bill Joyce’s comic book, you know?
CS: Well, I just figured you liked comic books, so I wasn’t sure if you’ve been kind of wanting to do something in that vain.
Lindsay-Abaire: It certainly is close to anything that I’ve done, but it’s ultimately not a comic book kind of story, right? I still want to do one.
CS: You do? That’s what I’m curious about.
Lindsay-Abaire: Yeah, I still want to do one.
CS: I know you’ve worked with Sam Raimi a lot.
CS: I was curious about that relationship and how it’s been that you two have been doing so much work together? How is it that you two have collaborated on so many things?
Lindsay-Abaire: Well, I think we share a sensibility. I think he’s the greatest guy and incredibly respectful of writers. When you work in the industry, some people are more respectful of others. Sam respects writers more than anyone that I’ve worked with, so there’s that, and actually cares about a writer’s opinion well after our jobs are done, because other movies that I’ve worked on it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got it from here and we’re going to change everything that you’ve done, or change a lot of it.” But here’s the thing, he loves a good, epic story. He loves humor. There’s humor in practically everything that he’s done, but at the heart of all of his movies, there’s still a deep well of emotion that grounds all the humor. I feel like if I’m doing anything in my work, I try to do that. I feel like as different as we are, and we are different, we are trying to tell the same kind of story often. I think that’s why we connect on a personal level. I think that’s why we connect on a professional level. So I think that’s why we’re drawn to the same kinds of stories.
CS: Did you spend a lot of time on the set of “Oz”?
Lindsay-Abaire: Yeah, yeah.
CS: How was it to go through these two projects where you’re working with these iconic figureheads? Everyone knows the characters from “Oz.” Everyone knows Santa Claus.
Lindsay-Abaire: Yeah, there was of course a lot of pressure and you want to pay respect to these characters that you know and love, but it’s easy to get crushed under that pressure. At some point you have to just say, “Let’s just tell this version and try to be true to our story.” But of course it’s a lot of pressure, and they’re totally different. I mean, “Oz” is huge and big and live action.
CS: I haven’t even seen a trailer yet.
Lindsay-Abaire: Oh yeah? Well, I haven’t seen the final version, so I can’t even speak about it too much, but it was very exciting to be on set. It’s just so different than an animated movie, where there are people literally drawing. It seems like, as big as “Guardians” is, it feels like a small process, with people in offices drawing things. Then, you walk on the “Oz” set and there are literally six soundstages and they’re huge. They’re gigantic. Like, wow. Then, you go back to “Guardians” and people are talking into a microphone and doing their (voiceover), so they felt incredibly different.
CS: Are you going to go back and do a smaller play?
Lindsay-Abaire: Yes, I am writing a smaller play, but I’m also working on a much smaller movie. I’m adapting “The Family Fang” for Nicole Kidman. It’s a lot of the “Rabbit Hole” team = the producers, Leslie Urdang and Dean Vanech. It’s just a really funny, sweet book about this family of performance artists and how the parents sort of screw up the children. The children have to go back home when they’re adults. Anyway, it’s a really great, mysterious, funny, funny, small story.
CS: I’m sold.
Lindsay-Abaire: Good. Well, great.