Exclusive: The Writers of Clash of the Titans

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Later this week, Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans will be released by Warner Bros. and most of the focus will be put on all the CG creatures and how great they look in 3D or on its stars Sam Worthington and Gemma Arterton. Here at ComingSoon.net, we’re more than aware that the foundation for any good movie, big or small, is in the script, and when Letterier got the gig to create his own version of the 1981 adventure movie, he was teamed with Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi to develop and refine the script.

They may have seemed like a rather unconventional choice to reinvent Clash of the Titans based on their past movies, which included the Jackie Chan dud The Tuxedo and the live action version of ├ćon Flux starring Charlize Theron, but Hay and Manfredi have clearly become in demand with the number of spec and for-hire scripts they’d been doing, which got them on board adapting two movies based on comic books, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s irreverent superhero series The Boys and the Dark Horse supernatural comedy comic R.I.P.D..

ComingSoon.net got on the phone with the duo a couple weeks back to talk mainly about “Clash.” While we have a lot of experience talking to writing teams, we had a little more difficult than usual differentiating their voices, so if Phil is attributed for something funny Matt said or vice versa, we hope they’ll accept our apologies in advance.

ComingSoon.net: I was on set last year and I’ve been watching all the trailers with everyone else. How did you guys first get involved with this? Did you originally pitch the idea or were you brought in by producer Kevin De La Noy?
Phil Hay: We came in actually with Louis when Louis was brought in. They’d been kicking around the idea of trying to do this for a while and we were part of the team – when Louis came in, they brought us in to get with Louis and figure out how to move ahead with it. There was a script by Travis Beacham, who we share a credit with on the movie. That was our starting point basically, so we were brought in to hole up with Louis at the studio for six months and really get in his head and figure out how he wants to do it.

CS: How long was that before you started shooting, six months or so?
Manfredi: This was about… was it…?
Hay: Yeah, I guess so.. it was probably more like eight or nine months before.
Manfredi: He came in on…
Hay: July of ’08
Manfredi: And they started shooting in April of ’09.

CS: Had you guys worked with Louis before then on something else?
Manfredi: This was the first time we met, when we first talked to him before we came on “Clash.”
Hay: We actually ended up becoming really close for him. He’s an amazing guy, and we spent so much time working with him, we became almost like family.

CS: When you came on board, what was the main thing that had to be changed? Was the original script still very close to the original movie or had they already branched away from that?
Manfredi: They had branched away in terms of kind of expanding the universe into…
Hay: More pantheist, like pan-European, pan-Asian mythologies.
Manfredi: Yeah, there were all kinds of mythologies brought into this one arena, and when we came in, we decided to take it back to the Greek Gods that everyone knew because they’re just fun to play with and the Gods you know and love and to see them in action was going to be part of the fun we were trying to bring to it. Because it’s “Clash of the Titans.”
Hay: It’s not a historical epic.
Manfredi: Right, you want it to be a fun adventure movie and we thought that would be best with a greater nod to the original.
Hay: And I think our basic thing that we came in with, that Louis and we really agreed on, is that tone of the movie that it should be this fun adventure movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously but within itself, takes everything seriously.
Manfredi: I think Louis was such a great choice to work with, because his visual style is so much fun, it’s so imaginative, and that’s the kind of sense of things we wanted to bring to “Clash.”

CS: It’s interesting you mention his visual style because it seems like the three movies he’s done were very different due to the settings and things like that and this one especially, because it has these iconic visuals of Ray Harryhausen on the creatures. Was he working on those visuals while you were fleshing out the script?
Hay: Yeah, we knew the date that we were aiming for the whole time, so a lot of stuff was happening at the same time, and one interesting part about this process for us was that we were always intimately involved in seeing all that visual stuff and talking through it with Louis and talking fight choreography with him, so at all times, we were incorporating everything into the script that was happening, and then things happened in the script that the designers would react to, and we’d all work together very much, everybody, the designers, the visual FX people, Louis, the stunt people. It was everybody pushing everything forward at the same time in a way.

CS: I was really impressed with everything I saw on set including the make-up FX and everything else, probably was one of the most impressive sets I’ve been on, and I got to watch Louis yelling at hundreds of extras as they ran away from something nobody could see.
Hay: Louis’ pretty good at that stuff. We were around when they were doing the big scene in the court/main hall and there were literally hundreds of extras and Louis’ got a tennis ball at the end of a stick and he’s running back and forth, “This is Hades! Look at Hades! He is up here, now be scared of him! Now be curious about him!” It was kind of amazing.

CS: One of the cool things about the movie is that the group that goes with Perseus on his quest are all their own characters with different backgrounds. Was that something you and Louis worked out and wanted to bring into the movie?
Manfredi: Yeah, that was a big focus of ours.
Hay: We just believe in that generally as a principle.
Manfredi: In terms of, you’ve got these guys who basically take the whole journey with Perseus. Why not flesh them out and try to give them each a little moment and make them real guys? Like a “Dirty Dozen”…
Hay: Almost the motto was like a World War II mission movie in some ways. You’ve got Perseus and you’ve got these soldiers that are with him and we really did try to make sure that they each had a very specific take on the kind of person they represented. It’s interesting, and it all goes together, because we did make the effort to do that, and we were able to get amazing actors to play those parts, because they saw that they were important to the story. Then we went during rehearsals and worked with all those guys. Louis and me and Matt sat with them all and really workshopped their characters and discovered some other great stuff that ends up in the movie, because they each have a really strong take on who they are. They’re not just running around fighting.
Manfredi: A lot of the movie is focused on Perseus figuring out who he’s going to be in this world, and his dilemma is everyone’s dilemma in this movie. In this world of men and Gods, what is man’s place? So I think we’ve got these guys who all have different opinions about that so I think that’s what allows for some depth.
Hay: And he truly comes to respect those guys which is a very important thing, and actually, something Sam really strongly brought to that part of the story was that I think it was important to him, when we talked to him about it, that he becomes a leader of these guys, and it’s because he respects them so much that happens.
Manfredi: Also another thing in a practical sense is that you’ve got these big set pieces with these iconic monsters, and this is what “Clash” is known for, and the goal obviously is to make a fun adventure movie, but I think if you have this action without characters that you care about, if you have a bunch of extras who may live or die, you don’t really care. But when you see your favorite of the troops in danger, it brings a little more depth and I guess a little more fun and pathos to it.

CS: You mentioned the tone of the movie before, and I got the impression that there would be a little more humor in the movie, yet the Gods are always very serious, so how hard was it finding that tone and balance, either on set or before hand?
Hay: It’s funny. It’s definitely a very specific thing, and there are never any jokes that take you out of the movie hopefully. It’s just that there’s a sense of, going back to those great adventure movies, where it’s not a constantly grim face the movie is putting to you, but it’s a very specific thing for the actors. Again, why we were so lucky to get people like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes and this guy Luke Evans who plays Apollo is amazing, who can just pull off the bigness of being a God and speaking like a God, and make it seem right.
Manfredi: Yeah, the stakes are real for the characters but there is a sense of fun and a sense of pulp to it.
Hay: Yeah, it’s not really this is the pulp of the thing.
Manfredi: But at the same time, you’re not breaking the fourth wall and winking at the audience, but the movie should be fun and should be a little pulpy, because that’s what “Clash of the Titans” is, that’s what made it so special I think.

CS: When I spoke with Gemma Arterton, she was a huge fan of the original movie and she knew it line for line before getting the part.
Hay: I know, that’s kind of amazing.

CS: It was amazing, and I wondered how much of the original dialogue you used, because she mentioned that once in a while, she’d be saying and realize it was from the original movie. how much of that did you want to keep? I mean, “Release the Kraken” obviously.
Manfredi: Yeah, that was actually our main focus and concern.
Hay: We were like, “Zeus has got to say, ‘Release the Kraken,’ no matter what else happens in this movie” and we definitely have throwbacks. We tossed around so many of them, there’s definitely callbacks to the original and what we hope people will see as loving reminders of the original that are references moments that people are going to remember that fans will get hopefully. But I love that Gemma knows the entire movie.
Manfredi: In terms of lines, I think because Perseus, his personal journey is much different than the original film in terms of motivation and other characters are either there or not there, there weren’t as many opportunities as that, but “Release the Kraken!”
Hay: …is there obviously. As you’ve seen in the trailer.

CS: But talking about the depth of the characters, her character especially was completely new, so how did you figure out how you were going to make these new characters work into the story?
Hay: It’s interesting, because I think our approach always was to take the stuff from the original that to me, as a fan of the original and someone who grew up with it, that were just totally required for me, like the Medusa and the Kraken and the Witches, Pegasus, Calibos, the things that really stood out, and make sure those things were woven into the story we wanted to tell, but then there were other opportunities to come up with new characters or in the case of Gemma’s character, the previous script by Travis Beacham had a version of that character and we took that and molded her a little bit. There were a lot of opportunities in with those guys, with those soldiers I think that was definitely one of our main concerns going in is “Let’s create this thing that was new that hadn’t been there before” as far as a group of guys that we are interested in.
Manfredi: Right, and in Gemma’s case, the idea of having a woman along on the journey is fresh and fun, and you’ve got Andromeda back in the city…
Hay: We thought it was really nice to be able to have as much female vibe in the movie as well.
Manfredi: You have a female presence that wasn’t trying to kill him. (laughs) A lot of the female presences do try to kill him.

CS: A lot of people are probably going to ask you about Bubo, the Owl, which was part of the first movie which people seem to love even though it’s the corniest part of the whole movie. I know they built something which I saw on set, so how involved was Bubo in the conversations when you were figuring this out?
Hay: Bubo was always thought of as beloved but…
Manfredi: I think you described it perfectly, “Beloved but seen as a sub-R2D2…” I believe there is a cameo.
Hay: There is a cameo and we’re not sure if it made it into the final cut yet. It’s that thing. When you’re a fan, like we were, of the original. You want an acknowledgment of all that stuff that you remember, so we tried to do a loving cameo moment that doesn’t break the tone of the movie.
Manfredi: Yeah, and to us, a cameo with Bubo is exactly the kind of loving nod we want to give to the original movie. It was an event where weny to someone’s birthday party, we all went to see “Clash,” it was a big deal, we loved it, it was that kind of experience, like it meant something to me. We want to acknowledge all the things we loved…
Hay: Yeah, everything that’s done to reference the original is done with respect and love basically.

CS: You can also save him for the sequel. Is there any sequel potential at all for a movie like this or do you have to do what you want in a first movie and figure that out later? You’ve mentioned some possible other pantheons.
Hay: If we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, we’d obviously all be thrilled to do it. Louis and Matt and I spoke every once in a while, we kind of came up with some ideas of possibilities, but you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but it’s the vastness of mythology that you’re able to access. There are so many amazing stories you could tell if you’re lucky enough to get to that place to do it.
Manfredi: There are some myths that are so specific, but there are a lot of other little tiny stories that are fragments and have many different versions that would be fun to mine for Perseus.
Hay: Kind of what the original “Clash” did which we replicate in this version is to take a sampling of myths… the original “Clash” was a combination of many different myths, stories and heroes. It wasn’t a straight-up take on any of the components that it drew from, so that’s true of the remake and if we do anymore, we can see reaching for all these different myths as well.
Manfredi: Yeah, it would be a big thrill.

CS: You guys have been writing and developing a lot of different movies before and after this. I know you guys were working with Todd Phillips on a couple things so have any of those moved forward since the success of “The Hangover”?
Manfredi: Yeah, two things that we are doing with him. One was this movie called “Man-Witch” that was the first thing we worked on for him that they are trying to put together right now with a director, and Todd will produce, and then we are writing right now, this script called “Staycation” that is basically a vacation movie about a family that is forced to vacation in their own hometown. That was something that Todd brought us. We had such a good time working with him and he’s so great that he basically brought us this idea and we were immediately like, “We gotta do that.” So yeah, we love working with Todd, he’s amazing.

CS: You guys have bounced around a lot, because you’ve done a few movies with no comedy at all, and those two would be straight comedies. Do you have any preference at this point between really serious movies or more comedic stuff?
Manfredi: It’s fun to be able to go back and forth between all these things. I think what “Clash” and the stuff we’re doing for Todd have in common is that they’re big movies with a good sense of fun to them. I think we’ve said this before, but if “Ghostbusters” were a genre///
Hay: That would be the genre we would like to do.
Manfredi: We gravitate to those big adventure stories whether they have a component of the supernatural or whether they’re straight comedies.
Hay: We kind of realized at some point. Our first movie was called “Crazy/Beautiful” and it was completely different from everything else that we’ve done before or since. I think for us what we realized about ourselves is that we genuinely love pretty much all kinds of movies, and so there’s a part of us that wants to try them all or feels that we have a version of many different genres that we’d like to do.
Manfredi: The thing that they all have in common, most of the stuff I think we end up working on end up being character pieces that don’t lean one way or another. This is very much about Perseus finding his way in the world, where we’re doing a big action-comedy over at Universal, and it’s a big buddy comedy and there’s a lot of action and supernatural elements but again, it’s playing around with two very specific characters who start somewhere and go somewhere else.
Hay: I think relationships between characters is what ultimately gets us started on anything that we do.

Clash of the Titans opens everywhere on Friday, April 2, but also has screening in select cities on Thursday night starting as early as 8pm. You can also read what they said about their adaptations of The Boys and R.I.P.D. over on SuperHeroHype.