Last week, the trailer for an intriguing action-thriller called Eagle Eye showed up on the internet. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it by clicking on the film title.) It shows Transformers‘ Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) on the run from the FBI as a disembodied voice on a cell phone tries to help them, while inevitably getting them into more trouble. Some might already know that this will be Shia’s third movie in a row with DreamWorks and executive producer Steven Spielberg, reuniting him with his Disturbia director D.J. Caruso. What might not be known is that this is the first feature film from the new production company set up by Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci at DreamWorks. The duo collaborated for years with J.J. Abrams on the ABC drama “Alias,” as well as co-writing Mission: Impossible III, last year’s Transformers and Abrams’ reinvention of Star Trek next year, and they’ve quickly become two of the go-to guys in Hollywood when it comes to action and sci-fi movies.
Here at ComingSoon.net, we love talking to these guys ’cause they’re such big fans of SF and comics and all kinds of cool things, but having worked together for years, they really talk as one so it’s not always easy to figure out who is saying what. (Hopefully they’ll forgive us if some of what one said is attributed to the other one.) Either way, we had a lot of ground to cover and these guys have a lot of projects in the works–including a “Transformers” sequel currently in production–so away we go…
ComingSoon.net: We spoke last year around this time for “Transformers.” Was “Eagle Eye” already in the works at that time? Alex Kurtzman: Actually, it was very much in the works. We were gearing up to… we were in the middle of prep, so we were prepping the movie at this point last year.
CS: Were D.J. and Shia already on board at that point? Kurtzman: Yeah, yeah, D.J. and Shia both came on simultaneously and we started from there. Orci: Were they already on board, Alex? I’m not sure if we got them in yet. Kurtzman: Bob and I developed the script for a long time and then when Steven (Spielberg) was finally happy with it, he went to D.J. and I think everyone felt that coming off of “Disturbia” and how great that was, it would be a great pairing to bring them back together. Also, D.J. and Shia are very close so it just seemed like a great fit.
CS: I should mention that I’m a big D.J. Caruso fan, have been since “The Shield” and his early movies. I think “Taking Lives” was one of my first junkets, too. Kurtzman: Oh, good! Orci: Yeah, he’s the best. We had just the most amazing time working with him. We are just in love with other for sure.
CS: This isn’t a script you guys wrote originally though, right? It’s just something you developed? Orci: This is the first thing we were lucky enough to get to produce under our K/O banner at DreamWorks, so it’s our first sort of movie as producers. Steven just kind of tapped us with, “Okay, producers, produce this thing. Hire writers, develop a script, use the kernel of the idea that I like and if you’re lucky, we’ll shoot it when it’s perfect. (chuckles)
CS: So this was an idea that he just threw out there to make a movie from, something that he had sitting around? Kurtzman: Exactly. Steven actually developed the idea like ten years ago. It was something that had been brewing in his mind. The world had not quite caught up to what he had in his head at that point, and I think time took its course, and ultimately, the movie felt very timely now and it felt like the right time to make it. When Steven brought it to us and said “Here’s this idea and what do you guys think?” it was a matter of figuring out how to take that and run with it.
CS: From what I’ve seen in the trailer, it seems very high concept, almost like “The Fugitive” meets “The Game.” I’m assuming there’s a lot more to it and obviously, I don’t want to spoil too much for myself or others, but what was the premise he gave you when he told you about it? Orci: Very much what you see. “What if the world turned against you in every way that the world can.” Kurtzman: Our lives are so dependent on technology just for every aspect… Orci: And the people around us… Kurtzman: Yeah, I mean literally from how we monitor our families to our work to everything, and what would happen if someone were able to take all of that technology that’s essentially there to make our lives easier and turned it against us, and actually made us people we didn’t want to be.
CS: Is this very much set in present day reality or is there some of a sci-fi aspect to what we’re seeing? Kurtzman: No, it’s absolutely present day.
CS: Did you spend a lot of time looking at varying technologies that might not necessarily be known by the public at large? Orci: Exactly, and this is our third time where we’ve had excellent military support just in terms of how law enforcement works and the advances they’ve made, and that was a big help. Kurtzman: We really do enjoy being as meticulous as possible about researching. Whatever the movie is, we need to saturate ourselves in the history of the topic and what’s relevant and that was really fun because as everybody knows, technology is evolving at such a crazy rate at this point that there’s something new out there every day. What wasn’t possible ten years ago when Steven first conceived this idea has become everyday life, and that was very exciting for us.
CS: This is your second movie writing for Shia, so were you able to tailor the dialogue more to what he could do as a character or did you want him to do something different than he has in other movies? Kurtzman: Yeah, certainly we had a great experience with him on “Transformers” and his voice is very very specific. It actually helped us quite a bit in conceiving his character in “Eagle Eye” and that in turn helped us in the conceiving of his character in “Transformers 2” so we’re now on Movie #3 with Shia, so I think more than any other actor out there, we have his voice in our heads.
CS: Actors like Tom Hanks or Will Smith have a very distinctive thing they do really well, so did you try to switch it up again so people don’t just think “Okay, it’s the same guy from ‘Transformers’ and ‘Disturbia’ again”? Orci: Definitely both. You know their voice and then you know exactly how to stretch each other. You know how to stretch the character’s voice and in doing so, stretch your writing and your development. Kurtzman: The other thing that’s exciting about it, too, is that this is really Shia’s first adult role. “Transformers” and “Disturbia” were both playing seventeen to let’s say nineteen years old, and this is first truly adult role. With that comes a whole new set of requirements, and I think people are going to be really happily, I wouldn’t say surprised, but it’s funny, especially with D.J. He created a breakthrough role for Shia when he did “Disturbia” but I think this is the next evolution of that. It just shows how much range Shia has.
CS: You worked with Michelle Monaghan back on “M:I:III” so was she very much someone at the forefront of your mind to star in this opposite Shia? Orci: Absolutely. She’s fantastic. She’s the sweetest person in addition to just being so good, and this is hopefully going to be a big role for her as well.
CS: I’m also a big fan of hers, so actually, I’m the guy who was already sold on this movie before seeing anything. Kurtzman: Oh, good. (laughs) Orci: Great!
CS: There definitely seems to be a lot of action and bigger set pieces in this than there were in “Disturbia.” Kurtzman: (both laughing) Yup.
CS: Originally, it was going to come out during the summer but then it got moved back to September. Was that a strategy to try to get it away from all the big summer movies? Kurtzman: Actually, a lot of it has to do with post. We just didn’t want to rush through post, given that we’re actually still working on the movie now and we have the glorious ability to take our time and luxuriate in every choice that we make about the movie. That’s really important because had we kept to the old schedule, I think we would have rushed through it and wouldn’t had the kind of time we wanted to really edit the movie in a way that made sense, and ultimately, show it to people and get input. It would have been such a rush job, so we were actually really pushing to try and do it, because we wanted to buy ourselves the time to make the best movie we could make. Orci: So frankly, it’s selfish. We just want to play with the movie longer.
CS: Hey, that’s not a bad thing. The movie “Wanted,” which just opened, definitely was helped by the fact they had more time to work on it and perfect it. Kurtzman: Yeah, I mean the thing is that it’s so much time and energy for everybody in this movie and the last thing you want to do is short-change it at the 11th hour. You really want to give it it’s due, so that’s ultimately why we were big supporters of moving the date.
CS: You guys have worked with J.J. and Michael Bay, both big action guys, but D.J. hasn’t done that much stuff like this even though he’s had a couple car crashes and chases in previous movies. Was he very much into doing a lot of that action on-set rather than using CG? Kurtzman: You know, D.J. is such a naturally-talented director. I think the thing that we loved so much about him, just starting out with, was that every movie he had done just feels like it’s so grounded in reality and we know how important it was going to be for the tone of this movie to get that to happen. We spent a lot of time in prep, conceiving the action sequences and really building them. Orci: D.J. was amazing. It was a new challenge for him and he really rose to it. Also just the writers that we worked with. They didn’t just write, “Put big action sequence here”, there’s a lot of thought going on just on the page.
CS: Did you guys do a lot on location or a lot of this stuff on soundstages? Kurtzman: We did both. We did a lot of stuff on location in Chicago and we did a lot of stuff on stages and we did a lot of stuff here in the city. It was a long and very intense shoot, but it was really fun. Part of what you do in prep is you figure out how you’re going to match everything and give it all a sense of continuity, because obviously, production issues come up and you can’t shoot everything in one location, so that’s just a part of what you do in prep.
CS: How do you guys even have time to write anymore since there’s a lot of stuff you’re producing that’s in various stages of finishing up? Do you still have time to sit down and write? Orci: We do half days where we write and the rest of the day we do everything else, and then we do a lot more prep homework at night, so that when Alex and I get together to write, we’re coming in with ideas, instead of just showing up and going “What should we talk about today?” Kurtzman: (laughs) Yeah, and actually, the minute the strike ended, we jumped into “Transformers 2” which just started shooting a couple weeks ago so that’s what we just finished.
CS: Have you two been able to be as involved in the sequel? Because of the strike, there was a question whether they could get it going fast enough for a summer ’09 release. Orci: We gave them a treatment before the strike which they prepared off of, then when we came back, we started writing immediately, and back to your question about how we were able to do it. On “Transformers,” we demanded to be teamed up with the amazing Ehren Kruger, who co-wrote the movie with us, so it was really the three of us just spent four months in a hotel room and we got the script in shape.
CS: When I talked to you for “The Island” a couple years ago, you had a lot of ideas that you wanted to put in the first movie. Were you able to bring some of that stuff over to the second movie? There’s probably a ton of things you can do in a sequel so did you have some idea of that when going in? Orci: There were many things that we knew for sure, many things from the first script that we were able to use, and then Ehren brought a bunch of great ideas as a pair of fresh eyes, so the combination of those two things were just fantastic.
CS: I have to say I’m not the biggest Transformers out there in that I know them from the old comics but not so much from the cartoons. Are you going to bring in some of the mythology that only the real fans will know? Orci: I think that now that the Transformers have been introduced, we felt that we could take more time to really find out about them.
CS: The last time we spoke, you guys were working on adapting a book called “2012” for Michael Bay… Orci: Roland Emmerich beat us to it. During the strike, he wrote a movie called “2012” and he just got it going, and we couldn’t write during the strike because it was a book. It wasn’t a spec that he did, and so he beat us to it.
CS: So you can’t finish that up and have to wait to see what happens with his movie? Kurtzman: I think we just felt that given the fact that movie had so much momentum and was a Roland Emmerich movie already, why go up against that when we had just sort of acquired the rights to Whitley’s book? Orci: And they’re about the exact same thing, you know? Kurtzman: I think the next big project is “Cowboys & Aliens.” We’re really excited about that. Robert Downey Jr. just signed on to do it, either before or after “Iron Man.” Orci: I don’t know if that’s closed though. Yeah, it was leaked, but it’s not official.
CS: I think it was said he’s in negotiations, but he’s obviously someone who’s very much in demand. That’s with Platinum Studios run by Scott Rosenberg, and I know you’re doing another movie with him, too. Kurtzman: Yeah, we actually have another one of their comics called “Atlantis Rising” which we just got and we’re starting to put together now. Absolutely, they have great ideas coming out of there and our relationship with them on “Cowboys” has been really good, so hopefully, there’ll be more stuff together. Orci: Really, what we have to do is make our own comics. What a great idea, we’re missing out. Kurtzman: I agree… let’s do that!
CS: There’s been a lot of things you’ve done before which could easily have translated into comics. Didn’t they do a comic for “Alias” at one time? Kurtzman: They did, and I agree with you. I think comics are going in that direction now where it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in a cape. There’s so many ways you can tell stories and the palette has opened up so much that I do think there’s room for comics that are almost like what you would do with a character movie, you can now do a comic.
CS: You two have worked with J.J. for so long and I know you have another TV show coming up with him (“Fringe”)… any thought about doing something multimedia between comics and television like they’ve been doing with “Heroes”? Orci: We’re absolutely working on a comic that’s concurrent with the show. We’re developing it, both our companies, K/O and Bad Robot, are developing it together. (Note: It had been announced that a prequel comic will be released by D.C. Comics in late August.)
CS: Have you already shot a lot of “Fringe”? Orci: We have a two-hour pilot and we’re now writing the episodes.
CS: The “Star Trek” movie you guys have been working on has been fairly low-key and kept very quiet. Are you guys going to try to bust something out at Comic-Con for that? Kurtzman: We are trying to get our act together here in the last moments. We’re so focused on editing the movie that we’ve forgotten about promoting it. We’re not sure what we’re going to release it with. We’re trying to figure it out. We’re going to be there for “Fringe” and “Eagle Eye” and for other things. We’re all going to be there, so I’m sure we’ll figure out something before we get there.
CS: Are you guys generally putting together writers to write these projects, much like with the TV show, since you can’t really write everything? Kurtzman: Television has really taught us well Orci: How to produce, you know? Kurtzman: Yeah, when you’re doing 22 episodes of television a year, obviously you can’t write every single one of them and you have staff. We learned I think very quickly to rely on talented writers who are just great, and you start to build your samurai in a way. You build a rhythm of writers that you really love and trust, and that’s actually been a great and fun experience because Bob and I do like to work on a lot of things at once. You only have so many hands, so the idea that you kind of get to work with the people that you trust is really really fun for us. That’s actually why we enjoy producing so much.
CS: Do you have an office set-up at DreamWorks where you can have various people working on different things at once or do you have to keep things separate and micro-manage, just bouncing around between things? Orci: It’s both. We have a bungalow on the Universal lot and we have our staff of executives and office personnel and we are sort of like a satellite of DreamWorks. It’s a first look deal, so they can jump in with something we’re doing and if they don’t want to jump in with us, we can take it elsewhere.
CS: You guys have been bouncing between action-thrillers and fantasy-type stuff do you have any interest in doing comedies or getting into other genres? Kurtzman: Yes, we actually just finished shooting a movie called “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. That’s over at Disney and that’s a pure romantic comedy, and that was actually written by one of the people who works with us, Pete Chiarelli. He’s actually one of our executives who kind of his first week on the job said, “Hey, listen, I know you just hired me as an executive, but I’ve kind of wrote this script.” We said, “Oh, boy, what’s this about?” We read it and it was great, and then it sold to Disney, and it just happened very quickly. That’s really exciting for us. I think the good news is that I think Bob and I were kind of raised loving all movies, and I think we have aspirations to figure out how to do all the kinds of movies that we love. While certainly people look to us for action and sci-fi, I think our tastes are broad, but I want to make sure we go into those things correctly. When the perfect project comes along or we have an idea that gets us excited, that’s when we tend to jump.
CS: Must be a lot easier to get meetings with the studios these days based on the success you had with “Transformers.” Orci: It’s true. It’s a nice luxury, and you have to use it while it’s lasting. (chuckles) Use it while you’re hot.
CS: Have you guys thought about getting into distribution yourself? Obviously, between you and J.J., you have enough clout to set up your own studio and not go through the system. Orci: It’s things we talk about when we’re all sitting around with a bottle of wine, you know? Kurtzman: Yeah, I mean that kind of thing is really interesting to us and at the same time, there is I think a privilege that we recognize in working with Steven that is extraordinary, especially since he was in so many ways, a childhood hero to us. Orci: DreamWorks has been great to us. Kurtzman: Yeah, they’ve been so great that it’s also, while obviously a lot of the trend these days is starting to move towards independent distribution, it would be an interesting thing for us to not be working with these people, which is a hard thing to imagine. I like the idea very much of keeping things as they are, but you never know. Anything’s possible.