'Superman Lives' Screenwriter Dan Gilroy Explains What Tim Burton Would Have Done

'Superman Lives' Screenwriter Dan Gilroy Explains What Tim Burton Would Have Done

Oct 23, 2014

[Dan Gilroy directing on the set of Nightcrawler]

In the late '90s, Warner Bros. was very keen to make a new Superman movie. An up-and-coming screenwriter named Dan Gilroy, whose big calling card at the time was the 1992 sci-fi movie Freejack, was hired to write a script that would be directed by Tim Burton and would star Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. It was a dream job for Gilroy and he spent a year pouring everything he had into the movie, right on up to the moment that Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the whole thing.

A decade-and-a-half later, Gilroy has made his directorial debut with the truly fantastic thriller Nightcrawler, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an ambitious but disturbed man named Lou who takes on a rather grizzly line of work that involves filming crime scenes for news stations.

Nightcrawler hits theaters on October 31, which afforded us the opportunity to chat with the writer-director and naturally the subject of Superman Lives came up. Gilroy was quite open about how badly it hurt to have the rug pulled out from him so early in his career, what it was like recovering from it, and what the movie would have been about had it not been killed before filming.


Movies.com: What's the strangest, Lou-esque job you've ever had?

Dan Gilroy: I think Lou is a desperate guy just starting out, and when I was desperate and starting out random people would approach you to write a screenplay based on random ideas with no real thought behind them. Somebody was interested in having something done that they had money for, and they would hire you for like no money and you'd have strange meetings you had to go to, even though it was obvious the project was never actually going to get off the ground.

But I was desperate for a job, so I was taking whatever they were offering. You're playing at making a film that you know is never going to get made. So that was kind of like Lou. It's a lot of scrounging around and rubbing two sticks together to hope you make fire.

Movies.com: Is there a favorite script of yours that never came to be?

Gilroy: I had some pretty high-profile ones. You know, I spent a year working with Tim Burton on his Superman Lives movie and the day they pulled the plug on that was very, very disappointing. It was disappointing for all of us: for me, for Tim, for Nic Cage, for John Peters. We were very far along and Warner Bros. had gone through a cycle where nothing they were making was connecting and they were hemorrhaging money and they just didn't feel that they could sustain making that film. So that was a major disappointment. I think Tim would have made a really marvelous film out of what we had come up with. That was hard.

Movies.com: How do you recover from that?

Gilroy: It's a wound. It's like getting punched in the face. You spend a year pouring all your artistic and creative energy into it and suddenly it evaporates and goes away in the space of a phone call. And you have to regroup. It's a disappointment, though obviously there are greater disappointments in life than that, but you have to take the time to say that hurts and figure out what that means and as honestly as possible move on and continue what you're doing. I think Tim and all of us went through that process. It was very painful.

Movies.com: Is there anything from your script that you wanted for Superman that you're still bummed hasn't seen the light of day?

Gilroy: Tim had the idea, which was really the driving force of the movie, that Jor-el didn't have the chance to tell Kal-el when he put him in the little spaceship meteorite where he came from or who he was. So poor little Kal-el grew up on Earth having no idea where these powers came from or who he was, and I always thought that was a really inverted, deconstructionist element to bring to the story. I loved it and working with Tim we tried to explore it as much as possible. I'd love to see it happen some day. I'm a big Tim Burton fan.

Movies.com: How many scripts do you work on in a given year? Are you a gun for hire that does a bunch of uncredited rewrites on things or do you just tend to focus on one or two things of your own?

Gilroy: I definitely do uncredited rewrites, and I'll do minor rewrites or major rewrites. Maybe four scripts a year. Sometimes three.

Movies.com: Do you plan to dial back on that to focus on directing now?

Gilroy: Yeah, I'm going to pull back on it a bit so I can focus on writing scripts I'm going to direct, and if that pans out then the time I would normally invest in writing will be consumed by the eight month process of directing a film. I might be writing less, but hopefully I'll get more satisfaction in the sense I'll get to see my things created in a way that most accurately that reflects what I was trying to do when I was writing it.

Movies.com: What is next for you?

Gilroy: I'm writing another script that I want to direct. It's at an early stage so I can't discuss the plot, but it's set in Los Angeles and has a strong character lead planted right in the middle of it. I'm excited by it and doing a lot of research on it, so I'm still in the early stages of writing. I hope that when I'm done in the next four or five months the reaction is strong enough that I can get an actor attached so I can re-create what we did on Nightcrawler, which is to get financing at a budget number that doesn't put so much pressure on me that I feel I have to creatively compromise the material. That's what I'm aiming to do, but you never know what's going to happen.

Movies.com: Neill Blomkamp once said he'd much rather make movies in the $15-30 million range because as big as that seems, you're still under the studio's radar.

Gilroy: It's so true. Once you bring studios in, they want to have a voice, and understandably so because they're spending a lot of money. And as much as I am collaborative, at a certain point voices can become a negative. Once things are done by committee, they don't have the narrative force that a single voice can have. So I agree with him. I'd like to keep this new movie in the $20 million range. And I think we can, because we made Nightcrawler for $8.5 million.

Movies.com: We need more movies like that.

Gilroy: I know, right? It allows you to do something hopefully unique. That's the aim, at least.

Look for the second half of our interview with Dan Gilroy next week.





Categories: Interviews, Sci-Fi
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