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HDD Interviews 'Safe House' Writer David Guggenheim
Tags: Luke Hickman, Tony Scott, Fun Stuff (all tags)
by Luke Hickman
I love a good action movie. I'm not talking those cheesy, dumb, overly serious things that used to pass as action movies in the '80s – I'm talking about good, solid action movies. Sadly, they've been on the decline. It's not all that often that we're handed one with strong quality.
February gave us one of the best action flicks in a long time - 'Safe House.' The story was strong (despite an expected twist). The action was great. The movie had both style and substance. And it was a success. Although it was just six percent away from a "fresh" Rotten Tomatoes rating, it killed it at the box office. 'Safe House' opened in the number two spot upward of $40 million (which is great for February), only to take the number one spot for its second and third weekends. 'Safe House' remained in the Top 10 for seven consecutive weeks and grossed over $202 million worldwide.
'Safe House' marks the first feature film for exploding writer David Guggenheim. Universal greenlit and fast-tracked this project (which you'll read more about in the interview that follows), which quickly made Hollywood take notice. For a new guy, Guggenheim has some pretty huge prospects on the horizon. If he keeps moving onward and upward – which I truly believe he will – then things will only get more exciting.
Guggenheim recently took a few minutes out of this packed schedule to talk 'Safe House,' to explain what it feels like to finally land on the Hollywood map, and to give us a sneak preview of what to expect in the near future. I hope that as you read this interview, you'll feel the excitement, energy, gratitude and humility that exude from his words. Enjoy.
HDD – Luke Hickman: Hi, David.
David Guggenheim: Hello.
HDD: How are you holding up after doing rapid fire interviews today?
David Guggenheim: It's crazy, you know - but it's fun. I like doing them on the street, so I'm walking now, getting some air. It's all good.
HDD: I think I'm your last interview for the day, so let's knock this out. Will you tell me a little bit about your writing education and history, how you got into it?
David Guggenheim: Well, I'm a New Yorker. I grew up on Long Island. I went to school for writing at NYU. I've been writing since I was a kid. I was around seven years old when I wrote my first couple scripts. My first real stuff went out when I was in college. And it didn't sell. It came as humanly close as possible to selling, but it was the wrong place – the right place at the wrong time. Ever since then, it's been me sending out scripts – like six or seven scripts that went out to studios – that came really close to selling, but none of them ever did. And finally, 'Safe House' is the first one that sold.
HDD: I've got to tell you – I dug it.
David Guggenheim: Well, thanks!
HDD: We haven't had an action movie of that caliber in a long time.
David Guggenheim: And that's what I was going for – a sort of cool, visceral, original action movie. They just don't make them anymore. It's old school.
HDD: And it looks great on Blu-ray too.
David Guggenheim: Right?! It looks incredible on Blu-ray.
HDD: Where did you get the idea and your inspiration for 'Safe House?'
David Guggenheim: I'm a huge spy film fan. That's my favorite genre, which is why 'Safe House' is sprinkled with James Bond references throughout the whole movie. I have always been looking towards writing something in that vein. Up until now, I hadn't done it. I'd never written an actual spy movie. I thought about the idea of 'Safe House,' which I'd heard referenced before – it's common knowledge that these things actually exist – and I thought, 'That's such a provocative title. What if this place that's supposed to be your safe haven becomes the most dangerous place? That's something. I've got something going here.' And then I started thinking, 'Who works there? Well, it's this kid who has never been out in the field before.' I can identify with those sorts of characters. … I like the guy who doesn't know how to fight. So then I have to put him in a situation: 'What if we then pair him with the complete opposite? We put him with the most sociopathic expert spy. We have them going on the run, sort of learning from each other as they go on this journey – making it more of a "road movie" than anything else. Throw in action, gun fights, explosions, really cool hand-to-hand combat sequences.
HDD: What was it like having 'Safe House' greenlit? You say this was your first script purchased, so how satisfying did it feel to know that it was going to be made?
David Guggenheim: The movie literally came out [in theaters] two years after it sold. It was insane. We sold it, and literally a year later we were in production, and a year later – I got spoiled. That's the downside. I got so spoiled from it because … that's not exactly how that works. Usually. I was going, "I just sold it. How are they getting it made already? They're really making it! They're not just talking about getting these actors, they want to make this movie." That was really cool. Again, it wasn't based on a pre-existing title or anything like that – I thought it was going to be a very small-budget movie, by they ballooned it.
HDD: Did they invite you to be present for the shoot?
David Guggenheim: Yeah. They did. I was shooting a pilot that I wrote at the time, so I couldn't be there the whole time. The minute we wrapped [the pilot], I jumped on a plane. … It worked great. They involved me through the film, after the filming and during post [production]. It was really great. They were really cool.
HDD: How does the final product compare to the way you wrote it? Does it look the way that you visualized it?
David Guggenheim: It really does. I pictured it just short of a '70s movie. That's how I try to write. I go for those high-concept '90s movies, then think … 'How would this have looked in the '70s era?' I think [the director] took it around in a cooler way, but it's definitely fast and visceral. When people are shot, they get shot. When someone gets punched, they have to react to that punch. … It makes it more exciting that way.
HDD: Where are those old scripts that you were pitching around Hollywood? Are you still working on them?
David Guggenheim: I don't usually like going back. Usually there's a reason why something didn't sell, sometimes it's a timing issue. Sometimes I think that I have just gotten better. I've thought about dusting off some, but why not just move forward and do some new stuff. But, oddly enough, there was one that I wrote seven or eight years ago called 'Medallion' that got picked up independently and made because of 'Safe House.' It's now called 'Stolen.' So that's an example of an old script of mine that someone dug up and said, "Hey, let's make this into a movie."
HDD: When was that filmed?
David Guggenheim: They were literally shooting at the same time that we were shooting 'Safe House' and the pilot. All three were shooting at the same time, but I'm not sure what their plans are for it. I think that they're still doing work for – I know that Simon West was directing and I know that he's also doing 'The Expendables 2,' so he's pretty busy right now. … I really have no idea [what they're doing with it], but I imagine that [it's on the back burner for now].
HDD: Did they not keep you as involved with 'Stolen' as you were with 'Safe House?'
David Guggenheim: They asked me to be, but I was honestly so busy that I couldn't. Unfortunately, I couldn't be as involved as I would want to, but they were cool, asking me if I wanted to go down there [for the shoot] and check it out. Everyone involved in that movie was awesome too. I've got no complaints.
HDD: I notice that you have at least four scripts that are in some form of production right now.
David Guggenheim: They're all in various stages of development. One is really close to shooting. One we are hoping will be really close to shooting in the next couple of months. One is about to land a director – but I can't say who that director is until he signs his name. And the other one were are just developing. So they are all in various stages of development.
HDD: Can you talk at all about those scripts? Give us a little hint of what to expect?
David Guggenheim: Yeah! 'Puzzle Palace' is the first one, the one that's most concrete. That's the one that McG is directing. Most recently he did 'This Means War.' He did the 'Charlie's Angels' movies, 'Terminator Salvation.' It's being produced by [the person] who did all the 'Twilight' movies. It's sort of 'Die Hard'-esque. It takes place in 'Puzzle Palace' in New York City - which is police headquarters. A young man breaks into the building to exonerate his father and gets trapped inside with all the crooked cops who set up his dad. It's more like 'No Way Out' than anything else. It's very cool, very tense.
HDD: Sounds awesome.
David Guggenheim: Then there's 'Narco Sub,' which Tony Scott is attached to direct. Narcosubs are these real things, the new way that drug dealers are smuggling cocaine into America. They're actually building their own submarines.
HDD: Wow. I didn't even know that.
David Guggenheim: Yeah, it's cool. It's like no one even knows about it. Occasionally it will pop up in the news, but it's unbelievably "real world." [The movie] is about a down-and-out ex-Navy guy who is sort of forced into commanding one of these subs.
HDD: And you've got Tony Scott directing?
David Guggenheim: Yeah, Tony Scott.
HDD: That's awesome!
David Guggenheim: It's cool! It's the ultimate – it's like, we got Tony Scott back in the sub.
HDD: That's so cool!
David Guggenheim: It's very, very awesome.
HDD: And I see that you're doing something with Ron Howard?
David Guggenheim: That's right – '364.' That's the one that we're developing, literally, right now. It's kind of a (inaudible) superhero movie. The idea is that, what if you were superhero – but for only 24 hours, just one day, each year. What would you do with your gifts? This one is definitely still in the developmental stage, but hopefully we're going to end up cracking it soon.
HDD: I can't wait. I've got to tell you, I really like 'Safe House,' I dig the Blu-ray and I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next.
David Guggenheim: That's awesome, man. That you so much. I appreciate it.
HDD: You're welcome. And thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
David Guggenheim: Absolutely.