After being called in to rewrite the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing from scratch, screenwriter Eric Heisserer had a huge task ahead of him. Find out what's getting fleshed out about Carpenter's snowy science lab, and what's left out.
While doing press for Nightmare on Elm Street, in theaters this Friday, Heisserer gave us a quick Thing update — and we're pretty impressed at how far out he's gone on a limb to justify every little Carpenter detail presented on screen...and how ready he is to throw down for more practical creature feature effects.
I've read two conflicting reports on the plot of the film, one might be just be from very early on in the planning stages of your rewrite, I'm a little confused and hopefully you can solve this for me. I read one plot synopsis that said the film was completely from the Norwegians' point of view, on their base, pre-burn down. Then I read another synopsis that said the audience sees the aftermath of the film's events, including the axe in the door, and they're figuring it out after it happened — almost like a crime scene. If the latter synopsis is accurate, will you be utilizing flashbacks to tell The Thing's prequel story?
No it's not flashbacks. You're actually in the Norwegian camp, before all that stuff happens. You get to see how it happens — that's the reverse engineering there. The way we approached it was by autopsy, where the director, producers and I pored over Carpenter's film. We must have screened it two or three dozen times. And we'd freeze frames and have lengthy discussions about what evidence is there, that would lead to so much blood. It was a forensic discussion of Carpenter's films. That's probably where the whole "fire axe in the door" probably came from. Because we said, we have to justify that, we have to have a moment in our movie where you see that happen.
If we do this right — I just spoke on the phone today with [Producer] Eric Newman on the phone today, he's on set up in Toronto [and] he said things are going well. But if we can pull this off, this movie will work perfectly [as] the first half of a double feature. So that the last shot of this film will be two Norwegians and a chopper chasing after a dog. And you can plug in Carpenter's film and they will both feel and look as they have been made around the same time.
What were some of the moments you noticed in John Carpenter's version that you never noticed before, after analyzing it?
Well there are things that definitely called attention, [such as] dealing with the body in the chair. What we didn't notice before was that it looked like both his throat and his wrists were slit. And there are a lot of papers scattered on the floor that Copper picks up. And the stuff that we looked at closely were the holes in the walls and on the ceiling, in various parts of the base. And this is how anal retentive we were, we wanted to justify what happened to cause all those holes, pieces and incidental damage. You just know some set guy that day [during the original filming] was like, "well it burned down, let's put a hole here." [Laughs].
But the one thing we're not going to pull off well, because we realized it was just unrealistic and just one of those goofs, I guess, from Carpenter's films, is when they get into that giant block of ice that's been carved out. The way it's been carved where it looks like they just dug into it like a chicken pot pie — it's impossible to get something out of the ice like that. There are so many better ways to do it. So we deviated just a little bit from there, we tried to cover our tracks a little and justified it and showed that it can still work. But yes there are a couple of things where because we were logic cops all the way through this movie there are a handful of, "Wait a minute — how come... that doesn't work at all?!"
Good then — the logic cops can explain to me how someone can get a slashed throat and slashed wrists. Don't you lose dexterity, but I guess that's the mystery as to how that happened?
Yeah we had a problem with that as well, but hopefully we answer that and if not you can bust me on it next year.
I hear that you made a point of encouraging the director to use real practical effects, not CGI — was that important to you?
When I came on board — like a writer has any authority to do so — but I went in like I did and I stomped my feet and banged my fist on the table and I said. I'm not going to write this if it's going to be a CGI-fest. This has to be practical, this has to be an old school creature, as real as possible. Whatever CGI stuff it's going to have, has to be as good as or better than that, we can't get away with computer generated FX in this type of film.
Good for you — and thank you, from all of us. Thank you for asking for more real creature effects.
I think that may be why I got hired, of course I don't know. But it helps me to defend that and make sure that it happens. There was a moment of "You got moxie, kid."
What happened to Kurt Russell's brother, who we heard was a character in this film? Was that in the earlier version of Ronald D. Moore's script, did he make the cut?
We had to jettison that entire draft, including his brother. Because what we found happened with that was there was this constant reference to the Carpenter film. And it was kind of bringing a friend who was like, "oh hey remember this other thing we went to that was so much cooler?" You just didn't want to have that around. It felt weird.