Interview With THE BOOK OF ELI's Gary Whitta

I’ve known Gary for awhile, mostly through a bunch of writers who hang out online, play video games, generally procrastinate and try to make each other laugh.  Someone else sent me his spec THE BOOK OF ELI and I read it in one intense hour, then started at the beginning again.  Gary wasn’t just a funny, sweet, Brit… he was writing about things that matter and he was making great sci fi action out of it.  The movie comes out on January 15th.

Screen shot 2010-01-08 at 2.45.43 PM

SHAX: I want to ask you about how you wrote Eli, but first I want Whitta: The Origin Story.


WHITTA: I guess in terms of getting started as a writer it came from being immersed in popular culture from a very young age, growing up in the UK in the 80s we got a lot of American television - stuff like the A-TEAM, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, KNIGHT RIDER, which I loved. So I was an action/sci-fi geek from a very young age.

A pivotal moment was seeing RETURN OF THE JEDI on the big screen for the first time at age 11 - holy fuck they are flying inside the fucking Death Star.


SHAX: I think I know the answer to this, but maybe not... was there ever any doubt about what your "wheelhouse" was?  Is a body swapping romcom sitting in a drawer somewhere?

WHITTA: In terms of screenplay genre, no, it was always going to be sci-fi geeky stuff; the only question was the medium. I actually wanted to make videogames at first, then that turned into writing about videogames and a career as a games journalist, and then into screenwriting. But it was always zombies and robots and ninjas and all that good stuff.


SHAX: Yet Eli has a tonal backbone that isn't pure sci-fi.  

WHITTA: It's strange, I never really thought of it as a sci-fi movie although certainly I hope it will appeal to that audience.  It certainly had pulp roots in the very beginning.  I've always loved the idea of the lone wandering hero. There's something very mythic about that, I think. Be it The Man With No Name or those great old Toshiro Mifune samurai movies, I've always loved that romantic idea of the nomadic figure wandering the landscape, someone enigmatic and unknowable so it started out as trying to find a way to come up with a take on that kind of bad-ass warrior-prophet.


SHAX: This movie works too well not to be somewhat personal… right?

WHITTA: As far as the faith/spiritual aspects of the film are concerned I'd like to think that what's on the page/screen doesn't give any clue as to my own beliefs. I worked really hard to try to present both sides of an eternal debate and tell a story which doesn't say that religion/faith is good or bad, only that it has the potential to be both, depending on our choices. The spiritual aspect of the film is the one that's going to wind up being talked about the most, but for me the film is as much about the importance of literacy and the preservation of our written history and culture as it is about faith.


SHAX: So, maybe the “Whitta In It” is about the power of the written word?

WHITTA:  Right.  I was always a voracious reader, I was reading from a very young age and there is something precious, something sacred about the written word. Through history it's been the only permanent record of who we are and where we came from. So part of what appealed to me about this was the was the idea of telling a story that had intellectual stakes.  A battle not for money or survival or really anything so tangible, but for knowledge, and the power to either liberate or oppress that comes with it.


SHAX: Eli was a spec and the likelihood of a spec being a badass tentpole Denzel Washington Hughes Brothers movie is like, a bazillion to 1.

WHITTA: I wrote it in the full knowledge that the themes explored in the story could make it very uncommercial and therefore unsellable but it was one of those ideas that I could not stop thinking about. It wouldn't leave me alone and the only way to get it out of my head was to write it out.  I have a great creative relationship with my managers and they have very good instincts for when I may be barking up the wrong tree with a story idea and need to talk me down off the ledge.  I suspect that might be what would happen if I pitched them this movie and I just didn't want to hear it this time. I knew I wanted to write it.  I wrote a first draft very quickly, I think in about six days and only told them it even existed after it was done. I did some rewrite work with notes from my managers and the draft we sent out sold pretty quickly, as it turned out exactly what I worried would make it unsellable was exactly what intrigued people.

It was how we landed Denzel, who usually would not do a movie like this unless he felt like it had some thematic substance to it, but he really responded to the ideas in this movie.  It's how we got the Hughes Brothers too because they had been looking for something really provocative to do for a long time and I think this is the first thing that came along that sparked their imagination and allowed them to explore some big, universal, controversial themes and ideas.


SHAX: What are you reading?

WHITTA:  I still pick up HELLBLAZER from time to time because I just love that character.


SHAX: And what’s next?

WHITTA: I'm working on an original comic-book series with the artist Darick Robertson (TRANSMETROPOLITAN, THE BOYS) that we hope to be announce later this year.  I'm doing THE DEFENDERS, which is a big sci-fi adventure based on an idea that Masi Oka from Heroes came up with and which we're developing with Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci over at DreamWorks. Hopefully by Comic-Con this year we'll have lots of cool stuff to talk about.  Oh and I'm also set up to start blogging on GeekWeek, I just haven't had anything interesting enough to say yet!


BOOK OF ELI comes out Jan 15th. 

GARY WHITTA will be blogging for GeekWeek as soon as he recovers from conquering the world.

More on Geekweek


Sign in to comment with your TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID.