'Arrival' Screenwriter Eric Heisserer Talks Comics And Developing A Series For AMC


Bleeding Cool's Nick Kazden writes:

As the SDCC festivities started to settle down on Friday night, Abraham Reisman, an entertainment journalist with Vulture, held a conversation with Eric Heisserer about his life and experience writing both movies and comics. Their talk was extremely entertaining and engaging, and Reisman's solid interviewing skills were on full display throughout the seemingly casual conversation. The two of them touched on all kinds of things, but I'm gonna boil the hour talk down into a few highlights for you. Because if there's one thing you need to know about Bleeding Cool, it's that we care about making things as digestible for you glorious readers.

Oh, and for all you people who think college or screenwriting lessons are essential to making it in the entertainment industry, I'm gonna burst your bubble and tell you that Heisserer, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, has no formal training or college experience.

'Arrival' Screenwriter Eric Heisserer Talks Comics And Developing A Series For AMC

  1. He Considers Valiant the "David Bowie Universe" of Comic Books

Heisserer isn't just the author of Secret Weapons for Valiant comics — he's also instrumental in the ongoing process of bringing their stories to the big screen. The life-long comic fan, who used to spend his weekly lunch allowance on comics, said that he had already turned down a lot of comic book properties but when he was sent a possible assignment by Sony to adapt Harbinger, he fell in love.

"It's the closest American thing to Akira that I found," he said, even going so far to describe the book as Jesse Pinkman with jedi powers.

When he was working on the Harbinger script, he particularly grew attached to the character Livewire, who is now the lead in Secret Weapons. Livewire might be his favorite at the moment, but he said all of Valiant's characters have unique qualities that distinguish them from the crowded superhero field.

"All the characters are kind of punk rock versions of what a superhero is these days. […] I'm excited about those, I really am. The thing that I like about them now is that I don't know if they're going to feel like comic book movies to people. I think they're going to feel different, and part of that is the David Bowie universe."

  1. His Fascination with Language Comes from his Father

For anyone who's seen Arrival, (and if you haven't you should stop reading this article right now and go check it out) you know language plays a big part in the movie. Not only does the film examine how humans would communicate with an alien species, but it also touches upon the complexities of how humans communicate and interact with each other.

'Arrival' Screenwriter Eric Heisserer Talks Comics And Developing A Series For AMC

His father, who was a a professor of ancient history, taught himself numerous languages when Heisserer was a child. "He would carry around these little flashcards and I would steal them and realize that he would have Arabic on one side and German on another." The man was so impressive he would "brush up one one language while learning another."

  1. Did Graphic Design Work For Astrophysicists

One of his first jobs was doing design work for astrophysicists proposals to purchase new gear. He said the job was a lot of fun and he only landed it because he spent a lot of time teaching himself the Adobe suite when it was first becoming popular. The only downside for Heisserer was the fact that he was a 19-year-old kid in a lab full of people who liked to celebrate their successes.

"There's nothing more entertaining than hanging out with drunk scientists."

Heisserer recalled a certain time when the team chose to celebrate an approved proposal by going to see Armageddon in theaters. During the scene where the two shuttles take off simultaneously, the entire row got up and left the theater.

"I just thought, 'Wow, they don't get any respect.'"

His fondness of the scientists he worked with and appreciation for their process explains why the movie was so technically coherent. Heisserer revealed that his original version of the script had more time for Jeremy Renner's character, but that at the end of the day the movie had to be pared down to the essentials.

'Arrival' Screenwriter Eric Heisserer Talks Comics And Developing A Series For AMC

  1. Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson Wasn't a Fan of La La Land

Talk eventually turned to the Oscars, and the fact that "the stage isn't quite as big as it looks on TV." At the show, if a celebrity gets up to use the restroom and they return when the show is back on, they need to wait in the back until the next break to not ruin the shot. Apparently, Mr. Jackson wasn't too happy with a certain dancer constantly looking at his feet throughout the movie. Later on, Heisserer realized that the two of them were actually in the same row. So when Best Picture was announced, Heisserer had to sneak a peek.

"When all that chaos was going on, I thought to look over and I saw him wiping away tears."

Clearly Jackson was happy with the final decision, but Heisserer had his own reasons to be applaud Moonlight's victory.

"It really grinds my gears if the best film doesn't win best screenplay as well, so I was really happy that he [Barry Jenkins] got both."

  1. He's Working on Another Ted Chiang Adaptation

Arrival was adapted from a 1998 short story called Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Heisserer said that when he first discovered the author, he immediately bought a book of his short stories and tore through it. He had to stop when he finally reached Story of Your Life because his face was covered in tears.

"I went around and I hugged everyone I saw," he said.

Well, he's ready to turn audiences into an emotional wrecks all over again. Now he's working on adapting Liking What You See: A Documentary for the silver screen. The story follows what happens when the world consciously tries to look at beauty in a different light. He said it's based off the idea of saying "fuck-you to beauty for a while" and searching for other ways to find value in people. As a new groups of people emerge, the beauty industry tries to push back and maintain their status. The core characters, which he described as unlike anybody else we've seen on TV, will have to fight stereotypes and societal pressure as they try to assert a new position for themselves in society. He said he is working with AMC to develop the idea into a series, but it doesn't sound like the series is 100% set in stone quite yet.

"It's gonna be very bold if they actually make it," he said with a smile.

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About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.
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