Catching Up With... Alex Kurtzman and D.J. Caruso
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Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci have formed one of Hollywood’s most successful partnerships, writing and/or producing films like Mission Impossible III, Transformers, The Legend of Zorro and the recently released Eagle Eye, which stars Shia LaBeouf. Paste caught up with Kurtzman about his new film, next year’s highly anticipated Star Trek, his childhood idol Steven Spielberg, success and sacred cows. Paste also spoke to Eagle Eye director D.J. Caruso, who has earned previous accolades from his work on Disturbia and The Salton Sea.
Paste: Briefly explain what Eagle Eye is about.
Kurtzman: I always like to think of it as being a movie about all of the technology that’s sort of in place now that’s supposed to make our lives easier, everything from how we keep track of our children to knowing where to be. The movie poses this question of what would happen if it all turned against you and turned you into someone you’re not. Our lead characters Jerry and Rachel are two really normal people who are thrown into this extraordinary circumstance and framed as being bad guys and then asked to do a series of things and they have no idea what it’s all leading up to. The movie, in the best spirit of Hitchcock, is a real guessing game and you don’t really know until the very end what it’s going to lead up to. I think for us that’s really exciting 'cause as storytellers it’s so rare for us to get the opportunity to construct a story that you can’t stay ahead of.
Paste: It’s probably going to come out, but I would have hated to know who “Eagle Eye” was because there’s a good hour there where it’s fun trying to figure that out.
Kurtzman: I think the thing that was very deliberate in our storytelling is even when you find out what’s going on there’s still a lot more to find out. It’s not like an M. Night Shyamalan movie where the punch line of the movie is kind of “Oh! He was dead the whole time.” It’s not like that at all. The other thing that was important for us about where we revealed it and how we revealed it is that the audience still has to play a guessing game as to why everything is happening. So, even finding out who’s behind it doesn’t necessary reveal the whole plot to the movie.
Paste: There’s a lot going on in this film.
Kurtzman: Because there’s so much going on, the last thing we wanted was for the audience to feel like it was too dense. And there was a real danger of that. The editing process was just the balance of letting it breathe in all the right places.
Paste: How did the script come to you in the first place?
Kurtzman: It was an idea that Steven Spielberg had 10 years ago. He held on to it because he felt that the world had not caught up to the technology of the idea. He didn’t want it to be science fiction, he wanted it to be science fact. He waited until he started to see that our society was heading toward a place where people would have iPhones and there would be a camera on every street corner everywhere. And when he felt like we were at that place he asked us if we would consider producing it. After picking ourselves up off the floor, we said "yes" and developed the script from there.
Paste: You’ve done things like Zorro and Transformers and Mission Impossible. Those are things that people felt strongly about. How do you transfer that to a modern-day film without losing the integrity, the innocence that was there when they were originally done?
Kurtzman: I guess the honest answer is that if you’re taking on something like Mission Impossible or Transformers or Star Trek, it’s not yours. And yet, you have to make it yours. You really have to find the balance. You have to stay true to what everyone loved about those beloved things. And why they worked. And why they connected with people. And that you’re not somehow going against the grain of that. And at the same time finding a way to tell those stories in a new way.
Paste: And you’re doing the biggest sacred cow, which we’re not really supposed to talk about, that’s coming up.
Kurtzman: (laughing) I can certainly talk about process on that particular sacred cow. Star Trek is obviously such a beloved, beloved thing, not just in television but the movies and even in the books. That one is particularly not ours. So, it felt like because we were such enormous fans of it as kids, for us it was getting back to the spirit of that.
Paste: Do you have to think, “Okay, how’s this going to fit today’s audience?” Or do you just go ahead and try to fit what you like today?
Kurtzman: My partner, Bob [Orci] and I, we’ve been writing together for 17 years, and we always look at the work from the place of what do we want to see as an audience member. So, hopefully, until we get out of date, our tastes will dovetail with what audiences are wanting to see. Obviously, you can’t please everybody. But, we definitely grew up on Trek, love Trek and have been studying it since we were little kids. So, as scary as it was taking the leap to inheriting that mantle I think we also felt that between us and J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk, it was a team that really put that movie together. We knew that there was safety in numbers and that, in a way, each of us represented a different perspective what Trek is, and that, between the five of us, we probably had most of our bases covered.
Paste: Right now, with Fringe coming out, Eagle Eye coming out, Star Trek coming out, do you just stop and think, “This is a nice ride?” How do you feel?
Kurtzman: I feel amazing. I’m just so overwhelmed every day by the response. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. You know? This is all we ever wanted to do. And the fact that we get to do it, and that we get to do it with our childhood hero, Steven Spielberg, is even more insane.
Paste: And they give you the biggest toys to work with.
Kurtzman: Yeah, we’ve got some amazing toys. But your action is only as good as the people you care about who are in jeopardy, and for us that’s always where we start. Action is very secondary, I think.
Paste: Is that one of the things you learned from Spielberg?
Kurtzman: Yeah, I think being students of his movies since we were little kids, I was never more invested in Elliott and E.T. and that friendship. And what it was like for Roy Scheider to be fighting the shark. And the personal stakes of his family. And Close Encounters—all the stories about families, there were things that Bob and I really connected to. And I think we’re always trying to get back to that place of finding a way for the audience to love the people.