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
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
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
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.