Here's a little something I've had on the back-burner for a while now. After Outlander came out LOAF got me in touch with Chris Roberts and I sent him a number of questions about the Wing Commander movie. I had a pile of follow up questions that hopefully Chris will be kind enough to address someday, but, alas Chris got sidetracked (presumably with Star Citizen) and we never did finish the interview. Some of the details have since been released in other interviews and statements from Chris, and some details like what formats the movie has been released on are outdated, however we figured it was about time to release what we had to you all:
LOAF - As promised, I'm putting the two of you in touch to talk about the Wing Commander movie.
As I mentioned--Aaron is the guy who did the big Outlander site a few years back and he's equally fascinated by the Wing movie... so he's been compiling everything we know about its development in our wiki. We've seen a very messy VHS transfer of the rough cut which hasn't been made available to the public and have probably read four or five different revisions of the script at this point... so that's where he's coming from.
(Actually, to both of you, I found a 1991 Wing Commander movie proposal in the material at University of Texas last week. It's credited to GP Austin, who did Privateer... some of the names are the same (ie, Forbes) but it seems to be very different from and may be unrelated to the finished product. I'll try to get a digital copy of that available soon.)
CHRIS ROBERTS - Hi Aaron -
The GP Austin script is unrelated to the film script as Kevin Droney wrote his script from scratch - I don't know if I shared an outline with him on some things that I wanted to see (probably) - and that's where the Forbes name may have come from... But I didn't commission the WC movie script until early 1995
AD - Hi Chris! (Thanks for putting this together Ben...)
I think I last spoke briefly (by email) to you back during the UK release of Outlander... That was a great project and am glad I was able to be a part of it even in a small way. I still talk to Howard from time to time just to say hello. It always seemed like it would be a fun concept and I was impressed with the results that you were able to pull off on a shoe string.
I guess, in a way, this kind of relates to my fascination with the Wing Commander film. I have always enjoyed the look of the film and feel the CG has held up remarkably well over time, and the cinematography is top-notch. It does have a level of polish that is surprising for it's modest budget, even if there are a few rough edges. Watching it in HD is always impressive (though I've been somewhat dismayed by only being able to rent the HD on itunes/amazon/zune marketplace instead of being able to purchase it digitally or on bluray). Deep down I guess I'm a bit of a film buff though perhaps not as versed as many others. But I'm also as equally interested in the methods as much as the finished films.
I actually was going to start by asking about the origins of the ideas in the movie script but I see you've addressed that a little. I had intended to ask about whether you had given Kevin Droney an outline or writer's bible to work off of in developing his script - a laundry list as it were of points and ideas you wanted to hit.
Reading through the various script drafts and revisions certainly brought up some interesting questions as did comparisons to the theatrical cut of the film (and of course the work-print Ben mentioned).
first draft by Kevin Droney has a side element regarding time-dilation and relativity regarding near light space travel. I also noticed in the recent G4 interview with you (great interview by the way!) that you mentioned The Forever War as an influence in creating the games. I don't really remember this as being a major element of the first game. Regarding the film, was this a concept you specifically wanted to explore or was it also something that that Kevin came up on his own? Some elements of this idea - minor lines of dialogue - made it through to the finished film. Was there a particular reason there seems to be an effort to remove this in later drafts?
CHRIS ROBERTS - The time relativity was one of my favorite parts of the script – it was definitely influenced by “The Forever War” and was a note I gave Kevin who ran with it. I loved the idea that to defend humanity you had to make the ultimate sacrifice as you were literally losing your loved ones to defend them. I thought it made the ship board dynamics really powerful – in essence all the pilots and crewmen had was each other – it was their new and only family. It was cut due to notes from Fox who were concerned that it wasn’t fleshed out enough and the idea was more intellectual than visceral – especially as we just had one scene that explained the concept (Deveraux getting the holo-vid from her ex-fiancé). I still think it was great but do agree that it would have to be woven into the fabric of the film more to truly resonate. I’m a much more experienced film maker now (even though I’ve been producing instead of directing but I’m always involved in script development, shooting and editing) and if making the film again I would definitely work the concept back in but place a lot more “small” moments (which would be visual rather than dialogue based) than re-enforced the feeling of loneliness and sacrifice that the crew of the Tiger’s Claw were making to defend humanity.
AD - This isn't the only case where major changes happened along the way. I really enjoyed the idea that each ship's computer seemed to have it's own personality. In the script, Merlin was intended as a sort of holographic digital assistant and sidekick. We actually recovered a handful of shots of a doll being filmed for these scenes. Was Merlin intended to be a CGI character? Or some other method of filming an actor and compositing him into the shot with various effects much like the hologram communications in Wing Commander 4? How late in production was the decision made to remove Merlin from the film, and why? I'm sure this must have presented a pretty big challenge to the editing process.
CHRIS ROBERTS - Losing Merlin was the biggest mistake in my opinion. It didn’t happen until mid-way through post production. We shot everything and the intention was to film a big star (I was wanting Robin Williams) on a green screen for a day or so and then composite in a holo –effect. We were over budget and the producer, Todd Moyer had persuaded me to try a cut without Merlin as he didn’t think we needed him and we couldn’t afford the VFX shots or the additional green screen shot (let alone a fee for a big actor). When I didn’t get a response back from Robin Williams camp I gave in to the idea. I really regret it as losing Merlin we lost a lot of the humor plus a lot of exposition that explained the whole Pilgrim backstory – not to mention the fact that the Captain turned out to be a Pilgrim. Between losing Merlin, the bigger opening (when the Pegasus was more like Hawaii of Pearl Harbor) and the Kilrathi not working I feel a lot of what made the script work for me was lost. The final film was too simple without these extra layers. I have often toyed with the idea of taking the original footage, re-doing the Kilrathi with today’s digital VFX, filming Merlin and making a new cut – I even proposed it to Fox a while back but they declined. When I get the rights back in 2015 I may do as this would all be a lot cheaper now than before. I don’t think it would make WC a great film as there are some basic flaws with it, but I do think it would make it better.
AD - This is interesting... I never really pictured Robin Williams in the role when reading the novelization or the script. I always imagined his lines being delivered in a more dry/ironic kind of way.
CHRIS ROBERTS - I wanted Robin Williams because he liked and played Wing Commander and I thought he could handle Merlin's dry humor (he doesn't always have to be whacky Mork). Funny thing is that I ended up working with him on The Big White