The fact that an adaptation of 's Ender's Game actually got made is a major surprise to any fan of the book. It's not your conventional blockbuster about humans fighting off aliens. It's a genuinely emotional story, one clouted in moral ambiguity and a lead that isn't some kind of cute and cuddly kid. On top of that, its ending doesn't exactly make it the feel good blockbuster of the year.
And yet, the damn thing finally made its way to the screen, thanks to director and his collaborators. One of those collaborator being producer Bob Orci, who, along with his writing partner/best friend Alex Kurtzman, have had their hands in some of the most successful franchises around: Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and, of course, Transformers. Whether Ender's Game will spawn a franchise is up in the air, but after how well the film turned out, let's hope it does.
Here's what Bob Orci had to say about the film, being a real fan, and making personal projects:
As a fan, what was the one thing you told Gavin that had to be in the film?
It had to be true to the book. When I got into this business I was lucky enough to get into the business and read scripts that other studios had and they were not faithful to the book. And so, when I met Gavin, I was like, “Hey, man. We gotta be faithful to the book. We’ve got to be faithful to what the fans like. I read this when I was 12 years old. I want to see what I saw when I was 12.” And he got it. All of us just agreed from the beginning we’re going to be true to the book period. They wanted to do the same thing that I did. That was the biggest deal.
What would you say those scripts didn’t get right?
Well, I never want to say anything too negative about other developments. But they tried to make it a happy ending or just to not be brave enough to do what the book was doing. Like I said, I read the book when I was 12 years old. Never thought I'd be...I didn't think I was going to be in the movie business at that time. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. Then I get into this movie business. When I'm into the business, I decided to look into the book. I find out that other studios have it, and they’re trying to make the ending a happy ending and they’re trying to change the nature of the book. That’s what I thought was off. The other incarnations of the book and the script tried to really change it and I didn't like that.
Obviously you are very protective of Gavin. Being a producer, what kind of filmmakers do you gravitate towards?
It was interesting with Gavin in that normally when I’m involved in this kind of stuff I’m the one writing it. And so, to have another guy come in and write it, it was kind of a relief. I thought I could go in as a fan. I told Gavin, “Hey, you write it. Let’s see what you can do, baby.” Then he turns in the script and I’m like, “Hey, it’s pretty good!” I was so grateful. For me, I was so close to it that I don’t know that I could have done it justice. I think that I probably would have screwed it up. For Gavin to have come in as an adult and read it…I don’t know if you’ve heard Gavin’s story, but he was drafted when he was 17. Went into the South African Army. He was very much, in a way, Ender. He very much went through that life where he’s a young man, drafted into a difficult situation in which he was asked to fight. He lost a friend in battle. He went through a lot.
So I think because I loved it so much as a kid I don’t think I would have had the full perspective that Gavin had. When I read his script I was like, “Ah, this is it.” I I was slightly jealous in that, “Oh my god. He wrote this great script.” And also slightly relieved in that he wrote this great script and I got to just read it as a fun and just be like, “You know what? He did it right. So I’m going to support this.” I’ve written other things and I know what it is like to tackle a thing that’s got a big fandom, like Star Trek or Transformers. You've often taken on projects that fans are always going to be watching you.
Do you think it’s best not to pay attention to that, especially in the writing process, to approach it from a fresh perspective?
No. When you are writing something that other people love, you want to relate to what they relate to. I was a fan of Star Trek. I was a fan of Transformers. These fans have kept these properties alive. I don’t want to ignore them. I want to embrace what they know and I want to embrace what I know. Something like Star Trek I very purposely find out what do they think, and what do they like, and what do they love and make sure that I just hear that and just know what that is, because I’m a fan too.
I’ve been on both sides. When I see a movie as a kid, I was like, “Oh, I wish they would do this or that and the other thing.” I’m a fan, so I wanted to feel like I was heard. For me it’s always about I want to hear what fans have to say. I want to hear what they like and what they don’t like. I want to hear what they believe, because that’s me. I want to be that guy too. I want to be the guy telling Mr. Hollywood, “Hey! You better do this, that, and the other thing.” Fan service is always a challenge.
To some filmmakers that’s always a lot of nudging. For you, what is the proper way of approaching fan service?
Well, I would say that if you are not a genuine fan of the property you have to think twice. The reason I can go head to head with a Star Trek fan is because I was a fan too. So you cannot tell me that I’m not a fan, because I am. But I can’t lie to you about that. Some people might lie.
There’s some properties that I might tell you, “Oh, I’m a fan” and I’m not. Star Trek? I was a fan. So don’t you sit there and tell me that I don’t know what I like. It doesn’t mean I’m super smart. It doesn’t mean I know everything. It doesn’t mean that I am the end all, be all fan of all time. But I am a fan, so don’t sit there and tell me that I don’t know what I like. I know what I like, and so give me a break a little bit.
On the other hand...I’m taking on a big responsibility. [Laughs] It’s Star Trek. I always say a fan knows as much as I know. They are as big an expert of Star Trek as I am. They know maybe more than I do. My judgment on what Star Trek should be is no better than what they think it should be. I don’t know. They might actually have a better idea. I don’t know.
However, I’m the one in charge right now, period. It’s just a fact of life. I’m not trying to be arrogant about it. It’s just I ended up here and you didn’t, period. So I try to think about what would a fan think? What would I think? What would I want? I try to be respectful of what I think of as a fan, what I think a fan would want.
What would you say are some of the smaller challenges on a project like this that maybe an audience wouldn’t consider on first glance?
The book is very internal. The book is all about the internal life of Ender. And so, what we’ve discovered, and is a nice thing, is that the movie has something that the book doesn’t have. The movie has actors. In the book you don’t get to see Harrison Ford’s face. You don’t get to see Sir Ben Kingsley's face. You don’t get to see Viola Davis’s face. In our movie you do. So something that takes three pages in a book to describe, in our movie their look, their eyes, their smile, their mouth, they can tell you in one second what a book takes you three pages to tell. And that’s something that was a learning curve. I didn’t realize that going into this movie.
My favorite film that you and Kurtzman had done is People Like Us. Are those kind of films tough for you two to get made? Do you have a project like that kicking around?
Movies like People Like Us, which was a very personal movie for me and Alex, very hard to get made. By the way, we made it for very little money, so that was nice. We made it for $20 million. And it’s going to make its money back and all kind of things. It’s hard to make a movie about personal stuff. The hardest part is how to sell it. That movie is something I’m very proud of.
That was my friend’s first directing gig, Alex Kurtzman. He and I met in high school. That was his directing debut in terms of a movie. It’s tricky because you want a movie like that to be sold well. And it’s so hard to sell a movie like that. When there’s not a robot, or an alien, or a something in it, it’s hard to sell that movie. You know, “What’s that movie about?” It’s about our lives and about family. Those kinds of things are hard to sell.
And so, we like to think that you can do a movie like that and then a movie like Ender’s Game, and then a movie like Transformers. I think there’s room for both.
Ender's Game is now in theaters.