By Junsui Films | August 2011
Screenwriter, Derek Haas, talks exclusively to Junsui Films about his experiences on 3:10 To Yuma, Wanted and his new film, The Double…
Junsui Films: Let’s start with your background, when did you first become interested in screenwriting?
Derek Haas: I always wanted to be a writer as far back as I remember. My parents bought me a typewriter for my 12th birthday (or maybe it was Christmas…) and I used to bang out short stories. I was also making movies with my friends, editing them between two VCRs. In college, I studied literature and took a screenwriting class. That was when I first grew serious about actually writing films.
JF: You form one half of a writing team with Michael Brandt, how did you guys meet and how did you begin writing together?
We met at that same college, Baylor University. We were already friends, but we showed up at Bob Darden’s screenwriting class and didn’t realize the other one wanted to write. We still name a character Darden in each of our scripts. We wrote a few bad scripts together in college and collaborated on some shorts. We both went our separate ways for a while but then got the band back together.
JF: Tell us about your first project as a writing team?
We wrote a spec script titled The Courier. We were living in different states but collaborated by sending the script back and forth to each other via this new fangled invention called email. We rewrote each other mercilessly and that was the beginnings of how we still work. The script ended up selling and landed us our representation.
JF: You and Michael scripted the Fast & Furious sequel; 2 Fast 2 Furious. How did the project come about and what was your experience working on a studio film?
We had been hired to write an FBI film for Universal in 2000 and turned in a draft in August 2001. After 9/11, that project went away because it was a big, global, political thriller and the studio was skittish. They had a hit movie come out that summer called The Fast and the Furious, and they asked us to write the sequel because they liked our script for the FBI movie. At first, we passed.
Then we decided that it would be good for our careers to actually have a produced movie. The experience was incredible. We hit it off with John Singleton, the director, and he invited us to be with him from prep through production through post. We got to see a $90M movie get made and the experience was invaluable.
JF: How did you and Michael become involved in 3:10to Yuma? And did the involvement of director James Mangold and stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale have any influence at all on the way you approached the script?
We shared an agent with Jim and we found out he liked the original 1957 film so we asked for a meeting with him. In that meeting, we convinced him we were the right guys to write the script and he championed us to the studio. We spent a lot of time with him and his producing partner, Cathy Konrad, breaking the story before we wrote a draft. The actors came much later on the project.
JF: You then moved onto Wanted, a big budget adaptation ofMark Millar’s comic by the same name. How did you find it adapting a comic book and bringing your own ideas to the story?
One of our favourite experiences working on a film, in that the studio blessed our ideas for how to adapt the comic book and hold that hard R tone while we attempted to keep it somewhat grounded.
In the comic book, there are guys flying around in capes and tights and a creature made out of shit and a villain who is a skeleton and we just thought it was too over the top to keep it Hard-R. So we opted for assassins and while we messed around with physics, we kept it somewhat in the real world. We’re happy with the movie. We just wish there wasn’t a loom in it.
JF: Tell us a little bit about the Hollywood studio system and your experiences with pitching, dealing with executive’s notes and deadlines?
I don’t mind the studio system as much as some people. I think because Michael and I tend to write big, commercial movies — the kinds of movies studios still want to make. Pitching is never fun because you have to try to convey an entire film — all the emotions, themes, plot points, surprises and character traits in 20 minutes. You usually get just one shot at it, so it can be nerve-wracking.
And there are a million factors into why a pitch doesn’t sell. A few bad executive’s notes stand out in my mind over the years, but there are actually many smart executives who have great story sense. We always say the best idea should win; it doesn’t matter where it comes from… sometimes those execs throw you some great bones.
JF: Your upcoming film The Double was directed by Michael. What was it like working on a script that you knew Michael was going to direct?
Extremely gratifying. He directed the movie and I produced and we made the movie together. He did a fantastic job and I hope everyone enjoys the film. It was a great experience for both of us.
JF: You are also serving as a producer on The Double as well as another one of your upcoming projects, Overdrive. How have you found the dual role of screenwriter and producer and how involved have you been with the overall production(s)?
Producing is great because you have a little more control over the script then you would if you didn’t. Ultimately, the director has the final say, but if you are really a producer — the verb not the noun — then you are doing all you can to support that director while maintaining the integrity of what you wrote. You end up having input on all of the big decisions, from cast to costumes, from set design to locations. It’s a great way to get more of your original work on the screen.
JF: Any future plans you can tell us about?
We’re working on a television pilot for NBC and producer Dick Wolf about Chicago Firemen. I just spent the last two days with the CFD and these guys are fucking studs. They run into places that rats and roaches are coming out of. We’re excited.
2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 To Yuma & Wanted are available now on DVD & Blu‐Ray
The Double will be released later this year