Interview with Darren Howell: September 2009 Update...

In April 2008, Summit Entertainment optioned the sci-fi action spec Arena written by first-time feature writers Toby Wagstaff and Darren Howell. The story of Arena revolves around a group of modern-day soldiers mysteriously transported from the thick of battle to a terrain-shifting landscape where they must fight the best warriors from different eras and histories in a gladiatorial fight to the death or be killed by the all-powerful operators of the "Arena." Last week, the UK-based Darren gave me a quick update on the progress made by producers. (Be sure to read Darren’s initial interview from June 20, 2008.)

JV: What’s the current status of the project?
DH: Things are ticking along and progressing from what I understand.

JV: So...the BIG question I have to ask: Have you been able to quit your day job yet?
DH: Noooo...still working the Underground [the UK rail system]. To be honest, I never expected to be able to quit on the strength of one sale, and I wasn't going to do anything dumb like just walk out. It's good in a way—it gives me some good time to think up new stuff and develop ideas.

JV: Are the producers keeping you involved in the rewrite process?
DH: The rewrite is done. They're happy with it, apparently. There are meetings taking place.

JV: Thus far, what’s been the most frustrating aspect of the development process for you?
DH: Probably being so far away and missing out on the meetings; the face to face interaction, if you like. They get me on the phone when possible—or when we're invited! But it's a pain in the arse sometimes.

JV: I don’t want to get you into trouble with the powers-that-be on the production, but have you experienced any Development Hell?
DH: I don't think there's been any Development Hell yet as such. My own “hell” is my impatience. Everything seems to take sooooooo long. Is that me—or is that Hollywood in general?

JV: Do you find the producers are resistant to your ideas as the script is being developed?
DH: Haven't really encountered that as yet.

JV: What are some of the most exciting aspects of where you are now in the process?
DH: I just find the whole thing pretty exciting—that someone's gonna make a movie out of an idea you had! I'll probably go into excitement overdrive during the actual production and when I see it on the screen.

JV: Has a director been attached to the project?
DH: Yes, Jeff (Cry Wolf) Wadlow. It's been announced in the trade papers, so no one's gonna shoot me for telling you. He's a great guy. I met him when I was out [in Los Angeles] last. He's really enthusiastic about Arena and has had some neat ideas of his own.

JV: Have any actors been attached?
DH: Not yet, I don't think. I have my own fantasy cast list though.

JV: Have you shared your "fantasy cast" list with the producers? If so, what sort of response did you get?
DH: No, Toby and I have run a few names between us, but only for fun. There were a few names floating around when I met Jeff last June, but I think this was more his own fantasy cast list. I guess casting relies a lot on what they finally fix the budget at, so we'll just have to wait and see, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

JV: Now that you have a screenplay on the fast track, now that you're getting some nice attention, have you been offered any other screenwriting assignments?
DH: Yeah, we've had a few things come our way, but nothing solid for one reason or another. We got asked to take a look at the Highlander remake, which was pretty cool as I love the original, but we lost out to the guys that wrote Ironman.

JV: Give me some detail on going up for the Highlander remake. How did that all evolve—and finally, devolve?
DH: Off the back of our sale of Arena, we were asked by Summit to come up with a treatment for their re-imagining of the original Highlander. We were pretty fired up by it—I LOVE the original! Anyway, we submitted our ideas during a lengthy meeting (with me on the phone in London). They really seemed to like our take. So the waiting game started...until we found out the guys that wrote Iron Man got the job. C'est la vie, I guess. The more experienced guys got the job.

JV: Do you have other screenplays on the shelf? If so, now that you’ve got a project in development/pre-production, are you garnering any interest in those screenplays?
DH: We've got our old faithful “The Duritz Find” waiting in the wings after a radical strip down, re-jigging and title change. And I'm currently working on a cheeky chappy cockney crime caper, kinda like The Italian Job (the original!) meets Snatch. And we've got a few other ideas...

JV: You’ve struggled over the years and now you’re enjoying the fruits of that struggle. What piece of advice would you give the budding screenwriter—the writer who’s in the midst of his or her own struggle?
DH: Well, I dunno if I'd go as far as “enjoying the fruits of your struggle” yet, after all I'm still plodding along with the day job. However, I understand what you're getting at. I've always believed, as the adage goes: “It's better to try and fail, than not try.” It's like I said before, if you have faith in what you're doing; if you have what you believe to be a good solid product—stick with it. All the more better if your circle of family and friends and guinea pig readers agree! Keep going, don't give up. And the beauty of writing is that there's not much of an initial outlay—most people have got a PC and some paper. Personally, I have an awesome writing partner who I couldn't do without. I'm not suggesting that having a writing partner is essential, but it’s worked for me!

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Thanks for keeping us posted on things, Darren. I’m sure all my WS blog readers join me in wishing you continued success with Arena—and we look forward to future updates! (And perhaps a ticket to the premiere for yours truly.)

(Update: To read Part 3 of Darren's interview, click here.)

1 comment:

Kirwin Sullivan said...

I loved this entry. It's always good to see someone make it after hearing how difficult of a market it is. Very inspiring.