*If you haven’t read my two previous interviews with Darren Howell, please do so before reading this latest interview. Just go to:
Interview with Darren Howell, Part 1
Interview with Darren Howell, Part 2
JV: OK, let’s go back a bit. You initially optioned Arena, which you co-wrote with Toby Wagstaff, when?
DH: That feels like an eternity ago. If I remember right, we got the news on Good Friday [March 21], 2008.
JV: What were some of your experiences—both good and bad—with producers, development executives, prospective directors, etc. subsequent to optioning the script?
DH: It was nice to sit in on meetings—albeit via phone from London—while “Team Arena” met to discuss development, and it was awesome when the director sent me some conceptual sketches that had been done. What I didn't like was the long periods of silence, when nothing was happening.
JV: The director who sent you conceptual drawings—can you mention who he was? And how enthusiastic was he about Arena?
DH: The director Summit chose was a guy named Jeff Wadlow [Cry Wolf, Never Back Down]. He was a cool guy and really passionate about the script. I actually met with him [in June 2008] when I was out in L.A.
JV: What was the specific reason Summit put your script into turnaround?
DH: They stated it was too similar to Predators, which, to anyone that's read the script, is complete bullshit! It's also laughable that they had the script months before Predators was announced. See, this was the annoying thing: Arena was the script that Summit had to make, and ASAP. They also mentioned something about it being only a two quadrant picture...
JV: “Two quadrant” is a term I’m not familiar with…
DH: Apparently, movies are categorized in quadrants depending on the audience demographic: men under 25; men over 25; women under 25; and women over 25. For instance, a movie appealing to men under 25 would only be a one quadrant picture. Apparently Summit decided that Arena was only a two quadrant picture, and only appealed to men!
JV: From the time you optioned Arena, until it went into turnaround, how much rewriting were you asked to perform, and how much did you actually do?
DH: If I remember right, we did one full rewrite and a couple of minor polishes.
JV: Percentage-wise, how much did your script change from your original draft to the “full rewrite” you did?
DH: Our full rewrite wasn't overly heavy, if I remember correctly. I think the structure and beats of the script pretty much stayed unchanged. One thing that made me laugh was we had a big set piece where the modern day U.S. Rangers make their escape in a World War II army truck, while being pursued by dozens of Sioux Indians on horseback. It was all very exciting: flaming arrows, Indians scrambling over the truck, our protagonist hanging out of the cab fighting, limbs being hacked off, etc. There was a big hoo-haa about how it wasn't politically correct to show the extermination of Native Americans and we had to substitute them for Zulus, as it's obviously OK to gun down Africans in movies!
JV: Do you feel development of the script ultimately pushed the story closer to what Predators was? And if so, considering Summit ultimately decided it was all too “similar to Predators,” wouldn’t you say it’s rather ironic?
DH: That's kinda hard for me to answer. Personally, I think Arena is as close to Predators as Mary Poppins!
JV: You mentioned to me that you had gone through “a wide range of emotions” after Arena was dropped by Summit Entertainment. Tell me about that.
DH: Oh, I remember being numb, shaking, trying to put a brave face on, crying like a baby. You name it, I did it. I even wanted to fly out to L.A. and execute every motherfucker that worked for Summit. Obviously, I didn't. You just have to pick yourself up. What else can you do?
JV: So has this experience at all diminished your passion for pursuing a life as a professional screenwriter?
DH: Initially, yes; but as they say: “It's better to try and fail than not try at all.” If I don't keep at it I'll never know, will I? I believe that one day something good will come; I just have to keep plodding onwards. And I absolutely love writing, so it's not like it's a chore. Primarily, I'm doing it because I get immense fun out of it.
JV: What’s the current status of the Arena?
DH: There was a long period of just complete nothingness. Then, out of the blue, our agent said he'd sent it to Magnet Media Group [which recently produced 13, starring Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke; The Experiment, starring Adrien Brody and Forrest Whitaker; and Dark Tide, starring Halle Berry] and they were interested and a meeting had been set up. Apparently, the meeting went very well and Magnet was going to pick it up from Summit—they were really fired up by the script! The last I heard, all the transitional paperwork and finances were being finalized.
JV: So what are you working on now?
DH: I’ve just completed a romantic comedy about international football. I'm also currently trying to get a UK agent, in addition to my US rep, as a lot of my work gravitates towards the UK.
JV: Would you agree that screenwriting is definitely a numbers game and only the strong survive—and the only way to make it—to survive—is to keep writing and keep putting your material into the hands of people who can do you some good?
DH: I agree, but…write because you want to, not because you want riches, fame and glory. If you set out with the intention of turning yourself into an automated script production line, it's not gonna work and your writing will suffer.
JV: Once again, Darren, a big thank you for sharing your experiences here on The Working Screenwriter. Do keep us posted on further developments!
DH: Many thanks, Jim.