At this point they are considered A-list Screenwriters and also two of the hottest names in Hollywood. Chris and Vlas Parlapanides are two Greek- American brothers and the writers of the script “The Immortals” (originally named “War of Gods”) starring Mickey Rourke, John Hurt and Freida Pinto and directed by Singh Tarsem. Alexander Leontaritis, contacted the two talented screenwriters to get inside their minds. Vlas and Charles talked about screenwriting, the things that inspire them the most, and their upcoming projects.
First of all, congratulations for your writer credits in the upcoming Hollywood film “The Immortals”. How difficult was it to execute a screenplay for a major film, addressed to a vast audience? What were the challenges you had to face?
VP – Thank you for the kind words but I’m not comfortable accepting any congratulations just yet. God willing the film will be very successful and I’ll be glad to accept your congratulations then, maybe over a shot of ouzo. With regards to your question, “The Immortals” originated from an idea Charley had. He had a very original way into the world of Greek mythology, something that had never been done before. It was a great idea that we built upon. He can better speak to that than I can, but basically the mythology of the Gods and Titans and the war they waged against each other was the genesis of “The Immortals”. We then set out to craft a story a human story around this conflict, interweaving various tales of Greek mythology that we loved along with a great personal story for our main character, Theseus. The challenge was staying true to the original tales of mythology while taking creative liberties as we created a comprehensive story that we felt was engaging, fun and fulfilling.
CP – And that was no easy task, believe me. Like Vlas said we really worked hard to plot out the story, interweaving various story elements from Greek mythology. That’s why the process of actually cracking the story took so long. And the truth is we weren’t really known for writing this type of material. Our representatives didn’t encourage us to pursue it, other writers and executives we knew said there was no point in writing it. Warner Brothers was trying to remake “Clash of the Titans” and everyone felt would give other studios trepidation. No one wants to go head to head with Warners. They are the biggest studio in town. But we always clung to the fact that we had a great set up and an even better ending. We knew it was a great world. I mean, how can you not love Greek mythology? That is the type of spectacle you go to the movies for. So once we figured out what our character’s personal journey would entail we felt comfortable sitting down and writing it. We didn’t care what happened.
Now in terms of writing a tent pole film, one intended for large audiences, we feel by being specific you end up being universal. That is how we approach all of our work and how we try and make it accessible to large audiences. For example, Immortals is about believing in something you can’t see; having faith in the divine even if the world around you has become cynical. That is a very specific idea I think that most people can relate to. It is a universal theme. Right away everyone can relate to the main character. The trick of it is rapping that idea around a big action movie.
This year we had “The Clash of the Titans”. Next year, “The Immortals”. Do you think maybe ancient Greek mythology has started to become a hip in Hollywood?
Vlas – I never claim to know what Hollywood thinks is hip. I mean, who knows? What I can say is that I think there’s an appetite for a film like ours. Wouldn’t you want to see a film that was produced by the producers of “300”, set in the world of ancient Greece and directed by a visual master like Tarsem? If you think “300” was visually stunning, wait until you see what Tarsem and his creative team have in store. The world they are creating is nothing less than extraordinary.
CP – Yeah, I agree no one’s seen Greek mythology done like this. I think it’s pretty safe to say Tarsem is a visual genius. That is kind of an accepted truth in our industry. No one else’s work looks like his. He is always at the cutting edge. You should see the costumes and set designs his team has created. The first day I walked into the production office I was completely blown away. Plus, he’s going to take a very painterly approach to the visuals. The film will be like a moving Caravaggio painting. And I agree with Vlas about not knowing what Hollywood thinks is hip because the truth is no one knows. But I do think a lot of people in town genuinely have an affinity for Greek mythology. The key is coming up with a way into the world that feels new and unique, both story wise and visually.
How was it working as a team in the screenplay? Regarding the different opinions each of you may have, was it easy to agree on final decisions concerning the script?
Vlas – The truth is because we are brothers and aren’t concerned about hurting each others’ feelings we are brutally honest with each other and that ends up benefiting the script (even though it drives us each a bit crazy sometimes). The truth is, every decision we make has the story’s best interest at heart. And that supercedes any differences we may have. With regards to “War of Gods”, we rarely disagreed and truth be told we rarely disagree in general. Thank God, our sensibilities are almost always on the same page. If however we find ourselves disagreeing on something, the person that’s most passionate about what they are arguing for is the one that wins out.
CP – I also think because we grew up in such a big and loving Greek family working together comes natural. Hell, we’ve been doing it our whole lives. We’ve done and see it all together. We would all die for one and another. I never understand how some people didn’t get along with their parents or siblings. That was never the case in our family. Yeah, we may disagree every once in a while but the ties in our family don’t break… hell they don’t even bend. Plus the truth is Vlas and I get paid to sit in a room and make stuff up. There are far worse fates in this world then that. To argue or not get along would be a slap in the face to everyone out there earning an honest living.
Mostly seen in American movies, as also to TV Series, we use to see many writers having involved in the process. Do you think that helps making the story better? The more the better or the less, the better?
Vlas – I think it all depends on the project and the people involved on that project. There have been movies that have had many writers working on the script that ended up being very successful while there have also been movies that have had many writers working on the script that have failed. The same goes for movies that have had the original writer working on the project the whole way through, some have turned out well while others haven’t. At the end of the day what matters most is the shooting script. It doesn’t matter how you get there, but you have to end up with a good script in order to have any chance of making a good movie. It’s a fact that you can’t make a good movie from a bad script — it’s impossible, no matter how talented the director and cast. You need a good script to make a good movie, that’s a fact people sometimes forget.
CP – I agree with Vlas. The script is the foundation. It doesn’t matter how talented the director is because if you build a palace on a poor foundation even the palace will sink. Now in terms of your question I think as a general rule the fewer writers the better. Granted there are always exceptions. “Casablanca” had a whole plethora of writers and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. I think most of the time execs bring in additional writers for their own sense of security or because they feel there is something they are not quite vibing with. They don’t know exactly what it is and would feel better if a veteran “closer” (i.e. an award winning writer) came in and did a pass, that way they’ve cover their own ass. Now I don’t mean to diminish the development process because sometimes bringing someone in with a fresh perspective can be incredibly helpful. Writing even a decent script is a herculean task. The question then because does the new writer have integrity? Are you trying to make the script the best that it can or are they changing things just for the sake of changing them, in the hope that they may get a shared credit. (which leads to huge financial rewards) That exact thing happened to us on a spec we sold to Universal. The studio loved where we had gone with our script and our agents were telling us that we were a “go-picture.” Production was only a few months away. However the director and his writing partner wanted to do a pass on the script and they did such a terrible job the studio fired them and shut down the whole project. We know for a fact they made the changes they did to try and get writing credit. That is when having too many writers can be absolutely deadly.
Do you have a process that you follow concerning certain duties that one will follow when you develop the story or you prefer brainstorming together and concluding to the best possible outcome?
Vlas – We usually like brainstorming together and beating out the story before we write the script. We don’t work from a detailed outline though. It’s more or less a very loose roadmap. Basically, we just need to know the plot points at the end of act one and act two while also knowing our characters and what our ending will be. This affords us to go where the characters will take us. Sometimes that deviates from what we anticipated. And we are willing to allow that to happen. It’s the only way you can have the story unfold in a real and organic manner in my opinion.
CP – And allowing it to unfold organically is key. A lot of other writers will do even more outlining. We feel it can be helpful but it can also pigeonhole you and your characters. You start writing towards the outline instead of where you might have gone more organically. We think it is important to get a rough draft done. Once you have it on paper you can reshape it and make changes. You immediately know what works and what doesn’t. Each day we tell ourselves we need to get four pages. That means in a month we’ll have close to eighty pages. In a month and a half we normally have a rough draft. We’ll then spend the next two to three months rewriting and polishing. Working this way gives us something tangible to work with. We know a lot of writers that spend six months rewriting the first thirty pages of a script. You can’t allow yourself to fall in that trap. The most valuable resource you have as a writer is your time.
What would you say is the source of inspiration for each one of you? What are the things that inspire you the most?
Vlas – It’s difficult to pin point exactly what inspires me. I’d say it’s a collection of different things, a good movie, book, art, faith, the human condition, reflection, the cruelty of nature, the beauty of nature, a good relationship, a bad relationship, etc. Or sometimes it’s just a strong cup of coffee that inspires me or plain old fear. Fear that we better write something or we will not be able to pay our bills.
CP – Yeah, the fear of not being able to pay your bills is always daunting. As a writer you don’t get a check every week or every two weeks. You get paid three or a four times a year and there is no guarantee you’ll ever get another job; so that fear always lingers in the back of your mind. Personally, I think my faith inspires us. One of the renaissance painters said, “Art is God slowed down just enough so that we can all admire it.” Now, I’m not saying movies are always art. A lot of the time they are not. This is a business and my desire to provide financially for my wife and daughter supersedes everything else. We’re not the type of guys that are willing to destroy everyone and everything around us so that our vision can remain untouched. We feel we are good collaborators and we work very hard to maintain the essence of our story while also appeasing others. The truth is I would go back to being a lawyer in an instant if I had to but I do feel we were given some small spec of talent and it is our obligation to try and use it. El Greco said when his time came and he would have to face judgment he wanted to be able to tell God that, “every ounce of strength, every bit of talent you gave me, I used it. I come to you bare.” I think that is a beautiful ideal to aspire to. I try and live my life that way as a writer, a father and a husband.
You have also played together in the same movie as actors. Grace and Storm. How much different was it comparing to writing a script together?
Vlas – We’re not actors, even though we’ve studied theater in college and in New York. We plan on directing in the future and felt it was important to study the craft of acting. It will definitely make us better directors and most certainly has benefited our writing. With regards to “The Grace and the Storm”, that movie was written and directed by a friend of ours. It was fun to be in it and help him out. And it was definitely easier to act than it was to write.
CP – Yeah, but that doesn’t mean acting is easy. Both acting and writing is a form of self torture, in my opinion. It can create beautiful results and evoke deep human emotions but you pay for each of them. However, I do think understanding the art of acting can make you a better person. It forces you to have empathy for even the worst villain. It forces self reflection and an understanding of the human condition.
Tell us about how you are related to Greece and how important for you is your Greek heritage?
Vlas – Our mother was born and raised in Greece. She’s from a small village called Killini. She moved to the U.S. after she married our father, who is also Greek.
CP – Plus my wife is also Greek. She was born and raised in the U.S. but both of her parents are from Greece. I would say our entire identity has been forged by the fact that we are Greek. We were also raised in the church which is probably the greatest gift our heritage provides. We also went to Greek school and learned Greek dancing. It’s definitely a source of great pride. We wouldn’t be anything without our heritage.
How did the script for ” The Immortals” happen? Was it a script that you first wrote and then tried to sell it? Or it was assigned to you by a production company?
Vlas – We wrote it on spec and sold it to Relativity Media. In fact there was a bidding war for it at the time, which is another whole story in itself. It is going to be distributed by Universal in 2011.
CP – To be honest we prefer to write original material and then try and sell it. It is riskier than writing studio assignments however we feel it affords us more creative control.
Vlas – Yes, good scripts are being written today. Some of my favorite scripts include, The Godfather (1 and 2), Crimes and Misdemeanors, Goodfellas, Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Donnie Brosco, Pulp Fiction, All about Eve, This Girl Friday, Reservoir Dogs, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Arc and the list goes on and on.
CP – Yeah, I agree there is some great stuff out there. Look at what Alexander Payne is doing, as well as Paul Thomas Anderson. Look at anything David Fincher has directed. He doesn’t write per se but he is one of the best directors in terms of developing material. Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, and Benjamin Button are all great scripts. I also think there are a lot of good scripts out there, sitting on shelves. Every year the town puts out the Black List, which is a list of the best unproduced scripts. You can pick almost any script off that list and find it to be a well written piece of material. The truth is it is incredibly hard to make a good movie. There are so many junctions where you can go wrong. One of the best scripts I ever read was made into a terrible film. I would tell you the name of the movie but we are friends with the guy that wrote it and it pains him every time someone mentions it.
Can you tell us a few words about your next script “The Destroyer” and the two scripts you have in development, “Death Note” and “The Live Bet”?
Vlas – “The Destroyer” is set up at Sony with Chuck Roven, the producer of “Batman”, and Steve Chasman, the producer of “The Transporter”. It’s loosely based on the original adventure series written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. The easiest way to describe it would be to say it’s our Jason Bourne project.
“Death Note” is set up at Warner Brothers with Dan Lin (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Roy Lee (“The Ring” ) producing. It’s based on a popular manga in Japan.
“Live Bet” we wrote. It was the first script we ever sold. It is set up at Universal with Scott Stuber producing. It’s a very guys guy type film in the vein of heat.
We wish you all the best in your future projects and good luck with the “War of Gods”. We are very impatient to watch the movie.
Vlas – Thank you! Hopefully everything will turn out well and we’ll have that shot of ouzo!