Interview

Interview

Exclusive: 'Clash of the Titans' Writers Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay

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It's a scary, thrilling time to belong to Generation X. Scary because so many favorite films from our ‘80s childhood are being remade, reimagined or sequalized in Imax 3D with wall-to-wall CGI and budgets that could finance rockets to Mars. Our memories are delicate things, and, for better or for worse, nostalgia's so precious most of us would rather not sully it with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But, yeah, these days can be kind of thrilling too, and every once in a while we get J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. Since this year will bring us Platinum Dunes' A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tron Legacy, and the revamped Clash of the Titans, I expect we're in for a helluva ride, especially after chatting with the screenwriters behind director Louis Letterier's new Clash – Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay. Both gentlemen appear to be earnest admirers of stop-motion animation director Ray Harryhausen's beloved original, as well as Harryhausen's other creature epics. Though they're not above adding a few new monsters to the mix. (Harpies anyone?) Check out my full conversation with Manfredi and Hay after the jump.

How closely did you guys want to follow the original Clash of the Titans, and how much did you want to pursue a new direction?

Manfredi: We were obviously huge fans of the original Clash, and we jumped at the chance to work on it. In terms of adhering to the original, I think we had some things that were very important to us to include. Some things that just ARE Clash of the Titans to us – like Calibos, Medusa, the Kraken, the witches, Pegasus. So in terms of remaking Clash we knew those had to be there. I think the departures we took were tonally in some respects, really trying get a little more inside Perseus's head and what is motivating him to go on this journey.

Hay: Yeah, we basically wanted to take all the stuff that we as fans remembered from the original, and all the stand-out items from among the things that we listed, and find a way to tie them all together in the context of a modern version of Clash of the Titans. The changes that we've weaved through it is character stuff, thematic stuff, some story structure, but always kind of weaving through those signature beats of the original that, to us as fans, had to be there in some way.

Did you decide to add elements of Greek mythology that weren't in the original film?

Manfredi: There were a few things, yeah. I think, for example, we used the gods differently. We used different gods in some ways. Apollo kind of has a more direct function here. Obviously Hades is a new god that was used, and that whole story of brotherly betrayal from about seven million years ago still plays out in the plot of the movie. That's kind of new. There's a lot of different creatures. The Harpies, for example – we wanted to create an air combat, almost like a World War II aircraft vibe, in the final set piece with the Kraken. So that was a way of pulling something out of Greek mythology that we thought was a cool adversary for Perseus when he was astride the winged horse.

Hay: Yeah. And I think the relationship between Zeus, Hades and Poseidon; there's a story  about how they came to be Olympians and who got to rule what, and the betrayal involved there. It's the basis for where the story begins.

You mentioned the Harpies. They, of course, figure into Jason and the Argonauts. It sounds like you guys were big Harryhausen fans growing up.

Hay: Totally. It's one of those interesting things where you have such a specific relationship with not only Clash of the Titans but all those movies as a kid. They kind of occupy a very specific and special place in your mind. Then to kind of interact with them in a different way, to actually tell a similar and yet different version of those stories… I think one of the great things about the original Clash of the Titans is that it's a synthesis of so many different myths, and it's a kind of sampling of interesting tropes in mythology, interesting characters and interesting creatures. It's true of our version too, in that we're sampling across all of these different mythological stories and these beasts and these creatures, and weaving them together to try to tell out story.

Manfredi: The Harryhausen stuff is really inspiring. It was very inspiring to me as a kid, who was interested in movies and how they were made. Because, on a visceral level, it's very stunning and exciting and scary at times, but it's also accessible in a way, because you can kind of see how it's done. It's stop-motion, and everybody knows about that. So it's very encouraging for someone who thinks they might want to do that someday, because it's kind of laid out for you.

Hay: To me that stuff accesses – in a way that we hope to tonally with our movie – directly accesses your sense of play as a kid, your imagination of playing in this world. I think that's a big part of Clash of the Titans – playing in this world.

Do you guys have a favorite Harryhausen film?

Hay: This is gonna sound cliché, but it is Clash of the Titans. Jason and the Argonauts is amazing, Sinbad of course… Really it's Clash of the Titans for me. But I kind of see them as a whole package in a way.

Manfredi: Yeah, it's Clash for me as well. Simply because I was reading these Greek myths growing up, and so to see them come to life was pretty great.

The original Clash is somewhat fanciful in design. Did you find yourselves drawing from ancient history in an effort to make your version more realistic, or did you also go for a stylized approach?

Manfredi: I think by nature of what special effects are now it's going to look more realistic. In terms of adapting this for today, our goal was to retain the sense of fun that the original had, but at all times [raise] the stakes to make these characters feel very exciting and real. To craft a real adventure, as opposed to an action movie, or as opposed to a historical epic.

In the trailer we see a level of grit one may not associate with their childhood memories of a flying white horse. Was there a conscious effort to make it a darker film, in the vein of, say, 300?

Manfredi: I think that it kind of naturally evolved as we talked about it. Creatively, the idea was to make the world of the gods very… The word you used – "fanciful" – makes sense, the kind of cleanness and pristine-ness of how they see themselves versus how they act. But on the human level, when you're with Perseus and you're with the men that go on the journey with him…Which I think is a big difference with our version versus the original – we try to create a squad, basically, that goes on this mission with him; that all have their own personalities and their own roles to play. When you're with them… I think it's something that Sam [Worthington] kept coming back to – that I think he was really right about – this journey in a way is about Perseus going through the mud that is the life of a human, and choosing that over the kind of pristine, powerfulness of being a god.

Hay: Yeah. Just to build on that – I think so much of the movie is about man finding his or her way in this world that has been ruled by the gods for so long. And these gods are not necessarily worthy. They're not looking out for your best interests. So you've got this kind of elevated – literally and figuratively –- world that they live in and all the humans are down in the muck. We're trying to highlight that contrast a little bit. And Perseus is the one who's gonna lead them all out. He chooses to be down there with them, basically.

Considering that this type of material draws a very young audience, how dark did you want to make the film? The original's monsters could be pretty scary for kids. But how scary is too scary when kids are concerned?

Manfredi: That's a good question. One of the things that's great is, in working with Louis, there's a genuineness about Louis and a positive energy (for lack of a better word) that kind of organizes everything. We always were thinking about it, at many levels. In terms of the stories themselves… For example, within the movie we tell the origin story of Medusa, which is an incredibly dark story. You hope that within the context of the movie it works because of the bigness of the mythological stories. I think in terms of the action Louis's been very conscious to play it where, again for lack of a better term, you're trying to get that sense of fun, adventure-movie violence as opposed to super-disturbing graphic violence. It's a monster movie. It's a creature picture. In terms of that, Medusa is scary in the original one, and you want that kind of cat-and-mouse feeling of the character being hunted by this monster. So that in and of itself is a little scary at times. But it's not gory.

Hay: One of the things I loved about the Medusa story in the original, and it plays out a little bit differently in our version, but one element I wanted to preserve was, in the original, the Medusa set piece plays out kind of in a horror-thriller beat, which I think is an interesting contrast to the other action beats. That's some of the vibe we're going for here as well.

Do you guys have a favorite monster from this film, or from any of Harryhausen's films?

Hay: With the Harryhausen films, I'm gonna go back on myself and say the skeletons [from Jason and the Argonauts] are hard to beat. I'm going out of my Clash of the Titans mode for a second. [Laughs.] In this, I actually feel the Kraken is really shockingly good to me. The conception is really specific.

Manfredi: That is one of the ones when we were writing the script… We saw sketches of what they were thinking about, but in terms of the scale of what was gonna be on screen, we just didn't know until we saw it. And when you see it it's just massive. They did a fantastic job with it. There are other things where we knew at least what the scale of these creatures were going to look like when we were doing it. And with the Kraken, I was always, like, on paper, "This is the biggest thing you've ever seen." I'd think, "Well, I hope they realize that." [Laughs.] So it's great. With me, from the Harryhausen stuff, it's Medusa. She was so freaky in the original. And it was a literal translation of something I'd read as a child – snakes for hair – it blew your mind. The fact that they were able to bring that to life was pretty thrilling to me. And I also loved Calibos. There was something just very cool and different about that to me when I saw him in the original. We were psyched to be able to have him in this one too.

One last question… In real life, what are your greatest fears?

Manfredi: I don't like swimming in deep water.

Hay: I'm gonna say food poisoning.

Manfredi: I've seen Phil avoid restaurants like no one's business. I can confirm that.

So no Ponderosa salad bar for you?

Hay: Exactly. You've just shaken me to my core, sir. [Laughs.]

Thanks so much for your time, guys. We're really looking forward to Clash.

Manfredi: Thank you for talking to us. We're just really excited about the movie.

Hay: Right on.

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