David S. Cohen is an entertainment writer whom, along with his regular gig, has written and compiled two "Making of..." coffee-table-type books, one for Rango and one for Pacific Rim. But putting one of these tomes together is not just a matter of pasting up art and writing captions; many times the art isn't available, or the publisher and the studio are not on the same page, catching the author in the middle and scrambling to figure out what he can pull for his book and still make a deadline. In the second half of our conversation we discuss some of those problems.
When they lined up the book Rango, like Insight Editions lines up Pacific Rim, they don't line it up with the studios involved and then the studios just open up their archives for the project?
The conversation that was happening between Paramount and Insight Editions was "Well, we need this and this and this and this... We don't have it." And what happened was they finished the book. They had it in galleys, which they send as PDFs now, and they showed it to me. I said "Where's all the art?" They said "This is all we could get." There was art in it. But I wasn't happy. All these beautiful, amazing images I had seen were not in the book. Then they showed it to the company that had originally brought the project to Paramount and they said the same thing: "Where's all the art?" Those artists are their guys.
Who was holding back on delivering the art?
I don't want to malign anybody. I think it was just a bureaucratic thing that those images were on a server somewhere and the people at Paramount who were dealing with the publisher didn't know where it was. It was during layoffs and it just didn't happen. Then they brought the publisher all the art and said, "This is all we could get." At that point the floodgates opened and all the art became available. So they had to tear up the book and redo it in a very short time. I think that book is gorgeous, but they told me later that they felt they didn't get to do their best work on it because of that.
Who didn't get to do their best work?
Insight Editions, their people. But on this book, Pacific Rim, they didn't have that issue. So on this book you are really seeing what they can do when their designers and art people really have time to work with all the images.
In putting together a "Making of" or "The Art of" book without seeing the film, which you haven't, how does that inhibit you?
I had read a script. They give you a script. You're talking to everybody and you get to see pieces of it.
Do you think you would have done a different job on the book had you seen the entire film?
I will tell you this story: On Rango, we went through the very ending of the movie and, in fact, the cover of that book is a hero image of Rango on one of those roadrunners. That image isn't in the movie. They cut that scene out of the movie. But it's on the Blu-ray; it's on the Home Video edition. There's an extra scene at the end of the movie they cut from the theatricals. I'm sitting there at the screening and I'm waiting for that scene and then "Oh! The movie's over. Okay then." That's the risk you run, is that you'll be covering stuff in the book that gets cut out of the movie and that can happen.
But you're covering stuff that was filmed but didn't make it into the movie, so in actuality you're giving the fans an extra.
Right. Well, I'll say this: If we had known that that scene was only going to be on the Home Video edition, we would have done that in the book a little differently. You know, I am fairly confident that everything that I write about in this Pacific Rim book is in the movie. But there's no way to know that until the movie comes out. They edit right up until the end. Also there are things that are added; they're mostly small things.
When you got your first "Making of " book job, the Rango job, how did you approach that? Were you lost?
No. Here's some inside stuff on how these things work. When they approached me about the Rango book, they said it would be 10,000 words and it ended up being 14,000. When they approached me about Pacific Rim, they said it would be about 15,000 words and I think it ended up being 22,000. When you talk about 10,000 words, it's like writing a series of articles. In many respects this resembles what I do for Variety, but on a larger scale. So I knew how to do it. I'm an editor at Variety and I edit sections where we cover post and visual effects, so I understand the whole process of telling a story with a picture. A picture is going to do this for you, so that you don't have to do it with words. Sometimes you're going to be like, "Okay, with this we're going to have a picture and 200 words, and this over here is going to be mostly text, so there'll be 500 words on that part of the story."
I understood the organization of it because of all the work that I've done professionally for 15 years, since I've really started being a journalist instead of trying to be a screenwriter. What I found was that to do it to my standards was a little different from what everybody else involved wanted. The producers and the studio are fine as long as it's good and helps promote the movie. My ambitions for it are bigger and so are Insight Edition's.
They'll say, "You only have to do a dozen interviews." My reaction is "What do you mean I'm going to have to do a dozen interviews? I'm going to have to talk to 30 people and you're going to want me to talk to 30 people." On this book we talked to a half a dozen or so of the cast. I didn't get everybody because some were too busy. I'm going to need all the producers, I'm going to need the writer, I'm going to need the production designer and the costume designer and the cinematographer and the visual effects supervisor and the animation supervisor and the fight choreographer and the practical effects guys. When you start adding up all those interviews, it ends up being about 30 people. Some of them are longer interviews than others. You really want to get the story of this, especially when you're not imbedded on the set. What I actually do is that I use a digital note card program. I'm a baby boomer, so I remember the days of using 3x5 cards for term papers. I actually use a method similar to that, where I chop up those interviews into digital 3x5 cards and then sort them that way.
You don't lay them all out?
I don't print them. It's time-consuming, but what that means is that when I go to write my chapter on what happened on the set, I've got all my bites from 20 people about their stories from the set sort of set up on my computer. Then I can pick my quotes. Then you end up with something that is way too long. Then you really have to go through and kill your babies.
David S. Cohen can be found at his website, dscohen.com.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer, and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies, “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com.