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Exclusive: Screenwriter Sean Hood Talks About his 'Conan the Barbarian'

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When you say Conan the Barbarian, most people think of the campy 1980s film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Few think of the old pulp stories that frequently appeared in Weird Tales. Screenwriter Sean Hood is one of the few who thinks of Conan as the latter. His passion for the property comes across as we ask him about his version of Conan the Barbarian.

Is this a remake of the 1980s film, or a new entry into the Conan oeuvre?

The new movie takes its inspiration from Robert E. Howard, who created Conan the Barbarian in the pages of the Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales, and who basically created the entire swords and sorcery sub-genre. Although we did not adapt a specific story, we looked at tales such as "Red Nails" and "Queen of The Black Coast" for style, tone, and character. The movie has only a superficial similarity to the Arnold film, and it is not a remake.  

Tell us about your take on Conan the Barbarian.

I tried my best to make sure that in the shooting script, Conan's character reflected the vision of Robert E. Howard. While Conan shows fierce loyalty to friends, a hatred for the practice of slavery, a respect for female warriors, and a disdain for civilization, he is not driven by any higher purpose. Unlike some heroes who "learn a lesson" or "grow" in the course of a story, Conan is compelling precisely because - despite enormous danger and pressure - he stubbornly refuses to change. His virtues are strength, stamina, and cunning. But he is also a thief, a pirate and a slayer. He is charismatic and lusty. He likes drink heavily and carry off naked, eager slave girls. He is brutal and a bit bloodthirsty. He loves "the feasting of swords!" And he is dark and brooding. He's prone to deep melancholy.

Ultimately, I think that Conan, as he appears in the Robert E. Howard stories and in the new movie, lives in the moment. This is why you hear him say, in the trailer, "I live, I love, I slay. I am content." 

Is there much mythology?

The mythology all comes from Robert E. Howard's descriptions of The Hyborian Age. This includes a wide range of cities, nations, clans, history, and magic. While I was in Bulgaria doing rewrites, producer Fred Malberg would send me volumes of notes every week to make sure that every detail fit with "the Howard cannon." Fred himself was present on set to be sure that the cities, tribes, costumes and behavior were in tune with the source material. I made several references directly from Robert E. Howard stories including the battle of Venarium and Conan's days as a thief in Zamora. Fans of the stories will recognize the ancient civilization of Acheron. Micheal Stackpole expands on the mythology in his novelization. 

There are a number of writers credited on the film. Where did you come in in the process? Were you working off an old script? If so, how much did you get to change?

When I started the bulk of my work on the film, there were only two weeks until shooting was scheduled to begin. Sets were already built, characters were cast, stunts were choreographed, and special effects were pre-visualized. Although a lot of scene, story and character elements ultimately changed, I had to work within some very tight parameters under intense pressure to deliver pages quickly. Production rewrites are sometimes described as "changing the wheels on a moving car." Ultimately I worked on revisions throughout production all the way to the last day of shooting, through reshoots, and even throughout editing. I ended up contributing about 50% of the final script, and about 33% of the story. The writing team Donelly & Oppenheimer wrote early drafts, and they laid the bedrock for the story and characterizations. Their names appear before mine in the credits because the WGA determined that their contribution ultimately was larger than mine, and I agree.

Andrew Lobel also did some work on the script before me, but according to the WGA arbitration, he didn't contribute enough to get credit on the film. However, a number of key lines ("How many names do I need?"), memorable locations, and concepts of Andrew's remain in the final shooting script. 

What kind of monsters can we look forward to? How closely did you work with the director and the FX team on deciding which monsters would be used? Did you consult with them on any of the specifics?

The monsters are fierce, Lovecraftian nightmares. When I started work a lot of effects previsualization had already be worked out, but I did get to tweak the specifics.

Star Jason Momoa claims he has already written a sequel. Any truth to this? Have they spoken to you about a sequel?

Jason is very, very excited about his breakthrough role. So excited that he's imagining material for a sequel, and who can blame him? I think that's an indication of his passion for the character. I remember Jason mumbling whole passages of the original Conan stories to himself to get into character. I think he said that he has written down a story idea, but not an entire script.

There are lots of possibilities for Conan 2, including a script by Dirk Blackman [Underworld: Rise of the Lycans] that is already completed. If the first Conan is successful enough worldwide to warrant a sequel (and in my optimistic fantasies it will be), all the producers and executives involved will then start looking at proposals and pitches for a follow up.  

Do you have any thoughts on where you would want to see a sequel go?

I'd probably like to do a sequel based on one of my two favorite Conan stories: "Queen of the Black Coast" [in which Conan becomes a pirate alongside headstrong femme fatale Belit] and "The Frost Giant's Daughter" [in which Conan chases a mysterious nymph tirelessly across the frozen region of Nordheim]. 

Can you tell us about The Haunting in New York? What can we expect from it? Does it have any relation to The Haunting in Connecticut/Georgia?

The Haunting in... movies are all stand alone ghost stories, not "sequels." They are all part of the same "franchise" in that they are all based on true stories.

[Ed. note - Details on the plot have been hard to come by, but according to Hood's blog, "There really was a beautiful but mute teenaged girl in a wheelchair who saw visions of angels and demons;there really was a family harassed and stalked by a presence that seemed drawn to her, and these "events" really did culminate in a disturbing exorcism."]

Can you tell us anything about Blackwell?

Blackwell is a dark, hallucinatory thriller based on a famous newspaper article written by Nellie Bly, one of the first female investigative journalists. The script is set in 1888 and follows Nellie as she fakes insanity in order to go undercover as an inmate at Blackwell's Island, a women's asylum. However, once inside she discovers that it is nearly impossible to get out.   

David Higgins (Hard Candy) at Sobini Films is producing. Nellie Bly is the type of "big female part" that would require a young A-list actress such as Ellen Page. Interest is brewing among some exciting directors and actresses on that one, so I have high hopes.

Any other genre projects in the works?

I recently finished a first draft of Rambo: Last Stand (Rambo 5) for Millennium films, based on a story idea by Sylvester Stallone. Hopefully, Mr. Stallone will eventually have the time and the inclination to do another Rambo. I also did some rewrites on another Robert E. Howard project, which will hopefully be propelled into production by the success of Conan. I've also done several original drafts of an upcoming Hercules film.

And the first spec horror script I ever sold, back in 2000, The Dorm, is finally going into production as an MTV film. 

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