How on Earth (no pun intended) does one write a screenplay like The Martian, where the majority of your story is set on an alien landscape? How, in addition, does a screenwriter attack a story where the lead character is all alone on a planet for 95% of the film?
These are but a sliver of the obstacles facing The Martian screenwriter Drew Goddard as he sat down to adapt Andy Weir’s best-selling novel for Sir Ridley Scott to direct. Goddard’s no slouch at the keyboard, having scripted episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and Lost, as well as the feature films Cloverfield and The Cabin in the Woods (the latter of which, he directed). We were able to speak with Goddard at the Toronto International Film Festival about his experiences working on The Martian (a movie we LOVED), and this is what we learned:
Writing Scenes Set On Mars Wasn’t As Hard As You’d ThinkOne reality that struck me repeatedly while watching The Martian was that it physically looks like Sir Ridley transported Matt Damon to the Red Planet to capture the scenes that he needed. They actually filmed in Jordan and Hungary, but when I sat with Goddard, I wondered if having an alien location as his necessary backdrop affected him when he started to write. I mean, did he know how Ridley Scott would be able to film something that looked enough like Mars that the audience would believe him? Goddard told me:
I’m sort of appropriately naive, because if I knew how hard these things would be [to film], I sometimes probably wouldn’t do them, you know? But Ridley, I mean… I watch the movie, and I forget that we didn’t actually shoot it on Mars. When we’d watch early cuts, occasionally the camera would pan over and catch a bush they hadn’t painted out yet and I’d go, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not Mars?’ Even my brain just couldn’t figure it out, because boy, Ridley’s good at that.
Goddard admitted that he does think of the budget before he writes the screenplay, and if it looks like thye won’t be able to afford exotic, martian locations, he might start thinking about ways to cleverly get around the visual obstacle. Thankfully, one of the reasons why The Martian is so fantastic is because it LOOKS great. And we believe that Matt Damon is all by himself, on an alien world.
Being A Lonely Writer Actually Helped Him Understand The MaterialWhile we’re on the topic of being by yourself, Drew Goddard and I talked about the process of writing, and how it’s a solitary "sport." This mindset actually helped him understand Mark Watney (Matt Damon), the stranded astronaut who is left behind after a Mars missions goes sour, and must figure out how to survive for a VERY long time while he waits for NASA to rescue him. Goddard told me:
I think part of the reason I became a writer is because I’m comfortable being alone. So it’s this weird combination, and I think some of this is in The Martian, where there’s good and bad to it. There is something -- I don’t view being alone as a negative all the time. I think you have to balance it, you know? I think there’s those moments of reflection that -- and there are moments I think in the movie where -- it’s almost spoken as a positive that I’m the first man alone on a planet. Like, there’s something so sad about it, but also so special about it. Like, there’s weird… we tried to capture both, so that it isn’t, so that then when you’re not alone, it means more I suppose. Because, like, you’re just craving connections in this movie.
That feeling of isolation, and of joy when a connection is established, is very important to the vibe of The Martian, and it’s yet another aspect that Drew Goddard and Sir Ridley Scott got right when adapting Andy Weir’s novel.
He Wishes He Could Have Directed This One SceneBefore Sir Ridley decided to make The Martian his latest feature, Drew Goddard was on the hook to make Weir’s adaptation his anticipated follow-up to The Cabin in the Woods. It wasn’t meant to be, I suppose, but I was certain that Goddard had at least started mapping out a few visual sequences in his brain. I asked if there was a particular sequence in his screenplay that he wished he had the opportunity to direct, and he opened up:
Hmmm, that’s a great question. I was really excited about a couple of the montages, you know? The ‘Waterloo’ montage. I just was like, that’s going to work.
He’s referring to a scene late in the movie where Matt Damon’s character has to complete a difficult task, and the sequence – like a lot of The Martian -- is set to a catchy disco track… in this case, Waterloo by Abba. Goddard’s eyes light up as he talks more about his approach to it, saying:
When I watch it now, I really feel the movie comes together right there in a special way. … I tend to look for things, and I felt this way on Cabin where, it’s like, I was excited everyday about every scene. If there’s a scene I wasn’t excited about, we just wouldn’t put it in. And I felt that way about Andy’s book. I love all of these scenes, like, ‘Oh good, this scene! Oh good, now this scene.’
Remember Drew Goddard when you get to the Waterloo scene in The Martian, which opens everywhere on Friday, Oct. 2.