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 Think
One 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:
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 Material
While 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:
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 Scene
Before 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:
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:
Remember Drew Goddard when you get to the Waterloo scene in The Martian, which opens everywhere on Friday, Oct. 2.
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