Pacific Rim's Travis Beacham Talks Bringing The Humanity Into Monster Vs. Mech Madness

The attraction of a movie like Pacific Rim is certainly the battles between giant robots and giant monsters. It’s the stuff that blockbuster filmmaking is made of, and makes the Guillermo del Toro film a perfect fit for this year’s schedule of summer spectacle. But as great as it is to see epic battles play out both in the middle of the ocean and in the midst of cityscapes, the truth is that without strong characters and story the action can get old quick. That balancing act was one of the many challenges that screenwriter Travis Beacham faced when writing the script with the director.

A couple weeks back I flew up to San Francisco, California to take part in a press day for Pacific Rim, where I had the opportunity to sit down with the writer and talk about the new film (which is in theaters this Friday). Read on to learn about the initial inspiration that led to the script, working with del Toro through the writing process, and creating a larger world beyond what wes eein the film.

You have to be ecstatic to see this movie come out in the big screen, right?

Oh yeah, I’m blown away.

Does it match with your original vision, for what you saw?

Yeah, it does. I think, you know, a lot of new ideas were brought to the table, but I think what’s really special about it is that, when you have people working towards a common purpose, then the final product is something that you recognize and that’s really what’s happened here and that’s what’s so rare about this experience, because ordinarily, it doesn’t work like that at all. Ordinarily it’s, you know, everybody is picturing something sort of different, but this, from the very beginning, Guillermo, Legendary, myself, they all sort of saw the same movie about the same thing and so every new idea that was brought to it, you know, pushed in that same direction.

What was your initial inspiration for the film?

It was, well, I’ve always really wanted to see... I sort of couldn’t believe that no one had done it before, you know. I really wanted to see kind of a modern, special effects laden blockbuster that was mechs versus kaiju. I was really, really nuts about that, but you know, that’s not a story idea in and of itself and I think the idea that really changed everything and that really let the story come about was that there were two pilots, that it took two pilots to drive this thing, because then suddenly the relationships are literally at the core of the battles, at the heart of it, and the baggage matters, and the feelings matter and the people matter, not only to themselves as characters, but to the battles and how they work and therefore to the world as a whole and that I think, you know, that let it be a story that was about people rather than just an excuse for you know, different action sequences.

That is the real heart of this film. You have to have the people, otherwise you just don’t care. It’s just CGI hitting CGI.

Yeah, exactly.

So, when you’re writing this script, how do you go about balancing the real and the epicness?

Yeah, it’s, well it’s not necessarily difficult. It’s, you just, you have to sort of put something aside and for me, it was exposition, you know, and I like those kinds of sci-fi movies anyway, you know. I like how Blade Runner kind of drops you into this world and you have to figure it out as you go along, you know. I really, really like that, and I knew that this couldn’t be a sort of, you know, bacon and eggs morning commute, aliens land sort of movie, because then, you know, you’re spending two acts just explaining and building the road blocks, but if it started well into the conflict, you know, and the jaegers were established and the kaiju techs were established, then the story could take place in the world as opposed to the world taking place in the story.


And so, you could say, “Well, ok, who were the interesting people in this world,” you know and it doesn’t have to be the president, you know, to explain things to everybody, and that I think was a really, sort of, liberating notion.

You met Guillermo del Toro years back, right? You met him on Killing on Carnival Row

Yeah, I was fresh out of film school.

So, what, I mean, what was your initial impression of him, when you first met?

Well, I was a huge fan of him, the first time I met him, and he’s very generous. He’s a very garrulous fellow, and definitely a fan of all this stuff, but initially I was really sort of intimidated by him, you know, just because I loved his work so much.


But, then when he came on board with this, you know, I think, you know, it was sort of, I was glad to finally have an opportunity to really work with him, now that I’d been in the industry for a while and had gotten used to the idea of being around people that I was a huge fan of, you know.

What exactly was the pitch that you went into your meeting with, because I know he brought the ideas of the drift and the pilots sharing memories.

It was like an eighteen page thing, and it was about Mako and Raleigh and they still both had experienced tragedy and loss and it was about them coming together to drive this Jaeger that would coincidentally turn out to be a very integral sort of component in the final, you know, last act plan. And I think in talking to him about it, you know, he was, he sort of explicitly talked about the idea about the connection between the two pilots and firmly sort of equated it with love and that kind of thing. The connection was in the treatment. I think Guillermo really keyed in on the emotional, on the emotional context of it and firmed that up a lot.

The relationship between Charlie Hunnam’s character and Rinko Kikuchi is really interesting because it’s not an on-the-nose romantic relationship, but there is this clear connection between them. So, how do you go about building that closeness without necessarily making it romantic?

It was, I mean, it was a balancing act, I think, not only down in the script, but in the editing, because I think of the first draft of the script, the romantic connection was way more explicit, you know, not necessarily, you know, not necessarily explicit in like, you know, a graphic sense, but like, it was explicit in the sense that, you know, this was a kind of love story. I think in workshopping the script and then producing it and then filming it, and in bringing in the ensemble, and thinking about what they’re doing, it became naturally a more sort of, you know, it had sort of romantic connotations, but it’s much more of a friendship kind of thing and that is in part because like that’s such a huge gap to jump, from total stranger to like soul mate, you know, in one movie. So, I think it naturally just drifted into the way of like, “Well, we’ll get them partially there, because who knows where we end up later.”

Was there anything during the writing process that you and Guillermo didn’t see eye to eye on?

Not really, yeah, I think it’s been a very, really sort of charmed experience and I think it sort of spoiled me on making from this point on, because it’s like, you know, especially with Guillermo and Legendary and everybody, yeah, it’s just, we were all on the same page and it’s been a really fortunate, it’s been really fortunate that that’s been the case.

Just as a geek, I just love the idea of larger universes and building beyond what you see in the film. Was there any detail from the larger universe that didn’t make it into the film, but that you absolutely loved?

Yes, and I don’t want to go into too much detail, because it may be story matter for other, but I think, you know, we’re gonna be a bit more adventurous with the drift and what that means and the subjective reality of that.

What are you working on now? What are you developing?

I’m working on a science fiction crime drama series on AMC, called Ballistic City that takes place on a generational starship. So, that’s, and they’ve been really fun to develop with.

How far along is it?

I’m just now rewriting the pilot. So, it’s, fingers crossed, they’re really excited about it, but no decisions have been made.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.