Sunday, April 26, 2009
Interview with Daniel Kunka, screenwriter of the movie, 12 ROUNDS!
So you may have heard of this hit new movie called 12 Rounds starring John Cena that was recently released in theaters nationwide by 20th Century Fox. Well, my very talented friend, Daniel Kunka, wrote the script! And he's graciously agreed to come on my blog for a little Q&A. I figured since I interview so many authors, interviewing a screenwriter might be a nice change of pace and offer some insight to a whole other kind of storytelling.
Here's a brief synopsis of the plot:
Detective Danny Fisher discovers his girlfriend has been kidnapped by a ex-con tied to Baxter's past, and he'll have to successfully complete 12 challenges in order to secure her safe release.
So without further ado, here's my interview with 12 Rounds screenwriter, Daniel Kunka!
JB: How long did it take you to write 12 Rounds?
DK: It was a long process. I came up with the idea around August or September of ’05. It took me two or three months (and about eight tries) to get a solid outline. I then wrote the initial draft rather quickly, maybe over the course of three or four weeks, sticking relatively close to the outline. After we had the first draft I showed it to Josh McLaughlin (the producer of the movie) who then had a bunch of notes – basically, as with most first drafts, we were nowhere. I then took the better part of 2006 sitting around doing nothing, thinking about the script, not thinking about the script, until I had a couple of breakthroughs and got motivated. Rewriting is ALWAYS the toughest part of writing. I turned in my highly revised second draft at the end of 2006, then did a few polishes and sent the script to the studios in January of 2007. I put the script away until the WWE became involved and optioned the script in August of 2007. I then rewrote the script about eight more times (including moving the script location to New Orleans from Chicago) until we went into production in Spring of 2008. So all in, time wise it was about two and half years, with probably a good 18 months of that writing.
JB: The movie takes place in New Orleans. Was that always the location of the film? If not, what elements of the script did you have to update to accommodate the new location?
DK: I originally wrote the script set in Chicago. Chicago is my hometown and the old adage is true – write what you know. I was excited about incorporating things that I grew up with in the script, and I thought the signature set piece around an out of control ‘L’ train car would be quite fantastic on film. Unfortunately (and fortunately), we couldn’t shoot the movie in Chicago (too cold and too expensive) so we re-located to New Orleans. I actually think the move was for the better (or at least a push) – the city of New Orleans is fantastic and I loved finding new locations to set the action. And if you were to read the last Chicago script and the first New Orleans script I think you’d be surprised how well it translated. I would say 80% of the action just changed location, while the other 20% we exploited some things in New Orleans we could have never had in Chicago (the ferry across the Mississippi, the French Quarter).
JB: How different was the final shooting script to the screenplay you originally wrote? What about the final movie?
DK: The first draft to final draft is different but not really THAT different. I mean, the movie was always called 12 ROUNDS, so the conceit of the movie and the structure was always followed pretty close. The opening sequence was completely different from the original screenplay, and the original screenplay, although it had some elements of the final twist, was missing the final beats of the story that make everything come together. Some character stuff was different as well – we went back and forth about Danny and Molly’s relationship (although she was originally named Janine – I’m terrible with names). At first the were getting married, then the were living together but not engaged, then they were engaged. If there was one thing I could change about the final movie it would be to go back to some of those earlier scenes I had written for Danny and Molly – for myriad (and uninteresting) reasons we changed some of the character arcs around, but I still like some of those earlier scenes I had written. As for the final shooting script to the actual movie? I’d say it’s 95% there. We did add three additional small scenes I wrote after the movie was shot, but otherwise it’s very true to the script.
JB: I know novelists like to base their characters on people they know. Is anyone in 12 Rounds based on someone you know?
DK: I think all writers base characters on things that they know. Danny (who, by the way, is NOT named after me – I’m terrible with character names and I was trying to think of a likeable name for a guy in his mid-twenties and I always thought that anyone over the age of ten who could get away with being called Danny was a likeable guy. Me? I’ve always been Dan or just Kunka) is a guy who’s at a really great stage in his life – he’s got a job, he’s got a house, he’s got a great girlfriend. But maybe Danny doesn’t fully take on the responsibility of being an adult yet. I think that’s very familiar to people I know, that idea of not only becoming an adult, but embracing being an adult. Danny, I think, at the beginning of the movie would be a beat cop all his life. He’s not looking to move up or move on, he just wants to be able to drink beer on the weekends and watch sports. Oddly enough, I think Miles is more based on me than Danny is in some ways – I’ve been known to obsess over games and try to be the smartest guy in the room at times. So yeah, I think every character has some basis on either me or someone I’ve met in my life.
JB: 12 Rounds is your first produced screenplay (congrats, btw!) What was your process for getting it produced and released in theatres?
DK: It was long and arduous, and I’d like to say it was simply my great writing that got this thing on the big screen, but there was a lot of luck involved. Josh McLaughlin was a producer who I met after he had read one of my earlier screenplays – he liked the writing and liked me and offered to help me write the next one. I came up with 12 Rounds and Josh helped guide me through those early rough drafts, then eventually was the one who got the script into the hands of John Cena and the WWE. That was almost two and half years later and I thought the script was dead, to be honest, but suddenly we went from zero to sixty in about six seconds. Once the WWE signed on, they’re very much NOT like other companies – they had the money, they liked the script, and they were gonna make it. It all went very quickly after that, and as many people have said since, they won’t all be like this (meaning, most of the time in Hollywood is spent NOT making movies, rather than the other way around).
JB: Does this make it easier for you to get another film produced? Is there anything in the works?
DK: It helps me get in the door and get my voice heard. Having sole screenplay credit on a produced movie (and for it to be my first script to sell) is a complete anomaly. So that experience is invaluable, and moves me up a couple of rungs on the ladder. As for what’s next – I’m always writing the next script, and I’d also love to get into TV.
JB: Did you get to go on set during the shooting? What was that like?
DK: I was in New Orleans for about 6 weeks of shooting and it was completely surreal. Just to see the amount of people involved, all the crew, the guys working 16 hour days to bring your vision to the screen, it was both humbling and completely awesome. I love writing and I’ll write for the rest of my life, but this whole process has made me re-fall in love with making movies. That’s where the action is at, putting the story on screen.
JB: When you see the film in the theatre are there any cringe moments? Dialogue you wish you could go back and change?
DK: Oh yeah. The writer’s process is never over! I’m sure you probably feel the same way – once the book is published, once the movie is screened it really IS over. But it never feels that way. If I could go back there wouldn’t be a 100 things I’d like to change, but there would definitely be a few. It’s also different in movies because I’m not the final say – there are actors and directors and camera guys brining my vision to the screen. So as much as maybe I’d change something a little here and there, there’s also plenty of things on screen I had nothing to do with! But like I always say, there’s no shame in stealing a good idea and putting it up on screen, especially when you’re the one getting the credit!
12 Rounds will be released on DVD will be released in July. Click here to pre-order it on Amazon!