After an intense week of filming, you’d think that writer/director Scott Zakarin would be able to enjoy his Saturday, especially since he had to be up early on Sunday for the next location. Instead, his morning was spent in a business meeting, taking care of some issues relating to his role as CEO of Creative Light. Then he needed to do some rewrites on the script before the toughest job he has: Dad. That afternoon he hosted his five-year-old son’s birthday party. Yeah, that’s relaxing.
We still found some time after lunch to sit down and run down an update as to how things were going.
Derek McCaw: We’re two weeks into filming, this is supposed to be your day off, but late last night you messaged me and said you had to do re-writes today or “the production is screwed.” I know you were joking, but what is being re-written? I know it’s common on a movie, but with a production moving as fast as this one, what do you have to fix?
Scott Zakarin: Once you start making the movie, things become more apparent. You imagine something one way, and then the best location you can get, which might be better than you imagined, or may not be as good, brings different challenges to it. Ultimately, you have to change the script on the fly and that then has a ripple effect on the rest of the script.
So I find that I’m rejustifying certain things. Sometimes you also realize on a low-budget movie that you’re too ambitious in certain areas. You have to figure out how you can moodge scenes together to get the same information across without it seeming slow. Then you need to reduce the original intent of the scenes. You’re re-writing for many reasons.
Also, you’re getting a certain level of performance from your actors. You see different strengths, and you want to adjust to that. I always look at the last draft of the script as being when you’ve finished mixing the movie. The shooting of the movie is almost a rewrite in itself.
DM: One of the techniques I saw you using yesterday was having Matt Keeslar improvise as Jekyll, playing around with the “audiotape” journals.
SZ: Matt Keeslar and I spoke a lot about the character and about the science fiction of this in preparation for the movie. We were doing research, and he was sending me very involved emails about what he had discovered. He had been picking my brain. I’d obviously been looking for an actor who would own the character that way. I was more than happy to do that.
It occurred to me that it would be nice to carry this motif of him talking to a tape recorder. It’s the equivalent in the original story of this letter that he had left to Utterson, his lawyer. That was ultimately his will. This tape recorder device is a nice way of bridging the Utterson character and the Jekyll character’s relationship, and help bring some naturalness to the science fact of the story. You could do it in dialogue, but then it sounds like dialogue. But if you’re actually hypothesizing, then it’s very interesting to just speak that out loud.
We intended, at some point since we were shooting high def, to just sit down and have a discussion about the plot points and the science.
DM: Matt described that letter to Utterson as almost a love letter. And now you’ve pointed out that Utterson is now a woman in your version. Why? Now it’s even changed from the draft that I had originally read into more of a love triangle involving Utterson.
SZ: The idea was that Utterson was the only person in the original novella who really loved Henry. His fiancée, yes, but in my version of it it’s more about marrying a doctor who’s cute than it is about marrying a researcher who could change the world.
But I thought a person who is making these experiments, and is actually trying to do something good, is a different type of hero. He’s a hero who is trying to buck convention and common thinking to make a difference. The only person who really understood that, or was patient enough with Jekyll to give him the room, was Utterson.
Ultimately, that’s the tragedy: that Utterson gave Jekyll the room and it ends up being his destruction.
In our version, there’s that moment where Michelle Utterson confronts Poole, Jekyll’s lab assistant. You get the sense that Poole wants to tell her, and she’s fishing for it. At that moment, if either them had cared a little less or had a little less loyalty, shown a little tough love, they would have stopped Jekyll. It wouldn’t have led to his destruction. On the other hand, then you would have no story, and we wouldn’t be making this movie based on a great novella written over a hundred years ago.
DM: Let’s talk about your Jekyll, now that I’ve seen his performance. He’s taken a lot of his Hyde from Charles Manson and his research. Now I’ve been hearing about a scene that we shall politely dub “the taco incident” that comes straight out of his research. Can you talk about it?
SZ: I don’t want to get too specific because I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but sure.
Matt and I would hang out and actually go to strange places together a couple of times before the shoot. We were kindred spirits in that we thought that the odd nuances of character should be part of the story. I explained to him from the beginning that I didn’t want it to be just black and white, that Hyde was just evil and Jekyll good. They both needed to be striped with shades of each other.
He was really into that idea. If I can use this as a phrase to describe it, we had this Twin Peaks sort of feeling about the oddness of the Hyde character, where his lust and manipulative nature would drive him.
Matt came to me one morning and said “I have this idea about eating fried chicken…” After he explained, I thought okay, but let’s contemporize it a little bit. We both fell onto this idea and everyone looked at us cross-eyed when we were doing it. But it’s become legend in the offices and on the production set. Whether that will translate past that to audiences will depend on how the movie does.
I was sitting in Video Village (a little area off the set for the monitors) saying this is sort of like when in Rocky, Stallone drank the raw eggs. Everybody remembered that moment, so maybe this is our raw eggs moment.