After toiling in other people’s universes, I have a pretty good idea as to how worldbuilding should be done. I’ve seen it handled well and seen it done not so well. I have certainly contributed to shared worlds such as the Latchkeys universe that is now here and worked within the strictures of the DC Universe and of course, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Until now, though, I haven’t had to do any universe building of my own – at nothing that has ever been completed and seen printing (those are still developing).
But, to be hired to work on someone else’s world and be asked to help build it, now that’s an interesting creative challenge. Almost a year ago, Peter David contacted me and Mike Friedman about joining him on doing some work for M. Night Shyamalan’ s next movie 1000 AE. An original story, it was to star Jaden Smith, son of Will, and was set, well, 1000 years after mankind has left Earth. We signed the standard Non-Disclosure Statement and were shown the screenplay, which at the time was a draft from Gary Whitta, reworked by the director.
Since then, the movie morphed into After Earth, and now stars Will and Jaden Smith. You can see it for yourself on June 7, 2013.
Our assignment: figure out how things got this way. We got on the phone with some of the crew at Overbrook Productions, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s outfit, asked our questions, heard their ideas, and was pretty much freed to figure things out. Our main contact has been Caleeb Pinkett, Jada’s brother and a more enthusiastic, smart supporter you cannot ask for. We had several months to research, draft, and present and since the three of us have been working together for over 20 years, we had a comfortable rhythm.
I cannot tell you how much fun it was to figure things out. It meant reading history and science and trying to come up with spins on things so they weren’t stereotypical. We had to think about space, alien lifeforms, interstellar travel, rebuilding human society over a millennia, all using the script as our only guide. And of course, being a movie, the script kept evolving and we had to keep up with it.
We delivered a 273-page Bible, color coded to identify different threads and timelines. Fairly quickly, word came back that they loved it. Then they asked for some minor tweaks. Since then, after a new screenplay draft was written by Stephen Gaghan, they have come back to us to do some additional writing as new elements required explanation and background.
The notion that we’ve invented some things that may turn up in the movie and related material or be the basis for others to work with was pretty cool.
Plus, there are other After Earth plans in the works, but I can’t go into detail yet. Once we’re allowed to share, trust me, we will. You have no idea how exciting this has been to work on – more for spending quality time with Peter and Mike than the Hollywood glitz of it, but that part ain’t shabby.