Prince of Persia movie sketchbook

Here are some sketches I made on the Prince of Persia set in Morocco.

India is the assistant script supervisor. The straw hat on the director’s chair is Mike Newell’s.


Posted on Mar 14, 2009 in Blog, Film, Prince of Persia, Sketchbook | 4 comments

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The birth of Indiana Jones

John August and Mystery Man have already posted about this priceless document: a 125-page typed transcript of a series of 1978 meetings between producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan in which they figure out the story line of their next movie, about an archaeologist hero named “Indiana Smith,” so that Kasdan can go off and write it.

Discovering this transcript has made my week (and it’s only Monday). I recommend it not just to screenwriters but to anyone interested in the process that goes into creating an iconic hero. Reading it, witnessing the characters, scenes and plot points of a familiar masterpiece emerge in real time from the mass of alternative possibilities, gave me chills. I couldn’t help thinking of Michelangelo’s apocryphal advice to “take a block of marble and chip away everything that doesn’t look like a Pieta.”

The classic Well of Souls snakepit scene, for example, is first envisioned as a flood, and evolves from there:

G [Lucas] — And then all the water rushes through?

S [Spielberg] — And he swims out with the water. It’s a waterfall.

G — The only problem with the water is it’s going to be hard to do, and it’s going to be hard to rationalize it. We can’t. We can call it the temple of life and establish that it has a lot of water in it. But, at the same time, it’s like the sand. Plus it’s such a classic thing.

S — What about snakes? All these snakes come out.

G — People hate snakes. Possibly when he gets down there in the first place.

L [Kasdan] — Asps? They’re too small.

S — It’s like hundreds of thousands of snakes.

As they discuss “the girl,” it’s fascinating to see what could have been a stock character take shape into one that sets the bar, not only for all later Indiana Jones movies, but pretty much for action-adventure blockbusters in general for the next thirty years. Some of Marion’s best scenes arise from their struggle to logically justify her presence (or absence) in certain setpieces:

G — We have to figure out a reason for them to take the girl at this point. Before I had it because she was a double agent.

L — Maybe here is where we can save the other thing. The Frenchman wants her, even though she’s not receptive to it. We can do that in a scene when he comes in to question her. Say he’s the Claude Rains character, it makes sense that he’s attracted to Barbara Stanwyck. The German says it’s time to get rid of her, the French guy says no.

G — The big thing with these movies is the damsel is going to get screwed by the bad guy. What we do is, in the interrogation scene the Frenchman is in love with her, coming on to her. The German torture guy could care less: “Get out of my way.” When they push her down into the snake pit, it’s the German guy who does it, and the Frenchman is very upset about it. “The girl was mine.” “She’s a waste of time, and we don’t need her.”

Then there are moments like this:

L — How do you see this guy?

G — Someone like Harrison Ford, Paul LeMat. A young Steve McQueen. It would be ideal if we could find some stunt man who could act.

S — Burt Reynolds. Baryshnikov.

For great commentary and more excerpts, check out Mystery Man’s and John’s posts. MM’s comments section offers various possible links to the full transcript in .pdf and html.

I have no idea how this got on the internet, and I hope Lucas, Spielberg et al don’t mind… but I’m really glad.

I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time the summer I graduated from high school, on a giant screen in Leicester Square in London. I still remember the excitement of that packed theater. To state the obvious, Raiders was the inspiration and template for Prince of Persia… the original 1989 Apple II game, as well as what came after.

Posted on Mar 10, 2009 in Blog, Film | 8 comments

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The Last Express Remixed

A couple of years ago, for a fun weekend project, I captured a dozen hours of gameplay footage from my 1997 adventure game The Last Express and edited it down into a single, 75-minute linear narrative.

Other than a walk down memory lane, I’m not sure what it’s good for. It doesn’t work as a movie — the demands of game vs. film storytelling are too different — and the low-res, dissolve-between-still-frames animation looks awfully clunky now. But for anyone who’s interested, here it is (in eight 10-minute segments).

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t played the game, Part 8 gives away the ending.

The Last Express – Part 1 from jordan mechner on Vimeo.

Parts 2-8 are available here.

Posted on Mar 7, 2009 in Blog, Film, Games, Last Express | 22 comments

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It’s official: I’m writing a film adaptation of Fathom, the comic book series created by the late, great Michael Turner. Megan Fox is attached to star.

The first time I read the book about ten years ago, my immediate reaction was “I wish I’d thought of that!” (It’s about a young girl who discovers that she belongs to an ocean-dwelling race that has existed secretly alongside humans for thousands of years.)

At that time, the film rights were with James Cameron’s company, they already had a writer, and Ubisoft and I were in early discussions about the project that would become Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. So I put Fathom out of my mind… for ten years.

Last October, out of the blue, I got a call from Fox Atomic saying they were starting over with Fathom and would I be interested in writing the screenplay? Were they kidding? I pitched my take to Fox execs Zak Kadison and Eric Lieb and producers Peter Safran, Steve Bessen, Brian Austin Green, and Frank Mastromauro. They liked it, so I got to pitch it again to a slightly larger group including Megan and studio head Debbie Liebling. (If that sounds like an intimidating roomful of people, it kind of is.)

Now the news is out, and I’m incredibly stoked. Megan is a Michael Turner fan from way back and was instrumental in making this project happen. She’s perfectly cast as Aspen Matthews. 

Watch this space for updates. It may take a while till the next one, though. I need to go write now.

Posted on Mar 4, 2009 in Blog, Comics, Fathom, Film | 7 comments

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A trickster prince

Though the Prince of Persia has managed to survive for 20 years as a videogame hero without any character ever mentioning his name, this wasn’t a realistic option when it came to writing the movie. He needed a name.

I found it in this passage from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings):

[The Simorgh] went to the youth and said, “O brave young man, until today I have brought you up as if I were your nurse, and I have taught you speech and the ways of virtue. Now it is time for you to return to your own birthplace. Your father has come searching for you. I have named you Dastan (The Trickster) and from now on you will be known by this name.”

Despite what the Simorgh says, the new name doesn’t stick; everyone goes back to calling him by his real name, Zal. But Dastan seemed like the perfect name for my prince (especially since Zal wasn’t using it). So I borrowed it.

The Trickster has been a popular heroic archetype for thousands of years (Joseph Campbell called him the “Hero with a Thousand Faces”). From his first incarnation as an Apple II sprite, the prince has run, jumped and scrambled firmly in the footsteps of other well-known Tricksters like Robin Hood, Zorro, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and (of course) the Man with No Name.

As it turns out, the word dastan has shadings I wasn’t aware of — shadings that make it an even more appropriate name for the prince than I realized.

First, several people (including Jake Gyllenhaal the first day we met) have pointed out to me that Dastan is also a Persian word meaning “story.” And so it is, although the vowel is pronounced differently. According to wikipedia, a Dastan is a type of Central Asian oral history “centered on one individual who protects his tribe or his people from an outside invader/enemy.” Hey, just like every video game.

Then, I came across this fascinating article by Dick Davis (the translator of the English edition of the Shahnameh I quoted above). He’s discussing the qualities of the Trickster Hero as they pertain to Rostam, Persia’s greatest epic hero (think Hercules, Siegfried, etc), who is way more famous than Zal or Dastan. It’s a great example of the kind of nuances that get lost in translation:

There is also the curious nature of his name to be taken into account. He is often referred to as “Rostam-e Dastan,” which can have two different meanings. One, “Rostam the son of Dastan,” is the meaning the poem foregrounds, and his father, Zal, is seen as having somewhere along the line acquired a second name, Dastan. But the phrase can also mean “Rostam who possesses the quality of dastan”, and the word “dastan” means “trickery.” This, I believe, was the original meaning of the phrase “Rostam-e Dastan” (probably long before the Shahnameh was written, while the stories of Rostam still had a solely oral existence), i.e. “Rostam the trickster”, the equivalent of Homer’s “Odysseus of many wiles”, and only later did the word dastan come to be identified as the name of his father (after all, his father already had a name, Zal).

The prince in Sands of Time (the video game) at one point wishes aloud that he had the strength of Rostam so that he could smash through a certain wall. I figured a seventh-century Persian prince would have grown up hearing those tales and would use them as a point of reference.

Now he’s got a name of his own.

Posted on Mar 2, 2009 in Blog, Film, Games, Prince of Persia | 26 comments

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