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Interview: Travis Beacham on “Pacific Rim”

"Pacific Rim" screenwriter Travis Beacham

“Pacific Rim” screenwriter Travis Beacham

In Hollywood, the summer studio tentpole films can often times be reduced to a single formula: big ideas require big stories, which in turn, require big films. As a result, Hollywood often turns to creative insurance to help steer audiences towards a more reliable return, whether it be through the means of reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels or whatever cinematic fad is running rampant through showbusiness. However, this summer, one film with an original story, all-out action and an internationally-woven universe of its own is aiming to challenge that formula, and in the boldest way possible. That film is Warner Brothers Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ Pacific Rim, the brainchild of monster maniac Guillermo Del Toro and fantasy fanatic Travis Beacham.

And while Del Toro has been a proven, if somewhat chaotic, voice that appeals to the fans of independent, studio and comic book films, eyes turn to Beacham, whose only big-screen credits to date include 2007’s Dog Days of Summer and 2010’s Clash of the Titans. Beacham helped craft this very universe of Pacific Rim into a massive, sprawling film of monsters battling machines with the world at stake. And while the seeds to the film may have come from the world of Japanese Anime and Kaiju movies of old, Pacific Rim is certainly it’s own monster, and one that Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures hope will devour the cultural zeitgeist. Beacham spoke to Diabolique about his epic science-fiction tale and what makes Pacific Rim more about man than machine or monster…

Title Card: "Pacific Rim"

Title Card: “Pacific Rim”

DIABOLIQUE: Pacific Rim is unique because the film exists within a futuristic society that feels realistic but also transcending beyond cultural divides, identity crises and domestic motivations. How were you able to craft this universe? Did you draw your inspiration from anywhere, specifically?

TRAVIS BEACHAM: Not specifically. I’ve always been a fan of the genre, really, with mech’s and kaiju and that sort of thing. As for the cultural diversity of the universe, I think, if anything, I drew anti-inspiration from previous disaster films, like mainstream American disaster films, in which other countries and what’s going on in the rest of the world is generally treated like a footnote. I remember starting working on the concept and the script for Pacific Rim with a very, very conscious decision to say, “I don’t want any of these big sequences to take place in America,” because I feel like that’s become so regular to the disaster genre and then it sort of devolves into landmark stomping.

That’s definitely not the story that I wanted to tell. I wanted Pacific Rim to be that the world is in jeopardy, and I think Guillermo says often that it’s not a story about a country changing the world, it’s a story about the world saving to world.

DIABOLIQUE: Pacific Rim has massive and ambitious action sequences, which are front-and-center for much of the film. Were there any ideas or sequences that you had on the page that never made it into the final film?

BEACHAM: Yeah! There was a few. Initially, the characters of Mako (Rink Kikuchi) and Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), in the very first draft of the script, didn’t speak the same language until they were neurally-synced, and then, from Raleigh’s perspective, she would seem to be talking in English when they were finally thinking on the same wavelength. While that was an interesting idea, as far as illustrating the consequences of the neural uplink between them, I think, in practice, it proved a little too esoteric to put on film.

 DIABOLIQUE: Pacific Rim goes out of its way to try to deliver these big set-pieces without sacrificing any of the interpersonal relationships in the film. How was the process of trying to achieve that balance?

BEACHAM: How was it? It was fantastic that I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. It’s been a very, very charmed experience. This whole experience has been unlike anything I’ve ever worked on thus far. From the very beginning, I think everybody knew what sort of movie they wanted this to be and we were all thinking on the same page, and that, I found, is really rare. Usually, you come into it and there’s half a dozen different views or angles on what different people are wanting to see, from the producer, to the director, to the writers, to the actors. I think Pacific Rim has been an example of something that illustrates what you get if everyone is driving towards a common purpose. That, I think, has been a really charmed and really fulfilling development experience.

Official still from "Pacific Rim"

Official still from “Pacific Rim”

DIABOLIQUE: You have a great, eclectic cast for your film: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day, etc. Were there any characters that you had to rewrite or redevelop once a specific actor came aboard the project?

BEACHAM: I think the actors brought a lot of inventiveness to their interpretations of the characters. The one example I can think of, specifically, is Charlie Day’s character, which in the movie is now named Newt Geiszler. In the first draft of the screenplay, his name was Newt Gottlieb, and he was a bit less neurotic, yet still sort of desperate. But for the purpose of the movie, over the course of workshopping the script and developing it, [the character] was split into two characters: Newt Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb, played by Burn Gorman, who fundamentally display two different sides to that original character. In a strange way, I think that both of those characters illustrate this broader theme of the movie, which is different people coming together as one.

DIABOLIQUE: You co-wrote Pacific Rim with the film’s director, Guillermo Del Toro, who is a respectable screenwriter in his own right. Were you afraid that your voice as a storyteller would be compromised in any way or were you both on the same page from start to finish?

BEACHAM: We were pretty simpatico. When we first started, it was unclear as whether or not he’d end up directing Pacific Rim, because I think At The Mountains of Madness was still in play. So it wasn’t that we were neurally-linked and thinking the same thing because we each brought different ideas to the table, but in the end, I feel like our purposes were the same and the ideas that we brought really complimented each other. So, yeah, each of us have our role to play and each of us have stuff that we did, but it was towards the same theme and towards the same purpose, so it all really worked out.

 DIABOLIQUE: One aspect that I noticed about the film was that most of the action takes place either at night or in dark territory, save for one or two sequences that are otherwise partially obscured through narrative devices or compounding wreckage. Was that a conscious decision on your and Guillermo’s part as screenwriters?

BEACHAM: Kind of, yeah. I think there’s something about seeing [the battles] during the day that doesn’t quite work, exactly. I think at the time I was writing the first draft, I don’t think I’d be able to articulate it in any specific way. But there’s one scene where I had to restrain visibility, since it was really rainy or there was a big storm. I think Guillermo would be able to explain this a lot better, but in our talks together, we’ve talked about obscuring these battles with the elements, whether it be the darkness of night or water or sea spray or fog or something like that, because it gives you more of a sense of scale and more of a sense of perspective rather than if you had a clear view of these fights happening in a very clean, sunny environment. The obscuring factor of the elements was always something that specifically Guillermo was really into, too.

Official still from "Pacific Rim"

Official still from “Pacific Rim”

DIABOLIQUE: At the center of Pacific Rim is a romantic story between Mako and Raleigh. How important was it to you that Pacific Rim have somewhat of a romantic core to its story?

BEACHAM: I think it was always pretty important. I actually think it was more romantic, or more explicitly romantic, between them in the first draft. I think, specifically, over the course of shooting it and production, the film drifted more towards a romantic friendship between them, although I think there’s a lot of romantic subtext there. It doesn’t go quite as far as the first draft. But I think the idea that love makes these things work was always really important, whether it’s a love between lovers, a love between friends or a love between family. The idea that there is this sort of connection between people, whether romantic or not romantic, is important to how the Jaeger (the monster-fighting machines of the film) worked, and how the battles worked out. That was always something that was the idea from the very beginning.

DIABOLIQUE: Pacific Rim, more than anything, is a very big, very comprehensive film with many different ideas and concepts to introduce over its running time. As a writer, were you cautious of becoming too attached to the material as some of those concepts may be compromised through production?

BEACHAM: Well, not really. You can’t really think about that when you’re in the midst of it. You have to run full speed at the wall, and if you smash yourself on it, you smash yourself on it, but you’re hoping that you break through. It’s like… it takes sort of a full-on, almost naive belief in what you’re doing to be able to pull it off effectively. So, yeah, at the very beginning, I was really driven by a belief in Pacific Rim and I was pouring everything that I could of myself full-force, and if it fell apart for whatever reason somewhere down the line, then that was to be sad about later. But when you’re in the midst of creating something, you really have to commit to it.

DIABOLIQUE: One of the more fascinating accomplishments of Pacific Rim is that you give the Jaeger’s their own personalities, as there is one which has been fighting for over six years, and there’s Raleigh’s own reinforced mech as well as the state of the art Jaeger from Australia. How were you able to assign each robot their personality? Was it difficult to give each Jaeger identifiable traits or was that an easy process?

BEACHAM: It came pretty easy, and it was also informed by who was driving them, too. It’s like when you see pictures of people with their dog, and they look sort of similar, you know? Once we knew who was driving [the Jaeger], it was easy to figure out the Jaeger’s quirks. “Gypsy Danger” (Raleigh’s Jaeger), for example, was always meant to be an older Jaeger, broken and rebuilt, and that mirrors explicitly the personalities or Raleigh and Mako. Those characters have suffered tragedies and loss in their past, and are broken just like the Jaeger that they’re driving. Part of the theme of the movie is that broken people are mighty when they’re bound together. There’s a strength within the broken that wakes when they decide to care about each other.

Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam in "Pacific Rim"

Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam in “Pacific Rim”

DIABOLIQUE: Guillermo Del Toro has gone on record as saying that one of the things he loved about Pacific Rim was that the film is along the lines of an old-fashioned adventure movie, since there aren’t many adventure movies in contemporary film anymore. Was it important for you in telling this story to avoid any political or social subtext to allow Pacific Rim to exist as an old-school adventure movie?

BEACHAM: Yes, I think so, because people are going to bring those connotations to Pacific Rim anyway, and if you make it too explicit, it’s like you’re deciding who you want to talk to about [those messages]. Once you start putting in political subtext, it does create intellectually challenging science-fiction, but with Pacific Rim, I always thought it would be a shame if kids couldn’t go see this movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters because it seemed to have a political point-of-view. I think, in general as a writer, you can’t really hide your values. They’re always going to fall out onto the page, and I tend to trust that I don’t have to force my ideals into the expression of what’s going to happen naturally. I just concentrate on writing a story that speaks to me and that I think would mean something to other people.

DIABOLIQUE: Now that Pacific Rim is finally hitting theaters in one week, what do you have in store for the future of the Pacific Rim universe? Do you have any other projects you’re actively working on or pursuing?

BEACHAM: I’ve been talking about a sequel. Pacific Rim has such a huge world, and we had to create so much more than we could ever get to in one movie that I think doing a sequel would be really fun. We’ve got A LOT of ideas that we’ve yet to commit to camera, so I’m all over [the sequel]. I’m already starting to think about it.

Apart from that, I’ve got a science-fiction crime drama series on AMC that’s being developed right now that’s called Ballistic City. Aside from that, it’s whatever Pacific Rim stuff comes up. I’m really, really in love with this world, and even after having written the movie and the comic book, I still have more Pacific Rim stories in me. That’s still something I’d love to get to.

DIABOLIQUE: Seeing that producing Pacific Rim is an expensive endeavor and that the universe has already expanded into comic books, if the Pacific Rim universe were to live on in the realm of animation, would you want to stay aboard the universe in that perspective or are you more attached to feature films in that universe?

BEACHAM: If asked, I couldn’t possibly refuse. I don’t specifically think of myself as a screenwriter, although that’s sort of the wheelhouse that I’m working in right now, but I’m open to any medium that opens up for me. It’s just that I like the challenge. In writing the comic book, I’ve been figuring out that format and how a comic book story works, and that was really fun in its differences from writing for a film. I’d be open to any sort of Pacific Rim medium.

Pacific Rim will be hitting theaters from Warner Brothers Pictures and Legendary Pictures in IMAX 3-D, RealD 3-D and 2-D on Friday, July 12th. For more about the film, including stills, trailers and further information about the Pacific Rim universe, visit PacificRimMovie.com. For more from Travis Beacham, follow him on Twitter: @travisbeacham. For more on Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro, Ballistic City and Beacham, keep checking back here at DiaboliqueMagazine.com!

– By Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from MontclairStateUniversity, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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About Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Fangoria Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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