'Snow White and the Huntsman' writer Evan Daugherty on reviews, casting Kristen Stewart and getting 'fired'
"Snow White and the Huntsman" isn't just a big-budget major summer release starring "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart, "Thor's" Chris Hemsworth and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron. It's also the first produced screenplay for Evan Daugherty. Not a bad way to make your debut.
Daugherty originally wrote the script back in 2003, when he was still a hungry young film student and long before Hollywood was greenlighting every fairy tale themed project they could find. In fact, it wasn't until "Alice in Wonderland" producer Joe Roth sparked to Daugherty's script as a logical like-minded follow-up to that fairy tale blockbuster that the wheels started moving. Universal liked it too, and made a deal that led to a hefty multimillion dollar payday for Daugherty.
That was only the beginning of a wild ride for Daugherty that involved a high profile competition with a similar project ("Mirror, Mirror"), the casting of red hot rising star Stewart, and the decision to boot Daugherty off his own project and bring in veteran writers including John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") and Hossein Amini ("Drive").
I spoke with Daugherty about the highs and lows of bringing "Snow White and the Huntsman" to the screen, how he's handling the reviews now that it's finished, and whether or not audiences should expect a sequel.
Revisionist fairy tales are hot in Hollywood right now, but this script has been with you for a long time. Is it a point of pride to say you had this idea before it was a trend?
I try to let people know that hopefully in a subtle and modest way. There was a lot of hullabaloo around the sale of the script and some of the fallout from that was like "Oh, this guy saw that 'Alice in Wonderland' was big at the box office and wrote this take on Snow White." Certainly that was a big reason why the script did eventually sell, but I did write it when I was a junior at NYU film school and it was just on my hard drive for a lot of years. I do feel a small bit of pride that I was hopefully a little bit ahead of the curve.
When "Alice" became a big hit did you immediately see that as the moment to sell, or were there similar times when it felt like studios would be interested and still nothing happened?
Hopefully the script was good and intriguing from the beginning. Right out of NYU I was hip-pocketed -- which means I was taken on by a fairly well known manager on the merits of this script -- so I think people saw some potential in it. At the same time no one really knew what to do with it. Just the basic idea of doing this fairy tale with a more action-adventure twist had not really been done before. There had been a Snow White horror version and other versions of fairy tales, but no one got it.
I wrote it so long ago that there was one failed fairy tale trend that happened when Terry Gilliam's "Brothers Grimm" came out. For the few years after that, no one wanted to tackle "Snow White" because ["Grimm"] unfortunately did not fare well at the box office. Seeing "Alice in Wonderland" come out definitely reminded me of this script that I thought there was no hope for.
So you finally find someone who's interested and all of a sudden a rival project -- Tarsem's "Mirror, Mirror" -- pops up. What were you thinking at that point?
I was a little terrified, to be honest. I wrote my script nine years ago, and we started developing the script with Joe Roth and [director] Rupert Sanders months before "Mirror, Mirror" was announced. But "Mirror, Mirror" was announced first. From that point, we didn't want to be the second to market, or look like the people capitalizing on the other Snow White movie. It was very stressful and frustrating. As time went on we saw what that movie was turning into -- such a different movie, like live action Disney. As the release date drew closer we became less and less worried.
Did the so-so performance of "Mirror, Mirror" at the box office worry you at all? Did you think "maybe people aren't interested in Snow White"?
You're always trying to read the tea leaves. There's the competitive side of you saying "I want to win this box office battle!" But then you're like "Maybe you want it to do well, because you're doing a Snow White movie..." Ultimately, you just want it to do its own thing. ["Mirror, Mirror"] kind of came and went fairly quickly, I did not see it. I really like Tarsem, so I may see it, but I'm too in my own head to see it right now. I may have to wait six months to see another Snow White movie.
When you're writing you don't even know if the movie will get made, let alone who might get cast. What did you think when you found out Kristen Stewart would be the star?
I was excited and kind of intrigued. I was around for most of that process and the original plan was to follow the "Alice in Wonderland" route and cast an unknown. Casting directors scoured the entire world during the fall and winter of 2010. They got it down to a shortlist and filmed screen tests, everyone was great. But at the same time we were reworking the script, making the Snow White character even tougher and giving her more grit. As it went along it became clear this was a movie star meaty role.
Thankfully, some of the reviews I'm reading -- I shouldn't even be reading reviews -- but some of them are really citing Kristen Stewart's performance. Some are still giving her unfortunately too hard of a time. I think she's really, really good in the movie. She's really powerful and strong. It's even more of a star-making role for her. She gets to get out there and do things: ride horses, strap on armor, wield a sword, lead men into battle. Seeing the movie for the first time a couple weeks ago, there were a lot of things I liked a lot but I was the most surprised and impressed by Kristen Stewart.
You mentioned reviews, and I'd imagine reading reviews for your first movie has to be a whole new thing to learn to deal with. Especially when the movie is a big summer event, critics often knock the scripts. As a writer, do you feel like that's fair?
Reviewers are certainly entitled to their own opinions. I've become buddies with enough writers and directors, and to be perfectly honest the ones that have lasted a long time don't pay a lot of attention to the reviews. I will say I keep refreshing Rotten Tomatoes and trying to get [the score] up over 60, to be fresh. It's creeped below 60 but I think there's some time to get it back above.
As for the way the writer fares in reviews, I do think it sometimes can be a little unfair. Very often things that people may think come from the writer, very often don't. There's a lot of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making a movie. When you hear a line of dialogue that sounds kind of tinny, it's pretty easy to cite the screenwriter. But there's a lot of stuff that goes into making a movie. I understand some of the criticism, but I think ultimately I need to divorce myself from reading reviews. As a writer you sit around a computer all day and it's too easy to open another tab and keep Rotten Tomatoes there.
Speaking of all the cooks in the kitchen, at a certain point you were dropped off the movie...
What were your feelings about that? And how much of the finished movie comes from you and how much from the other credited writers?
I say fired, but that's an indelicate way of putting it. I sold the script which was totally my own, and that script is floating around the Internet. It's fairly different from the movie. But I stayed on for six months and worked with Rupert, which took the script to being fairly close to the finished product. The thing is, in the world of Hollywood, had I been the only credited writer this would have been a $150 million movie written by a first-time writer and directed by a first-time director. So a small force of A-listers came in and batted cleanup on the script, and helped continue Rupert's vision for the movie.
In terms of the contributions, according to the Writers Guild I contributed about 50-60% of the screenplay and the other two writers contributed 20-25% each. There's a lot of things that are different. The finished product is a darker, grittier version. I set out to do an action-adventure version but there was a bit more humor and a bit of a lighter vibe. My favorite movie of all time is "The Princess Bride," so there was a bit of that vibe to it. That has kind of evolved out of the movie, which I miss a little bit, but at the same time I recognize there's something very cool and modern about this. Sort of like "The Dark Knight" take on Snow White.
One of the elements I thought was interesting was the attempt to flesh out the evil Queen's backstory. Was that always a part of the script or did the role change when Charlize Theron was cast?
I'll take credit for that. That was one of the big aspects of my original script even way back in the day. One of my favorite scenes in the movie -- hopefully not because I wrote it, but because it's resonant -- is when Charlize kills the king and delivers a soliloquy that sums up her opinion on how beauty and youth equate to power for a woman like her.
Joe Roth has said that he hopes this film kicks off a trilogy. Are there still plans for that and would you be involved in future versions?
I believe there are tentative plans. I think some of it depends on how well it does. The last I heard I wouldn't [be involved]. They were talking about a very esteemed screenwriter, David Koepp, for that. There are talks also, beyond a sequel, about a Huntsman solo spin-off, which is something I'd be intrigued by and had conversations about because that's my favorite character in the movie. We'll see how it fares. I hope people see it and enjoy it and want that.
"Snow White and the Huntsman" opens in theaters June 1