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GODZILLA: AWAKENING — Interview with Writer Max Borenstein on the Graphic Novel and Movie

Comic Book Godzilla by Free Reyes

If you haven't seen Godzilla, go watch it now! I reviewed it and gave it an 8/10.

Last month I was able to interview Max Borenstein about the prequel graphic novel Godzilla: Awakening. It's a great story to add to the canon of the recent Godzilla movie. While it's not necessary for watching and understanding the movie, it does underline the motivations of Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe. I have a full review of the graphic novel coming soon.

Borenstein also talks about the movie's development with the graphic novel and what it's like keeping the story secret for 3 years.

Free Reyes: When you were writing the script for Godzilla, was the story of Godzilla Awakening something that was brought up after you had completed the script? Or at what point was it brought into development?

Max Borenstein:  It was brought up as a project while the movie was being shot already, so after the script for the film had been done, but the idea was it was kind of a blank slate of “Would you like to expand the universe?” And as it happened, some of the ideas in the graphic novel, the root of it, were things that had kind of been backstory. Unspoken in some cases in the film, but stuff that I had been thinking about, and in some cases had talked about, and so it felt like that was the right place to go to for the graphic novel when we decided to expand the universe.

So there was some material that you’d created, so do you have kind of like a cannon idea for the whole world, is that what was developed by doing the graphic novel? Or was it something that already fully existed with the script?

Well, the script obviously... without giving anything away, there are, uh, the script sets up a certain backstory having to do with the sort of mythology of Godzilla and so forth, and the people who are and aren’t aware of different things about his existence, and so the graphic novel is really in a sense a kind of origin story of that stuff, and so it derives from backstory that was sort of in some cases unspoken, in other cases spoken of in the film, but it’s just a kind of expansion of that. So it’s stuff that we had thought about, and that I had spent some time sort of devising in broad strokes for the film so that I could answer questions if only for myself about how this all began and where this came from and what is Godzilla, where does Godzilla come from, and the graphic novel doesn’t necessarily answer all those questions but draws on the same well of ideas. 

It’s a prequel story, so how far ahead of the movie does it take place?

Well, the very end of the graphic novel, or maybe not the VERY end but the climax moment of the graphic novel has a certain resonance with something that takes place in the very beginning of the film, and without giving away any spoilers for the film, but the characters or the organization that kind of takes shape in the graphic novel and the characters, and particularly one character, has the very important relationship to the film.

Ok, that’s cool.

So did I answer your question there? [laughs]

Did you do Seventh Son before Godzilla, or which came first?

I worked on Seventh Son before Godzilla and then I moved over to Godzilla and spent the last three years with that, with Godzilla, and so Seventh Son has been made in the interim while Godzilla was something that I was kind of very much more closely nursing along the way.

So you’ve been working on it for three years, what’s it like to finally be able to at least talk about the film after so long?

It’s going to be amazing to really be able to talk about the film in two weeks once I don’t have to keep my mouth shut about anything and try to keep in mind, try to remember what I am allowed and what I’m not allowed to disclose. But the incredible thing is just being able to see people’s reactions even thus far. Because I think, you know, obviously people haven’t yet seen the film, and I’m most excited for that to happen, and based on the way people have responded to the materials they have seen, the trailers and stuff like that, they’re responding to things that we’ve labored so hard for so long on and that has been this real sort of labor of love, and to see people responding by and large positively to the tone and to the sort of general take of how we decided to approach this classic character and franchise. That’s been amazingly and immensely gratifying, and I can’t wait for people to see the film.

So do they give you like a list of things that you can share at certain points prior to release? So it’s like a week out before release you can talk up about until this point...

No!

No? Is it not that detailed?

No! I think it’s more about trying not to give anything away, and obviously once things have been divulged in marketing materials then they’re out, from my perspective anyway. I’m sure at the high levels they’re strategizing about what to disclose when, but from my perspective I just try to follow the lead of always erring on the side of not spoiling anything. Which is what I would want someone to do if I was talking to a friend about a movie, I wouldn’t want them giving everything away, so I try to abide by that golden rule when I’m doing this stuff. Even though everyone’s asking because they want to know, but do they really want to know? Do they really want it spoiled? So you kind of have to make that judgment call.

Okay, cool. So having seen the stuff at Comic-Con and most recently at Wonder-Con, I don’t see how this doesn’t get a sequel. Is there anything that you would like to expand in that Godzilla universe that you feel like, you know, you’re writing the script and you’re like, ok, maybe we can get to this point, or maybe this could lead up to something, or just maybe something you saw visually where you were just like, oh, okay that really worked better than I thought, let’s do more of that. Is there anything you’d like to expand in a possible sequel?

Right. Well, first of all, from your lips to the movie god’s ears on that. That would be amazing, but you know, uh, I think along the way, in the process of cracking what this movie would be, which in its earliest days it entailed endless, lengthy, long distance conversations on Skype between Gareth Edwards and myself. Just sort of starting with a blue sky and saying, okay, what’s the best Godzilla movie we can tell? Like, what’s the movie we want to see? And the studio was incredible in terms of giving leeway and saying, We want to make the best Godzilla movie we can make, so what is that? And they didn’t say you can do this, you can’t do that, it was really, let’s start from what would be the best movie and work from there. And so that meant running around and trying every possible thought and pursuing it until you said, oh, that’s not the right thought. Let’s go to another thought. And so as a result there were a lot of dead ends, but there were a lot of intriguing avenues that were only half pursued, and so, you know, I think without having anything specific in mind, I would say that there are reams of  notes to look back through, and there are certainly things that I can kind of remember sticking with me as potentially interesting ideas. If we ever had a chance and were lucky enough to make a second one of these.

Now is Godzilla Awakening your first graphic novel that you’ve written the story for?

It is. Yeah, it was actually kind of fortuitous that I was writing, I was collaborating and am still collaborating with my cousin Greg, with whom I wrote the graphic novel, on a graphic novel of our own that we had sort of started developing in the background of both of our other respective careers, mine doing movies and his as an academic and a technologist at the MIT media lab. And so we had been collaborating on this other project which hopefully one day soon we will get a chance to finish and see the light of day, but Legendary’s comic division approached me about the idea of you know, would you like to expand the Godzilla universe? And when they did, I immediately called Greg and said, Is this something you’d want to do together? Because we had developed a kind of shorthand and were really learning the vernacular of writing comic books together. And to be honest, Greg is more of an avid reader of comic books than I am at the moment. I’m certainly a big fan, but he’s up on the latest stuff and reading it every week, and so it was really a great collaboration in that sense where we were able to sort of come together, and we were raised more or less like brothers, though we’re cousins, and so there’s a shorthand there as well. And so getting to collaborate on this was really rewarding. And so it’s the first published graphic novel, but hopefully not the last, I would say.

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