CATEGORIES Interviews

Earlier this week, Moviefone reported on Paramount Studios picking up a new pitch that would re-vamp the classic 'Hunchback of Notre Dame ' into an action-adventure blockbuster in the style of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series. The unique approach to the legendary Quasimodo came from rookie screenwriters Willie Block and Jake Emanuel (left, right). It's an interesting experience for me because I happen to know Willie and Jake; I've been friends with them for six years.

In addition to their film school education, they joke that they taught themselves to write by "writing a couple crappy horror films" and watching a variety of movies into all hours of the night (I can confirm that part). They've been writing in Los Angeles for about two and a half years, first gaining attention for their comedy spec script 'F*** You, I Win.' The 'Hunchback' plot is being kept top-secret, but the news prompted an immediate response the from the Internet community. Cinematical expressed "difficulty" getting behind the action approach, while other sites -- and commenters -- went farther, attacking Block and Emanuel for even coming up with the idea.

The duo took a break from developing the 'Hunchback' script to talk to me about the experience of debuting with a script that's already been criticized -- sight unseen -- by some fans and how they are "not too different" from the passionate fan community.

Earlier this week, Moviefone reported on Paramount Studios picking up a new pitch that would re-vamp the classic 'Hunchback of Notre Dame ' into an action-adventure blockbuster in the style of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series. The unique approach to the legendary Quasimodo came from rookie screenwriters Willie Block and Jake Emanuel (left, right). It's an interesting experience for me because I happen to know Willie and Jake; I've been friends with them for six years.

In addition to their film school education, they joke that they taught themselves to write by "writing a couple crappy horror films" and watching a variety of movies into all hours of the night (I can confirm that part). They've been writing in Los Angeles for about two and a half years, first gaining attention for their comedy spec script 'F*** You, I Win.' The 'Hunchback' plot is being kept top-secret, but the news prompted an immediate response the from the Internet community. Cinematical expressed "difficulty" getting behind the action approach, while other sites -- and commenters -- went farther, attacking Block and Emanuel for even coming up with the idea.

The duo took a break from developing the 'Hunchback' script to talk to me about the experience of debuting with a script that's already been criticized -- sight unseen -- by some fans and how they are "not too different" from the passionate fan community.

To address the first concern of a lot of Internet critics, have you read Victor Hugo's 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'?

Willie: Of course, yeah. [Laughs]

'Hunchback' is part of this trend of updating literary works: 'Sherlock Holmes,' the two 'Three Musketeers' movies in the pipeline, 'Red Riding Hood,' 'Jack the Giant Killer.' Why do you think this trend is catching on right now?
Willie: It's because these are all stories people already know. Studios can re-invent them for people.

Jake: People are familiar with them. [Studios] think they're movies that people can get behind and be excited about.

From your perspective, what are some things to avoid when adapting something that has a passionate, devoted fan base behind it?
Jake: You have to accept it as its own entity. Victor Hugo's novel is a classic, but it's 650 pages long. Our film will be two hours, two and a half hours tops. There's a danger that if you try to stay too close to it, you won't be free to be creative and make the best movie you can. And there's the other side, where you can stray too far from the book and it doesn't really connect with anybody. I think there have been amazing adaptations that have strayed from the material, and others that have embraced it. 'Silence of the Lambs' is almost identical to its book, whereas Stanley Kubrick's movies like 'The Shining' and 'A Clockwork Orange,' -- the authors wanted to kill Stanley Kubrick. Basically, it's really important we understand what the book means to fans but we still do what we have to, to make a really amazing movie.

How is the writing going?
Jake: The writing is going well. We've been working on this for a long time; the Internet can make it seem like we just got off the bus in Ohio last week with 20 dollars in one pocket, and pitch in the other. [Laughs] But it's something we've been working on for a long time with our producers at Di Bonaventura and Paramount. We've all been working very hard to make it the best movie imaginable.

Random Internet attacks on 90 percent of the film business have become so commonplace, but what's it like to be on the other side of that?
Jake: For us it was kind of an honor, because we've been reading a lot of these sites, we've been fans of these sites for years now, and we know that friendly hazing is part of the process. Getting made fun of by Cinematical and [other sites] was actually kind of exciting and something that we considered an honor.

Willie: I just laughed. ... We've been working really hard on this thing, so for people to make fun of it, you just have to laugh about it because I'm psyched for it. And if they want to make fun of it, that's fine, I guess.

It's crazy is that a lot of the sites have an immediate negative bias. The Onion AV Club reports the story, but also goes personal and posts your headshots as proof against you.
Jake: What's funny to me is, we are not models.

Willie: They didn't hire us to be in the thing.

Jake: [Laughs] We're not hired to be in it, we're screenwriters, we're completely behind the curtain. To me, that just makes the attacks invalid. Those are the ones I don't take seriously. I don't take offense to those who make fun of us physically. If anything, I think it's funny and it makes me question where they're priorities are at.

It seems like a majority of stories that get reported from a lot of sites come with an inherent negative bias. Do you think that's a justified response to the movie industry, or it's just a cynical attitude?
Jake: There are two kinds of websites. There are websites that think it's commendable to break into this industry because it's so difficult. But some of the other blogs are blogs run by cinephiles and movie fans. I think it's always fair to express their opinions, and some of the people that ranted on us, we've been fans of theirs for a long time. Basically I think in the long run -- as far as we believe -- the movie will speak for itself.

When you hear about another reboot, remake, comic book, or board game movie, how do you guys personally respond to that news?
Jake: As movie fans, our initial reaction to hearing about some movies is different than it was two years ago. Now we get excited about the people who are attached ... If people get upset about adaptations, I like to say, the books, the comics, the source material will always be there and will never be changed by current adaptations. Personally, some of the most creative movies of the last couple years have been reboots: 'The Dark Knight' which is the sixth 'Batman' movie, 'Star Trek' which is the eleventh 'Star Trek' film. And these are movies that are widely considered by fans as some of the best movies coming out.

What's one reason you think people should be excited about this movie?
Jake: It's a world-building movie. As a fanboy, epic action-adventures are my favorite, whether it's 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Gladiator' or 'Indiana Jones' or a David Lean film. This movie is going to be a ride and take you to a place where you haven't been; hopefully it will be an awesome ride that lasts for two hours.

Now that you've reached this tough first step, is there any advice that you want to impart upon other young writers?

Jake: I think it's important to know that content is king. We wouldn't have gotten to where we were if we hadn't written scripts that people responded to. My advice is to keep writing. Young writers should be putting out a script every three or four months, and make sure it's coming from a good place.

Willie: The thing is everyone's going to have an opinion. But as long as you make sure everything you write is something you love and think it's awesome, that's the best thing to do.

Jake: Your opinion can be swayed if you read the trades every day. You can't determine what is marketable. All you can determine is what you love and what you think is a good movie. And that worked for us.