BPS 111: The Art of Television Showrunning with Steve DeKnight (Marvel’s Daredevil, Spartacus)


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The Art of Television Showrunning with Steve DeKnight

Showrunning is a mysterious art form to many so I wanted to bringing he someone who can shine a light on what it takes to be one. Today on the show we have powerhouse show runner, writer, director, producer, and all-around good guy Steven Deknight. Best known for his work across the action, drama, and sci-fi genres on TV shows like Smallville, Spartacus, Daredevil, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Jupiter’s Legacy.

Realizing his strengths early on in his career, Steven is a jack-of-all-trades who studied acting at the onset of film school transitioned through to writing, playwright, and screenwriting. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was his big break – starting off as writer and story editor on the show, Deknight went on to produce 42 episodes of the Spin-off show, Angel.

The vampire Angel, cursed with a soul, moves to Los Angeles and aids people with supernatural-related problems while questing for his own redemption.

Steven went on to direct and co-executive produce 66 episodes of the 2001 show, Smallville which set a viewers rating record of 4.34 million viewers per episode and had an amazing 10 seasons run.

The series goes along with Clark Kent through his struggles to find his place in the world as he learns to harness his alien powers for good and deals with the typical troubles of teenage life in Smallville, Kansas.

In 2009, He briefly wrote, directed, and consulted on the short-lived Dollhouse series. Almost immediately after, Deknight got an offered to executive produce and write the hit sensation and everyone’s guilty-pleasure, Spartacus.

A fictional historical drama series inspired by, Spartacus, the show focused on Spartacus’s obscure early life leading up to the beginning of historical records.

We do a deep dive on how Steve brought the Marvel universe’s darker and grittier character Daredevil to Netflix that help launch The Defenders superhero on the streaming giant.

Blinded as a young boy, Matt Murdock fights injustice by day as a Lawyer and as a street-level superhero by night, in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.

His feature-film directorial and writing debut Pacific Rim: Uprising. We go into the weeds on his experience bring a studio tentpole to the big screen while under extreme pressure and restraints.

Steve was a blast to chat. Enjoy this conversation with Steve Deknight.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Alex Ferrari 2:04
Well, guys, today you're in for a treat. On the show today, we have showrunner, writer and director, Steven D night. Now Steven started working as a writer on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Smallville and doll house. But he really came into his own when he created the series Spartacus, which went on to be a huge, huge hit. He later jumped on the Netflix series Daredevil, which was the introduction to the dark greedy superheroes of the Marvel Universe and Daredevil launched that whole group of shows that aired on Netflix. In our conversation, Stephen and I talk about the business, talk about the highs and lows of being in the business, how to navigate working in Hollywood. And we also talk about his feature film directorial debut, which happened to be $150 million budget film, part of a franchise started by Guillermo del Toro, called Pacific Rim uprising. And Steve really was extremely candid about his experience on Pacific Rim uprising, how it came to be all the craziness that happened and some of the reasons why the story wasn't what he wanted it to be. And so, so much more. So, without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Steven tonight. I'd like to welcome to the show, Steven tonight. How you doing?

Steve DeKnight 3:40
I'm doing great. Great to be here.

Alex Ferrari 3:42
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I truly truly appreciate it. Like I was saying before we started I'm a I'm a fan. I'm a fan of what you've been for you've been doing for a while man and I can't wait to get into it. So before we get started, man, how did you get into the business?

Steve DeKnight 3:58
Oh, now that's a story. I I actually grew up in South Jersey. Back in the 60s 70s 80s. I was born in 65. You know back in I literally was born and grew up in an area that didn't didn't even have a zip code. It was so small. I lived on a tiny little road called Dutch neck road. It sounds it sounds made up. Rd 4. I think it was rural District Four way out in the sticks in South Jersey. And I grew up love loving monsters and horror movies and science fiction movies. I used to spend hours building the old Aurora horror models. I just loved that kind of stuff. Eventually we moved to a town called Millville which was about a hour hour and 20 minutes from Atlantic City down in South Jersey. And that's where I spent, you know, my, my teen years, all the way through high school. And I just again at one point, I wanted to be a stop motion animation guy, because I loved Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. And then I switch to I want it to be a special effects makeup guy. Because I was a huge fan of what Dick Smith was doing. I actually remember you know, and I back then without the internet and only three stations on the TV. information was hard to come by. People don't understand that we're born after the age of the internet, just how hard it was to find stuff. So my lifeline being way out in the sticks was magazines like starlog and Famous Monsters of filmland Fangoria. And I remember in an issue of Famous Monsters of filmland, they they usually had a page or two that highlighted fans who were doing amazing model work or or makeup work. And they had some pictures in there from a young teenage, aspiring makeup artist named Rick Baker. And I think the picture showed he had done this prosthetic that showed like a broken arm with a bone poking through. And I thought, Oh, man, I want to do that. But I couldn't get any of the materials. I didn't know how to get in any materials. And I was just lost. So eventually, I started wanting to be an actor. I did a lot of acting in high school. And when I finally went to college, I went to UC Santa Cruz from 85 to 89. And I went primarily as an actor to study acting. And after about two years in the undergraduate program, I realize I was an OK actor. I wasn't a fantastic actor. And I'm not a big guy. I'm about five, seven. At the time, I weighed maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. So I wasn't a leading man, I didn't have the chops of a Dustin Hoffman or an alpha cheetah. But I'd always been interested in writing. So I started writing plays and putting them on at UC Santa Cruz. From that I got accepted into the graduate playwriting program at UCLA, which to me was always one step closer, I love the theater. I will always love the theater. But trying to make it as a working playwright in this day and age is such a small target. And, and I had always loved movies and television. That was my main thing that I was a big fan of. So I went to UCLA with the idea of going through the playwriting program and then eventually breaking into movies. So I spent two years at the playwriting department then I stayed an extra year to go through the screenwriting department. And then I got out, this was in 89. And I thought, well give it about six months, and I'll be writing features. So I got a part time job as a English as a second language teacher, and a little Japanese private school, in the valley, in Van Nuys. And I thought, well, I'll be here six months, maybe seven, before I break in six and a half years later, I'm still an English teacher at this little Japanese school, getting older by the day, and you know, I would work during the day and then I would go home and write all night. And I kept writing one feature after another that nobody wanted, you know, excitement whatsoever.

And I was entering all the contests and one of the big ones, of course, is the Nicolle fellowship, screenwriting contest, and one year I made it, you know, there's 4000 people that entered the contest, and I made it down to the final five, and I lost,

Alex Ferrari 9:13
But that's. That's a win. That's a win at that point.

Steve DeKnight 9:15
It's a win, but it's it's a painful when I was that close. And it was a kick in the nuts. Um, so but I dusted myself off and because of that, I got some interest from some some agencies. Oh, very, very, very small. So I was able to sign my first what I consider real agent, I had tangental agents and I had one manager that went really poorly. So I never had real Rep. So I signed up. Very small. It was actually an actor's agency that had one literary agent in it. A lovely woman, but I think she was she was getting towards the end of her career. But she was great. I really still couldn't get a lot of traction. Um, but I had a friend that I went to Santa Cruz with a guy named Dale Ward Robinson, wonderful friend of mine. He calls me up out of the blue and says, Hey, I'm working as a production coordinator on this MTV show, being produced by of all people, Roland jofy, the guy that did the killing fields, the mission, and it's a, it's a weird little teen sex comedy called undressed. And he said, I don't think it's going to be picked up. But if it does, I can get your stuff to roll and jockeys, people. I go, Okay, great. Six months later, he calls me up and says, Hey, they picked it up. Send me whatever you have in TV, and I'll give it to roelens people. At the time, I was doing just features. So but I did do, probably about six months before my friend called me up, just an exercise and television. And I wrote a spec Deep Space Nine, which was a show I was really enjoying at the time, as I discovered later, nobody wanted to read it, including the people Deep Space Nine. But it was a it was a really it was kind of a big adventure story with a lot of humor in it. It was about why Ferengies are so small. And it was basically through genetics. It starts off with Worf encountering a ferengie as big as he is where you find out they used to be that big. But through genetic engineering, they made the cell smaller, so people wouldn't know that they were they wouldn't think they were a threat. So I send this Deep Space Nine scripts to my friend for Roland jofy is teen sex comedy on MTV. And he asked me Do you have anything else? I don't know. That's it for TV. So he goes Alright, great. So he sends it to Roland Joffe. He's people and this was my first big bit of luck is that it was a huge Deep Space Nine fan. So he read it, he loved it. And based off that I got on to this crazy MTV sex comedy, which was a great learning ground of how to write fast under pressure. Because the first season we did 30 half hour episodes that aired four nights a week. And we from start to finish from scripts to post, you know, shooting the whole thing. I think we had 15 or 16 weeks to do everything. So it was just a machine. We were just grinding. And the show became a hit for MTV. I so I was on there for about four seasons. But it's like dog years, it was like, maybe 18 months, we did four seasons. And by the last season, we were doing I think 40 episodes in like 20 weeks, and it was such a grind. And there's only so many ways you can get undressed,

Alex Ferrari 13:09
in a character. Undressed.

Steve DeKnight 13:11
Literally, I remember my breaking point was these two teenage girls were having a conversation. And my edict was you've got to get them partially undressed. And literally one of the girls goes, this tag on my shirt is driving me crazy soup. And I thought my soul just left my body. I thought I you know, I'm appreciative that I have a paying job. But my God, I've got to try to parlay this into it because who knows how long the show is going to go. On a side story. I work with some great people. Lizzie Weiss went on to write the crush in several TV shows. And of course, the big name that came out of there was Damon Lindelof, side story for everybody out there struggling. Um, Dale and I thought Damon Lindelof was an amazing writer, just an incredible find. The head writer didn't like him and didn't like his writing, and kept rewriting him rewriting his fantastic dialogue and making a terrible. So that can happen to the best of us. So while I was in that last season of Undressed, I thought, okay, I've got an agent, I actually have a paying job. I need to try to maybe get an agent at one of the bigger agencies so I can get more opportunities. So I thought it's time to write another spec another TV spec. My two favorite shows at the time were NYPD Blue and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I had stories for both of them. And I decided to write the Buffy spec and I always wondered that where my career would have gone if I went into my PD blue. So I write this Buffy spec called Zander the slayer and it was basically Zander accidentally gets Buffy his powers transferred to him and it was all about why men can't be slayers because basically it goes to their heads and they become uncontrollable. Um, I so I finished the script, and my friend, Lizzie Weiss, who had worked on undressed, she was repped at UTA. So I call up Lizzie. And I say, oh, Lizzie, could you pass the script to your agent? And she said, Yeah, sure. So she passes it over to UTA. And then a couple of weeks later, I get a call that says they liked it, but they just don't think it's for them. So I'm like, Oh, well, that's this point. So I gave it to my feature agent, who literally only knew three people on TV. But one of them was the head of Joss Whedon's company. So it gets over there. They read it, they like it. I go over and I interview for a job on the animated show that Jeff Loeb is trying to get off the ground. But at the end of this interview, they say but Josh has to read it. And just to warn you, he usually doesn't like puffy specs. I go, Okay, great. So like they give it to Josh. And a couple of weeks later, I get a call that he wants to talk to me. I go in and we talk about movies and comic books. And at the end, he says, I know you were talking about the animated show. But do you want to come do an episode of the live action show? And I was like, hell yes. So I, I did a freelance of the live action show. And they invited me to the production meeting. And after that was over, they told me to hang around. So I was sitting in this big empty room for like 15 minutes wondering, you know, what do you need more rewrites? What do you want? And then a PA popped up and took me down to the magic box set. And Joss was there and oxen, and they said, Look, we'd like you. We'd like your work, you want to come join us full time. And I just about burst into tears. Because it was my absolute favorite show on TV. And I love all the writers that I've been working with. So I said, Absolutely, of course. So I always really consider that. The real start of my career. That's when things really started to happen for me, right. And again, all based on a spec. And you know, there's this thing that goes around town where people say, Ah, you know, you can never get hired on the show, if you write a spec for that show, write complete bullshit. When I was doing Spartacus, if some writer had handed in a script that was at least 80%, close, I would have scooped him up in a hot sec.

Alex Ferrari 17:36
Interesting

Steve DeKnight 17:36
umm to know that somebody could could write the show, it's tricky, because you have to really be able to nail it.

Alex Ferrari 17:44
You got it another way because I was gonna say that because I love hearing that I'm like, that's generally against the common knowledge of don't write a spec of the show you're trying to get on. So if you want to get on Big Bang Theory, don't write a big bang theory spec. But when you were saying all that, you've just got an the window to hit it is a lot shorter and closer. If you're if you're writing a big bang theory to get on a friend's I know there's two different errors, but you know what I mean? That's, that's a looser, a loose Oh, he, I could see the talent. But if you're nailing the characters that these writers like, if someone's Spartacus, you know that those characters so well, they got to really understand the voice and really understand that but but if you nail it, you know, you go in

Steve DeKnight 18:30
And and and the next year when I was on Buffy, Jaws hired another writer that have written above spec, Drew Greenberg. So it absolutely can work. But I wouldn't suggest that somebody like write a spec script have a specific show specifically to get on that show because that's not why I wrote that. I wrote it as a sample to show what I could do it just so happens that I ended up on Buffy I was considered that winning lottery for me at the time. I'm more than anything when you're writing a spec script my my big advice is you've got to kill it. You have to love this story. And it has to really be something special not just for the reader but for you. Don't just pound out a spec scripts because you know you feel like you have to even with the Deep Space Nine thing I wrote that one from my heart because I was really excited about this story about a giant for ringing you know you just in that kind of passion. It's what I look for as a showrunner now when I read a sample is that I don't care. It could be you know, I could be looking for writers on a big sci fi show and gifts. That's like a a spec Friday Night Lights. As long as it's good. I don't care. Action The sci fi stuff. Yeah, as far as I'm concerned, anybody can do that. I mean, that's its character and dialogue. That's difficult.

Alex Ferrari 20:07
So I mean, so you spend some time over on Buffy and Angel, which is the spin off of Buffy. I was a huge Buffy fan. I mean, but when Buffy came out, it was it was revolutionary in many ways, like there was just nothing like that strong female lead. You know, I mean, and I think the only way a show like that could have done on air is by a fledgling media channel, like the web that was just trying to find its its roots. And I've heard Sarah, Sarah Michelle, say many times, like, a lot of people look at this as it was a hit like there was apps It was called, was a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a show with a dancing frog. There was there's no guarantees of anything happening with that.

Steve DeKnight 20:49
I remember when I first heard about it, I thought they're making a TV series out of that movie that wasn't so good. It's an interesting choice. And, and of course, at the time, I didn't know anything about the backstory about the movie. Um, but yeah, it was such a surprise, especially since if people remember the web, at the time, was really known for half hour urban comedies. That's what they were doing. That's what their bread and butter was. And the quickest way I have realized in my 20 years in the business, the quickest way to rise meteorically, in your career as a writer, showrunner is be the guy that launches a network. It's their first it's like, what? It's like what Sean Ryan did with the shield. And it's it's also what Matthew whiner did with madmen. I remember for a couple of years in a row, I would get calls from my agent, I remember they called up and said, Hey, AMC is doing original programming. Do you want to talk to them? This was before Madmen. And my reaction was AMC. I'm on a network with 22 EPS a year, why would I want to go to AMC? And then I had the, you know, the same thing with several of these. And then when it finally got to, they called me up and said, Hey, stars, wants to do original programming. And I said, Yes, I'll talk to him.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
Yeah, obviously, over there. Oh, what's the address? Let me go. Exactly. So you also so you, you, you, did you you did your time over Buffy and Angel, then you jumped onto Smallville, which was also fairly kind of revolutionary of a show. I remember because it was, you know, you're tackling one of the most famous characters in history. But it seemed like you guys had a ball, just exploring all of those things in in, in Clark hands and Superman's early life. That must have been a balton to be working on.

Steve DeKnight 23:02
It was a you know, it was it was completely different from the way we worked on Buffy and Angel. And again, this goes back to my Jeff Lowe, who I'd met through Josh on Buffy and Angel. He was working with Miles Miller and Al Gough, who created Smallville. And he was over there on Smallville, and he was trying to get me to come over so I came over and interviewed with him and really liked the guys and ended up going over there. It wasn't as Smallville was interesting, obviously, it's a different animal. In many ways. A Smallville was much more hard on your sleeve, honest, then Buffy and Angel, and also with Smallville. You had all the Superman mythology. And you had to get the approval of the feature side to bring in characters. Like I remember Alan Miles always wanted to bring in. I would never let them

Alex Ferrari 24:04
which one said well, this character,

Steve DeKnight 24:06
Bruce Wayne.

Alex Ferrari 24:07
Oh, yeah, I was always wondering. And it wasn't true that you could they couldn't wear the cape, like the cape was not allowed?

Steve DeKnight 24:16
I didn't want him in the suit. Right. Not until it i think that that very last shot. Um, and you know, my time on Smallville was I had a blast. I also look at you know, I was doing a lot of writing on the scripts. And every year, you know, like fan sites would put like the top five episodes in the worst five. And I was always in both. It was like I was always in and they were completely right. I did some really shit episodes. That, you know, haunt me to this day. I always joke about the exploding baby episode. There's an episode called ageless where Clark Atlanta find a baby that's rapidly in spurts getting older until explodes.

Alex Ferrari 25:06
I vaguely remember that episode. Because it was, it was a horrifying imagery.

Steve DeKnight 25:11
Yes, a horrifying episode. The funny story about that is I was in the room breaking this and this was the first one that I was directing for them. I directed three episodes of angel. This was my first directing for Smallville. So we were in the room breaking my story. And I was very excited to tell this story about kryptonite zombies, which is basically let LexCorp a truck classic like, you know return to the living dead. set up this Lex core truck is transporting the radioactive sludge from their experiments with the kryptonite, obviously, through a rainstorm, the truck overturns and it leaks into a graveyard. And it's kryptonite zombies and Clark is powerless against the kryptonite zombies and they surround the farm. And they can't get out of the farmhouse and he can't use his powers. And I was like, oh, kryptonite zombies. Now you're talking this is my stuff. I go off to do a rewrite another script I come back in. I bump into Al out in the hallway and he goes hey, we've changed your episode. Great news. This is a great story. Clark olana find the baby. And I'm like the fuck just happened?

Alex Ferrari 26:18
What what? Where did the crypto zombies go?

Steve DeKnight 26:22
So we did that episode. It did not turn out well. I mean, it's true. True. No one's fault except my own because I just couldn't get my head around it. And I almost stopped directing. Then I was supposed to direct the next season I passed I said Ahh and then in the third season I I directed the the the Justice League episode justice. Yeah. Which I felt like kind of vindicated myself after the exploding baby episode. But it was great fun to work in that world. And yeah, everybody was the actors were so wonderful on that show, especially Tom Welling. I can't say enough good things about Tom Welling. You know, you would think that he would have a big head and be very difficult quite the opposite. I remember we were in some tuning in some gas station way out on the outskirts of Vancouver. And I'm sitting in my chair prepping for like the next scene and he walks by with a sandwich and he goes hey, they have sandwiches you want me to get you on? I'm like what? What star of a show does that and he was gracious and wonderful all the way through the show. Just really and Michael Rosen bomb who played Lex brilliantly what what I loved about him one of the funniest guys I've ever met, he would be telling this crazy story. He told some story about when he got into a fight and got knocked out and we were literally in tears listening to him it was so funny. And then they were ready to go to shoot the scene and just like that he becomes Lex Luthur. Like the opposite of a method actor he could just switch from one to the other

Alex Ferrari 28:12
it's every every time I see actor do that on set I in the back of my head I hear Jon Lovitz yell acting. Acting, it's like it's just exactly it's so amazing to see them just honor. It's scary actually, sometimes it's very off putting when you could see, and I've seen them turn on the tears, the tea, like they could turn to tears on like water, and then they'll stop them like so once lunch. I'm like, Oh my god, like how do you do that? It's a

Steve DeKnight 28:41
I know a story. I don't know. It was a our jobs or who told me working with an actor, or an actress, and they needed her to cry. And she asked which eye, which eye he want the tear to come out. I'm like, Jesus now. That's a talent.

Alex Ferrari 28:59
Oh, yeah, that's, yeah, I've worked with actresses like that. It's just, it's just remarkable. It's amazing. No, you know, writing is such a solitary profession. It's something that you do alone in a room. But Nick, I mean, obviously, it's in a room like yours, which is super cool. If no one's locked. If no one's seen the video. You've got toys and audio books everywhere. It's very inspirational to me, as we should be exactly. But um, but since it's such a solitary profession, how do you work within the hive mind of a writer.

Steve DeKnight 29:41
There are a few things I love more in the writers room and I was really spoiled with the writers room in Buffy and Angel, because it was such a great group of people and we had so much fun. I always Marvel I was talking to Jeff Bell the other day. From Angel, he ended up running season four and five. There's marveling about how did we do 22 episodes a year? How did we get all that done because we were always having so much fun. It was just literally nonstop hilarity. And the writers room, to me is one of the best places you can possibly be. I enjoy and you know, a really loose fun writers room. The I also don't believe in staying till like midnight. No good has ever come in a writers room after dinner. It is. It just doesn't it is.

Alex Ferrari 30:41
It's like It's like if you're going to an eighth note, nothing good has come from an ATM at three o'clock in the morning. Nothing good is happening with the money you're pulling out.

Steve DeKnight 30:49
Nope. not at all. Not at all. So so for me once I became a show runner, um, I, I always tell everybody coming in look, everybody has a life, we should be able to get everything we need to get done from 10 to four. You know, if we're here on the weekends, or we're here till nine o'clock, something's gone horribly wrong. And that should only be like in a, you know, break glass in case of an emergency. So for me the writers room, it's, it's such a it's almost like college. It's like being back in college. It's just a joyous rock is fun. Is it a hard work? Is there a lot of pressure? Yeah. Um, but also most shows aren't 22 episodes anymore, which is a which is a positive and a negative. Because while most shows aren't 22 episodes, they're usually you know, eight to 13. Now, especially on streaming, oftentimes, it takes almost as much time in the writers room as it did for 22. Because there's they're they're much more handcrafted episodes. Instead of more of a mass produced when we were doing 22. I remember on Smallville, we would always come in and say, well, it's 25 are going to be great, there's going to be a bunch that's going to be pretty good. And there's going to be five to eight that are just suck because we ran out of time. Man, that's just you just have to accept that we ran out of time we ran out of money. When you're doing eight episodes, you can't have two of them. So they all have to be fantastic. So you sweat every single one. But the writers room is just such a fantastic place. It's a place that's changed for the better. As I remember, when I got the opportunity to run Spartacus, I really wanted a diverse writers room. very inclusive, I was looking, you know, for a broad range of voices. And at that time, which was I think I started working on it in late 2008. Sounds about right. When I was brought in 2008 2009 It premiered and you know, it would be 2008. So I sent out word to all the agencies what I was looking for. And all I got were white males. Because at the time. That's what the agencies we're used to dealing with. And that's what everybody wanted to hire. Right. And I had a devil of a time. I remember that a fantastic Asian writer, Miranda Kwok that I found through to a friend said hey, you should read the script. It's pretty good. Um, and so it was really difficult, but flash forward. About eight, nine years later, when I was putting the room together for Jupiter's legacy. It was a completely different story. Finally, the agencies had caught up the studios had caught up. So I was able to put together a room that was half female, half diverse, and very inclusive. And it made for a much better experience in my opinion, and not just on the words on the page, but being in the room. And, and just having such a fantastic time.

Alex Ferrari 34:19
You kind of got your your own footing, if you will, with Spartacus, like how did you? How did you bring Spartacus to a contemporary audience? Because when you think Spartacus, you think they'll Kubrick the old Kubrick film, you know, Kirk Douglas and stuff you like okay, sands and swords got it, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I think this is post 300. Right? So 300 already come out. So 300 and also Gladiator obviously had already come out as well. So there was reference other than the Kubrick thing, but what do you think? What do you think Spartacus? That's the first thing that comes to mind. So how did you write so how did you bring it to a contemporary audience? How did you tackle this?

Steve DeKnight 34:55
So that's the story. Um, so actually After after Smallville, I wanted to do something new, something exciting and I I've always been a big fan of the Dennis Potter musicals, the singing detective and he's from heaven. Um, so I finished my three year contract on Smallville. And I was looking for my next thing and I was talking to the people Chuck about possibly coming on there. I was talking to the people over on the Sarah Connor Chronicles, possibly over there. They were both Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, low balled me on what they were willing to pay me. And out of the blue. Sony pops up with a remake of a of a British TV musical that I loved, called Viva Blackpool. They were doing a version with Hugh Jackman called Viva Laughlin. And I I saw like a clip from their pilot, and I said, that's what I want to do. My agents were like, are you sure I go, yes, that's what I want to do. And it turned out to be one of the most hysterical debacles I have ever seen in my life.

Alex Ferrari 36:13
I didn't see the Four Seasons at that. I don't. I didn't see

Steve DeKnight 36:17
Two episodes. Exactly. Yeah, literally. So I and there was a whole kinds of craziness going on. For people that know la la. We were originally our offices, our temporary offices. When we first started up, I came in after the pilot was shot. I was a co executive producer on the show. We're over by Universal Studios in that area. And and I thought, Okay, great. I live in West Hollywood. It was like as a commute, but it's not that bad. So I'm there for about two weeks when they said Oh, great. We're gonna be moving to our new permanent offices. Next week. I'm like, what, who? What? Where are we going? Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita.

Alex Ferrari 37:01
Oh, Jesus Christ.

Steve DeKnight 37:02
Yeah. Whoever we're Magic Mountain is so I had to go from West Hollywood, Santa Clarita every day,

Alex Ferrari 37:08
hour and a half hour 45 minutes or longer, isn't

Steve DeKnight 37:10
it? Yeah, like an hour and a half because everything's fine until you hit the traffic on the 101 near Hollywood. You're there for 45 minutes. Um, so that was that was the first warning sign. Their major casino set because it's centered around Laughlin, Nevada in this guy opening his own casino. The major casino set was in Beverly Hills. So if we wanted to visit that set, you know, I had to go from West Hollywood, check into the office, go to Beverly Hills. Go back to Santa Clarita. And then it was it was it was a nightmare of epic proportions. And the show CBS test. It was a CBS show. They tested the pilot, which tested fantastic until people started singing and it was like somebody unplugged the equipment. It just went went dead. So a CBS kind of tried to hide the fact that it was a musical and all the promos. And so the show premiered on a special slot Thursday after CSI, where we lost like 10 million viewers from from CSI. And then it the second episode aired that Sunday at his regular slot. I think we lost 10 million more viewers and driving into work on Monday. Yeah, you cancelled and it was also one of the strangest experiences I've had. So we everybody gets there. We go to the office in Santa Clarita. We tell them we've been canceled. You know, we're having kind of the the wake for the show. And we get an urgent call from the building's facility manager saying everybody has to evacuate now. Santa Clarita is on fire, of course. So, so driving out the hills are on fire. It was like a hellscape. A, like 1000s of crows descended. I'm not shooting I don't know where the crows came from. It was literally apocalyptic. It's like God didn't like the show. It's like you're done. You're out. So he this is all the I swear it's leading to Spartacus. So a couple of weeks after that the writer strike happened. So now I'm out on a picket line. And in my mind, it was like, really the strike couldn't have happened a few weeks earlier, so it wouldn't have so much been canceled. We just would have disappeared. So I find myself on a picket line outside of Fox and who do I bump into Joss Whedon. My old boss and he said, Hey, I just sold a show to Fox right before we went on strike. I'd love to talk to you about coming to work on it. after this is over. I go Yeah, great. And that turned out to be dollhouse. So I came in and thought how After the strike was over as a consulting producer, one of the sweetest deals in my life. I was originally talking about coming in as the second in command. But then it went another way, and I'm totally fine. I'm fine with that. But I'll come in as a consulting producer for three days a week. I'll do a little writing, I'll do a little directing. I said, I'll come in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Don't talk to me Friday through Monday,

Alex Ferrari 40:25
because I need to rest

Steve DeKnight 40:26
because I need to rest, which gave me time to work on some other stuff. So I did that. I was gearing up to direct Episode Two of doll house. And I get a call from my agents. And this was the call I referred to earlier where it's like, hey, Starz wants to do some Gladiator series with Sam Raimi. They want to talk to you you're interested, like I'll be right over. More than anything. I love Sam Raimi since I was a kid, I mean, ever since I saw the first people dead movie at a drive in. So I hotfoot it over. And it's the stars executives and at the time a stars. I think they had one comedy and I think they were getting ready are just about to air a crash. But that was produced by Lionsgate they wanted this show to be the first ones that they actually produced the known themselves. So I get in the room with the stars executives and I want to speakerphone is Sam Raimi was nowhere to be found. I think he was shooting a movie at the time. But Rob tapper, his producing partner, who was with him all the way back, you know, back in the Michigan days with Evil Dead, was on the speakerphone from New Zealand where he he had relocated when he did Hercules and Xena. And so they tell me Yeah, we want to do Spartacus. And I was like Spartacus, whoo. I don't know, you know, I was a huge fan of the Kubrick movie. And that's daunting to try to take that on. So we talked about it. And we all liked each other. So at the end of the meeting, they said, great. We love what we're hearing. When can you start and I said, in about two months. I'm about to go direct this thing for just Wheaton on the show I'm on and they said oh, well, we can't wait that long. We're gonna have to keep looking. I go. Uh, Godspeed. Sorry, I'm tied up. So I was actually on set shooting this episode of dollhouse when my agents popped up and said, Hey, stars called again, they've talked to a lot of people. They haven't found anybody they liked as much as you would you still be interested? And I said hell yeah. So like literally on a couple of weeks later on a Friday locked my cut that episode of dollhouse. And then on Monday, started on Spartacus. And a I've mentioned this before in interviews, I didn't know anything about Roman history. The extent of my knowledge of Roman history was Kubrick Spartacus, Gladiator, Gladiator Ben Hur you know, all the all of those old swords and sandals, epics. Um, so I quickly started reading up about the third survival war that Spartacus was involved in. And, and I realized that so much of the story is just made up, because there's not, you know, there's a lot of information about who won this battle and who won that battle. But there's not a lot of character stuff. And even if this comes into play in the show, his true name has been lost to the ages. Nobody knows what his real name was. He was named Spartacus after an ancient King. by the Romans, no, you know, nobody knows who he was. And no one ever found his body after that last battle, because there were just 1000s of dead bodies. Um, so so we launch into it. And this is where I find out is how Rob Halford sold this show to stars, which is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He showed me after I was on board, he basically sent them a DVD. It was like an old William castle kind of thing. It's him sitting at his desk, and talking to the camera, and he's saying, wouldn't it be great if we did a show about Spartacus and it looked like this. And then they showed clips from 300 and Gladiator. And, and, and people at first were saying, Oh, it looks like a 300 ripoff. And we were always very honest and upfront that we love what Zack Snyder and Larry Fong did with 300 and we wanted to take that technology and take what they did, and see if it would translate into a TV show, a weekly TV show. So we always A huge debt to Zack Snyder and Larry fall with the work they did on 300, which was just revolutionary.

So we dive into Spartacus, I I start reading every book on Romans and the third survival war, we hire a couple of PhD Roman history experts who are just invaluable. And then we start, you know, forming the story together. And I approach Spartacus, like I do, almost everything I work on is a love story. First and foremost. It could be you know, love between trends love between a husband and wife. Um, and so we start working on it. And, you know, the first episode, which I think is the worst episode of the series, and not because of the actors or the directors or anything, it's basically the way the script was constructed. Um, you know, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I think we bid off a little bit more than we could chew, we had a very limited budget. And there was it was just too expensive. So at the last minute, we had to start whittling things down. And unfortunately, a lot of the things that got whittled down was the connective tissue. And also that first episode, if you look at it, it's very comic book II graphic novel, because we were still trying to figure out exactly the techniques. And also we were shooting it in New Zealand. So there was kind of, we used a lot of the same crew as Hercules and Xena. And it just took everybody to realize that that's not what we were actually doing. Right. Um, so by the time we got to Episode Four, thankfully, we had figured it out. That's an episode called the thing in the pit where Spartacus is is sent to this underground fighting pits. And at that point, everything started to click on the writing side, we kind of dialed it in on the production side, we dialed it in. And from there we took off. It's also it was one of the one of the early shows that went straight to series instead of doing a pilot, which is why the pilots a little wonky, it was something pretty new back at that time that now we do it all the time. It's mostly just a straight to series order. And thankfully, the thing that I think made the show a big hit because we were airing each week it wasn't, you know, dropping all the episodes at the same time. And I remember when the first episode came out, stars send you a big book of all the reviews. And it was just page after page trying to find something that somebody said good, but everybody hated it. One reviewer said it was the worst TV show of the decade. And this came out January 2010. So the decade just started. But thankfully, we had completed all the episodes we had already shot all 13 and stars was airing all 13. This wasn't network television where they were going to cancel it. And we knew starting in episode four things got a lot better. And stars made a deal with Netflix to show the episodes weekly. And that's what really helped us right, because it really found an audience between stars and Netflix. It found an audience and by the end of that first season, a lot of the reviewers that saw that first episode and hated it circled back around and said you know what, you all should check this out, because it actually gets a lot better.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
That's so that's awesome.

Steve DeKnight 48:46
Yeah, so we had a bit of a bumpy start. And and then of course, sadly, as everybody knows, our star Andy Whitfield passed away. We were prepping season two, when we found out that he had non Hodgkins lymphoma. So we had a lot of talks about do we cancel the show? Do we shut the show down? We can't wait two years to do the next installment because we'll lose the audience. So we started we kept working on season two, but we kept talking about you know, we want to give Andy time to go through treatment and get better. And so I approached stars and Rob Halford about what if we did like a two episode like Mini Movie prequel. And star says, Well, two episodes, it's not worth the money to do two episodes. And then the suggestion was made what about four episodes, and I felt like it's too many episodes for a concise story, not long enough for a full story. And then eventually they came back and they said, Well, what about six episodes? And we're like, yeah, that's just right. So that's why we did God's in the arena. The prequel to give Andy time to go through his treatments. And it's also a you know, it's one of those things it was born through a very tragic situation. But it's also, I think, one of the seasons I'm most proud of, because it just seemed like everything was clicking. And we got introduced Gannicus, which we were not going to bring into the show, but we got to introduce them in a way where you really got to know him. And then Andy, Whitfield got a clean bill of health. And we went to Comic Con, and we brought him and we announced he was coming back. And then we started to gear up for season two again. And then we got the call that the cancer came back. And he passed away a couple of months later, which was really, really sad. And and, and, you know, we we were faced with the choice again, do we keep going and Andy was was very firm at us to finish telling the story. So we did a big, worldwide search. And we found Liam McIntyre, to carry on the show, which was I can't give enough props to Liam, it was such a hard thing to step into. And Liam was a huge fan of the show, and Andy's work. So that made it doubly difficult. But yeah, it was a and what really made it special is our executives at Stars at the time. Most of them were used to programming, you know, movies and specials on stars. So when they would have a question, or they were uncomfortable with something, we were doing a Rob tapper, and I would say, No, trust us this is this is how it should work. And you're going to be very happy. And they would say, well, you're the experts Go ahead. So they were wonderfully supportive, very hands off. And, and the way we approached the show, Robin, I had some very early conversations, because stars want to do a male driven action show, which I'm all for, but I have ulterior motives. You know, I'm a bit of a lefty and I wanted to work in the ideas about, you know, social justice and equality. And my big thing at the time was, I felt like, and you see it even more today, that there was an economic slave class being created in the United States that you had the super rich, the middle class was being eradicated. And then you had the poor, that were basically there to funnel money to the super rich, which unfortunately, is still the case. So that was really all of my subtext. And stars was was fine with all of that. And we also I, you know, I don't think we could, we could do that show today. Because I mean, it was beyond our radar. It was nc 17. But Rob Halford and I early on made a decision, when we're talking about who we making this show for, we decided we're not going to make it for anybody. We're gonna make it for ourselves, we're gonna make the show that we would want to watch and just trust that other people will want to come along for the ride. And one of the biggest surprises is it you know, it was very popular a young, you know, among young males, you know, 18 to 34 you know, that sweet spot. But it was also hugely popular with middle aged women.

Yes, who really, they love the romance, they loved all the male nudity. And that's also something we came into it. We were like, you know, this kind of stuff has naked women in it all over the place. It's a gladiator show. They're gonna be naked, they're gonna be fully naked. Everybody had to understand coming in with with the guys, you are going to be more scantily clad than the women in this, because it's, you know, it is what it is a gladiator show. That's what people want to see.

Alex Ferrari 54:11
that's amazing. So you, I mean, you were you had some time on Daredevil. Obviously, which was, I mean, amazing. I mean, I love what you guys did with Daredevil. I mean, it was just like, it was such a it's such a lot of pressure because you had to, you had to get to make that fans happy. But you also have to make Netflix happy because this was the first big launch of the Marvel stuff on on Netflix. If Daredevil would have failed. We might have not gotten the rest of the rest of the guys or not. Yeah, it would have it would have been a lot less seasons of all these other great characters. Yeah. How did you deal with that pressure? And how did you just kind of like run into that or do you just you just said, screw it. Let's just write.

Steve DeKnight 54:53
That was a, you know, I was on an overall deal with stars. I wrapped up Spartacus, I mean, in the writers room, had written a full season of a series called Incursion, which was kind of like aliens meets Band of Brothers. And we were actually at the point prepping to cast when they pulled the plug because it was too expensive. But I was still on this overall deal. So I was being paid a handsome amount of money to sit at home and think of ideas. And I had, I did a script for stars based on the Italian crime series, or Mondo criminality. And then I was I was working up some other ideas, because they didn't feel that was quite right for them. So I had about three months left on this very sweet deal. When I got a call from Jeff Loeb, again, out of the blue, saying, Hey, you know, I'm working with Drew Goddard on Daredevil, which I knew I had met with Drew about a year before he and he asked me if I'd be interested in coming in and co creating it with him. And I said, Man, I would like nothing better. Drew Goddard is one of the most brilliant sweetest guys you could ever meet. And I said, but I'm on this stars overall deal, I can't leave that that would be silly money to leave behind. So Luke calls me up and said, Drew Goddard has to leave. He has a previous commitment to writing directly Sinister Six movie for Sony. This was before Sony and Marvel made the deal to share Spider Man. And I said, Jeff, I'm on this overall deal. He goes, Well, you know, we can really just just come in and hear what we're thinking. So I went in, and Drew Goddard and Jeff Lowe, pitched their idea for the show. And drew had written the first two scripts, a couple of rough drafts for the first two scripts. And I read the scripts, I heard their pitch, and my reaction was, dammit, now I've got to do this, because I really like it. Um, so I came onto that. And when I came on, you know, we were, everything was really far behind. You know, we had the first two rough scripts, the third one was being written out of the first 13. We had, you know, we had no production designer, no cash, no anything. And we were going to start shooting sooner than I would have liked. And our goal was to try to get eight scripts done before we started shooting, I think we got the six or seven because everything was so far behind. But drew had drew it basically set the table, and, you know, gave me the menu. And so I was able to cook up the meal. And it was, it was brutal, because we didn't have enough time. As often the case we didn't you never have quite enough money. And, you know, we realized that it was a bit of a tricky situation, because we're going into it. People, for whatever reason, didn't really care for the Ben Affleck movie. And I always say, Ben Affleck is a great actor. I think he was he was a good choice for that role. But this was a time where they made the movie where, you know, it was a different time for comic book movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:33
It was more comic bookie,

Steve DeKnight 58:34
it was more comic book II. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. It was it was a little over the top. And what really drew me into it into the TV show was the fact that they wanted to do a darker, grittier corner of the Marvel universe with the street level heroes, and I grew up loving Daredevil. And the character, and we all just wanted to really do justice to the character, but we realized that the comic book fans would come at it with a bit of hesitation because of the movie. And people outside of the comic book would also be influenced by the movie or didn't know who Daredevil was at all. So really, the way we approached the show was the origin story of Daredevil and the origin story of kingpin both at the same time they were both two sides of the same coin. And, and there was a lot of I mean, it was a difficult show because there was all the pressure because it was the first one in this multi million dollar for show in a you know, spin off with the defenders deal. That was completely unheard of. And as we started working on it, there were Marvel started to get a little nervous that it was a little too dark. Um, so there was some wrestling and and and i gotta preface by saying I loved everybody at Marvel, Joe casada everybody I would i would be in a foxhole with those guys any day of the week. But of course, you know, there's going to be creative wrestling. So I remember at one point to lighten the show up, the suggestion was made that there should be a funny Russian character that keeps trying to say things in English, but it's wrong. It's kind of a running joke. And I about blue blood vessel. And I said, No, the Russians don't work unless they're scary. They have to be scary. Let's not water this down. Of course, we can have humor in the show, not that kind of humor. Um, so it was a it was a grueling and there was there was a lot of talk about how far do we push it? Like

Alex Ferrari 1:00:59
You push it pretty far.

Steve DeKnight 1:01:01
Yeah, I obviously I mean, they brought in the guy that did Spartacus. So

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
some of those. Some of those scenes, I was just like, wow, they did for it.

Steve DeKnight 1:01:12
Yeah, it's like the infamous episode. At the end of I think it's Episode Four. We were Wilson Fisk crushes the Russian brothers head. In the car, which Druid pitch to me, it was the trunk at the time, not the door. But it was the same idea. So when we got the point of shooting it. We knew if you look at the scene, you never really see the head being crushed. You see the aftermath. It's more suggestive than anything else. But it's still disturbing. The original cut was like three times longer. I mean, it just kept going on where he was banging that guy. And which also brings me to Vincent D'Onofrio, um, when I we hadn't cast anybody when I came on. And I saw a picture. I was looking, you know, just randomly on the internet. And I saw a picture of Vincent D'Onofrio, with his head shaved, and I like, it's the kingpin. The guy's gigantic. He's a phenomenal actor. I mean, there's nobody else that really fits this bill. And so so I went, everybody, I said, we should go after Vincent and offer you and they said, What are you crazy? He makes like a million dollars in episode with the law and order stuff. There's no way we can afford him. I'm like, ah, can we just try and think oh, no, it'll never work. And then they called me up and is a side story. They called me up and said, Hey, we got a great idea. It's a little bit outside the box. I'm Richard Gere. I'm like What? I said, I think Richard Gere is a phenomenal actor. He's amazing. He's not the kingpin. No, it'd be like casting me as Superman. It's, it's just not it's just not right. So but we went down the road and but Richard Gere, turned it down. He wasn't interested. I think he made the right choice. And then it turns out our casting director Larae Mayfield, ah, was friends with Vincent D'Onofrio, she knew him socially. She said, Look, let me just reach out to turns out he's a huge Daredevil fan. And he agreed to do it at a greatly reduced price because he loved it. And I remember Jeff Loeb and I having the initial conversation and he said, let's talk about his shaved head and we thought, Oh, shit, you know, he's not gonna want to shave his head. But Vincent said, he's got to have a shaved head, right? I'm gonna shave my head. But just so you know, if I've got to come back and do reshoots, or something, we might have to use a bald cap if I'm doing another show when we submit anything you want. And him coming on, really made such a difference. Him and Charlie Cox, Charlie Cox, who is probably the sweetest man alive, um, and Joe Casada, had saw that had seen Charlie Cox and something years ago, and was convinced that Charlie Cox was the guy. And Charlie came in for an audition. And it was one of the best auditions I've ever seen, but completely wrong. He didn't really know much about the character. In fact, he tells a funny story that shortly before he came in for the audition, he called up his agent and goes is, is this guy blind? And they go, yeah, yeah, he's blind. So Charlie came in, and because he had read up about Daredevil and Matt Murdock, and about his heightened senses, his take on the character was that there was so much information coming in, that he was very withdrawn. So he came in and basically, kind of played Matt Murdock is kind of like rain, man. And it was it was a stunning performance. It was mesmerizing, but wrong. Because you know, Matt Murdock is a bit of a ladies man. And you know, and, and and we told him, that was fantastic. Not quite right. So we gave him some notes. He went away. And he came back a couple of days later and did a completely different performance that was just as fantastic. And a side note there is that he was a very svelte guy. Um, he had never really, you know, he was fit, but he didn't go to a gym or anything, that wasn't his thing. So we immediately put them on a program with a trainer, and the like eight to 12 week transformation this guy went through is just stunning. When you actually see him with a shirt off, and he's got a six pack. And I mean, he worked out like a devil.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
No pun intended. I mean, yeah. Oh, no, he was no, I, every time I see Daredevil mechanic, I come back to the gym. Yeah, to get back to the gym.

Steve DeKnight 1:06:04
He just, it was amazing. What he did in such a short period of time

Alex Ferrari 1:06:09
You jumped into your first feature film, if I'm not mistaken, which is a small feature was an independent film. And there was there was a guy who did something before then that you just kind of didn't see. So you jump into the studio side of the bit like the high end studio potential world. Yeah, doing the sequel to Pacific Rim, called Pacific Rim uprising. So you wrote it, and you directed it. And and you worked with Guillermo. Guillermo del Todo, who's the creator of this insane, beautiful world. What was it like? getting thrown into that machine? Because I've spoken to so many directors on the show, who are at the $150 million $200 million work. It's a completely different kind of filmmaking and and that's for experienced guys in that space. This is your first time there. What was that? Like?

Steve DeKnight 1:07:15
Who the hell gave me that job? It was the best and worst job I've ever had. I'm gonna go back to how how did I get that job? I had written a script called the Dead in the Dying, which was a very Hitchcockian psycho Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with three people in the house. And it was very contained, very small movie, arm, Mary Parent, the the Uber producer, x studio head of MGM, Reddit, and really loved it. I met Mary a few years before because she was a big fan of Spartacus, and she knew my agent. So my agent put us together. And I remember at that, at that meeting, I think it was a breakfast meeting, I gave her the rough pitch to this movie idea. And she said, that sounds great. You should write it and you should direct it. And you know, if you ever get around to writing it, send it to me. We'll talk so years later, I sent it to her, she really liked it. And so we set it up at Paramount. This was a little $8 million movie tops. And Paramount was going through a lot of changes. And as I discovered, it's very difficult to get a huge studio to pay attention to a little tiny $8 million thriller, at least at the time. I mean, this is before, you know, Get Out, came out

Alex Ferrari 1:08:39
And streaming and all that

Steve DeKnight 1:08:41
Streaming and all that. So um, so we couldn't get any traction. We had Kerry Washington who wanted to do it like right before Christmas, I met with her. She said I really liked it, I'd love to do it. Paramount just wasn't geared up to move fast enough. By the time they got around to contacting or people after Christmas, she'd signed up for something else. So we lost her. And then I got a call from Mary saying, you know what, maybe this wasn't meant to be your your first movie, and I thought, Oh shit, she's pulling out. And then she said, What do you think about Pacific Rim too? I'm like, hell, it's like going from 8 million to 150. That's just massive shooting all over the world. And I said, Yeah, sure. I'm a huge Del Toro fan. I mean, you know, all the way I remember. When I was in college, I think I think it was when I was in college and seeing Kronos as a theater. So I had followed him all through his career. I loved what he did. And I said, Yeah, she says, Okay, well, you've got to get the approval of several people. So I had to go in and meet with the people at legendary. This is before Mary took over legendary And they gave me the thumbs up. And then I had to go meet Thomas Tall. The the owner of legendary, who's a great guy, I went to a deep deep deep in the, in the West Valley to his mansion. I think I met him right after he had sold the company to Wanda and for like $3 billion right freshly freshly minted billionaire.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:28
He's gonna he's gonna write

Steve DeKnight 1:10:29
But he's was a guy like me, you know, he came from a blue collar, blue collar background, you know, pull himself up by his bootstraps and made his fortune. And it's funny when we were talking. When I first met him, we were talking about movies. He mentioned Humanoids from the deep. And I go Humanoids from the deep. I saw that at the drive in, you know, back when I was a kid, and it always really stuck with me. And he said, Man, I talked about that movie all the time. And nobody's seen it. And I said, me too. I reference that movie all the time. Um, so we bonded over that. And I was driving home when I got the call from Mary sang, she she had talked to Thomas and he gave me the thumbs up. And she said, Okay, the last one, you got to go meet with Guillermo del Toro. And I thought, well, that's if nothing else comes of it. I got to know you enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:23
I gotta meet again. Did you go to his cool back house?

Steve DeKnight 1:11:26
Yeah, his house I didn't eat. So I I get two weeks later, I go to see him. I meet him at this modest little Ranch House, also in the deep valley. And I knew it was it was Bleak House, you know, his his famous archives of movie memorabilia and art. And I walk in and there's the original Caine's spacesuit from aliens. And the original stop motion animation models from Jason and the Argonauts, and all of this other amazing stuff. And I tell them Garin well I, I've dreamed for years, about coming to see Bleak House and he says, All Stephen, this is not Bleak House bleak houses next door, is that this is just where I take everything in and catalog it and then move it I go, are you kidding me? So he takes me next door to the actual Bleak House. And I could have spent a year there. And it was, it was my childhood dream, you know, because I grew up reading. Like I mentioned, Famous Monsters of filmland. And Forrest J. Ackerman had the Akra mansion in LA, which was basically the same idea. But this was like that on steroids. And he was just showing me everything and I could not have been happier. And then we talked about the movie. We talked about some ideas. And afterwards he called Mary and said, Yeah, he's the guy. And I guess the one downside to all this is I love Guillermo so much anybody that's ever met him. He is such a brilliant, pure soul who loves cinema and loves art. And the breadth of his knowledge about both is just astounding. It's all inspiring.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:19
I've had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo two or three times in my life. And he's, he's so sweet, so down to earth. And it's like, the genius that spawns from him is remarkable.

Steve DeKnight 1:13:31
It really is. And he curses like a sailor. No, I don't know. hysteric

Alex Ferrari 1:13:36
Can I can I tell you the one I saw my Comic Con once and he This is the story that's working in Hollywood is like eating a shit sandwich. You could put some mayo on it, you could put some nice cheese, but at the end of the day, you're eating shit.

Steve DeKnight 1:13:50
pretty much it. One of my great regrets is the movie didn't turn out nearly as well as any of us had hoped. And I'll get into that in a second. But, you know, Guillermo couldn't do the movie because he was going off to do his passion project, the shape of water did okay with that. Yeah, he made the right choice. And the studio needed to get this movie out because it was coming up on five years since the last one and anything beyond that. They felt like was too long. So unfortunately, you know, cuz he went off to do the movie, and we did this thing. So he wasn't involved because, you know, he was busy, which I always regret. I haven't had a chance to talk to him since those original couple of meetings. And they I would love to see him come back and do the third movie, and really get things back on track. So the movie so I get hired. I think it was a I want to say it was March of 2016. I think it was that sounds right. With the idea that the movie would shoot around that time, the next year, because there was, Guillermo had developed three scripts. And we were using some of the influences of some of it. But the studio at the studio had a very strong opinion, there are several things they want it. They want it to bring in a younger audience. So they want it kids to be part of the movie on screen. They also they, they didn't want the action to be at night in the rain. They want it to be in the daytime, and more brightly lit, and they want it the jaegers to move faster. So this is also three of the things that people complain to me the most about when they see the movie. I'm like, No, that's, that was my that was my marching orders. And I understand why they wanted it. I have to preface by saying I don't have a problem. I love the executives on the movie, we had some battles. But they had a point of view. And I understand their point of view. I didn't always agree with it, but I totally understand where they were coming from. And also they put a lot of faith in me. So because we had not a lot of time, I suggest it let's put together a TV type writers room will break the story. And then I'll take two writers from that writers room and the three of us will write the script so we can get it done very quickly. So we break the story, we go through, you know, a lot of back and forth. During that time, Mary takes over legendary. So she's no longer my producer. She's my studio boss. So we break the story, we turn in the outline, we go back and forth with with some changes. And then we we dig into the scripts. And, you know, we wrote it very, very quickly. I think it was like three weeks. Once we had the outline, we had like three weeks to write. Ah, we turn in the script. And Mary calls me up and says, Wow, I I'm surprised I really liked it, which was a really, I'm like great, fantastic. She was really happy with the story. The story we broke was with Charlie Hunnam is the lead as Raleigh, and Max Martini as his co pilot, playing Herc. So it was very much tied to the first movie. Mako had become a mucky muck in the PP. Bam, Pacific defense Corps. So huge really, they liked the script. Everything's great. I'm not shooting you. The next morning I wake up, I sign on to deadline Hollywood. And it's announced that Charlie Hunnam is doing a remake of Pappy on that shoots at the exact same time we are. And and I met with Charlie, wonderful guy. And he had mentioned this passion project that he wanted to do. So I don't fault him for doing that. It's something he's wanted to do for many, many, many, many years. But of course, it put us in a bind. We couldn't push production because of the release date. And other actor contracts. So we had to throw out a large chunk of that script and quickly come up with a different idea. So the writers and I came up with the idea of this new brother and sister as the leads that were basically like proto protegees of Max Martinis character.

So we wrote a completely new draft with these two characters. Nobody liked it, including us. So we're like, ah, the hell did we do now? And I think was Guillermo and Mary, who came up with the idea of Stacker Pentecost, son, Jake. And my initial reaction was, how do I read Khan? That doesn't make any sense, but, okay, I'm willing to give it a shot. And then Mary said, What do you think about John Boyega? And I knew him from attack the block, and obviously Star Wars, and I said, he would be amazing, but there's no way we're gonna get John Bodega. He's doing Star Wars. He doesn't need another big franchise. She said, Well, he's coming in for a general meeting. Let's put up all the concept art that we've done in a conference room, and I'll walk him by. So that's what she does. She walks him by and goes, Oh, by the way, here's some concept art for this sequel to Pack Rim. And he really dug it. It turns out that he's a huge anime fan. So he was very interested in signing on as as the star and a producer on the movie. So once we got him, we kicked it into high gear to try to retool the scripts with the idea of Stacker Pentecost. Son, which is very tricky, because now we've we need to explain why isn't Raleigh in it? And why does stacker have a son that we've never heard of. And we address all that in the script that eventually gets cut out of the movie, particularly what happened to Raleigh gets cut out. So of course, when fans go see the movie, it's like the fuck is this? where's where's Raleigh, and you killed Mako? The whole killing Mako thing in the original script was it she had much more screentime in the original script. But she had scenes with Charlie Hunnam. She, in the original idea, this didn't make it to the script. But the original idea was, her helicopter goes down in Sydney, like it does in the movie, but she doesn't die in the crash. She's in a coma. And we had this whole sequence where the Raleigh character went to the hospital with portable drift equipment, and got inside her mind to try to bring her out of this coma. And while he's inside, she starts to die in the world starts to collapse around him, it was really cool. But everybody thought the idea of coma was too depressing for this movie. So we had to jettison that. And there was also a big sequence in the movie at her funeral, where it was like a 20 Jaeger column, 20, jaegers of them carrying the funeral down the coffin down in Japan with the cherry blossoms blowing across. And it was this huge moment that we had to cut because we couldn't afford at the end of the day. So

Alex Ferrari 1:21:48
it means your trip to so the process and I want people to understand listening. When you're dealing with $150 million film, and the studio wants a release, they say now you're backed into a release date. Yeah, everything, the creative process becomes much more complicated. Because when you're just in this machine, the hat the train is going there's nothing you could do to stop it. And, and it's gonna go and you're building track. As you go, you're building track as a. You are building track

Steve DeKnight 1:22:18
you don't know what the final destination is.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:20
Right, exactly. But you have and you have no choice as opposed to sit down. Build a long track, you know where you're going take your time, Dan, get this thing rolling. That's what a normal film kind of does. But at this, and I understand why because the first one was such a huge hit. I think overseas is what really green greenlit the sequel, right was is that is that?

Steve DeKnight 1:22:38
China.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:39
And that's why they were like we gotta get, we got to get something else out.

Steve DeKnight 1:22:43
I left out the most important part. So when I sign on and march of 2016, supposed to shoot the next year, a week into me working on the movie, they say, oh, by the way, because of schedules and everything, you've got to start shooting in October of this year. I'm like, what we don't have a script, we don't have a story. We don't have a production designer. And then we had all the delays because we lost our main star. And we're trying to get a new one and rewriting the script. And we really never recovered from that. We started shooting I think late October, early November of that same year, which is for movie this size is ridiculous that basically our prep time was cut in half.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:23
And it's a much it's a super complicated.

Steve DeKnight 1:23:26
Yes. So a lot of that is you do previous for the visual effects, which in a movie like this is vital because you do the previous of what's going on with the jaegers in the kaiju. And then you can match the action inside the con pot with the actual people. Well, we never had a chance to lock down the previous. So on some of those battles, you know, I'm just kind of winging it inside the cockpit. As close as I think we can come to what we think is eventually going to be in the movie. Because we just didn't have enough time. He just and literally because we didn't have enough time. There were multiple times. We'd show up on set and we'd have to wait for hours because the set wasn't done. Like literally a crew of people would hairdryers trying to dry the set so we can shoot and you just you just have to roll with it. You have to take all your your shot lists in your careful planning and go okay, how can I boil down 20 shots into two which oftentimes can result in something better? And and many times it did on this movie, but yeah, and then after that you go into the audience previews. Oh, no, which is a special kind of hell, especially for a movie like this, where there's so many visual effects, but we didn't have them in We didn't have it in the budget for post this. We put in tips for people to see. So we go into these previews. And it's just a mess. And you know, the audience hates it, because most of it is incomprehensible because you can't tell what's going on. And then everybody gets nervous. So you do a bunch of reshoots and retooling and you take things out. The first cut of the movie was two hours and 20 minutes. What ended up on screen at the movies was about 90 minutes. So you can imagine there's a lot of stuff that was taken out of the movie, including what happened to Raul. And so it's a and again, would I do it again? Absolutely. Listen, when somebody drops out of the sky and say, Hey, do you want to write and direct $150 million? Science Fiction fiction epic? You don't say well, do I have enough time to do it? Right? No, you

Alex Ferrari 1:25:57
say yes. And, and figure it out. So you were just basically if you said earlier, you were just holding on for dear life, essentially. It's like the machine the machine was just, I mean, and for and this is in you're a guy when you get this call, you're not a kid. This is not your first rodeo. This is your first rodeo. This is the first rodeo at like the big arena. But you've been you've been playing around for a while directing for a while. You've a showrunner you understand how the whole process works. And even you with the experience you have, once you get thrown into this machine, it's a completely new experience for you. And you're literally just tried to hang on.

Steve DeKnight 1:26:32
Totally. And, and plus, you know, I shot a bunch of episodes of TV, right? But in the states in Vancouver, I mean, now I was flying to Sydney. And you know, I had to relocate to Sydney for like seven months, and shoot there. And then we shot a month in China in Chiang Tao. And then we shot in Iceland. So you know, I was going all low and I was just just freshly married. I'd literally got married and I think the next week flew off for seven months. Was it? So it was a Yeah, it was it was difficult. And you know, look, you hear about movie, Jaws being the classic example. movies where everything's going wrong in the movie turns out fantastic. This was not quite that experience. There are things in the movie that I'm very, very proud of. And there are things that I'm very, very embarrassed of.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:26
Um, it's not an exploding baby. It's not an exploding babies.

Steve DeKnight 1:27:30
Yeah, I'm not I'm not that embarrassed.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:31
So it's so it's a win.

Steve DeKnight 1:27:34
Yeah. And look, I I was surrounded by the John Boyega is fantastic. I would work with him again in a second. No matter what was going on. He was always funny and charming. And he knew his lines and he knew what he was doing. You know, we got to discover Cailee Spaeny, who is she played the young girl, Amara, who's gone on to just do amazing things. And it was just really a fantastic, fantastic I got to work with a dp that I always love Dayman Dell, who is JJ Abrams, main D dp, who was just fantastic. So many great people and working with people like Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. Just just made the hardship easier to swallow much better. But really, if we had had like a full year to prep the movie, and really dial everything in, I think we could have worked out a lot of the very obvious kinks that ended up on screen. And the movie went through some radical changes when we were doing the test screenings. It had a completely different ending in Tokyo in a lot of other things that we we altered and and also, it's something we all I think now regret is because of the test screenings, it was testing really well with little kids, like, you know, eight to 12 year old kids Um, so a decision was made to retool the movie skewing that way. And to me it's it's kind of the mistake that Conan the Destroyer did when Conan the Barbarian was fantastic. And then Connie on the destroyer they made for little kids, which was just wrong. I'm hoping the animated series that's coming out on Netflix helps to revive the franchise. It also it kills me because like when people say oh my God, I hate you. You killed Mako.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:48
I did it.

Steve DeKnight 1:29:51
I always say well, you also have to understand Yes, but that had a lot more meaning when it originally started. It was a lot neater And then it got whittled down to I agree. It's like a blip, and I'm upset about it. But also, I had a plan for the third movie, where she does come back in an unexpected way. And the third, the end of the third movie, I had always planned to set up a crossover with the monster verse if that's the way that legendary wanted it to go.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:23
Right.

Steve DeKnight 1:30:24
Um, but you know, then the movie came out. The critics hated it. The audience, the movie, I think broke even, but didn't do as much money as the first movie. So it kind of I think put the kibosh at least in the short term for and again, if there ever is a third movie, I hope everybody has enough sense to have Guillermo, come back in and and do the third

Alex Ferrari 1:30:50
and play in that and play in that world again.

Steve DeKnight 1:30:52
Yeah, it's Yeah, because I personally, as a fan would love to see that.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:57
That's an amazing, amazing story of how that because I always wanted to know what happened behind the scenes of that because I'm like, he does Spartacus, he did Daredevil and there's obviously something that happened in Pacific Pacific Rim rising like there's something there I don't know what it is. It's not that if you just want something there's I'm so thankful for setting the record straight on what happened behind the scenes.

Steve DeKnight 1:31:19
And again, I don't want people to come across thinking that I'm saying all those damn executives know it, it's totally understand where the executives are 50 million bucks, if million dollar mark. The thing that people really want to do is is idiot proof. $100 million gamble. But often by doing that, you can alienate the very people that you need to make it a success

Alex Ferrari 1:31:47
very much, though. And that's basically the the theme of Hollywood for the last 150 years, or 100 years or something. I have a couple of last questions that are rapid, rapid fire. What is the what is the what are three films screenplays that every screenwriter should read?

Steve DeKnight 1:32:14
Oh, ah, the sixth sense, which is a screenplay that I read before I wrote my little thriller. And I love the movie. I'd never read the screenplay. I read the screenplay, cried my eyes out. It's just an amazing, amazing screenplay. Highly recommend that. I highly recommend you read anything by James Cameron, particularly alien.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:41
Oh, aliens. This is so good that

Steve DeKnight 1:32:43
aliens is a masterclass in brevity, and how he describes things. It is a phenomenal, phenomenal screenplay. And I would also say anything by Shane Black, also, is just the way Shane does seem direction I envy and drool over because I can never condense it as much as he does.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:10
I've read I like reading long kiss goodnight, or the original last less the boy scout before before it gets switched over. Just like he takes what would take a normal human five paragraphs and he'll whittle it down to five words. And it just it pops and it's his descriptions are amazing. So they're they're artistic. They're almost, they're almost haikus.

Steve DeKnight 1:33:34
Yeah, they really are it. It's like a magic trick. And that's what when I first started writing screenplays, I made the classic mistake that everyone does. My scene direction was like, you know, huge chunks. And eventually you learn you want to have as much white on the page as possible. Because these scripts have to be read by executives and agents who read 100 scripts a week. And if they get something that's all dense text you know, they'll they'll read a page or two but that's it.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:08
Unless Unless it's like by Quinten Tarantino and then they'll sit down or by Shane Black.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:13
And then there are some people that just defy the rules

Alex Ferrari 1:34:18
Yes. Sorkin Kaufman, these kinds of guys that just

Steve DeKnight 1:34:21
totally

Alex Ferrari 1:34:22
whatever. And people always say like, you have to have everything that your punctuation has to be perfect global. I read a Charlie, I read a Shane Black script, and there was some grammatical errors unlike when you're Shane Black.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:32
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:33
It's okay. I promise you they're not going to throw it away because the thought was in the wrong place.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:38
Yeah, exactly. And to this day, I obsess over the proofing. I'm a terrible proofreader. So I haven't proved by other people, usually multiple people. And it just like every screenwriter you talk to will tell you, you send out your script to everyone. And the second you do you find another typo.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:59
So ture. Now what advice? What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Steve DeKnight 1:35:07
You know, it's interesting. It's a, I think it's easier and harder. If you're trying to break into day, I highly suggest you target television, televisions a lot easier. Movies, the number of movies that have been made have shrunk dramatically. And the number of studios making movies have shrunk dramatically, because of all the consolidation. So and also right now trying to break in the movies because of the pandemic. The release dates are so backed up that if I were to do Pac rim, uprising today, it would be a couple of years before they would have a slot to release it because of all the big movies that are backed up, which is you know, one of the reasons that Warner Brothers is premiering movies on HBO max. The other big one is that they want to promote HBO max. TV, on the other hand has exploded in an insane way. You know, back when I started 20 years ago, there were like, four and a half networks. And

Alex Ferrari 1:36:13
I remember

Steve DeKnight 1:36:14
And yeah, and really premium cable. Places like AMC FX had hadn't started doing original content and

Alex Ferrari 1:36:26
even HBO early was Yeah, I mean, Sopranos was like, early 90s 90s. Yeah, yeah. So it wasn't me. So,

Steve DeKnight 1:36:35
um, since then, now with the streamers, I mean, there's over 500 scripted TV shows on per year. Now this is a plus and minus, because when I started shows were 22 to 24 episodes a season. So you knew going in that you had a job all year. And generally you would take three or four weeks off, and then you would start on the next season. So it was it was also great, because there was enough episodes and enough time, when I was starting out, I got to be on set in casting in editing. You know, the whole gamut, which really taught me how to run a show and taught me how to direct nowadays, it's more standard to do eight episodes. Because there's an algorithm out there that says that's the sweet spot. We're an audience we'll finish all eight. creatively, I think eight is not good

Alex Ferrari 1:37:32
enough for us not for season four miniseries, it's too long for miniseries even six isn't the sweet spot for a series.

Steve DeKnight 1:37:39
Exactly. That's what I felt with with Gods in the arena that it was a real sweet spot. But for me, 10 episodes 10 to 13 episodes is satisfying as a storyteller. You take a look at Daredevil, if we had only had eight episodes, you wouldn't have gotten this backstory when he was a kid, we wouldn't have done stick. You know, there was a lot of things that we would have just cut, and it would have felt rushed, quite frankly. But because there are so many shows going on, there is a constant need for writers. So TV is just it's boom, it's a Boomtown.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:21
Right? Yeah.

Steve DeKnight 1:38:22
Yeah, there's so many things being done. It is so hard to put together a staff these days, because there are so many shows vying for those writers.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:33
Now and what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,

Steve DeKnight 1:38:39
film, business or life? Um, that's a good question. I feel like I'm still learning lessons. Um, I think really, the hardest lesson is that I'm still struggling with is balancing creatively What I know is right, in balancing that commercially, what is necessary, those two things can be very, very difficult. And that's the other great thing about TV now is all the streaming services, they're willing to try things that are very, very, very much outside the box. And that's why now you get shows.

Alex Ferrari 1:39:17
Queen Gambit, Queens Gambit, perfect example

Steve DeKnight 1:39:18
You get Queens Gambit, you get The Boys. Even things like the Oei right was completely batshit crazy, and I loved it. There's no way 20 years ago, when I was starting out, anybody would have done and things like Wayne, that I think is just absolutely stunningly brilliant. Um, the streamers are willing to take chances. Because there's so many shows, you have to do something to roll those dice. You know, everybody will keep doing the standard stuff. But they're also willing to take these outside of the box chances which is completely thrilling. For me to see at this point so yeah, that that an MTV because of that you have a lot more creative leeway than you do in features, features it has become a very, very difficult business that's dominated by tentpole movies. And you know, I know there are critics out there that say all the Marvel movies, they ruin the cinema. I love the Marvel movies. I think they are. They they encapsulate everything that I love, they're exciting. They're technically brilliant. They're funny, and they are emotional. You know, I have cried a horrible movies probably more than than any other movie.

Endgame. Endgame. I mean, come on,

Endgame. Endgame and Infinity war. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:40:54
it's I mean, but to be fair, if you pull Marvel movies out of the last decade, the entire theatrical business would have, I think crumbled. I think they held it up for this last 10 years, honestly.

Steve DeKnight 1:41:06
Yeah. And Kevin Feige. I I met Kevin Feige many, many years ago, when he was Avi Ross, right hand man, back when Avi really controlled most of the Marvel properties. And I yeah, I would go in with meetings for Avi, like, twice a year, I would get a call. avi wants to talk to you about this. I don't know if anybody knows Avi. avi is, is he's a character. Um, he was, I think, an Israeli toy guy that he made his fortune in toys. And he would always come into the room, he would have a ring on every single finger up his hand on marble ring from the characters and always wearing a Marvel t-shirt because he loved the world. And I actually got hired to write a script for the Punisher 2 my Punisher 2 never got made. There were many, many writers after me, they brought me in because at the time, this was before I worked on Spartacus. But they wanted a gritty R rated. They pitched it to me as like imagine taxi driver night at the Punisher. And I go, I'm your guide sold. So I wrote a very, very, very fucking dark Punisher movie. And they read it and they said, No, we can't do this.

Alex Ferrari 1:42:34
This is this is way too dark.

Steve DeKnight 1:42:36
Yeah, but it but with Kevin Feige. Kevin Feige. Yeah, I could not have more respect for this guy. Because he was on his right hand man for many, many, many years. And he saw, you know, Marvel movies, with, even with the best of intentions, kind of done wrong. Right, you know, and he got his chance. And he built this incredible. I can't believe the amount of movies they did in 10 years.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:01
Amazing.

Steve DeKnight 1:43:02
And the quality is just absolutely

Alex Ferrari 1:43:07
an honor. What interweaving of all the stories and the characters running. I mean, he just did what the comics have been doing for four decades. They just did a movie for like crossovers and stuff that just was never done in 10 films

Steve DeKnight 1:43:20
the changes they made in the movies, were all really good. You know, especially, you know, I remember growing up and reading the Infinity Gauntlet. Yeah, yeah, still. And, you know, they didn't try to translate that directly into a movie, which would have been nearly impossible, because it was all cosmic and very out there. And the way they took it, and made it so emotional, and so grounded despite the epic cosmic content was just absolutely stunning. I mean, those two movies wrecked me when when Peter Parker is is awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:05
Oh. Stop stop. stop. Stop.

Steve DeKnight 1:44:08
a grown man cry, but really, it's like, all of those movies. Um, just when I watched them, no pun intended. They are a true Marvel. Yeah. And, and I don't think a lot of people, especially at other studios understands why they work.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:25
Yeah

Steve DeKnight 1:44:26
Because they, they try to replicate it. Mm hmm. There is a magic and it starts with I firmly believe I love DC I grew up on DC and Marvel. Marvel's characters are something very, very special. Growing up and reading them the way Stan Lee and the whole bullpen put together those characters with real world problems. I remember going back to when I was a kid and I read the you know the classic when when Stacey dies

Alex Ferrari 1:44:59
Oh

Steve DeKnight 1:45:00
And I was gutted as a kid. And then I went back many years later when I was on Buffy and I reread it. And there's a whole subplot with what's his name? Osborn, not Norman Osborn. He's

Alex Ferrari 1:45:14
a kid. That kid I know he's talking about. Yeah.

Steve DeKnight 1:45:16
You know, I'm talking about where he got hooked on, I think heroin or something,

Alex Ferrari 1:45:22
right.

Steve DeKnight 1:45:22
So it was a whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 1:45:25
That wasn't, that's insane to do that back then and say,

Steve DeKnight 1:45:27
yeah, and there were all these great moral choices, that great Daredevil issue when he's fighting Bullseye, and they're hanging over the city, and he decides to drop him, because he doesn't want him to kill anybody else. I mean, those kinds of things just really, really got me. And the genius of Kevin fighty is taking all those stories, making them forming, helping form them into the real world. And just stunning. I mean, Avengers Age of Ultron. I know some people didn't like it. I personally really loved it. But the whole all four Avengers movies, when you look at them, it's just such a marvel. It's also when people say, oh, CGI is ruining the movies. I'm like, Are you kidding me?

Alex Ferrari 1:46:15
I look, you can't look the stuff like I'm all about, like what Nolan's doing and do as much in camera as you can when you can do stuff in camera. Absolutely. But you can't do in camera stuff in the Marvel Universe a lot of times because it's just so

Steve DeKnight 1:46:28
yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:46:29
It's just doesn't exist, like try to do Doctor Strange in camera. Like that's gonna be a bit rough. That's gonna be a

Steve DeKnight 1:46:37
Doctor Strange is a perfect example, a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. And one of the best characters in the movie is his cape. He's had so much personality, that's great. And also when the magic starts to happen, and the city's folding in on so much a mind bender. But with visual effects, I also go back to Did you not like the visual effects in Brokeback Mountain? And people say what visual effects I'm like, exactly. There's a ton of visual effects in Brokeback Mountain, but you don't notice them? Because they're designed not to be noticed.

Alex Ferrari 1:47:13
Right? Exactly. And every every major thing, and I always find the problem, I always tell people and I've had this conversation with a lot of other screenwriters on on the show is where DCs characters, you're writing for Gods and it's really difficult to create conflict with a Gods like Superman. Like there's not much that can beat him and then throwing the rock on him. Isn't rough. It's like okay, that's old we get kryptonite. But with with every single Marvel character, even a god like Thor is so vulnerable.

Steve DeKnight 1:47:43
Yeah

Alex Ferrari 1:47:44
And and even though he I don't know if he can die or not, but the way they write him the way he worked the Hulk, you feel it, whereas in the other character, that's why I always think Batman is a Marvel character who's in the DC Universe. That right, he could so fall right into Marvel's universe and not even blink.

Steve DeKnight 1:48:03
Yeah, if you've hit a very, very salient point is that in the DC Universe, a universe that I love? There's a lot of the main a list characters are Gods trying to be human. We're in the Marvel it's humans trying to be gods, basically. And it's tricky when you have you know, a wonder woman or Splash Green Lantern. At least with the Flash he's a guy who got powers and you know, is

Alex Ferrari 1:48:34
but still a god, though his his powers are absolutely God. Like,

Steve DeKnight 1:48:38
yeah. And, and I I love both universes. I mean, I know DC has struggled with theirs. But I also think part of that struggle is they saw the success of Marvel, and trying to catch up to them in a short form just doesn't work. Not with no, I mean, that's, I mean, Justice League was obviously plagued with the difficulties. But one of the biggest difficulties is, you know, the Marvel Universe spent years and years and years introducing these characters before they put them all together. So you had time to get to know them. With with the Justice League, with Batman vs. Superman, most of them you just saw briefly on a hard drive. Right? So you didn't get a chance to live with them and I don't fault DC for it at all for trying to get there because you know, the Avengers movies were making billions of dollars. Let's, uh, let's get there and I am an unabashed fan of Zack Snyder's work.

Alex Ferrari 1:49:45
Oh. I I agree with you and I'm very looking forward to the Schneider cut. I really do. I'm really looking forward to the Schneider cut and I think DC is starting to find its its legs. I think they're finding their legs now and we'll we'll see where it goes.

Steve DeKnight 1:49:59
So I think a lot of the shift that Zack Snyder gets is that I think a lot of times people have a hard time separating screenwriting from direct, because I've had a lot of people saying, I love your directing on Spartacus. It's like I never directed one episode. I'm just writing the show. And with Zack, I think they often blame him for the exact story. Because you cannot look at Zack Snyder's work and say he's a bad director.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:28
No,

Steve DeKnight 1:50:29
he's an amazing director.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:30
Remarkable.

Steve DeKnight 1:50:31
Look, I feel the same way about Michael Bay. You can't look at Michael Bay work and say he's a bad director. You can disagree with story stuff. But my god having directed $150 million movie, I can tell you this Michael Bay's a fuckin magician. I don't know how he does.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:46
He does it like while he's drinking coffee. And he's just like, it's smoking a cigar. He doesn't even it's like when Tony like Tony Scott and Ridley. When they do that. They just they've just done it so long. I've actually been a defender of Michael Bay on multiple my shows. I'm like, Look, when Michael Bay came out. When the rock came out, all action films changed after the Rock. Yeah. After after the rock after Armageddon. All action films changed after 300 completely changed the way

Steve DeKnight 1:51:12
Yes

Alex Ferrari 1:51:12
so many things was shot. Because those you got to give that credit that the technicians behind it the craftsmanship. You can't I mean, bay, I mean, visually. Amazing. I mean, when Spielberg goes, you know, he's a pretty good visual director. that's saying something.

Steve DeKnight 1:51:31
Yeah. And, you know, I, I always think about Sucker Punch. I know a lot of people have problems with not talking about any the story of the shot. There's that scene on the train where they're fighting the robots. And I met with Larry Fong. Uh, we were briefly discussing possibly him coming on to do Pacific Rim uprising, and I love Larry. And I asked him, Larry, I gotta ask you, how the hell did you shoot that? Because I've watched it like, a dozen times, and I can't figure out how you shot it. And his response was, I have no idea.

Alex Ferrari 1:52:08
I just turned the camera on.

Steve DeKnight 1:52:09
But I have no idea how we shot that it was. But you know, ignore script ignore story. Just look at that sequence. And looking at it from a director's point of view. There are so many times I will look at a sequence and say, I don't know where to start. I can't tell you where I would start to try to shoot I feel the same way. Kill Bill with the the big fight. in the, in the in the nightclub. It's like how you even start the plan this?

Alex Ferrari 1:52:41
Oh my god

Steve DeKnight 1:52:42
Just it's just I'm much more comfortable with two people in a room talking. You know that, that that's my sweet spot. The other stuff I I always consider myself first and foremost a writer, I will be learning how to direct for the rest of my career. And I'm just I'm inspired by by all of these amazing, amazing directors and I studied their work, trying to figure out how the hell would I even approach something like,

Alex Ferrari 1:53:10
Listen, I've talked to I've talked to people on the show who are really very big, accomplished directors who've done a ton of stuff. And then we start geeking out about Fincher like, we'll just start. We'll just start geeking out about Fincher and how he like they're like, oh, man, did you see that shot? Like how the hell did he do that? And and how is this? Like, there's just certain guys in our and gals in our in our in our space? Who do things like Kathryn Bigelow could shoot the hell out of any action made? I mean, she's one of the best action directors of her generation, there's no question. She doesn't get the credit she deserves. But you start looking at these directors and you just go, I don't even so when you as a director can look at another director in the business and go, How the hell did you do that? That's, that's a that's a highest compliment you could do. And obviously, you look at Kubrick or something like that. You just like, What the Hell

Steve DeKnight 1:54:02
yeah. And I think that's important for anybody in the business. To realize, I mean, there's the rarefied air of like, Spielberg. But even Spielberg when you watch the documentary about him saying that, you know, there's a bit of terror every time he steps onto the set, because he doesn't know quite what he's going to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:54:20
Right.

Steve DeKnight 1:54:21
Um, but I think it's so healthy to admire other directors, other writers, and really Aspire, because I can't tell you how many times I've seen a TV show. And me and my other professional friends who have bad long careers, saying, Man, yeah, it just made me want to stop writing. Because I don't know how many. We all felt that way. When we watched Wayne. It's like, what the fuck am I doing?

Alex Ferrari 1:54:50
Right? Yeah, you watch you watch something Nolan. Does he just like Well,

Steve DeKnight 1:54:54
yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:54:54
I I'll never get there. I'll try. But it's I don't even know how he's doing this. And when you watch and like I've watched the opening sequence to the first 20 minutes of Clockwork Orange the other day and my God,

Steve DeKnight 1:55:09
yeah

Alex Ferrari 1:55:10
It holds to this day like it's

Steve DeKnight 1:55:12
absolutely

Alex Ferrari 1:55:13
a would you hold those first 20 minutes? You just like, how did he get away with it? That would, there would be there will be riots in the streets today, if that was released by a major studio.

Steve DeKnight 1:55:23
Yeah, it's it's just there's so many inspiring people. And, you know, ultimately, for me, I always come back to the little kid in New Jersey, who was I like Luke Skywalker, I if there was a center the universe I was furthest from, where I grew up. In New Jersey, we didn't even have a movie theater, I had to ride my bike to the next town over a half hour away, which was brutal in the winter, let me tell you. But to me, whenever things get really hard or tough, and they get hard and tough a lot, I always remind myself that I am living the dream of that little kid. Because I love what we do. I love trying to create that magic and I love taking big swings, and sometimes they work and sometimes get an exploding baby.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:13
Can I quote you on that? When you take a bit sometimes it works and sometimes you get an exploding baby. Best quote of the show. My friend, Thank you, Steve, so much for being on the show, man. I know we could talk for at least another couple hours.

But I appreciate you taking

Steve DeKnight 1:56:27
some time after my next big failed movie comes out

Alex Ferrari 1:56:32
I appreciate that brother. Thanks again man.

Steve DeKnight 1:56:34
My pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:37
I want to thank Stephen for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Steven. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 111. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com subscribe and leave a good review for the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thank you again for listening guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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