Escape from Planet Earth is currently playing in theaters and I had the opportunity to talk to Cory Edwards (who also wrote and directed Hoodwinked), one of the writers behind the story.
FH As I understand it, you and Tony Leech wrote the original script for Escape from Planet Earth but both left the production some years ago, due to creative differences. Are you happy with the final result, and how different is it from your original story?
CE It’s not a bad movie. It’s fun, my kids loved it, and I’ve heard good reactions to it. The animation is beautiful and the characters are basically the very same designs that Tony began with. Beat for beat, it’s still our story that we pitched and sold.
I will say it’s a much simpler plot and more typical than what we originally wrote. Not as many surprises or twists. The original story was much more about the escape plan and how Gary used every inmate’s unique abilities and inventions for the plan. It was like a heist movie, an “Ocean’s Eleven” with aliens. In the final version of the movie, something big blows up and everyone just runs out of the place for the last act. We also had a lot more alien inmates around Gary, so it was much bigger ensemble cast and each alien contributed to the plan. Now there are just three other inmates and they are more like sidekicks who don’t do much. There was also no brother story in the original. The movie was just about different things. And as with all movies, the story evolved a great deal.
FH The plot of friendly aliens coming to earth and facing humans as the enemy is not new – E.T. is the first well known example that comes to mind. How did you make sure that the story of Escape from Planet Earth didn’t feel like something we’ve heard before?
CE Well, we tried. We tried very hard. But as you can see from my previous answer, things just evolved once they left our hands and there was constant pressure to whittle things down to a more typical version that we’ve seen before. We tried to introduce new lore to Area 51, we also introduced the idea of all of our society’s technology coming from these alien inmates.
FH What was your favorite part of the movie that was from your script, and what was your favorite change that was made?
CEOne of my favorite parts of the movie has always stayed, throughout all 20 drafts: The “Earth Orientation Film” that plays for Gary when he arrives. It’s virtually never changed and I take some pride in that.
Also, Scorch’s first encounter with Earth at a 7-Eleven, talking to an inflatable display out front. That stayed consistent and I’ve always loved that weird moment that sets the tone. Originally that was going to be the opening scene — with Scorch hidden in a darkened helmet. We wanted the audience to think they were watching a human explorer on a strange alien world. Then once the 7-Eleven was revealed, the audience would realize the twist — that they were being told a story from an entirely different point of view than they thought. That’s an example of some of the surprises we tried to pack into the movie that were later completely explained to the audience ahead of time. That’s disappointing.
One new idea in the final film that I thought was great was making the shipboard computer’s voice more of a character and then casting Ricky Gervais. His humor was used perfectly for it, and I thought that idea was brilliant.
FH Were you involved at all in the character design, and were the characters how you imagined them? The journey from written description to an artist’s interpretation has always fascinated me and I’d love to hear about your experiences regarding that process.
CEThe designs were all guided by Tony. He had those characters 80% locked in when he brought me on to help pitch and write it. And as I said, all that design work remains in the final film from his influence.
The one big character contribution that I will claim is the villain, Agent Shanker. Originally, the prison itself was the villain, with a lot of faceless human oppressors. I thought we needed to focus Gary’s oppression into one character, a “warden,” and then give that guy a real distinct point of view.
FH Where did the idea for this story come from?
CEYou’d have to ask Tony… it came from his brain and then he asked me to help flesh it out.
FH Changing gears a bit, I gather that you are a strong Christian – I can’t imagine that Hollywood is always the easiest place to have a career while keeping your own values in your work. Can you tell me a bit about those experiences, good and bad?
CEIt would take hours to sum up the highs and lows of that! There have been many challenges, and I do evaluate material on a different scale than other creators — I ask myself, “what does God want me to put out into the world?” I take that seriously. But the up side of being a person with a strong faith in Hollywood is that if your WORK is good work, people respect what you stand for and don’t give you a lot of crap for it. I always say, this is LA — the town where you can worship crystals or open an oxygen bar. They’re up for anything! So if you stand firm on your beliefs, people will respect that. And if you make good product that makes studios money, you’ll hear no complaints.
FH What’s next for you? I’ve read that you’re in the process of bringing the classic children’s story of Frog and Toad to the big screen – how is that going?
CEWe’re very close to getting that project into production. We have a script everyone is excited about and have done some early visual design work. Hopefully that will be the next thing I direct. I’m attached to a couple other things I can’t talk about yet. And I’m finishing an adventure novel that I hope to publish this year. If I have anything new to share, you can always hear about it first at coryedwards.com or on my Twitter feed, @RealCoryEdwards.