Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Terri Tatchell, Co-Writer of Chappie

Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Director Neill Blomkamp's third film, Chappie—about a sentient police robot in a near-future Johannesburg overrun by crime—hits theaters today. We sat down with Terri Tatchell, Blomkamp's partner and co-screenwriter, to talk about script changes, writing for non-actors, and how to make robots sympathetic.

Chappie was inspired by a short. How did you and Neill develop the idea further from that, and how did it evolve as you were working on the script?

When Neill made the short [in 2002 or 2003], it was specifically to get himself repped to do commercials—it’s not like we looked at the short and said, “What can we do with this?” There just happens to be a policing robot in that commercial. So we didn’t approach it in a way of doing an adaptation. Neill literally woke up one morning, came down the stairs, and said, “I have this idea.”

At this point [after co-writing the script for District 9], we were never working together again, ever, ever, ever. And he’s always pitching ideas, every single day—he’s so fun to be around because he’s always got different ideas. Usually, I’m like, “That sounds great,” but this one, he didn’t even make it down the stairs. I’m like “OK, time out on the not working together—I need to work on this with you.”

[We wrote] the first draft in three weeks, and we re-wrote it again to set it in LA—because there was a point where we didn’t think we were going to be able to shoot in Johannesburg. That took a little bit longer, just because it wasn’t right. I still liked that version—it had the same players coming to LA, but then they [moved] it back. I would say what ended up on the screen is pretty much exactly what that first draft was. It was one of those, I think, very quick easy processes that you’ll never experience again in your life. Even re-writes or changes felt kind of easy.

When you and Neill were working together on a script, what is the process like? How does that work?

That process is kind of funny. With District 9, we would be locked in what we called our bell tower in New Zealand. Neill’s very calm, and I’m very heated, and I’d wake him up in the middle of the night with ideas—and he can’t stand that. He’s like, “I do not like your work personality.” [Laughs] So, now, we e-mail. We do not write together, in the same room, ever. Sometimes if I really want to prove a point, I will go into the bathroom when he’s in the shower, and I’ll sit in there and be like, “Just say we can do this!” And he’s like, “Yes, just go away!”

Neill really wanted Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-Landi to be in this. Does writing for non-actors change the process of writing a script?

No. It was them from Day One. I think if you have real people in your brain being a character, in a way, it sort of writes itself, so it was very easy. When we had to transpose them to LA, in that draft, their part was still really easy, [but] explaining why they were in LA, that was a little bit harder … They just belong with Chappie. Maybe, if you’re writing with a non-actor in mind, you don’t have other roles in your head, it’s just that character—that may be the key.

What you’ve chosen to make a movie about is not an easy topic. You’re not only exploring what it means to be human, but you’re dealing with really complicated scientific areas—robotics and artificial intelligence. Did you do any research into that while you were writing?

I find it fascinating, but probably in a less scientific way. I am more curious in how people will respond, and how it would affect individual lives. And I’m very curious about—right now there are such different views on what it would mean to humanity. So the science behind it, I leave that to Neill. He’s constantly reading that.

Sony Pictures

It must help, too, to not really be immersed in it, because then you can say, “Wait, I don’t get this.”

Yes. If I’m questioning something that’s in any of his films, I’ll say, “OK: curtain, bum in the theater, let’s pretend,” and I’m wondering, does this makes sense, why doesn’t this make sense? With Chappie, where I was coming from, anyway, was so not based in science, that I really didn’t worry about that at all. I mean, I don’t want to poke holes in my own film, but there’s suspension of disbelief.

It’s always walking a fine line between wanting to have some kind of science in there, but it’s a movie, so it’s not like you’re super beholden to it—but it’s always interesting to me to see where people get that kind of information from, and how it’s incorporated. And there are some pretty heady topics and themes—the whole idea of “what is consciousness?”—that are very well conveyed …

It’s kind of in your face, for sure. The theme that I really love, that Neill doesn’t particularly love or see in it, is violence. As a mother, it’s like, where [does] violence come from? I feel like each character in the film has their own little arc with violence, and that I had fun exploring.

Obviously, a lot of the reason that we empathize with Chappie, and why we love him, is Sharlto’s performance, and what the visual effects artists were able to achieve, which was incredible. [Copley wore a performance capture suit and performed with the other actors; the visual effects artists overlaid him in the scenes with the digital robot.] Were there certain things you wanted to do, from a storytelling perspective, to make sure the audience loved the robot?

Chappie evolves as a child, and an innocent. I really, really like films that have unlikeable leads, like Vicus [in District 9]. He’s incredibly unlikeable, and so we had to be very conscious about making sure the audience didn’t hate him. And that was never the case with Chappie. The other characters in the film, absolutely. But Chappie, and I think it’s because of his curiosity, and his love of life, and his enthusiasm, and his innocence, and I think he’s just a character that hopefully will touch everyone in a different way, maybe. There was never a worry that people wouldn’t like Chappie.

There’s one scene with a bunch of kids who are throwing things at Chappie, and it’s so hard to watch.

As the visual effects got better and better in that scene, it was more painful to watch. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

Sony Pictures

What was your favorite scene in this script, and what was your favorite part to see come to life?

One of my favorite scenes wasn’t in the script. I was on set for a week, and then I was back home in Vancouver opening a restaurant. But dailies got piped in every day, and so I’d watch the scenes, and I’d give Neill any thoughts if I had them. The scene that I love was Chappie with the Barbie behind his back. It’s probably because it was a surprise to me.

Were there any other moments of surprise? It seems like, when you’re doing something that’s this VFX heavy, that there isn’t necessarily a lot of room for improvisation.

There wasn’t. Neill was very by the book. He did not want improv in this case.

Every day I would watch it, and be amazed that everybody was making sentences that I had heard in my head over and over again sound better than they did on the page. And that is, as a writer, is a gift. I love the scene with Yolandi and Chappie in bed, reading Black Sheep, just the little nuances of the way she delivers the lines, and the way he tilts his head and thinks—stuff like that, you can’t write.

You and Neill have a daughter. Were there any moments from her childhood, or funny things that she did, that you wrote into the script?

There are moments in there, that Neill wrote, where I hear how he speaks to her, and it's like, "aww..." I don’t know that you’re ever aware when you’re doing it. I don’t think, on my part, that I’ve put Cassidy in there as Chappie at all, but I would definitely say that there’s more of Neill parenting Cassidy in there.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.


No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.


Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.


The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.


Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.


David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.


More from mental floss studios