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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
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Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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entertainment
The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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