OSN Exclusive Interview: Dirk Blackman

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What prompted you to get into writing for the film buisness?

I Grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Columbia University, got a masters at the American Film Institute, worked at William Morris while getting my writing career started. I always loved movies and Watched them incessantly with my father, a film freak. At a certain point, I could have even told you the release date of any movie ever made because it was listed in the TV Guide and I tore through it every week to find out what movies were being shown. And, when the newspaper came, I went to the film section before the comics because I wanted to see those big display ads. As for why I got into writing? I guess because I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. Just kidding. Maybe.

How did you first get in contact with Howard, and what prompted you two to develop Outlander?

A mutual friend of ours who went to undergraduate school with me to Columbia and graduate school at NYU thought we should meet because we both loved Lawrence of Arabia. As for Outlander, we just got talking about Beowulf and thought it would make a terrific movie. We just didn't know how to tackle it at first. Then we came up with the idea of doing the sci-fi version. That seemed really right to us, so we went from there. That's the thing with ideas - once they click in your head, as this did, you kind of have to follow them through.

What was it about Beowulf that made you want to adapt it for modern audiences?

We knew that if we told it straight, it would just be fantasy, because everyone knows there were no monsters in the Viking world. On the other hand, it is within the realm of possibility that something crashed here from another world. (I'm not saying it's likely, mind you, just possible. That's what sci-fi does - gives the patina of possibility to outlandish ideas. Makes them kind of respectable, if you know what I mean.) I'm not sure we thought of it in quite those terms, but the modern touch we liked was the holocaust idea. Once we decided that there should be some sympathy for the creature, we decided that Kainan was partially responsible for the destruction of its race. That gave him a very modern feeling of guilt. (Because my guess is the Vikings wouldn't have sneezed at wiping out an entire population of fellow humans.)

It's been such a long time since you and Howard first came up with the concept of this film. How does/did it feel to finally be able to see Outlander come to life on set and on the screen?

Seeing it shoot the first day was exalting and humbling at the same time. I thought to myself ' wow - all these people - hundreds! - are here because of an idea that came from my mind. How great am I?' This was followed very quickly by the realization that the film itself had nothing more to do with me, that it would not live without the work done by everyone from the craft service folks to the grips to the director. And I'm not just saying that because it sounds good. It was very striking at the time to realize it truly was no longer mine. Kind of like sending your kid off to college.

You also perfomed some executive producer duties. Can you explain a little how involved you were with the whole process?

Much of my input as EP came prior to shooting, in helping to get the film made, and in supporting Howard as director. (Which included turning down a fairly lucrative offer from a company that wanted to buy it outright.) I was involved in the pre-pre-production with 9th Ray, adding my voice during the design phase. (Which was absolutely fascinating. {not my voice, the phase} Iain McCaig and his group were fun and inventive. I can still recall the moment when Iain came up with the idea for Kainan's sci-fi sword. There were dozens of designs that were just riffs on normal Earthly weapons. But he realized that if it were made from the metal from Kainan's ship, they wouldn't have time to completely reforge it. That meant it would still carry the characteristics of the ship piece it was cut from. Came out very cool.) What else? Well, as EP, I felt it incumbent upon me to loan the production money at a certain point when it looked like the financing would fall through a few days before principal photography began. And since then, I, as well as the producers, have been trying to liaise as best as possible with the Weinsteins to get them to release the movie in as many theaters as possible.

Can you tell us a little about going to the premiere in Locarno?

There's almost too much to say. First off, it's gorgeous. I mean, a Swiss lakeside city on the border of Italy. They treated us beautifully. It was fun going out every night with Howard, Chris Roberts, Sophia and Jack. Obviously way too much alcohol consumption. The media day was great, with all the paps taking pictures, and the premier was terrific. Rain threatening at every minute to drown the screening but backing off at the last minute. Lot of good food. Beautifully projected on an outdoor screen in the middle of an Italianate piazza. What more can you ask for? I remember stopping Howard when it was over and making sure the two of us fully soaked it in. So we just watched the piazza empty and met some fans.

What scenes are you most fond of?

There is a lovely scene in which Rothgar tells Wulfric about the role of kingship. It was nicely written and beautifully acted by John and Jack. Unfortunately because TWC wouldn't give us an extra 15 seconds, some of the nicer lines were removed from it in editing.

There was also a very nice exchange between Wulfric and his pal Einar in which Einar asks him if he wants Kainan killed with a knife in the back and Wulfric explodes at him that when he kills Kainan it'll be face to face. That got cut a few drafts before shooting. Just wasn't needed. But it was nice.

The Shield Dance is perhaps my favorite. Just good old Viking fun. We took our cue from the Kirk Douglas movie, The Vikings. He had a marvelous scene where he runs along outstretched oars to get to shore. I wanted to do something that would have that same fun, glorious feel.

Best missing scene - the opening of the film. It actually begins with a Viking funeral then goes up to the crashing spaceship. Then it goes INSIDE, where we meet Kainan and his captain in the crashing ship, fighting some kind of creature. It set the mood for the whole first act. Never got to shoot it because we didn't have the money.

What are your favorite characters?

Favorite character - H'mm. Maybe the Moorwen. I always loved his backstory, how his race had been killed by Kainan's, which is why he wanted revenge. And in the first draft, I had what I thought was a marvelous epiphany. Hadn't even planned it. When the Moorwen falls to his death, he actually speaks. Says Kainan's name. So all through the movie, what we thought was just an animal was actually a thinking being. It made Kainan's crime even greater and deepened the pathos. It just never happened. I'm not bemoaning that, as I can't tell you whether it was ultimately the right move or not. It just felt really good at the moment of writing.

Next to the Moorwen, i'd say Wulfric. In the script, he always had the most to do, the farthest to go. From hotheaded wannabe to king for a day, along the way wooing and giving up the girl to the better man.