By Andy Diggle

8.13.96

Peter Briggs

Interview by Andy Diggle

13th August 1996

There is a screenplay that turns up regularly at sci-fi conventions and all over the Internet, inspired by Dark Horse Comics' first ALIENS VS PREDATOR mini-series by Randy Stradley and Phil Norwood. Well, the guy who wrote that screenplay and sold it to Twentieth Century Fox, is Peter Briggs, and is seen as a source of inspiration by many a would-be screenwriter out there. Initially reluctant to go over old ground once more, I eventually tracked him down at the Groucho Club in London's West End...

Peter Briggs: I always knew I wanted to direct. It's a familiar story - everyone and their aunt wants to direct. So I figured, I'll go to film school and - bang! - be directing by 23 or 24. Didn't happen that way. I dropped out of college because I'd moved down to London to move in with a girl. I started working in film companies as a runner, worked my way up, became a cameraman, got my union card. Problem was, towards the end of the 1980s, all the studios were closing down over here and it was really tough. As a cameraman, there are 3000 guys behind your back vying for the job, and I just thought, "this is ridiculous."

Anyway. I'd been writing scripts for years and I thought, let's see if I can get some representation, get my career back on track. So I sent them off to various agencies, and William Morris and ICM both offered to represent me the same day. As for the scripts, there was a comedy, an adaptation, a couple of original drama things; not very many. And looking back on them, they were disastrous. I think, Jesus Christ, why did anybody want to hire me on the say-so of this? But, somebody must've seen something in them.

So I initially went with ICM - who after a year of representation managed to do bupkiss for me. But, during that time I spent a year with Paramount UK helping develop science-fiction projects. The idea was, I'd develop a bunch of them, and then I'd go away and write one and they'd make it. The problem was, they didn't actually know what they were doing, how to develop the rich vein of genre material. I was throwing them all this William Gibson cyberpunk bait, and they wanted all these creaking science fiction projects that were past their sell-by date the second they were born.

It sort of reached a head when I said we should get STARSHIP TROOPERS. And they said "No, nobody wants to see any of that old Heinlein crap." And I replied heatedly, "Look, it's a f***ing classic! Somebody is going to do this" - and the next week, it was bought up by Tristar for Paul Verhoeven.

That was it, that's when I thought, right, I've got to write myself a decent enough sample to get a re-write or something with Joel Silver, to kick this into high gear.

I looked around and the very first ALIEN VS PREDATOR comic was just about to come out, and I thought - "That's it". And I wrote it. I finished it, I think, just as the last comic came out. The comic's great, you can't fault it. Dark Horse, to their credit, thought about putting it together, and I'm a big fan of Phil Norwood's art, who did the original artwork - great guy, great storyboard artist, the guy's a hero in the field.

What I did was take the bare frame of the story, eject everything from it that didn't work, and put in a whole lot more material. So I think probably there's about 70-75% of me in there. When I handed it in to my agent, he looked horrified, because he had no idea I was writing it, and assumed rightly it'd be a tough sell. He said, "Well, I've got to go across to LA next week," and so he took it in to Larry Gordon... who had been asked the week before by Fox to come up with this! And bang, we were away.

It was a total, absolute fluke. You must remember, the first one I wrote, the one that leaked and is out there everywhere, I did as a writing sample - a "please give me some work" sample. I didn't expect people to take it seriously. And I wrote it very quickly. Joe Roth at Fox was the big champion of it, and he authorized the second draft, which was a tidy up, and I'm really happy with it. Some of the characters disappeared from it, a lot of the dialogue was re-worked, the beginning's different, some of the extra sequences are different... There's about 70% of my first draft remaining in the second.

Part of the problem is that now the first draft is so well known. I don't know where it first leaked; I was only aware of it when somebody told me they'd seen it at an science fiction convention in LA. I guess it must have snuck out of a reader's office. Power of the photocopier. I found a copy in German the other day - someone had translated it into German. So part of the problem is that so many people know the story so well... but if you've got a story called ALIEN VS PREDATOR, you pretty much know what's going to happen, right?

The huge stumbling block to the project all along was the producers. There was big resistance mostly from the ALIEN camp, particularly I heard from David Giler, who I believe went down on print as saying something like, "I'm violently opposed to this, because it dilutes the whole ALIEN franchise." As if ALIEN 3 didn't do that, all by itself. And then Joe Roth left, he went off to Disney, new guys came in, and the project floundered. There wasn't any one strong person who was gonna fight for it, and there was in-fighting among the producers about who would get what percentage of the grosses... It was all muscle-flexing over who would get the credit, and the thing just went into limbo.

Eventually, the craziness began to happen. Alan Jones did an article on ALIEN VS PREDATOR for CINEFANTASTIQUE, which was pretty nice. And once that happened, I started getting approached by other magazines like STARLOG, and a glut of articles came out at once. I thought OK, if somebody wants to talk to me about it, I'll talk to them. And it was a mistake. Just too much, too fast, too soon.

I remember there was a thing in SFX (an English genre magazine) - it was just after FREDDY VS JASON - which referred to me somewhat hurtfully as something like "letter campaign screenwriter Pete Briggs". And I thought, "You don't know what's going on." If you're in the public eye it's really easy to get shot down. And I just thought after all this negativism, "Right, stuff it." I'm not going to talk to anybody about anything, I'm not going to answer anything that anybody says, everybody can slag me off, whatever the wanna do is fine.

I've had a couple of really nice queries from guys who run ALIEN fan web sites asking if I'd put a little quote on their pages, and I've just had to politely turn them down for the very same reason. I'm only really interested now in letting my work speak for me - hence, why I was pretty reluctant to do this one!

After the disappointments of ALIEN 3 and PREDATOR 2, and with fans expressing doubts over the direction ALIEN 4 is taking - with a cloned Ripley returning from the dead - ALIEN VS PREDATOR looks increasingly promising as a vehicle to inject some much-needed momentum into both series. So is there any chance of us ever seeing ALIEN VS PREDATOR on the big screen?

Peter Briggs: If you'd have asked me a month ago whether there would be any chance of us seeing ALIEN VS PREDATOR on the screen, I would have said categorically, no. It would not happen. As of a few recent developments, I'd have to say with a big twinkle in my eye that I cannot comment on it at this point in time!

There was a really decent fellow at Dark Horse, Todd Moyer, who's since got involved in their film arm, who rang me up and said he and Mike Richardson had read it and really loved it, all the guys at Dark Horse really liked it, and they'd really like to do business with me. And I never heard from them again! (laughter) But yeah, it was positive feedback, I guess.

After that there was JUDGE DREDD, which came about because of another great guy called Lloyd Levin, who was the producer I was dealing with at Largo on ALIEN VS PREDATOR, which at that point was going to be a joint financial deal with Ed Pressman. And Lloyd Levin said to me, how do you feel about writing JUDGE DREDD? I remember this was very late at night and I'd just come back from the pub, and I sort of spluttered and said, "Are you kidding? I grew up with JUDGE DREDD, it was my childhood!"

I went for it, Ed Pressman read my stuff, Pressman liked my stuff, flew me over to LA, and we talked about this over the Fourth of July weekend in 1992. And they offered me the Rico story and I said, "No, I don't want to do the Rico story because it's not sufficiently interesting to me. I want to do the Judge Death story." And they all shifted uneasily in their chairs.

Judge Death had pretty much been the one thing that Ed Pressman wanted to do, but the producer who actually had bought the comic rights - a guy called Charlie Lippincott - wasn't so keen on it. I did not find this out until weeks after I had signed the contract, otherwise I wouldn't have signed.

And anyway, the Largo/Pressman deal broke up. There was a battle over my services over a weekend which was just looney tunes. I was in the position of choosing between a three picture deal with Largo, or I could go off and do JUDGE DREDD - which at that time was for Arnold Schwarzenegger - so I went with Dredd, regrettably. I signed the contract on it, and they said to me immediately, "We're signing William Wisher to do the Rico story. You're gonna do the Judge Death story. We'll turn the two drafts over to Arnold, he'll take a look and decide which one he wants to do."

And I thought, "William Wisher, okay - he's got TERMINATOR 2 under his belt, he's a producer-writer: this is gonna be tough, I'm gonna have to pull out all the stops on this one." And I found myself locked into development hell and found out why the film had been in that position for something like nine years! They could not agree amongst themselves, let alone with me. And I had one particular phone call with Charlie, and he basically told me, "Look kid, buckle under or you're off the project." And I thought, "Well f*** it, I'm not having my name on something which is going to end up at this rate to be on a par with one of the worst films ever made."

I mean... I was an effects cameraman, I knew they could have pulled Judge Death off. They could have made it as a combination of puppetry, live action, CG and then CG'd the wires out later, and it just wouldn't have been a problem. Lippincott told me afterwards that he had been resistant to Judge Death all along... He actually knew this when he encouraged me to sign onto the project. I don't know what kind of game plan he had. He had an agenda, I think; you can't explain why you would bring somebody onto a project knowing that you weren't going to support him.

And so I walked away. I mean we're talking about Judge Death here - all the comic fans know what Judge Death is - and it was being diluted down to the point where he's Captain Kangaroo. He just wasn't a threat any more.

The irony about the whole project was, at the beginning, they were saying, "We wanna make this a family entertainment," and I'm thinking, "This is JUDGE DREDD!" You're gonna see people being blown away, you're gonna see dark R-rated material. The Rico story went into conception as a family entertainment and then I believe prior to release the ratings board ended up giving it a bigger rating. So that also effectively killed it, because you had a film which was neither one thing nor the other... straddling the fence between an adult and a kid's movie, without being either. And it came out at the wrong time, and it just wasn't good enough. It wasn't the story the fans - and the public - wanted to see.

I like the first half hour a great deal, but there was too much comic relief in it, there was not enough adherence to what Dredd was, and the final act just looked like they'd run out of money. It was sad, it could have been really cool. There's some great set pieces in it, I don't think Stallone was all that bad as Dredd. The Silvestri score is one of my favourites, I play it all the time when I'm working. But yeah, ultimately it didn't work.

This would have been '92, '93. I'd written a couple more spec scripts, and you get drib drabs of development money which keep you alive, and end of '94, beginning of '95, Mike Deluca rang me up - he was a fan of ALIEN VS PREDATOR and he said, "Pete, I'd like you to take a shot at doing FREDDY VS JASON". And I said, sensibly, "No. Absolutely not, categorically, I don't wanna do it." And they chased me for a period of time. I caved in finally, I said "Okay, I'll do it if I can do it the way I wanna do it."

There's a great development guy called Wyck Godfrey, who has since left for bigger pastures, and he said, "What we want to do is something that's kind of like THE OMEN in tone, we want it to be dark and heavy." I said good, because as soon as you say FREDDY VS JASON to somebody, it's like WWF wrestling. I mean you could skip past that with ALIEN VS PREDATOR because there was kind of baggage and meat behind it, but as soon as FREDDY VS JASON comes up in conversation, that's it. Heavy connotations already, and people just don't wanna know. And I said "Okay, okay, let me do it my way."

And I gave them a treatment, and I gave them the first fifteen pages of the script, and they said "Well, we loved the first fifteen pages, but we really don't know what to make of the treatment." Because it deals with prophesies, end of the millennium stuff, the end of the Universe - I did a ton of research and it's all in there. And I think they were expecting WWF wrestling, and they got something a bit more cerebral than that.

Anyway, to Mike Deluca's credit - he's a smart tamale - he let me go on, I turned in the script, and Mike loved it. He said, "This is the best use of the characters since the originals, the script is really dark and scary and everything we wanted it to be, and I love it. I've just got to give it now to Bob Shaye" - he's the head of New Line.

So it went off to Bob Shaye, and next thing I know - big silence. One of the provisions on me coming onto it was that I was going to direct it, and Mike's a good guy, he gave me his assurance, and said "Yeah, absolutely, you'll be first up on the board." And they didn't want to spend a lot on the budget because of the law of diminishing returns, and the sequels had been slowly dropping off in profits. They wanted to hedge their bets. The story that got back to me was that Bob Shaye said, "We can't do this because it'll cost twice as much as we're prepared to spend."

Anyway. They brought in another writer. I read in a magazine that I'd been replaced by Brannon Braga, who did STAR TREK: GENERATIONS. That's not accurate, I was brought on after Brannon Braga, he'd already done his draft. A guy called David J. Schow - who scripted THE CROW - was brought on after me to do a more toned-down and inexpensive version, totally unrelated to my own. And I gather his draft has also been rejected.

All three of us writers, we'd all done three completely different stories which are in no way connected. I don't know what the other two guys' were, they probably don't know what mine was. So now I think the project's kind of in limbo. I don't know whether they're going to come back and decide to spend more money or get a fourth writer in to do a completely different story again.

I did WAR OF THE WORLDS for Paramount. But it's held up in legal hassles over the rights situation regarding the H.G. Wells estate. It's a period piece; I've reintegrated 'lost' material that Wells ditched prior to publication, and jazzed it up while being totally faithful to the integrity of it, and it would have been really cool. Having just seen INDEPENDENCE DAY I think you could still do it, because the novelty is that it's in the 1890s, it's a period film, it's a classic story. I love period genre movies.

I just got a terrific new business manager now, a fabulous lady in Los Angeles. And suddenly all these execs at the various companies are crawling out of the woodwork going, "Peter Briggs, yeah we remember him, whatever happened to him?" And I have literally got a workload now lining up that I don't think I can handle. This is just as of the last couple of weeks. It's amazing what a change of agent will do.

There's a big budget live-action project based on an insanely popular Manga/Anime I'm talking about with A. Kitman Ho, a really energetic guy who produced most of Oliver Stone's movies. That looks about settled, and it's going to excite the Japanese fan-crowd immensely when they get wind of it. We'll be doing it over here in the West with legendary Chinese director Tsui Hark, who's doing THE COLONY with Van Damme at the moment.

It's just turned around for me, but you've just got to wait until the ink's dried on the paper. Every time a screenwriter has a film to his credit, there's probably twenty films that haven't worked out for him - it's just the way that Hollywood works. And it's kind of tough doing it from over here in England as well, because you're not there, you're not available to take the meetings, they have to have trust in your material, they've got to talk to you on the phone or fly you out there. I don't wanna play the LA game. I don't like Los Angeles, I've got no intention of moving there. I'm happy over here.

Briggs' training as a cameraman stands him in good stead when it comes to writing screenplays - and brings his ambition of directing closer than ever...

Peter Briggs: I know what effects could be employed, I know how to shoot stuff, I know what it all costs. I cut some big scenes from the first draft of ALIEN VS PREDATOR, because I thought, "Well, these are throwaway, this set is superfluous." If somebody gave me the money, I think I could go out and shoot that for about 35, 40 million.

Although a long-time science-fiction fan, he finds himself increasingly disillusioned with the state of the comics industry.

I'm getting very annoyed with comics, because there seem to be more of them, but they seem to be less enjoyable. I'd love to do some pulp stuff. THE SHADOW could have been great, but it was just kind of watchable. I was very fond of THE ROCKETEER, I didn't think that deserved to flop in the way it did.

I like a lot of the pulp stuff. I like Manga a lot - my favourite two Mangas are DEVILMAN and APPLESEED, which are cool beyond belief. I'd love to do APPLESEED as a live-action film.

I used to read a lot of comics, then I eased off. I'm getting more enthusiastic about it again. There's a few at the moment I like... LUFTWAFFE 1945, BLACK OPS. I've discovered HELLBOY and become a big fan of that. Lately, though, I've been sort of deliberately distancing myself from science fiction. You walk into meetings, and people say, "Oh yeah, he's the science fiction guy." I guess that's why James Cameron's backing off to some extent with TRUE LIES and TITANIC, because you just kind of get labeled. For myself, I'm doing a period movie, a Roman movie, just for a change of pace.

I'd love to go back and do some more of the stuff from 2000A.D. I'd love to do STRONTIUM DOG, I think that would be a great franchise. It's the Man With No Name in the future - it could be so, so cool. I'd like to do A.B.C. WARRIORS, that'd be great. It could just make so much money if it's done right.

The problem is, these things are just not done right. Executives at studios get hold of them and turn them into things they shouldn't. You walk into meetings and people start throwing psycho-babble at you. It's gotta be like, "Oh, you've gotta relate to the hero, because..." blah di blah. And a lot of comic stuff cuts against the grain of that blandness, creating heroes that don't necessarily do what a Hollywood hero ought to. And that's what is so good about comic books. You want to just cut to the chase.

You might have guessed that Pete Briggs is not overly enamoured of the Hollywood development process...

Oh man, it sucks. Overall, it sucks major league. I was left pretty much alone on ALIEN VS PREDATOR, which was great. I'd get minimal feedback, and I'd just go away and work on it. I think they thought I knew what I was doing. On DREDD it was completely the opposite, every crossed "T", every dotted "I" was scrutinized. "No, we can't do that because it's immoral." - "But that's what JUDGE DREDD would do!" I was just having all these arguments.

On FREDDY VS JASON I basically just blindsided them - I said "Look, you have to trust me on this and leave me alone." And they did, and that was great, and they liked it. I think this is why it works for you, being over here (in England) as opposed to packing up your kit bag and going off to the States. Over there every waiter has got a script in his back pocket, and you're available for meetings 24 hours a day. It's kind of special for them, when they've got to arrange a conference call to talk to you on the other side of the world.

So what advice would you give to an aspiring screenwriter?

Peter Briggs: Everyone thinks they can write, and very few people can. I've been approached in the last year by three writers who've asked me to read their work and honestly, it's been the worst stuff I've ever seen. There's a script I'm up for a rewrite on now at one of the studios, and I spotted four lines of dialogue from ALIENS, two lines of dialogue from THE ABYSS and a bunch of changed stuff from RAIDERS. And you look at this and you're thinking, "Christ, all these guys are trying to get in by plagiarizing everyone else's work." I just sat there through THE ROCK and boggled at what was stolen from other places.

I'd recommend three books to anyone who wants to be a screenwriter. First two are SCREENPLAY and THE SCREENWRITER'S WORKBOOK by Syd Field. Those two books'll tell you how to write a screenplay. The rest of it comes from you. The third book is by a guy called Michael Hauge, called WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL. He's got a different approach to Syd Field in the way that he wants to write screenplays, and I don't feel it works for me, but his advice on how to go about getting an agent and selling your stuff is priceless. And I know that because, thanks to that book, I got my agent.

As for developing an idea, it's just brainstorming. I like collaborating with others, because even if their ideas aren't any good, it forces you to come up with a better idea. I came up with the story with my brother Andrew for FREDDY VS JASON and it was great, we thrashed the story out in no time. When you're on your own it's tough, and it takes longer. Okay, ultimately it's more satisfying because it's something you've solely done, but it's difficult to have a real sense of perspective when you're looking at your own work.

When you're writing with somebody else it's fairly immediate. My brother is breathtakingly fast like you wouldn't believe. I literally mean he can do a screenplay in about two and a half weeks, but you spot the rough edges. Whereas I can take about four to six weeks - which I know a lot of people would consider fast when they take eight months to write a screenplay. I just think that's incredibly sloppy. John Milius once said, "You should be able to write a screenplay in six weeks and still have time for pinball." I go along with that...

Although in my case it's usually a fast X-WING mission!


Read Peter Briggs' ALIENS VS PREDATOR script!


RETURN TO INDEX

Fusion Andy Diggle 1997


This article originaly appeared at Fusion Magazine, and has been reprinted for archival purposes only. Andy Diggle can be reached at:

Andy Diggle (Assistant Editor) at 2000 AD / Judge Dredd Megazine, Egmont Fleetway Ltd., 25/31 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SU