Tuesday, February 25, 2014

INTERVIEW: Screenwriter Emerson Bixby talks MAN FROM EARTH (2007)

Executive Producer and Screenwriter Emerson Bixby talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his father Jerome Bixby's brilliant MAN FROM EARTH (2007)

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think your dad's inspiration was for writing MAN FROM EARTH (2007)?

BIXBY:  My Dad was inspired to write the film when he was in New York City in 1946.   He came up with this idea of a civilized man that was actually a Cro-Magnon man that was thousands and thousands of years old.  He originally came up with the idea when he was 23-years-old.    When the '50s came, my Dad saw Charles Bronson in a film and he really wanted Bronson to play the caveman if he should ever write the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  That makes sense....Look at Bronson in HOUSE OF WAX (1953) for example.

BIXBY:  Right, I think Dad saw Bronson in the Corman film MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) though.  He's very stocky and strong and Bronson had a very intense face.   The idea for MAN FROM EARTH was kicking around in my Dad's head for years and when he was writing for Star Trek, he put the idea in one of the episodes of the show.  The idea for the story was always digging at him though.   He decided to go back to it.  He started writing the actual screenplay for MAN FROM EARTH about a month and a half before he passed away.    He had it almost finished it, but then he had to go into the hospital for a quadruple bypass.   

He ended up finishing the screenplay literally on his death bed.   Right up until two days before he passed he was dictating scenes to me and I was writing them on napkins and I even started writing on one of those hospital pajama gowns that they give you that has no backside.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think it was about this idea that kept him always thinking about it?

BIXBY:  Well, my Dad always loved the film 12 ANGRY MEN (1957).  It was directed by Sidney Lumet and what he liked about it so much was how good dialogue and a good idea can completely carry a story.

He really wanted to do a thinking-man's Sci-Fi film.   But, he was always trying to do that.  Back in the '70s, he had an idea to make a film called ELSEWHERE.   He had wanted to do this right around the same time that Steven Spielberg was starting on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).    But, when he heard that Spielberg was working on something with aliens he decided to wait it out to see how Spielberg's film would turn out.  He was hoping that the film would fail so he could make his, but in one of the very rare instances that he went out to the movie theater, he saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and it just blew him away.  It really made him forget about doing his own alien film.    But my Dad's idea was a really interesting one because his story was from the alien's point-of-view.    We would see what it was like for them to come to Earth through their eyes.    

He really liked the idea for MAN FROM EARTH because it wasn't a Sci-Fi film with explosions and special effects, it was just dialogue and that was the reason why he was always interested in bringing the project to the screen.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The screenplay for MAN FROM EARTH has many historical ideas swirling around in it.   How much research did you or your dad put into it to get all of those things correct?

BIXBY:  My Dad just knew all about those things in the script.  He was such an avid reader that he really knew everything on everything.  When he passed away, he probably had about three semi-truck trailers full of books.   I'm sure he researched a few things, but for the most part he really knew all of stuff from his years of reading.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Were there any ideas in the script that weren't directly translated onto the screen in the film we see today?

BIXBY:   Well, originally my Dad didn't want "John" to drive off and come back at the end of the film.  He wanted him to just leave alone, but I really bugged him about that.  I said, "C'mon, C'mon...He has to come back."  My Dad just said, "OK, write it both ways and we'll look at it later."    The next day, I brought him a couple pages to look over for the ending and he said, "Yeah, OK...You got it."   There were two characters that we cut out of the movie from the script. They were sort of similar, so we edited them and gave most of one of these character's dialogue to actor John Billingsley.    But other than that, the first draft of the screenplay that my Dad did is pretty much what you see in the film today.

After my Dad passed away I had producers offer me big money for the script but I just couldn't give it up.  The producers that wanted this script wanted to take it and shoot it and add in all of these explosions, and I had one guy who wanted to insert a series of flashbacks that featured "John" riding a Velociraptor and leading an army of cavemen.  I told him where he could go, because none of those ideas were true to my Dad's vision for this story.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Working so close with this concept and this script for MAN FROM EARTH why didn't you just direct the film yourself?  Did you ever consider doing that?

BIXBY: 
Yes, I did.    I got really frustrated with producers telling me that they wanted to throw in explosions and  naked chicks.  I got really annoyed by that, but luckily Richard Schenkman came along and he had a very clear understanding of the script and he agreed with how I thought it should be made.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you want people to take from MAN FROM EARTH when they see it, and what do you think that your dad would have wanted people to take from it?

BIXBY: 
I think that he would've wanted people just to think.  If my Dad were around today, he'd be very happy with how the film turned out.