Writer David Weisberg, who together with partner Douglas Cook brought us “The Rock,” “Double Jeopardy,” and now CRIMINAL talks to Christine Thompson about how close scientists actually are to being able to transfer memory from one human to another. That’s the basis of the storyline of the movie CRIMINAL, which boasts an amazing all-star cast including Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Ryan Russell and Tommy Lee Jones. Sadly, Weisberg’s writing partner Douglas Cook passed away unexpectedly last year before the movie was released. CRIMINAL is in theaters now.
AMFM:THE STORY IS FASCINATING, WHO HAD THE SPARK OF THE IDEA FOR THIS?
WEISBERG: During the writer’s strike of 2008, My writing partner and I, Douglas Cook, couldn’t be hired to do anything. We started to work on this idea, really it came from a lot of different angles.
We were very interested in the work of a futurist named Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is very interested in living forever, what he wants to do ultimately is download himself into a machine. He has this whole theory that what we are, our collective self, is nothing more than the sum total of everything that happens to us, and our reaction to it, which registers in the brain as it’s happening as neuronal connections.
He feels if he can map the neuronal connections in the brain, and then recreate that map in another medium, in his case a computer, then he can make the jump. Alright, believe it or not, he does.
So this came together with another idea, another factoid, which was that my Dad, when he was 18, was in Innsbruck (Austria) climbing a hill when he fell, and was very seriously injured. Among other things, he was flown home in a body cast (in 1950 whatever). He crunched his frontal lobe. It created a very specific pathology in him that seriously affected him the rest of his life. So I’ve always been interested in frontal lobe syndrome.
So we took it to an extreme and said “if this type of injury happens to a small child (and it’s what happens to our character in the movie) you might have a blank spot in the human brain, and that would be the place to recreate the patterning. So if you wanted to do this memory “transfer” or recreation in a human, this would be a way to do it. This gave us an idea in total for a Frankenstein movie.
AMFM: AH! FRANKENSTEIN.
WEISBERG: Yes, it’s a Frankenstein movie, where you have a monster through no fault of his own was wounded as a child and unable to understand the consequences of his actions. He’s living in a world of sensations – mostly violence because of his upbringing. Then, he gets the memories and feelings of a good man. What happens then? That’s the conceit of the movie, we started there eight years ago, and ended there. That’s how you know you win creatively, if the fundamental thing doesn’t go away.
AMFM: IT’S BRILLIANT, AND FASCINATING, SO CONGRATULATIONS. BY THE WAY, I’M SORRY ABOUT THE LOSS OF YOUR WRITING PARTNER.
WEISBERG: Thank you very much, that was sad.
AMFM: YES, VERY SAD. I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE CREATING TOGETHER. YOU CAME UP WITH SUCH WONDERFUL SCRIPTS IN THE PAST. WHAT’S THAT LIKE WORKING WITH A PARTNER SO LONG, IT MUST BE FUN.
WEISBERG: It is fun. Listen, this is a very tough business, as you know. To have somebody that you’re going to the office every day with, to laugh with, to have ups and downs with. It’s amazing. It’s working with two minds instead of one. We found a way to make it work.
We wrote for 30 years with one computer screen and two keyboards.
WEISBERG: It just was a great, great partnership. It’s very weird continuing without him.
AMFM: I’M SURE IT IS. HOW DID YOU START WRITING TOGETHER IN THE VERY BEGINNING THIRTY YEARS AGO?
WEISBERG: We met on the first day of high school in 1974. We were both in the theater program and after high school we went our separate ways. I went to New York to become a Theater Director, and he did the right thing and went to college and did all kinds of stuff.
Eventually, in 1987, he was working at a small production company in L.A. as an executive, he was kind of a frustrated writer. I came out there and was totally broke. He hired me to adapt an unpublished novel that the company owned, to a screenplay. He really went out on a limb getting me the gig, so he was nervous. He would have me bring in the pages every week or so in order to go over them and make sure that I wasn’t going to ruin his life. So then we started to work on it together, and by the time we were finished, we decided we were a writing team.
And that movie got made.
AMFM: WHICH ONE WAS IT?
WEISBERG: It was a small made for Showtime movie called “Payoff” with Keith Carradine and Harry Dean Stanton. It didn’t matter that the movie wasn’t very good, or that it was supposed to be like “Prizzi’s Honor” – kind of a “B” Mafia movie.
What matters is we got an agent, we got a lawyer, we had a credit. We had been to Canada on the set of the movie, we were in business. From that time on, we were partners. We made another movie that was a disaster called “Holy Matrimony” which was Joseph Gordon Levitt’s first movie. It was unreleasable. It was released in San Francisco and Georgia. But we went to San Francisco to see the movie in the movie theater, and it was a sad and pathetic experience. There were only seven people there.
But it was on that trip that we took the boat out to Alcatraz, and that was the beginning of “The Rock.”
AMFM: WHICH WAS AN AMAZING MOVIE.
WEISBERG: We wrote “The Rock” and it was a big success, then wrote “Double Jeopardy” with Ashley Judd and that was a big success. People always say “why haven’t you had a movie in twelve or fourteen years.” We say well “look, we have had movies.” They get close to being made, or they don’t get made, or they may still be made.
AMFM: PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE A MACHINE AND YOU CAN JUST CRANK IT OUT?
WEISBERG: Listen, we write ‘em, but the process of a movie coming together is a peculiar kind of magic. We were going to make a movie called “Captain Kidd” that we wrote. Ridley Scott was attached to direct, and Russell Crowe, it was right after “Gladiator.” It was a “go” movie on a Friday. Then Jerry Bruckheimer called and said “look, I need to make this movie “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and our movie was dead from a Friday to a Monday. Russell Crowe went and did “Master and Commander” instead.
So you work for years, these things come together, you feel them thickening up like a great stew…
AMFM: YOU GET EXCITED…
WEISBERG:…and you’re excited, then something happens and it’s gone.
AMFM: WOW, WHAT A BUSINESS.
WEISBERG: What a business! I’m trying to get out, if you have any ideas let me know.
AMFM: OK! YOU CAN COME WRITE FOR ME AND THE MAGAZINE.
WEISBERG: OK, fun!
AMFM: JUST KIDDING. THIS IS NOT AS MUCH FUN OVER HERE AS IT LOOKS EITHER. LET’S TALK ABOUT “CRIMINAL” AND THE CASTING PROCESS. DID YOU AS A WRITER HAVE ANY SAY, ANY INVOLVEMENT?
WEISBERG: No, the writers don’t have a say in all that, that’s the director and the studio. And listen, I don’t want to say just that we got lucky, but it’s a home run. First of all, how unbelievable is Kevin Costner in this movie.
AMFM: I KNOW! KEVIN COSTNER. WOW.
WEISBERG: Amazing, amazing! And he’s an incredible actor. I just think he blows the part away, in every possible way. And then, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Godot, Ryan Reynolds.
AMFM: IT’S CRAZY.
WEISBERG: It’s crazy what came into this movie. I love it.
AMFM: PRETTY EXCITING.
WEISBERG: I’m excited.
AMFM: I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HOW THE WHOLE WORLD RECEIVES THIS. IT’S YOUR BABY, AND YOU PUT IT TOGETHER, AND YOU THINK IT’S GREAT. THEN, NAIL BITING UNTIL IT ACTUALLY GETS OUT THERE…THEN YOU START HEARING THE REVIEWS FROM THE CRITICS. THAT’S GOT TO BE TOUGH AS A WRITER WHEN YOU PUT YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO SOMETHING AND CRITICS…
WEISBERG: No, it’s not tough at all, and let me tell you why. Everybody, including the woman who sells me my car insurance, has an opinion. You know what I mean? It’s just people’s opinions. It’s never been my experience that a negative review has a negative effect on the movie. I mean, the critics hated “The Rock,” hated it. They hated “Double Jeopardy.” Those are the two most successful movies, and both hated by the critics. The public either finds the movie, or they don’t. I mean, it’s a very crowded environment, and we’re opening opposite “Jungle Book” and “Barbershop. But I will tell you this. When people see the movie, I think the word of mouth is going to be good, if not great.
AMFM: IF YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT, THEN IT’S GOING TO GO GOOD. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT COMING UP? ARE YOU WRITING NOW OR TAKING A BREAK?
WEISBERG: My partner’s dead and I’m off on my own. I’m writing a ten part mini-series for Fox Studios and Fox network for TV called “World War III.”
AMFM: AND YOU’RE DOING IT BY YOURSELF AFTER 30 YEARS, PROBABLY A LITTLE STRANGE.
WEISBERG: Yeah, it’s a different experience.
AMFM: WHAT KIND OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THE YOUNG WRITERS WHO ARE TRYING TO BREAK IN? I MEAN, I KNOW YOU’RE TRYING TO BREAK OUT, BUT…IF THEY’RE BREAKING IN WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM?
WEISBERG: I would tell them that you have to write every day. That’s the most important thing. I can’t give advice about how to get an agent or how to get noticed. But I’m telling you, that if you find a way to write every day, you are going to be a writer.
WEISBERG: I was at dinner a couple of weeks ago with a guy who’s a pilot for FedEx – and a screenwriter.
AMFM: THERE YOU GO.
WEISBERG: There you go. He has a lot of down time. He flies out of Alaska, then he goes to Asia for a month. So, when he’s not flying, he’s sitting in a hotel or a restaurant – and he’s writing. The only way to do it is to write every day. That’s the hard but true deal.
AMFM: WELL, YOU’VE GOT SUCH A FERTILE IMAGINATION. I WANT TO BACK BEFORE WE CLOSE THIS CONVERSATION TO RAY KURZWEIL, AND THE IDEA OF THE TRANSFER OF (MEMORY.) DO YOU BELIEVE THAT’S POSSIBLE?
WEISBERG: Do I believe that it’s possible? Listen, there are a lot of guys out there working on this. When we started to go into production, Ariel the Director started to talk to people around the world who were working on this. There are guys in Japan whose designs we based all the equipment off – they’re working on it.
AMFM: SO THEY BELIEVE IT. THEY WANT IT. I WONDER HOW CLOSE THEY ARE.
WEISBERG: I don’t know, but I’d hate to be a party pooper. It’s near future science, so it’s not science fiction. They’re going to do it.
AMFM: WOW, THAT’S AMAZING. THAT WOULD CHANGE OUR WORLD FOREVER.