THiNC. is an oasis on the internet for movies that make you think. And there is no more directly responsible person for making you think than the individual responsible for writing the screenplay. Occasionally I have found myself chatting with the lead actor of a movie, and I only asked them how I could get in contact with the screenplay author, offending a few in the process. Sure, actors sell the story that the screenwriter has crafted, but that is such a small part of the vision of a mindjob movie.

The first time I had ever heard of Eric Heisserer, I had heard a rumor that someone was crafting a screenplay based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang into some movie or other entitled Arrival. And if you had read Ted Chiang’s short story, you too would have been highly suspect as to its ability to be alchemied into gold. (Chiang fans out there? Hello?) It just wasn’t doable. And so, I reached out to Eric and literally told him so. I had said something like, “Literally, no way, on God’s gloriously green earth you pull this screenplay off. It cannot be done.” Or some such. That was went through my head anyway. What was his response? “Here, have the script, you tell me if I pulled it off.” (OK, so I’m probably running fast and loose with the truth here…but the fundamentals are on target.) And, oh holy night, how this guy can write. But better than his writing? Was how he outmaneuvered the audience in the first five minutes. He’d already sucker punched the collective audience, and they didn’t even realize it. It was a masterstroke. So, I wiggled my way in to a premier where Eric was part of the film discussion panel, just so I can learn just a smidge more about the screenplay if I could. (Which you can read about here.)

Fast forward a year or so to when I found out that one of my favorite novels was being crafted into a movie, Bird Box. I had no idea who was doing the writing. I just knew it was being made into a movie. And it was well before the Quiet Place was a thing…but I was, yet again, CERTAIN that this would be a failure. Whatever mad man had decided to attend to this fool’s errand was going to die miserably. Ash and fire. Why? Because the movie is all about a monster that drives anyone insane, drives the viewer to kill themselves…violently. How can you write a screenplay without ever revealing the monster? Sure, Hitchcockian school of thought is to allow the imagination to run – less is more. But zero definitively is not more. No no no.

Then I found out that Eric Heisserer was at the helm and I knew it was going to be brilliant. Sure enough – it was.

So, the other day, I reached out to Eric and thought I’d see if he would be open to answering a few questions about the movie just so we could all collectively learn about how he brought this impossible vision (or lack there of) to life.

THiNC. – “In the book Gary comes from an asylum I believe. And it supports this idea of how the mentally unstable can look at the blight (alien, what have you) and survive. You expanded this idea, I believe, with the creation of the roaming bands that end up attacking Tom. Can you talk us through this change, and these people who can survive looking? What is going on in these people’s minds that allows this happen? Or maybe did Malerman give you any idea?”

Eric Heisserer – “Actually, I did not invent the roaming bands, there is a fair amount of writing in the final film that was not mine, likely work done by the last writer (uncredited) named David Weil. In my script, the story jumped from Malorie alone with the two newborns (Tom does not survive that sequence) to five years later with the final push to reach the safe haven. The explanation I’d developed, during the script stage, was that those who seemed unaffected by the mysterious creatures were sociopaths; people who lacked empathy. And, as such, the group in the house had considered, maybe, this was a clue to what the creatures were — did it have something to do with empathy? Exploring one old-world idea of angels, descending to Earth, seeking those who could witness the Highest Truth and survive it.”

THiNC. – “Oh wow…something really deep and intense there about empathetic individuals being overcome, but those who were sociopaths being immune. Very interesting sub-current there.

“In the book, at the end, we get the idea that the cause for this outbreak are aliens, and that they seem to be more curious about humans than hellbent on apocalypse. The movie, by never showing the cause (which was absolutely critical to the success of this film IMHO), it happens to distance the viewer from the cause. In your world that your screenplay created, do you mind opining on what it was that was causing this, and more importantly its intent?”

Eric Heisserer – “I still believe you have to keep them a mystery, but it at least gave you something to hold onto while completing Malorie’s story. I was eager for Malorie to have a new perspective, and to bring new hope to the colony in the end that had not been established there before. I think it makes her a more important figure in the world, that way.

“In a scene that didn’t make it to the final film, Donald and Malorie have a conversation about the future, and he tells her: “If you and Olympia really want your kids to survive, you’ll have to blind them. Heat up a needle on the stove. It’s a terrible, cynical, we-can’t-come-back-from-this solution, which is the zip code where Donald lives, mentally. He’s the most pragmatic, and often right, but also there’s no hope in his world. There was a very brief, dialogue-free scene in the script of Malorie, alone at night, venturing into the baby room where Boy and Girl were in their cribs. She’s there with a sterilized (heated) needle. She’s going to stab out their eyes. But she breaks down before she can do it, and throws the needle away. Because she still has hope that they can inherit a better world. That’s what she brings to the colony in the end.”

THiNC. – “So hardcore, and yet, that is a seriously important thread running through the novel. This dark, dark, no coming back, element to the story, that really seemed to not actually be there in the final movie (for good or for bad). The message there, the hope, the better world though, is a very poignant part of the novel. Is it worth surviving if we have also lost all hope? Now, Netflix has caused earthquakes throughout the industry by indicating just how wildly successful Bird Box was in its first week. Congratulations! Any thoughts on their press release and the stunning success of the film?”

Eric Heisserer – “I’m still mystified by the business it’s done on Netflix. And I’m fascinated by that peek into their data, but it generates so many more questions on my end. I don’t believe any of us will get answers anytime soon, though.”

THiNC. – “And a final, non-question question – Is your screenplay online, or available anywhere to read? I’ve looked but haven’t happened upon it.

Eric Heisserer – “I believe this is a working link to the script:”

THiNC. – “Glory be! Finally have a copy. Thanks so much for that!! And thanks,  more importantly, for taking time out with us, Eric, to talk about your screenplay for this amazing film. Glad it is getting the love that it deserves.”

There you have it gang, a close encounter with a Hollywood great. Too often we have to wander far afield to find screenplays that are groundbreaking. But not when it comes to Eric Heisserer’s screenplays. You can pretty much be sure that every screenplay he touches will be a good one.

Edited by, CY

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5 Responses

  1. Robert

    The movie did it wrong. Why in the beginning those with blinds don’t hear the voices but then later on the rules change? Horse crap.
    Typical illogical horror…

  2. Taylor Holmes

    Sometimes I rue the loss of common decency and civility in this new modern enlightened era. You didn’t even explain your disagreement clearly enough for me to even engage with your “horse crap” comment. There is such thing as polite discourse and dissent. Especially when the artist is in your living room.

  3. Robert

    Apologies, I should rephrase it, but it was the thing that upsets me about horror. I want to be scared and then the rules change for plot convenience. (as they call it “plot pasta”)

    Here’s the issue. At the beginning, those who look- hear the voices and see the horror. Those blindfolded do not. However, at the end of the movie where they are going through the forest, despite having blindfolds ON, they hear voices.

    Why the change of the “physics” of this phenomenon at the end? Had people heard voices in the beginning with the blindfolds on, that wouldn’t take away from the start and it would be consistent with the forest scene.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Ok, much much better. I can actually understand what you are getting at here. Thank you Robert.

      In the book this is much much clearer, and the movie muddied things a bit by taking an idea a step or two too far. In the book, it is implied that if you are sane, and you see an alien you’ll kill yourself. Done. (I explain this over in my review of the movie in more detail.) But if you are insane, mentally unstable? You won’t kill yourself. But you will want to help others see this epiphany that you have just seen. (Thereby killing them.)

      Also, just because you can’t look and see where these aliens are, doesn’t mean they are literally everywhere. You could be reasonably sure you could look out onto the street and survive that daredevil experiment. You could go hours or even days without encountering an alien. But do you want to risk it? No, of course not.

      Now, as to the voices. In the book, there is a physical encounter with the Aliens that Malorie has. She’s walking blind, with the blindfold on. And she knows that alien(s) are near. And she begins to feel that alien is getting close to her face, and suddenly her blindfold begins to lift up. And its this sort of innocent, curious encounter between the alien and Malorie. But as the director, Susanne Bier, chose not to ever show the alien on screen, this encounter was impossible to shoot. Impossible to convey in a visual medium. So, instead, they went with voices. I’m not defending the choice, I’m just saying it logically follows as to how they got there. The only strange thing about this though is that the alien can read the person’s mind in order to sound like a loved one’s family member. But they are doing that visually anyway? Why wouldn’t they be able to do it audibly? I think the thing that is angering you is that they didn’t tell you in advance that the aliens could mimic a loved one. Right? But I don’t think this was cheating at all – I see it as a very clever solution to a complicated problem from the book. A natural way to surprise, and give Malorie one more significant hurdle before the ending, and her last sprint to safety.

      But you are definitely entitled to your opinion. I am just of the mind that this was a nearly impossible script to write. Quiet Place was a way easier nut to crack in my opinion. And so every triple gainer they did in the screenplay solved tons of problems thrown at the writers from the book. But yeah, this wasn’t a perfect movie. I didn’t like the roaming bands and how they didn’t explain them clearly enough… how could they be running around outside without blindfolds. (Obviously they are insane.)

      Anyway, my two cents.

  4. Robert

    “I didn’t like the roaming bands and how they didn’t explain them clearly enough… how could they be running around outside without blindfolds. (Obviously they are insane.)”

    This too… At the beginning, I had an interesting theory about the phenomena. It was something that induced hallucinations, which would explain the voices and sights and crazy suicidal behavior. It would also explain why the crazy people didn’t get affected in the same way: they were already used to psychosis/hallucinations.

    It could have been explained in a few ways but 2 seemed plausible to me:
    -A radiation or such that works through the eyes and causes brain damage, etc
    -A rift in space/time that makes those exposed get stuck in an “eternity” in an instant, like going through sensory deprivation for months. (Some people who have hallucinated in a bad trip describe a second taking forever to pass… Like a mental black hole!)

    I think I should stick to the psychological horror movies and sci-fi. When they do ghosts or gods/demons, it becomes so fanciful and reminds me that many religious books describe what those on trips go through… But people rather believe that demons and ghosts are doing it instead of their own chemistry….


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