Name: Andrew Kevin Walker
DOB: 14 August 1964
Place of birth: Altoona, Pennsylvania, United States
Mr. Walker, as a screenwriter, is it ever okay to compromise on your stories?
Well, there’s a real conundrum to think about that. So much of my career was a result of the day that I happened to cross paths with David Fincher. Prior to him coming on to Se7en, I was working with another director and dutifully rewrote my original screenplay to fulfill that director’s vision of a completely different ending. It really wasn’t anything that I was happy with, but I felt that, you know, especially very early on, it was my duty to compromise.
But the story goes that when Fincher got on board for Se7en, he was sent your original screenplay by mistake — and only agreed to direct if that ending could be used.
Exactly! I mean, it’s kind of scary to think that you and I wouldn’t be speaking if that hadn’t happened. At the same time, I would have never met him if I hadn’t just bit the bullet and done this horrible rewrite, ruining my own script. But I feel like it’s a rare thing to have to have the kind of inclusive collaboration that I had with Fincher. Nowadays I find it very hard to just rewrite stuff at the behest of a director whose vision I didn’t share. Later in my career, I was more willing to step off of a project, or be fired off of it even, if I disagreed very strongly.
“Cinema of discomfort describes movies that immerse you in a world that you would never want to experience in real life.”
Like with Joel Schumacher’s 8mm?
Right, there are more often experiences where the director is the kind of person who’s making pronouncements and changes. And if I can’t talk that person out of those changes then I just have to let them proceed without me. 8mm is a movie that I’ve never even seen because I know that it diverts from my vision of it, which was meant to take a person into a kind of underground depravity along with a private detective, who, by the end of it, would come out as a changed person — not literally but figuratively. My version ended with the character being so changed by the experience that he basically just drove his car into a bridge abutment and killed himself.
That must be what you mean when you talk about the “cinema of discomfort.”
(Laughs) You’re right that that was a pretty dark ending and probably an inappropriate one… But “cinema of discomfort” for me is describing certain movies that you’re experiencing from the safety of your seat in the theatre, but that immerse you in a world that you would never truly want to experience in real life. I’m a huge fan of police fiction, of film noir and of horror — the kind of escapist experiences of terror that you can safely walk away from… That’s why I think The Paper Chase is one of my favorite cinema of discomfort movies.
Yeah, I would never survive the rigors of Harvard Law School! (Laughs) But then you have Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket… In fact, I love those amazing stories where someone goes from their seemingly comfortable existence, out into the world à la Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge — and when the characters try to return to their happy life, they realize that they can’t, that they’ve been changed by their experience.
And that experience also extends to the audience. Eric Roth said that the best writers express something that people somehow become a part of.
A movie that makes you forget you’re watching a movie is absolutely doing what it wants to do to you! That’s what it’s there for. I don’t feel like it’s necessarily a good or bad thing to make an audience uncomfortable, for example. Se7en for me was just as much a horror movie as it was a detective thriller. I wouldn’t say I was writing it specifically to have people have nightmares, but I have to say, it makes me happy if people did because then I think it’s effective.
Which movies give you nightmares?
I guess there were films like Alien and Jaws that were PG rated back then. It’s not like I snuck into Jaws — I saw it at the age that I was allowed to see it but it still gave me nightmares. I was just joking about it with my girlfriend the other day that Jaws made me scared to go in the ocean and I didn’t even live near the beach! And then Dirty Harry is another example. I know that I was much younger than I should have been when I first saw it. There were things in that movie that were really startlingly terrifying for me. The idea that the villain, I think his name is Scorpio Killer, would pay a man to beat him bloody in a really grizzly, violent scene just to frame up the policeman — it was viscerally violent!
“I’m always writing something that’s informed with a little bit of quirkiness or peculiarity.”
Would you say horror films are becoming more or less viscerally violent these days?
If anything, there may have been a period where the violence kind of waned and then reared its head again. For instance, the original Dawn of the Dead was so violent that it either didn’t get a rating or they didn’t even submit it for a rating — it was stomach-churning. Nowadays, there’s explicit violence in The Walking Dead, one of the most popular television shows, that is on par with the most violent scenes from Dawn of the Dead from 1978. It’s interesting to see how people are able to absorb some pretty extreme violence in mainstream entertainment.
I guess we’ve just become numb to it.
I thought maybe this kind of horror film might lose some of its relevance as the years went by… But I think Se7en would probably still be able to have been made today but just in a different way or with a different budget, so it wouldn’t be the same film. For me specifically, the problem is that I like to write personal films even if they’re genre. But whether it’s a smaller thing or a larger thing, hopefully I’m always writing something that’s informed with a little bit of quirkiness or peculiarity. But I’m a screenwriter and I’m not a writer-director, so I’m not shepherding the project myself.
Have you ever thought about directing?
I tend to lose a lot of sleep over just writing so I can only imagine what kind of nightmare my world would be if I was trying to spend two years, three years, trying to direct something as well! For me, if I hadn’t had those incredibly satisfying, mystifyingly, unbelievably wonderful experiences with David Fincher on Se7en, Fight Club or The Game, the desire for me to direct might be stronger and it might overcome my massive sense of neurosis. It’s such a rare thing to have that kismet — or at least it has been for me — but I’m still incredibly hopeful that there will be situations like that for me in the future.