Today Casey has the honor of speaking with writer of movies such as X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Agent Cody Banks. TV Shows such as Flash, Jurassic Park: Camp Cretaceous,a nd the upcoming Booster Gold; Zack Stentz!
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Zach Stentz Interview – Interview
[00:00:00] Casey: all right, everybody. Welcome again, to another episode of spoiler country today on the show we have, well, we have a guy who’s written many of the AOS in shows that you’ve seen. Let me start over. That was crap. Alright, everybody welcome again, to another episode of spoiler country today on the show, we have screenwriter of X-Men first class screenwriter of four screen writer of booster gold, Zack stents, Zach, how you doing
Zach Stentz: buddy?
Doing very well. How are you doing
Casey: I’m well, so, can you tell us a little bit about booster because, you kind of stoked about this.
Zach Stentz: Oh, I see. I wish I had better news about booster. I wrote booster. I wrote booster for a, for Greg Berlanti and his company about two and a half years ago. And goodness, I had a great time.
I had a great time writing it. And then it kind of disappeared into [00:01:00] the, end of the Warner brothers DC machine. And, I th I think it was, it was a little bit of an orphan because there was a, I think there’ve been two changes in, in regime, regime since, since I started writing it. And, yeah, and frankly, I don’t know what’s happening with it, or if it’s going to get made anytime soon.
All I can tell you is I was really happy with how the, how the script turned out and it was, it was a, a tremendous amount of fun working with, with Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter on crafting a really fun booster, gold story. Well, because he’s watched on character. Yeah, no, he’s one of my, he’s one of my absolute favorite of the DC heroes.
dare I say, he might be one of the more Marvel, like, DC heroes and being more in that he is more a human and sized and a kind of a flawed guy instead of a, a larger than life, icon the way that, the way that many of them are.
Casey: Oh, yeah. Yeah. and I’m sure you took all [00:02:00] that into consideration when writing that character, and I really hope it sees light of day because it’s such an amazing, amazing thing, but, okay.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Zach Stentz: yeah, I’m I actually came to screenwriting,
Casey: kind of through
Zach Stentz: a different door than most people. My, I only taken one class in screenwriting in my life and way back in college and my degree is in journalism. And, I worked for several years as a working journalist up and first up in the San Francisco Bay area.
And then down in Los Angeles. And screenwriting had been edited dream that I had. And, I, a couple of efforts to get something going, when I was still in the Bay area. And after about two years of that, it became very clear that you had to be in LA to, to really properly make a go of it.
So my, my wife who had just graduated from law school and I. Move down. And, you know, about two years, [00:03:00] two and a half years of, beating my head against the wall. the wall, when we collapsed before my head did, and, I got my, with my then writing partner, We got our first gig on a TV show called gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.
It was, back in the days of the syndicated action hours. And, and that was so wonderful. A wonderful learning experience, wrote like, you know, 20 episodes over, over three seasons. But, you know, we, we went on to other things, shall we say.
Casey: So I actually, saw a, a message on a message board about Andromeda that you had replied to people that were kind of unkind to the show.
it made me love you in ways that, I’m not, we’re really prepared to tell everybody you came out like. You dickhead, if you do not understand, you came out so hard and [00:04:00] so thorough with your argument to where it was apparent that there wasn’t anything on, and that showed that you guys hadn’t thought out.
And, it made me really respect, How much thought in a detail you guys did on that show? So I just, it was fun reading it.
Zach Stentz: that’s fair. That’s very kind of, you know, I, I, you know, in my younger days show it, shall we say, I was much more willing to mix it up with, with people on the internet weirdly.
That’s actually, how, I met my writing partner is both of us, you know, yelling at people about star Trek on, on the old Usenet board or it’s back in the back of that. So, so, so, being argumentative on the internet kind of comes to me naturally, but weirdly as I’ve gotten older, I’ve yeah, really tried to get away from it from that and do less and less of it because.
Yeah, there’s something, a little [00:05:00] undignified about it. and more than that, though, I’ve just learned, I’ve learned from being mentored by some very talented people, like. don’t overexplain your own work. Like let the audience, I hate it when creators get between their own work and their audience’s experience of it.
And I think the more you kind of talk through your own show and explain like, well, this is what we’re doing when we had this shot in there. you know, on some level it’s fun giving them, giving people a peak inside of the process, the writing right. Creation process. But on the other hand, it’s like, let people have their own experience of, of the show or the movie or whatever it is that you made.
does that make any sense? Oh
Casey: yeah, totally. And. To further question. Is it hard to kind of step aside and put your feelings aside when it comes to something that you’ve, you know, blood, sweat, [00:06:00] and tears, and obviously the, is there from way back the passion’s there? cause I don’t know when that Andromeda post was, but it was early two thousands
Zach Stentz: going on 20 years ago.
Casey: Yeah. So is it hard to kind of. Put stuff out into the world and just go, you guys do what you will with it.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, it is. It really is because, you know, like, I don’t think I’ve written anything that wasn’t written with a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of care. And it may have turned out great.
It may have turned out too terribly, or it may be something that like, I think, you know, if you don’t like it’s like, I think you just. You’re just not looking at it in the right way. And you know, like, I want everyone to like what I do and yeah. I’m I like to be one of those writers is tremendously thick skin and like, you know, Hey, whatever your reaction is, your reaction.
but yeah, it’s. It’s, [00:07:00] you know, it does hurt your feelings when not everyone likes what you do. And there’s the part of you that wants to go, you know, like, like Wade into the internet and argue, argue with everyone. but you know, again, I’m trying to, I’m trying to get it, get a little more distance from it all and.
Again, let people have their own reaction and their own relationship with, with the stuff that I do, because you know, the other thing is that it changes over time, you know, like, like TV shows and movies that weren’t particularly well loved when they came out, oftentimes get rediscovered later.
It’s you know, like I worked on, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which, you know, was like one and a half seasons and done, and now it’s kind of like always comes up and like, you know, best shows you should have been watching, but weren’t
Casey: things like that. So,
Zach Stentz: so it’s been fun to see people gradually realize, you know, like how much love and care went into that.
went into that, [00:08:00] that, you know, PA particular show.
Casey: does it kind of staying a little bit when you see show that show in articles, whereas like you missed out on the show,
Zach Stentz: you know, it does, but it’s also, you know, like, like it, it was 10 years ago at this point and kind of, I, what is Edna mode saving the Incredibles?
You know, I tried to live in the now.
Casey: Checks already cleared. You have moved on to the next thing. Yeah. You know, like, yeah.
Zach Stentz: I mean, you can’t, you know, you don’t want to be one of those. You don’t want to be one of those creators who like did one good thing, you know, that’s increasingly distant in the rear view mirror and all you do is, you know, kind of, kind of revisit your past glory, glorious.
you know, you. Hopefully, you know, want to keep creating and keep getting better at it. Oh yeah.
Casey: Yeah. And so with that in mind, you wrote one of the [00:09:00] only XPN films that I’ve really enjoyed.
in that you were this, you wrote the screenplay for X-Men first class and, I love the hell out of that movie.
I really enjoyed it. And given the movies PRI you know, up to then I wasn’t. Expecting much. And you blew me out of the water with that one.
Zach Stentz: Yeah. You know, we had the benefit on X-Men first class of low expectations. Shall we say the, you know, the previous, we were the fifth film in, I believe in that particular franchise, if you count X-Men origins, Wolverine, and last stand is, his movies three and four.
But, but you know, the thing is that, you know how in like professional sports, how some seasons will be like a rebuilding year for the franchise. That’s what Fox viewed excellent first class as they were like, [00:10:00] X-Men last stand and excellent origins. Wolverine made a lot of money, but were not particularly well loved.
We want you to have some, it’s not as important to us that you make a lot of money. It’s important to us that you introduce new actors and new characters that people love and build on the franchise to go and, you know, do great things from there. And I would love, I like to think that we succeeded, you know, that we succeeded in that we embraced to tell him that was a little bit closer to the, you know, they didn’t act like it was embarrassed by the original comic books, you know, get them in the yellow suit, get it, find a way to get them in the yellow.
And, and do it in this wonderful way where you’re kind of crossing a, crossing the eczema and with a cold war thriller and a Sean Connery era bond film, and, and for whatever reason it, yeah, it all came together in something that people really enjoyed. and I remain very proud of, of, being small, a small part of [00:11:00] that.
Casey: I mean, you guys really went all out for testing on this film with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And, when it was announced that McEvoy was going to be Charles Xavier, I was like, he’s too handsome. And he has hair, but Oh my gosh, it was perfect. Everything worked out swimmingly.
What, when you have a. People of that caliber and ability in those roles as a screenwriter. do you take that into consideration? I’m sure. Like, not all the time, you know, who’s going to be in it, but, do you try to write towards who is going to be doing the performance? Especially in later drafts,
Zach Stentz: a little bit, but the, you know, the wonderful thing about McAvoy and Fassbender is that they were both very well thought of actors, but they, I wouldn’t call them stars at that, you know, like giant superstars at that point.
So it was much more the other way around that you wrote the characters and. [00:12:00] If anything, the big thing I tried to bring to X-Men first class is if we’re going to write Charles and write Eric, we are not going to write them as the characters that, you know, only younger, we are going to write them as the characters they were before they became the characters, you know, and get the drama out of the fact that you see the events that shaped them into the characters into Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
So that’s, you know, like. That’s tremendously exciting to us as writers. And I think it was tremendously excited, exciting to James and, to James and Michael, because they didn’t have to pretend to be Patrick Stewart or they didn’t have to pretend to be Ian McKellen. They could be, you know, like, like McAvoy could be, you know, picking up girls in a bar and, and, yeah.
A Fastbender could be this intensely physical, physical and not just cerebral a character. So, so it was, you know, I think it, the causation there [00:13:00] went in the other direction. we wrote the characters a certain way, and then, you know, the actors melded themselves to that rather than, Ooh, what is.
What is fast vendor’s voice. It’s like, I don’t, you know, from what, from shame from, from, you know, from 300 it’s yeah. that would have been, that would have been very difficult at that point.
Casey: So also in the same year, 2011, you wrote the screenplay for Thor, which I’m sure, you know, the time is, you know, maybe a year or so.
You know, different. yeah,
Zach Stentz: we wrote my then partner and I wrote Thor about 18 months before we wrote, X-Men first class. And then the two movies came out within, within 28 days of each other. they were just, you know, like, like. Store was a more standard process of, okay. We’re, you know, we’re writing in late 2008, early 2009 for something that was coming [00:14:00] out and, you know, may have, may of 2011 at one point, it was supposed to be summer of 2010, but they, but they, they Marvel in the middle of us developing.
I ended up flopping one for flopping, one for the other. not, I think they ended, yeah. They ended up trading Ironman two, two, and, and Thor spot. but, it just goes to show you like, like, We were barely a year. You know, it was April, 2010 when we landed the assignment for excellent first class and they had a script, but the, you know, essentially the instructions were, you know, use this, use a little bit of it, but throw out most of it and start over again.
And you know, we’re coming out in less than 14 months. So that was, you know, At one point I asked the executive, I’m like, Oh, so is this one going to be in three D? And it’s like, was like, man, as fast as we’re making this movie, we’ll be lucky if it’s in focus.
Casey: Oh God. [00:15:00] So, so when you were on the Thor film, how was it working with Kenneth Bronto?
And did you have any interaction with him? And all of
Zach Stentz: my God. Yeah, no, we had huge amounts of interaction with them. It was, you know, like we, we got notes from him as we’re going to, to outline. And then, you know, three weeks later when we came in with the draft, it was sitting down in a room with a window.
Can with, Kevin FYGI with Craig, Kyle, and with a couple of the other Marvel studios people, and literally like turning each page and going through it page by page, often the line by line with, him Ken’s, you know, I like this. I don’t like this. Change this, keep this. Oh, Hey, let’s all act the same out together.
And you realize that
Zach Stentz: You’re doing a scene with, you know, the foremost Shakespearian actor of his generation, [00:16:00] which is, you know, which was quite an experience. But, but yeah, no, we were super hands on for about four months or so with, with Ken and then, You know, they were kind of getting up into production and they got, they got, a very talented writer.
Who’s unfortunately, no longer with us Don Payne to be the, the onset guy and, to, to be the person doing rewrites as they went along, which as, you know, with movies like this, you’re, you know, You turn in the screenplay, you’re generally rewriting them all through shooting, and then you’re rewriting them again in the editing room, as you’re adding ADR lines or, you know, swapping out scenes or realizing that you need a scene here and you need to reshoot something.
So, you know, like, like film screenplays are never, you know, finished so much as abandoned because you know, the release date is coming out.
Casey: Yeah, that’s a, [00:17:00] it sounds like a lot of burning the candle at both ends. A lot of hurry up and wait. A lot of busy. So,
Zach Stentz: yeah. You know, we were so under the gun with excellent first class, we were, you know, we’re writing drafts and, you know, like 10 days and working 16 hour days on this, you know, at one point, you know, we’re doing a rewrite on it to try and get, Matthew Vaughn attached as director and.
And my then partner and I were, you know, we’re passing it back and forth via email. And I had to drive up to officiate at my brother’s wedding and, you know, well up the length of California with three kids and, you know, like, And they were very young at the time, too, so they needed a lot and then you’d put them, I’d put him to bed and I was like, okay, now I can write.
And then I’d write until two in the morning and crash and then get up with the kids and, and write the [00:18:00] script again. And, and of course everyone got the flu right about then too. So that was just, yeah, that was very special, but it all, you know, I like to think that sense of manic energy, you know, came out in the, in the finished product a little bit.
Casey: So when you go from like writing a film to writing a television show, How is the transition between, is it, is the field different? Like the writer’s rooms, is it, is a little bit more of a laid back pace.
Zach Stentz: No, if anything, you know, like, like TV, especially, you know, like TV, he is a PR is a production machine, mean it’s like, you know, like that machine burns, you know, burns a script every, you know, eight days to two weeks and you need to keep feeding that thing.
So you need to keep the room up and running and you need to keep episodes. it’s like those, it’s like some picture of, of [00:19:00] like a world war, two factory where they’re making ships and you see like the one ship is finished and they’re about to launch it into the water. And then the next one they’re putting the finishing touches.
And then the next one they’re just laying down the keel. You know, like that’s what a TV, right? Writing processes. Like it’s much more of a, of an assembly line, but, but, yeah. it’s. There’s been a certain convergence, especially in the last five or 10 years. movies have gotten a lot more like TV.
You’ve had movies that have been written by writers that have been broken by writer’s rooms. Like, like they’re a TV show. But it’s still, you know, like TV is much more collaborative and much more, you know, it doesn’t have to be just you and the blank page. You’ve got a room full of very smart people, coming up with, coming up with stories together.
Casey: does that work? Does that suit you? Do you like that? Or do you prefer the more solitary man in a [00:20:00] computer?
Zach Stentz: I like them both, you know, like I really, you know, when I was working on booster gold, you know, that was when I started working on booster gold, you know, like, Greg had just, his first child had been born and, and you know, he had a billion as he has now.
He had a billion shows going on and he was like, Hey man, you want to consult on the flash? you can be in the room like two days a week, and then if we needed you for something, you’d be there. I was like, yeah, that sounds awesome. So that was that kind of eight months. There was like the best of both worlds.
Cause I got to have the fun of being in a writer’s room for a couple of days a week, but then I got to go home and do it with my kids and do all of that, you know, and, and do my solitary retreat into the office to, to work thing. I
Casey: want to talk about family and balancing of a little bit later because that’s something that’s very important to me having that work life balance.
If that’s a thing, it might be a myth.
Zach Stentz: it’s a [00:21:00] goal, shall we say?
Casey: I hope to find it. One day. I have two kids of my own.
Zach Stentz: Oh, wonderful. Congratulations.
Casey: I love it. I love being a dad. Oh my gosh. finding time to write, is, you have to wait until they’re in bed and sometimes they don’t want to go to bed.
So, it can be difficult.
Zach Stentz: It really can’t, it really can be difficult. And, and, I, you know, it’s, it seems to have been a thing in my career where, the worst and the more high stakes the deadline is. The more likely it is that at least one of the kids is going to get sick. At least one of the kids is going to, you know, really need something there.
Like, like life always has a way of crashing and, to work when it’s a, when it’s least convenient.
Casey: So, how has that affected, here recently with COVID outbreak, one’s a lot home, a home, a lot more rather, has that affected your [00:22:00] productivity or is it an increase because you’re home and actually able to concentrate.
Zach Stentz: You know, for the first couple months, I’ll admit I barely got anything done. it was a combination of depression having everyone under one roof together. And then that thing that people call a, what is it? Doom, scrolling, where you’re just going to media, you know, reading, like what horrible things have, have happened today.
and that was really, you know, that w that was really difficult. And, you know, halfway through, we changed internet providers because we were, everything was under so much strain. Everything was under so much strain from, from, everyone on, you know, three different kids on three different zoom classes.
but then weirdly, since like about June or so, I’ve been super productive. I’ve, you know, like I. I’ve either written or co-written like four features. I’ve been pitching on a lot of things. and I felt like things have, yeah, really started [00:23:00] clicking creatively. And I really tried to like make use of the time to, to, to do good stuff.
So, you know, it’s, it comes and goes that’s so that’s, I wish I could be more eloquent about it than that, but, but it’s definitely been a work in progress, trying to get into a creative head space. I’m in the middle of all this madness in the world right now.
Casey: yeah. Yeah. one quick question, understand that there is a purpose post remake of big trouble in little China. Is that still going on now? That Fox is,
Zach Stentz: Now the Fox is no more by the D Disney machine. I think it will probably happen. It will probably not happen with our script. And I will very briefly tell you why.
we developed my former partner and I was, this was the last thing that we ever did together. developed, a remake of it. Yeah. You trouble a little China for the rock to star and with the rocks company producing and the original plan and what the rock wanted [00:24:00] was for the rock to play Jack Burton.
And so we wrote what I think was a very good remake of a big trouble, little China with the rock is Jack Burton. Here’s what happened? The ended up making, I think the rock ended up making that fast and the furious movie with Kurt Russell. And so he’s there on set with Kurt Russell and Kurt Russell. Hey, you’re remaking my movie.
Part for me in there. And I think day after day, what ended up getting into his mind was, Hey, what if I played a new character? And Kurt came back as like old Jack Burton. so I think it’s some point and the other problem besides the fact that foxes no more is the fact that the rock is like, Booked up till 20, 24 or something.
So just finding a spot for him to make this movie is incredibly difficult, but, I think if, and when it [00:25:00] eventually happens, it will probably happen with, with a different version where it’s, where it’s a, you know, Kurt is old Jack and, and, and DJ is, you know, I’m probably not his son, but another character shall we say.
Casey: So when I was a kid and saw that I saw like, Oh, Kurt Russell is cool as hell. And he’s the hero and saves the day as an adult, watching that film, you realize Jack Burton is a jackass. He is the biggest moron on the planet and the, The people who are actually saving the day are his friends that, you know, kind of come to his
Zach Stentz: rescue.
He just kind of
Casey: sailed his way to success. like a lot of white dudes that I know. So I was. I was very curious how you guys would do that with the rock as the lead, because [00:26:00] he doesn’t seem like somebody that would be the tool on, on a movie.
Zach Stentz: Here’s the thing, here’s the thing though, about the two things.
One, if you go, it’s a very common reading that like, he’s that to say, Jack, Burton’s not actually the hero of big trouble in little China. He’s much more of a Cohero and he’s an absurd character, but if you notice, like he is the one who kills Luke at the end, he’s the one that throws the knife through his head, with it’s all in the reflexes lines.
So, so he does have that last heroic act, even though he, you know, shoots the ceiling and rocks fall on his head and he misses most of the Kung Fu battle. So there is that, but there’s also the fact that yes, the, you know, that the rock actually has a tremendous sense of humor about himself and is willing to be very silly.
And, I think people would be if our script ever sees the light of day, I think people will be, will be surprised at, at how much, Dwayne was [00:27:00] happy to share the limelight with, with the, the wine character and, and. And let him have his, his glory as well.
Casey: That’s awesome. you, you have. Have rehabilitated the idea of that movie being remade in my mind.
Zach Stentz: Yeah. I mean, I love it dearly and it’s one of, Dwayne’s like five favorite movies and my former writing partner, it’s probably his favorite movie of all times. So, so everyone treated the original movie with a huge amount of reverence and, and if anything, You know, if anything, what we tried to do with the remake was in the way that the original, big trouble.
Little China was a love letter to the kind of Chinese Hong Kong action cinema of the sixties and seventies. Like the shop brothers. We tried to make this movie a love letter to the lab, 20 years of Chinese and [00:28:00] Hong Kong action cinema. if that makes any sense, like more, you know, like homages to like hero and how supplying daggers and things like that.
Casey: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And that, is seemingly a much more artistic take on the genre, I guess. cause those movies were art. They were beautiful to look at.
Zach Stentz: Oh, abs. Absolutely. So, you know, well, I wish them the best with whatever happens with it.
Casey: So I understand speaking of China, you
Zach Stentz: are, you teach.
Yeah. Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. Like a couple of times a year. I haven’t done it a year or so, but a couple of times a year, I like to go to, to China and, and teach screenwriting there. It’s a to which, Is a huge amount of fun. And, the young Chinese screenwriters and directors are so smart and it’s, you [00:29:00] know, it, my joke is that I feel like I’m like bringing you the atomic, the atomic secrets over.
you know, it’s like, okay, kids here, there’s three act structure. it’s, you know, like I’m writing myself out of a job because, you know, God knows technically they’re there on such a high level there, and now we’re teaching them, you know, the tricks of American genre or the American genre writing as well.
But, I, you know, I like to think that it’s best that, that, The diff the cinemas of different countries can be in conversations with each other and influence each other and really ways. And I’ll give an example, like, like the way that the Japanese samurai film and the American Western have been in conversation with each other for like 75 years, you know, that.
Akira Kurosawa watched John Ford movies and, you know, read Dashiell Hammett stories. And then the westerns were like, you know, remake the seven samurai as a weapon. and then, [00:30:00] you know, the Japanese were like, let’s make unforgiven as a samurai film and. You know, like, I really love it if American movies and Chinese movies could be in that kind of a dialogue in that kind of a dialogue with each other.
and I’m just, you know, I like new yeah. Experiences and getting to. Getting to visit China, you know, three different times. so far has been just a tremendous amount of fun, like going to Beijing and and Shanghai it’s, you know, it’s like, I wanna, I want to ride on the Maglev, you know, it’s like getting a little visit to the future.
so, so, and those are the kinds of things that really inspire you as a writer.
Casey: That’s awesome. And it’s also, I guess, I guess, a shrewd move on. Hollywood’s part to encourage these new talents, because they’re starting to be a big market for us, for Hollywood films,
Zach Stentz: other, [00:31:00] you know, the, you know, monetarily the second biggest in the world.
And, you know, in terms of tickets sold and not even close the first by far.
Casey: So, how did you get involved with that in the first place? Was, are you,
Zach Stentz: you know, our friend, a friend had gotten into it and it was teaching for a, for a, the Sundance of, of China. And it wasn’t like, Hey, they’re tired of me doing this.
And, you know, they want someone with, they want someone with a genre, X experience and I’m a comedy guy. Could you go? And I’m like, yeah, I’ll go.
Zach Stentz: You know, they, you know, they, they put you up in a really nice hotel and, you know, they’re like, you have lots of meals with local dignitaries where they’re like pushing all kinds of amazing food at you.
And, and, you know, it’s, it, the last day and a half week, we did a big tour of Beijing and, and it was, yeah, it was just a blast.
Casey: So, that, you make me think [00:32:00] that you might
Zach Stentz: possibly be a spy.
Casey: I’m just putting this out there. It’s out here. No, but yeah, that sounds fantastic. That’s, that’s an amazing experience that you’ve got to have, and I’m sure it’s not something that you.
You ever necessarily really planned on it just kind of came up because they saw your talent and saw that you were able to teach,
Zach Stentz: you know, there’s the part of it. That’s like the fun experience. And then there’s the part of it where it’s like, Hey man, it’s a global, you know, it’s a, it’s a global industry and you’ve got to take those skills globally too.
Casey: So. Outside of film writing. I understand that you are also a writer you’ve written a few now. w would you mind talking about those a little bit about that transition from writing for the screen to writing, you know, Writing your novel.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, my former part and I, wrote a novel that actually started life as a [00:33:00] pilot.
and, it was a why a novel called Colin Fisher, which I am very proud of, which is, it’s. I like to say it’s like Holden’s and Watson and high school. You know, like a little bit encyclopedia Brown, a little bit, the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. And, and that was a tremendous amount of fun, but it was, it’s funny.
We used all kinds of weird cinematic techniques in the, in the pilot and we had to, and it was fun. Using, you know, like, like using all of the possibilities of pros, you know, like, like doing things as diary entries, using footnotes, you know, we used footnotes, it’s a lot to try and replicate how the character thinks and, you know, using internal narration and then, you know, all kinds of things that you don’t really use as a, Is a screenwriter.
So it was really fun stretching, a different muscle. There’s a, there’s a S a Catholic high school up in the San Francisco Bay area that, that uses that assigns it to ninth graders. And I go, and, for the [00:34:00] last, like three or four years, I’ve gone up and talked to them every, every October.
Unfortunately, I probably won’t be doing that this year, but, maybe I’ll do it over zoom or something, but, yeah. I really enjoyed that process. And right now I’m working on a novel on my own that’s, that sort of, a little bit more Divinci code, a little bit more, you know, it’s also mystery, but, but, And adventure is an adventure as well.
Casey: so Nevermore.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, this has never more so, you know, a father and his, a strange teenage son, solving the, the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe’s death.
Casey: that sounds pretty rad. I’m sold already. So what was your, your inspiration for the story?
Zach Stentz: The inspiration for the story was this, the, I dunno if you know that, for like 50 years, this mysterious figure of the Rose Guy, the Poe toaster, you know, would sneak into the graveyard on post birthday and, and [00:35:00] drink cognac and leave a Rose on it.
On ed ground post grave. And, it’s become a bit, you know, it became a big tourist thing to kind of keep a respectful distance, but watch forum. and I had the idea of like, what if this father and this kind of teenage this kind of alienated teenager, who’s super independent, go to see this and are the only witnesses to this protest or being murdered.
And, and it leading to this, to this whole mystery, you know, again, kind of DaVinci I would ask, but, but all Oh, related to, because there are very, you know, the, post staff is very mysterious and, you know, like he was found in another man’s clothes and no one knows where he had been and, you know, like all kinds of crazy things and, You know, w we end up in Antarctica by the end of it, by the end of it.
and with some fanciful theories about, about what poll was really up to. So that was kind of the germ of it. And it was the germ of that. And like, but like trying to tell this very [00:36:00] emotional story about a, a father and a son learning to reconnect with each other, via.
This adventure. I guess, I guess, you know, I saw Indiana Jones in the last crusade at a formative time in my life. And, I enjoy those kinds of stories.
Casey: Did your experiences as a father playing into the writing of this novel? Any cause it seems like it’s very personal.
Zach Stentz: Oh, yeah, it’s super personal.
it’s my experiences as a father and a son, informed it. And, and that’s the fun part of writing is that you can, is you find yourself at one age of your life, empathy, you know, it’s the joke about how, you know, you watch the breakfast club as a teenager and you’re like, yeah, they stuck it to the man.
And then you watch it, the older you get, the more you empathize with that, vice-principal, you know, trying to teach those little brats a, a lesson or two about life. [00:37:00] so you know, you try and write with full empathy for all of the characters and where they’re coming from.
Casey: So when you’re writing the characters, how do you inhabit that?
Like, how do you put your. Your mind into who they are. Do you have a secret to helping to develop those people? you know, it’s a combination of
Zach Stentz: things. It’s a combination of things. It’s, it’s, coming up with a biography for them. It’s coming up with a biography and backstory, thinking about the real people in your life, who they remind you of.
And then more than that, just kind of having an ear. and the, you know, the more you think about them and the more you live with the characters, the more you start to hear their voice. You start to hear their voices. and that’s when the writing gets really exciting is when you really start hearing their voices in your head.
And, and it’s, you know, you end up really. You know, you know, they feel like real people to you. you see that in like, you know, [00:38:00] interviews with JK Rowling, she’ll, you know, like, like she, she talks about all of those, all those kids, like they’re her actual children and in a way they are like, you know, you spend more time with them in your head than you do with the, you know, with the actual people in your life.
Casey: when you are ending a project, Whether it be a book, whether it be a film, whether it be a TV show, is it hard to get those people out of your head and get the story out of your head and further, more, you know, further from that? Like what do you do to kind of refresh yourself so that you can get back onto another project?
Zach Stentz: Can you just
Casey: go cold Turkey and start another project? Or do you have, is there a coming down period?
Zach Stentz: it’s different. you know, it’s with each time I’ve more recently, I’ve really tried to roll from one project right into another. but there is a process of what we like [00:39:00] to, you know, it’s terrible, you know, I don’t want to.
I don’t say this to belittle the, the process of action childbirth, but we joke that there is a postpartum depression when you, when you finish a draft and, you know, a weird feeling, you know, you’re relieved to have it done, but there’s a weird feeling of emptiness at the same time. And then, emptiness, I find with impatience for a, you know, your reps or the producers or the editors or whoever to read it, You know, so, so there’s that.
and really the best thing that I found that I can do is to keep my mind off of it is to start work on some is to start work on something else. That’s awesome.
Casey: I recently talked to, Jeff Smith. He’s a creator of a character named bone is a comic book.
Zach Stentz: Oh yeah, no, that’s definitely
Casey: going to be on Netflix soon.
He was, he lived with that character, you know, and the whole series in his head almost 20 years maybe. And [00:40:00] he told me that, Mmm,
Zach Stentz: right. As
Casey: he was ending at his wife said, you know, you get it out on time. You get to go anywhere you want to. And he said, that kind of helped him get through the depression part.
They went to like somewhere in the Pacific and it was nice and, took his mind off of it.
Zach Stentz: Oh, that must be nice. I know. Right. It’ll have a pandemic where we can’t go anywhere. Oh
Casey: man. Yeah. Yeah. So
Zach Stentz: I just saw it like something like an ad on Facebook for like something called work cations where you can go, you know, like to some hotel and Ken Coon and, you know, work there and they’ll take care of everything.
I’m like, Yeah. Maybe if we weren’t a pandemic, I’d consider that. But I don’t feel like getting on a plane right now. Oh
Casey: man. Yeah. So I had to go to a funeral a few weeks ago and flew from, Columbus, Ohio, my, My plane stopped in, in Texas, [00:41:00] no one was wearing masks.
Zach Stentz: I
Casey: had somebody berate me for wearing a
Zach Stentz: mask.
Casey: yeah. It was like, I’ll work in health care. You’re a
Zach Stentz: Jack. Yes, man.
Casey: And, so, but yeah. Anyways. Yeah. People anyway, I was born in
Zach Stentz: class, by the way.
Casey: Yeah, it’s a nice city. It’s tough. My sister lives in works there and, it’s, I’m impressed with is it’s a very nice place. but, yeah, it is.
How did you end up out in California? did you go there specifically for, for screenwriting?
Zach Stentz: No, I grew up in a rural town by my parents, moved out, you know, they were hippies. they w and Buckeyes, and they moved out to California when I was very young. And, I grew up first in the East Bay and, a little suburb there.
And then in a locking town called Fort Bragg up in, up in Mendocino County and the Redwood forest. So, So I’m, different parts of California, but I’m a California [00:42:00] boy for most of my life.
Casey: It sounds like you had an interesting childhood though for real.
Zach Stentz: Yeah. Yeah. it’s been, you know,
Casey: I like to say it,
Zach Stentz: it really helped, you know, the more interesting of a life you, you lead the more, the more material you have.
So, so, you know, it’s, it was, Oh, sorry. it was a good, ah, what is how it is happening? Sorry. Yeah, just a weird thing came up. but, Yeah. So, so, that’s that’s been, that’s been the story of my life so far.
Casey: that’s awesome. So understand you are on a, something to do with X prize you’re on the science fiction, like panel or chair or something for X
Zach Stentz: prize.
Yeah. That’s out. You know, friends of friends inviting me, invited me on it. you know, it’s another thing that I’m involved with is, I do a lot with the military, you know, like, like, a little bit of advising for them and a lot of like going on now, going on tours [00:43:00] of, you know, facilities and things like facilities.
I was a guest in a Comicon on a submarine base in Connecticut. And, you know, I, so I was a coast guard brat growing up. So I coming from a military family, I really try and give back that way to, to personnel in the armed forces. And it’s also great education because you end up writing a lot of military characters and the more, you know, like.
when my former partner and I, for example, were writing the remake of Starship troopers, we said, Hey, we want to go to a real boot camp and see what boot camp looks like now, because anytime you see bootcamp, it’s in a movie it’s like a collection of 50 year old cliches, or like someone who watched full metal jacket.
so like, let’s see what bootcamp is like now. And it was, you know, they flew us down to like four Fort sill. and, and we spent like three days there and it was great and it [00:44:00] was an, and you meet extraordinary people that way.
Casey: Did you get to partake in any of the exercises for bootcamp or was it, Hey, we did a little,
Zach Stentz: it was mostly observational.
We did a little bit of PT, did the obstacle course, but, you know, they didn’t let us fire the 50 caliber, unfortunately.
Casey: So what. Having those experiences. I understand you also did a little bit of work on the upcoming top gun remake.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, we were the first sequel. We were the first writers on that.
We are, the first writer is way back in the day on that when Tony Scott was still alive, we worked on that for about. Three months. It was a lot of fun. And I like to say being fired by Tony Scott over the phone was it was a career high point because usually when you get fired off of an assignment and it happens a lot, you just get ghosted.
[00:45:00] and eventually you hear back from your agents that like, yeah, they’re going a different direction, but in this time it was, you know, like you get the call us. Paddle ice. This is Tony. I’m sorry. It’s just not working out. Love you though. And it’s like, Hey, we appreciate the call Shelley Brock. Huh?
Climber did the same thing. He called too. I’m like, okay. I’m like,
Casey: how come I
Zach Stentz: just got fired? But I actually feel okay about it. It’s cause they were decent guys. so yeah, that frigging broke my heart when he, when he passed away. but I do not know if they’ve. Kept any material from our work and the final version, but I am going to be there opening night because I love me some Maverick and I love me some IMAX camera.
some IMAX cameras aside, the cockpit of an 18.
Casey: Oh, yeah. Yeah. that’ll be amazing, especially with what we have now, in terms [00:46:00] of effects and filming and all that. I’m so glad that, I
Zach Stentz: didn’t hear a.
Casey: A crappy Tony Scott story. it seems like he was a good guy all around it.
It sucks that, that you got like off the project, but what a way to be shown the door,
Zach Stentz: Yeah, no, it’s, you know, no ill feelings about that whatsoever.
Casey: That is some old school like,
Zach Stentz: like,
Casey: yeah, he’s probably been shown the door several times himself. he’s doing it the way he would want to be treated.
So that’s, that’s amazing. When you have a project that you step away from or are let go from, and then eventually it sees the light of day with someone. Else’s it? Is it hard to see that project come to life? Is it like seeing an ex girlfriend?
Zach Stentz: It’s exactly like that. And generally I don’t end up watching it generally.
I don’t [00:47:00] end up watching it, you know, like
Casey: super light. Like,
Zach Stentz: Oh, you guys worked on the power Rangers, remake, you know, like, what’d you think of the movie? And like, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.
Casey: You know,
Zach Stentz: I’m like, no disrespect for the people involved. I hope it was a good movie. It’s just, it was a painful experience to get, let, go from that.
And I have no desire to revisit it by watching that movie.
Casey: I completely understand that it’s it’s okay. And I’m sure it’s part of the
Zach Stentz: game. Yeah, this, I hate to do this. I kind of need to wrap up fairly soon. Best excuse ever. There are wildfires on all sides of us and the air is filled with smoke.
And so I’m getting like I’m beginning to get dizzy and that gets the hell out of there, dude. Yeah, no, it’s just, there’s so much smoke in the air that it’s like. That talking nonstop for an hour is [00:48:00] just really difficult for me. But, but so if you have any last couple of questions, I would love to answer them though.
Casey: I will let you go for your safety
Zach Stentz: and
Casey: much for talking to us. It’s been a pleasure. Do you have anything you want to promote before we, before we let you go? Yes.
Zach Stentz: I did for Netflix Dreamworks animation and universal the animated show, Jurassic world camp Cretaceous, and it is going to be debuting on Netflix, September 18th.
I, after I created the show, I stepped back into a consulting role. So, the people running the show. R a Scott creamer and, and, Josie Campbell and some really smart writers. and Colin Trevorrow and Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall have all consulted Don. It fits within the Canon of Jurassic park and Jurassic world lore.
There are all kinds of Easter eggs for people, Shandra, and I think people are just gonna really dig it. [00:49:00] So, I hope everyone watches that in a month.
Casey: That’s awesome. And who was it? Was it made for like, like age range?
Zach Stentz: I’d say eight and up. Oh,
Casey: that’s awesome.
Zach Stentz: Yeah. So if you have kids eight and up, as long as they don’t, you know, that there are some scares, we don’t shy away from that.
but, but, the kids are really appealing and, and from really diverse backgrounds and we have amazing voice actors. We’ve got, we’ve got, Glen Powell who’s in the upcoming, in the upcoming top gun. And we have, Jameela, Jamil, AKA Tahani from the good place is another voice. And, it’s going to be really you’re good,
I can’t wait to see that. And I have a five and a 10 year old, so, they’re going to be all over it.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, they do love that kids do love
Casey: dinosaurs. So that I can’t wait to see this, Jurassic park camp create yes.
Zach Stentz: Jurassic world camp
[00:50:00] Casey: Cretaceous.
Zach Stentz: Exactly. And if you’re a dinosaur fan, you will know that most of the dinosaurs in Jurassic.
Parker, not actually from the Jurassic period, but from the Cretaceous period. So that was our little way of correcting the
Casey: record. You’re doing the Lord’s work, Zach. Thanks so much.
Zach Stentz: Oh my pleasure.
Casey: Good luck. Cause everything, stay safe, mask up and double mask up now.
Zach Stentz: Yeah, in 95, all day long.
Casey: take it easy brother. Have a good one.
Zach Stentz: You too. Bye. Bye.