Screenwriter Daniel Turkewitz was a top 10 finalist in the Tracking Board’s first annual Launch Pad Competition. He not only sold his sci-fi spec “Tranquililty Base” to Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox but he also signed with Brooklyn Weaver at Energy Entertainment and is being repped by APA. We caught up with him and had a quick chat about sci-fi, writing, and life in the business.
An Interview With Daniel Turkewitz Part 2
TB: Tranquility Base is pitched as “Lord Of The Flies” meets “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Were these the movies that inspired this script? Or did you realize that was what you had after the fact?
Dan: “Lord Of The Flies” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” certainly were inspirations, as was “Lifeboat” and “12 Angry Men.”
TB: Both GREAT movies.
Dan: Lots of people crammed together in a confined space, lots of tension, personalities clashing. But “Tranquility Base” started somewhere else. In 2004 there was a movie called “The Day After Tomorrow.” Global warming results in a new ice age in a matter of days, and Jake Gyllenhaal splits his time between running away from giant waves and trying to score with Emmy Rossum. There are a few scenes that take place in the Space Station. They show the astronauts looking out the window at giant storm clouds covering all of North America. Of course the movie focuses on the folks on Earth, but when I saw that I thought: “What about those guys? What happens to them? If the Earth is screwed, and they can’t get home, what then?
TB: Missed opportunity Mr. Emmerich.
Dan: Right? And then the gears really started spinning. I thought, what if, somehow, the Space Station can support two people indefinitely, but at that moment there’s three up there. After they’ve been awake for three straight days and popped as many caffeine pills as they can, and their minds are wracked with paranoia, who falls asleep first?” And that was it. In the matter of a few minutes the entire plot for Tranquility Base came to me. Then it was just a matter of writing it.
TB: You may be the first audience member to actually benefit from seeing “The Day After Tomorrow.”
Dan: Hah! It might not have scored very high on Rotten Tomatoes, but it pulled in a ton ($528M) worldwide so they clearly did something right. Plus it was cool eye candy.
TB: Well at least we agree Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” rules. Have you watched any other super contained thrillers like Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”, Duncan Jones’ “Moon”, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” or the made for tv movie “Lifepod” which is basically Lifeboat in space?
Dan: I LOVE “Moon.” Saw it in the theater, have the Blu-Ray. Fantastic. Didn’t see the others.
TB: I can’t believe you haven’t seen “The Thing” but you’ve seen “The Day After Tomorrow.”
Dan: Well if I hadn’t we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
TB: Fair point. Let’s move on before I discover more essential movies you haven’t seen. What are some of the things that draw people to your script that perhaps set it apart?
Dan: Post-apocalyptic, end of the world movies are pretty popular. If it started with “Mad Max” or “Planet Of The Apes” or before I don’t know, but it’s clear people seem to like this bit of escapism. But most of the films tackle it from the point of view of what’s happening on Earth. I tried to look at the subject from a different point of view. What happens when you can look up, see the Earth all messed up, and not be able to do anything about it? What goes on then?
TB: From this script, do you have any favorite scenes? At any time do you write something and KNOW that you just hit a home run with that moment?
Dan: I don’t want to give away too much, but people do die. So I tried to write some cool death scenes I think are going to come out great.
TB: Spoilers! Ahem, we promise everyone lives and there are at least 3 scenes of them holding hands while singing Kumbaya!
Dan: It’s a sci-fi space thriller. Somebody’s got to die.
TB: What is your writing routine?
Dan: My routine hasn’t changed much. I write a few hours in the morning, a few in the afternoon, and again at night. Of course it all depends on how the writing’s going. Some days everything’s coming out great and you keep going, some days the plants get watered a bit more than they need and the laundry gets done. A nice benefit of being a writer and working on your own is I head to the gym every afternoon.
TB: How long did it take you to complete the first draft of “Tranquility Base”?
Dan: I’d say the first draft of “Tranquility Base” took about a year and a half. But I wasn’t working on that exclusively, so it’s hard to say how long it really took. The most valuable thing for a writer is new ideas. So whenever I come up with an idea for a new story, I stop what I’m working on and get it down. Synopsis at a minimum, usually treatment. While I was working on “Tranquility Base,” my fourth script, I stopped to write a 15-page treatment for the fifth, plus a few others.
TB: How long to get it ready for the contest?
Dan: Once it was done it went through a few drafts before it was ready for contests. It’s important to have some writer friends who are willing to tell you when something’s good and when it sucks. I couldn’t imagine sending out a script without having somebody give me feedback first.
TB: Any feedback you remember that was particularly useful?
Dan: When I was still at treatment level I had 21 astronauts. All my friends said that’s way too many. I’ll never create that many characters, they’ll never care about that many. So when I made the jump to script I cut it down to 15, and it worked much better.
TB: Has writers block ever hindered you?
Dan: Not really. I always have multiple projects going at once, so when I get stuck on one I just push it aside and go to something else. I have a dozen treatments or synopsis ready to go, so there’s always another story to go to.
TB: “Tranquility Base” quickly went on to become one of the hottest properties of the Summer. You’re in the rewrite phase now, correct?
Dan: For the last month or two I’ve traded notes with the Producers, we’ve reached a point where we’re in agreement on the changes to be made, and I’m about to start the rewrite.
TB: What are you planning to do next? Have you and your reps discussed the next few projects?
Dan: I’ve got a couple of other spec sci-fi projects I’m working on along with other genres, and they’re starting to be sent out. And there’s been some talks with production companies looking to bring me on to projects.
TB: Exciting times. Any pitch meetings or general meetings that stand out? Any good little stories? For instance, did you give JJ Abrams an idea for Star Wars and he went “AHA! That’s it man!” You know, boiler plate stuff.
Dan: One of my first meetings was sitting by the pool at the hotel in Beverly Hills Fox put me up at. That felt like a very film-biz thing to do. I’ve had a few very good meetings that I think will lead to future projects, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be naming companies. Sorry. I have nothing to do with the new Star Wars films. There, I kept my mouth shut. Can I have my cat back now? Please, JJ?