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Interview with Katrin Benedikt - Co-Writer of Olympus Has Fallen

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
March 20, 2013 2:00 PM
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WaH: They funded this?

KB: Yeah, they did. And it was interesting, because a week after they bought it, they got started on doing their foreign sales and all of their business things, and then they got Gerard Butler attached literally within a week, so then we knew, wow, they're committed. So we were really excited about it and they've supported it beyond our wildest imagination since that time. 

WaH: Weirdly, there's another movie about this coming out this year, right?

KB: Yeah.

WaH: Your film has a female head of their Secret Service and a female defense secretary. I'm looking at their imdb page and I don't see kind of female leads of that significance. So what kind of influence do you think it has on the story that you're a woman writer?  Did you write those parts specifically for women?

KB: We did, actually.  We wanted it to be a very diverse cast - we absolutely wanted that. I mean, it's 2013.  Some people criticized us, asking why wouldn't the president here maybe be an African American. We thought it can be anybody, it can be Hispanic president. It could be a woman president. So we purposely kind of felt like these roles could be played by anyone, male, female, any race, any gender. And we were very, very open to that with every single role in this movie.

WaH: But did you specifically write any of the roles for female characters?

KB: Yes, we did.  Secretary McMillan, absolutely, and the head of the Secret Service.

WaH: What's the biggest thing that got changed from what you wrote on the page to what is on the screen?

KB: A lot of it has basically stayed very similar. We were very happy with how much they kept. Obviously, I write with my husband, so we enjoy collaboration. We wouldn't be writing partners if we didn't. So I think that is very helpful for us, because once we get into preproduction and into production, the whole movie-making process is a collaboration with the director, with the actors, with the studio. So getting notes from everybody was very welcome for us.  Here's one example of a change that we absolutely loved.  Originally we had this movie set on July 4th.  The first day we started working with Antoine Fuqua, one of his big notes, which we absolutely loved, was to change it to July 5th.  He said, I don't think anyone would attack the White House on July 4th. That's when security's really beefed up. That's when everybody is visiting Washington, D.C. There's tons of tourists. I think it's going to be July 5th.  And it was a great note.

WaH: One of the things that I hear from women writers, especially people writing in genres, is that it's great to have a male partner. Do you think that this has helped your career?

KB: You know, it's interesting that you say that, because I thought about that because clearly women are underrepresented in this industry. That's just a fact. And so I can't speak to whether or not I would have had an opportunity or a similar opportunity without having a male writing partner, because I just have a male writing partner. I personally find that both of us combined, having the male and having the female perspective on an action script or any script, is always a good match. It gets two perspectives and two opposite perspectives to the page, which I think only helps. It benefits the end result.  I think the bottom line is we really struggled for well over ten years and that was having a male partner. 

WaH: What advice would you offer to women writers?

KB:  This is for any writer -- I wouldn't give different advice to women versus men. For all writers, I think the bottom line, in my opinion, that a lot of people say write what you’re passionate about, write what your love and eventually it’ll work out. Other people say you need to write something someone's going to buy. You need to write something commercial. I can only speak from our experience. Our experience is you need to write what they're going to buy. So I would say try to put your producer's hat on when you're writing and say what would I buy, what movie would I want to go see in the movie theater? What would be the things my friends and families and neighbors would want to go see in the movie theater? What would the global audience want to see in a movie theater and really try to write to that. I really believe strongly about that.  If you want to make money in this industry and be able to maybe quit your day job so you can go and do your passion project down the road, I think the first step is try to do something that will sell that will support you so that you can then go off and do your passion project.  Also, never give up. Sometimes you have to do a lot of creative things to keep that dream alive, whether it be balancing day jobs, balancing trying to write evenings or weekends or early in the morning before work but if you just kind of stick to it and keep your vision going. And I really believe it's something that can happen for anyone.

WaH: Did you guys have other jobs while you were doing all this writing?

KB: Oh, yes. We were both working in corporate America for many years and we saved a lot of money.   In 2007 we left Pennsylvania and sold our house and moved out here to LA. We basically lived off the savings from our house.  I had gone back to work at one point last year.  You have to be able to pay your bills. We knew it was a sacrifice. We gave up a lot for it and it was all worth it for us because we were pursuing our passion and our dream. And for us it was more important to do what we loved every day rather than have a lot of material possessions, so that was just a decision we made. And we were really down to our last $5,000 when this sold. We were literally at the bottom of all of our savings and so we were struggling screenwriters in every sense of the word.

WaH: That's a great story, though. Thank you so much for sharing. I think this is going to be really wonderful for people to hear. Good luck.

Olympus Has Fallen opens wide on March 22.

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