At the Los Angeles Film Festival, Zak Penn was on a panel of screenwriters. His credits include X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Incredible Hulk and he was the first screenwriter on The Avengers. He had great advice for writers, like writing something unusual to break into the business even if it can’t really get made, but not much in the way of movie news. After the panel, Penn was kind enough to give us an exclusive interview. SPOILER ALERT if you have not yet seen the $2 billion grossing The Avengers.
CraveOnline: Now that it’s out and everyone’s seen it, did Joss Whedon’s Avengers turn out anything like the one you started six years ago?
Zak Penn: I think it turned out better. I think he did a fantastic job. I mean, look, I think that it’s very similar in terms of what we imagined in our head, what the movie would be like and what characters would be in it. Kevin Feige was working on it all the way through so he’s the person to ask the most. He’d tell you this is what we hoped the movie would be, but most of the time you hope the movie’s going to be this good and it turns out very crappy, so it’s really a relief when you hope the movie’s going to turn out well and it’s a great movie.
Down to things like, was it always the Chitauri?
Actually, there was a lot of debate back and forth because there were rights issues, and whether or not it could be the Skrulls or whether it could be the Chitauri, and even in the beginning whether it would be Loki or not. It all got kicked around. Joss, it’s really his screenplay. He rewrote it.
And you can tell it’s his voice, but the fans have been following since you started work on it six years ago.
Yeah, so he would be the one to ask about the specific final decisions on that stuff. As you can imagine, Ultimates was a huge influence on it. When we read that, we were like, “Wow, this is a great Avengers movie right here.”
He said the one thing he was mandated was the death of Coulson. Did that go back to when you were working on it?
No. Actually that surprises me. Maybe the one thing from when he started working on it but that was not a foregone conclusion. When we started working on it, there was no Agent Coulson yet.
That was even before Iron Man 1?
Yeah. Put it this way. I definitely don’t remember there being an edict: Agent Coulson must die. I think as the movies came out and he became a character that was in all of them in some manner or another, it because probably a more likely scenario but I don’t even think I had him. If he died in my script, probably a lot of people died.
Are you still in Marvel world?
Not really. I think Avengers was the thing it was all working up towards but there’s not a lot left that I really want to do. So I’ve moved on to other things. I probably will eventually come back and write something for them but I don’t see it happening any time in the immediate future.
With the Karate Kid 2 script, do you look at any of the original Karate Kid Part II?
Sure. I watched them all but I really like the remake. I took my kids to see it and I was shocked how good it was. When they asked me to come in and pitch on it, my kids were like, “You have to do it.” So I did. My daughter actually had a really good idea and I went in and said, “You know, my daughter actually pitched this to me. It’s great.”
Is it going to end up in the script?
Well, it was more of an idea. She was more talking about what thematically appealed to her about the movie and it was shockingly precociously smart of her.
Is it a theme vague enough you could mention?
No, I shouldn’t because I’d get in trouble.
Is there anything from the Sato rivalry that can find it’s way in this version?
No, I probably shouldn’t talk about it because I’m still writing the first draft. I’m almost done but I don't think they’d like it if I gave anything away. Also as you know, you know how film works, who knows what it’ll end up being? It’s not worth commenting on.