Exclusive: Godzilla writer Max Borenstein On Setting the Stage With Godzilla: Awakening Graphic Novel

Godzilla_Awakening_cover-1With Legendary Pictures's Godzilla due in theaters in just over two weeks, the cast and crew of the movie are in full-out publicity blitz mode. Press events were held in Los Angeles and New York over the last few days and ComicBook.com attended some of them and will be bringing you reviews and interviews over the next week or so.

One key part of the film's roll-out is the release on Wednesday of Godzilla: Awakening, the graphic novel written by Max and Greg Borenstein. Max wrote the screenplay for Godzilla and, like Travis Beacham (who wrote Pacific Rim), it's he who gets to plot out his own prequel, so that they can make a project that jives with the movie version without contradicting or spoiling anything.

Max Borenstein joined us to discuss Godzilla and Godzilla: Awakening.

GZA_page 2ComicBook.com: What's the deal with IDW, do you know? Given that they have a series of Godzilla miniseries going last I checked, I was a bit surprised not to see them at all involved with the comics tying into the film.

Max Borenstein: I am not the expert on that. I know that there was some conversations but the best people to ask are the Legendary people. But I know everyone was cool with it in terms of making something that would expand the universe of the film.

ComicBook.com: The Pacific Rim hardcover was really well received. Were you able to look to that and see what you thought worked and didn't to give you a sense for how to flesh out your universe? Or maybe it was just easier than I'm thinking because it's Godzilla and of course you're going to have a sense of where you want to take it next...

Borenstein: Nothing's easy, but certainly we had an idea of what we wanted to do when it was first mentioned, that had to do with filling in certain elements of backstory that had popped up over the course of making the film and so it's where my mind immediately went when Legendary said they wanted to do it.

I'm a fan of the Pacific Rim graphic novel, I'm a friend of Travis's and I had seen it, read it and thought it was awesome so when they mentioned the idea of doing something that would tie into our Godzilla universe, I was really enthusiastic and excited to do that.

ComicBook.com: What's the challenge of filling in these gaps without giving a way too much of the movie's premise?

Borenstein: The interesting challenge of doing this has been to tell a story that feels coherent and whole in and of itself and that dovetails with the film we're telling but that is something stnad-alone that you don't need the film to appreciate and that you don't need to have read to appreciate the film.

One of the structural challenges of it is that of course it takes place years before the film begins and in the film -- it ends, without spoiling it, in such a way where only a small, select group of people are aware of the existence of Godzilla. So one might leap to the conclusion that in the film, only a small handful of people, starting out, are aware of the existence of Godzilla.

I'm not saying that's the case but obviously one might leap that conclusion. The movie would serve then, obviously, as the world's introduction to this creature -- to this force of nature.

That's a creative limitation, where we said, "Okay, how can we play in the sandbox of Godzilla before and on the timeline of the events of the film and yet, if you destroy a big city, you're going to be giving away the ghost. So that was really an interesting challenge and it was really fun to kind of play with solutions.

ComicBook.com: How closely were you involved in selecting and working with the artists?

Borenstein: We were very involved in terms of our script being pretty detailed in terms of what we were asking for, in terms of the general staging, although we were open to all new ideas and many of the panels are different and way cooler than we had conceived them while still telling the same event. And we've certainly had several extensive conversations with Eric Battle, who was sort of supervising all of the other artists and did the lion's share of the work himself. We would get sort of periodic, "Hey, look at this, how's it coming along?" Obviously the timeframe of turnaround on this was significantly faster than your average comic book, I'm told, just because of trying to get it out in sync with the film and all of that.

So as a result, the artists had free reign between the times that we were talking to them, but I always felt very much in the loop.

There is some original art in there that I have requested, begged to get, and that I believe are coming in frames imminently -- so yeah, they're awesome.

GZA_ page 3ComicBook.com: Was it challenging that Legendary was trying to hide the look of the monster? Obviously there's got to be a feeling that the fewer freelancers have that sitting on their computer early on, the better.

Borenstein: They could speak to that better than me, but I really don't think that was the issue. You know, everybody signs NDAs and they're all professionals. So one would hope, anyway, that they're going to treat it with the same kind of respect that they treat any property they're working on professionally.

I think it was really more a matter of working on the movie, and then I was thrilled that I was given the opportunity to do this. I was approached shortly after production finished and I've been working throughout that on the film. I think it was a function of just the timeline. Post-production on a movie, it turns out, is faster than a graphic novel gets turned around.

ComicBook.com: Would you like to do another one of these now that you have a little less of that creative restriction and you can really play in the sandbox without being so protective?

Borenstein: Yeah, definitely. I really liked the process and if that opportunity arose, it would certainly be fun.

ComicBook.com: Was there a learning curve on learning to write a comics script? Obviously, you're writing for a changing canvas, where not everything is a static, widescreen frame.

Borenstein: Yeah, that's right. I've read my share and I'm a fan of comic books. Greg, my cousin who I wrote it with, is an obsessive comic book fan. I am a big comic book fan but not by any means as exhaustive in terms of my knowledge as he is, so collaborating in that was was really great because visually his instincts on storytelling tend to go towards comic book compression and that kind of stuff whereas my instincts are so conditioned at this point that I will have ideas while we're writing that will be filmic and then part of our process will be going back and forth and being like, "Okay, yeah, right. We have to do that in a different way," so that something that might have been a two-page scene in my head becomes like a panel and a half.

That's something that takes getting used to for me but was a really cool learning process to embark upon and I was really glad to have Greg to collaborate with because he's out there every week, or downloading them on ComiXology, following things avidly.

ComicBook.com: Which is more surprising -- when you see how your script gets turned around by comics artists who have to filter everything thorugh their sensibilities or when you see how an actor transforms the text?

Borenstein: It's really similar, actually, and all of it is so inspiring and so gratifying. Getting to write something for the film -- a speech, and then putting it into the hands of a Bryan Cranston and then watching what comes out the other side is mind-blowing and so gratifying as a writer to see how things take on a new life. There's new moments that you didn't realize were going to have the resonance they do, they take on new meaning and that's amazing.

It was a similar thing in getting to see these pages in the comic book come to life. These are artists who I'm a fan of and admire and we looked through troves and said, "These guys, these guys!" To have them doing the art on the movie --ah, the comic book...

...You see how my mind goes straight to movie? It's not my fault; I'm trained like a dog. Whenever I'm working with Greg on a comic book, and we have something we're planning that's longer I always talk about episodes and he's like, "It's issues."

But getting to see that stuff sort of come to life, and like you say, filtered through their own sensibility...you get these pages back that you described one way and you're disoriented because it's not what you thought, it's not what you expected, but it's better. It brings in this whole variable that really lends itself to the creative process. The fact that it's so much faster in turnaround than a movie that I've been working on for over three years by the time it comes out, that in itself is exciting.

ComicBook.com: Everybody is optioning graphic novels now because it's cheap and it's a storyboard you can present to the bosses. Is there an element of "Man, it's cool to be able to say, this is the end product?"

Borenstein: Yeah, I suppose it's a reversal of the process. We're not making it with the intent of it being anything other than it is. One of the things, I think with writing for any kind of a medium, whether it's comics or film, is that you're writing a substrate, you're writing a script. Anytime you're writing a script, your finished product at the end is not THE finished product and that takes getting used to and it's great when you're actually working on a film that's going and getting made because you know it's just a matter of time before it goes and becomes the finished product. If you're lucky enough to stay involved the whole way thorough, you really get to continue to have an imprint the whole way, which is not always the case.

With the comic, even though the finished script is not the finished product, you are so much more hands-on and so much closer to the final product if only because it doesn't require 400, a thousand more people to help make it. It requires ten people, or one person could theoretically make it. There's something really cool about having that proximity to the finished product.