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X-MEN: David Hayter - Part I

In part one of a two part interview, the "mystery" writer defends his X-Men screenwriting credit

By Matthew F. Saunders     August 03, 2000

He's the X-Man you never knew. Shortly before X-Men finally opened on July 14, many fans were surprised to learn that an unknown screenwriter named David Hayter was receiving sole 'Screenplay' credit. Director Bryan Singer and executive producer Tom DeSanto received 'Story By' credit, which came as no surprise. But after months of debating the merits and many drafts of such A-list writers as Ed Solomon, Chris McQuarrie and Joss Whedon, fans could only wonder: Who is this guy?

As Hayter himself admits, sitting in the press room at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, he's not surprised--or bothered--that nobody knows him. 'Why should they?' he answers for perhaps the hundredth time in the last few weeks. Although Hayter's no stranger to Hollywood, he's thus far slipped under most people's radar. While X-Men is his first writing credit, his acting background includes lead roles in Guyver: Dark Hero and the indie film Burn, which he produced with Bryan Singer. He's also played the voice of Captain America on Fox's now-defunct Spider-Man cartoon, Solid Snake on the PlayStation game Metal Gear Solid and even 'Possum by Trash Can' (uncredited) in Eddie Murphy's 1998 Doctor Doolittle remake.

What does bother the X-writer are what he believes to be misperceptions about his role in the production, which in some cases have cast him as little more than a production assistant or glorified transcriber. Hayter adamantly denies these claims, contending that it is indeed his work, and not transcribed production notes, that're on display in the movie. In the first part of a two-part interview, he sat down with Fandom to discuss his role in the production and the Writer's Guild of America's decision to grant him sole credit.

QUESTION: YOU'RE A BIT OF A MYSTERY MAN. YOU TOOK MANY PEOPLE BY SURPRISE WHEN YOU GOT FINAL SCRIPTING CREDIT FOR X-MEN. HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN THE FILM?

Hayter: I had produced a small film called Burn [in 1998], which Bryan Singer had executive produced. It was just a little art house film. That was the beginning of our working together in a professional capacity. I knew him from before, for about seven or eight years now. Then when he was doing X-Men, he was having some problems with the script. He was trying to develop certain things that weren't working out.

Bryan is a very reality-based filmmaker. He was presented with just this incredible, fantastical world, and it was tough to rationalize a lot of that stuff. And if you can't rationalize it, Bryan won't do it. So, I was a big X-Men fan, and I started talking to him about what was going on. I read the script, and what I tried to do was bring my enthusiasm as a fan and combine that with my knowledge as a filmmaker. You know, there are certain things in comic books that won't work on film. And I think it's hard sometimes for fans to understand that.

THEY WANT EVERYTHING TO BE THE EXACTLY SAME.

Yeah. And ideally, we want that, too. You want it to be as close to the thing as possible, but certain things will not work. Which is sort of why we put in the line about yellow spandex [when Wolverine complains about the X-Men's uniforms], because if you'd have put this tough guy in yellow spandex it wouldn't have flown. But people get upset. They want to see it the way they want to see it.

So I tried to bring my perspective as a filmmaker to it and say, 'This is why Cyclops has depth as a character and should be sympathized with, because he can't control these beams that come out of his eyes.' He's responsible for an incredible amount of destructive power. It's a fantastical situation, but you want to look at it from a way a real person would have to deal with that. It's a horrible, crippling handicap. He can never look his fiancée in the eye without these lenses and so on.

I tried to illustrate why these characters have depth, on what basis they can be taken seriously. The fact that Wolverine has a berserker rage doesn't make a whole lot of sense to Bryan. But the fact that he was experimented on in this horrible, horrible way, and doesn't remember his past, makes him an incredibly tortured guy. And if he gets angry out of that, well that's understandable. That's the sort of thing that Bryan was able to translate onto film. In any case, we had conversations like this. And he started handing me certain scenes to take care of. He was missing a confrontation scene between Cyclops and Wolverine, and so he asked me to write it. And I wrote it.

THIS IS THE ONE IN THE DOORWAY, WHEN THEY'RE FIRST INTRODUCED?

No, this scene never made it in. I mean, some of the elements of it did. This was something that got rewritten again and again and again. In its original form, it never saw the light of day. But, at the time it went into the script. And then Bryan just started handing things off to me. Until finally I was by his side through the entire process and I had a lot of impact on the way the film was going, which was just an incredible dream.

AT WHAT POINT WAS THIS? ED SOLOMON DID A VERSION, THEN CHRIS MCQUARRIE CAME IN. AND LATER STILL JOSS WHEDON CONTRIBUTED.

Solomon came in and did some drafts. McQuarrie came in and did some rewrites. And then I came in after McQuarrie and before Joss.

SO JOSS CAME AFTER YOU?

Yeah. And you know, I like Joss Whedon's stuff. I think Joss is a great writer. A lot of the stuff he turned in was really incredible. But unfortunately, his input included a lot of things we couldn't afford and was submitted so close to production, we weren't able to alter the schedule and production costs to accomodate it.

LIKE THE DANGER ROOM SCENE, WHICH WAS FREQUENTLY ATTACHED TO HIM?

A lot of [his additions] revolved around the Danger Room. And we just couldn't afford it. We were dying to do the Danger Room, and Joss had some great ideas and we were very excited about it. But we didn't have the money. We absolutely did not have the money. And if we did do it, it meant we had to cut an action sequence from the story. And the bottom line is, Bryan wasn't prepared to stop the story, either. I mean, you can reveal a lot of character [in a Danger Room-like scene], but Bryan will always move the story forward before that, even. The story comes first. And I agree with him. You take your action sequences, and you make them mean something. Not that the Danger Room didn't.

SO YOU WERE INVOLVED BEFORE PRODUCTION STARTED?

Oh, long before. I was there from January 1999, and was there all the way through.

THERE'S A PERCEPTION THAT YOU WEREN'T THERE UNTIL THE END.

Well, what I'd like people to know is, of course they're not going to have heard of me. Mine is not going to be the name people know. It came up now and again from crew sheets or whatever. People would see it. But nobody knew who I was or couldn't attach any sort of previous writing experience to my name, and therefore would only talk about Chris or Ed or whatever, guys who hadn't been on the project for a year.

I understand that that's the way it's gonna be. And the studio, well, they want their marquee names. They want their names that are going to inflame the public's imagination. And my name is certainly not one of them. Maybe it is now, hopefully. But at the time, it wasn't. So people didn't know what I was doing at all. It was frustrating when Joss was turning in his rewrite in August of 1999 and we knew we weren't gonna be able to use a good percentage of it. And yet, I'm doing 18 hours of work a day and everybody's like 'Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon.' It's very frustrating.

WHY DID THEY BRING JOSS IN IF YOU WERE THE MAIN GUY FROM JANUARY 1999 ON?

I was not a writer that anybody had heard of and Fox wanted to bring in Joss to do a pass. They had a deal with him. And besides, who wouldn't want Joss to help out on their script? I think Joss is a phenomenal writer and I learned a lot just from reading his rewrite.

SO, WITH ALL THESE DRAFTS AND REWRITES, HOW DID YOU END UP WITH THE FINAL CREDIT? HOW MANY VERSIONS DID THE WGA HAVE TO LOOK AT?

The WGA decides [who gets credit] by reading all the drafts of the script. They went back to the first Andrew Kevin Walker draft, which was long before Bryan's involvement. And there were drafts and drafts and drafts. They turned in 60 drafts of the script, and 24 of them were mine, to give you an idea. And then another percentage of them were just not used at all. They were scrapped in favor of Ed Solomon's first draft. Then, what the Writer's Guild does is compare all those drafts and all the work done in each of those drafts against the shooting script and they decide who has the significant percentage of the shooting script. After going through it, they felt I was the only person who really met that criteria

And I would like to say that when I say 'written,' I really wrote this stuff. I didn't transcribe. Smilin' Jack Ruby [reporting on a theory advanced by DailyRadar.com--Editor] had said that it was possible that I transcribed what the actors were saying, and that's why my draft was so close to the shooting draft, which is just not the case. As I said, I understand people not knowing who I am, or wondering how it happened. But, you know, they like the film and they like my writing. And so now, hopefully on the next one, people will know who I am.

CAN YOU QUANTIFY WHAT PERCENTAGE OF IT IS REALLY YOURS?

I don't like to do that. I can say that it's a significant percentage. And I don't think the other writers would disagree. But this process of creation of the script was really done in tandem with Tom, Bryan and myself, with input from a lot of people, like [producer] Laura Shuler Donner and the studio. But we really were the core. We'd get together on the weekends, Bryan, Tom and I, and really brainstorm and figure out what was going to work for the next week. Or what was going to work for the next day.

And Bryan will never stop developing anything until it's already been shot and we've moved on. He will develop on the day. So, I can tell you that everything single scene has my work in it, if not the entire scene. I feel that my voice comes through very clearly in the film. And I don't have any problem taking the sole credit. You know, who would? But I feel justified in that.

HOW MUCH INPUT DID YOU TAKE FROM THE ACTORS IN TERMS OF THEIR CHARACTERS?

I don't know how to quantify that. I mean, everybody had thoughts. Everybody knew that Bryan is very open to suggestions. If it's a better idea, Bryan will do it. It doesn't matter who it comes from, whether they be crew or the craft service guy or Patrick Stewart. If it's a better idea, that's the idea we'll use, which is really a great way to work. But it makes it hard sometimes, because there's a lot of conflicting opinions.

DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE ANY QUICK ADJUSTMENTS WHEN HUGH JACKMAN REPLACED DOUGRAY SCOTT AS WOLVERINE?

Not really. The way it's written, we kept it very much, 'Wolverine's the badass.' We kept it very much to that sort of thing. And I also tried to bring--because I think this is an interesting side of his character--a sense of honor to him as well, because he's very much the samurai. He's not just claws and teeth and anger.

LONGTIME X-MEN COMICS WRITER CHRIS CLAREMONT ALWAYS CALLED HIM THE FALLEN SAMURAI.

Yeah. That's exactly what he is. And I think where Hugh's input comes in is, Hugh has a great sense of humanity. A friend of mine came up to me in Toronto and said, 'This isn't the comic book Wolverine. It's better. I felt sorry for this guy. I just felt so bad for him.' Hugh brings with him this nobility, and he just broadened the character and made it real by his very persona.

YOU SAID YOU'RE A BIG X-MEN FAN, WHICH HELPED YOU BRING A REAL UNDERSTANDING OF THESE CHARACTERS TO THE MOVIE. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN READING THE COMICS?

Since I was 11 or 12.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THEM AND WHAT MAKES THE X-MEN SO ENDURING?

Well, I think you can't be 12 years old and not identify with people who are misfits and outcasts or whatever. Not to mention the fact that the creators did a very wise thing in taking the powers and making them into gifts/curses, because that's what they'd be. That's what life is. And I think people recognize that. They go, 'Sure, it would be great to be Superman. But it wouldn't always be great to be Superman.'

LIKE THE SMART KID IN CLASS WHO'S ALWAYS PICKED ON?

Exactly. And then the smart kid reads X-Men and says, 'Wow, everybody tells me I have a gift and my life sucks.' It's the same with these people. They have all these cool powers, and yet it's still not easy for them. It's a very accurate representation of life.

THE ISSUE OF 'FITTING IN' NEVER TOTALLY DISAPPEARS, BUT IT USUALLY IMPROVES AS YOU LEAVE YOUR TEEN YEARS BEHIND. SO WHAT ATTRACTS ADULTS?

You know, I don't know how I view it as an adult. I have a skewed perspective now, because it's been so much a part of my life. I look at it a lot for nostalgia. And I still love the characters. The characters hook me in, and their soap operatic presentation of them. I wanna know what happened to Scott and Jean and their relationship. And I want to know what happened to Wolverine, and all these things. There's a part of me that'll always want to know what happened to these people. They were my friends growing up.

SO HOW DID YOU SEPARATE THE FANBOY SIDE OF YOU FROM THE PROFESSIONAL WHO HAD TO MAKE CERTAIN HARD DECISIONS ABOUT HOW TO HANDLE THE MATERIAL?

There's a tenet I've always believed in as a filmmaker, that the most important part of filmmaking is 'Killing Babies.' You know, you have your film, and you have things that are great and really cool, but they don't quite fit and you have to cut them. And it kills you to cut them, because the actor built up to this incredible emotional climax. But it just doesn't work for the story or whatever and you have to cut this stuff.

That's the way we approached X-Men. There were certain things we couldn't do, like the Danger Room or whatever, and you've just got to ride with that and say, 'It doesn't matter.' We can only do what we can do. But then on the other side, as a fanboy, there are limits to what you can cut out of Wolverine's character before he's not Wolverine anymore. It's just a balancing act, I think.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAD TO LEAVE OUT THAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO INCLUDE?

There was a great scene with the basketball courts where Rogue first walks up and she's sort of lost. She's looking around, feeling very insecure, and walks up to the basketball court and sees this incredibly good-looking young man. He's got the basketball and he's going for the hoop, and he catches her eye, sort of smiles, leaps up and these huge wings tear his shirt to pieces as he dunks the ball [and reveals himself to be Angel]. It's just the coolest thing a guy's ever done to impress a girl. And he comes down and everyone's yelling at him, 'Hey, no powers,' and he folds his wings back up and smirks.

Well, the wings cost $400,000. And for a basketball gag, we couldn't do it. And so Bryan set up three triplets instead. It was these three kids that were dressed the same, looked exactly the same, and he did [the scene of the super fast mutant] all in one shot. He said, 'You pass this to your brother, and pass it to your other brother and throw it in the hoop. We did the effects later and it was brilliant. Bryan just made it up on the spot, because we wanted our basketball shot. But it was too bad, because that was a really neat scene, and the first time where Rogue really starts to feel like this might be a cool place. [Parts of it also] eventually became the Rogue and Bobby scene, and that's how the process works.

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