Derek Haas co-wrote the screenplay 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. He also co-wrote the film Wanted, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, and Angelina Jolie. The Silver Bear is his first novel. Derek lives in Los Angeles.
Question: Is writing novels similar to writing screenplays?
Derek Haas: Yes, there are similarities in that in both writing a novel and writing a screenplay it essentially comes downs to what’s that big idea that I want to tell. What’s that story that’s going to make it interesting and have, for me at least, I mean it could be different for other novelists but, I like the whole idea of having them turn pages and keeping the pace tight and keeping the language spare, which is what you have to do in screenplays. Trying to convey a lot with a little. Definitely the lessons I learned from screenwriting have affected my writing a novel. There are many differences obviously, the things that I loved about writing a novel were not having to worry about focus groups and budgets and somebody telling me that the main character needed to have a dog because that would appeal to a certain demographic and then getting to internalize. So much of screenwriting you have everything has got to be external, unless you are doing voiceover through the whole movie, you can’t have the thoughts of the character. So it was really fun for me to get inside, in fact in just the prose because I wrote it from the first person narrative. Getting inside that character’s head and getting the see the things that go on beyond just what we are seeing physically happen.
Question: Do you find one genre more difficult?
Derek Haas: No. I wish I could say yes, but, I’m one of those guys that just loves to sit down with a blank page and write and whether that’s the script or a book. No. I really didn’t put any pressure on myself with the book; I had no idea if I was writing something commercial that would sell. In screenwriting you do have the pressure of ”I’ve been paid already to write something that somebody needs to turn into a movie,” and if you fail at that a few times, then you are not going to get hired anymore. If you get paid a lot of money to adapt a comic book say that Universal bought and then they say, ”This draft stinks, we’re not gonna make this new movie,” or ”We’re gonna fire these guys and hire somebody else,“ if you are not moving the project forward you can only do that a few times before they decide they are not going to take the risk on these people. With the book I didn’t have that problem.We don’t write jokes, we have lots of friends who are comedy writers in Hollywood and they have a gift that Michael and I don’t have, the whole, set up, set up, pay off, joke telling. Michael and I try to infuse humor into everything that we do more like the humor that comes out of situations rather than setting up punch lines. I think if you watch Wanted you’ll get a sense of that because we like humor in the absurd. Is it the most difficult? I think all of it’s difficult because so much has come before you, that you are trying to come up with a new way, especially in screenwriting where, Hollywood speaks the language of movies. They’ll tell you, ”We want a scene like the airplane propeller scene in Indiana Jones,” so you’re trying to think what is the way I can do that better. Trying to come up with new set pieces, new dialogue, new characters, new situations and not falling into any of the old tired conventions. It’s all difficult.