After double-majoring at Harvard University, writing the script to a big-budget tentpole like “Pacific Rim Uprising” should have been a cakewalk, and screenwriter Emily Carmichael somewhat agrees.
Carmichael, who majored in both literature and visual & environmental studies, has become one of Hollywood’s go-to scribes when it comes to blockbusters. In addition to co-penning the “Pacific Rim” sequel, she is also on board to co-write the script to 2021’s “Jurassic World 3.”
With “Pacific Rim Uprising” out now, Carmichael talked with Variety about the excitement of taking on the new installment, what she learned from veteran Hollywood producer Mary Parent and director Colin Trevorrow, and what she has in store for her first directing gig.
What was tougher, writing a script for a major studio movie or getting a dual degree at Harvard?
[Laughter] Anybody who walks into the right office has to be a dual major at Harvard.
It was exciting to be working on “Pacific Rim” because at that point, we were very bullishly optimistic that the movie would even get made. So we had to write it really fast and writing fast presents a certain type of challenge, where we are writing like four or five pages a day. It was nice to write with the sort of robust conscience that a movie is actually going to be a movie.
Both you and director Steven S. DeKnight were new to this world that del Toro created. Were you worried at all about that or was it nice to come in with fresh takes?
For me, it felt really natural because I’ve been really gearing up to doing these tentpole movies my whole life it feels like. Ever since I was a little kid, reading fantasy books and watching movies with my parents; it really feels like this is a continuation of that. I was honestly more nervous about the writers’ room than I was about writing the script. So we began with the writers’ room, which had six writers in it and then two of us — me and Kira (Snyder) — who went home to write the script. I was more nervous about being cool and not talking too much in the room. Not talking too much is kind of a challenge for me sometimes because I like to talk a lot. I prepped very intensely for the writers’ room.
Are you a fan of these new writers’ rooms? You have been in a couple others since that, right?
I led one for a different project and then there was this one.
Do you prefer them or find them odd for a major movie?
I personally think that the most important part of a writers’ room is giving the director or person guiding the project a really clear idea and to be really decisive, which Steven was. I think writing with two or three people is better than writing with six people, personally. Once you get past a certain number, you are getting a whole bunch of social elements into the process. I would say for most of my life, I want to be writing by myself or in a group of two or in a group of three.
What was your inspiration when you started your writing process for this film?
Tonally, I would say “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was the touchstone for us. Obviously, I also loved the first one (“Pacific Rim”), which is why I was so excited to work on the second one. We were really going for a tone that was a little less self-serious than the first film, I felt the first one had this sort of dignified quality to it. We wanted ours to be a little funnier.
When did you decide to have John Boyega play the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first film?
So that happened when I was not there. It is interesting because I was there for the process when we knew Charlie Hunnam would not be returning, and then there was a question of what the movie would be and we were looking around for different solutions. [Producer] Mary Parent finally said that she wanted there to be a story to this new casting and she wanted it to make sense to people when it was announced and she wanted it to resonate when it was announced and wanted fans to be excited when it was announced. So I wasn’t in the writers’ room anymore and I wasn’t writing the script anymore, but when I found out that John Boyega would be starring in “Pacific Rim” as the son of Stacker Pentecost, I understood exactly what she was talking about. I was like, “That’s a story. I know what that casting is about and I’m excited for this movie and I’m curious about how that plotline is going to play out.” So it became interesting to watch her process as an executive and how that was different from the process as writers. Parent was always like, “Give me the big picture and tell me what is going to make audiences understand this movie and want to see this movie.”
Can you talk about what you took away from your time with Mary?
She is wonderful, she is really exciting to work for her. I really think it was that moment when that casting was announced and watching her make that really brilliant call to work with John on the movie. Overall, there was just great synergy all around.
How excited are you for “Jurassic World 3” and working with Colin (Trevorrow) on writing the script?
I love working with Colin and I think we write great stuff together.
I know you want to make the jump into directing. Do you have any idea when that would be and what the project would be?
Knock on wood, I hope to be shooting in January. We have an exciting possibility of putting “Powerhouse” together, which is the other project I’m working with Colin on.
Given the fight for inclusion in Hollywood for more female writers and directors, do you see change or do you still feel like we have a long way to go?
The percentage of directors who direct studio films that are female hasn’t risen in 15 years, so I’m waiting for it to rise.
What’s the one thing you hope the film does for audiences and fans who were either a little bummed from the last one or mixed on a sequel? What do you hope they get out of this one?
I hope it entertains the s— out of them. One thing I do think both movies have in common is that they are both joyful robot-monster movies that both have a fundamental respect for humanity and for human cooperation. That really runs through both movies.