Matt Lopez – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

As one of the screenwriters of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Matt Lopez has created another fantasy world as wide as his imagination. Lopez, who co-wrote “Bedtime Stories” and “Race to Witch Mountain,” steps onto an even bigger stage with his new film, which stars Nicholas Cage and is loosely based the 1940 Walt Disney classic “Fantasia.” Lopez spoke to me via phone about the movie.

In your last three movies, you have been credited as a co-writer. What is the process like having other screenwriters working with you on a screenplay?

Writers are never really working at the same time. It tends to be more like a relay race where the baton gets passed from one writer to another. So, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was pretty typical in that regard. I feel pretty good about the movie in terms of what I wrote and what got onto screen. Where it did change, it’s still very faithful to the spirit of what I wrote.

As a writer, how does it make you feel when the things you write do change and some of your work never makes it to the final product?

It’s just kind of what the beast is. You always have those pet things that you hope as many of them as possible get into the movie. If you have a problem with seeing changes get made to what you wrote, you probably should write novels or poems or something else. The movie business – unless you’re a writer/director making a small little film – is a very collaborative thing.

I would think a novelist and a poet like you mentioned would really have a personal connection to their writing. Would you consider yourself attached to your work as a screenwriter?

I would. That’s what makes being a screenwriter harder than being a novelist or a poet because you get your heart broken more often. If you’re a good screenwriter, I think you do get just as connected. You end up falling for these characters. You end up falling for their stories. I do at least. Maybe everyone is different, but I get very attached to them.  It’s hard because when one project comes to an end you just kind of move on.

I’m sure it’s even harder to forget with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” because we’re talking about a big-budget movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

When you’re talking about a movie like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – a very high-budget movie – there are just so many factors that go into it. There are a lot of creative factors. With “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” there are a lot of creative heavy hitters like [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer, Nic Cage and [director] John Turteltaub. They’re all brining ideas to the table. It’s taking all those idea and hearing all their notes. You have to be flexible. As a screenwriter you have to learn where to fight your battles. I don’t fight about a lot, but I think that gives me credibility because when I do they listen more.

So, when you do say something everyone is like, “Wait, Matt never disagrees. Maybe he’s right!”

Yeah, everyone is coming at this project with their own perspective. On this, I felt like it was kind of my job to track everybody’s perspective and keep a view from 30,000 ft. – a global view. I wanted to make sure no matter what we decide to do – no matter where the car chase goes – we are always faithful because that’s what audiences will respond to.

How descriptive do you get in the script when it comes to the visual effects? I mean, I would think what the visual effects department can actually do would come before what the screenplay actually says.

There’s some of that. I tend to have a pretty big-canvas imagination. So, there were definitely things where they were like, “No, we can’t do it.” But you’d be surprised at what I described I saw on screen. These guys at the effects houses are so hugely talented. They make everything come to life in a way that you necessarily didn’t even imagine. You’re like, “Oh, that’s much cooler than I thought it was going to be.”

Was there ever a doubt that a version of the “Fantasia” broom scene was going to end up in the final script?

It was always in my script and everyone always responded to it when they read it. We all had such irreverence for “Fantasia” and for what those filmmakers did. I actually have an office on the third floor of the old animation building at Disney that Walt built in 1939. I would write everyday literally where the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from “Fantasia” was animated. I felt that sort of burden of the history. Turteltaub and I would talk about this. We would say, “If there’s one thing we can’t screw up in this movie…” It ended up in the movie. I’m happy to say, those times when I’ve seen the movie with an audience, people just respond to it. It gets a cheer. If nothing else, I feel like we did a good service by capturing the spirit of that sequence.

It’s probably my favorite scene of the film. Would you say it came out as you envisioned it?

It did. It’s very much like we imagined it. You know, they curbed a couple of things. There was a shot I always loved in the animated version in “Fantasia” where Mickey [Mouse] grabs an ax and he starts hacking the mops in two. What happens is the hacked-up mops sprout arms and legs and then multiply exponentially. There’s actually a beat in the movie where Jay [Baruchel] grabs an ax and there is a shot that recalls the original shot where he cocks the ax back and we see his shadow cast upon the wall. But what is not in the movie is each hacked-up mop sprouting. But overall it’s very much like it was written.

Nicholas Cage was cast in the movie before you were named as a screenwriter. Did having his name attached to the project already help you to build his character around his personality?

It did. Nic was always in my mind when I was writing this character. I am a big Nicholas Cage fan. I think he’s good in everything, but I especially love him in big roles that give him a chance just to let it rip. I’ve always wanted to do that with Balthazar. It was also really cool that Nic was the first creative force behind this project. He’s really into “Fantasia” and sorcery. He would bring me books of sorcery with all these sticky tabs on the pages. It really makes you get your game on when you have an actor that is that excited to do a part and that into the world. During the very first meeting I had with Bruckheimer and Turteltoub and Nic we screened “Fantasia” and we just watched it a couple of times back to back and then we just sat around and talked about it. We talked about how we could incorporate elements of that in the movie. It has a very dark, shadowy theme to it. Visually, John was very interested in capturing some of that.

What were some of Nic’s ideas?

The rings that you see in the movie, that came out of that meeting. In the first scripts, the sorcerers used wands. I just felt like I’ve seen a lot of wands. So, I was sitting there with Nic and he had on this really cool ring with a green stone and I was like, “Tell me about that.” So, he started telling me about how he got it in this little shop in New Orleans. That is an example of the give and take, which was great.

I think the consensus on any Jerry Bruckheimer-produced summer movie is that the film is going to be a spectacle. Does knowing this force you to match the grandiosity of it all when you sit down and start writing?

I tend to write a lot in this genre, so I do have that hard-wired into me. I don’t think I have to make it much bigger. What’s great about Jerry is that he understands that it’s kind of a given – not to say it’s easy or that there’s no art to it – but you know a Bruckheimer movie is going to have great action, some effects you’ve never seen before, and a great car chase. You know that’s going to be there. What people end up responding to are the little things – the character moments and the little exchanges between Jay and Nic. Jerry understands that. He always comes back to keeping it grounded and keeping the characters front and center. I feel exactly the same way about it. We’ve all seen movies that maybe dazzle us visually, but you walk out and think, “Who cares?” I hope people care about these characters more than that.

I know you haven’t had a chance to do this in your career yet, but would being part of a franchise be something that you would like to do? Could you devote yourself to writing three or more films in a series?

I think I would. I love to create worlds. There are definitely times when I’m writing a script and you get to 110 pages and you type “Fade out” and you’re just kind of like, “Aww!” That’s why I’m sort of eyeing television now. I always want to write features, but a lot of writers are doing both now. I think the exciting things about television are that you have the opportunity to create a world and characters and stories that aren’t constrained to 110 minutes. I think that is something I hopefully will be doing.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

NOTE: This movie review was written by film critic apprentice Cody Villafana, who won the Film Critic Apprentice-for-a-Day contest last week.

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
Directed by: John Turteltaub (“National Treasure: Book of Secrets”)
Written by: Lawrence Konner (“Flicka”), Mark Rosenthal (“Flicka”), Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”)

In an attempt to tap into the well-established “Harry Potter” market, Disney has unearthed a 200-year-old story most recently manifested in their 1940 classic film “Fantasia” and created a film that will likely make people pine for the cartoon’s timeless simplicity. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and company have taken the famous mopping scene from “Fantasia” and expanded and re-imagined the story to create a film that taps into the world of magic and sorcery. Although it provides some entertainment through special effects, ”The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a mostly unbalanced film that fails to conjure up anything substantial in the way of story, plot, or memorable moments.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens with a quick trip back into history recapping the story of Merlin and his three apprentices. One of Merlin’s apprentices, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) turns against Merlin and joins forces with the evil sorceress Morgana before eventually being captured in a nesting doll-type object called a grimhold. As Merlin is dying, he gives another one of his apprentices, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) a ring with a dragon on it that will one day determine who will succeed Merlin.

The audience then skips to the year 2000, where young Dave Stutler (played in kid form by Dave Cherry) stumbles into what appears to be an antique store where he finds the enigmatic Balthazar. Balthazar quickly notices something about Dave that prompts him to grab the dragon ring, which perfectly grips and attaches to Dave’s finger. While wandering around the store, Dave accidentally releases the evil Horvath, leading to an extended battle which leaves Horvath and Balthazar trapped inside a vase. Dave throws away the grimhold and is met by his teacher, who finds only Dave and an empty antique store.

In a final jump to present-day New York City, the audience finds Dave (Jay Baruchel), the now 20-year-old self-proclaimed physics nerd, offering help to Becky (Teresa Palmer), his elementary school crush, in their physics class. Meanwhile, Horvath and Balthazar reappear from the vase, now just an artifact in an old couple’s home. Horvath immediately visits Dave in search of the grimhold. Balthazar is able to appear to save Dave in the nick of time, and recruits Dave to help him find the grimhold. Dave and Balthazar then engage in a series of battles with Horvath, while Balthazar uses every opportunity to train Dave to be the sorcerer he is destined to become – the only one who can defeat Morgana, should she be released.

The film suffers from uninspiring performances from most of its leads. Jay Baruchel fails to display the charm he showed in “She’s Out of My League” and turns in an unconvincing performance as a newly post-teenage physics nerd. Nicolas Cage sleepwalks through his role as the wise, but slightly neurotic Balthazar and adds virtually nothing but a name to plaster on a movie poster to help bring in bigger box office numbers. Alfred Molina gives the best performance of the leads in his role as the evil Horvath. It is a performance that is evil enough to make him a convincing villain, however, fans of Molina’s will surely recognize this is not his best work.

One of the major downfalls of this film is its over-reliance on special effects. While the first couple of battles provide amusing effects as the Sorcerers throw plasma balls and move objects with the wave of a hand, the concept begins to repeat itself and wear thin. The entire movie presents a repeating cat and mouse game between Horvath and the duo of Balthazar and Dave and by the third time we see characters hurling transforming objects at one another, the effects have lost their luster.

The large majority of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice takes place in a physics lab and focuses on Balthazar’s efforts to train Dave and turn him into a true sorcerer. This leaves almost no room to grow for any of the relationships beyond that of Dave and Balthazar. The relationship between Dave and Becky isn’t given enough time to develop, lacks believability and fails to evoke any sort of emotional response from the viewer.

Perhaps the most criminal of cinematic offenses comes in the movie’s final act, which is the end battle that the entire film leads towards. In a this final sequence Dave suddenly does things that he wasn’t capable of five minutes prior, other characters perform acts that are either not completely shown on screen or are not explained. The sequence becomes so convoluted that it reiterates the banality and lack of substance of the film and once again leaves the viewer’s enjoyment at the mercy of the special effects.

Serving as a Sunday afternoon time passer at best, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” isn’t entertaining enough to cover up its plethora of plot holes, lack of character development and dull story line.

Race to Witch Mountain

March 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig
Directed by: Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”)
Written by: Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”) and Mark Bomback (“Godsend”)

If former WWE entertainer the Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson is really serious about becoming an accomplished actor now that his wrestling career is behind him, he needs to quickly turn around because he’s already taken a few steps in the wrong direction.

After family-friendly, safe, and overall meaningless fare like “Gridiron Gang,” “The Game Plan,” and “Get Smart,” Johnson has decided to stick with the mind-numbing screenplays, this time with “Race to Witch Mountain,” a reimagining of the 1975 Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain” adapted from the 1968 book by Alexander Key.

In the film Johnson plays Jack Bruno (you won’t forget his name since it is annoyingly repeated throughout the film), a Las Vegas taxi cab driver who is a former muscle head for a group of mobsters. Now working as a cabbie, Jack (Bruno, that is) spends his days picking up passengers and trying to avoid his former colleagues who he owes money.

A big payday comes when Jack (Bruno, that is) picks up Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), a couple of teenagers with a wad full of cash and an unspecific destination. Jack (Bruno, that is) has no idea, however, that his most recent customers are aliens from another planet who have crash-landed on Earth.

With clueless investigators from the U.S. Department of Defense on their trail, as well as an assassin who has been sent to kill them, Sara and Seth are on a mission to find their confiscated spacecraft and save the planet from total annihilation. Actress Carla Gugino is an afterthought as Dr. Alex Friedman, an expert in all things geeky, who is reeled along for the dull sci-fi ride.

There only so many tough-yet-sensitive guy roles any actor can accept and Johnson has definitely reached his limit. It’s too bad he plays a hockey player-turned-tooth fairy (seriously) in his next movie. Donning a tutu is a surefire way to lead him to the same ranks Hulk Hogan found himself in with “Mr. Mom” or Arnold Schwarzenegger with “Jingle All the Way.” And from that point, there’s really no turning back.

Bedtime Stories

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kerri Russell, Guy Pearce
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Matt Lopez (“The Wild”) and Tim Herlihy (“Mr. Deeds”)

When are actors, directors, and filmmakers in general going to learn that after they pop out a few kids with their significant other, they don’t necessarily have to take a step back during their children’s formidable years and think to themselves, “You know, I’d really like to make a movie my kid could watch.”

It’s hard enough to make a family film for parents and kids with IQs above, say, 35, but it’s probably even more difficult when you have something as precious as good intentions invested into the project. Remember the Robert Rodriguez 2005 debacle “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D,” a movie written from a story conjured up by his 8-year-old son? Even innocent ideas can be irrefutably toxic.

In “Bedtime Stories,” director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and screenwriters Matt Lopez (“The Wild”) and Tim Herlihy (“Mr. Deeds”) make such a disaster on screen, it’s hard to really point fingers at anybody since the primary concept for the film seems to have been scribbled down by kindergarteners working on writing shifts.

Maybe that’s the idea Lopez and Herlihy wanted to convey, but in “Bedtime Stories” even the uber-dorky Adam Sandler doesn’t seem like the right match against the grab bag of nonsense tossed around so effortlessly. In the film, Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman who agrees to babysit his nephew and niece for his sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) even though he hasn’t seen them in four years. Since the kids are forbidden to do anything fun or time consuming like watch TV, Skeeter tells them a bedtime story, a story which the children happily add their own ideas to the narrative. But when the kid’s embellishments to the story start coming true (the script gets really sketchy here), Skeeter tries to use the newfound magic to manipulate a few things to go his way.

There’s plenty more grizzle and fat in “Bedtime Stories” that won’t hurt to omit since it makes no bearing either way on the topsy-turvy mess. This includes a bland romance between Skeeter and his sister’s friend Jill (Kerri Russell) and some terrible CGI effects a la “Alvin and the Chipmunks” featuring a wide-eyed hamster who gives new meaning to annoying. Actually, Rob Schneider gives new meaning to annoying, but he’s not nearly in this as much as the rodent.

Matt Lopez – Bedtime Stories

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Matt López’s plan after graduating from law school from New York University seemed simple enough. With a bachelor’s in film from Florida State University and a recent law degree, López thought he would move to Hollywood to become an entertainment lawyer and write screenplays during his spare time.

While half of the plan worked splendidly (he landed a job as an entertainment lawyer with DreamWorks), he didn’t realize just how little time he would have to pursue his other aspirations.

“There was no spare time to write,” López, 37, told me during a phone interview. “But somehow I found a way. Sometimes, I would get up at 4 a.m. and work on stories. It’s something I enjoyed doing.”

His early-to-rise regiment soon paid off when DreamWorks purchased one of his scripts in 2002.

“That’s when I made the transition from law to screenwriting,” López said.

Although his first screenplay was not made into a feature film, López continued to write and 2006 saw his first co-creation, “The Wild,” hit the big screen. Now, as a co-writer of the fantasy family film “Bedtime Stories,” starring Adam Sandler, López, who is of Spanish and Cuban decent, tells the story of a hotel handyman whose bedtime stories to his niece and nephew come to life.

How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer in some capacity?

When I was 12 years old. I wrote a feature-length script. It was horrible. It’s probably somewhere in one of my mother’s drawers. I was always fascinated with writing. I can almost pinpoint to the exact second when I knew I wanted to be in this business. I was 10 years old and my big brother and I went to go see “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” About five minutes into that movie there is a scene where this big boulder comes rolling after Indiana Jones. It was like being hit by a bolt of lightning. I knew I wanted to do this with my life.

Where did a story like “Bedtime Stories” originate?
It was a story I hatched when I became a dad for the first time. I wrote the movie for my daughter. Having a kid made me want to do a movie that kids would enjoy as well as their parents. I’ve always been interested in bedtime stories. If you ever heard a bedtime story when you were a kid, I think there was a small part of you that wondered what would happen if that story came true. That’s just the power of imagination.

What kinds of bedtime stories do you tell your kids today?
We enjoy a lot of different stories. We read a lot of books. My oldest daughter is in a princess phase right now. I also like to make up my own bedtime stories. The hero is usually my daughter. She goes on a whole bunch of adventures. Bedtime stories are great because they are interactive. That’s why I think it’s such a great thing for parents and kids to do together. I’m sure my parents told me bedtime stories, but I don’t really remember them. All I remember is my parents saying, “Kid, you’ve got 10 seconds to get your butt into bed or you’re in serious trouble.”

Did you write this role specifically for Adam Sandler?
No, but when Disney told me they were going to send it to him I was excited and crossed my fingers and said, “Please take it, please take it!” Luckily, when I wrote it, he was also a new dad. He was looking to do something for the entire family. One of the things Adam brings to the film is his own childlike sense of wonder and sensibility. Plus, as a kid, Adam Sandler would be a pretty cool uncle to have.