Since 2004, Chris Morgan has been one of the top action film writers in Hollywood. His credits include Cellular, Wanted, and The Fast and the Furious three thru five (number six is in the works!). He is, above all else, a storyteller who revels in the art of character and plot. He recently sat down to tell us all about how he made it in Hollywood, why he loves talking about stories all day long, and what he thinks is the most perfect film ever made.
Tell us about your background. What inspired you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
I can point to two things directly. The biggest inspiration was my mother, who published more than 18 novels to put my siblings and I through school, all while running a daycare out of our house. She loved creating stories and surprising readers with twists and turns, and I used to love sitting with her and brainstorming her ideas. It was great training, though it just seemed like crazy fun at the time. That feeling of surprising someone with a clever story turn is so freaking addictive! My second inspiration was my job at the local video store that I got in high school and kept for – brace yourselves – 10 YEARS!! (Yes, I am that guy.) Having access to so many films and talking stories with the customers all day, hearing what they liked or disliked, and more importantly, why they liked it or disliked it, was energizing enough for me to try my hand at it.
What memory or experience stands out as a turning point early in your career?
Optioning my first screenplay, Siegemaster, to Beacon Pictures. In actuality, the option money was probably less than I was making at the video store, but it felt like 10 million bucks because people were paying me for words and characters that I dreamt up.
What were your favorite movies/television shows when you were growing up? Did any of them inspire you to become a screenwriter?
Jaws and Star Wars both had a massive impact on me. The Incredible Hulk and The Six Million Dollar Man were my favorite TV shows. But nothing has ever affected me as much as Raiders of the Lost Ark. It had a profound influence, one that cannot be overestimated … and still does to this day. I think it cemented a love for story and character and daring action that makes audiences gasp and laugh and cheer, and instilled in me a lifelong desire to go on journeys with imperfect heroes who may not be the strongest or smartest, but who have the most heart and are willing to go to the mat for it. To me, Raiders is a perfect film and the bar, as a writer, I wish I could reach.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Logging the hours behind the keys. I can talk story all day – it is my favorite thing in the world to do – but battling that caret to the right is a killer.
You are most closely associated with the The Fast and the Furious franchise. One does not automatically think about science as being part of those films. Have you worked with science consultants in the past? Can you tell us why you contacted The Exchange while working on your next project?
Ha, true. Science is not the first thing movie-goers think of when they think of the Fast films … but it is increasingly something that I think about before I put pen to paper. I am finding that the more I can ground specific plot elements or action bits in real-world or real science ways, the more the audience seems willing to emotionally invest themselves in the outcome. The suspension of disbelief is a crucial component of the film experience, and one that is harder and harder to come by as the world grows smaller, movies grow bigger, and audiences grow increasingly savvy. The Exchange is an excellent resource to help filmmakers bolster and extend that suspension of disbelief in a fresh way, which is why I reached out to them for some tech advice regarding a particular plot element in the next Fast script.
What do you think you learned from the scientists you met that has made you a better filmmaker?
The collaboration of art and science opens the doors to stronger, more creative, and more original storytelling.
Have you always been interested in science? How did you acquire your interest in science?
I have always been obsessed with science, and that is definitely attributable to my father, who spent 30 years as a high school science teacher. My dad was not the stereotypical “dry science guy,” but someone who collected the fun and bizarre scientific factoids that the best stories spring from. He would break them out in every conversation to enchant or horrify depending on the mood, and the well never ran dry with his scientific theories on everything from the Big Bang to the migration patterns of the northern anchovy. I have known my dad my entire life and to this day I have never had a single boring conversation with the guy.
Why should film and television projects consider science advising? What is the advantage of using real science in film or television? How important do you think it is for movies and television to portray science as accurately as possible?
For me, there are two clear advantages of using real science. The first is that real science allows you to ground more of your story in reality, which lets the audience tap in deeper and suspend disbelief longer, the pleasant side-effect of which is that it allows the filmmaker to push the boundaries of fiction further. The other great advantage of real science is that its constant evolution offers new ideas and new ways to put a fresh spin on a story on a daily basis.
Thinking of the next generation of filmmakers and scientists – what message would you like to share with them?
Collaborate! Science and storytelling are not mutually exclusive, and both shine brighter together. Besides, you never know where the next great inspiration – scientific or story – may come from.