Journey to a Ferocious Planet with Writer Douglas G. Davis
My biggest pet peeve with film critics is a majority of them review horror films through the same glasses with which they review Oscar contenders. They stand films like The Descent and Piranha 3D up against No Country for Old Men and The Social Network and declare them inadequate rather than do the logical thing, which is to compare them against fruit of the same origin (i.e., how does Piranha 3D stack up against other successful horror films?). Well, in the realm of the creature feature genre, Piranha 3D stacks up pretty well.
It’s time we do the same with the Syfy Original Movie. Instead of comparing Sharktopus to Humanoids from the Deep (1980) and Tentacles (1977), how does it compare to Abominable , which premiered on the network? Yeah, Ryan Schifrin didn’t make Abominable as a Syfy Original Movie, but there is no denying it was made on a similar budget using a familiar and overused Syfy trope (a Sasquatch story), which actually made the network an ideal place to premiere the film; and when comparing the two, Abominable kicks Sharktopus' ass all over the beach. Not to mention it’s probably the best Sasquatch movie the network has ever aired.
So, after two hundred entries, it’s safe to say the Syfy Original Movie has become a genre unto itself. In that light Ferocious Planet (review here), which airs this Saturday, April 9, 2011, is a solid installment; and I took the opportunity to speak with writer Douglas G. Davis to find out why his film works where so many Syfy entries do not, how a writer approaches these projects knowing the limitations of budget and cast going in, and his assessment on the state of the Syfy film.
Dread Central: The Syfy Channel has been doing these low budget movies for some time now, and the tropes have become very familiar. Ferocious Planet mines territory that’s pretty much been done before in a wide variety of ways -- how did you approach this particular piece? How did you feel you could make it different?
Douglas G. Davis: It’s always a challenge. Syfy just aired their 200th original movie so they’ve covered a lot of ground. But I write what I’d like to watch.
On Ferocious Planet, in addition to great action, I added a lot of humor, something that director Billy O’Brien and star Joe Flanigan really nailed. I wanted to deliver a fun adventure.
DC: An unfortunate aspect of Syfy movies is that the acting and effects usually aren’t very good. In this case both were pretty decent. But during the writing phase you don’t know that ahead of time. Do you approach the script any differently knowing the effects and acting usually face challenges?
DD: A lot of the credit goes to director Billy O’Brien and his team for actually pulling everything off. He and the entire production team did a fantastic job. But as the writer I was well aware of the budget and time constraints before I started. When you begin writing a film like this, you know that the entire movie’s budget is going to be less than what they spent on snacks for Inception. So the key is to write with the budget in mind. Let me tell you, it’s hard! But if you deliver a script that’s “production friendly,” you eliminate situations where you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Films run into problems when they over-promise and under-deliver. So I wrote great setpieces that Billy knew he could deliver. We avoided re-writing scenes at the last minute, which often spells disaster.
DC: Is there a sense among the production companies who make these films for Syfy that it’s time to step up their game a bit? That the audience may be getting bored with below average content and seeing the same Hawaii and Bulgaria locations over and over again?
DD: Again, it comes down to money. These films need to be made on a certain budget so producers are forced to go to places that can accommodate this. Fortunately we shot in Ireland, where the locations gave the film a richness that really sets it apart. Syfy loved the idea of filming there. I can’t speak about other production companies, but the producers behind Ferocious Planet really do their best to deliver a top-notch film. They take pride in their movies, and it shows on screen.
As for audiences being bored, Syfy is posting record numbers for their original films. Part of that is because the network really knows their audience. They know what works and what doesn’t.
DC: Seasoned film watchers will recognize some of the story dynamics in Ferocious Planet as being somewhat familiar – one character’s journey in particular. Did you try to pay homage to some of those wonderful science fiction films of the 70s and 80s? Were they influences?
DD: Of course! I’m a lifelong fan. But the script is influenced not only by classic sci-fi like Planet of The Apes but also good old fashioned adventure like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Mix in a little Jurassic Park, and you'll see that the movies I loved growing up still resonate with me and come through in the writing.
DC: The ending is interesting and, without giving too much away, leaves it open for the possibility of a follow-up. If Ferocious Planet does well ratings-wise. could there be one?
DD: I’d love for this to be a franchise! And I can picture the phrase “Don’t poke the aliens” on t-shirts, bobble heads…you name it. Unfortunately, Syfy usually doesn’t do sequels for their Saturday Night Movies. But I’m ready to go if they say the word.
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