Hollywood is such a crazy place that this year there are two films that focus on the White House being taken over. The first one out of the gate is Olympus Has Fallen starring the terrific Gerard Butler.
Of the two, only one, Olympus Has Fallen has a female co-writer, Katrin Benedikt. Women and Hollywood was able to ask her some questions about the process of making a big action movie.
and Hollywood: How did you and
Creighton Rothenberger come up with the story?
Well, actually Creighton and I met in a screenwriting class about 13 years
ago in Philadelphia. And at that time we were writing separately, and then
shortly thereafter, probably within six to eight months, we started
writing together. And this was actually an original idea that he came up with
at that time. And his idea process was, what would be the most impossible
building in the world to take over. And so that’s how he came up with that. And he was also brainstorming about the character of Mike Banning, the protagonist, because he had always said it would be great to see
another Secret Service agent in their prime. Clint
Eastwood in In the Line of Fire, he was kind of beyond his prime at that point,
and he thought, wouldn’t it be
great to have a Secret Service agent in his prime really kicking butt. That’s kind of how it all started. And then we
just started came up with the story from there and all the different pieces and
decided to write it together.
WaH: I was reading the
bios and your bio was short because you’re new
to the business. So a question for me is how to you get this to the right people?
Well, it’s interesting, because I always find it funny when I
listen to how other screenwriters got their start and everybody has a
different story and and no two stories
are the same. For us we had been writing for well over ten years,
so in addition to this script, we have written at least 20 other scripts, together and separately. We’ve had a lot of close calls where we had interest in various scripts over the
years and for whatever reason, didn’t come together. And I think what
happened with this one is that my husband, Creighton,
he’s my writing partner, had won a fellowship some years ago and got representation through that. But
they weren’t really championing a lot of his projects so we ended
new reps at the end of 2011. We got our new reps from another
spec script we wrote, not Olympus Has Fallen. After we signed
with them, our manager said, let me look at everything you guys have. A lot of
these specs no
one has seen. And
then he was the one who decided let’s go out with Olympus
Has Fallen. I think this is the time for this one. It
wasn’t the time, you know, ten years ago, but I think the climate
is good for this now.
So when was this actually completed?
KB: The first draft was completed in 2002.
That is how long we’ve had the script. And at that time 9/11 had just
happened. The climate wasn’t great for
it, obviously. And then 24 had come out on TV. They
were doing something similar, so we kind of just had it on
the back burner, and I think that happens to a lot of writers.
You have a lot of specs. You have a lot of projects you
work on and for whatever reason the stars aren’t aligned to make it happen, so
you sort of put it on the shelf and you move on to your next script. That’s
what we did. We kept moving on, writing script after script, and it was our
manager that we got in 2011 who kind of went back and said, wait a minute, let
me look at this script. But we had to do a page
one rewrite of it just to get it cleaned up and updated and take in all
of their notes and our agent’s notes before we took it out to market. So we probably
spent four months rewriting it before we got it back out there.
You are overnight sensations
have been working for a decade?
Exactly. We’re the ten-year overnight success.
WaH: Is this the first one that you’ve actually
It is the first one we’ve sold. We optioned a couple things
along the way, but this is the first actual sale, exactly.
So people bought options on other scripts?
But it never went to production.
No. We had a couple things optioned by a few independent producers, not a major
studio, so then we finally got — this is our first big sale.
Excellent. And it’s a big production. Was that a little
overwhelming? I mean, I guess you knew you were writing something
KB: There’s no question that we were writing this to be a big movie. We started to write smaller specs that were more contained thrillers with lower budgets,
thinking we might have
a better chance with that, so that’s what we were writing
over the last five years which got the attention
of our reps. And it was interesting, they said, hey, no,
let’s go out with this one. We think this is going to be great.
We knew it was going to be a bigger budget film and they were still kind of
really excited about it, so we said, okay,
great, we’d love to see this made. And we have to say, I mean, Millennium was
110 percent behind this thing from the get-go.
They funded this?
Yeah, they did. And it was interesting, because a week after they
bought it, they got started on doing their foreign sales and
all of their business things, and then they got Gerard Butler
attached literally within a week, so then we knew, wow, they’re
committed. So we were really excited about it and they’ve
supported it beyond our wildest imagination since that time.
Weirdly, there’s another movie about this coming out this
WaH: Your film has a female head of their
Secret Service and a female defense secretary. I’m looking
at their imdb page and I don’t see kind of female
leads of that significance. So what
kind of influence do you think it has on the story that you’re
a woman writer? Did you
write those parts specifically for women?
KB: We did, actually. We wanted
it to be a very diverse cast – we absolutely wanted that. I mean, it’s 2013. Some people criticized
us, asking why wouldn’t the president here maybe be an African American. We thought
it can be anybody, it can be Hispanic president. It could be a woman president.
So we purposely kind of felt like these roles could be played by anyone, male,
female, any race, any gender. And we were very, very open to that with every single
role in this movie.
But did you specifically write any of the roles for female characters?
Yes, we did. Secretary McMillan, absolutely, and the head of the Secret
WaH: What’s the biggest thing that got changed
from what you wrote on the page to what is on the screen?
KB: A lot of it has basically stayed very similar. We were very happy with
how much they kept. Obviously, I write with my
husband, so we enjoy collaboration. We wouldn’t be writing partners
if we didn’t. So I think that is very helpful for us, because once we get into
preproduction and into production, the whole movie-making process is a
collaboration with the director, with the actors, with the studio. So getting
everybody was very welcome for us. Here’s one example
of a change that we absolutely loved. Originally we had this movie set on July
4th. The first day we started working with Antoine Fuqua, one
of his big notes, which we absolutely loved, was to change it to July 5th. He said, I don’t think
anyone would attack the White House on July 4th. That’s when
security’s really beefed up. That’s when everybody is visiting
Washington, D.C. There’s tons of tourists. I think it’s going to be
July 5th. And
it was a great note.
One of the things that I hear from women writers, especially
people writing in genres, is that it’s great to have a male
partner. Do you think that this has helped
You know, it’s interesting that you say that, because I
thought about that because clearly women
are underrepresented in this industry. That’s just a fact.
And so I can’t speak to whether or not I would have had an
opportunity or a similar opportunity without having a male writing
partner, because I just have a male writing partner. I
personally find that both of us combined, having the male and having the female
perspective on an action script or any script, is always a good match.
It gets two perspectives and two opposite perspectives to the page,
which I think only helps. It benefits the end result. I think the bottom line is
we really struggled for well over ten years and that was having a male partner.
What advice would you offer to women writers?
KB: This is for any writer — I wouldn’t give different advice to
women versus men. For all writers, I think the bottom line, in my opinion, that a
lot of people say write what you’re passionate about, write what your love and
eventually it’ll work out. Other people say you need to write something
someone’s going to buy. You need to write something commercial. I can only
speak from our experience. Our experience is you need to
write what they’re going to buy. So I
would say try to put your producer’s hat on when you’re
writing and say what would I buy, what movie would I want
to go see in the movie theater? What would be the things my
friends and families and neighbors would want to go see in the
movie theater? What would the global audience want to see in a
movie theater and really try to write to that. I really believe
strongly about that. If you want to make money in this industry
and be able to maybe quit your day job so you can go and
do your passion project down the road, I think the first step
is try to do something that will sell that will support you so
that you can then go off and do your passion project. Also, never
give up. Sometimes you have to do a lot of creative things
to keep that dream alive, whether it be balancing day jobs,
balancing trying to write evenings or weekends or early in
the morning before work but if you just kind of stick to it and
keep your vision going. And I really believe it’s something
that can happen for anyone.
Did you guys have other jobs while you were doing all this
Oh, yes. We
were both working in corporate America for many years
and we saved a lot of money. In 2007 we left Pennsylvania and
sold our house and moved out here to LA. We basically
lived off the savings from our house. I had gone back to work at one point last year. You have to be able to pay your bills. We knew it was a sacrifice. We gave up a lot
for it and it was all worth it for us because we were pursuing
our passion and our dream. And for us it was more important
to do what we loved every day rather than have a lot of
material possessions, so that was just a decision we made. And we were really
down to our last $5,000 when this sold. We were literally at the bottom of all of
our savings and so we were struggling screenwriters in every sense of
That’s a great story, though. Thank you so much for sharing.
I think this is going to be really wonderful for people
to hear. Good luck.
Olympus Has Fallen opens wide on March 22.