If you weren’t a fan of the kiddie nature of Mirror Mirror, screenwriter Evan Daugherty has helped craft the film for you, in a near 10-year process. Daugherty began Snow White and the Hunstman as a pure labor of love. While fellow NYU students were most likely telling the same tales about a struggling artist, Daugherty began to write his epic and serious take on the tale of Snow White, with complete control and freedom, in his dorm room.
What he ended up with is a dark and atmosphere-oriented take on the Snow White tale, thanks to the twisting and spinning of the staples of the story we all know. Snow White and The Hunstman, at times, even bridges on becoming a horror film, clearly showing this isn’t your grandfather’s Snow White.
Here is what screenwriter Evan Daugherty had to say about the visual wonders and horrors of the Dark Forest, director Rupert Sanders‘s painterly approach, the power of simplicity, and the genesis of this very, very serious Snow White:
It must be a pretty great feeling, being only two days away from opening after an almost ten year process.
Yes, there a lot of great feelings, to be honest. Last week leading up to this nobody prepared me for how intense and stressful it is. It’s intense, but fun. No pressure! The actual movie-making process on this was pretty fast. We sold the script two years ago, and it went step by step towards production. What people don’t know is I wrote it seven or eight years before that. [Laughs] It’s funny, it’s with you for so long and you just put it out there for a weekend, to see what the whole world thinks of it.
The response was definitely positive for those trailers.
The trailers are very cool. Universal’s done a great job marketing the movie, and marketing it in a truthful way. I think a lot of people looked at the trailers, saying, “Oh, they’re trying to make it look like an action/adventure movie, but it’s probably a chick flick…” Really, the movie is a tough action movie. It’s pretty intense, and I hope people respond to that.
The introduction to the Dark Forest is a good showcase of that.
Oh, yeah, that’s Rupert really flexing his visual muscles, if that’s even a phrase. I know that was one of the big things that drew him to the movie in the first place: he always wanted to do a darker fairy tale. Fairy tales are a part of many different cultures, but particularly in that English culture, so he really wanted to explore that territory and sink his teeth into a Dark Forest.
When you write a sequence like that, how detailed are you with the designs?
I was just talking to someone about this after seeing the movie again last night. Almost everything that happens in that scene I sort of put down on paper, but you can never really imagine how well, interestingly, and compellingly it’ll be handled by the director, because there’s so many intangibles with the visuals he can bring. In the script, you can say Snow steps on a cloud of puff mushrooms that sprout out an hallucinogenic toxin and then the world starts to get fuzzy, but it’s a lot different how someone will execute those disturbing visuals, the sound design, and so on. It’s funny to see how a director can really bring pages to life.
Rupert Sanders definitely makes those images pop, even the more simple images.
He is certainly given to painterly, single images. I think another thing he does well is to keep it simple, practical, and grounded. There’s a lot of filmmakers now who throw a lot of stuff into the pot, with tons of digital wizardry. There’s a lot of effects in the movie, but a large portion of it is grounded in practical, and a surprising amount.
Did you initially see it as having that grounded stylistic approach?
Yes, the idea was to tell a Snow White story – which is usually more colorful and whimsical – in a grittier and muscular way. People have dirt on their faces, clothes are old and worn, etc. That was the idea from the beginning, and Rupert ran with it.
I read that you first saw yourself as a filmmaker. How does that affect how you see a story and visual details?
I wouldn’t say I see things visually first, but what I do think is important, for a lot of screenwriters, is to not just think about the words on the page, but also the world as a whole and the vibe of the movie, rather than a sequence of scenes written on the page. A script is a unique literary form, because it’s not the end product; it’s a blueprint. If you’re not thinking of that end product, there’s going to be a disconnect. I haven’t been doing this that long and have been out here as a working screenwriter for about four or five years, but I’ve seen this and another movie I wrote go into production. I’ve learned a huge amount about the difference about a script that works on the page and more and more about what translates well to the screen.
Anything in specific?
I’ll give you one, which is the biggest: the simpler, the better in terms of simple and clean storytelling, so you can focus on the character’s journey. I love intricate plotting and exciting twists, but I realize more that people enjoy a good story in a simple, focused way.
Do you approach that differently on a thriller like The Killing Season versus a bigger film like Snow White?
Yeah, it definitely changes. I actually wrote The Killing Season after Snow White. I had written Snow White when I was in college, and I had written other big movies like that, because those are the movies I really enjoy. I sat down to write Killing Season – which used to be called Shrapnel – almost as a challenge to myself, asking, “Can I strip away all the crazy plotting and effects, trying to make a movie with two characters?” There’s minor characters who drift in and out of the movie, but the movie is really just two guys, played by Robert De Niro and John Travolta, and the entire movie hinges on their friction and conflict. In that situation, it seems like it’s simpler because it’s two guys fighting in the woods, but it’s harder because you can’t really rely on any tricks of the trade, with there being no B or C story to cutaway to.
In Snow White and the Hunstman, when we see them in the Dark Forest, you’re allowed a lot of freedom to be able to cutaway to, for instance, the prince. That B and C story stuff helps the writing process, even though it makes it a more complicated movie. The Killing Season is two characters you can’t cutaway from, and trying to make that work is definitely challenge.
I’d imagine with Snow White and The Hunstman it also helps, if you get stuck, having story templates you can study.
Yes, that’s true. You have more archetypes, you can look at great movies, great myths, Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare, and Narnia. There’s a lot you can look to. We tried to look at those famous moments or motifs, and spin them on their heads. It’s an overused term, but we also wanted to “revive” the tale, trying to make the elements more modern and relevant.
Was that a tonal challenge, trying not to have that modern approach take itself too seriously?
The draft that I wrote and sold had a bit of a lighter touch, I would say. It’s just the process of Hollywood filmmaking. When you start collaborating and working with directors, they become the primary creative force, and you talk things out and collaborate. For instance, I sold the script to Universal and I stayed on, to do a couple of rewrites. I worked with Rupert for four or five months, taking it down the road the movie became. Ultimately, other writers were hired, two of whom got credit alongside me. I always wanted it to be a gritty and grounded version of Snow White, but there was a bit more lightness and levity in my draft. In my subsequent rewrites, obviously we toned it down, and so did the other writers. I think the movie’s great, but it’s almost relentlessly intense, and hopefully in a good way. I think when the dwarves show up it allows you take a breath, having some levity in there.
Did you also see The Huntsman as a way of getting some comic relief?
That’s right, definitely. I’ve talked about this a couple of times, but one of the biggest references for the movie was Luc Besson‘s The Professional. You know, it’s Jean Reno showing a 13-year-old how to be a killer, and that was the story model from the beginning, and it still remains a little as that. The Hunstman knew how to kill and hunt, and he would teach Snow White how to. In The Professional, he is sort of a comic relief character, but also someone you find has something deeper to him. I wrote the script so long ago I had a different vision for The Huntsman back then, which was me asking, “Can we please bring Sean Connery out of retirement to play The Huntsman?” Clearly The Huntsman got younger and younger, and now’s both a mentor and a love interest. One thing I think is very cool is that Chris Hemsworth literally modeled his accent on Sean Connery, so some of Connery remains in his performance.
When you first wrote Snow White having complete freedom, did you write the biggest version you imagined?
Yes, yes, it’s weird. It’s been a process scaling back over the years. The first thing I wrote was the biggest, but I toned it down bit by bit. Again, when the director and Universal came on board… I mean, Universal is paying for the movie, so they say, “You can’t spend more than X amount of dollars, because that’s not financially viable. There were effects and set piece elements in the movie, which I find cool, but had to be slowly scaled out. In some ways, there’s a good creative reason to do that: focus on the simple story. It’s been a process paring away, but the movie still manages to be pretty epic in the scope.
When you face a challenge like that, how do you deal with them if you hit a roadblock or you get to a scene that’s scared you from page one?
I’m not sure I know the answer to that question yet, but one trick I learned from hearing interviews with a great screenwriter named John August is “looping the scene,” getting as far as you can and trying to get at what the heart of the scene is. I think that process helps a lot. Sometimes you just have to write the bad version of a scene, and I’m certainly guilty of doing that. During the first draft, you think, “I don’t know how to write this next scene, so I’m going to try the following scene.” Sometimes doing that helps you realize what the previous scene needs. There’s all kinds of tricks. You have to get your hands dirty in those early drafts, and it’s a process of shaping, honing, and refining.
Plus, with Snow White, you’d have all the time you need, since you wrote it on your own time.
I really enjoyed doing those original scripts. Sometimes the collaboration or a note you get can be really helpful, but, at the same time, being able to sit down in your office and figure it out yourself, without any interference, is pretty liberating. Now, of course, I got to do that for seven or eight years. As soon as we sold it, there was five people that then went to 100 people involved in the making-of. I don’t want to say you make compromises, but you steer the ship the best you can towards the finished the movie.
Snow White and The Hunstman opens in theaters tomorrow.