Exclusive Interview: Travis Beacham on Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero

Anticipation is slowly building for the monsters vs. robots movie Pacific Rim, director Guillermo del Toro’s first movie in five years and one of the few truly original concepts of the summer i.e. it’s not a sequel!

On June 5, over a month before the release of the movie, Legendary Comics is releasing “Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero,” a hardcover graphic novel written by screenwriter Travis Beacham and drawn by Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, and Pericles Junior with a cover by Alex Ross, which tells some of the backstory of the universe seen in Pacific Rim. It specifically shows the very first Kaiju (monster) attack, the very first Jaeger (robot), as well as the roots of the Jaeger Academy seen in the movie.

SuperHeroHype got on the phone with Beacham last week to talk about the book and its connections and parallels to the movie.

SuperHeroHype: Before we get to the book, which I haven’t read yet–and I haven’t seen the movie yet either, obviously–as the original writer, how exciting is it for you to see these monsters and robots you’d written about come to life on screen?

Travis Beacham:
I’m super, super, super excited. I’ve seen it three or four times already in various stage of completion. I think the last time I saw it, it was practically done and it was close to the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I have to admit, I’m a little biased, but I was totally blown away.

SHH: I went to the set last year and saw a bunch of concept art and maquettes, but then seeing the CinemaCon trailer, I have never seen anything like that and I couldn’t begin to imagine what I saw on set would be something that amazing.

Oh yeah, I was sort of surprised they showed as much as they did. I was thinking they were going to keep the monsters more under wraps than that. I think there’s still, ah geez…there’s still a handful of monsters that you don’t see at all in the trailer, but I was surprised they showed as much as they did. I’m glad, actually, because the parts of the movie that I’ve seen were just full of all this really, really, really lavish and amazing visual stuff that I don’t think the first trailer really got into.

SHH: Let’s talk about the graphic novel. I assume you and Guillermo created some sort of bible for the world before you started the movie. Did you have a lot of extra stuff and decided just to kind of spin it off into the graphic novel or is this stuff from the original screenplay that would have made the movie too long?

It was a bit of both, actually. Basically, the movie is constructed in such a way where it’s kind of a world unto itself – well, not unto itself, I guess, because it spills off the edges of the movie. The movie kind of drops you into this war as it’s happening and you’re experiencing sort of history in progress. By the time it really gets rolling, the first Kaiju attacked happened like a decade ago, so in creating all the kind of history we needed for this world and then sort of filling out the world outside the movie, we had a lot of supplemental material and a lot of interesting stories, so when the time came to talk about doing the graphic novel, whether than do a straight up adaptation, we thought it would be cool if we did something that was really kind additive to the experience of the movie and sort of fill out a lot of the back story that we didn’t really get into in the movie. That’s not to say that the movie’s an incomplete work. I think you could watch it and totally get everything that you need from it. It explains everything that you need to understand for the movie, but in the context of the bigger world, if there’s anything you have questions about or any mysteries or bits that you’d like to see fleshed out or just curious about, I think the graphic novel is a great place to get that sort of texture from.

SHH: I remember when I was on set they were talking about the fact the Kaiju came from out of the hole in the sea, so is this shown in the movie or is this just explained or referenced in the present day sometime or is there an introduction that explains this?

Yeah, it’s dealt with very briefly. Broadly speaking, it’s not the sort of movie where it’s like “bacon and eggs, morning commute and aliens land.” It kind of drops you in. That said, there’s a bit at the beginning that kind of gives you the broad strokes.


SHH: Since the movie takes place ten years after the first Kaiju attack, I’m going to assume the graphic novel fills in the space beforehand.

In a timeline of like 12 or so years, the movie would be the last couple (years) – the graphic novel would be the first three or four. It’s a little episodic and it generally covers the first Kaiju attack, it covers the first Jaeger. It covers the Jaeger pilots in the Academy, so those are the three episodes we’re dancing around in the graphic novel.

SHH: How involved has Guillermo been able to be with the graphic novel? I imagine he’s been pretty busy finishing up this movie as well as having a number of movies he’s produced in between. Was he able to give notes or be more involved than that?

Oh yeah, he was very involved. He was involved from the concept to the final pages. There was a time in between there where he was pretty busy, but at the points that we were getting pages daily from the pencillers we had on it, Guillermo was in the loop and giving very specific notes. But yeah, he was very, very involved in the process.

SHH: Are any of the characters from the movie also in the graphic novel and they’ll make an appearance or are you focusing on completely different characters in the graphic novel?

Generally, it’s a mix. Pentecost (Idris Elba’s character) is in the graphic novel and you find out a bit more about him than you do in the movie because I think in the movie, he’s necessarily mysterious and has kind of a mystique about him. You do get a bit of character background on him going into the movie if you’ve read the graphic novel. Other characters sort of dip in and out, but I think he’s the one who’s in it the most. That said, we’re bringing new characters in and sort of historical figures that are in the world history, who are important to the mythology.”

At this point, publicist Adam Fenton jumps in with a bit more information, knowing we hadn’t seen the book yet:

“We learn more about the backstory of Mako (Rinko Kikuchi’s character) in the graphic novel and we see Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam’s character) as a child, but then we really see him and Yancy, his brother, when they first enter the Academy, and they become instant stars at the Academy, but we definitely do learn back story on a few of the major characters in the movie.”

Beacham: That’s 100 percent right, and the movie I think is a very kind of linear story and very kind of contained story. The graphic novel is definitely more of an exploration of the world through the eyes of those characters.

SHH: How did you pick the artists? I know Guillermo is pretty well versed in the comic book world and knows a lot of guys. Did you have some sort of audition process to figure out which artist would work best with each story?

We definitely had lists that we put together, and it had a lot to do with whose style was right for any given part. Also, just who had the time for it. We were putting this script together sort of at a full speed pace, and the book itself came together really, really fast, so timing was definitely a factor in deciding who could do it. But, we were also extremely interested in each part having its own sort of discreet work, like that it wasn’t all these pencillers trying to match each other’s styles, and that each part had its own sort of style and its own sort of look about it. That’s something we were very conscious of and something that we wanted from the beginning.

SHH: The Alex Ross cover is great and would make a great poster.

I love it. I love it. The first time I saw it, it really reminded me of Marvel, that cover, that ground’s eye view of this amazing thing that’s happening. I was like, I love that cover.

SHH: I know you’ve talked about doing sequels to the movie. If the graphic novel does well, will you try to pull together ideas to do another graphic novel or will you save that stuff for the sequel to the movie? What’s the overall plan as far as the comic side of things?

Well, we’re fortunate in that the world, it’s really big enough that it can support a lot of ancillary explorations and stories. The movie taking place as it does over the course of a few years at the end of a 12-year timeline, and the people likely taking place after that, it leaves a ton of back story to sort of play around in. I personally, I would love to do another graphic novel. I had a blast doing this one. There was a bit of a learning curve, having been used to writing for the screen, it’s a difficult transition I think because you have to think about space differently and you have to think about time differently and pacing differently because people, they just read graphic novels a lot differently than they watch movies. It’s a totally different experience. So as a storyteller, you really have to think about how you structure your story with respect to that. I’d like to think I got the hang of it. I certainly had fun doing it, so I would love to do another one.

SHH: Obviously you’ve been working on “Pacific Rim” for some time so have you had time to do anything else in that time?

(Laughs) Well, it’s been a lot of “Pacific Rim.” At the moment, I’m working on a sci-fi TV show at AMC, sort of like a cable space thing that’s kind of a cross between “Chinatown” and “Battlestar Gallactica.” (Note: It’s called “Ballistic City” and he’s developing it with Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski.) I hate describing things in combinations like that, it never does the actual thing justice, you know? (laughs) But yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing. I think television and comics, what’s appealing to me as a writer about both of those mediums is that they allow you to sort of let the story unfold in its own time as opposed to trying to compress it into a two-hour discreet unit of narrative.

SHH: You’ve been involved with writing a couple remakes over the years because obviously you wrote “Clash of the Titans,” but you were also involved with the screenplay of “The Black Hole” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?” Are you still involved with any of those or did you just do a pass on the script and move on?

Usually, you turn in a first draft and then it sort of just kind of moves on without you. That’s, for better or worse, it’s just kind of the natural way that it works. I was very lucky on “Pacific Rim” to have a very different kind of experience where I was on set and I’ve become kind of the de facto cheerleader of all the continuity details that they go through every once in a while. It’s really been a lot of fun for me working on that and totally atypical of other movie experiences, which like I said, is usually just you do a first draft that you’re deeply and passionately in love with and you think it’s just the best thing in the world, and you turn it in, and they go and do something else based on what it needs for production or if they need the time, they need the budget, and that sort of thing. But as a screenwriter, it’s sort of like sending your kids out to sea and saying “I’ll see you in five years!”

SHH: Well, Guillermo likes writers. He’s a great writer himself, but he likes working with other writers and that’s why I think the movie’s going to be great because it’s just the two of you creatively and not doing the normal studio thing where you have 500 writers rewriting stuff.

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And Legendary, too. I think as producers, when they’re committed to something and they believe in something, it’s like 100 percent. They never really go halfway on it, which was really, really gratifying to me because when I came in with the concept for “Pacific Rim” and the outline, I think it would’ve been really easy for them to say, “Well, this isn’t based on anything. You know, there’s no prior title” or whatever and kind of dismiss it. But, immediately, immediately, they believed in it and saw what it could be. That was intensely gratifying because it’s fantastic to have a director like Guillermo and it’s fantastic to have a good script, but I think one of the things that any property needs, that any movie needs, is producers who really believe in it.

“Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero” hits comic shops on June 5, so you can have plenty of time to read it before the July 12 release of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. You can also order it from Amazon starting June 18.