AOL Interview with
Director S.S. Wilson

Transcript of the live chat conducted by Critic's Choice (AOL:CRITIC) on AOL, May 3, 1996

OnlineHost: Critics' Choice is delighted to welcome "Tremors 2: Aftershocks" writer/director S.S. Wilson. "Tremors 2" is the follow-up to "Tremors," the story of two modern-day cowboys (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) and the denizens of a desert town battling giant underground creatures.
AOLiveMC9: Welcome S.S. Wilson, glad to have you with us tonight. S.S. Wilson: Thank you very much !!
AOLiveMC9: We are ready for the first question from our audience.
Question: Are you still a partner in Stampede Entertainment? S.S. Wilson: Absolutely! Stampede is the reason we're all staying in the business. Working with friends is what got us into the business in the first place.
Question: What advise would you give a young person interested in a career as a screenwriter? S.S. Wilson: Write! There is an old joke that is told both about painting and writing. The drawing version is "You have a thousand bad drawings to do, so get started!" The writing version is "You have at least 150 rejection slips to collect, so get started!" But seriously, get copies of scripts in proper screenplay format. Learn the format and start writing.
Question: Do you retain an interest in animation? Would you be planning an animated feature any time soon? S.S. Wilson: We have a great interest in animation. My partner and I did a lot of work on "Land Before Time". We are always trying to get animated projects going, but it's difficult. One of our very first jobs was writing gags for Chuck Jones on two of his later "Roadrunner" cartoons.
Question: Has your partnership with Nancy Roberts and Brent Maddock altered or damaged the prior friendship? S.S. Wilson: If anything, it has enhanced it.
Comment: Tremors was great! I must say, that it was unexpectedly exciting, without being campy! Thanks!
Question: Could you tell us a bit about how you personally go about the process of putting together a screenplay? S.S. Wilson: Thank you. That's what we're trying to do. Brent and I do extensive outlining. We outline for a much longer time than we actually write. We try to answer as many story and character questions as possible before setting finger to keyboard. For screenplays, structure is the most important to us... trying to create a story that makes sense, has surprises and follows a kind of logic, whether fantasy or reality. The other thing we struggle with the most is tone. It is hardest for us to find the "tone" of a given movie. For example, with "Tremors", we learned it was important not to make fun of the monsters. You can have moments that are funny, but you can't make jokes. It took us many drafts to figure this out on "Tremors 1
Question: Looney Tunes are GREAT! How was it working with Chuck Jones, and what did you bring away with you from your experience with Looney Tune Cartoons? S.S. Wilson: Working with Chuck was delightful.. a once in a lifetime experience. We took away an enhanced set of comedic timing. Chuck forced us to think in terms of parts of seconds when describing a physical gag. He told us never to tell him something takes a "beat" (a common screen play term). He said "I don't know how long a beat is. Tell me how many seconds." Also, Chuck is extraordinarily well read. Some days his idea of a meeting was to read to us for 20 minutes from some favorite writer. It was a great time.
Question: Who are some of your favorite screen writers? And which influenced you most in your career? S.S. Wilson: That's a tough one! I am humbled by Paddy Chayevski. I was equally humbled trying to rewrite Brackett and Breen. Brent and I tried to unravel their structure and update it to the 80's and found it very difficult (the picture was "Miss Tatlock's Millions") I'm sorry, there are many writers I admire, but I can never call them to mind on short notice.
Question: How did you learn special effects animation? On you own? Do university film departments teach it as a subject? Which university would you recommend for someone interested in that subject? S.S. Wilson: Part 1: I learned on my own. I practiced with old 8 mm cameras when I was a kid doing stop motion animation, and it was as a stop motion animator that I got my first jobs in the film business. There wasn't much film technique taught in those days. Now, animation is taught at a number of good schools. UCLA, USC, NYU, The California Institute of the Arts, and probably many more. I would suggest that anyone interested in animation now practice drawing or doing stop motion of course, but also pursue computer animation because that's where the business is certainly headed.
Question: I believe "Tremors 2" was your directorial debut. Did you enjoy the experience, and would you like to direct again? S.S. Wilson: It was fabulous! I had not thought of myself as directing until I directed second unit on "Tremors 1" After that, I really had the bug, and can't wait to do it again. It's especially gratifying when you have a hard working team like I had on "Tremors 2", put together by producer Nancy Roberts.
Question: As you said: " With "Tremors", we learned it was important not to make fun of the monsters. You can have moments that are funny, but you can't make jokes" ... That is PRECISELY one the things I like most about the film! S.S. Wilson: Thank you. As I said, capturing that tone was the hardest thing to do and it's nice that our many fans appreciate it.
Question: Tremors was successful after much word of mouth, do you expect the same for Tremors 2? S.S. Wilson: Yes we do. At least we certainly hope it will find as many fans as the first one did.
Question: What inspired you to come up with the idea of underground monsters? S.S. Wilson: That's a good question. I had a job working as an editor at a navy base in the middle of the Mojave Desert. On weekends, when they weren't shooting at the gunnery ranges, I was allowed to go hiking out there. One day when climbing over large boulders exactly like those in "Tremors 1", off of which the people pole vault, I had a thought. "What if something was under the ground and I couldn't get off this rock?" That scrap of paper sat in a file folder for a number of years and was resurrected after Brent and I sold "Short Circuit". Nancy Roberts, then our agent, told us "Now for the fun part. Get out all those old ideas So we did. And one of the ones she liked the best was this note that became "Tremors".
Question: Which do you find more difficult in turning out a screenplay, the plot or the dialogue? S.S. Wilson: I find the dialogue easy -- Brent does most of it. Actually, I'm not totally kidding. We are an unusual writing team because I am very structure oriented and Brent is very character oriented. And that blend allows us to turn out screenplays, hopefully with the best of both.
Question: Could you tells a bit more about Tremors II? I gather it has a much larger budget to work with than Tremors I. ... By how much? S.S. Wilson: By a factor of 1/3. Actually, "Tremors 2" had a long, difficult birth. Ultimately, it was the Video Division of Universal that most wanted the sequel. So we were faced with a choice. Don't make the movie or make it for 1/3 the original budget and in the time. "Tremors 1" cost just under $12 million and was shot in 55 days. "Tremors 2" cost under $4 million and was shot in 27 days. It was easy.
Question: The idea of a "stampede" is significant in the first "Tremors." Is that why you named your company Stampede? S.S. Wilson: Yes. The four partners, Ron, Brent, Nancy and myself, could not agree for six months on a company name after we formed the company. Finally, our Vice President, Lou Malacarne, sat us down and said "Look.. you like the West, you keep trying to come up with western names. There's a stampede in "Tremors", there's a stampede in "City Slickers". How about it?" We all realized he was right. The name cleared and we were finally on our way.
Question: Do you have any interest in writing a novel? How is screen writing different from writing fiction? S.S. Wilson: Yes, I fantasize about writing a novel, but in truth, screen writing is quite different. A screenplay is a blueprint. It should be as clear as possible (except for the dialogue). Fiction can take use of all the wonderful tricks of language and evocative emotional writing. You are simply moved by the words. This is quite different from describing actions and movements so that a dozen different film departments can also get to work with a common understanding of what will physically be needed to get the shot.
Question: "Tremors" was a great critical success. Is that the principal reason for the sequel? S.S. Wilson: I would like to say yes, but surely you all know Hollywood is a town driven by numbers. "Tremors" was a modest hit in the theaters, a huge hit on TV and a giant hit in video. That, unfortunately, is the main reason for the studios' interest in sequels.
Question: How much involvement do you have with the development of props, puppets and special effects? S.S. Wilson: As a Director, I have total involvement in all of those things. In the sense that I have many meetings with the heads of those departments. They bring me and the producers drawings, models, concepts, and ideas and everyone tries to come to a consensus about what is best for the movie. Of course I usually get the last word which is what's fun about being a Director. As a writer, one does not normally have much to say at all in any aspect of a movie production.
AOLiveMC9: We have time for one more question from the audience!
Question: Will there be a Tremors 3? S.S. Wilson: I certainly hope so! Remember those numbers. Go to your video stores and start renting. Thank you all very much I'm very impressed with your questions. They are more intelligent than most questions I am asked by the press. I hope you enjoy "Tremors 2 - Aftershocks" and I hope to get a chance to do this again.
AOLiveMC9: Thank you for joining us tonight Mr. Wilson, it was certainly enjoyable having you with us

S.S. Wilson: Thanks again.
AOLiveMC9: And thanks to all of you in the audience for asking such interesting questions. OnlineHost: Copyright 1996 Critics' Choice; licensed to America Online, Inc.


Animated .gif of a shrieker

Tremors 2
  Back to the Stampede Entertainment Home Page