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The Final Word On: The Josh Olson Interview

FW11

Beneath is an article that was written for reasons that will become clear once you’ve read it. As it turns out, we got another chance to interview Josh and so you should for that coming up soon. Until then, read on and get a sneak preview of sorts:

Sometimes every little nuance of your day can come together in a divine harmony and you simply feel blessed to have been part of god’s little miracle they call life. Of course that wasn’t one of the days I’m writing about. No, far from it actually. If in one minute you felt strong enough to run with the bulls in Pamplona and each morning’s sunrise was a blessing that kissed your cheek with good luck that you didn’t need because in Bob Marley‘s words, “every little thing is gonna be alright”,  this would have been the opposite. I interviewed Josh Olson.

The entire week had already been a crazy sequence of mishaps and fuck-ups that defy any logical understanding. Sure one or two things could fly afoul, but a series of unfortunate events such as this was something to leave Lemony Snickets crying under his bed. I got the flu. My car decided in anticipation of my retched day that it would preemptively puke up its guts and hide at the mechanics, leaving me to face things by myself. I double booked myself on my wedding anniversary with a work related event that couldn’t be canceled. My car, seeing how things were unfolding, decided to take the coward’s way out and ended its life at the mechanics; leaving me high and dry. An interview canceled. Another interview made itself available, but I couldn’t accept due to a previous commitment. Staff members were now getting sick and leaving me like rats leaving a sinking ship. Things looked bleak, but I still had no idea my day was going to be completely flushed down the toilet. I mean, I was about to interview Josh Olson.

I should have known that the entire proceedings would be cursed. Only the night before, there had been a mix-up on the time of the interview and it was only at eleven pm that the confirmation came through that we would interview Josh at nine the next morning. I was on the phone to Rovin all night giving him updates and it was finally settled, he would be there bright and early and we would get this done. Being something of a night owl, I stayed up to prep. Josh is an Academy Award-nominated writer for his adaptation of John Wagner‘s graphic novel, “A History of Violence” so I decided to reread the book and then proceeded to rewatch the movie as a refresher. Both were great, but the entire experience gave me a new perspective on Josh’s work. Ideas were flowing and I added new questions to my list. I thought I was ready, but it turned out there was no way to truly prepare for what actually happened. I interviewed Josh Olson.

At four in the morning I traveled online to trailersfromhell.com to check out Josh’s picks on the site. Trailersfromhell.com is a great site created by master genre filmmaker Joe Dante where other industry professionals such as Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and John Landis select old movie trailers and record commentaries over them. It is a fantastic and unique on-line Mecca for movie nerds the world over. The movies vary from grind house horror to Spaghetti western, but they’re all hand-picked by people you respect and endorsed by their comments. I was now deep into Josh Olson’s list. Many of the movies I had never seen although there were a few personal classics that I was excited to find had made his list. Black Christmas and Race with the Devil are both held in high esteem for me and I could see that we had some common ground. I even made a list of movies I should pick up based on the trailers and his recommendations like; Doc Savage and Freebie and the Bean. I was blissfully unaware of how sad I was going to be in the very near future. You see, I interviewed Josh Olson.

With only a few hours to go, my list of questions ready and everything set, I dusted off a copy of the Long Goodbye that had been sitting on a shelf for a few months and put it in the player. This had been another of Josh’s picks from the site and I had been meaning to watch it for months. What better time to watch it? I finished it an hour before the interview. It was great! So different from fifties noir and yet somehow Philip Marlowe was a perfect fit in the seventies, almost like a man out of time. Rovin showed up at 8:30am and we thought we were ready. We just didn’t realize what we were getting into. We were about to interview Josh Olson.

Josh picked up his phone and we started right in on “A History of Violence”, his writing techniques when adapting someone else’s work and what it was like working on a project that was going to be directed by one his favorite directors of all time, David Cronenberg (which was something he didn’t know until after he had finished it).

Although Josh was a fan of the Vertigo comic book, his adaptation took liberties and strayed from the original work. Small things such as the character’s name changing from McKenna to Stahl might have been Cronenberg’s suggestion, but other seemingly arbitrary changes like a shift of locale from New York to Philadelphia are rooted deeply in Olson’s personal life. “I’m just lazy”, he says, laughing. Growing up Philadelphia makes  the location an easy back drop for him to write without having to do any research. Other little touches like William Hurt‘s “broheem” (a slang term for brother that he uses when he sees Viggo Mortensen) is something directly out of Josh’s own history with his brother. We laugh as he tells us how surreal it was receiving a phone call from David Cronenberg, with the greeting, “how’s it going, broheem?” Although Wagner’s original intention was to tell the story of an everyman, Olson was more interested in exploring the notion of a man with a secret history, including how his new life was constructed and the destructive effects of those lies on his new family when the truth becomes apparent.

Despite all of the changes -or maybe because of them- Olson’s version of “History” got him a hug from John Wagner at the premiere. For both men, the other’s version holds a strange alternate universe of events.

Recently, another of Olson’s works has become a hotbed of criticism online. Originally posted in the Village Voice, I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script has many wannabe writers up in arms and many professionals patting Olson on the back. “This was something I originally wrote for myself”, he says. The article is an exasperated rant directed at people hoping to exploit their friendship with a writer by asking them to read their script. Once in the Voice of course, it had explosive results with people criticizing Olson for being callous toward new writers and many questioned how he got his first break in the industry. As it turns out Olson had to work his way up the ladder starting in 1987 when he walked into Cannon Films to tell them he was ready to work. They snapped him up exceptionally fast and put him to work as a production assistant fetching coffee. As it turns out, they had mistaken him for someone else they were expecting and by the time that person had shown up a month later, Olson was firmly entrenched in the art department and spent much of that year working on Masters of the Universe. Even though he wrote continuously since childhood, it took many years before an industry professional asked to read something Josh had written; when the time came, he was excited to be given that opportunity and reveled in any criticism he received, determined to use it to become a better writer. He recalls, “It was the first time someone had really talked to me like a professional, and I was thrilled.” We laugh at how so many people seem to misread Olson’s articles and feel the need to comment on them even though they’ve missed the point. In his newest piece, which deals with Roman Polanski‘s incarceration, Olson takes the media to task for sensationalizing the few film industry professionals who have signed a petition to free the director. Of course many of the responses were simply directed at Polanski instead of the article. Olson seems to take all of this with a good hearted chuckle though, he recognizes the Internet for both its marvels and the unfortunate mouthpiece it’s become for anyone with half an opinion.

Today, amidst his work on trailersfromhell.com, a job that recently had him reviewing the Howling directly in front of its director and his boss Joe Dante (an unnerving prospect for anyone!), Olson has worked on a number of projects, some of which may not ever see the light of day. He’s already being credited on various websites for his work on Peter Jackson and Neill Bloomkamp‘s adaptation of the hit video game Halo. “I was asked by my agent if I’d like to write a script for a movie based on a video game, and I was like, fuck no!” Finding out it was going to be produced by Peter Jackson changed everything naturally. Olson explains: “I sat down with Peter and he asked me if I was familiar with the mythology of the Halo world. I said no. If I want to watch a great movie I’ll watch Godfather 2, if I want to blow some shit up I play Halo.” Lucky for him Jackson felt the same way and the two sat down with director Neill Bloomkamp and began talking about the movie. Months later a dispute between Microsoft and Universal put an end to the funding and the project died on the drawing table, but some of the ideas and concepts were to be seen months later in Bloomkamp’s film; District 9.

Another project that Olson has been involved with that has attracted much attention is Warner Brothers’ much-disputed “Oz project”. Spawn creator Todd McFarlane seemed to think that Olson’s script was supposed to be based on his toy line, “Twisted Land of Oz” when he told Rick Marshall at MTV Splash Page that he wasn’t happy with Olson’s treatment, but Josh had a different story to tell. He says he was never hired to write anything for McFarlane’s toy line and that although the project had indeed been born of a pitch from Todd, the studio was more excited about creating a new Oz movie. “The project I pitched to Warner Brothers was based entirely on my own ideas and L. Frank Baum, the brilliant creator of Oz.” Olson might not be planning a musical, but certainly a film that’s more faithful to the original MGM film.

Finishing the interview with a great anecdote about his time on Masters of the Universe carrying Billy Barty up the steps of Skeletor‘s thrown room, (it seems that Billy wasn’t able to negotiate stairs while in full costume without a little assistance) we gave our thanks and ended the interview. We did it. We had interviewed Josh Olson.

It doesn’t sound so bad does it? Well it wasn’t. Truth be told, it was probably one of the best interviews we’d done for the site. So let us be clear. I wasn’t repeating “I interviewed Josh Olson” as some kind of merit badge for bravery or a warning to others that I can survive anything. Josh Olson is not the new Beirut. I repeat the phrase to remind myself that it actually happened. Three days after the interview, there was a power outage and my entire hard drive was wiped out, interview included. While several attempts to salvage the drive have failed, I’ve desperately tried to scribble together this account of the events. There has to be some record of this interview and so I -my mind a sieve- tried my best to write it down here. It really does little to capture the mood of the interview or the volume of information we were given, but at the very least I hope it should show some respect for Mr. Olson’s time. After all, it did happen. I interviewed Josh Olson.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Aaron

    I envy you guys.

    lots to read but as for comments, what can I say, they guy is good.

    Damn I wished the halo film didn’t die, maybe its better this way. now Peter Jackson and Neil can do it since D-9 was such a big hit

    November 27, 2009 at 4:23 am
  • Reply Fancore Pirate Radio » Blog Archive » 030 Josh Olson Interview

    […] assassin they call Josh Olson. After losing our first interview, which you can read all about here, Josh was kind enough to give us more of his time. (Although we have a sneaking suspicion that may […]

    November 27, 2009 at 4:46 am
  • Reply Abe Froman

    Just listened to the interview. Mr. Olsen seems like a cool guy. I wonder if there’s a copy of the Halo script floating around somewhere on the web.

    November 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm
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