HTF Interview with Safe House Writer David Guggenheim - SPOILERS INSIDE

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  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    On Thursday, May 31, I had the opportunity to interview David Guggenheim, the writer of the Universal movie Safe House, which has hit the store shelves this week. David and I discussed a bit about the movie and its production and touched on some of his other projects currently in progress. I should put in a word of thanks to Jackie Cavanaugh at Click Communications for arranging the interview and to David Guggenheim for taking the time.

    Please be aware there are many SPOILERS in this interview. If you have not already seen the film, this interview will spoil many things, including the ending of the movie. So I recommend watching the movie first, unless the spoilers are not an issue.

    And here we go:

    How are you, David? Thanks for taking the time.

    David: Oh, absolutely, my pleasure.

    So I just was going to ask you a few things.

    David: Yeah.

    The movie Safe House, what was the initial genesis for the idea?

    David: Well, I'm a huge espionage movie fan. The movie has several James Bond references sprinkled throughout the whole move. So I was always looking to write something within that genre. No one else had used this idea of a Safe House, so I thought wow, that's a really interesting starting off point for something. You know, this place that you think it’s going to be safe and then it turns out to be anything but. Originally it started out as being much more of a solo movie about a housekeeper who’s stuck there, and one night a bunch of CIA guys come in, they all get killed and he goes on the run on his own. And it’s much more Three Days of the Condor style that way. And eventually I developed it into – you know, what if I made it more of a two-hander and I gave him someone to partner up with, someone who represents a complete different set of ideals than he does, and then it could be much more of a road movie again, become, you know, a mentor-protégé relationship.


    David: Yeah, with a lot of, you know, bullets and explosions going on…

    One or two car chases here or there just incidentally.

    David: Yeah, for sure.

    Now originally it was going to be in Brazil, right?

    David: Yeah, you know, it was in Rio and there still a little shout-out to Rio in the movie – Frost says that’s where his first house was.


    David: But yeah, the original concept was Rio. It was switched to Cape Town for logistical reasons.

    At the very beginning of the movie, am I right Tobin Frost is selling out at the very beginning of the movie, does he have a kind of a come-around in the middle of the movie because of working with this other guy?

    David: Yeah, I think it's the idea that at one point in his career he was Matt. And Matt’s idealism finally rubs off on him so after spending all this time together and then losing his friend Carlos and sort of becoming friends with Matt, he starts realizing a little bit of what's right. So yes, at the beginning of the movie, he’s very much a bad guy.


    David: And the movie pits him up against people who are even worse than him.


    David: But Matt sort of reminds him who he is and gives him this opportunity to redeem himself.

    Was the idea always to have Weston at the very end essentially walk away from the whole thing or --

    David: Yeah, originally – in the original script he does quit and then we tried a version in which he would stay. We tried to make that work, but you know, at the end of the day, the CIA ends up getting kind of painted as a kind of a very corrupt agency which really wasn’t the original intent, so it was hard for the audience to buy Matt going back to work. So we used the original ending which was Matt leaves, and does the right thing with the chip, you know, that Frost wouldn’t do that.

    Would I be right to think that that they pretty darn well know he has it, he just made himself --

    David: I'm sorry? Exactly, yeah, he is definitely -- he is going to have be Frost. He is going to have to be hiding.

    I got the feeling that this bit that you put at the very, very end in Paris is him saying to his girlfriend you're probably not going to see me again.

    David: Yeah, it's kind of ambiguous. It was just, you know, I'm going to check and make sure she's okay.


    David: But I probably can’t stay with her.

    I remember something akin to that in the last Mission Impossible where they have -- the couple has been split up because it's too dangerous.

    David: Yeah, I know, I saw that, and so I think that just goes with that. You know, even the real CIA, the divorce rate between agents and their wives and vice-versa, I mean, it’s just astronomical, 80 percent. So it’s not a job that’s conducive to having a real relationship and that’s what Frost warns him.


    David: But Matt tries to make it work.

    I had another question for you on a different script because I was reading -- because you have another one that's close to coming out. Stolen which I guess was originally Medallion.

    David: Yes, it was originally Medallion.

    Did you write that one before this?

    David: Oh, yeah, that's a very -- it's like a seven, eight-year old script.

    I was thinking it was along the lines of what --

    David: It's really old.

    -- when Quentin Tarantino made it and he had a few scripts already written and all of a sudden all the scripts were sold and suddenly --

    David: Yeah, this one was actually gearing up similarly, really independent of Safe House. I was getting it set up right before Safe House sold, so by the time Medallion was sort of ready to really come together and they wanted me to work on it, I couldn’t. I had to stay with Safe House. So it was an embarrassment of riches at the time. I don’t know which draft you read, but mine is pretty old.

    Now, you had Exit Strategy. I figured that was a pilot that they made, but it didn’t go to series.

    David: Right. It didn’t go, we shot that literally while we were shooting Safe House, it was the exact same schedule, so I was in L.A. doing the pilot and doing rewrites for Safe House, and then the minute we wrapped Exit Strategy, I flew on the plane to Cape Town.


    David: And did more work there. And that also was fun because I finally got to see the set.

    How much of the shoot were you on the set for Safe House?

    David: You know, I think the whole time I was just literally doing the pilot, so I only got away when we weren’t shooting Exit Strategy. So it was only really a couple days. That’s all. The Langa setup and then that was basically about it. The Langa shootout, and just some sort of extra second unit work. But they showed me dailies and kept me informed as to what was going on. They were actually really great. I mean, they really did definitely involve me, which was great.

    So once you finished the pilot you were able to make it there for a couple of days on the tail end, just to see what was going on the ground.

    David: Right. You know, I got there literally for the entire shootout scene where Frost is running on the rooftops. It was really, really cool. Just shooting there was unbelievable.

    And I would imagine that was two or three nights of straight shooting.

    David: Yeah, they were fantastic. Actually, the whole township just really got behind it and had fun, and it was really cool.

    And you also have a book that you're working on now.

    David: Yeah it’s just a friend of mine is writing it and I’m producing it. We’re sort of, we set it up with Little Brown Publishing, so he’s really in the process of getting in our first draft of it. So I’ve sort of been – arguing from a structural standpoint. Driving the plot points and the story points. It’s a very, very cool book. In a similar world to Safe House but more Hitchcockian.

    I saw you had a couple of other things that were coming up, one was Santiago and the other was Narco Sub.

    David: Narco Sub which is with Tony Scott, and hopefully it's going to be his next movie, because it’s on his plate and he really, really wants to do it. And then this movie called Puzzle Palace, the first script I sold after Safe House. McG is directing and we're casting it right now, with Lionsgate. It’s very cool. It’s a very New York action thriller like Die Hard, set within New York Police Headquarters.

    And then I saw you also had a pitch that went to Ron Howard for 364.

    David: Yeah. 364. We’re still developing that right now with Universal so it's cool to be back there to work with them on that. I literally have a call tomorrow about it. But we’re still sort of developing that concept.

    That's your first one with Universal since Safe House?

    David: Yes, exactly. Nice to be back there.

    Was I reading right that it's a guy who spends 364 days planning the one day he can be a hero?

    David: It’s not so much the planning. I mean, that’s part of it. It’s the wish-fulfillment moment: what if you could be a superhero for one day and what would you do with your day? That’s sort of the genesis of that and figuring out where it goes from there.

    Well, thank you very much for taking the time.

    David: Absolutely, my pleasure.

    And congratulations.

    David: Thank you so much.

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