With the amazing success of his work for Marvel Comics, like X-men: Phoenix – Endsong and Planet Hulk, and other books such as Battlestar Galactica, Greg Pak has taken the comic book industry by storm. What many comic fans don’t know is that Pak was originally a screenwriter and director. His most notable and recent film being, Robot Stories, which spawned the behind the scenes book about the film, Robot Stories and More Screenplays. The film garnered over 35 film festival awards and has played around the world. What more is in store for Greg Pak? JXM sat down with the talented writer to discuss his work past and future, and how he ended up writing for a living.
JXM: As a successful writer and director of film and comics, is this something you’ve always wanted to do growing up? What more do you hope to accomplish in your career?
Greg: I’m living one of my dreams – basically, I’m making a living doing the things I did for fun when I was ten. My big goal is to keep on telling the stories I care about, in whatever medium fits them the best.
JXM: Being a writer with a film background, what brought you to writing comics and the eventual Marvel gig? Were you always a comic fan?
Greg: I grew up reading and loving comics, but as an adult, it never occurred to me to try to get work in the comics industry. I was pretty well-ensconced in the independent film world, making and distributing my feature film Robot Stories. But one day my agent called me to say that Marvel was looking for new writers, and would I be interested? And I said, “Absolutely!” And three years later, here we are.
It’s been pretty fantastic, because comics let me play with many of the elements that inspired film projects of mine like Robot Stories. I love genre of almost any kind – science fiction, fantasy, horror, noir. And I think there’s something really powerful that happens when you combine genre with genuinely honest, emotional storytelling. The conventions of the genre provide amazing opportunities for building subtext and creating emotional and thematic resonance. And as an Asian American writer, I’m particularly interested in the way the smart use of genre can bring entirely new audiences to stories with multiracial casts.
JXM: Your diverse educational background includes political science, history, and of course film. How have all of these fields helped you in your development as a writer?
Greg: It’s all enormously helpful. As just one example, right now I’m writing the Planet Hulk storyline for The Incredible Hulk comic. It’s a crazy sci-fi epic in which the Hulk is exiled to an alien planet where he becomes a slave, then a gladiator, and now the leader of a revolution. And all of that history and political science background has been hugely helpful in creating and developing the world in which the Hulk finds himself. Great genre storytelling thrusts us into fantastical worlds which give us new ways to think about our own world – so it’s important to have an understanding and perspective on our world in order to create those new worlds.
JXM: As a writer and film director, who are some of your inspirations and influences?
Greg: Akira Kurosawa and Billy Wilder are my big film heroes. Current filmmakers who frequently blow my mind include Spielberg and Ang Lee and Ridley Scott and Hayao Miyazaki. Prose writers I’ve always loved include Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Lloyd Alexander, and Maxine Hong Kingston. My current literary obsession is Jane Austen – incredibly funny and sharp and humane all at once.
JXM: From your own experience, what valuable pieces of advice would you give to aspiring writers and filmmakers who’d like to make it in this business?
Greg: Three big things – first, do everything you can to learn about the craft. Read books, take classes, join workshops, go to school – the path is different for everyone, but somehow we all need to find ways to seriously study what we do. Second, do the work. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a director, direct. There’s almost no excuse not to these days – it’s possible to make a short film for a hundred dollars or less. Third, ruthlessly seek out criticism and feedback so you can find out the flaws in your work and get better. This can be incredibly painful, but it’s absolutely essential if we’re to get better at what we do.
For fellow filmmakers interested in more detailed practical advice and articles on low-budget filmmaking, please feel free to check out my website www.filmhelp.com. Also, the Robot Stories and More Screenplays paperback (available for purchase at Immedium.com) has detailed introductions describing the writing and production of many of my films.
JXM: Tell us a little bit about your critically acclaimed feature film, Robot Stories.
Greg: Robot Stories is science fiction from the heart, four stories in which utterly human characters struggle to connect in a world of robot babies, robot toys, android office workers, and digital immortality. The film stars Tamlyn Tomita and Sab Shimono and has won 35 film festival awards. It’s now available on DVD from Kino and the book of the screenplay can be bought at Immedium.com or Amazon.com.
JXM: What brought about the decision to portray your themes of human emotion and the human need for connection through, first of all, robots, and secondly, four little stories, as opposed to one?
Greg: Science fiction in general and robots in particular provide ideal means through which to explore the human heart. First, because one of the best ways to make something interesting is to work with contrasts, to play with surprise. So combining science fiction with genuine emotional storytelling is the kind of creative contrast that can spark fun, surprising stories. And second, because when you think seriously about robots and artificial intelligence, you end up asking the kinds of questions that are vital for all of us – who am I? What am I doing here? What is this thing you humans call love? Great stuff.
Regarding the decision to make an anthology film, I actually never wanted to – anthology films are notoriously hard to market and sell. But sometimes things creep up on you just because they’re the absolute right thing at the right time. I’d written three of the four stories in Robot Stories at different times over several years. I didn’t originally see the connections between them, but at a certain point, I was going through my file of unproduced screenplays and realized I’d written three scripts that dealt with robots and the human heart. So the project sort of ambushed me. These were all stories I’d been compelled to write, and suddenly I realized they shared a thematic thread and just about had to become a feature film.
JXM: Was there anything specific that initially inspired Robot Stories?
Greg: Years ago I heard about a production company that was looking for Mother’s Day stories to make into short films. I mused over the challenge and came up with a few ideas. Of course, my stories involved a woman who had to take care of a robot baby and a mother who became obsessed with finishing her dying son’s robot toy collection. These were not, apparently, this particular production company’s idea of appropriate Mother’s Day stories. But I loved the ideas, so I wrote the scripts anyway, and they eventually became the first two tales in Robot Stories.
Comic Books and Film
JXM: With a growing library of Marvel books under your belt, what characters, Marvel or otherwise, would you like to tackle?
Greg: I’ve had great opportunities at Marvel to play with most of the characters I’ve loved over the years. But I’d love to have a chance to do more with Storm – she’s always been one of my favorite X-Men. I’m also a big fan of the Deathlok, Cyborg, and Morbius. But I’m most excited right now about telling more stories with Amadeus Cho, aka Mastermind Excello, the Korean American boy genius on the run I created for Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 anthology book. I’ll spill the beans right here – the character will pop up in a prominent role in Incredible Hulk #100, which hits comic book stores in November. Dontcha dare miss it!
JXM: In addition to The Incredible Hulk, X-men: Phoenix – Warsong, and Battlestar Galactica, are there any other books you can tell us about that you’re working on?
Greg: I have a few more projects in the hopper, but nothing I can reveal just yet, alas. But readers can always find the latest news at www.pakbuzz.com.
JXM: What’s next for you in the world of film? Any upcoming projects?
Greg: I have a couple of short films in festivals right now – a sci fi short called Super Power Blues and a loopy comedy called Happy Hamptons Holiday Camp for Troubled Couples. Both films are screening around the country in September and October.
JXM: Thanks for chatting with us Greg!
Greg: Thank you!