‘Eternals’ Writer Patrick Burleigh On The “Pressure Cooker” Marvel Method – The Hollywood Reporter
Even before work the eternal, Patrick Burleigh underwent a Marvel Studios baptism by fire. The screenwriter won a spot on the Marvel Writers’ Show in 2016, which saw him and three others spend a year perusing the company’s following catalog to showcase ways new to adapting studio characters. Burleigh then switched to writing production on Ant-Man and the Wasp, a pressure cooker situation that causes him to write about 25 pages a day.
All that prepared him for his greatest work, Chloé Zhao The eternal. Burleigh met Zhao after Marvel executive and producer Nate Moore asked them to talk, and the duo immediately shot.
“I read her draft and I was amazed at it,” says Burleigh The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s basically trying to create Terrence Malick’s version of a Marvel movie.”
Zhao hired him, and that led to a whirlwind six weeks of writing. Burleigh sent the pages back and forth to Zhao, who was in London writing and preparing for the film. Burleigh then worked for about three months in London, leading up to becoming principal photographer.
Although Burleigh has had a long day, he sees himself as just a piece of the puzzle that serves Zhao’s vision along with others who have worked on the film. In addition to directing, Zhao is credited twice on the screenplay, once as a solo and once in a team that wrote the screenplay with Burleigh. (The credits read: Chloé Zhao and Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo.)
Burleigh, who worked as an actor in TV commercials while starting out as a screenwriter, is also the writer Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway and upcoming by Sony Pictures Animation Black Knight. He has several projects under development, including a reboot Superman at Paramount and reboot Borrower at Universal, where he’s also writing a monster movie. He’s also tapping into his formative years for a new project. In 2019, Burleigh published a New York Magazine in which he discusses growing up with family-restricted precocious puberty, a rare disease that causes puberty to begin at the age of two. He’s currently adapting that into a series called Precious for Hulu with Schitt’s Creek Dan Levy has won an Emmy.
In a conversation with CHEAP, Burleigh reflects on how his childhood informed his writing, the pressures of writing big-budget studio movies and special scripts that landed him in the Marvel spotlight. .
The internet claims you did a Marvel scholarship and continues to write uncredited articles about Ant-Man and the Wasp. Is that your Marvel origin story?
That is all correct. I joined the Marvel Writers Program in 2016. Nate Moore, producer of the eternal, monitor that. It was me and three other writers. It’s a crash course in Marvel. We used to have an office at Marvel and for a year. All we do is go through the back catalog of everything that’s been published, looking for interesting characters and teams that haven’t been tweaked and also come up with ways to tweak them and take on new IPs. . In the end, I introduced a bunch of stuff and wrote a script that Nate liked. And then I started writing some products about Ant-Man and the Wasp. They did, as they do with the Marvel movies, quite a few times back and that’s from the pan of fire to the fire. We had six weeks before we did all the reboots. Stephen Broussard, producer of that film, and [Marvel Studios boss] Kevin Feige, have an idea of what they want to do, but they’re still figuring it out. And they basically need someone to sit in a room and write only 20, 30 pages a day.
Wow, that’s a good result.
I went from being a novice in the office by myself for a year just to type, to suddenly writing 25 pages in a day. Writing 25 pages in a day, it doesn’t have to be your A-level job. And I did, and at seven o’clock in the evening, I’m going into the conference room with Stephen Broussard, [director] Peyton Reed, Kevin Feige and [Marvel exec] Louis D’Esposito. They will be cold to read all the material I have written. This is like the first time I met Kevin. It is very stressful. It’s great, to be honest. It’s really, really fun. And it’s a great introduction to how they work.
Is Marvel your big screenwriter breakthrough?
I used to act in movies in college, and my parents were actors. “Well, maybe I can do this too.” My main goal has always been to be a writer, and for a few years that goal worked well, because I did a lot of commercials. It’s my day job when I support my writing. I worked on a movie for DreamWorks Animation. I’ve typed everywhere, minimal WGA rewrite here, polish there. Just hustle. And then I wrote a script called Ping-Pong Diplomacy, about the famous meeting of an American and a Chinese table tennis player in 1971. It led to the China summit between Mao and Nixon. That was well received. That’s what Nate Moore read. Then I went in and met him.
That seems to be a common story with Marvel. There’s a script to help you with that.
It’s a combination of a script that feels fresh, has a unique dynamic, a unique voice, but it also has to be in the right place. All four of us on the writer’s show, we’re not your stereotypical Marvel girls and fans. We come at it from a different angle, which is what Marvel likes. I think he saw in my writing that I could write these bigger movies but still have a bit of heart and be funny and grounded.
Looks like Marvel took notice of you after you worked together. Is this the next natural step, when you are transferred to Chloé as a the eternal ability?
After Ant-Man and the Wasp, I wrote Peter Rabbit 2, with Will Gluck, it was a very interesting thing. That movie was made. I went to Australia, got started with it. And now I’m writing the set. Firpos wrote a few drafts of their own, not with Chloé, while Chloé did Wandering. And then she came and she was super high-handed. She is a real filmmaker. She is involved in every aspect. I think she felt she needed to process the script, process the film through her own filter, as a writer. So she did. And then she wrote a draft, on her own, under the name Firpos. At that time, it was spring. They have been 4 and a half months since production. Everything in the script is still changing. It’s a classic Marvel, “We need to do this.” Nate thought of me and took me to see Chloé. I read her draft and I was amazed at it. What I see, she’s basically trying to make Terrence Malick’s version of a Marvel movie. It’s super ambitious and it’s really fun that way. When Chloé and I sat down, I said and she said, “Yeah. Tree of Life. These movies are what inspires me.” So we connected that way. She nodded to me and she went to London and I was here for about six weeks submitting the pages and I flew to London and I was there for about three months before going into the first week of the main shoot.
When you write in LA, are you at Marvel headquarters?
I wrote two [Non-Marvel] stuff. I had to write another one and then Nate Moore called. “Can you write the eternal? “(Laughter.) What shall I say? I won’t say no. I’m in a hurry to finish the other scripts I’m supposed to be working on. Just in my office here at home. And still at that point, I was a little bit of a probationary. “We’ll see if this works.”
Did you and Chloé argue about body numbers, about how many Eternals die?
It’s ironic, because in many ways, Eternals is more sublime than any superhero that has appeared in a Marvel movie before. At the same time, they are the most kind of people. We haven’t really seen many characters die in the MCU. That’s certainly an important part of conveying the humanity of these characters. As for the body count, I’m trying to remember. We could have had one more death at the beginning and then retracted from there. A lot of what Chloé and I have done is structural. I think it’s more of a matter of what effect the flow of the film has on it. It’s basically a movie about the trip. What drives these characters from place to place? How can we change their reaction to the death of Ajak (Salma Hayek)?
Any movie can edit the story in writing, in shooting and in editing. Isn’t it a liberating feeling, knowing that even though a Marvel movie is huge, it can be agile, to some extent?
Liberation, and panic. If you can’t work in a pressure cooker, you won’t work at Marvel. Things kept changing, until just a few weeks before the main day of the photo shoot. For Kevin and Nate’s credit, the story always comes first. Plot and characters. If those don’t work, they keep pushing. You will work on the set, you will work on it in post-production. It is never completed. It is liberating, but paradoxically there is a pressure that comes with knowing that you can always change it. You can always make it better. It was never done. I started writing plays. As a playwright, you’re watching rehearsals, you’re elevating an actor right before he gets on stage. “Actually, can you leave out this line?” It’s very much like that. It is a living being.
You wrote a widely read book about your childhood a few years ago titled, “A 4-year-old Child Trapped in a Teen’s Body”. Did your experience growing up influence the way you write, perhaps the empathy you put into a movie like the eternal?
So many, so much. I loved comic books growing up. I always connect with those characters, the outsiders. Superheroes are outsiders. Part of what’s so heroic about that is that they go beyond their outsider status to do something for the greater good. I definitely connect with that. I would say that all the characters in the eternal, although it’s the opposite of what I’ve been through as a child – where I was a kid trapped in a much older body – but Sprite (Lia McHugh) is a 7,000-year-old trapped man. in a child’s body. In particular, it was a dilemma I encountered while we were writing. That feeling of difference and the kind of anger that comes from it.
Do you participate in the eternal post-credit scene?
No I do not. That’s all Chloe.
When you realized Richard Madden and Kit Harington were going to be in this movie, did you want to make sure they had a scene together to complete? Game of Thrones reunion?
We always knew Sersi (Gemma Chan) would have a human love interest and there would be a little triangle and a bit of conflict between her and Ikaris (Madden) human love, and she would be pull in two directions. Richard Madden was cast first and then when Kit showed up, it couldn’t have been more perfect. We are all fans, especially Chloé, of Game of Thrones and was excited about the scene between the two of them in London. It’s almost like a synergy there.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.