HDN: How did you get the idea for Event Horizon? Was it something that had been in your head for a while, or did you get inspiration from another source?
Phil Eisner: THE SHINING is the best damn movie made since Muybridge stumbled onto the medium. And I was watching it for the umpteenth one day and thought, “Jesus I’d love to see this set on a big, creepy spacecraft.” So I pitched that to Lloyd Levin and Larry Gordon, and they said, “Great! Go write it.”
HDN: When writing the script for Event Horizon, did you find that the story unfolded naturally as you were writing, or were there moments where you really had to work at moving the narrative along?
PE: The first thirty pages came very quickly and with the exception of cutting the LUCKY STRIKE for budget reasons, didn’t change much through production. But the rest came very slowly. I was dealing with my father’s death at the time and spent altogether too much time chucking rocks into the abyss seeing if the abyss would throw anything back. Luckily, Lloyd and Larry had a wonderful creative exec Marilee Wyman who kicked me in the ass and kept me moving forward. Every writer should have a Marilee.
HDN: How long did it take for the finished script to find interested parties? Was it something that happened relatively quickly or did you have to shop it around a bit?
PE: Well, it was a pitch, so Larry owned it outright, and when he and LARGO (the production company he founded) parted ways, EVENT HORIZON was one of the scripts he took with him.
HDN: Did director Paul WS Anderson want many changes made to the script when he read it, or did you find that what was on-screen was by and large the same story you had written?
PE: Absolutely the same story. Paul wanted a few changes to bring in religious elements – there are none in the original – and gets credit for the creepy Latin warning – but from the outset we really saw the same movie.
HDN: There is quite a lot of talk about the differences between the first cut of the film and what got released in cinemas. Did you see the first cut of the film (or an earlier version)? How much difference was there?
PE: Here’s the deal. Paul never had his director’s cut. Because of the release date, we screened the assembly cut with a temp sound mix, no colour correction and no visual effects. The test audience hated it. At that point, the mandate came down to get the running time down to 90 minutes, so the theatres could get in another screening per day.
It’s a shame, because Paul and his editor never had a chance to find the best cut of the film. I don’t know that it would have been that much longer – but the running time wasn’t a creative decision, it was a financial one. And once the visual effects were finished and the sound mix was in, it was so good. One can only imagine how much better the film if Paul had been given the time…
…but you have to give credit to Sherry Lansing and the Paramount crew to have the courage to pull the trigger in the first place. Spending $50 million (1997 USD) on an original R-rated horror film was risky then, and unthinkable now.
HDN: Were you happy with the final result that was released in theatres, or were there some things you would have chosen to remove/add?
PE: I’m exceptionally proud of the film. The nitpicks I have are things that wouldn’t be problems now – the Burning Man, for example, could be perfectly realized with VFX, but in 1997, we had to make do with an actor in burn makeup.
HDN: Are you surprised at the popularity of the movie amongst film fans, or were you always sure you had something you knew would really resonate with horror/sci-fi fans?
PE: Not really. That sounds cocky, but it’s true. I wrote the movie I wanted to see, and like most people, I assume everyone else likes what I like. Occasionally I have moments of clarity and realize how mad I truly am, and in those moments I’m thankful for all the fellow lunatics that found the movie and made it a cult favourite.
HDN: How did you find working with the director Paul WS Anderson and the cast of actors brought onboard to bring your characters to life?
PE: Two moments stand out. Fishburne, sweating in the EVA suit, yelling at me as I crossed the soundstage: “Eisner! YOU did this to me!” And on my first visit to the set, finding Paul atop the five-story scaffold that surrounded the drive containment, where he grinned at me and said, “You did this.”
Such moments sustain you through the inevitable vagaries of a career in film.
HDN: Is there any chance a sequel could be made to Event Horizon, and if so, do you have any ideas you could share with our readers?
PE: Hope springs eternal!
A long time ago I learned the maxim, “Nothing’s happening until it’s happening.” It makes for bad press, but it helps keep me almost sane. Thus keeping stum.
HDN: Have you got any more film scripts in the pipeline that audiences can look forward to?
PE: Ask me again in three months. 😉
HDN: Philip Eisner, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak to Hi-Def Ninja.
– Jonathan McEvoy