Zachary Leeman talks with Derek Kolstad, screenwriter of John Wick…
Derek Kolstad is a name you may want to keep on your radar. He’s the hot screenwriter of the moment right now with his new revenge flick, John Wick, opening and getting fan-boys and filmgoers excited about its violent throwback nature and fresh feeling.
Kolstad decided to kindly take a few moments to speak with us about Wick, his process and screenwriting in general. Check out what the man had to say about his dog loving protagonist and his own long in development movie career.
Let’s bring this story full circle. How did the screenwriter of John Wick start out?
I’ve been writing since the age of 13, but having grown up in the mid-west, I never really saw it as a career. I went to school, started a career in business, but over time grew desperate to leap at this which I did at the age of 26. Fourteen years later, I get my first theatrical, thus making me -as many would argue- an “overnight success”. It’s been a rough ride, but a good one.
What was your first professional screenwriting gig?
I rewrote some scenes on a little actioner called One in the Chamber with Dolph Lundgren and Cuba Gooding Jr.
John Wick has a ton of hype and seems poised to make a big splash with audiences. Before this you wrote two Dolph Lundgren VOD movies. Did writing Wick feel any different or is the only difference in release circumstances?
One in the Chamber was a rewrite assignment while The Package was a “write within these budgetary parameters” type of gig. Wick felt different because it was purely a spec which allowed you write any scene you want without worrying about how much it may cost. And yeah, a number of those more pricey sequences were eventually pared down or cut out.
Even though I write a ton, I had never written a pure revenge flick. And who doesn’t love a good one? I had seen a couple of disappointing entries, and decided to tackle one myself. Alistair MacLean and Stephen King were huge influences on me growing up. MacLean could build a world, and King could surprise you by what the main character truly was capable of. As for the dog, I found myself asking the random question of myself: “what would you do if someone did something to Loki or Isis (my two mutts)?” And the answer? Terrible, terrible things… 🙂
Was there a specific motivation to homage violent revenge flicks or was it a story that simply dropped out of nowhere with this great character and premise?
I love action. Real down, dirty, gritty -and yet poetic- action. Too often action nowadays is a stuttery mess created in the editing bay. Seamless is key. The Raid has a huge influence on me.
Keanu Reeves strangely seems really fitting for this role. Was someone in your mind when you first wrote the script and how did it feel when Neo signed onto the flick?
I always write with a dead actor in mind. I great up with B&W flicks, and idolized actors who -as a child- were already beyond their prime. I wrote John Wick with Paul Newman in my head. But when Keanu signed on? Damn… he’s been a part of my entire cinematic life. From Youngblood to Bill and Ted’s to Point Break to Speed to Devil’s Advocate to Matrix to Constantine and beyond… I was ecstatic.
I’ve heard so many screenwriters talk about their stories and words being changed drastically from conception to completion. Did that happen with Wick or did this script and its core stay pretty solid throughout production?
I was blessed on this one. Yeah, we did a hundred drafts of varying degrees, but at the end of the day, the story is still there as it was meant to be. The aspects which have changed -I would argue- have changed for the better.
A lot of critics have mentioned how violent Wick is. I personally love darker and more violent pictures when they are done right because they can be more meaningful and grab you so much harder than the toe the line bubblegum bullshit. Does the criticism out there of violent art give you hesitation and make you want to convince people to the side of violent cinema with something like Wick or are you still just motivated to make the best art you can in the face of detractors?
It’s probably a grand irony in all of this that in real life I’m somewhat -if not fully- a pacifist. But this is a movie! This is where we can allow our fantasies to play out! People will (hopefully) be laughing, clapping, and cheering at this like I did when I was thirteen while watching Predator or Die Hard. Have fun with this! And when the credits roll, leave, have a drink and a chuckle, head over to the pound, and adopt a damn dog, okay?