With films like Star Trek and Transformers on their combined resumes, actor Chris Pine and screenwriter Alex Kurtzman have become men of power in the Hollywood blockbuster scene. After working together on the successful Star Trek reboot (which Kurtzman co-wrote with frequent collaborator Roberto Orci), the two have reunited for a much more personal film, People Like Us. Though it features a concept that almost seems like fantasy (choosing what to do with the revelation of an abandoned sibling), this movie features no guns, no robots, and no explosions. Along with this film, Kurtzman and Pine are currently working on the untitled Star Trek sequel, due out next summer. On top of this, Kurtzman and Orci have started scripting a sequel to the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man reboot.
I sat down with Kurtzman and Pine to discuss their dramatic shift from large blockbusters to this intimate drama, and the essential elements to making a good film whether your budget is $200 million or $500,000.
People Like Us opens wide on Friday June 29.
What has your experience with much larger films (Star Trek, Transformers) taught you about what to narrow in to get audiences to believe performances and story?
Alex Kurtzman: I think that when I look at the movies that influenced me, the Back to the Futures, Star Wars, and all those movies, the common denominator is that there was something unbelievably relatable about all of them. Anyone could be Marty McFly. And then suddenly the incredible disaster of your mom falling in love with you, it's a crazy fantastical idea, and yet it's extremely relatable and personal. That is what we aspire to in making bigger movies. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't work at all, and I'll take credit for both.
Chris Pine: I think what's important is that no matter if it's a big or small film, people connect to what they find are truths. It's very telling that in something like The Avengers, the one character that people seem to relate to the most is the Hulk. I think they relate to him like they will Andrew Garfield's The Amazing Spider-Man, because they are damaged, flawed, real people. They're not superheros. They're the guy next door, the librarian. He's faulty, he's faulted. The thing that J.J. knows how to do so well with Star Trek, and what [Kurtzman and Orci] know is that before the big explosions commence, you've got to create real people with real relationships. If you're not rooting for them while the world is blowing up, then you're like "Well, I don't care. I don't care about this world." I think that is the relationship between the big and small.
Kurtzman: The truth is, to speak to Chris' point, your objective is, "Could you take the character out of the movie and make a two million dollar, or $500,000 indie out of that story?" If you look at Trek, that's a brother story. That's the goal - to really apply everything.
How refreshing or humbling is it to move away from adaptations that come with high expectations towards a more personal story?
Pine: Awesome. What I really like about smaller films is that it is a smaller crew. What's always weird about any kind of performance thing is that you're like, "Here I am! This is what I'm doing." If you don't feel comfortable with the people whom you're making the movie with, there are so many people watching the scene that it is impossible to get that comfort. And a lot of films, it's just a little tiny film community that moves from location to location. The characters were paramount here. With bigger films, you have bigger fish to fry. At the end of the day, many months of that shooting process will be given to things like, "When I'm flying through the air, should I look right or look left?" All things like that are very important, but the little things ...
Kurtzman: They can get mechanical.
Many, many years into the future, do you think you both will be more interested in doing more dramas, or having more interest in doing smaller films? Is action/fantasy really strong in your blood?
Pine: Seriously, my favorite question at junkets are, "Why did you do this movie?" "Because someone said 'I'll hire you.'" I think Alex will say the same thing - there's a certain amount of control you can have in your career, and there's also a certain amount that a wave takes you, and you ride that wave. These paths for my five years of my career, they have been bigger films. But by no means have I ever chosen a film because I've said, "Now, that's a big film." The driving force is good characters, and what you're presented. I was talking to Alec Baldwin the other day, and he said, "As an actor, you want to work. And the only thing that you can go with is the pile of things that you see. You have to choose amongst that pile what you think will be fun, what will be challenging, what you think will afford you more opportunities to work." But it just so happens that my pool has been these films. But by no means have I been skewing smaller films because I don't see them.
Kurtzman: I get great joy out of both. This has been an extraordinarily unique and lovely gift, and I would like to do movies like this for the rest of my life, honestly. But at this exact moment I am in the middle of writing the next The Amazing Spider-Man sequel with [Roberto Orci], and I am having a ball. I think the key is balance. And getting to a point in your career where you can make that balance a reality. This movie was something that I had to make. I had to tell it. It took seven years to write, it was hard, and it was bad for a long time. The script was not working for a long, long time. When something is inside telling you that you have to go on in spite of that, there's something there. I'd love to keep doing this kind of stuff. And also the joy that Chris and I would have, and the day-to-day, rather than having to focus on the mechanical elements, talking about "What are the small nuances between them? What are the gestures that reveal so much about a word of dialogue?" You don't always have time for that stuff when you're having to time the twelve tons of explosives at the exact right moment. Great joy out of both, don't want to stop doing either.
Favorite fruit? Kurtzman: Banana. Pine: Strawberry.
What did you have for breakfast this morning? Kurtzman: Eggs. Pine: Same.
Last CD you downloaded? Kurtzman: I think it was probably the "Phineas and Ferb" soundtrack for my son. Pine: I think it was Large Professor ... old school hip-hop.
If you could be someone else for 24 hours? Kurtzman: I would definitely be a woman. Wouldn't you want to know? Pine: I guess. Kurtzman: Is it wrong that the first name that came in my head was Obama? Pine: Carrot Top.
Age of first kiss? Kurtzman: 12. Pine: Somewhere from like eight to eleven. Spin the bottle.