Movies

Filmmaker David Koepp On ‘You Should Have Left’ And Why He Still Can’t Say ‘Mortdecai’ Out Loud

David Koepp has kept a low profile over the last few years. Sure, his name popped up when it was reported he wrote a screenplay for Indiana Jones 5, but then that film went another direction. (Ahead, Koepp does explain why Indiana Jones is so difficult to crack.) But it’s hard to ignore his last two projects was doing a pass on the script for The Mummy, which was to kick off the ill-fated Dark Universe. And before that, yes, he directed Mortdecai.

So, yes, from the outside looking in it sure seems like the narrative here is he went back to a pared-down, back to basics film like the psychological thriller hitting demand this weekend, You Should Have Left (about a married couple vacationing in a remote house in Wales), as a result of his last couple of films. But it never actually works like that. Especially with someone like Koepp who has been involved in so many blockbusters over the years. He wrote Jurassic Park! So, of course, when I bring this up, Koepp immediately admits, yes, of course, it’s because of The Mummy and, especially, Mortdecai.

Last time I spoke with you was for Premium Rush. I brought that movie up to Michael Shannon a couple of years later and he leaned back in his chair and said, “Ah, Bobby Monday,” like he was reminiscing about an old friend.

I miss that guy. Shannon is awesome. You have to adjust to his style, which is odd and is filled with pauses. He may stop for 20 seconds. That doesn’t mean he’s done with his sentence. So you just kind of hang with it.

You Should Have Left seems like you went bare bones?

It is certainly pared down to its story of centrals. I try hard to write kind of all over the map, but I try to write in all genres. Sometimes the biggest hits are the ones that are the great big movies, so those tend to be more memorable. But in terms of the movies I’ve directed, this is I think my seventh, it is my seventh, and they tend to be much more focused and intense and somewhat personal. And we wanted to do something about a marriage. And we wanted to explore this idea of a marriage that’s fatally flawed and that we know from the first scene, this doesn’t work, there is a big problem with the marriage, she’s way too young for him. And we’ve all seen that in Hollywood movies, but they usually try to hide it. And we want to do something where it was front and center.

Yeah that was noticeable right away.

And it had to be, because otherwise it just becomes a distraction and it’s “Hollywood’s at it again.”

Kevin Bacon plays a banker. In the book, he’s a screenwriter. Too close to home?

I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who wants to see a movie about a screenwriter.

Well, it’s a very popular book.

It’s different than a movie though. And, also, movies about writers who go to houses in remote locations? There’s a few that pop to mind that are pretty prominent.

Yeah, that’s been done.

And I think Mr. King has the copyright on that one.

Why a banker? Is it just how we feel about bankers these days to begin with?

Well, there is a faint aura of guilt around them, don’t you think?

I do.

Yeah, and we don’t know if he’s guilty or not. Certainly, that’s one of the motors of the movie. It’s a very Catholic movie. I grew up and went to Catholic school in the Midwest.

Anytime I ask, it never turns out to be something like this, but it’s hard to not look at your involvement in a movie like The Mummy, and then look at this, and think it’s kind of an answer, back to basics, to all that.

[Laughs] It’s totally the case!

And then this is the time it is. Alright.

It was more a reaction, The Mummy was something I worked on fairly briefly as a writer, but it was more of a reaction to the last movie I directed, which was the biggest budget I’d worked with, had great big movie stars in it and had big, big problems.

Are we talking about Mortdecai?

That’s the movie. And it was a critical and commercial and personal disaster. Now, those are very cleansing experiences, but what they make you think is, first of all, “I’m never going to do this again.” But then once you’re over that, you think, “Let’s do get back to the basics. Let’s tell a story about three interesting people. Let’s focus it. I don’t want to have a big budget. I don’t want to have that kind of pressure, and let me get back to telling the kind of story that I really like.”

Why won’t you say its name?

I don’t know. You know how like backstage you say “the Scottish play?” You don’t say Macbeth. It’s the same thing.

Okay.

So I’m glad I made that because I think it’s important to try stuff that you think you might fail at, something you’ve never done before. Something that feels like a risk and so that you’re on the high wire a little bit, because sometimes you do great work that way. The problem with the high wire is sometimes you fall. So that time I fell. And then you want to say, “Okay, what are the stories that I got into this for in the first place?” And my favorite movie is Rosemary’s Baby. So the idea of a marriage in a creepy place really resonates with me.

Well, I will say, if you ever wrote a book about your experience making Mortdecai, I would buy it.

Well, I’m not going to.

Yeah, I kind of got the hint when you’re not even saying the name of the movie that you’re probably not going to delve into it much more.

They don’t all work out.

Well, on a positive note, when you’re feeling down, do you just look at your resume? You’ve written a very high number of the biggest hit movies of the last 30 years.

Whenever something worked and people like it and go see it and say decent things about it, I always think, “Well, that gives me another 18 months in Hollywood. So I better make the most of it.” Because there are tons of people who have stories to tell, and you better keep telling good or interesting or daring ones or get out of the way so they can tell theirs.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about The Paper recently. A movie about two Black kids being railroaded by the police for a murder. Have you seen that being brought up? What’s your opinion of that movie today?

I love that movie. It does come back up from time to time. And I’m glad, because it’s a very good-hearted movie and it’s also something of a time capsule. We didn’t know it at the time, but I think it came out in ’94 and the internet was just starting to really upend things. And by the end of the decade, of course, journalism would have completely changed, never to change back. So it’s a period piece. It very quickly became a period piece. And I hope that in the future, if and when journalism movies are made, we don’t lose that. Really, I mean, for me, the whole reason to make that movie and to write that movie was for the 3:00 p.m. meeting, when the crusty yet benign journalists are sitting around in a room trying to figure out what the story is and being funny and irreverent, and yet trying to do their jobs. And I hope that aspect of journalism never goes away.

Why is it so difficult to crack an Indiana Jones 5 script? I obviously haven’t read yours so I have no idea why it isn’t being used. But why is it that all these scripts seem to come and go with that movie particularly?

[Laughs] If I knew!

Okay. Good point.

I don’t know. Look, they’re hard because the first one and the third one are incredibly beloved. The character’s indelible, and that’s an enormous amount of pressure. And I don’t think anybody ever wants do one that is less than… I think the last one had a lot of stuff that really worked and had some stuff that didn’t. I’m sure whatever was wrong was my fault. I’m not trying to blame anybody. But nobody wants to do it unless it’s spectacular. And spectacular is hard to come by. So I guess the short answer would be, “because it’s hard.”

That’s probably the right answer?

Yeah. I think that’s probably it.

‘You Should Have Left’ will be available to stream via VOD this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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