Independence Day: Interview: Victor Gischler

ID4 1GischlerIndependence Day is back! With the release of Independence Day Resurgence on June 23rd, Sci-Fi Bulletin is revisiting the original movie and spin-offs as well as preparing for the new film. Comics writer Victor Gischler is somewhere between the two – his story Dark Fathom is set in the aftermath of the original film, but includes a character from the sequel. He chatted about filling in the gaps in the ID4 universe with Paul Simpson…

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Congratulations on the comic book – it’s a highly enjoyable story.

Thank you. I had a good time working on it with [editor] Tom Williams at Titan although I feel like he had to work harder than I had to, coordinating all the artists and getting this thing in in a bit of a rush. But all things considered, I think we’re pretty pleased with it.

ID4 2How did you get the gig?

I don’t know! I’m one of those guys who when the phone rings or when the email comes in asking, “Do you want to do this?”, if it’s something cool like this I just say, “Oh yeah, thanks for thinking of me.”

I think I was on Titan’s radar screen because we’d been working together on some of my creator-owned books. I had worked with Tom before and maybe even dropped a hint that I had some open time if something came along. A couple of weeks later he said “We’ve got this Independence Day thing. What do you think?”

I’m one of those guys that when I’m flipping around on cable and see Independence Day, I always stop. I’ve seen it 20 times but I still stop. I know the story, I know what’s going to happen, it’s not a surprise or anything, but I always stop and either watch the rest of it or give it a few minutes.

When Tom said there was a sequel coming out, I just said “Great!” My first thought was, why has it taken so long for a sequel? And then I thought, if I can somehow contribute to that world, by all means give me a crack at it.

The story is set pretty much in the aftermath of the original film but heavily features one of the characters from the sequel. How much of the story was given to you? How much came from you? The combination seems to be different on every single licensed project.

That’s a good question. When I was approached for the project, they said, “We’re going to give you a plot outline and all you’ve got to do is write it, and do the dialogue. It’ll be easy because we’ll give you the story.”

Dark FathomThen it turned out that Roland Emmerich and the producers and the writers all have to sign off on everything and they said, “What you have in this story” – and I won’t say what because I don’t want to give any spoilers – “kind of undermines some of the things that happen in the sequel.” We had to flush the whole thing down the toilet and go back to square one. I went from being handed a story to having nothing.

I came up with a list of ideas, and the Powers that Be went down the list and said, “You’ve got something here with submarines. We like this.” I then went to work on what that story would be.

Not all by myself by any means. Tom Williams and the Titan crew helped me a lot. We were trying to get this done – we were already behind because the story we thought was going to be the story was not the story! I’m not going to say “I went to my ivory tower, and when I came down I had the perfect story” – no, there was really a team effort.

When we got to a place where we felt we were done talking about it, and it was time for Victor to sit down and write, I felt pretty comfortable. There were some gaps that needed to be filled in – there are some things you do while you’re scripting – but I felt we had gotten to that point.

It was the quintessential team effort; I know people say that all the time but this really was.

It’s pretty much the only way, isn’t it.

I think so, particularly when you’re dealing with a property and characters that already exist.

When I’m working on a creator-owned book I don’t feel that I have any problems going away by myself in a cave, not talking to anybody and just doing what I want to do. But these are characters people know. They know this film. I wanted to be able to say to somebody, “What do you think of this? Is this going to work?” And they’d say, “Yes, if we do this” – and a back and forth. You don’t want to be hanging out there in the wind on something like this. I always felt that we had great support from Titan and we all rolled up our sleeves and got it done.

ID4 3You’re using Adams – William Fichtner’s character from the new movie – twenty years earlier. What guidance did they give you in terms of who he is? Do you know what he does in the film or how he’s played? Or were you creating him out of whole cloth?

No, I was fortunate enough to get the script for the film, and soak myself in it. I read the whole thing then went back through and focused on the scenes with that character.

I feel like for people who want to really invest or are already invested in this world, that if they read the comic then they get a little glimpse of who this guy is – albeit a younger version of this fellow. They can take that with them to go see the sequel. It’s like reading one of the Star Wars novels before going to see The Force Awakens; it gives you a little extra to take with you.

Were there certain elements you were asked to include, or anything you were asked to exclude for them to reveal in the film?

I won’t tell you what specifically – although I don’t think it will matter – but there was an aspect of his character that they said, “Well you don’t need that, take that out.” We said, “it’s important for the drama of the comic book – the story is less dramatic if we take this aspect of his character away.” We made our case and full credit to the team at Fox, they listened to us, they got what we were saying, and let it stay.

To the best of my recollection, none of that is necessarily going to be in the film, but it’s an aspect of Adams’ character now that Fox initially said, “we don’t think you need that.”

The collaboration was really good all round.

So that’s got to be either that he doesn’t like being underwater, or that he’s had the aliens in his mind…

The fact of the aliens being in his mind, that’s something that happens to other characters in the franchise. It’s something that we did want to show because it happens to other characters, and we wanted to remind readers that these aliens have plenty of savage technology that can blow you up but they also have this harsh telepathy that they can unleash on you.

But then, as you point out, there is an aspect to his personality – he does not like being underwater, and unfortunately that’s where the problem is. “Sorry, just where you don’t want to go is where you have to go.”

ID4 4What was the timeframe from coming on board to delivering the final script?

It’s all a fuzzy blur now! I want to say, maybe September of 2015, that neighbourhood of time. Then there was this big delay over the story, then I managed to get script number 1 in before Christmas which was important before the holidays so we could get the artists going.

For consistency, it’s better to have the same artist – most people like that – but we had to step on the gas to get this done, and we were fortunate to have a few different artists that were able to work as a team to get all five issues done as a team on time. They got together pretty well – they are individuals and have their own style, but managed to be a team on this.

I had to step on it to get it done, but for the writer it’s a little easier than the artist. The artists probably felt a lot more pressure than I did.

Do you write out full descriptions for each panel, or do you just give guidance to the artist and allow them to have a certain amount of free rein?

I worked with artists before where I said, “I’m going to generally tell you what I need and you do what you think best”, and had the artist come back and say, “Please don’t do that. I want to know exactly what to do. I don’t want to have to guess.” And then I’ve had artists – and I don’t mean on this project, but generally – that clearly read the script and decided that they knew better… and often did know better how to stage things and what the choreography should be.

I’m writing something right now where I’m writing a note to the artist saying, “We have two or three pages of action coming up. I’m going to tell you what I need to happen but please feel free to play to your strengths and choreograph this in whatever way you think will be the strongest. “It’s different for each person.

I think for Independence Day I wanted to definitely give all the information I thought necessary to make the story work but not micromanage every limb of every character. That would take too long anyway – let the artists do what they do best. They’re all professional guys.

ID4 5And that’s where the editor comes in as well to ensure continuity between the five issues…

I don’t know if Tom is up for a vacation but he’s certainly earned it!

Has writing the script and particularly one of the new characters heightened or dampened your excitement for Independence Day: Resurgence?

I can’t imagine anything blunting my eagerness to go see it simply because it’s been twenty years.

Issue 4 of Independence Day: Dark Fathom is currently on sale.

Click here to read our interview with ID4 composer David Arnold

Thanks to Will O’Mullane and Tom Williams at Titan for their help with this interview

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