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Cowboys and Aliens – Andrew Foley’s Writing Adventures

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Cowboys & Aliens
The cowboys are disturbed by something alien overhead © 2011 Universal Pictures

Canadian writer Andrew Foley is living his dream. Foley was a writer on the Cowboys and Alienscomic that generated the new action film out this week. The process has launched his writing career in new directions and Hollywood has been encouraging his pitches for new projects in film, TV and the literary world.

We corresponded with Andrew who has written and illustrated comics since he was a kid. He had some great advice for aspiring graphic novel writers and artists and related his funny series of reactions to the book’s being adapted to film and more.

Andrew, you came in for rewrites on the Cowboys and Aliens comic. You didn’t co-write with Fred Van Lente, you re-wrote him?

Andrew Foley
Andrew Foley

The credit is “Co-writer”. Fred had written a draft of the C&A comic script that was a lot of fun, but was very talky. The more text you put on a comic page, the longer it takes a reader to get through the page. As the editor put it to me “Fred made a steam engine, we need it to be a bullet train.”

Making matters worse was that a lot of the dialogue had a humorous element in it. I liked that element, but the owner of the property didn’t. This was largely due to a film called Wild Wild West (the Will Smith movie). As a sci-fi/western mashup movie that was perceived to have failed, West was an albatross around Cowboys & Aliens’ neck from the minute it opened.

Pretty much everything I did on the book was aimed at making it as unlike Wild Wild West in tone as possible. I preferred (Fred’s) version of the comic. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the version the owner wanted to publish.

How thrilled were you when you heard about the film’s casting (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford)?

Cowboys & Aliens - Harrison Ford
Col Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) © 2011 Universal Pictures

For the most part, I was never that stoked about any of the announcements made about the film, mostly because I was convinced it, like the vast majority of scripts and concepts that have been optioned by Hollywood, it would never get made. My response to each new development went roughly along these lines:

THEM: We’ve got the writers of the Transformers and the Star Trek movies!
ME: Sounds good, but it’ll never get made.
THEM: Spielberg and Ron Howard are on-board!
ME: Interesting, but it’ll never get made.
THEM: We’ve got the director of Iron Man!
ME: I liked Iron Man. Too bad it’ll never get made.
THEM: We’ve got James Bond!
ME: That would be fantastic news if the movie was actually going to get made, …which it isn’t.
THEM: We’ve got Olivia Wilde!
ME: I don’t watch House so I don’t know who that is, sorry.
THEM: We’ve got Harrison Ford!
ME: Huh? This might actually get made.

At that point, I had to admit that it was going to exist as a movie; a movie starring James Bond and Han Solo. A movie starring James Bond and Han Solo inspired by a comic I co-wrote. My movie that stars James Bond and Han Solo, who did I mention are in my movie?

You have an art degree. When did you start writing and were comics (graphic novels) your first writing choice?

Cowboys and Aliens - Comic book cover
One of the Comic book covers for Cowboys and Aliens

I’ve been writing pretty much from the time I could write. My mother likes to talk about the time she got called in by one of my elementary school teachers who was concerned about dark stories I was writing and drawing about monsters and robots, which was basically terribly primitive Star Wars fan-fic.

I wrote my first comic in grade 4, I believe. In grade 6 I and a couple other guys posted a new page of a comic in the school hallway every week. In my commercial art class in high school I produced a terrible fantasy comic — though one of the characters in the story stuck in my head and became a part of another project an artist should be starting on shortly, knock on wood.

So comics were always there. I love painting and drawing, but I’m nowhere near consistent or patient enough to be able to create a commercially appealing comics page, never mind an entire story.

Any advice for aspiring comic book creators?

When you first start trying to get into comics as a writer, you pretty much need to come in with a complete creative package. It’s not enough to have the idea and write the script, you also need to have a penciler, inker, colourist, probably a letterer.

That’s an awful lot of creative talent that needs wrangling, and if you can’t offer them money upfront, well, it’s an uphill battle.

It was only after I stumbled into enough money to be able to offer an artist a page rate that I focused my attention on comics again and got my first graphic novel, “Parting Ways”, made.

Early film reviews are saying that Cowboys and Aliensis not just effects but a nice story that develops the character relationships yet you have said the trailers are way more “serious” than what you wrote. Was your version more of a comedy?

Cowboys & Aliens - Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig
Col Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and Lonergan (Daniel Craig) © 2011 Universal Pictures

Maybe, in the same way that A Fistful of Dollars is more of a comedy than Unforgiven. That’s the way the first few teasers and trailers made it look.

I was actually concerned by the fact that there was no evidence at all of a sense of humor at play in the early marketing for the film, to the point that I called someone at Platinum and asked if this thing was as bleak as it was coming off. I was reassured that no, it actually does have a sense of humor, but that wasn’t being emphasized in the early going. Why? Wild Wild West.

Why will we especially enjoy the movie and enjoy reading the graphic novels?

I expect the movie will be a rip-roaring action adventure tale with two actors well-known for their action films and an actress whose star is just beginning to rise, by the guy who directed Iron Man. It’s absolutely the kind of movie I’d go see half a dozen times in the theatre when I was a kid.

I tried to make the comic the sort of rollicking, balls-to-the-wall cover to cover action story that would excite and engage me since I was a teenager and I think I succeeded.

What are you working on now?

The bulk of my time at the moment is being spent promoting my horror satire comic Done to Death, which is being collected in a new edition by IDW Publishing in September.

Beyond that, I’ve got a spec pilot script being shopped around Hollywood by an established movie producer and director.

I’ve also got a couple different comics projects on the boil with some very talented artists, and I’m constantly having meetings with Hollywood folk to pitch ideas at them. It’s a very busy but very exciting time.