A uniter, not a divider

Drew Goddard on making The Martian a love letter to science.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Martian screenwriter Drew Goddard: "The challenge was to make the science human."
The Martian screenwriter Drew Goddard: "The challenge was to make the science human." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

I was taken on a Seventies musical journey to Donna Summer land, ABBA’s Waterloo and the great Starman creator, David Bowie, by Drew Goddard, the screenwriter who adapted Andy Weir's book for Ridley Scott's The Martian, starring Matt Damon with Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie. Daniels (NASA director Teddy Sanders) who plays Apple CEO John Sculley in Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs - starring Michael Fassbender with Kate Winslet, and written by Aaron Sorkin - is a favorite of Goddard’s since Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo and James L. Brooks' Terms Of Endearment.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon): "You understand that he needs food and he needs water."
Mark Watney (Matt Damon): "You understand that he needs food and he needs water."

How can anyone make jokes when food is running out? Drew Goddard and Ridley Scott show us how. The boundaries between science and storytelling have become crusty on Mars; once you peel them back, anything is possible. Aided by scenes with clusters of people at NASA on Earth and with the crew on the spaceship Watney used to be a part of, questions of responsibility and tough decision making come to the fore.

Anne-Katrin Titze: So, what do you think of Robinson Crusoe?

Drew Goddard [laughs]: It's a wonderful book!

AKT: Did you have another look at it when you were working on the screenplay?

DG: No, not really. When it all came to Ridley, it was this movie now. The book I read over and over was The Martian by Andy Weir. That's what I fell in love with. It was all about realising that piece of fiction.

AKT: Despite the parallels, the focus of man alone in a foreign environment is different. Crusoe erects fences and borders, Watney grows potatoes.

NASA missions director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
NASA missions director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

DG: That's right. If anything, we want to knock down fences and knock down borders with this film. It's about people coming together, rather than separate.

AKT: What was the greatest challenge turning the book into a script?

DG: I think the greatest challenge is that the book is mostly diary entries of science experiments. We had to make that an emotional journey for the audience without betraying the science. Because the science was really important to us and we wanted it to feel like a love letter to science.

AKT: A love letter to science?

DG: Yes, that was the idea. The challenge was to make the science human. So, even if you don't understand the complicated nature of the experiment, you understand he is trying to survive. You understand that he needs food and he needs water. He is trying to connect with people. As long as you understand that, then the science can go over your head and you don't care. That's what we found.

NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels)
NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels)

AKT: Whenever there is something we don't understand, you can always put a Seventies song over it!

DG: That's right. Donna Summer to the rescue! Every time you're in trouble, just throw in Donna Summer.

AKT: You were the one who placed the songs in the script?

DG: Absolutely.

AKT: David Bowie …

DG: … Starman and Waterloo, yes. I put those in the script. And then Ridley changed some. Because we all have our favourites. Sometimes you try a song and you say no, no, that didn't work. Get the greatest hits of the disco Seventies out and try a different one. It's all alchemy but it was really fun to do.

Mission to Mars Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain): "We had to make that an emotional journey for the audience without betraying the science."
Mission to Mars Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain): "We had to make that an emotional journey for the audience without betraying the science."

Drew Goddard and Golden Globe winner, Aaron Sorkin, may end up with Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay on this Thursday, January 14.

The Oscars will be handed out on February 28.

Coming up - Loving Jeff Daniels, NASA vetting, what science fiction means to Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard's favourite planet.

Read Matt Damon on playing the greatest botanist on the planet and Jessica Chastain on outfitting an astronaut, spacesuit versus sweatpants and loving the soundtrack in The Martian.

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