After ten years making short films and working the festival circuit, this weekend will be the first time writer-director Emily Carmichael has a feature film released in theaters. It will not be the last.
Carmichael is the co-writer of Pacific Rim Uprising, which opens tomorrow, March 23. She’s already written a remake of The Black Hole for Disney, has the screenplay for Jurassic World 3 on her to-do list, and then she’ll be directing a superhero film produced by Steven Spielberg. It’s a line-up that’s going to put her name alongside Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones, Ava DuVernay, and others, and it took a lot of work to get there.
“Those ten years or so of being an independent artist were super tough, man,” Carmichael told io9 via Skype. That changed after she wrote a script titled Eon, which Carmichael describes as What We Do in the Shadows for science fiction instead of vampires. “I had a lucky break which was that I met Colin [Trevorrow], Colin gave my [Eon] script to Spielberg, and Spielberg loved it. So, obviously, when Spielberg reads a script that you write and he loves it, everything sort of changes.”
Eon is one of three projects she’s currently working on with Trevorrow and Spielberg, including Jurassic World 3 and Powerhouse, the latter of which she’ll also direct.
“Powerhouse [is] this very personal story about a family. Particularly about a parental figure who is deciding which one of their three complicated, lovably dysfunctional children should inherit their massive superhero powers,” Carmichael described. She’s hoping to be making either that or Eon “very soon.”
Developing those projects with Trevorrow and Spielberg may have been her big break, but Carmichael didn’t need another one to land the writing job for Pacific Rim Uprising. A longtime fan of science fiction and adventure who cites The Matrix, Dungeons & Dragons and John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars as major influences, when she heard a Pacific Rim sequel was in the works, she went after it hard.
“I would not let [the producers] rest,” she said. “I just kept sending e-mails. I designed robots for the movie. [Which] is not how that works. Like my robots are not in the movie, that’s not the process, but I just wouldn’t let them forget about me.”
They didn’t. She was hired to be part of director Steven S. DeKnight’s writer’s room, a technique he borrowed from his TV days on Spartacus and Daredevil. Once that group settled on a story and outline, DeKnight selected Carmichael and Kira Snyder to actually write the script.
“We just split the script in half,” Carmichael said. “I took home first half of the outline. Kira took home the second half of the outline. We were writing like five pages a day, it was crazy. Then Steven was synthesizing them into a whole script. So we had this script that we loved and then Charlie Hunnam left the movie.”
The original script had been focused on the character of Raleigh Beckett, played in the original Pacific Rim by Hunnam, who dropped out to pursue his dream project (you can read more about that here). When John Boyega was brought in to star as an entirely new character, it required another script entirely—this time by T.S. Nowlin—because by then, Carmichael had already moved onto another project.
“I wrote a John Boyega movie and I did not get to write a single word for John Boyega to say,” Carmichael joked. “I was gone before Boyega came on.”
Next up was a gig writing a remake of The Black Hole for Disney. Trevorrow was so impressed with that, as well as with Carmichael’s work on Pacific Rim Uprising, he brought her on to help him write Jurassic World 3. It’s a film Carmichael is incredibly excited about, as evidenced by her pumping fists in the air wildly when I mention the project. Unfortunately, all she can say about it is that she’s seen and loved the second film and that work has just started on the third, which is scheduled for release in June 2021.
After a decade in the business, Carmichael doesn’t take it for granted that she’s a woman making major strides in the male-dominated science fiction and fantasy space.
“Diversity is the normal state,” Carmichael said. “If everybody who is telling stories is a white man that means that your storytellers are being chosen in part because of their race and because of their gender. So if you don’t want that, if you don’t want to hear stories from storytellers who were chosen just because of their race and just because of their gender, what you want is the end of sexism and the end of racism. You want to be able to hear stories from everybody. And that doesn’t mean they aren’t very brilliant storytellers, but it does mean there are many other brilliant storytellers who you aren’t getting to hear from.”
At least we’ll definitely be hearing a lot of stories from Carmichael in the years to come. Pacific Rim Uprising opens Friday, March 23.