J. Michael Straczynski Discusses His Contributions to Thor Movie Adaptation
05.12.11 by BJSprecher
Many comic book movie fans — including us — who saw Thor this past week were surprised to see a "Story By" credit given to Babylon 5 creator and prolific movie and comic book writer J. Michael Straczynski. As most comic book aficionados know, Straczynski was the one who re-launched (with artist Olivier Coipel) Marvel's Thor title after the god of thunder succumbed to the Norse cycle of creation and destruction known as Ragnarok — the title's poor sales didn't help either — and was off of the comic book shelves for several years.
All previous discussion about the movie's writing team has focused on the credited screenwriters, Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne. In a recent interview with CBR, Straczynski explained his contributions to the Thor movie and how his screen credit came about. He also reveals the pivotal cameo role he filled in the movie.
Straczynski said that he was "involved at a very early stage, breaking...out the beats of the story" and that he had worked out a "detailed outline," but that he never even requested screen credit because he felt that the other writers would end up doing the "heavy lifting."
I had decided to let it go, because the writers who came after me were the ones who would have done all the heavy lifting. I felt that they were the ones who should get the credit. This attitude was a hold-over from my work in TV. On shows like Babylon 5, Crusade, or Jeremiah, I would routinely assign stories to other writers, but I would never arbitrate for story credit, I didn't think it was fair to cut into the residuals of other writers. Still don't.
Then I got an unexpected email from Don Payne, one of the aforementioned writers, who was practically apoplectic that I hadn't put in for credit, a sentiment shared by the other writers as well. When I explained my reasoning, he intimated that I was out of my freaking mind. "The outline is the movie," Don said. "We were given your outline and it's all there, it's the story you created, and it's the comic you wrote, which is also the basis for the film. You have to apply for shared story credit." Neither he nor the rest cared that it would cut into their residuals: they were adamant about doing the right thing.
Finally, I agreed, and sent the outline in with the other story materials to the WGA for purposes of arbitration. (The WGA did not include or factor in the comic as it's outside their purview.) During the process, Zack and Ashley, the other writers, also insisted that it be given proper credit since it had been the backbone of the movie from day one. And when the arbitration came through, the credit was there.
I convey the foregoing because there's this notion fed by the popular press that in the movie business, writers will routinely try to screw other writers out of their proper credit for a few bucks. But these three writers willingly sacrificed a huge chunk of their residuals to ensure that proper credit went where they felt it was deserved, and they should receive massive props for that. They are emblematic of the best of us.
Not only did the writers of Thor go out of their way to see that Straczynski was rewarded, director Kenneth Branagh also rewarded Straczynski with a pivotal cameo in the movie, one that allowed Straczynski to act out a scene he originally wrote for the Thor comic book.
At first, I was just going to be one of a bunch of guys sitting at a table in a banquet scene. But Ken decided that the cameo should be more than that. So then I was to be one of the guys trying to pick up the hammer. Then he expanded it, deciding that I should be the guy who drives up, walks to the crater, finds the hammer, can't pick it up, and goes to get his friends for a tractor-pull. So suddenly I was in several scenes and had dialogue. (I'm also in the big car-pull scene later, to the left of the crater, near the car where Stan tries to yank it free; there was additional dialogue here but it was cut for time.) He was very gracious and welcoming on the set, and we spent a good amount of time between shots talking and hanging.... On the day we shot the cameo — which was taken right out of the book, as a bunch of guys try to pick up the hammer out of the crater — I found myself thinking, "I've disappeared inside my own narrative."
Thor is based on the character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby that first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 in August 1962. Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor, with Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, and Joshua Dallas as "The Warriors Three," Rene Russo as Frigga, Kat Dennings as Darcy, Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson, Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Jaimie Alexander as Sif, and Academy Award–winners Natalie Portman and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Jane Foster and Odin, respectively.