Max Borenstein

Chris Mirjahangir: I'm talking with Max Borenstein, one of the writers of Godzilla (2014). This interview was conducted by phone on May 21st, 2014 and on Twitter on May 22nd, 2014. Interview transcribed by Chris Mirjahangir and Brian Elston.

Photo of Max Borenstein taken by Chris Mirjahangir on the red carpet at the Godzilla premiere in Hollywood, California on May 8th, 2014. The premiere was held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

Now for my first question: Was the sequel being worked on in secret until it was formally announced?

Max Borenstein:
We were really just focusing on the first film and trying to get that to be as good as we can make it and then, you know, people would like it enough so that there would be some conversation about a sequel.

Mirjahangir: Is [the sequel] in the talking stages right now or have you just started writing like, you know, a rough [draft/outline] already? How far along are you?

It's in the early stages but I'm not really allowed to talk about it so..but it is in the early stages.

Mirjahangir: Is there room for more fantastical creatures like King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla in future movies or do you want to keep it grounded like in this first film?

I think it seems to be in line with the studio and with Gareth on this movie and we always tried to keep it as tonally grounded as we could. I would say, just speaking theoretically, it seems to me that there's a possibility of doing that with a lot of different kinds of creatures. You know, you could have, in the same way that Chris Nolan was able to take The Joker which is sort of an outlandish character in all of his previous incarnations particularly in the 60's series but even in the Tim Burton movies which had a different tone and he (Burton) was able to adapt that character and make it something that fit in the sensibility of his film. I think that it's something that, you know, it's a challenge but it's not an unbeatable challenge. Because, you know, we're talking "grounded" and we're already accepting a 350 foot radioactive lizard which isn't exactly "grounded". But if you treat it that way and you try and eschew the reality and the ground rules that you lay out, then I think there's a way of adapting many of the different creatures or characters into a universe like this.

Mirjahangir: Will you listen to feedback and have more action/focus in the sequel?

Speaking of only this film, I think the challenge for us was you try and do a movie that would have a build and suspense. That was a creative choice that we made which isn't certainly by any means universal among blockbuster style movies these days. Although it is something that is common in a lot of my favorite and Gareth's favorite blockbusters from years past and we should stay with that slow build and that restraint that allows you to have a really huge epic payoff that we think you haven't yet seen rather than repeating yourself too much…it's a fine line to walk in its balance and I think any film has to be taken on its own terms and has to find that balance in its own right. But any time you do something like that, there are gonna be people who want only monsters and then there are people who want more human stuff and then there are people who are going to be perfectly happy with the line you walk. So, I think all we can do is try to make the best film we can make and walk the line to the best of our ability and make the movie you'd want to see and hope that people come along for the ride. It's not to say that it'll be perfect but we're gonna be aiming to do the best we can.

Mirjahangir: What was the story with the centipede monster from the 2012 concept trailer from SDCC 2012? Was it like a throwaway one?

It was not in the continuity in the film we made…that teaser was made before we shot the film and before the design of the MUTOS was really complete or even really underway. That teaser was made for Comic Con 2012 and at the time the script had been written but the teaser was being made WHILE I was writing the script. So that creature was meant to indicate "yes there will be other creatures in this film". And it was also to give a sense of tone of the piece but it wasn't explicitly a creature from the film or from the universe.

Mirjahangir: That will silence so many people. Thank you. I'm so tired of that...


Mirjahangir: Because so many people insist you know?

[laughing] I guess I shouldn't have said that. It would have been more fun to keep the myth alive.

Mirjahangir: Even though it's been said that it's just a throwaway monster , there are so many people that just want to keep the dream alive.

Borenstein: [laughing] I almost hesitate to say anything on those things because I like reading those things and those speculative theories and stuff.

Mirjahangir: Oh yeah.

It's disappointing to now to crush that possibility.

Mirjahangir: Have you collected the merchandise from the film? Have you gotten all the toys and have gotten your own little room (dedicated to toy space)?

Yeah the problem is I don't have my own little room but I did go out and get all the toys. So now I've got like my office-I need a fuckin' room. [laughing]

Mirjahangir: Did you keep up on all the rumors surrounding the film, like [the one about] King Ghidorah coming out of the moon at the end of the movie?

No, I have not seen that one.

Mirjahangir: Oh, that was a big one.

I don't understand, what do they think happened?

Mirjahangir: I think it was at the end of the movie, King Ghidorah was coming out of the moon or something. It was an extended post-credit sequence. That was a big one. That was about two months ago I think.

That was just like a myth then?

Mirjahangir: Someone [makes] it up and says 'I have a source' and everybody falls for it and it just becomes ridiculous.

Even looking at a few of these things does teach you a lot about the internet and how much we should believe.

Mirjahangir: If you were to bring a Toho monster into the next film, would it be considered a MUTO or would you give it its original name?

Borenstein: Obviously it remains to be determined, but I think there's fun to be had in being able to do both. The fun thing about MUTO is it's a monicker. The military gives acronyms to everything. It's a catch-all acronym and you can do both, really.

Mirjahangir: There was something that kind of struck me in the movie is that Serizawa says 'this is Godzilla's name,' he said 'call it "Gojira,"' but then it cut to a radio operator who just says 'Godzilla.' Was there a deleted scene where they said 'okay, this is what we're gonna call it from now on?'

Borenstein: No. We had different thoughts at different times, but ultimately we felt that when Serizawa spoke the line, it made sense for him to say "Gojira" because that's the authentic Japanese name, and then the name basically gets corrupted into an anglicized version in the same way that it does in real life.

Mirjahangir: Did you have a hand in the creation of Godzilla's design and the MUTOs?

Borenstein: Only in the sense that I was able to watch it happen and see the magic happen. I was certainly in the loop, but it was not my design process. It was Gareth, and Matt Allsopp, and then everybody else on the team. Matt Allsopp was the primary creature designer of the film, and there were a lot of other people pitching in and feeding back, and I certainly was in the loop getting those early drafts and pitching in my two cents, but it was really Gareth and Matt doing their thing and doing an amazing job.

Mirjahangir: Have you read the reviews [on] Rotten Tomatoes as they were coming in, or do you stay away from that?

Borenstein: You know, you read some and you skim some.

Mirjahangir: I noticed that in any of the bad reviews, they just kind of copy each other.

Borenstein: Anything you do, people are going to react one way or another. I've had conversations recently with people who I love and respect about films that to me are the high water mark of absolute perfection, and I find out that they hated them, I'm shocked, but then it also says something which is that no one's gonna love everything, and in a way when you try to do something that's different, or aim high, or try to do something that's a bit out of the current mainstream, maybe even especially if you're dealing with a genre that's very popular and where there are a lot of particular expectations like with a Hollywood blockbuster with an established character. Some people are gonna hate it and some people are gonna love it, and hopefully you'll have a higher percentage loving it than hating it, but maybe by doing those things you're gonna get more extreme reactions than if you were just sort of aiming to make something that was just gonna sort of hit its marks and get off.

This was a labor of love for everyone involved. None of us were trying to do anything less than something we would be really proud of. Making any movie is a huge undertaking with a lot of people involved and a lot of fate and chance and good luck and all these kinds of things. At the end of it, you hope it's close to the platonic ideal that you were aiming for, but that's all you can do. It's interesting to see it go out in the world and see what people think, and some of the reviews I read were incredibly heartening because it felt like they really understood what we were going for and appreciated it. Some people were mystifying because it felt like they didn't understand what we were going for and hated it, and some people I could accept because it felt like they did understand what we were going for and hating it, and that was okay, but the people who loved it, it's really special. So, that's all you can do.

Mirjahangir: When Gareth did an interview with us back in March, he said 'I made a movie for me, and it's cool if everybody likes it,' because he cut back on the Godzilla part. When I did the round table in New York, everybody loved [the movie], so I'm like 'oh, his way of thinking worked.' He made it for fans, but more for the non-fan. To me it seems like it's more of a Godzilla recruitment movie. It's meant for the non-fans, and it sort of gets them hooked on the character.

Borenstein: I think it has to be made assuming no one's ever seen a Godzilla movie. There are little Easter eggs in there for people who have a deeper appreciation for the history of it, but the only way to make a movie like this that isn't kind of like [a] masturbatory, self-involved kind of thing is to say 'we're making this so that anyone can appreciate it.' We want to show people why we love this franchise and this character, and the only way to do that is to lead them in rather than make something that feels like it's fan service and therefore offputting for all but the most devoted followers. Hopefully the fans appreciate that, some will and some won't. To my mind, [if] people feel the movie didn't deliver in the end, then I think we would've made a mistake in being restrained along the way, but I think it's hard to watch that third act and say that the movie doesn't deliver. To me there's something very exciting and interesting about a movie where you're wanting more along the way, you're being denied that, but then it pays off in a big way and then it sends you out the door, and hopefully it sends you out the door wanting more. That's a good thing. It's not that great a thing when you have the kitchen sink and that's it. By the end of it you're kind of exhausted and desensitized. It's a choice.

Mirjahangir: I think doing it this way was the smartest way to do it. I think it was the best way to do it.

Borenstein: I'm glad you think so.

Mirjahangir: Toho Kingdom was used to [help] make the Godzilla Encounter at Comic-Con and Gareth said that Toho Kingdom was a secret haunt during production. Did you use the site as a reference site while you were writing?

Borenstein: I certainly poked around there on occasion. I spent a lot of time watching the movies early on, and then I spent a lot of time talking to scientific [experts] about different fields, whether it was having to do with physicists, having to do with radiation or biologists or animal behavior experts and things like that. Yeah, I definitely poked around the site. Just as a fan more than anything, and you get a fun kick out of looking at what the speculation is.

Mirjahangir: Will Monarch still play a huge part in the film's universe?

Borenstein: Without giving anything away, I'll say that everyone involved is very fond of the Monarch concept, so speaking personally I hope so!

Mirjahangir: Did you visit the set during filming and if yes, what was that like?

I did most script work remotely from my home in Los Angeles, but visited the set on several occasions (including Hawaii!) because: SO COOL!

Mirjahangir: Was there anything in the script that didn't make it to being filmed?

Borenstein: Over years of development many things were written that we wound up cutting before production but there are also things we shot then cut. One I'm particularly fond of, although I completely understood why we cut it and even wrote another scene to replace it, was a speech by Serizawa. Hopefully it winds up on the DVD.

Mirjahangir: What was your writing process like?

Borenstein: The writing process involved a lot of heavy discussion between me, Gareth, and the studio then I'd go write a draft and we'd talk some more. The best part was a feedback loop as I was writing set pieces, sending them to Gareth, who was storyboarding them with Matt Allsopp then they'd send back rough storyboards and I'd incorporate those into the script and offer other new ideas, which they'd incorporate etc.

Mirjahangir: After Godzilla, what is your favorite Toho Monster?

Borenstein: Does Toshiro Mifune count as a favorite Toho character? My favorite Toho characters growing up were Kurosawa's samurai and Godzilla but I guess if you have to put me on the spot, I'm very fond of King Ghidorah.

Mirjahangir: What changes did the script undertake from the first draft to the final?

The answer to your last question is impossible to articulate without a scholarly article of some sort. It changed vastly in its details, yet at the same time, the core DNA of a story about a family surviving a disaster, healing from its past and coming back together always stayed intact.



With his previous major writing credit being the upcoming Seventh Son, Max Borenstein was one of the primary writers on the 2014 Godzilla film. He also wrote the Godzilla Awakening comic based around the continuity of the character.

Date: 07/09/2014
Interviewer: Chris Mirjahangir


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