by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Kimble Rendall has worked as Assistant Director and Second Unit Director on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, including The Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, I, Robot, Ghost Rider, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Taking his knowledge of the action/adventure genre, he has now stepped into the director’s role himself with 7 Guardians of the Tomb, a project he also wrote. LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher sat down with Kimble to talk about his latest project and how it came about.
John Bucher: I’m a big fan of action/adventure films and I feel like we don’t get nearly as many of them as we used to. Can you talk about the origin of the project, how it was written, and how it made it to the screen?
Kimble Rendall: Gary Hamilton from Arclight Films and I had worked together on a prior film called Bait, which was a shark movie that did really well in China. It went to number one over there, so there was a lot of interest from the Chinese investors saying well, “Can you do another, something else like this? Maybe a spider movie?” So, we began there and started to write.
It actually started more as a horror movie. It was called Nest originally. But as we developed it, the Chinese investors kept saying it was a little too claustrophobic and they wanted to open up the scale a little bit. They wanted it to appeal to teenage girls. That was their target audience. That’s the biggest audience in China.
We decided to start with a spider that’s the most poisonous and dangerous. It bites you and you die unless you get help. It was creepy but it was small, not like a big monster spider thing. Then I found out the Chinese came to Australia before the Dutch and the English, looking for herbs and spices. So I thought, “Oh, well, maybe they can take some spider back.” I’m interested in Chinese history, and I read about the Emperor in 200 BC that had an underground palace built so that in the afterlife he could live there. His tomb was surrounded by mercury. It actually was made. They haven’t been able to find it but it’s out there somewhere. They’re still looking. I thought that was a good environment to put the story in. So, then we worked on the treatment for some time and it matured into more of an action/adventure story.
John Bucher: What did the script look like on paper? How did you build tension into the script? How do you go about crafting it?
Kimble Rendall: Well I guess, in the world of action/adventure, with your final draft you’re hitting the action button quite a bit, so you’re writing a lot of stuff to describe it and I guess, in terms of the balance, you can over-write that stuff. In fact when we did the first version, it was a lot longer — you write the sequence, if it’s for example, the spider’s coming into one of the rooms or something, and then they’re looking around the room and then the spiders appear, and then you’re writing it like anything else in terms of an action piece. But the idea is definitely to create the atmosphere. You imagine it’s going to happen visually, while you’re writing.
The soundscape is also so important in these films. The words on the page describe the scene, and hopefully you’re believing it. You get the impression and also get the scare and the tingle from what you’ve written, but just as important is the sound. Some scripts really can be quite sparse in that area and they’ll leave it up to the director.
John Bucher: You got some very big names to appear in the film — Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, and Bingbing Li. Once you had cast the film, did any of the characters in the script change or need to be re-crafted or rewritten?
Kimble Rendall: That’s a great question, because it actually changed a lot. In terms of Kellan, he wanted to change the character a bit. There’s a history of that in film. I think Harrison Ford was a bit like that– where you pick part of a character and give it an unexpected twist. So, in the end, he had more flaws, which is always great for the character.
And Bingbing, in a previous project, had to do something in a frozen river and got hypothermia from it, so she couldn’t be in water. A lot of the script I’d written was in water, so parts of that had to be re-written. She was also allergic to dust, and there were sequences with dust, so I had to re-write those.
John Bucher: What do you believe audiences will most connect with in this story?
Kimble Rendall: There is one simple, universal answer — the importance of family.
7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB is currently playing in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.