In a rather surprising moment of ‘saying the quiet part out loud’, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves directors Jonathan Goldestein and John Francis Daley have admitted that rather than viewing an established IPs as something to be treated with reverence and care, they instead view them as nothing more than “a bit of a costume to get ourselves in the door.”
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Goldstein and Daley, who many may recognize as the screenwriting duo behind Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and the co-directing team who helmed the 2018 dark comedy film Game Night, provided this insight into their creative views during a recent interview given to Variety’s Adam B. Vary in promotion of their upcoming live-action take on the eponymous tabletop RPG.
Following a brief recollection of their respective first experiences with the game itself – Daley was introduced to the game on the set of Freaks and Geeks while a 12-year-old Goldstein was first introduced to it by his older brother – the creative team was subsequently asked by Vary if these experiences impacted their creative approach to Honor Among Thieves.
“It wasn’t so much that,” began Goldstein. “It was seeing the potential to bring what we had brought to small- and medium-sized movies to a much bigger canvas. We didn’t want to do a straightforward fantasy epic drama. Nor did we want to do a spoof, or something where the comedy was the lead of it. We wanted to do a movie that was true to the spirit of the game, would appeal to the fans, but also could stand on its own.”
“A lot of the world has already been built,” added Daley. “You have all these books that you can use as references, and creatures and monsters that are unique to D&D and no other fantasy piece of IP. To be able to embrace the absurdity and oddity of some of these creatures and spells allowed us to make the thing that we felt very much aligned with our sensibility.”
“John mentioned Monty Python [earlier in our conversation],” interjected Goldstein. “That’s not quite the tone, but what those guys did very successfully was make intelligent absurdity — to shine a light on the ridiculousness of medieval clichés. We’re trying to do that with the fantasy genre.”
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To this end, Vary then asked the directors if they had any opinion on why “it’s been so hard to adapt [D&D] into a successful movie?”, to which Daley opined, “Sometimes people take it too seriously and want to embrace the more dramatic elements of it.”
“To us, that’s ridiculous, because you’ve got literally brains with four legs — you know, creatures that were so obviously written with a wink,” said the former Bones star. “On the flip side, if you try to get too goofy with it, you’re also doing it a disservice.”
“What we learned doing Spider Man: Homecoming was that while you have to have a certain reverence for and love of the source material, you can’t let the weight of that thing hinder your creativity,” asserted Goldstein.
Pressed by Vary as to how he “[shook] that weight off” for Honor Among Thieves, the co-director declared, “It never left us with this one.”
“We had people looking over our shoulder from the brand, from the studio,” he recalled. “Even on set, we had advisers who said, ‘Well, she has to say something if she’s going to do the spell, because the spell has a verbal component.’ The good thing about working with D&D specifically is it’s not like we’re bound by the characters or preexisting stories. We made up almost all the characters that are in here.”
Yet, despite being seemingly so aware – or at least more aware than a vast majority of Hollywood – of this general need for any successful adaptation to be respectful and earnest in its approach, Goldstein would confess that they accepted the opportunities to work with ‘established IPs’ not because they were necessarily passionate about the source materials, but because they served as an effective vehicle with which to sell their own original concepts and stories.
Asked by Vary if “to be able to do the kind of storytelling at the level you want to do it, do you feel you have to find a way into a franchise versus writing an original story?”, Goldstein admitted, “Using existing IP certainly greases the wheels.”
“Any meeting we have with a studio head starts with, ‘Here’s four things we own — got any interest?'” said the co-director. “To some extent, I think we use intellectual property as a bit of a costume to get ourselves in the door. We’re still going to make the movie that we want to make. It just makes it all a bit easier to get it going if it has something that people are very familiar with.”
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is set to roll into theaters on March 31st, 2022.
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