JMS Takes on "Ninja Assassin"

J. Michael Straczynski is, quite literally, taking Hollywood by storm. And this time around, he's taking Rain along for the ride.

The genre-driving writer, known by JMS to his fans, has teamed-up with genre-bending moviemakers Andy and Larry Wachowski (The "Matrix" Trilogy) for "Ninja Assassin," a "strictly popcorn, but good popcorn" movie coming to theaters across North America November 25.

"Ninja Assassin" showcases the cinematic chops of South Korean pop star Rain, who plays Raizo, one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, Raizo was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. Haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free to exact his revenge.

Six weeks before director James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") was to begin filming, the Wachowski brothers decided that screenwriter Michael Sands' script needed some additional work done and brought in JMS, who created genre TV classic "Babylon 5, for a rapid re-write. And rapid it was: JMS delivered the new script in 53 hours.

JMS currently has a flood of film scripts in active development, collaborating with Hollywood heavyweights like Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver. Over the last decade, the Hollywood writer transitioned to comics, as well, penning critically acclaimed runs on "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Fantastic Four" and "Thor" for Marvel Comics. Currently, he's writing "The Brave and The Bold" for DC Comics.

In anticipation of the release of "Ninja Assassin,", we checked in with JMS and while he shared details of how the script came together so fast and how he hooked up with the makers of "The Matrix" in the first place, he also told CBR News exclusively that he has a project involving Superman coming in 2010.

But while the director of "Ninja Assassin" has been in the news this week saying he'd love to reimagine the Man of Steel for Warner Bros., JMS says his upcoming Superman project is not a movie script and will, instead, come from DC Comics.

CBR News: The legend goes that you wrote the script for "Ninja Assassin" in 53 hours. Is that some sort of Guinness World Record?

JMS: I don't know if it's a world record, but yeah, it's true. I was lucky to have had a long talk - a couple of hours at least - with the Wachowskis before starting, so we could lock down what it needed to accomplish.

Was this 53 hours straight, or was it three 17-hour days?

I started Tuesday evening, and delivered it on Friday morning. I got about two hours sleep per night. This is where my training in television paid off, because you learn to figure out what it is you want to say, and say it quickly and precisely. More than one "Babylon 5" script was written in a single night, and oddly, the quicker the write, the better the script, because I don't question or second-guess myself as much. The longer it takes me to write a script, the more it sucks.

Understanding you came in on the project quite late, did you have to make some sacrifices in terms of storytelling, what with the limited time you had to work, or did you truly just find a story you wanted to tell and it flowed?

My job was to really interpret what the Wachowskis wanted to see in the script, and give that to them. Once I grokked that, the rest came fairly smoothly.

You hadn't worked with the Wachowskis before "Ninja Assassin," but were you a fan of their brand of filmmaking?

Absolutely. I'm a tremendous fan of the "Matrix" movies, as well as their later films. I think in the "Matrix" they invented a new cinematic vocabulary, and created a whole, consistent universe, and as someone who's done that, I know how hard it is.

Historically, the Wachowskis work from their own scripts. What were they like to work with as a writer?

The Wachowskis are probably the most generous, considerate, easy-going and professional folks you can ever hope to meet. They have these twelve-story brains, which can sometimes be intimidating, but beneath it, they're just really genuine, honest, nice folks, utterly unpretentious and about as non-Hollywood as you can get. So they were very welcoming and collaborative in this process.

How is it that the Wachowskis approached you for the re-write? Are they big "Babylon 5" fans?

I was invited to the premiere of the last "Matrix" movie. I didn't know who'd invited me. I heard from my agent [that] it was someone on the show, but that's all we knew. I showed up and ended up sitting right next to the Wachowskis, and found out that they were the ones who issued the invitation, as they were both big "B5" fans, and fans of my comics work. We've been friends ever since. They're just two of the nicest folks I know.

Did you remain involved in the process once filming started?

I was welcomed to be as involved as I wanted, and the Wachowskis, as well as the director, James McTiegue, were very open. I was on set for a brief period in Berlin, but had to get back to finish other work. Then I saw and worked with James on the final cut. Again, they couldn't have been more generous.

We know from the internet roughly what the story is about but what additional insight into the movie can you share with us?

A number of folks have mentioned that the title is redundant, since often Ninjas are assassins, but that's not the point of the film. It's about an assassin that goes after Ninjas - and if you're going to do that for a living, you'd better be freaking good at it.

It's just about everything you'd want to see in a film with that title: lots of really cool action, a nonstop pace, some fun character moments and great effects. It's strictly popcorn, but good popcorn, and the first Western film to take Ninjas seriously in a long, long, very long time.

And what about writing for Rain? He made his name as a pop singer but he really impressed moviegoers with his work in "Speed Racer."

I didn't have much interaction with Rain. He was shooting with one unit in Berlin while I was hanging with the Wachowskis on the other unit. I didn't have a lot of time to spend there, so I wanted to spend it with them.

What other movie projects are you working on right now? Your entry IMDB entry has genre fans salivating as it lists "Shattered Union," "Lensman," "World War Z," "Forbidden Planet," "The Flickering Light" as 'In Development.' Are these projects still all active? Not to mention, "They Marched Into Sunlight?"

Yeah, those are all still in the works, though Playtone isn't sure if now is the right time politically for "Sunlight." "WWZ" is coming along well, I'm working on the next draft of "Lensman," I'm going to be turning in the current draft of "Forbidden Planet," I'll be starting the script for "Shattered Union" over the Christmas break, and we're looking for a director for "Flickering Light."

I'm also writing a pilot for the FOX Network, which is a mainstream drama/thriller.

And what about your work for DC? You're currently writing "The Brave and The Bold" but is anything else forthcoming in 2010?

There's something I'm writing that'll be coming in late 2010 that should be of interest to a lot of folks, and it does have something to do with Superman - in graphic form, not film - but that's all I can say about it pending any announcements from DC, which should come in the next month or so.

"The Brave and The Bold" #28, featuring art and cover by Jesus Saiz, is on sale now. This month's adventure showcases the unlikeliest of team-ups in Batman and Brother Power, the Geek.

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