Ed Neumeier had a highly lucrative life ahead of him as an exec at Universal in the '80s when he decided his future lay in screenwriting. His first script was ROBOCOP (1987) - one of the most critically acclaimed, loved and prescient SF action movies ever. Ed reunited with the movie's brilliant director, Dutchman Paul Verhoeven, a decade later on the superb STARSHIP TROOPERS. Ed has continued to write and produce movies, including STARSHIP TROOPERS 2 - HERO OF THE FEDERATION (2004) and STARSHIP TROOPERS 3 - MARAUDER (2008), the latter also marking his directorial debut. I spoke to Ed about the making of the classic first ROBOCOP movie.      

The story goes that you were offered a Vice-President position at Universal but you turned it down in order to develop your ROBOCOP screenplay. What was it about the script that made you believe in it so much?
Getting ROBOCOP made into a film was much more fun to me than being a VP. It's not fair to say I turned down the VP position, but I was certainly in line for the job. Writing was really what I wanted to do. I actually took two weeks off work to write the first act up in Northern California where I grew up. 

How did you end up collaborating with Michael Miner on the script?
He had gone to UCLA at the same time as me, but I had not known him there. I first met him when he came into my office during the time I was an executive at Universal. Michael was a cinematographer looking to write and direct his own films, and I showed him my treatment for ROBOCOP. I had been working on it for some time. We decided we would write all the next drafts together from then on, and that I would produce the movie and he would direct. Later on we showed our work to producer Jon Davison, and he asked if he could produce it instead. Jon had a good business relationship with Mike Medavoy and Barbara Boyle at Orion. 

How did you divide the work with Miner?
It was always one of us sitting down typing or the other pacing the room or sitting down. It's a good way to get the energy going. Later on other films we'd write separately. 
What did you want to achieve with ROBOCOP?
I wanted ROBOCOP to be a franchise character that could play to both kids and adults. I knew I was going for a hard 'R' rating, so I knew it would have to be kids in spirit. It was important that everybody related to it as an adventure about a guy who shoots bad guys. Robocop is essentially a gunfighter - with a headache! I also wanted to do a combination of action and humour. The ongoing notion of humans and machines misbehaving was always amusing to me, and I had this idea that an action movie could also be a political satire of sorts. The ironies of politics and violence have always interested me. I was also interested in the guile of capitalism. In the film, it's mostly peppered in through the 'media breaks'. The most absurd commercial is the one for the 'Nuke 'Em!' board game. It's absolutely hilarious. It's a grace note that has nothing to do with Robocop but has somehow become part of the film's world that people have embraced. 

Was the character of Robocop influenced by any particular movie characters or film actors?
He was always a bit of a cipher, so we always thought of John Wayne in that they have similar codes. We also talked about Jesus and Frankenstein. I worked out some rules for what we could and couldn't do with Robocop. For example: Don't put him on the telephone. Don't put him on a bicycle. Don't have him fly or use machine guns. They did some of these things in the later movies, but they never worked well.

How much of an influence was BLADE RUNNER (1982) on the script? 

As a young man I was on the set of BLADE RUNNER. I was desperate to work in movies and I was a reader at Warners. STAR WARS (1977) was a big influence on me at the time. It was impressive that you could make a fantasy film that big. Walking around the set of BLADE RUNNER I was intrigued by the production design, but also by the idea of robots being presented as very human. The key turning point in the development of the ROBOCOP script was the idea that the hero was going to be a man who is turned into a machine. It gave the story great dramatic tension and relatability. What does he remember about his past as a human and how does he feel about it?

Was THE TERMINATOR (1984) much of an influence?
It wasn't an influence at all because it was being done at the same time we were doing ours. I did see THE TERMINATOR before ROBOCOP went into production, though. I took Michael Miner, and funnily enough, Stan Lee, to a screening of it at Paramount. We had pitched ROBOCOP as a comic-book to Stan, hoping we could later make it into a movie. After seeing THE TERMINATOR Stan said "Boys, you're never going to top that!" So it never worked out as a comic-book. The true influence of Cameron's movie was that had it not been a hit for Orion, they never would have made ROBOCOP. I don't think they were that proud of THE TERMINATOR initially, but once it hit big they saw our project as something similar that could also be successful. I heard James Cameron threatened to sue us because he felt we had ripped him off, but when I met him he turned out to be  a really good guy. 

How involved were you once you sold the script?
As the writer/ co-producer, I was lucky to be able to work on the whole movie, which is not something that usually happens with writers. I was able to participate in all the major decisions regarding the script, which was great training for me.

Were there any concerns from the studio or your collaborators concerning the level of humour in the film?
At first there were questions about it, yeah. Michael Miner, for example, worried about the tone until I convinced him that we wanted the audience laughing with us and not at us.

How about the level of violence?
I became more squeamish later on when I had kids, but at the time my attitude was "Let's go for it!" The scene where ED-209 goes haywire in the boardroom was completely my violence aesthetic. The scene is completely over the top, yet it underlines how cheap life is in the corporate world. I guess the scene was my way of saying goodbye to my life as an executive! I wrote the scene but Paul Verhoeven saw the shorthand of it all and how it would work. That's kind of brilliant. Can I just add that I find it funny that no-one has ever asked or written about why there is a gun in the boardroom? Audiences probably never notice it because it's there before ED-209 goes crazy, but it's still there at the end of the film! Handy!

How were the actors to work with?
They were really pleasant to work with. I had a great time with Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer; not just hanging out with them but helping them with their characters. I came up with new lines and they came up with their own too. It was a very creative experience for everybody. I saw Kurtwood recently and he said "I've never had as much fun since."

Which actors do you remember being in the frame to play Murphy/ Robocop? There are rumours that the likes of Tom Berenger, Lance Henriksen and Armand Assante were considered.
Orion were actually keen to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, but they couldn't get him and I don't think he was interested anyway. Armand Assante auditioned on tape but I don't remember Tom Berenger or Lance Henriksen coming in. Keith Carradine was someone we looked at for a while. Michael Ironside almost had the part, but then we met Peter Weller. 

How did you feel about the choice of Weller?
Some of the great luck of the movie was finding him. I actually read with Peter. He was the only actor who wouldn't let us tape his audition for some reason. Some people thought Peter was an offbeat choice at the time because he wasn't an action star or a big tough guy, but we always wanted an actor to inhabit the suit and he gave RoboCop his soul.

Why was Weller was let go for a day? What was the nature of the disagreements between Weller and the filmmakers?
Peter made a pretty big stand over the three lines that constitute RoboCop's Prime Directives. I sat with him for a couple days in his trailer until we came up with a version he wanted to say. The idea was that we would shoot two versions, his and ours, but on the set Peter would only shoot his version. It all sounds trivial now.  I think it was less about the script and probably more about a star asserting autonomy and this put him at odds with the director, who was also a rather stubborn guy as it turned out.

In response to the crisis, the producers and the studio crafted a kind of poker bluff that Peter was fired until he agreed to comply with the director. Firing Peter would've been quite difficult in reality since the Robo suit was built for his body. To shut down the production, recast the lead and create a new suit probably would've meant the end of the production.

 Is it coincidental that this crisis occurred during the week of fitting and first shooting the Robo suit? The big worry during pre-production was whether audiences were going to buy an actor in the Robocop suit. When the suit arrived, Peter had never really tried it out and it became a big crisis. Everybody worked extremely hard to get that suit work. Emotional things happen in making movies. But work carries on. It reminds me of the scene in ED WOOD (1994)where the fake octopus is not working and Martin Landau has to thrash about in the water to make it look convincing. I heard James Cameron saw that scene and said "That's what actors have to do."

Anyway, whatever the case may be, it seems to me now that the performance on which the movie depended was born in the cauldron of that crisis. It was difficult but it was also a wildly creative time. In retrospect, I don't see how it could have happened any other way.  Making movies is an exercise in crisis management.  A sense of humor can only help.

Were the likes of Jonathan Kaplan, Alex Cox and David Cronenberg ever in the frame to direct?
Jonathan was actually the guy who read the script first and said "Wow! You should show this to Jon Davison at Orion." I hoped this would happen because Jon is a very smart producer and perfect for ROBOCOP. Then through Jon we got the great effects guys like Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Those guys were again some of the great luck we had on the movie.

We knew Alex Cox because he was Michael Miner's roommate at UCLA. He was prepping SID AND NANCY (1986) in the offices at the time. Alex also had a business relationship with Jon Davison. He wasn't involved with ROBOCOP at all, although he was involved with the second film for about a minute. David Cronenberg might have been on a wish list, but that was about it. 

Who were some of the other directors considered before Paul Verhoeven was hired?
Lewis Teague said no and did THE JEWEL OF THE NILE (1985) instead. Thom Eberhart (NIGHT OF THE COMET, 1984) came in. Amy Holden Jones wrote up some notes about how she'd fix it. There were a couple guys who wanted to do it, like Jim McBride, but they were prevented by other pending deals. I'm sure Orion offered it to many of the directors that they were working with at that time. I presume many of them stopped at the title. For a moment it looked like we weren't going to be able to get a director... and then Verhoeven called. NO ONE could have approached the script as seriously, as artistically, and with more vigor than Verhoeven.

What qualities do you feel Verhoeven brought to ROBOCOP?
It was a very lucky collaboration between Paul and I because we discovered we had the same sensibilities about politics, humour and violence. We both saw violence as amusing and beautiful in a strange way. Paul brought his European sensibilities and education. He had experienced Fascism for real. I was born in Europe and grew up there, and I always felt the director of ROBOCOP would be European, probably French, for some reason. Paul is of course Dutch. I always imagined the film would have a style and a sense of the future that an American director couldn't bring.

Paul actually wanted me to work with him very closely on the film, so we had a great relationship, especially for a first-timer like me. We were kind of creatively joined at the hip and we've been good friends for many years now. We went on of course to do STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) together. It's a potent relationship that came out of that time.

Do you feel STARSHIP TROOPERS and ROBOCOP are linked in ways?
I had nothing to do with TOTAL RECALL (1990), but ROBOCOP impacted on that movie and a lot of the same people worked on it. I think ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL and STARSHIP TROOPERS definitely form a real trilogy, even though they're different stories and different worlds. I developed STARSHIP TROOPERS for Paul, and I wrote it in the style of ROBOCOP with all the media breaks and so on.

When you look back at the film now do you see it as something that sums up a particular era?
It would be very presumptive of me to say that, but it certainly sums up how I was feeling at the time. This notion of businessmen as feral predators who liked to be seen as 'killers' was really funny to me and I wanted to write about it. People can decide for themselves whether I was prophetic or not. I was reading an article the other day that said ''We are living in a ROBOCOP future'' because districts are being shut down in American cities like Detroit and the economy is projected to be in ruin. ROBOCOP is just a movie. It's not terribly profound, but it's a movie that lets you think. I wish more modern movies had a more political content and were more fun.

How do you feel about the accusations that you wrote a fascist movie?
Alex Cox told everybody it was a fascist movie. He's a really talented guy but I don't think politics is a very good means of movie criticism. I was railing against political correctness with the script in a very perverse way. I was on a panel recently and I was asked to explain why people of both the left and right enjoy ROBOCOP. I answered with my favourite line from the film - ''Good business is where you find it." I've always enjoyed the fact that cops like the movie as much as Marxists do! 

Why did you choose Detroit as the location?
As a kid growing up, Detroit was all about the automobile factories. But by the '70s it had all fallen into ruin and the Japanese had taken over. That to me was a potent symbol of the decline of America.

How did you manage to create such a believable world in ROBOCOP?
Everything in the world you create has to support the characters. If you're doing your job properly, it should all be linked. The fact that you see the cops wearing body armour at the beginning of the film was written into the script to prepare you for a new, hard world. The media breaks with the slogan "Give us three minutes and we'll give you the world!" create a tone that helps you not only accept Robocop as a character but also all the gore and violence. It makes it more accessible. Usually when you put gore in a film you lose most of your audience.

How optimistic a movie is ROBOCOP?
It's sad because of what happened to him, but Robocop/ Murphy moves on. I saw it as a transformational tale for the modern age. 

How useful was your experience working as a movie executive on working on the film? 
It was useful because I already knew a lot of people in the studios, and I knew what I could get away with in the market and push my luck. 
How important was the fact it was your first time as a writer in the success of the project?
You cannot overestimate how powerful the first time you do something can be. This was the first movie for me and Michael Miner. It was Paul Verhoeven's first Hollywood movie. Everybody needed a hit. Everybody worked extremely hard.

Why do you think ROBOCOP has such a large following amongst women?
It had a huge following amongst women, particularly middle-aged women, when it came out. I think it's because Robocop is attractive to women. He's a chivalrous character, a knight in shining armour; he's completely ethical and always does the right thing. When the movie came out in 1987 there was a perception amongst women that there were criminals hiding behind every corner to steal your money or rape you. Robocop is the guy who would protect them and blows away the bad guys.

How come you were not involved in ROBOCOP 2?
Michael and I started our sequel script right before what turned into a five month strike by the Writer's Guild of America. The industry ground to a halt. Orion signed a waiver in order to develop other possible ROBOCOP scripts while we were on strike. They asked me who they should hire, and I recommended Frank Miller ('The Dark Knight Returns', 1986) and Alan Moore, who had just done 'Watchmen' (1986-7). They went to Alan first and he said something like "I don't do movies." Frank said yes, so my attitude was "Fine. Frank can work on his version and we'll work on ours." The strike continued, and Michael and I were ultimately fired for breach. Now I think everyone wishes it had ended differently. 

How involved were you in the TV series?
Well, they tried to keep me out of the series, but I wanted to write the pilot, which I did, with Michael Miner. It was a two-parter and called 'The Future of Law Enforcement'. It was my first TV script and incorporated a character from our ROBOCOP 2 script ('The Corporate Wars'), which was the spirit of a murdered woman who lived on as a ghost in a computer who eventually became a companion for Robo. I learned things from the experience. They didn't understand the level of humour required for ROBOCOP. When I saw the pilot, they'd made it clown funny with a lot of gags. Paul Verhoeven gave me a great line when I told him what they'd done to the character - ''They were too weak to play it straight."

Do you see anything of ROBOCOP in Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy (2005-12)?
I think ROBOCOP had a bigger influence on Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989) actually. One of the screenwriters on BATMAN said that when ROBOCOP came out, Tim Burton felt that they could go to Warners and push to make it darker. It didn't need to be PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) with a cape; it could be darker, more sardonic and more adult. The Nolan films have less humour, although they're more sociological than the Burton films. I can see the influence of our film a little bit in the IRON MAN films (2008-13), but then ROBOCOP owes a little to IRON MAN. The two characters are different though. With our character there's this notion that he's a Kafka-esque cyborg, and there are these themes of fate and technology. I was aware of the comic when I was a kid, and when I was an executive I looked at them again to see if there was any mileage in making a movie from them. I was actually offered money to write a script for an IRON MAN movie after ROBOCOP.

How does ROBOCOP come into your daily life?
People of all ages, sexes, nationalities and occupations come and tell me they love the film. I remember when we did a benefit screening for the LAPD, I was worried they'd think we were making fun of them. But they loved it. It's an important film for them. I just got back from Washington DC, and met various politicians, some whose politics couldn't be any more different from mine. They loved the film. I ran into Alan Greenspan after the scandal he was involved in broke, and his face lit up when I told him I was the writer of ROBOCOP. I think it's an important movie for men growing up in the shadow of the Vietnam War. The movie appeals to boys from 6 to 76! It's really sweet now because I meet guys who tell me their father took them to see the film when it came out. I have kids now and I can see how these things get passed on. It's been interesting to see how ROBOCOP has passed through the culture, and now they're remaking the film. 

Are you involved with the new film?
They didn't really want me involved, which is fine. They don't need the past dragging them down. It's what happened with ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS. I've talked to the director, Jose Padilha, and he's a very sincere and talented guy. I think he'll honour the original film in the best way he can, because he loves it. That's all you can ask for. I think they're going to make a more serious film. If you look at Jose's ELITE SQUAD films (2007, 2010), you're going to see ROBOCOP filtered through something like that. I think the film is also going to be something like Neill Blomkamp's DISTRICT 9 (2009) as well; that combination of a Third World vibe, violence, police corruption and economic strife. Funnily enough, I met a guy who worked on that film and he told me Neill is a huge fan of ROBOCOP.

Ultimately, how proud are you of ROBOCOP?
I didn't sit down and say "I'm going to write something original and unusual." But ROBOCOP really is original and unusual.

I spoke to Ed by telephone on 23rd July 2012, and then by email during July 2013. I'd like to thank him for the use of his time and memory!
Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright Paul Rowlands, 2012.

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