Peter Craig is one of the busiest, most in-demand and talented young screenwriters currently working. Before his success as the co-writer of Ben Affleck's THE TOWN (2010), Peter wrote three acclaimed novels - The Martini Shot (1998), Hot Plastic (2004), and Blood Father (2005). All three share an interest in exploring the complex but loving relationships between fathers and their offspring. Peter, with Andrea Berloff, adapted the latter novel into the excellent 2016 Mel Gibson thriller of the same title. Peter also co-wrote the HUNGER GAMES two-part MOCKINGJAY finale (2014-15), and has worked on scripts for a TOP GUN sequel and a third BAD BOYS film. Amongst his forthcoming projects is the submarine thriller HUNTER KILLER (2017) with Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman and Billy Bob Thornton. In the final part of our two-part interview I spoke with Peter abouthis experience co-writing the MOCKINGJAY films; working on BLOOD FATHER with Mel Gibson; and his work on upcoming films HUNTER KILLER and HORSE SOLDIERS, plus his work on previous drafts of Top Gun 2 and BAD BOYS 3.    

Part one of the interview.        

How did you get involved with the THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY films? 
I knew Nina Jacobson a little. I had been working on something that had just fallen through at the last second. Danny Strong had done a draft of each part of MOCKINGJAY and was jumping off to do his TV show, Empire. Nina called and asked if I would be interested, and I definitely was. I'd never done a big movie like that. I was up against two other writers. I remember, I just got really into it in the interview, and I came up with a lot of little world-building scenes. I also really connected with Francis Lawrence and Nina off the bat. I got the job, and right away I went to Atlanta because they had such a tight production schedule. I was doing all I could to write Part 1. I didn't think much about how they had split the film into two parts -not until I came on. But soon enough, I was writing Part 2 while I was on the set of Part 1. I was there every day and got to be friends with everybody. It was a ride. I'm still incredibly close to everybody from that time. I remember doing story meetings all weekend, then shooting all week. Lionsgate has some pretty strict release schedules and you get the movie made, no matter what. 

Did you have to do a crash course on the mythology of THE HUNGER GAMES, or were you already a fan? 
I had to do a bit of a crash course, although my daughter had read the books. So I knew them a little bit. The author of the books, Suzanne Collins, was an executive producer on the movies and was involved in every story meeting. We didn't do anything without her blessing. She's a really smart lady and she really cares about the world she has created and all of her fans. You have to come with a bunch of ideas and see what she is inspired by. She let me have a certain amount of freedom, but every now and then, she'd clamp down. I don't think we argued about much. I thought Elizabeth Banks was great and I wanted her in the movies as much as possible. We had a really brief argument about where to include her in the first MOCKINGJAY. That was one of the few times where she said ''OK, you guys are right. Include her more. '' Usually we came to some kind of compromise. I knew she had more power going in, and it makes sense because people are going to these movies to see her creation. You don't want to mess with that. You want to do all you can to service it. And she knows what she's talking about in the writer's room. She came up as a TV writer herself. She's collaborative and incredibly nurturing and supportive to the screenwriters. You just don't go off the map and throw anything you want on the page, because that is not what anybody wants in this case. 

Was it a big challenge adapting the book into two distinct parts? 
It was, yeah, and we didn't really know where we were going to split it until the editing room. We had a couple of good ideas. Suzanne Collins definitely did not conceive MOCKINGJAY as a two-part story, and I think some of the critical and fan response was justified when they talked about the monetary cynicism in making two movies from one short book. Our job was to service that decision as best we could and I think we came out in a good place. I'm really proud of the work Francis did on MOCKINGJAY PART 1. 

I hadn't read the books, so I was devastated and wowed by the ending of PART 2. 
It's brutal, yeah. Suzanne doesn't pull any punches. She really wants kids to confront all these issues. It's a different kind of Young Adult literature, that's for sure. 

How was working with the extraordinary Jennifer Lawrence? 
She's an incredible actress. I've never seen anything like her, and I grew up around a lot of actresses. Francis would give her a note like ''Do that again, but with slightly more melancholy, and a little more anger at the end. '' And then she would nail it. Her emotional intelligence is like you're looking at the greatest athlete you've ever seen. She has to deal with all the exhausting baggage of stardom, and that was really starting to happen around the MOCKINGJAY movies, but she feels very safe on set, and she has this pure, incredible talent. Katniss is a difficult role to play. She doesn't talk much, and shows emotion through subtle facial expressions. Jen can do anything, though. The dial goes in every direction with her. She's so smart too, and such a good read of character. She can walk into a room of thirty people and tell you what everyone is thinking. She just gets all the colors. That was one of the most fun things, just to get to watch her work. 

How did you get involved with adapting your own book for BLOOD FATHER? 
It has been around as a project for a long time. It had been the first thing I had ever sold, actually, and the money helped me move to California from where I had been teaching at the time in the midwest. It had gone through a lot of iterations, and had been set up a few different times with different directors and different actors. Finally Jean-Francois Richet came back on the project with Pascal backing him financially. I loved the idea of Mel doing it because he WAS this guy. I had a couple of great meetings with Mel, one with Jean-Francois and one without him. I remember I went to Mel's place once and just wrote all day. I was on MOCKINGJAY PART 2 at the time, and we got all the financing in place and a start date in New Mexico. We had 28 days to shoot it. We just went for it. It was a crazy experience but I'm glad we took the leap. 

Was it an odd experience adapting your own book? 
So much time had passed, and I had written so many drafts of the script and Andrea Berloff had done her drafts. I had gone back and forth on it for so long that it had become a different thing for me at that point. I was more willing to change things from the book than anybody. I remember that Jean-Francois went back to the book and found all these things that he wanted in the film. He put back a lot of little scenes I had taken out. 

Did Mel coming on board require any retooling of the script? 
Not that much. He was into it all. He was willing to play this guy. The only difference is that his character wasn't as in shape in the book. Mel got in the best shape he's been in twenty years to do the role. Anything I needed to change was simply because we didn't have enough money or time, or when things just got dropped on the day of the shoot, like if the weather was terrible or there were dust storms or rain that came out of the blue. Then you have to quickly rewrite just to get through the day or the night. There was an awful lot of scrambling in that regard. We lost an awful lot. You have to make a movie out of what you have. And everybody did a good job. 

Was Mel keen to avoid some of the tropes he is famous for in his action films? 
I don't think so. I think we all had a sense that at times this film was a bit of a tribute to him. We were consciously playing into both who he's been in other movies and the public's perception of him now. We definitely wink at the audience sometimes. We talked about Martin Riggs and Mad Max kind of stuff, and joked about it. I don't think we were openly borrowing from those characters but we were riffing on them a little bit. We were happy to have him, and he is such an encyclopedia of ideas from all the movies he has seen or made, that we absorbed it all. We felt we had an expert around. 

I loved the way the film starts off feeling like a departure for Gibson then it morphs naturally into a vehicle for him. 
That's what it felt like for us too. He reclaimed himself with this movie. Mel is always thinking about everything. And every day he would arrive with a good set of ideas with him. 

What can you say about your new movie, HUNTER KILLER? 
It's an interesting project. I came on later in this movie - and it's gone through a lot because of the Relativity bankruptcy. I was on and off of it a few times - but I'm usually around the process a little bit at the finish line these days. Jamie Moss was on it for a while, and Arne Schmidt before him. It's from a book called Firing Point by Don Keith, and is a submarine action thriller with Gerard Butler. They're shooting it right now in London. I've done a little more work on it since it's been shooting. I'm not as deeply in the mix on this one, but I still talk to Gerry on the phone sometimes to work through a scene. 

I have a project that I really like called HORSE SOLDIERS that starts shooting in mid-November. We'll be in New Mexico again. It's about the first few months of the war in Afghanistan when we sent in twelve Special Forces guys to fight with General Dostum in the North, who was a warlord and is now the Vice President of the country. He was a tricky figure and the twelve Americans were there completely covertly, before we knew the war had begun. They were fighting on horseback while calling in air strikes to try to clear paths to get the Taliban out of there. Chris Hemsworth is the star. A Danish commercial director named Nikolai Fuglsig is directing - and Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer. 

What can you say about Top Gun 2? 
I was on the project for a really long time. When Tony Scott passed away, I didn't want to continue. It went into hibernation for a little while. Now I believe Justin Marks, who is a really good writer, has come onto the project. I think he's taking it in a new direction. That's a good idea. We don't want to just do what Tony would have done and not do it as well. It's best to start over with a new spirit. 

Did your drafts have huge parts for Tom Cruise? 
Yes, and huge parts for Val Kilmer too. Mine had most of the characters coming back from the original. We didn't have Kelly McGillis in it, but we did have a brief scene with Meg Ryan, although only one. I can't really say anything more than that. 

How much of your work can we expect to see in BAD BOYS 3? 
I think they kept some of the comedy and relationship stuff from my scripts, like their lives as older cops, and some of the Martin Lawrence family stuff. I think they've also further developed a character that was in my script. They've totally redone the villain plot and a created a whole new scenario. It sounds like they've done quite a few passes since I was on it. 

The BAD BOYS films are famous for having a lot of writers onboard. 
I think this has had less than the others. I was the first, and I think they've had four writers. I was on the project for three and a half years. We had scripts ready to go, but it was partly about people not being available. I think they were right to change the villain because mine would be really dated now. It was eight years ago when I was working on it. 

What's it like to work on a script when you expect Michael Bay will be directing? 
He never gave me any notes beforehand at all. He waits until it's closer to ready before he tells you very much. He would say what you would expect Michael Bay to say – he'd say ''Just make it cool, man. '' He didn't like the cars I had people driving in one draft, which was hilarious. Once he's on board and thinking about how he's going to shoot something, then I believe he's amazingly detail-oriented, but in that phase of development where I was, he just let me do my thing. 

You can think as big as you want when you're writing for Michael Bay, right? 
That's true. I remember I had some crazy chases in there. I don't know how many of them have survived. I'll be interested to see what Joe Carnahan does with the film. I'm excited about it. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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