Director Rian Johnson unravels his time-travel drama Looper

Director Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom) told SCI FI Wire that his next project, Looper, involves time travel but doesn't sacrifice character in the name of high-concept storytelling. "It's got time travel in it, but it uses time travel as the setup for a situation," Johnson said in an exclusive interview last month.

"But it's very character-based," Johnson added. "Especially in the second half of it, it definitely goes someplace you wouldn't quite expect it to go. Just like with The Brothers Bloom, that ended up being the part of it that both challenged and excited me the most—the fact that the back half of the script, a large part of it just hangs on the interactions between three characters, without a lot of plot to lean on. That's really, really hard for me, and really challenging, and also exciting. And fun, since it's what I've probably put the most work into."

Looper is set in a present-day world in which a group of hit men are sent their victims from the future.

Johnson spoke exclusively to SCI FI Wire while promoting The Brothers Bloom. The following is an edited version of that interview.

So how's Looper coming?

Johnson: I just finished the first draft two days ago, and it's a first draft, so I'm now kind of just wandering around confused. No, I sent it out and showed it to some people, just kind of working on making a second draft. But it's way too soon to have any kind of perspective. But I had a great time during the writing process. It is so completely different than Bloom that it was refreshing. I'm excited about it, and I can feel a kind of—it's getting to the point where I think about it for 70 percent of the day, which is a good point.

What's your revision process like?

Johnson: Again, probably as a function of this just being my third film, I don't have a set thing that I do, but that's one thing that I've been trying to work on in terms of myself, that's revision. I'm really bad about having the discipline to rewrite, just because it's such a long process for me, of writing. I really do plan things out for a few years before I sit down and start actually writing, but at that point everything that is down on paper [has] been in your head for so long. But that's something that I'm making a real conscious effort to avoid. I'm trying to be as brutal as possible in the writing process on paper with this, just to try and get it as tight as I can.

Is it action-oriented?

Johnson: Not really. It's got action in it; it's got lots of action, and it's pretty violent.

What kind of music have you thought about using in the film?

Johnson: I've talked a little bit with Nathan Johnson [Rian's cousin], who did the score for Brick and The Brothers Bloom. He was going to do Looper, and I talked to him a little bit, and we have some notions, but Nathan actually hasn't read the script yet. So once he does we'll actually sit down and have a conversation about it. [But] the one thing that I had as an idea was that it was going to be a lot more sparse than Bloom and Brick. I want to pull way back on the amount of music in the movie. But as a disconnected idea, who knows if it may even see it through the production?

How do you communicate your ideas with Nathan? Is the process easier since he's also your cousin?

Johnson: I'm very collaborative with Nathan, and we've been making movies together since we were 10. It does generally start with me giving him some reference points; like, for Brick it was Morricone scores, and for Bloom it was a combination of '70s American folk-rock, like The Band. Of course it goes somewhere different from there, but that's the starting point.

So for Looper that's probably the first thing: I'll start feeding him some stuff and some ideas. But right now I have strings in my head for it, a very clean and completely string-based type of thing. So we might start exploring in that direction, but that's a nice thing about keeping it in the family: You can hang out with these people that you've known for years, and it's not a shorthand, because that makes it sound like you're taking a shortcut, but it's a lack of ego on both sides. It's just completely able to be about the work, I guess.

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