Just after the 20th anniversary of Se7en, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker during the Script-to-Screen: Se7en panel at the 2015 Austin Film Festival & Conference to learn about his process to create the story, write the script, and work with director David Fincher to bring it to the screen. Now thanks to AFF's On Story, we get to watch a condensed version of our conversation, highlighting Walker's research process, character development, and fight to keep what's in the box in the film.
You can watch the full video below. If you don't have time to watch now, I've pulled out a few key points from our conversation after the video, plus I've included an exclusive discount code to the 2016 Austin Film Festival & Conference, good until June 30, 2016.
David Fincher loves to collaborate with his writers
David Fincher is certainly a visionary director, and rightfully gets a ton of credit for making material specifically his own. According to Walker, Fincher is also an excellent collaborator with his writers. Walker points out how specific Fincher's notes are for particular scenes, always bringing his point of view to bear, but working together with the writer to make the best possible version of the story for the film. Walker's script had gone through many iterations in development before Fincher was approached, and he accidentally received the earliest draft of the script including the famous "what's in the box" ending. Luckily for Walker, that's the version Fincher wanted to shoot.
You pull in audiences with great hooks, but you keep them engaged with character conflict
Se7en has a great hook: tracking down a serial killer as he commits seven murders based on the seven deadly sins over seven days. That sucks audiences in. But Walker talks extensively about how he worked to set up the characters of Somerset and Mills to have constant tension on the screen. Each character has fundamentally different views on their work as homicide detectives. Somerset is done, ready to retire, and leave this all behind because nothing he has done or will do will ultimately make a difference. Mills wants to change the world, confident that he can make a big difference, and disbelieving of Somerset's own pessimism. Walker recognized that the ongoing conflict between Somerset and Mills as they reluctantly work together to solve this case elevates the story way above the initial hook.
What's in the box is truly horrifying because of a developed, three-dimensional supporting character
Although Mills' wife Tracy doesn't get too much screen time, her presence in the film is vital to making the final scenes work. And those scenes really only work because Walker took the time to develop Tracy into a three-dimensional character that engenders the audience's sympathy in those few moments on screen. Scenes that initially seem like detours to give us a glimpse into Mills' world outside of the case turn out to be the most crucial scenes to earn the emotional impact of the ending. During our conversation, Walker pointed out the importance of knowing your ending before you start writing and working backwards from that. He always knew that Mills would be the final sin which led him down the path of establishing his wife Tracy as a key character in the story. But Walker also knew the audience would need to care about Tracy to make the ending work.
Be sure to check out the full episode above, and find episodes from all six seasons of Austin Film Festival's On Story at their website. And if you're planning on making the trip to the 2016 Austin Film Festival & Conference, use promo code NOFILMSCHOOL until June 30, 2016, and get a $15 discount off any badge, thanks to our friends at AFF.
Source: Austin Film Festival's On Story