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411 Talks w/C. Courtney Joyner About Upcoming Novel Nemo Rising

November 2, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Nemo Rising

The 411 Interview: C. Courtney Joyner

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C. Courtney Joyner is a screenwriter, film director, and novelist. He has written the screenplays for the Renny Harlin movie Prison, the Mark L. Lester sequel Class of 1999, the Full Moon projects Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, Dr. Mordrid, among others, and has directed the movies Trancers III: Deth Lives and Lurking Fear. Joyner’s novels include the Shotgun western series and the upcoming Nemo Rising, a sequel to the Jules Verne classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In this interview Joyner talks with this writer about Nemo Rising, novel writing in general, low budget cinema, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: Why write a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

C. Courtney Joyner: I’ve always loved Verne – and the fact that his technology predictions came so completely true – and his imaginings; but even though I wasn’t exposed to the writing for a while – think I first read 20,000 for my eighth grade English class – I loved the films. Obviously, the Disney masterpiece, but I’d seen Mysterious Island at a kiddie matinee in a re-release, and that film – that tone of adventure – I just adored. So, more than fifteen years ago, I decided to write a spec TV pilot, using Captain Nemo as my action hero; a tough, sea-fairer, not just the scientific sophisticate, because I always thought he had to be both. And decades later, after many attempts to get a movie made – and coming so close, with great efforts by my producer – I happened to show the script to a book editor. So, all these years into it, – with the encouragement of the editor, and a devoted writer friend, Miles Swarthout – I finally decided to write a novel with the script as basic outline. It’s been an incredible – with lots of ups and downs – journey, but my main goal was to capture that feeling of wonder, of adventure, that I thought had been lost since the great days of Harryhausen and Charles Schneer, and I wanted to try and recreate that feel, if not on film, then on paper.

BK: How difficult was it to write a sequel to a story that’s almost 150 years old?

CCJ: The hardest part, for me, is establishing an attitude for the language; a rhythm, that feels right for the period, but also carries the action, in a modern, cinematic way. Not always the easiest thing, but one of the great inspirations for me was Tarzan: The Lost Adventure, which Joe Lansdale finished, based on E.R. Burrough’s first chapters and notes. He captured the style, and did it while still filling the story with “modern” action, even though it was period. The collected works of Verne, and Tarzan, never left my side. Also, we have to remember that any Verne we’ve read is a translation of the French, and sometimes they differ from edition, to edition. I always went to Verne for my touchstones – those classic elements – whether it was the Nautilus itself, or inventions he mentioned in other works, or other characters, but bringing them into what I was writing in a way that felt right for the period, but was modern – with tough action and dialogue – in its approach, but always honoring its Verne origins. A difficult stew to concoct, but that was certainly the goal.

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BK: You’re also the author of the Shotgun western series. What’s the difference, if any, between writing a western novel and writing something like Nemo Rising?

CCJ: Period adventure is where my imagination lives, I think, and both series are set very close to the Civil War, so the transition from one world to the other isn’t a difficult re-set. My westerns are a little unusual, – a bit on the Jonah Hex side – so there’s a fantastic element to them, I think, which also brings me close, in attitude, to the world of Nemo Rising. Also, the fun of the research; for Nemo, hours of Hammer films, or pouring over Verne and other authors for grace notes to the writing – maybe a dialogue reference – or just the practical stuff of getting the 1800 settings to feel right on the page. With Nemo, there’s a lot of nautical terminology, and understanding the layout of the submarines and ships of the period. With Shotgun it’s Civil War field medicine and inventions. I love writing descriptions, so it’s a field day to describe the Nemo and Shotgun worlds.

BK: How is novel writing different from screenwriting? Did you always want to do both?

CCJ: There’s so much freedom with a novel. I can imagine any huge action moment, or something other-worldly, and if I can figure out a way to lay it onto paper, it exists. Of course, that’s not the case with a script. The great thing with Nemo for me is, starting from a screenplay, I was able to expand scenes and take the characters into directions I hadn’t thought of before with a script because you’re always thinking of the practical reality of shooting it.
The novel freed me up from that, which is great, great fun. Hard work, but fun. But, I’m still very new to this form. Nemo is only my third novel, with the first two Shotgun novels being my first-ever attempts. So, to be able to move between the forms with ease, as William Goldman, or Elmore Leonard, or the other giants have – that’s too big a dream to even dare contemplate, but it would be wonderful to be able to do both effectively and well.

BK: How did you get involved with Charles Band?

CCJ: I was introduced to Charlie when I’d written Prison for producer Irwin Yablans. We made that movie for Empire Pictures. Renny Harlin – who was actually my housemate at the time – directed, and did a great job. Very proud of that little flick. After that, I became part of the Empire, and later, Full Moon family.

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BK: Out of the three films you’ve directed so far, what do you consider your best film?

CCJ: All the movies I directed were for the Full Moon factory. I tried very hard with Lurking Fear – and folks have been very kind about it – but I still drift toward my first, Trancers 3, because I was working with Tim, who is one of my best friends, and Andy Robinson, who is one of the best people. The support I got from Albert Band, and everyone connected – and KNB coming in for effects as a favor – wow. It was a great experience – maybe that doesn’t make it the “best film” in some ways, but since the making-of was so positive, I think I was able to do some nice things for very little money.

BK: What happened with Trancers 6? Did you always intend to have the Jack Deth character become female?

CCJ: It turned out that Tim wasn’t going to be available, and the original script had to be seriously altered. The idea of Jack being transported into the woman’s body was Charlie’s, and I thought the actress did a nice job.

BK: How has low budget cinema changed over the years from your perspective?

CCJ: Back in the VHS-boom period, it felt that we were making “mini movies” for these companies like Empire or New World or Cannon. We didn’t have the studio money and resources, but we were shooting on film, with names, and often, a full crew. Shorter schedules, and tighter budgets, but we had the same excitement as if we were working for the majors. Only the films were smaller, not our enthusiasm. Also, we weren’t cynical about what we were doing, and I think it showed in the final result – all that sincere effort is there, even if the movies didn’t turn out well. Also, film. It’s a cliché, I know, and digital is amazing – but to see the photography that Mac Ahlberg, Mark Irwin, Adolfo Bartoli, and these great cinematographers created on 35mm film, within these budgets – the images are still stunning. I see the Blu-rays of some of my old horror movies and they look beautiful.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can divulge?

CCJ: Nemo Rising comes out on December 26th, and then, a double-edition of Shotgun – Bushwhacked: The Bloody Saga of John “Shotgun” Bishop will be in stores on January 15th, followed by a third Shotgun in the spring, These Violent Times. On the film front, there are a number of things cooking – including the possible return to Nemo Rising as a cable series, thanks to producer Amy Krell, who has been with this project for a very long time. I stepped away from screenwriting to work on the fiction, and now that’s brought me back to film and TV.

BK: Is Tim Thomerson as cool in person as he always seems onscreen?

CCJ: He’s cooler!

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I want to thank C. Courtney Joyner for agreeing to participate in this interview and david j. moore for helping set it up.

You can check out C. Courtney Joyner’s official website here.

Trancers 3: Deth Lives image from Amazon. All other images courtesy of C. Courtney Joyner.