Written by Dylan Callaghan
If the rough, knee-scraped world of screenwriting could be likened to a nasty little boy, Cormac and Marianne Wibberley are like the lone stuffed animal on that boy’s bed. They are adorable but tough, nothing too cutesy – maybe a monkey with a missing eye or a lion with a ratty, knotted mane.
In the fiercely competitive business of screenwriting, where credit and vision are like chum to ravenous sharks, they have somehow remained lovingly married while skillfully writing over a dozen screenplays, including such boffo actioners as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and the National Treasure franchise. And now, with G-Force, Disney’s new live-action/computer-animated summer pic about a furry squad of lethally trained guinea pigs, they are seriously getting their cute and kick-ass on.
The film represents the team’s latest collaboration with box office Midas Jerry Bruckheimer as well as the directorial debut of Oscar-winning visual effects guru Hoyt Yeatman (The Abyss, Armageddon).
The charm of the Wibberleys lies in the way they differ yet complement each other. Cormac grew up the sixth and last child of raffish, Irish-American author Leonard Wibberley, who is most famous for the satirical novel The Mouse that Roared, which was adapted into a 1959 film staring Peter Sellers. Raised in the chaos of a writer’s life, he is soft-spoken – crisp when he does talk, but equally happy to let others take the floor. By contrast, Marianne is the product of what she calls a “noodle salad upbringing” – her mother a nurse and her father an electrical engineer. She is socially fluid and readily chatty without seeming loquacious. She not only engages, but seems practiced at gently sheltering the more interview-shy Cormac.
The couple spoke to the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about the key twist they added to G-Force director Hoyt Yeatman’s original treatment, and why being married is not only an easier way to write, but the only way either of them could imagine being able to do it (now how adorable is that!).
Was the premise of a band of specially trained guinea pigs yours?
Cormac Wibberley: No, it was Hoyt Yeatman’s. He had an 11-page treatment that he’d done some artwork on.
Photo: © 2009 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
A scene from G-Force.
Marianne Wibberley: It’s nice when you get to that place and you’re not just in your office slogging it out, when someone comes to you with an idea, and they have drawings and stuff. It’s great. We basically added the twist that they get disbanded and thrown in a regular pet shop where they have to be regular pets but don’t know how. That was a concept that we brought to the table.
After getting that initial premise and artwork, what emerged for you as the core of the story?
Marianne Wibberley: The core of it for us was that these guys never got to prove themselves. The original idea didn’t have that. That’s why we thought it would be fun to disband them, have them told that they’re just ordinary and then have to prove that they’re not. That part was emotionally exciting for us, that they become underdogs and not just kick-ass guinea pigs.
And also, we just thought it would be fun to spoof a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. You know, we’d done Bad Boys and National Treasure one and two, and we thought it would be fun to wink, wink at the whole genre.
And who better to do that than you guys?
Marianne Wibberley: And it’s sweet that Jerry wants to go that way. Even in National Treasure one, he was the guy that said, “No bullets.” We were like, “What? We’re writing the first Jerry Bruckheimer movie with no guns?” He had already gone to that place where he wanted to make a PG-13 movie, and it turned out to be really smart. We had no idea how smart.
What is your rough process with a script from seed to final draft?
Marianne Wibberley: We always start with the character. I’ll sit down and ask, “What’s our plot?” Cormac will say, “That’s not important. What’s our character? Who are they and what do they want?” And then we’ll do an outline and a first draft and it usually takes that whole first draft to realize, “Oh, that’s the theme we should go for.”
Cormac Wibberley: You always think you have it at outline and then you get into the draft and realize you don’t have it.
So the outline is just a step in the process, but not the answer for you?
Cormac Wibberley: Yeah, we do it because you have to do it, but it’s not set in stone. We deviate from it a lot when we start writing. And then, somewhere in the draft, we realize what we need to do, but it takes all that work for us to get it.
Marianne Wibberley: A lot of times your plot is correct, but your theme is not. We’ll be doing a scene toward the end of the draft, and we’ll think we know what we want to do and Cormac will say, “Why would our character do this?” and I’ll go, “Why would you ask that now? We’re almost done!” But it’ll be right.
Cormac Wibberley: It’s hardly always me, by the way.
To that point, what specific strengths do you each bring to the team?
Cormac Wibberley: They flip flop a lot. Sometimes Marianne will do the action, and sometimes, I will. You never know who will do it. It’s funny because friends and family will think they know which one of us wrote a line, and it’s inevitably wrong.
Marianne Wibberley: Cormac is surprisingly sensitive, and I’m surprisingly kick-ass, so between the two of us, we can mix it up a little bit. Like I said, Cormac inevitably stops me when it comes to character, and he’s also very funny.
So, like many writing teams, you’re constantly passing the baton. But Cormac, you are the more sensitive one?
Cormac Wibberley: No, I think that’s coming out now because she’s better at talking in these interviews, but if you were in this room when we were writing, you’d see her coming up with stuff that’s a great emotional hook. It goes both ways. We pray for the muse, and whoever has it, we’re just grateful.
Marianne Wibberley: That’s actually a really good point. We pray for the muse and whoever has it gets to lead the charge for that day.
But one of you thinks you’re funnier. Come on, let’s get ugly here.
Marianne Wibberley: I think Cormac is funnier. I will say that I’m more of a taskmaster...
Cormac Wibberley: She will get up and say, “We have to work...”
Marianne Wibberley: “We have to do this now.”
Cormac Wibberley: And if it weren’t for me, we’d work past eight at night. She will go feed our daughter dinner and then come back to work...
Marianne Wibberley: I don’t cook. He’s joking.
Cormac Wibberley: Well, I mean get her dinner. But I like to take a break because I do believe you need to refill the well. When we were on the National Treasure movies, it [was] just relentless… You’ll get calls at 11 o’clock at night to do something after you’ve worked all day and turned in pages. I would say, “We’ll get it tomorrow morning,” but Marianne would jump right up and say, “What do you need done?” She is a much harder worker.
Writing is hard enough even when you’re not married. When you two decided to write together, did you have any trepidation?
Cormac Wibberley: I don’t think we were smart enough to think about it. Marianne, did you?
Marianne Wibberley: When Comrac was an executive in children’s programming and I was in film school at UCLA, he would give me notes and help me with the scripts I was writing. I kept saying, “Why don’t you just write a script with me?” and he would say, “No, I’m never going to be a writer. My dad was a writer, and he was miserable.” I just kept needling him until we finally wrote the spec we sold to Disney.
So do you regret it, Cormac?
Cormac Wibberley: My dad would always say, “Never become a writer. It’s a whore’s profession,” because you’re constantly pleasing editors. He would do one mouse book, and then it would be the next mouse book and the next one. I didn’t understand at the time that he had six kids and had to do so many pages a day, but I get it now. He poured his heart and soul into it.
But I also realized how hard executives work reading scripts every day and writing notes. So I thought, “What’s the difference?” I was spending all this time writing notes. So when Marianne asked me, I finally thought, why not?
But when you guys are just stymied or things are going badly on a script, is it harder because you’re married and you can’t get away from each other?
Marianne Wibberley: Those are the best moments to be married because we just look across the room at each other and say, “Nobody else would understand except for another writer.”
Cormac Wibberley: Absolutely.
Marianne Wibberley: If I came home and said, “Oh honey, I’ve been trying for two weeks, and I can’t come up with anything for this action scene,” and [he wasn’t a writer], he’d say, “Just kick yourself in the ass and figure it out! How hard could it be? You’ve been sitting on your ass for two weeks. What do you do all day? What do you mean you haven’t come up with a page?” Nobody else would understand.