Coinciding with the home-entertainment release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, Flickering Myth’s Martin Carr chats with screenwriter William Wisher about the 1991 sci-fi action classic…
Martin Carr: Hi William. How did you and James Cameron first meet and subsequently get involved with the Terminator franchise?
William Wisher: Well the short version is I first met Jim in late 1972. He had graduated from high school in Canada the year before and I knew his girlfriend at the time Sharon Williams and she said ‘you should meet my boyfriend because he’s into the movies and science fiction and all that’, and we did and we have been friends ever since.
MC: Considering the original Terminator was quite a dark film in comparison to Terminator 2 which seems more deliberately commercial, did you both consciously decide to go that way during writing or did it just happen?
WW: Quite honestly I think that’s just the way it went. Terminator had a budget of about $6.5 million I think, and I did a little bit of writing on it, but that’s basically Jim’s picture, and he was going for what he could get with the budget that he had. So when we got to Terminator 2 we had $100 million, so there were more things that we could do and technology had come a long way in terms of CG – not that there’s as much CG in T2 as you think. Jim would know the exact answer but I think there were something like fifty-two to fifty-five shots in the whole film. Of course Linda had a twin sister so we used her to put them both in the same frame, and the guard with the card at Atascadero (state hospital) were twin brothers. So there is CG which is evident when you see it, but there is also practical stuff which some people thing is CG but isn’t.
MC: I know this is a contentious question, but how do you think the subsequent sequels compare to Terminator and Terminator 2 which many people consider to be science fiction benchmarks?
WW: Well I have a rule about these sorts of things, which is if I didn’t work on it I’m not going to comment on it. They made their pictures and I made mine with Jim and I think it’s up to other people to decide how they feel about those other films. I wasn’t involved.
MC: I understand William. Moving onto the script how did the writing process work between yourself and James Cameron?
WW: We wrote the treatment for it and Jim has a term which is called a ‘scriptment’, which is a process I also use, where you start out writing your treatment and just continue to expand it until you finally get the screenplay. With Terminator 2 we wrote it at his house taking turns at the keyboard, writing it out loud so to speak, coming up with ideas and all of that. Then once we got to the end I think it was about fifty pages roughly we cut it in half. He expanded one half and I expanded the other half and the movie was all there. Then once we were done with that and both halves were in screenplay form, we got back together and spent three days in the same room going over it, then he printed it, stuck it in a briefcase and flew off to Cannes so Mario Kassar could read it.
MC: Considering the moments between Sarah and Kyle Reese in the Special Edition I have to ask whether there was more to that in your original script?
WW: Yes. Everything that you see in the Special Editions including the Kyle dream sequence and the scene where they take out Arnold’s CPU and turn it from read to write was all in the script. It was edited out for a variety of reasons, either for time, or sometimes you put a thing together and you go ‘you know that’s not working quite the way I want it to’. Also Terminator 2 had a different original ending as well, where you see Sarah and John Connor in a future world, where they have avoided the war. That got previewed and the audience didn’t much care for it, so Jim called me up and said ‘I have an idea let’s just do a narration over this extra piece of footage that we have’, which was actually originally used as the drive up to Cyberdyne. I think I wrote part of it, or he wrote something and sent it to me, then I re-wrote it then sent it back, but basically we did that in like a night as I recall. And it was written to the length of the piece of footage and whatever we had to do had to be done in that time.
MC: So if you had the opportunity and it had tested more favourably, would you have preferred for that to be the original ending of the movie?
WW: I actually prefer what exists today in the official release because it was almost a little too happy. In retrospect we discussed that, but decided to leave it a little more open and more cautionary. Like sure we won this round but we have stay vigilant. [In retrospect] I infinitely prefer that and am glad the original ending didn’t preview that well, because I think sometimes adversity makes better drama. I like it a lot and think it is the right note to end on.
MC: Bearing in mind that yourself and James Cameron have been friends for so long and Terminator 2 is considered one of the great sequels, where else would you take the new reboot?
WW: Well that’s interesting because Tim Miller is set to direct that and I’m not working on that, so there’s no good answer I can give you. I don’t know where they want to take it and since they are definitely taking it somewhere I don’t want to second guess where they might want to go with it. So I’m going to leave that one alone.
MC: And finally in terms of the original structure getting back to the script, was it shot as it was written, or was a lot of stuff juggled in the edit to make it work?
WW: Practically nothing changed. Things came out in edit from the script that we shot, but the only thing from the script that we changed was a line of description became a line of dialogue. When Arnold says ‘I think I need a vacation’ that was originally just a piece of description which said ‘Arnold looks like he needs a vacation’. And Jim said something like ‘that sounds kind of cool just say it’ and to my knowledge that’s the only thing that was changed from the script, all the other stuff that you see in the Special Editions was simply decided in edit.
MC: Many thanks for your time William this has been amazing.