TMNT writing and producing partners Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec’s journey to Hollywood is one of those stories that, well, some might write a movie about.
Friends since the third grade at Riverdale Country School, a K-12 preparatory academy in New York, the duo went their separate ways in college (Nemec went to NYU TISCH in the Acting Program, while Appelbaum attended USC as a Creative Writing Major) only to reunite during Nemec’s junior year when he ventured out to L.A. Soon after, the pair went on to write their first TV pilot together.
“Over a hot dog at Pinks, we had the idea of writing our own TV pilot,” recalls Appelbaum. “André would star, I would direct! We wrote the pilot and it never got sold or made. But it did get us an agent, who we’re still with, twenty years later, and served as a spec that got us our first staff job in TV.”
Over the next several years, they bounced around from show to show, including Early Edition, Profiler and She Spies, before landing on Alias, the JJ Abrams-produced spy show, where they would remain for three seasons. The gig ended up being a life-changing one. Abrams would later call on the pair to write Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which he was producing.
The mega-success of that film landed them not only the job of scripting the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot (“Marc Evans at Paramount asked us to do a six week rewrite on their reboot of TMNT,” says Nemec. “That six week job turned into a four year and two movie journey!”), but also the latest instalment of Beverly Hills Cop.
Now Appelbaum and Nemec — along with Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael — are back on the big screen with the TMNT sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which hits theatres on June 4.
Creative Screenwriting chatted with Appelbaulm and Nemec about reboots, reacting to criticism and reworking material from the ‘90s original.
Di you have any concerns about reworking the material from the ‘90s version?
Josh: The biggest concern was nailing the tone of the film. Not making it too dark or too silly. On the first movie, we struggled with that tone. On the second one, I think we hit the mark.
The 2014 movie was a box office success, but also received some criticism. When writing the sequel, did you consider that at all?
Josh: Absolutely. We were all so concerned with getting things right and reintroducing the Turtles on the big screen in a proper way, I think fear led the way, and fear can lead to questionable decisions.
On this movie, we embraced what we knew worked, what we all wanted to see from this franchise and just had as much fun as possible. I think that freedom and spirit is captured in the film.
What was most important to you when tackling the screenplay for the sequel? Did you have an idea of the story and the new characters that you were going to bring in?
André: We wanted this movie to be about the desire to fit in, to assimilate. The Turtles are given an opportunity to blend into society. But, in doing so, they would have to change the essence of who they are. As soon as we came up with this idea, the rest of the movie fell into place around it. It became our guiding light.
What is your writing process like?
Josh: It varies, but most often we are in the same room. André drives the computer, I pace around the office and we spitball ideas and dialogue back and forth.
What are some of the challenges that you face as a writing duo? And what are some of the benefits?
Josh: We’re fortunate in that we almost always agree on when something is working. And it’s great to have two voices in the room at all times. It allows us to keep ourselves in check.
You’re also working on the reboot for Beverly Hills Cop. What are the challenges of tackling reboots of beloved franchises?
Josh: Cop is one of the Holy Grails of our childhood. Which makes working on it very intimidating. We’d rather, and I think audiences would rather, us not make the movie at all unless it’s gonna be amazing. Luckily, we have Jerry Bruckheimer and Eddie to make sure we’re honoring and staying true to the franchise.
I think we have a pretty exciting way of reintroducing Axel to the audience. This is a true labor of love for us. Failure is not an option!
What do you think is behind Hollywood’s obsession with reboots? Will we return to a time when original screenplays are produced on the regular from the studios?
André: I think Hollywood is only responding to what the audiences want. People love to return to characters and worlds that captured their heart…
That said, I think everyone wants to see more balance. See more originals. At the studio level, though, I’m not sure that’s a reality in the near future.
What projects do you have on the go now?
Josh: Beverly Hills Cop! We hope that’s the next to film. As fans as much as writers, we want Axel Foley back!
Featured image by Lula Carvalho – © 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.