This time last year, Marvel screened early footage of Guardians of the Galaxy, the upcoming sci-fi adventure directed by James Gunn (Super), and written by up-and-coming features writer Nicole Perlman, who developed the project through the Marvel writing program. The film, which stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket Raccoon, opens August 1, and already has viewers calling it, “pretty damn irresistible,” “cosmic, cool, vibrant, emotional,” and “best Marvel movie ever.”
Perlman had to contend with some outdated notions about who should be writing science fiction (men) before she got a shot with Marvel. Her Neil Armstrong biopic caught Hollywood’s attention a few years ago, and she’s now got several projects in the works—a dark fantasy TV show, an adaptation of the Matthew Swift books (with Neil Burger set to direct), and an adaptation of The Fire Sermon for DreamWorks. It’s safe to say she’s obliterating any stereotypes there are about women writing science fiction.
Perlman is on Comic-Con’s Thursday panel, Behind the Scenes of Science Fiction in Movies and on TV, along with Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Amy Berg (Eureka), and Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead); and Friday’s Science of Science Fiction panel with Kevin Grazier, Jessica Cail, Andrea Letamendi, Phil Plait, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and moderator Stephen Cass.
SSN spoke to Perlman about dealing with the boys’ club, working with Marvel, and her tips for surviving the madness of Comic-Con.
SSN: What’s it like heading into Comic-Con with your first big movie?
Perlman: It’s a trip. I was just in New York and all the taxis had Guardians of the Galaxy stuff and they had a big thing in Penn Station; it was very surreal, in a good way.
SSN: The project was developed in the Marvel writing program. How did that relationship begin?
Perlman: I had been writing screenplays around 2007 and 2008 … one was the Neil Armstrong biopic. I wanted to branch into science fiction so I had a general meeting with Marvel, and about two weeks after I had a very disheartening studio meeting about the Armstrong project where someone said, ‘Well we love your pitch but this is a very masculine movie.’ When I met with Marvel, they mentioned they were doing a program with four or five writers. Each writer got to choose a property that might make a good movie but Marvel was by no means 100 percent sure they wanted to make [it]. That was a perfect opportunity for me to transition into this world of “masculine” movies that I really liked.
SSN: I was going to ask you about that. Being a female writer in this genre, it sounds like you did experience some sexism along the way.
Perlman: I think there’s this idea that a female screenwriter who is writing science fiction and not romantic comedy is a bit of a dancing bear. It’s sort of a novelty and I appreciated that Marvel didn’t treat me that way. It was very much about the writing. There just aren’t enough women getting the chance to work in this genre and I hope this is the start of a larger trend because there are so many great women working in film.
“There’s this idea that a female screenwriter who is writing science fiction and not romantic comedy is a bit of a dancing bear.” – Nicole Perlman
SSN: Can you talk about the development process with Marvel?
Perlman: They gave us a list and I chose Guardians of the Galaxy. My friends in Hollywood were like, ‘Why would you choose that? They’re never going to make a movie with a talking raccoon in it.’ It was the only project that was sort of science fiction and I loved the tone and thought it would be fun. I think they were surprised because some of the other properties were more soft and fuzzy and a more ‘obvious’ choice for a female screenwriter from the studio perspective. It’s been a really incredible experience getting to develop it.
SSN: How long was the process?
Perlman: There are dozens of Guardians characters so for two years I worked exclusively for Marvel. It was about finding the right permutation of characters and story to craft that would be the best movie. It was nice to have the time and freedom to explore the different ways the project could play out.
SSN: Was there a certain moment that you realized this movie might actually be happening?
Perlman: I didn’t want to get my hopes up because there were other properties being developed that were more well known and had a larger following. It was probably towards the end of my second year in the program and they told me they needed me to pull all nighters and get it in to the creative committee. That was the first moment I realized this might happen.
SSN: What’s your history with Comic-Con?
Perlman: I’ve gone since 2008, and every time I go it’s a different experience. There are fantastic people on the panels this year and I’m thrilled to be in their company.
SSN: Any survival tips?
Perlman: Wear comfortable shoes and bring food because it’s impossible to find food without waiting in line for a million hours. I think I waited in line for 45 minutes to get a Subway sandwich there. I highly recommend the small press section because there are all these quirky, beautifully done books. If you see somebody’s costume that’s incredibly obscure and you recognize what they’re referencing, go up and talk to them. It’s a great way to meet people. There’s a spirit of bonhomie and everyone’s excited to be there.
SSN: What do you think of the news that they’re making a female Thor?
Perlman: I think it’s exciting and I love that Marvel is pushing boundaries. I’m excited to see what they do and it’s nice to subvert expectations and conventions that way.