by Joshua Sky
Edward Neumeier is an accomplished screenwriter who co-created two legendary film franchises: Robocop (1987), with the help of co-writer Michael Miner and director Paul Verhoeven, and Starship Troopers (1997), based on Robert A. Heinlein’s seminal novel. But what many may not know is that Robocop was inspired on the set of a film that forever changed the face of cinema and modern science fiction – the 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner.
I first met Ed after the 20th anniversary screening of Starship Troopers at the AMC in Burbank, where he invited me to his home to interview him. Ed lives in a beautiful house nestled on an idyllic block in Pasadena. The day I drove over it was drizzling and the sky was overcast. I knocked on his door, he answered and led me into his living room, past the occasional prop from the two mega film franchises he helped launch. Two particular items of note were the giant gun that Robocop wielded, the other, a rocket launcher used to nuke bugs in Starship Troopers.
We hung out in his writing study, which had a leather couch, computer, desk and swivel chair where he sat. He proudly raised a thick manuscript in the air. “This is the next sequel to Robocop!” Ed has a youthful air and is extremely likeable. His fun attitude was more highlighted when he picked up an acoustic guitar and started strumming. Before we could dive into the interview, his cell buzzed, it was Casper Van Dien, the lead actor in Starship Troopers. “He calls me just about every day. He’s like my little brother.”
We chatted for nearly two hours and he shared a litany of entertaining stories. Like when he went to see Terminator 2 with Stan Lee. After they left the theatre, Stan slapped him on the back and yelled, “Beat that, Robocop!” He also discussed how Archie comics turned out to be one of his biggest writing influences for Starship Troopers, particularly with the Betty and Veronica love triangle dynamic. And he delved into what science fiction means to him, “I think it’s the ultimate vehicle for satire. If you look at any of the films I’ve worked on with Paul [Verhoeven], there’s a streak of satire. They are one-part extreme violence, while at the same time being very funny.”
The most interesting discovery came up when he walked me through his career path. Ed explained that he had come from the Bay Area, and like most of his generation, was dramatically affected by the release of Star Wars. Ed was blown away that George Lucas was someone from his neck of the woods who just wanted to make something great and then made it happen. Inspired by that attitude, he made his way to Los Angeles to get his career started – one that began at the bottom rungs of Hollywood and went all the way to the executive ranks and eventually the role of a hotshot screenwriter. But back in the early 1980’s, a side job on a large set would forever change his destiny.
It would turn out to be the set of Blade Runner.
In his words:
“Here I was, a young Story Analyst – working at a lot shared with Warner Brothers at the time. I was in an office next to their New York street. I was a desperate low man on the development totem pole. I would do anything to get into movies as that’s what I wanted to do. I was thinking of a story in the business world. In those days you were told that science fiction was considered a high budget item and not a good idea to do as your first script. I liked sci-fi and wanted to do an action movie with a slightly future business background. I wanted to do something about killer businessmen – which seems quaint now, but I found it funny then. And on the lot, they were building this giant set and I had never seen anything so extravagant. I started standing around the set. I sort of ingratiated myself with the art department. My actual job was to make garbage. To take newspapers and get them wet and paste them around the street. And this set turned out to be for the film Blade Runner. I watched Harrison Ford have the “Wake up time to die” fight scene. Not to mention Sean Young running around in a tutu. I asked a crewmember what the film was about. It was about a robot. I was there for three, four – five nights. But then, I saw something that blew me away, the car designed by Syd Mead, a spinner – and that was incredible, since I was such a car geek.”
“Late one night, I believe it was four in the morning, it seemed like I was standing alone on set – looking at that blue car on the street. And I suddenly imagined a robot in my mind. A robot policeman. Him thinking and observing what people were doing around the set. And the title Robocop came to mind along with the image of an overpowering robotic cop, not unlike what was eventally on the screen. Soon after that I thought the story should be about a guy who was a cop who becomes a robot.”
Through today, Ed believes that this was the greatest creative epiphany he’s ever had and seeks its true meaning.
“I ask myself why did that happen? In terms of creative inspiration, it hasn’t happened like that before and I don’t know why. I’ve never had as powerful a creative experience since. Why hasn’t it happened again? Why it happened, well, I think there are two reasons: A) My mind was desperate to come up with this idea. I had been prepared, I had other ideas and I wanted to do something like this. And I was on the set of the kind of movie that I wanted to do, and it was an extraordinary set. And B) It was from what I call the power of location and I owe a great debt to Ridley Scott and his crew because they created this very inspiring place. It was like something out of Heavy Metal!”
As an aside, The Long Tomorrow, a story that ran in the July and August 1977 issues of Heavy Metal (after originally appearing in Metal Hurlant in 1976), deeply influenced the design of Blade Runner, which was based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” a novel by Philip K. Dick.
Neumeier’s Blade Runner experience occurred in 1981, “and the script [of Robocop], the first draft was written in 1984 and the real script the second draft was 1985 and that’s how Blade Runner came into it. It was amazing then, but it seems extraordinary I was even on that set. The movie only keeps getting better with time. It was very inspirational to me and gave me the go ahead to continue and eventually do Robocop.”
Ed paused, wanting to leave one last message:
“The most important thing I can say to creative people on this subject is to appreciate the power of location. To creatives, go find places that are interesting to you and sit there and think of things that come to you. I think Disney got that better than anyone.”