September 26, 2008
By Kiko Martinez
When you’re named to the Hollywood Reporter’s list of Top 50 Most Powerful Latinos in the film industry, chances are you’re probably doing something right in your career.
That’s where screenwriter Roberto Orci, 35, found himself last year after co-writing the script for “Transformers,” the second-highest grossing film of the year with over $155 million earned at the box office. His career as a feature-film writer started in 2005 when he wrote the sci-fi action flick “The Island” starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. The following year, Orci’s name was attached to two more blockbuster action movies, “The Legend of Zorro” and “Mission: Impossible III.”
This year, Orci, who is originally from Mexico City, has taken off his film screenwriting hat to focus on producing the thriller “Eagle Eye” with his writing partner Alex Kurtzman. Directed by D.J. Caruso (“Disturbia”), “Eagle Eye” follows two strangers (Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan) whose lives intersect when one of them receives a mysterious phone call.
During a phone conversation of our own, Orci, whose next two co-writing gigs are for the new “Star Trek” movie and the sequel to “Transformers,” talked to us about what work was like as a producer and how he and Kurtzman have become the writing duo everyone wants to hire.
Was it difficult going into “Eagle Eye” knowing that someone else would be writing the script?
Roberto Orci: Yeah, it didn’t really work [laughing]. I could go so far as to say that it was impossible. But we work with amazing writers. That part of our brain I didn’t need to shut off because that was very natural for us. It’s like when an actor decides to start directing and there is an extra level of comfort that keeps everything quantified because you are by nature speaking the same language.
Since you speak the screenwriting language, was it natural for you to look over the screenwriters’ shoulders?
Oh, absolutely and the people we worked with were very open to that. We’ve had strong producers who were writers that we could call on anytime if we had script problems. We knew that we were going to get different opinions from them than from the producers that weren’t writers. We all worked together well that way on “Eagle Eye.”
What was it like working with Steven Spielberg, who is the executive producer on “Eagle Eye?”
He was the one looking over our shoulders (laughing). During this process we also were working on “Transformers” and “Transformers 2” so we always had something to talk about.
What do you think has made your writing partnership with Alex Kurtzman so successful?
Well, we met in high school and we said, ‘Hey, let’s team up.’ We both realized we were really big fans of movies. When I met Alex I found out that he had lived in Mexico City when I was born and he remembered a lot of the places I remembered. We had a lot in common. We hit it off immediately. It was like we formed a band and stayed together. And I’ve anointed him as an honorary Hispanic.
Is there a leader in your band or do you switch off?
It depends on the day. Sometimes one of us has writer’s block and the other one gets him through it. As long as we both don’t have writer’s block on the same day we’re usually okay.