By John Duarte
On a windy Thursday night, I walked into the NoHo Diner in North Hollywood, CA and ordered myself a coffee as I waited for Josh Miller. Now, Miller is not only the co-writer of the new SONIC THE HEDGEHOG movie (along with writing partner Patrick Casey), but he also hosts a podcast called Best Movies Never Made in which he and his co-host Stephen Scarlata talk about unused scripts of movies that never made it into production.
Miller is also the mastermind behind Friday Night Frights, a monthly screening series that takes place at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood & Dynasty Typewriter in Los Angeles. He and special guests show insane horror movies, from classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Re-Animator to underrated gems like Shakma and Cutting Class. I was on my second cup of coffee when the man of the hour walked in. But he was nice enough to hang out long enough to chat about TK, TK, and TK!
All right, Josh, simple first question: How did you get the writing gig?
Josh Miller: It was actually what you call a “general meeting.” You just go meet with producers and studios, so you can kind of get to know each other. My writing partner, Patrick Casey, and I were meeting with Toby Ascher, who is a producer at Neil Moritz’s company, the main producer on SONIC.
Toby had some SONIC stuff in his office, so we asked him if he was making a SONIC movie. And he said, “Yeah, we got a script.” We made a joke saying, “When those guys are done, give us a call.” But, it actually happened. So after that, we pitched our concept to the producers, and the studio, and we eventually got the gig. So that was just weirdly off of a kind of nothing meeting. So when you’re in a general meeting, just point to stuff in the office and start talking about it. It works.
That’s definitely good to know. So did you grow up with the video game?
Miller: Oh! did I pass all the levels? I, for sure, grew up with Sonic. I was very much into the Sonic generation, and there’s a really cool book that I read when we got the job writing SONIC called Console Wars. It’s about Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo.
It was undeniable, if you were that age in the ’90s - it just seemed Sonic was cooler. Like, Sonic was [the] Bugs Bunny to Mario’s Mickey Mouse. Sonic seemed like a more interesting character, which is funny, because the first two games had no story or dialogue. It was just something about his smirk on the box cover, and the fact that if you made him stand still, he’d tap his foot, and look at his watch, to let you know that he was bored not getting to run around the level.
What was the research like, when it came to writing SONIC?
Miller: Getting the gig was a great excuse for ironically buying a Nintendo 3DS, because I found out they had the first 4 Sonic games all on one little cartridge. Our agents also got us a present, and it was the first generation Sega Genesis mini.
It was great, because I had all my Genesis cartridges, so you could actually pop them into the mini and play them. So yeah, I played a ton of Sonic 2, and that was fun. Beyond that, we had a whole book of various characters and the history of the game. But we were treating the movie like a prequel, so there was a lot of filling in the gaps.
Were there any films that inspired writing SONIC?
Miller: A weird movie that kept coming up when we were talking about SONIC was a movie called Running on Empty. I don’t know if you remember that movie, but River Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar for it, and Judd Hirsh was in it as well.
Granted, the story has changed quite a bit since we first got the studio to okay the movie to the one being shot, so the Running on Empty elements ended up changing or getting downplayed. But if you watch SONIC, and then go watch Running on Empty, you’ll see a couple of connections. It’s a pretty interesting movie.
When did Ben Schwartz (the voice of SONIC) get cast, and were you there during the recording of his lines in post-production?
Miller: Patrick, my writing partner, was there for some of the recordings, while I was out of town. But, Ben came on super early in production. He was cast in a proof of concept scene, which I hope they’ll include on the Blu-ray release. Since the beginning, Jeff [Fowler] always knew he wanted Ben to play Sonic.
Were you expecting THAT reaction to the initial “redesigned” Sonic? There was a lot of criticism of how the character looked.
Miller: It’s often that you write the movie, and then you just kind of hand it over and no one talks to you anymore. The whole time we knew that SONIC has die-hard fans all over the world. We knew there was going to be opinions about the new look, but we thought the big reaction was going to be that they’d be mad about Dr. Robotnik not being fat and bald.
But, I’ll admit that when they showed us what the final design was going to look like, we were like, “Wait, when did this happen?” I hope they put this out on the Blu-ray, [because] if you look at his design from the proof of concept, it’s sort of in-between what we have now, and the previous design. He’s definitely cuter and has bigger teeth - not the little teeth that freaked everyone out.
The idea was to make him look like a real thing, and I love the current design that you’ll see in theaters, because, obviously, that’s Sonic. Early on, the idea was to make him look realistic, like Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy rather than Alvin and the Chipmunks or Garfield, but in the end, I’m very happy with the final design we landed on.
Would you and Patrick ever consider writing a sequel?
Miller: Oh, we’d love to! Obviously, there are all these other characters from the games. We know what the bigger world is, but we also knew what the budget was going to be for this one, so it’s kind of like, we gotta make this work and get our foot in the door. Then, hopefully everyone comes out and supports it, because then they will be very happy with what they start getting in the later films.
Would you consider adding Knuckles and Tail into the sequels?
Miller: Oh, absolutely!
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is now playing everywhere, so go check it out! You can listen to his podcast, Best Movies Never Made, on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or Spotify. You can follow his screening series Friday Night Frights on Twitter: @FriNightFrights and Instagram: @Friday_Night_Frights_LA for more information on upcoming screenings.
(SONIC THE HEDGEHOG images courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America, Inc.)