The Bad Guys is an animated feature with a timely release in Australia to align with the Easter school holidays. I recently had the chance to speak with Australian author Aaron Blabey about his much-loved books being adapted for the big screen…
Matt: I’m sure it’s something a lot of authors think about when writing books. Was there a point where you thought The Bad Guys could make a good movie or TV show?
Aaron: The DNA was always in there but when I wrote the first book, I hadn’t had any real commercial success. It was beyond a flight of fantasy at the time but then, a part of me went “you know what… I love movies so much and I’m going to deliberately write something that is my version of movie except in book form.” Everyone picked up on that instantly, including movie studios, which is why there was so much interest so suddenly.
Matt: So how does it work? How do they contact you and say “we want to buy the rights to your books”?
Aaron: We had heard whisperings that a couple of studios were interested. The book had done well very quickly in American schools so word had got around that way. I flew across and had the strangest week of my life and the end of 2016 and met the heads of all the studios. A number of them were aggressively pursuing it. Dreamworks kept rising to the top of being the obvious choice.
When my eldest was little, Kung Fu Panda had just been released and I always felt the tone of that was perfect. It was what I was hoping to achieve with this.
Matt: Do you give up full creative control once you sign the rights over or are there things you still get a say over when the script is being written and the film being made?
Aaron: That can certainly happen but I had a deal as an executive producer so I’ve been across each draft of the screenplay, each cut of the movie, and each major discussion about the film. If the studio decides to go rogue there’s not much you can do about it but Dreamworks have been sensational from the start and incredibly inclusive and respective to the point of almost being reverent about the source material.
Two of the major gags from the trailer are directly from the book. It blows my mind that gags I came up with 8 years ago are now suddenly everywhere. It’s the most wonderful thing.
Matt: With an animated film I guess you see parts of it being put together but when did you finally get to see the finished product?
Aaron: I’ve seen the whole thing in various forms many, many times but because of COVID-19, I haven’t been able to travel back and forth to the United States and so I’ve been watching it all on my laptop with “property of Dreamworks – do not copy – do not copy” written all over it.
It was a couple of weeks ago when I got to sit in a cinema with a small audience and see it on the big screen. It was pretty sensational. It’s only just been finished with the final sound mix and that added a whole other layer to it given movies in many ways are 50-50 between sound and visuals. I’m not very good at pretending to like things if I don’t… but I think they’ve hit this out of the park.
Matt: Did you get to take family and friends along to that screening?
Aaron: No, that’s happening this coming weekend. I went down to Melbourne to do some media but the actual Australian premiere will be in Sydney. That’s where my family will see it for the first time. My two boys made a conscious choice to not see it until it was fully done which is impressive for a couple of kids. I kept telling them how it was changing and evolving and shifting and they said “we just want to see the movie” so were happy to wait.
Matt: The animation is top-notch and the voice cast have been well chosen. Do you have a favourite character from the movie? One that translates best from your books?
Aaron: It’s really hard to choose which is a great situation to be in. I feel like they’ve nailed all of them. My personal favourite, because it’s always been my favourite character, is Mr Snake. He’s the most troubled by the situation they’re in and, in many ways, he’s the centre of the book series. If my book series was Star Wars, he’d be Anakin Skywalker on his Darth Vader journey. He’s that guy. I love what they’ve done with him but the whole cast is extraordinary.
Matt: The same question I have about the movie also applies to the books – how do you get in the head of 6-year- old or 9-year-old and know the best way to target a story towards them?
Aaron: I have to time travel now because my kids have grown up but at the time, it was about what would make my two kids laugh and what would hold their attention and make them want to know what comes next. That was it really. That then opened a whole bunch of doors about what would have worked for me at that age and that’s what led me to muck around with the iconography of stuff from older age groups. That’s how I end up doing a mash-up which I’ve described as Tarantino for kids from the start of the book series.
Matt: Your books are already very popular. Do you hope this will spur even further interest in them?
Aaron: That’s the big question. I dread to think. All on our own, we’ve sold 30 million books across 8 years. It’s significant this giant movie is about to drop but who knows? It’s a win either way.
Matt: If this movie is a big success as we hope, is there a chance we’ll see further movies? Do Dreamworks have the rights to that as well?
Aaron: Yeah, they’re in the whole way. Yes, it will entirely depend on the response to the first one but if it is popular, I’m sure you’ll see a bunch of them.