When David Guggenheim sat down to write Safe House, he was still a senior editor for Us Magazine. Now, he has had a number one movie under his belt starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and has become the most in-demand screenwriter in the business. His next two screenplays, 364 and Narco Sub, are being directed by Ron Howard and Tony Scott, respectively. Guggenheim phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive chat in celebration of Safe House’s Blu-Ray debut to talk screenwriting, working closely with Washington and if his writing process has changed now that his future work will be referred to as, “From the writer of Safe House.”
The story of Safe House was born from the screenwriter’s passion for all things cinematic espionage. “There’s James Bond references actually sprinkled through the movie,” Guggenheim proudly stated.
“I had known of this idea of a safe house. It was a cool, provocative title. There’s this idea that you’re supposed to go there to be safe and what happens when your safety place turns out to be the most dangerous place? Then it was like, ‘Who works there?’”
He envisioned the Reynolds character as a rookie who had not a single moment of field work in his professional arsenal. “When I wrote it I was at a job that I wanted to get out of, and I could commiserate with his feelings of wanting to prove himself. Once I had that hook, I decided to make it more of a two-hander and have it be, ‘Let’s have this freshman carry around this vet.’ What is their dynamic? They have opposing points of view on the same job. Eventually, they will rub off on each other and it becomes a mentor-protégé relationship,” he said. “Once I had that, I had the movie.”
Guggenheim’s experience ironically mirrored that of Reynolds' character and his relationship with Washington came off with the esteemed actor serving as a story mentor. The Oscar winner is a hands-on part of the creative process when he signs on to act in a film. “When I heard he was reading it, that was good enough for me,” Guggenheim said and laughed. “When he decided to do it and he had notes and wanted to talk to me about it, then all of a sudden you’re in a room with him for four days -- it’s intense. He's one of the greatest actors of our time and he knows more about character than anybody. He could not have been cooler.”
Safe House features some of the most spectacular action sequences of the year, a task that proved quite challenging for Guggenheim to compose.
“Writing action is the most tedious aspect of writing a script. It requires the most choreography. You have to truly visualize what’s going on while still selling all the character moments in that scene,” Guggenheim said. “I tend to write really fast -- I think that helps when you’re writing action because you’re composing at the speed the scene is going [laughs]. It comes across as fast and visceral, which is how I write. Also, I don’t overtly plan them because the characters don’t know which way they’re going to turn, why should I know? That’s where I think the excitement comes from.”
When the film first arrived, Safe House did well, but it didn’t hit number one at the box office until its second week -- something that Guggenheim didn’t mind at all. “That was cooler than having it be number one in the first week,” he said. “I don’t know much about tracking and all that. I knew it was a busy weekend. I heard we were going to make $25 million. I went to the midnight screening and it was sold out. I went, ‘Oh my God!’”
As for working with Howard and Scott on his upcoming screenplays, Guggenheim tells us that after being in a room with Washington, everything else Hollywood-wise should be a breeze. “Once you get through working with Denzel, everything else is much easier. Ron Howard is a genius and so is Tony,” he added. “For me, the greatest opportunity that’s arisen through all this is meeting other writers. I am more in awe of the writers. They are the people that I have worshiped.”