Sonic the Hedgehog took cinemas by storm when it released earlier this year. It was a much simpler time and hundreds, if not thousands, of moviegoers did not think that Sonic was going to be one of their last 2020 theater experiences until further notice. Sonic may not have gotten the worst end of the Coronavirus pandemic in terms of distribution (see films like The Hunt), but it was still forced to adapt. Paramount Pictures followed suit with the industry wave of releasing films digitally on-demand significantly early for a fixed price. Sonic was released in the middle of February and was already playing in people’s homes by the end of March.
The film has also not been released in all of its scheduled international markets. Regardless of all the hurdles that were thrown at the little blue speedster, Sonic still found ways to prevail. The wide consensus combined from dedicated and casual fans alike praised it as one of the very best video game films ever. Exactly one month after its release, Sonic surpassed last year’s Detective Pikachu in being the highest-grossing film based on a video game in U.S box office history. Anyone who has been on the internet recently has definitely seen the cultural response. This is all thanks to a combined effort from some truly dedicated filmmakers.
Two of those filmmakers being screenwriters Josh Miller and Patrick Casey. The two along with director Jeff Fowler share great ownership in the story that so many people fell in love with. Miller and Casey have previously worked together on Hulu’s Golan the Insatiable and Youtube’s 12 Deadly Days. They also sold a new pitch, titled Violent Night, to Universal shortly after Sonic’s release. How did these two come together and get so fortunate to land the video game gig of a lifetime? Well, they just so happened to tell us!
We were lucky enough to have Miller and Casey for an exclusive interview. We talk about their origins as screenwriters, the early days of the Sonic script, that infamous Tails credits stinger, and what we could possibly expect to see in a sequel. Check it out below.
DF: So to begin, how did you first get into screenwriting?
JM: I was one of those people who always wanted to do it. I was making movies on our home video camera when I was a kid. Pat and I met in eighth grade and I like to feel that I slowly started poisoning his mind towards becoming a writer as well.
PC: Yeah, Josh was a corrupting influence on me. I had always loved stories, reading, and movies. When I met Josh, he fully planned on making a career out of it, which I had never even really thought about it as though that were even remotely possible, but he was 100% sure and I was like, “Oh, well maybe”.
JM: Then we really tried to become friends. I guess where we got our kind of like boot camp training ground was in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We’re both from the same suburb in Minneapolis and we both wound up on this late-night live comedy show. There was only cable access, right? So really only the people in our suburb could watch it, but we did that every Friday all throughout high school.
PC: And we had to put it in our 10,000 hours.
DF: It’s really great seeing that you two grew up together and that you’re still working together. Now you’ve both got this big role in writing the Sonic film, which was a massive success. A lot of people have seen it. How did you get the opportunity to write the film?
JM: The short version is just that we had what’s called a general meeting with the producers of Sonic when they were still in the script phase.
PC: Toby Ascher, specifically.
JM: At the time, they already had writers and we kind of just made some joke about how if they were ever looking for new writers, they should give us a call and that actually ended up happening. But it wasn’t like they just offered us a job. They offered it to a lot of different writers. You kind of have to compete to get the job. Not by writing, you just have endless meetings. It’s like a job interview.
PC: Somehow we were able to talk our way into it. Toby, Jeff Fowler, Tim Miller, and Neil Moritz decided to take a chance on us, which we are grateful for. We wanted to do everything we could to maximize on the opportunity and then make it a good movie.
DF: You definitely did because a lot of people like this film. Sonic is obviously a big character, he has a lot of history. Was there anything in particular that you took from the character’s past as inspiration when writing? Did you know the character before? What was your experience?
JM: I mean like a lot of kids from the 90s, we played a lot of the original Sega Genesis games.
PC: In particular, Sonic 2. Which I probably put more hours in than any other game ever.
JM: We lost track of the character as we get older. It expanded into all of these different TV shows, comics, and newer games. So we were kind of coming at it from what we felt was the character in those very early games that didn’t even have much of a story. It was really all about capturing what we felt was the aesthetic spirit of the games and just what the characters seemed like on the cover art. A big factor we found was the idea that if you put your controller down and weren’t playing the game for too long, the character on screen would actually get impatient with you and start looking at his watch and tap his foot. We were like, “What type of character does that imply and how do you translate that kind of fun attitude”?
PC: Yeah, we were really trying to extrapolate based on those little bits of animation and what little story there was in the original games. Mostly just build a movie out of the feelings it gave us when we were twelve playing the game and trying to adapt that. The feeling more than the story, if that makes any sense.
DF: It totally does. There has been a lot of talk about the accuracy and definitely the feeling like you’re saying, that is definitely there. So well done on that!
JM: You never know how the movie is going to be received until it comes out. So we felt very happy that fans seemed to feel that we did get it right because of the fact that it’s not exactly super faithful. We can easily imagine that they are just pissed off that we didn’t do exactly what’s in the comics or later games.
PC: It’s funny that we are getting credit seemingly for being accurate to the games when they’re not in a literal sense, the movie’s not accurate to the game.
JM: It is accurate, accurate to the feeling.
DF: You had these meetings trying to become the writers and eventually you won the job. Did you get to work with the director, Jeff Fowler? Was there a collaboration in that or did he come after?
JM: We actually got hired at the exact same time and this was his first movie. In some ways, they were also taking a chance on him. I think that put us all on the same boat bonding wise. The funny thing is they hired us, but not for our initial pitch for the story. So we kind of all sat in a room together, usually just us and Jeff. Then Toby Ascher, who was working on several movies at once, would come over to the offices like once every three days and we just spent several weeks hashing out a story.
PC: It was a very close collaboration with Jeff. The three of us worked together quite a bit coming up with a story.
DF: You can tell that there is some sort of connection there because that feeling comes through. So with Sonic being available on VOD, what are your thoughts on people getting to see your film early due to what’s going on in the world?
JM: We feel lucky, even though ultimately whatever it’s full box office potential would have been, we’ll never know. But considering all the movies that came out weeks ago or are getting postponed till later in the year or even next year, we feel very fortunate that our movie at least had a bit of a chance to play on the big screen around the world and for people to see it that way. I’m still hoping that it will get to open in China and Japan, but who knows about that? I guess the short version is that we feel like we got our shot in the theater and for those who didn’t get a chance to see, we’re happy that they have a way to see it now while we’re all trapped at home.
PC: Yeah and parents with little kids running around are sharing it while trying to work from home. Hopefully, Sonic can do its part in distracting the kids and keeping everybody calm.
JM: We were told by our friends that after they saw the movie, their kids then ran around endlessly pretending to be Sonic. So I suppose there’s some danger to it as well because they exercise now more than ever.
PC: We’re glad that we got that theatrical release and that we were able to see it in a theater full of paying customers and soak up the experience. After having worked on this movie for years, that was a very good feeling. Just to see the crowd enjoying it and be able to be a part of that.
DF: Talking about a spoilery bit, there’s a little tease at the end of the film with the character Tails. Was there a decision on your behalf to have him only appear briefly rather than come in as a full character? What was the idea behind showing him?
JM: Well very, very early on, like in versions of the movie that never even made it to script and some that I don’t even think ever made it to an outline – just in the blue sky phase we talked about versions where Tails was maybe a supporting character. Then it became clear that it’s one of those things, it’s a Pandora’s box. Once you start opening up the Sonic mythology, it becomes a very big movie very quickly. We decided to take some of the same approach the games did, wherein the original Sonic the Hedgehog is just Sonic and Robotnik and Tails doesn’t show up until Sonic 2. From the moment we decided he wasn’t going to be in the movie, he was always going to be in the sort of Nick Fury post-credits scene.
PC: That was in every single draft. What the scene was exactly changed a couple of times. The movie was always going to end with Tails showing up because it just felt like that’s what we would want to see.
JM: There were a lot of ideas that once we realized we couldn’t put it in the movie, we were kind of hunting the hypothetical sequel. I guess that was our way of letting the fans know, who maybe were sad as they didn’t get to see any of that stuff in the movie, that hey if the movie does well, maybe next time we can play in that sandbox!
DF: Talking about that, would you like to return for a sequel? It seems likely as it did really well. Are there any particular parts from Sonic lore that you would want to tackle?
PC: Yes, we would love to do a second one. As for what is going to go into that I think maybe it’s too early to say publicly. If we were at a bar and not doing this interview for public consumption – maybe we would give some hints!
JM: But as we kind of teed up before, we would like to dig into more of the Sonic lore.
PC: Yeah, obviously Tails, but maybe a little more characters as well!
DF: Are there any upcoming projects that you would like to promote and make our audience aware of?
JM: Right before the industry kind of started shutting down here, we sold a project to Universal Pictures called Violent Night that is currently under wraps. It is technically under wraps, but it’s a Christmas set R-rated action-thriller.
PC: With that and a nice dose of comedy built in. But that’s not going to be out for two years. You can still watch our show Golan the Insatiable on Hulu. If you’re a fan of demons, 12 Deadly Days was another show we did that’s on YouTube TV.
JM: I’ll also hype that I have a podcast called Best Movies Never Made. Pat was just a guest on the show!
PC: I’m not just a guest, I’m also a fan of it.
JM: Best Movies Never Made, every episode we talk about a different movie that almost got made but didn’t. The episodes that Pat was on, we were talking about all the versions of the Super Mario Bros. movie that didn’t get made leading up to the infamous Bob Hoskins one. It was a Mario vs. Sonic grudge match podcast!