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Immortals - Parlapanides Brothers exclusive interview | The story behind the script

The Parlapanides Brothers are a writing team that currently have projects set up at Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Mandate Pictures. They have been working professionally as writers for nearly half a decade. IMMORTALS is their first produced studio credit.

They previously wrote, directed and produced the indie comedy Everything For a Reason, which premiered at the AFI International Film Festival and was acquired for distribution by The Shooting Gallery. (Sling Blade, You Can Count On Me). Before entering the entertainment industry Vlas worked on Oppenheimer's Foreign Equity Desk while Charley attended Loyola Law School, where he graduated in the top 15% of his class.

The brothers are a part of a large Greek-American family and originally hale from Seaside Park, NJ. Growing up they often spent summers in Patras, Greece and took part in both Greek School and Greek Folk Dancing. (interestingly enough they took part in these activities with comedian Demetri Martin, whose father was the priest of their local Greek Orthodox Church).

Both brothers went on to study Economics and Theatre in College. Vlas attended Villanova University while Charley attended Swarthmore College.

Immortals | From the producers of 300

Alex Maragos: • So guys, how did everything get started? How did you actually come up with this story?

Charles: It was based on a short story I had written a couple of years ago as a creative exercise. I showed it to Vlas and he thought it was a great way into the world of Greek Mythology. But then I kind of tucked it away in my desk and we forgot about it. We would talk about the story every once and a while but we didn’t seriously consider writing it until we got turned down for the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake. We saw that it was an opening writing assignment at Warners and asked our agent to put us up for the job. But we were told we didn’t have an appropriate sample. The script we had just sold to Universal was a heist film so the execs there wouldn’t even hear our take. That drove us nuts because we knew we could write something in this world. So against the advice of all our reps we decided to write it on spec. I guess like most Greeks, you could say we are pretty stubborn.

Vlas: Exactly, that’s why when the Writers Strike came along in 2007 we just decided to write it. (during the strike you were allowed to work on new material, just not material you were already contracted to write) And like Charley said, all of our reps strongly advised us not to. They pointed out that there were three Greek Mythology projects already set up around town which would make our script less marketable. Studios rarely will develop two similar projects and compete with themselves. Plus, if a studio knows there are similar projects in development they are less likely to pull the trigger and purchase a script because the other projects are ahead of them in the development process. But even with all of that being said, we wrote it anyway. We believed in the story and gambled on ourselves as we often have. We had a rough draft in about four months. And we sold it a couple of months later. It was hands down the best thing we did for our careers.

Charles: Yeah, in the end all you can do is write. That is the only thing you can control. That is how you make your own breaks. That is why we are big believers in writing specs.

Vlas: Yeah, initially we tried to pitch it back in 2006. We had bounced the story off of a high level studio executive. He loved it and asked us to come back with a full pitch. But the only problem was, we hadn’t figured out what the entire story was. So we sat down and plotted it out and figured out who all the characters were so that we could come back and pitch the executive. We worked our butts off and crafted an amazing pitch. We pitched the executive and other executives in town because the word had gotten out and they wanted to hear it as well. And then we got the call you love getting as writers. It was from our agents telling us that a studio’s business affairs department had called and that they wanted to buy the pitch. We were thrilled. More thrilled than when we had sold our first spec. We even called home to tell our parents. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the executive who had asked us to come back to him with the full pitch that wanted to buy it, he passed. It was an even higher level executive from a rival studio. Again, we couldn’t have been more proud and happy. And then suddenly, we got the rug pulled out from under us. Long story short, the executive changed his mind and in the end, everyone passed. We were really disheartened. But as always, we managed to forge ahead and when the strike came around we decided to just write it. We knew we had it all worked out and that is always the hardest part. But it just goes to show you how crazy this business is.

• Immortals is based on Greek Mythology but the story is yours, it's an original story that uses Ancient Greece as a starting point. Why did you decided to write your own story? What were your intentions?

Charles: We initially wanted to tell the traditional story of Theseus, i.e. him going to Athens, meeting his father, Aegeus, the King of Athens and then agreeing to go down to Crete, where he kills the Minotaur in the labyrinth. We always loved that story but executives didn’t think that story was dynamic enough, that the set pieces weren’t big enough. So instead of bastardizing that story and trying to “amp it up” for modern audiences, as we were being asked to do, we decided to just tell our own original story set in the world of Greek Mythology. That way we could honor the stories of our culture but have the freedom to write with carte blanche.

Vlas: In addition to that I would add that we wanted to do something different. We always ask ourselves, “What haven’t we seen before?” So with that in mind we set out to write a story in which the gods were not depicted as these old men with beards, sitting atop a cloud, peering down at people. With all due respect, those were the gods of our parents (and grandparents) generation. We wanted to create Gods for our generation. So we took a novel approach. We said let’s make the gods like super heroes. They’re young and cool (and of course flawed). They’re not thirty foot tall, in fact, they’re very human except they’re endowed with these great powers. When we mentioned that to Tarsem he loved it. In fact, he took things further and made the gods even younger than what we had written them as being. But he had a great reason for doing that and it most certainly works in the film. It’s badass. I adamantly believe IMMORTALS can be this generation’s Greek Mythology movie but that’s up for audiences to decide.

• How did you prepare for it? Which part of the process was the most interesting to you?

Charles: We obviously are very familiar with that world. We spent a lot of summers in Greece growing up and would visit places like Delphi and what not. So that has always stayed with us. Plus, we did a lot of reading and research. But this was one of the few times I actually enjoyed outlining because we had never written anything in this milieu before. And inhabiting this rich world was so much fun. We definitely felt like we were standing on the shoulders of our ancestors.

Vlas: Yeah, and I believe every life experience you have in some way prepares you for whatever you face in your life. The beauty of writing is that it affords you the opportunity to funnel those experiences into your work. We grew up in a working class family. Our mother was born and raised in Greece. And while our father was born and raised in the United States, the immigrant’s work ethic was instilled in us. We all worked very, very hard and had to overcome a great deal of adversity. In addition, I always felt like we were underdogs. Nothing ever seemed to come easy to us. We always had to work very hard to prove ourselves. So for us, Theseus’s plight in our story is a very personal one. He is the quintessential underdog. He’s dealt the most terrible hand in life. He’s a bastard. He’s ostracized. His mother is killed before his very eyes. He’s cast into slavery and has to overcome a tremendous amount of adversity. Of course we dramatized his circumstances but I think people will relate to him. I think we’ve all felt like we were underdogs at some point in our lives. And we all have encountered adversity to varying degrees. It’s how we deal with that adversity, the choices we make, “our deeds” that make all the difference in the world and in the end determine who we really are.

• What were the sources that most influenced the development of the story from the first draft to the final script?

Charles: The conversations we would have with the director, Tarsem Singh, and his creative collaborator and producer Nico Soultanakis, also a fellow Greek, were really substantive and compelling. It was an ongoing process that completely reshaped the story because the truth is the draft of the script that we originally sold was simply too expensive. The studio was never going to make it at that budget. So we had to ask ourselves, “is there a version of the movie we can do for the number the studio is asking for and what would that version entail?” That forced us to really focus on the drama and the characters, which in the end is what matters most. Because ultimately this is a story about an atheist who becomes a martyr, everything else is just window dressing. But, wow, it is a heck of a ride.

Vlas: And that transformation from non-believer to believer is something we are very proud of. It’s just not depicted in movies nowadays and especially not in a big Hollywood tent pole. It’s done in the most tactful of ways. It’s by no means preachy. The sentiment is earned and it’s beautiful. That said, there’s something in there for everyone, even non-believers. The idea that “our deeds” are what make us immortal is a beautiful one; it’s something that everyone can walk away with and feel good about.

• How close did you work with the production designer and the creative team? Did you have to re-write, change or drop any parts of the script in order to fit the visual requirements and/or the director's storytelling approach?

Charles: Absolutely, that was a huge part of the process. Simple things that you never even think of as a writer had to be addressed. For example, we had a sequence where Theseus, the Oracle and the men that accompany them on their journey commandeer a ship. Part of that sequence played out in the galleys of the ship. In order to save money Tarsem asked us to have the entire scene play out on the deck. That way they wouldn’t have to build the additional set needed to depict the galleys. Again, that process was incredibly formative. The creative group Tarsem brought together was nothing short of amazing. First and foremost he is an artist. In the truest sense of the word and he works with the most amazing craftsmen and women. We always jokingly referred to them as Tarsem’s Traveling Circus because they go around the world with Tarsem shooting spots and music videos.

Vlas: He’s a true visionary director. You can tell it’s a Tarsem movie almost instantaneously. And all the details matter to him, even down to what the extras are wearing. That speaks volumes. We believe it’s always all about the details. You can’t create something truly beautiful or visually stunning if you aren’t passionate and really care, even with the smallest of details. In addition, Tarsem’s process was amazing. Just to be able to work with him and see how he does what he does was truly inspirational and amazing. We learned so much working on this movie from a filmmaking stand point. In addition, budgetary constraints forced us to be creative. We spent weeks at Tarsem’s house figuring out how we could lower the budget without compromising the story. That was very important to us and to Tarsem. And thank God we succeeded. That was very gratifying. In the end, making this movie was a huge undertaking, a near impossible feat, but we were blessed to have the one director in town that was able to pull it off beautifully.

• How was it like working with Tarsem Singh? What was the biggest challenge for you working with such a visionary director?

Charles: Working with Tarsem was great. He is a great human being and a class act, through and through. I also really admire his honesty. That is a rarity in town. Plus, he is incredibly funny. We kept telling him that one day he is going to make a great comedy. You wouldn’t guess it by his filmography per se but he really is hilarious.

The biggest challenge working with him is just keeping up with him. He has boundless energy. Literally boundless amounts of enthusiasm and energy. He’s nothing short of a supernova. He’s constantly trying to create the best moment or best version of each scene. I think it is one of his best qualities as a director because he’s constantly pushing you to try and create your very best work, whether you are the writer, the production designer or set PA.

Vlas: Again, working with Tarsem was an amazing experience, we learned so much I don’t even know where to begin. We had production experience on other movies but nothing compared to this. We are so grateful to have had this experience. One of the things that comes to mind now was how impressed we were with was how Tarsem seamlessly combined the green screens with the actual sets built on the various stages. It gave the film scope, a scope that exceeded our wildest imagination. The movie is HUGE, epic in the best of ways. It has the scope of Lord of the Rings with the tone and energy, for lack of a better word, of 300. Nothing like that has been done before and it’s exciting to watch. And Tarsem pulled it all off without compromising the visual aesthetic of the film, which is VERY difficult to do given the budgetary parameters he had to work within.

Immortals Trailer 1

• How was your cooperation with the producers Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton & Ryan Kavanaugh?

Charles: They were all great. Gianni and Mark always said they were going to get the film made and when they brought the project to Ryan and his company Relativity we immediately knew this was the perfect marriage of producers, project and studio. You couldn’t ask for more as a writer.

Vlas: It’s easy for everyone to jump on the bandwagon now but Gianni and Mark believed in the project early on and that means a hell of a lot to us. In addition they always fought for the project, even when it became clear that Clash of the Titans was going to beat us to the starting line. They simply never wavered and their passion and resolve was that of Leonides. As far as Ryan goes, Charley often says he’s like an old school movie mogul, tough, sharp, charismatic and gutsy. And he couldn’t be more right. It takes a hell of a lot of guts to green-light an R rated, mythology tent pole movie that’s not based on any pre-existing material from writers who don’t have a track record at the Box Office. And if that’s not bad enough, Ryan also knew that Clash of the Titans was going to be released before Immortals -- and he still green-lit it. That takes brass balls. There’s just no other way to say it.

Charles: And I think he is going to be rewarded for his belief in the project. The movie is great and I think people are going to love it.

• I saw the trailer in 3D a few days ago and i was blown away, the visual aesthetics of the film are simply stunning. It looks amazing. What were your reactions when you first-saw your story & characters come to life in such a stylish visual world?

Charles: Tarsem had the art department working for probably a good solid year before they began production, so we got to see the look and aesthetic of the movie evolve over time. Again, that was an incredible process and we loved going by the production office and seeing what the Art Department was working on. It was always amazing. But when we got up to Montreal and walked onto the set we were blown away by what we saw. We told Tarsem it felt like we had walked into the Sistine Chapel while Michelangelo and his team were still working. It was that breathtaking.

Vlas: It was incredibly satisfying to see the world come to life. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, ineffable in many ways. It’s something we’ll always carry with us and think fondly of.

• An epic action movie needs an epic film score. What do you think of Trevor Morris's score? How it enhances the mood of the film?

Charles: We just saw the film with his score just the other day and it was great. He did an amazing job!

Vlas: Most people don’t know this but what you hear is actually more important than what you see when it comes to eliciting an emotional response in a film. And the sound design and score in Immortals are amazing. They most certainly contribute to the overall emotional response to the movie. We couldn’t be more happy.

• When you were writing the role of King Hyperion did you have Mickey Rourke in mind? What do you think of him as the brutal King?

Charles: We’ve always been a HUGE fan of his and almost couldn’t believe it when he agreed to come on and play Hyperion. I mean, he is one of the all time greats, up there with Brando and all of the old Hollywood greats. Plus, he’s absolutely perfect for the part because he brings this intensity and gravitas that you just can’t manufacture. And he is one of the quintessential antiauthority personas in film history. Honestly, who better to end the reign of the Gods?

Vlas: I agree, Mickey truly is one of the all time greats and his performance in Immortals is nothing short of AMAZING. He’s menacing and not for the weak of heart -- and we mean that in a good way.

• If you had to be one of your protagonists, who would it be?

Charles: I would hope I would be either Theseus or Zeus. Theseus because of his bravery and unwavering moral compass. Plus, I think Henry is how we all picture ourselves in our mind’s eye. He is the perfect hero. Honestly. But if I couldn’t be Theseus I would be Zeus. He is the ultimate humanist and understands we are nothing without free will. I hope I’ll be strong enough to let our daughter choose her own fate and live her own life. It’s so easy to hover over them and try and steer them in the direction we see most fit. But real love requires letting go and letting your children find their own way.

Vlas: It’s interesting, Tarsem always talked about how the Gods were like parents in the movie, how they had to let the humans learn on their own, as difficult as that may be. Hopefully people will come away with that after they watch the film. With regards to which protagonist I’d be, I’d have to say Theseus as well.

• Are you coming to Greece anytime soon?

Vlas: I was just there and had the most amazing trip! I can’t wait to come back soon! It’s truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a proud Greek-American. It’s the truth!

Charles: My wife and I talked about going this summer as well but we ended up going to New Jersey so that we could visit our folks. They don’t get to see our daughter all that much since they are on the East Coast and we are out here in Hollywood. But we are going to try and get out there again soon. It’s been five years since we’ve last been there and I would love to visit our Uncle in Patras. But we’ll see. Maybe we’ll come out for an IMMORTALS premiere in Greece.

Immortals Trailer 2


Visionary director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) and producers Gianni Nunnari (300), Mark Canton (300) and Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter) unleash an epic tale of treachery, vengeance and destiny in Immortals, a stylish and spectacular 3-D adventure. As a power-mad king razes ancient Greece in search of a legendary weapon, a heroic young villager rises up against him in a thrilling quest as timeless as it is powerful.

The brutal and bloodthirsty King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and his murderous Heraklion army are rampaging across Greece in search of the long lost Bow of Epirus. With the invincible Bow, the king will be able to overthrow the Gods of Olympus and become the undisputed master of his world. With ruthless efficiency, Hyperion and his legions destroy everything in their wake, and it seems nothing will stop the evil king’s mission.

As village after village is obliterated, a stonemason named Theseus (Henry Cavill) vows to avenge the death of his mother in one of Hyperion’s raids. When Theseus meets the Sybelline Oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), her disturbing visions of the young man’s future convince her that he is the key to stopping the destruction. With her help, Theseus assembles a small band of followers and embraces his destiny in a final desperate battle for the future of humanity.

IMMORTALS Directed by: Tarsem Singh, Produced by: G.Nunnari, M.Canton, R.Kavanaugh, N. Soultanakis, Written by: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Cinematography by: Brendan Galvin, Music by: Trevor Morris.

Universal Pictures | Relativity Media | Rogue

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Interview: Alexandros Maragos