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Interviews

We talk to Gun's Randal Jahnsen

The Doors screenwriter talks to us about Neversoft's epic, GUN. Warning: we shoot from the hip

Randal Jahnsen has been in the screenwriting business for 20 years now, with credits as diverse as The Mask of Zorro (a personal favourite of mine), episodes of Tales from The Crypt and The Doors film (another personal favourite) under his belt.

He also directed videos for cult punk gods Black Flag and Henry Rollins, meaning he has scored +100 credibility points in the CVG kudos ratings.

Neversoft wisely called in his services after seeing his script for "William Wells, or the White Indian" - based on the true story of a red-haired freckled kid captured and raised by Indians in post-Colonial America - for GUN and judging by the story teasers he gave us, this was the wisest move they could've made.

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Mr Jahnsen himself

We were fortunate enough to catch a word with the charismatic writer in a plush hotel suite in the Strand, near Piccadilly. Here's what he had to say...

CVG: How did you get into script writing to begin with?

Randal Jahnsen: I went to film school originally. I was going to be a journalist. I wanted to be a writer for Rolling Stone, then I realised it was pretty hard to make a really good living as a journalist and that was part and parcel in me taking a class in dramatic writing. I did some stage work that was really interesting, but ultimately film school at UCLA in LA - and at that time UCLA, MYC and NYU - were the only places to go to get an education in film making.

Also UCLA was the only one I could afford [laughs] so I went there with the intention of being a director, but I was astounded with the number of grad students walking around with film reels! They never seemed to have a finished product and I thought to myself "Why spend all this money on a 60mm film which is never gonna get made when I could type up something really cheap?"

This is when I was still writing on a manual Smith Corona typewriter.

CVG: Is that the one in the title sequence for the Murder She Wrote show?

Randal Jahnsen: (laughs) Yeah! Not unlike that! But that's what I learned on. I used to use lots of liquid paper, you know, where you had a little brush and you'd paint on...

CVG: Tippex!

Randal Jahnsen: ... So I studied at UCLA, I studied and worked at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences for a couple of years and would go to the day job, lick stamps and come home and write. Eventually I sold something, so that started the ball rolling. I've been a screenwriter for 20 years now.

CVG: Wow! So how do you find screenwriting for film, different then writing for games?

Randal Jahnsen: Well they're both about story telling and both mediums aspire to tell a really good story and tell it well. So they're both similar in that they're both slaves to technology and to budgets.

However, the differences are a little nuanced. Screenwriting, you're focused on moving the plot forward, you have a very specific, very narrow path that drives your story along. There's no room for fat! It's all about you get in a scene, you get out and if it doesn't properly the story forward, if it doesn't reveal character, if it doesn't make you laugh or cry, then boom it gets out!

In video games, you're still focused on a very strong central narrative, but you fan out into - if I can use the analogy - using the vertebrae of a spine and the spine being the narrative, there are lots of rib bones that you can go out onto and these are the side missions, the side quests. You just can't afford to do that in a film. You might have a sub-plot that would be running parallel to the main narrative, but in the case of Gun for example, Colton White our hero can actually stop the investigation or mystery as it's going on and go off and hunt buffalo for a side mission. You can go and become a bounty hunter, you can ride the pony express, you can hunt down ruthless killers. They're not there as useless diversions; they actually improve your character in either your horse riding or your various survival skills, so it's not a waste of time. So you're actually in a sense, honing the skills that will ensure your survival later on as you get deeper and deeper into the game.

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