Arriving in theaters this weekend courtesy of IFC Films is Werewolves Within, the feature film adaptation of the Ubisoft game, which was written by Mishna Wolff (the most perfect last name for this project ever) and directed by Josh Ruben. A horror comedy whodunnit centered around a werewolf that’s terrorizing the picturesque mountain town of Beaverfield, Werewolves Within stars Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Wayne Duvall, Rebecca Henderson, and Glenn Fleshler.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Wolff about her involvement with Werewolves Within, which first began when she joined Ubisoft’s fellowship program a few years back, and how that led to this project becoming a reality with Ruben at the helm. During our interview, Wolff discussed her process of adapting the game, her approach to creating intriguing and entertaining characters, her experiences collaborating with Ruben, and more.
Werewolves Within will be playing in select theaters beginning on June 25th, and will be headed to VOD and Digital just a week later on July 2nd.
When you were part of Ubisoft’s fellowship program, did they give you the opportunity to pick which project you wanted to dig into, or were there specific parameters you had to follow at all?
Mishna Wolff: They let me play. First of all, the amazing thing about their fellowship is your access to all their intellectual property. I mean, you live in Hollywood, so you know what a big deal that is. As a woman, it's always a huge thrill to be given that kind of access. And I like playing video games, so getting free games is also always a huge thrill, too [laughs]. But I played some games and I watched some gameplay, and I just had a real fun time immersing myself in all these different titles. Ubisoft’s parameters were really low. They were like, "Bring us anything that sparks your interest." It was really a creative space over there at Ubisoft and they were really open to coming at things from different angles. When they opened it up, the executive that I first met with there was like, "Video games are like zero for 30 now in the movie space, so we're looking for someone to get creative." And that really gave me license to be a little bit irreverent.
Then I sparked with two different games. I brought them two different, I wouldn't say pitches, but takes, on where we could go with them. But Werewolves Within was the one that everyone just really loved. They really liked the idea of a group of modern-day archetypes stuck together and the private justice element of it was really fun and intriguing. And I pitched who the werewolf was, from the very beginning, and they really liked the idea and we took it from there.
That's amazing. So, when you're adapting a video game, because obviously there are things that you're going to want to do that are going to adhere to elements of the game, but you also want to open things up a little bit and make them cinematic at the same time. What is the process for you when you're doing something like that? What's the line that you have to walk as a writer?
Mishna Wolff: I feel like what I owed the game, and I really felt like I owed this to the game, was the feeling of these characters and that process of deducing who the werewolf could be among them and the faulty reasoning that goes into that, which is a huge part of the fun of this project. Because people bring their own petty rivalries, and their own backstories and resentments and politics to the conversation, so rather than it being a bunch of people making logical decisions about who the werewolf is, it's a classic example of private justice, where people are bringing their faulty reasoning to the table. I felt like the feel of the game is inherent in those seats around the fireplace and The Beaverfield Inn. I also wanted to add some themes in here about the things that tear us apart and the things that connect us as humans. And I feel like Finn was the perfect vehicle for a conversation about what we owe each other.
You just mentioned the character of Finn. I love the fact that you're playing around with the idea of masculinity in this movie, but also I loved the idea of him just being a really nice guy and that it’s something that people try to make him feel bad about, when constantly being nice isn't a character fault. As someone who describes herself as “painfully Midwestern,” I really related to his character. There's just really a lot to like about him and relate to on a very human level.
Mishna Wolff: Yes, Finn is definitely the beating heart of this film. I told Ubisoft that this character is something that I wanted to do because viewers need someone who's a connector and he's a person who wants to bring people together and connect people and cross those divides. And he's in his own personal hell in this movie. For someone who's a connector, this is like the worst place you could be at the worst time. And that was the freshness that I wanted to bring to all these other familiar themes. And I think there's a little Finn in all of us, who is just trying to do the right thing and we see how miserable he is when he’s in the middle of all this. That scene by the fireplace where he throws the teacup is a huge part of him going through this ordeal and in that moment, he’s finally able to reckon with himself.
When Josh came on board, did you guys meet up at all? Was your script pretty much good to go for shooting, or did you guys collaborate on it together before production began?
Mishna Wolff: There was a little bit of a meeting of the minds when Josh came aboard. The script was very, very close, I would say. He certainly brought a lot to it before they started shooting. There were also some changes that had to be made, too, for budgetary reasons, stuff like that, but he went over some of that with me. He was like, "If we have snow here, we won't have snow there. So we need to figure out, ‘How we can do this?’" He wanted to really understand the characters, too. Josh actually combined two characters into one, which was a really good choice that I wouldn't have thought of, because he's also a great writer.
Part of why Ubisoft liked Josh so much is that he really liked the script. He really liked and respected the script and he wanted to make the same movie that we all wanted to make and had been working on for a year and a half. So what he brought was, besides that, his amazing choices and the actors he brought on who had super killer ad-libs, and there were awesome visuals that he worked into the script. Josh brought a ton to this movie. I mean, just a ton, and I'm really thrilled that I got to work with him, because he's also extremely respectful of writers, and he’s very collaborative. We were in touch pretty much the whole way through. He's just great to work with. He's a dream director and I hope we work on something again, really soon.
How fun is it for you as the writer to kind of get to see your ideas come to life through these performers in such an energetic and really entertaining way?
Mishna Wolff: Well, I was in stand-up for 10 years before I started writing. So, in terms of these big archetypes and building characters is something I did with a lot of visuals and mood boards. There was a lot of thinking about what their education level is, how do they talk, where did they come from, and why are they there? And, for each of these characters, I started out with a worldview. When I first picked this game for the movie, I created a slideshow just so we could just keep them all straight.
So I started out by giving each character their own personal life credo, and that really helped me when I was going through, trying to make them very clear, very alive characters in this story, and making sure that their humor came, not just from jokes, but from just these characters adhering to their own worldview, if that makes sense. That's something I usually do when I'm building a character just so I know where they're coming from. I think the point of view is so important for every character in a film, even a comedic character. After Josh did a pass, he gave a couple lines to the right character because I had given lines to the wrong character. I remember being really impressed because he saw the characters the way I did, but I had clearly made a mistake by giving this line to this character. It was really this character's lines. So I really appreciated that about working with Josh, too. I mean, that was one thing among a million other things. He has great instincts about story and characters and dialogue.
What has been your biggest takeaway from your experiences working on Werewolves Within, being a part of the Ubisoft fellowship program, and coming out of there as the first project? I just think this whole experience seems really cool in so many different ways.
Mishna Wolff: This was just a really positive experience from beginning to end for me. There were never any real no’s. I know that sounds crazy, but I think in your life as a creative, you hit a lot of walls and this was a wall-free experience. Everybody was super collaborative and positive all the way throughout. Everyone I worked with, from the executive level to Josh to just even talking with the editor. I would say that my big takeaway is to try and find fearless people. My big thing that I would like to do is just find more fearless people and work with them again and again. They said after my first draft that we were going to make this movie and I didn't believe them until it was on the screen, but they were always like, "Yeah, we're going to do this. We believe in this project." And that support was unwavering. The unwavering faith they had in my idea and as a writer was an experience I've not had before, and it was an amazing experience that I'd love to have again.