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Friday, March 15

Todd Robinson on 'The Last Full Measure,' the genius of J.J. Abrams, and the video game 'Hawken'

Todd Robinson is an Emmy-winning writer and Spirit Award nominee, responsible for "White Squall," "Lonely Hearts," and 2013's "Phantom," starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner. Robinson, who also directed the latter two films, took some time to chat with Zap2it about his upcoming project, "The Last Full Measure," the perils of the studio system, and the pitfalls of the video game world.

"The Last Full Measure" is a passion piece for Robinson that he's set to begin filming in coastal Georgia later this year. The cast list is stacked with legendary actors such as Morgan Freeman, Lawrence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia. Robinson says he'll reunite with "Phantom's" Harris, Duchovny, and Fichtner as well. 

Owing to such an impressive cast list may be Robinson's own classical training as an actor. "I try to write three-dimensional characters [actors] would like to play, and write words they would like to say, and give them something to explore," says Robinson. His experiences on the other side of the script contribute to his approach. 

"I'd seen an awful lot of bad material, where all the emotion is written in to the lines. A lot of writing is oriented toward a result and that's not what actors want to do," he says. "They want to push their process through the text, and find their performance. The white space in between the lines is as important to me as what's actually in ink."

"The Last Full Measure" is based on the true story of an Air Force Pararescueman who saved 60 men before being killed in a bloody Vietnam battle. Yet Robinson insists this film is not about politics. "It's a story about friendship and loyalty and altruism," he says. "So there's really something in it for everybody. And it has a wonderful, heartbreaking, yet totally uplifting ending -- it's a celebration of life in the end."

If the military theme seems all-too familiar after "Phantom," it's certainly not by accident. Robinson says he gravitates towards "non-romantic love stories between men -- fathers and sons, brothers, best friends." And his stories all have a coming of age dynamic to them. "You go back to 'White Squall,' it's about boys on a ship," Robinson says. "So cultures like the military, sort of high action, high energy stories tend to attract me because they're populated with those kind of people. They're just great landscapes to play people's psychological trauma and bulls*** against."

"The Last Full Measure" is no exception. "You have the heartbeat of this battle that's driving the story through in a very 'Rashomon' kind of way," says Robinson. "And yet you have these wonderful intimate scenes between these great actors."

In the past, Robinson has expressed some frustration with the current state of the film business, and he says "The Last Full Measure" is not not a story that would be picked up by a major studio. "It is a little frustrating that there are less and less movies made, and they're bigger and bigger, and there's more pressure on those movies," Robinson explains. "For people who love making movies, and seeing movies, I think you're getting less and less of a variety because it really is a corporate mentality in terms of choosing material."

Of course there is an exception (or two) to every rule, and Robinson is quick to point them out in this case: "You've got guys out there like J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan who are just so brilliant, and they're doing these big enormous movies that are just wonderful too. But that's a short list of guys who can really pull that off."

Robinson was recently able to pull off something he may not have expected to put on his resume with the wildly popular PC video game, "Hawken," a multi-player, first person shooter, combat game released in December. "Another writer and I were invited to come in on very short notice and try to spin that thing into a piece of narrative, and we're still in the process of doing it," says Robinson. He explains further, "There are pitfalls in the video game world that I'm not sure I've cracked. You have audiences that are deeply loyal to the tropes and so forth that are created within those games. The thing that was interesting about 'Hawken' was the game wasn't out yet as we were constructing the story."

When asked whether he would jump on board for another game, Robinson hesitates. "It was an interesting process, but it was kind of working from the outside in rather than the inside out," he says. "We were taking all of these characters, and that whole world, and then trying to find a story within it." 

The idea seems converse to Robinson's normal process of writing upwards of two-hundred pages on a character before approaching a screenplay. "I start with character and work from there," says Robinson. And that's precisely why the Morgan Freemans and Lawrence Fishburnes of the world will continue to sign to for his projects.

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