Alex Litvak is a writer and producer in the film industry. Litvak co-wrote 2010’s Predators along with Michael Finch and they later worked on a script called Medieval. We spoke to Alex Litvak for the 114th episode of the AvPGalaxy podcast that was published in August 2020. Prior to reading this, I recommend reading the Nimrod Antal Interview as that also contains a lot of insights into Predators from a director point-of-view. You can listen to the Litvak interview below or continue on for a transcription. The interview references Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 Predators script which you can read here.
Aaron: I’d like to welcome Alex Litvak to the show. Alex is one of the two writers of Predators so that’s why he’s on the show. Thank you for giving up your time to come and chat to us today. Before we do start nerding out about Predator can you let our listeners and our watchers know about who Alex Litvak is and what he’s been up to since Predators.
Alex: First of all, thank you for having me, guys. Thank you to you and thank you to everybody who’s watching and listening for being a fan. So, a little bit about me. You guys know this I actually wasn’t born in the States, I was born in Russia during the Cold War. My family emigrated to the U.S. in ‘91 and I was always one of these nerdy kids who just loved reading. Loved watching movies. When they asked you in first grade, what you want to do and some kids say “I want to be a princess” or “I want to be an astronaut”. I said I want to be a writer.
I loved fairy tales and wanted to write fairy tales for kids. That kind of evolved into a lot of creative writing when I was 10 and a very foolish attempt to write a novel when I was 16 which I never finished and very bad poetry sort of atypical because it’s all Russia and Soviet Union but typical and that I was a classic nerd and just really wanted to love movies and do movies and tell stories. So, when my family came to the United States, after I was really done with high school and I really wanted to get into film, so I went to USC film school which was a bit of a culture shock.
Like my first year in the States, wound up being my first year in college. I went there for production, took a lot of writing classes which is really another way of saying that I wanted to write and direct and of course I wanted to hold up that golden statue and say “Well this is heavy and thank you mom and my agent” and all that stuff and when I graduated, it’s another set of forks in the road. Which way do you go? Do you try to get a job to write the great American screenplay or do you get a real job and my parents were not happy about my choices in life? “We did not come to this country so you’ll be unemployed for the rest of your life”.
So, one of my internships led to a job working for Renny Harlin. He was in post on Cutthroat Island, the movie that was gonna start a mega successful pirate franchise which basically destroyed pirates for the next 15 years. Yeah, so it was Renny when he was still married with Geena had a production company, was developing what at the time was one of my favorite scripts The Long Kiss Goodnight, sort of as a tangential connection to Predator.
Shane Black is one of the biggest inspirations in my life. Whenever I teach writing classes, I always talk about how the importance of voice, the importance of the perspective, the importance of bringing in unique spins of the story and everything I learned about that, I learned from that guy. So, took that job thinking I write on weekends, didn’t realize it was a choice of a lifestyle really and for the next 10 years and that’s going to be important part of the story. Me being in a box. For the next 10 years, I worked for a succession of various production companies and studios.
I was at 20th Century Fox for two and a half years which is where my first contact with the Predator franchise came in and then finally switched to writing in 2005. So, it was kind of a weird moment in time where after 10 years in the business, the company I was working went under. So a bunch of people got laid off and at the time I just realized I kind of hated what I did. It was sort of the equivalent of wanting to be an adventurer and explorer but first, let me get a job working for the travel agency and figure out really how travel works. So, I felt like the reasons why I chose to defy my family and get to go to USC.
That kid that loved stories, that was not the guy that I was going to the office every day. Working with writer directors, yes which was tremendously educational but it was really living out someone else’s dreams rather than building my own. So, I thought, well look if not now, when? I wrote my first script since film school and low and behold they got me an agent and it sold and led to other things and so that road would eventually take me to Predators and now what I’ve done since then… Predators was my first movie that got made. The second one was The Three Musketeers which ironically, I wrote immediately after Predators and that got me the following year with Paul Anderson.
Since then, Mike and I worked on Masters of the Universe for a number of years and it’s unfortunate, it doesn’t look like that project will ever see the life of day, at least not as a live-action film but we worked on that for a few years at Sony. We sold kind of this big reimagination of Treasure Island to 20th Century Fox. Then we kind of parted ways and worked on our own for a while and we’ve reconnected. We sold this script last year called Versus to Universal and they’re in talks with the director. We’re all very excited about.
I can’t talk about it yet and we’ve actually sold another spec last week which will be announced the following week also. Another sort of big idea action-genre script with another big director attached. I have a movie coming out on Disney+ called Secret Society of Second-Born Royals which is sort of X-Men meets Princess Diaries. I predominantly work in the action thrill sci-fi space but whenever family movies are well done, I really enjoy them and now I’m married. I have a kid so I felt like it’s time for me to do something.
Aaron: One of our traditions on the podcast is to ask our guests about the first time they’ve experienced the franchise we’re talking about and it’s especially more exciting when it’s people like yourself who have had a hand in shaping and steering that franchise. Do you remember your first run in with the Predator? Was it through the films or did you have a more roundabout way into the series through comics or games or figures?
Alex: So, I was still in Russia, I think. I don’t know what year it was but it was still the Soviet Union and still the Cold War by kind of the early stages of the fall. American movies by and large were banned. Here and there a few snuck into the theaters and I remember there was one theater that showed like Charlie Chaplin westerns and whatnot but when you talk about Star Wars, The Godfather, Raiders all that stuff never appeared. So, the way the drug culture works here which like if you know the right people, that’s how it was with the with movies where everything was smuggled on video cassettes with like fifth sixth generation dubs so very low quality.
There’s usually a voice talking over, translating the lines so it’s not like high quality dubbing. There’s actually a guy who did the majority of the movies and he was the kind of like cultural Robin Hood if you will and so despite all the incredibly shitty qualities, it was just completely ground-breaking. Predator was actually when they eased the regulations, a bunch of kind of video parlors popped up where basically you go and you pay five bucks at the door and you sit there watching a movie like a small screen and chairs. This is basically like a way for these guys to have more customers and it’s all pirated, all illegal but that was the only way to watch movies.
So that’s how I watched Predator for the first time and actually I remember having some trepidation before I saw it because the one genre, I just don’t really connect with is horror. Like I just don’t like torture porn and I don’t like people being mutilated so it’s Schwarzenegger. I like Schwarzenegger so I’ll go see it and I remember walking out saying I like that, it was pretty great. That was pretty awesome. I can’t say that it was a movie that I was blown away by but I remember being very pleasantly surprised by it and obviously it stays with you over the years. I’ve re-watched it a number of times since and just the more you watch it, the more you appreciate what was done there where something that could have been so genre, ends up being A+.
Adam: Of course, we can’t not ask you about your favorite of the films and also your favorite Predator design itself?
Alex: I’m gonna stick with the classic. We can debate the merits or demerits of other movies as we were talking about Predator 2 before the podcast started but look, the original is a masterpiece. I watched it I think maybe like three, four years ago with my wife because she’s never seen it so I said well that’s a requirement before we watch my movie, you’ve got to watch this one and she is not an action fan. She’s not a horror fan but she really enjoyed it and again just the machismo poetry, the muscular quality of filmmaking. It was good then, it’s good now.
Now I actually feel like possibly better just because it’s like a fine bottle of wine that you open and it’s matured so well. There have been so many movies since that tried to do what this movie did and nobody has gotten there. We had the ambition to match Predator and do better. I don’t think we did but we hopefully come somewhat close but nobody has. That’s why it’s still this monument to what you can do with a generic story if you truly get creative.
Adam: I definitely think the third film what you and Rodriguez and Antal and Troublemaker Studios did definitely emulate that feel of the original film more than any of the other sequels.
Alex: Well, we had the benefit and the curse a little bit of being massive fans of the original. So, unlike Predator 2 where it’s like okay that was a hit but it has not achieved an iconic status yet. Now it is quite a quite a long time has passed. Now you know what this is, what the fans are expecting and you just don’t really don’t want to f**k it up you.
You’re not like “Here is a cool sci-fi action movie, this is a Predator”. We all felt that the franchise has gone off course so how do we bring it back to what we think is the right course but also rather than just delivering what you already expect of course and again that’s my problem with Predator 2, it doesn’t build. It’s just sort of like more of the same. How do we try to give the fans both what they deserve but also what they don’t expect and open new chapters, new doors and at one point we were really hoping to blow the doors wide open.
Aaron: What about the design though? In terms of the actual Predator creature? Is that classic as well?
I know there is a lot of debates about different designs. To me I’ve always cared more about the story and the characters and the world. We’ve had some input obviously in terms of how we conceived the upgrades but we were more interested in the characters, in the worlds and the situations that these guys are going to find themselves in.
Adam: Well, the classic Predator design did make a return in the third film. Was that something that was kind of your idea or did that kind of come from somewhere else?
Alex: That was always going to be in. I mean you can’t not make a Predator film without having the original Predator and being close to the original design. At least that’s how it felt. So, yeah, I think it was always a given.
Adam: The Predator franchise has never really enjoyed the same amount of expanded universe material as the Alien series. So, a lot of the entries that tend to delve into the lore become quite popular. Predator shares a degree of similarity with one of the more revered comic series which is Predator Bad Blood so we were curious as to how knowledgeable you were in regards to the Predator expanded universe and whether that played into your writing on the film? If there was any inspiration for the comics or anything like that?
Alex: Zero. I actually didn’t know it existed until I listened to your podcast with Nimrod and you guys mentioned it.
Aaron: It’s mainly that conflict between Predators and conflicting ideologies kind of thing, mostly more in that fight I guess than anything but like you’ve already mentioned this Predators was your first writing credit and coming out of the gates with the sequel to an iconic piece of cinema landscape is huge. So, how did you come to be involved with Predators?
Alex: So, my first contact with the Predator was actually I mentioned to you guys, I worked with Fox. So, it was like ‘96 or ‘98 and Predators was one of the projects I got put on as an exec and at the time, all we had was the Rodriguez script which you guys have read and I was like “How do we restart? How do we get something?” So, I pitched two ideas to my bosses. The first one was “Hey, why don’t we do Alien vs Predator so there was I think a script by Peter Briggs floating around which was Alien vs Predator and I was just like “Look guys, this is going to be a massive event.
I remember pitching the teaser. I was like “On one side of the screen is the alien head, on the other side of the screen is the Predator head and they slowly turn toward one another”. So, the problem was this and it was a non-starter at the time because we were making Alien Resurrection so everything was riding on the success of that movie and it underperformed so it was like “Oh we are not making another Alien movie and then because Predator 2 was a disappointment, the feeling was “Well you can’t really make another Predator movie without Arnold and Arnold was not whatever reason not gettable at that moment in time.
So that kind of went away and the other idea was I said “Well why don’t we try to go after Arnold” and tried to get him and I pitched an idea and I said look “I can get a writer to write this.” There’s so many fans out there and the idea was what if we make a direct sequel to Predator which the first one was not which is what happened to Dutch. The idea was Dutch has been mothballed because the whole thing has been classified and never happened so he effectively has been drummed out of the military and he lives… either doing some menial jobs or maybe he’s in prison or whatever.
Another Predator ship crash lands somewhere and instead of going to the jungle, it was anything from the crash lands in the water so it’s more of an ocean setting or it crash lands somewhere in the mountains so we’re now in the mountains but it’s some sort of hard to access location. So, now the powers would come to him saying “Dutch, we need you because another Predator ship has appeared and think of all the tech that we can access. Think of all the technological leaps and scientific leaps that we can make.
Come with us because you’re the only one who faced this creature and lived”. So, reluctantly he says yes so there’s a new group. It’s kind of this new elite group of commandos and now he’s older, they’re younger, he’s been out of circulation. They’re very cutting edge so he’s sort of the odd man so they all go there and he’s not in command. He’s like more of an advisory capacity like Ripley in Aliens. So, they all go there, they get to the ship, they blow the hatch and there’s a whole team of Predators just waiting there for them.
You realize what the whole thing is, it’s been a trap to get Dutch. So, now Dutch is the prize prey and the reason they showed up again is because they’re hunting him. So, now it’s a total kind of this executive decision type fiasco where the team is largely massacred with a few survivors and Dutch is now pitted against the team of… not even the upgrades but just like the Predators have who’ve come specifically after him to hunt him. So, that was the idea. Yeah, kind of interesting but if you really need to get Arnold and Arnold is whatever reason deemed un-gettable at the time so that idea goes away.