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Hasbro Boot Camp: Turning Toys Into A Movie For “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick talk about how action figures become movie characters and then become action figures again.

Channing Tatum as Duke and Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock in a scene from G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Paramount Pictures, Jaimie Trueblood / AP

Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick both grew up on G.I. Joe. Reese even shot his first (home) movies using the action figures. So it was a big deal when, after making it through an audition process and winning the chance to write the script for the G.I. Joe sequel, they got to go and hang out at Hasbro headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island — or, as Wernick called, it, go to “G.I. Joe school.”

“One of the great thrills is to walk into a toy factory and see guys sculpting little action figures out of wax — It’s like a sandbox,” Wernick said. “A big, adult sandbox.”

While there, Reese and Wernick sat down with Hasbro executives and talked about how to make the best movie about toys that would, incidentally, also sell toys.

“It is a little bit of a meeting of the minds — they threw some stuff at us, some research on various characters and which characters kids respond to the most and what kinds of things kids enjoy buying as toys,” Reese said.

Hasbro Inc. has its own studio, Hasbro Studios, entirely dedicated to developing its games into movies and TV shows. (Other Hasbro games that were optioned, unsuccessfully, as film deals in the past include Ouija; Clue; Monopoly; Magic, The Gathering; and Stretch Armstrong.)

Wernick and Reese said several elements of the film, like the mechanical fireflies that double as explosives, a trademark of one of the film’s villains — “those came from Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro,” Wernick said — were born in those brainstorming sessions.

“They just laid out all the toys and all the research and everything,” Wernick said. “Ninjas obviously — are a big part of what kids love about G.I. Joe and something that we wanted to stay true to as well.”

The way Wernick and Reese tell it, the whole process of writing G.I. Joe: Retaliation was kind of like that: a process of optimization.

It started with the audition process. When a studio like Paramount has the rights to a franchise like G.I. Joe, it calls in a bunch of writers and listens to their pitches.

“They said go away and come back and give us a vision for what a G.I. Joe 2 would be. And we did that, alongside a few other writers,” said Reese, whose work with Wernick includes the film (and now series) Zombieland.

Wernick explained, “It gets whittled down from a large group; it comes down to the final two, and you hope you’re on that short list.”

The pair’s original pitch for G.I. Joe: Retaliation included many of the elements of the final film — “the prison break and the nuclear summit,” Reese said (not to give too much away).

But over a series of rewrites, a number adjustments were made. “It went through several protagonists at the center of the movie: It started as Duke [Channing Tatum] and evolved to Flint [D.J. Cotrona] and ultimately, once Dwayne [“the Rock” Johnson] came on, it became Roadblock.” Wernick said. “General Colton — the Bruce Willis character — was a late add, and we had to introduce him to the script seamlessly.”

There was a big battle scene in Alaska that ended up on the cutting-room floor, Wernick said: “A scene where the Pakistani president gets assassinated — that came out. There was a drone attack that came out.”

One other thing that didn’t make the cut: G.I. Joe’s catchphrase.

“We’ve always thought the ‘Yo, Joe’ thing is borderline cheesy and would turn non-fans off, so we wrote in a a script where Lady Jaye was trying to get Joe Colton’s attention, and she went, ‘Yo! Joe!’” Reese said. “But we decided not to do it. We were flirting with cheesiness there and decided to back off it.”

That isn’t to say, though, that Reese and Wernick aren’t suckers for nostalgia. One of the best parts of the whole process?

“We got action figures,” Wernick said. “G.I. Joe action figures, made of ourselves. I’m in desert gear and Rhett’s in arctic gear — that was pretty thrilling for us.”

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