How Emily Carmichael Went From Video Game Spoofs to 'Pacific Rim: Uprising'

Experience with indie hits like 'RPG OKC' helped her pen the biggest kaiju movie of 2018.

The opportunity to write the screenplay for Pacific Rim: Uprising didn’t just fall intoto Emily Carmichael’s lap. It only happened for the 36-year-old New Yorker thanks to some persistent emailing, and a spot opening up in the writer’s room. From there, Carmichael relied on an old passion that she’d already mined throughout her time atout her time at film school: video games.

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, Pacific Rim: Uprising picks up ten years after Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original where humans must fight alien monsters, named “kaiju” (Japanese for “giant beast”) with war machines called “Jaegers” (German for “hunter”). The sequel follows young Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first film, as he leads a next generation of Jaeger pilots when a new wave of kaiju emerge.

“If you’re making a sci-fi that is a space adventure and the robots don’t steal the show, that’s a problem.” — Emily Carmichael

Carmichael, a Harvard and NYU alum, tells Inverse she still heavily relies on her old passion for games to tell stories like Pacific Rim. It’s a resource she’s also tapping into for current gigs like Jurassic World 3 and Powerhouse, a new original superhero project from Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow.

“My deep love of genre tropes, the rhythm of adventure storytelling and making fun of the tropes in video games really served me well,” Carmichael says. “When I work on bigger projects like Jurassic, we’re trying to nail those beats, deliver them, and do them well. Those are the stories I’m interested in.”

Before she landed her first studio gig in Pacific Rim, Carmichael was an animator who created several gaming-themed online shorts: 2009’s The Adventures of Ledo and Ix, which evolved into a web-series after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and 2013’s RPG OKC, a rom-com about two avatars who meet though an online dating service. With funny characters exchanging witty dialogue in an unabashedly dorky skin, Carmichael’s shorts play like Nora Ephron for the Chrono Trigger crowd.

In one particularly meta scene, Ledo, a brave female warrior, tells the less-valiant Ix to stay behind while she scouts a dark, black nothingness. (It’s the blacked-out edges of the game’s world map.) “It could be a shortcut,” Ledo tells Ix. “It COULD be a deathtrap!” Ix says. “I like those too,” Ledo responds.

“There was a moment I thought I might go the route of traditional animation but it became clear I’m not good enough to be a hand-drawn animator,” she admits. “But I did happen to luck into a style that really worked for me.”

'Pacific Rim: Uprising' screenwriter Emily Carmichael.

Jen Maler

As her shorts appeared at festivals ranging from Penny Arcade to Tribeca, Carmichael says she built up the confidence to eventually get her to Pacific Rim, with several stops in live-action filmmaking. Her short film Stryka, released in 2015, followed an alien thief living in Brooklyn. “That was the first time I was meeting people who were strangers who knew me from something I made,” she says. “That gave me the confidence to get me where I am now.”

Now, Carmichael is working on movies like the third Jurassic World. — “Colin [Trevorrow] has an arc in mind for these three films, we end up in a different place than we started,” she teases — and a reboot of Disney’s 1979 sci-fi movie The Black Hole. Unlike Pacific Rim, Carmichael says she has a chance to imbue a little more character into the robots this time around.

“There’s something about robots that captivates us as an audience,” she continues. “It’s easy for them to become mascots or fan favorites even though human beings have the deepest arcs. The robots stick with you.”

Pacific Rim: Uprising is on Blu-ray and DVD now.

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