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Rian Johnson's Exhaustive Writing Approach To Looper Landed Him In Uncharted Territory

Nowadays, Rian Johnson surely knows how to deal with a complex story that revolves around eccentric characters. Writing and directing the surprise 2019 hit "Knives Out," along with its new follow up, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery," would challenge any filmmaker who wants to make sure the audience doesn't catch any plot misstep. Johnson also needed to make sure his "Star Wars" entry, "The Last Jedi," lived up to his vision, surely aware of the fan scrutiny it would receive. In his interview with GQ, he explained how the skills that would pay off on these high-profile projects were honed during his work on 2012's "Looper."

Heading into the development of the time-traveling flick, Johnson had been jolted by the poor performance of his previous film, "The Brothers Bloom." Worried that the low box office numbers and fan disinterest may be a reason for Hollywood to never hire him again, Johnson decided that his new project needed to be as perfect as he could get it. And that decision may have saved his career. 

It doesn't take much for Hollywood studios to throw away your phone number, especially when the movie you make for them doesn't result in a decent financial return. So when Johnson was writing the script for "Looper" (a fine title), he needed to create something that would not just entertain audiences, but impress them with its complexity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn't easy.

Time travel movies require a lot of extra attention

Sci-fi fans may be the most critical moviegoers of all. Rian Johnson knew he'd have to swing for the fences, telling GQ that with "Looper," he wanted to emulate the works of some of his peers, such as James Cameron. "I was thinking about Cameron's first 'Terminator' movie as kind of the example of something I wanted to do," he said. Based on the plot of "Looper," "The Terminator" was a perfect model to focus on.

The movie, set in both 2044 and 2074, follows time-traveling assassins who attempt to knock off crime syndicate targets before they can fully seize power. The film, which stars Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, has a sophisticated storyline that keeps the viewers on their toes. Johnson knew that a single script misstep could derail the entire piece. "Sitting down to write 'Looper '... I rewrote that movie more than I've ever rewritten anything in my life," he admitted. "I really tried to hold it down and make something that was tight and something that was going to conceptionally work."

On top of the complex continuity of a time-travel-thriller, Johnson also needed to zero in on the emotionally determined personalities of his characters. Once again, he tapped into another filmmaking peer to map out that path. He revealed that he looked to Peter Weir's "Witness" to work out the sensitive concept of a young boy being an assassin's main target. That sharpening, along with the intricate story details, helped get "Looper" where Johnson wanted it to be, which he said was "something that has kind of the focused shape of a very determined, thought out structure."