I'm a writer who has worked in books, film and video games, such as 28 Days Later, Dredd, Sunshine, Enslaved, and a few others. My most recent film is Ex Machina, which has just been released. Happy to answer questions.

proof: https://twitter.com/ExMachinaMovie/status/587672245448900609


Very sorry, have to leave now. But thank you very much for your questions. Cheers.


Comments: 156 • Responses: 53  • Date: 

MiddlebrowMentality26 karma

Why did Ex Machina have such a limited release to start with?

I was stoked for the 4/10 release date. You can't imagine my disappointment when I realized there was no way of me seeing it that day. I got passes for the free screening this Thursday which totally makes up for not seeing it last week.

Edit: For anyone else interested in the free screening this Thursday 4/16, here's a link. https://twitter.com/exmachinamovie/status/587681340151050240

Alex_Garland19 karma

Oh - glad you got tickets for Thursday screening. The limited release is common with small movies that just don't have the profile and budget to go wide. It provides a way for the distributor to test the water before dropping a ton of money.

shivan2120 karma

Hi Alex, sit down and make yourself comfortable. Now tell me, is it good for a screen-writer to be raised by a parent with a profession of psychoanalyst?

Alex_Garland22 karma

Ha. Ha ha ha. lol. No.

z-fighting-for-light16 karma

Sunshine was an amazing movie but many people disliked it for the third act. What would you like to say to the people who disliked Sunshine? (Can't wait to watch Ex Machina too!)

Alex_Garland32 karma

Honestly, I have no problem with people disliking it for the third act. These things are all so subjective.
Also, don't know if this is relevant, but... I don't really like the Marlon Brando stuff in Apocalypse Now, but it's still one of my favorite movies. Sometimes the flaws are part of why you choose to really like a film.

shivan2115 karma

Do you like indonesian The Raid? Were there some inspirational influences between this movie and Dredd?

Alex_Garland26 karma

Great film. No inspiration, because the timing didn't allow for it (in terms of when we shot Dredd). We would have needed time travel powers to make that work. But I get that there are plot similarities, so I understand where the question is coming from.

MMX214 karma

You wrote the script for the Peter Jackson "Halo" movie that never got made. What do you think was the most important thing you learned and would pass on to younger writers from that whole experience?

Thanks for your time!

Alex_Garland40 karma

Not sure it is relevant to younger writers, but I learned that I am not the right guy to adapt Halo for Peter Jackson.

andrew_takeshi11 karma

Hi Alex. Introduce yourself to me like I've never heard of you before?

Alex_Garland34 karma

Hi. My name is Alex. I have three level thirty two characters on Destiny.

Igotthewrongguy8 karma

You were great as the space ship captain in Wall-E. Is it true that there's going to be a sequel?

Alex_Garland10 karma

I don't know about the sequel. I'm not in the loop. They don't answer my calls, or emails, and pretend they have no idea who I am or what I'm talking about.

n0bodynose8 karma

Who will you cast as Mr Biffo in your no-doubt forthcoming biopic about the life and times of Digitiser?

Alex_Garland8 karma

Peter Serafinowicz!!!! Definitely.

omeezysheezy7 karma

Hey Mr.G,

What is the first step you take when transferring a story-idea onto paper/your computer screen?

Huge fan of your writing and beyond pumped to watch Ex Machina later this month!

Alex_Garland8 karma

Thank you. First step is just to get the most basic idea written down, in as simple and reductive a way as possible. For me, that's usually a sequence of lines. So... 'Guy wakes in hospital. London empty. Attacked by running zombie.' Something like that.

AlexanderBirchson7 karma

Hi, Alex! You have no idea how much of a fan of "The Beach" I am. I tried to savor it reading only a few chapters a day, but I ended up finishing it in a week anyway. It was a pity to say goodbye to Richard and Year Zero. And I love the adaptation too, but for the whole other reasons. Anyway, I've been a fan since I read the book 13 years ago. I'm really looking forward to see "Ex Machina".

I have a few questions if you don't mind:

  1. Where did you grasp the inspiration for "The Beach"? I heard you'd traveled yourself a lot before writing it, is that true?

  2. What did you think about the movie adaptation? Did you like how Leo DiCaprio and Danny Boyle handled the material? Even though they took a little bit different approach to it...

  3. I was happy to know you were to direct a movie based on your own script, and having such a wonderful cast... Did you like the experience of directing? Are you working on something else to helm soon?

  4. Name few modern directors whose films you particularly like?

  5. What books you would advise to read to young writers?

Thanks a lot! Such an honor! Wish you luck and prosper!

P.S. Sorry for quite silly questions. I never thought I'd have such opportunity, so I asked what popped up in my head first.

Alex_Garland7 karma

Thank you very much. 1. Yes, I was a very compulsive traveller. Still am, actually. I think a lot of the inspiration for the book came from the Philippines, but for various reasons it made more sense to set it in Thailand. 2. Wasn't crazy about the movie. But I wasn't likely to be very objective about it. 3. Directing Ex Machina was very enjoyable. Was a very good bunch of people making it. I just wrote an adaptation of a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, and I'm waiting to see if finance comes together. 4. Many, but I like Paul Thomas Anderson's films very much. 5. Anything you enjoy. Don't struggle through anything you don't enjoying. There are many books out there, and life is short.

bitt3n7 karma

What is the most common, or most detrimental, mistake you see people make when writing a script?

Alex_Garland22 karma


sheephunt20007 karma

Any funny stories from on set?

Alex_Garland23 karma

Yes, loads. They're hilarious.

shivan217 karma

What was the path of your novel, The Beach, from the book to the movie?

Alex_Garland16 karma

Well… I guess there was a path, but I never really saw it. I wrote the book, and then the writer/director/producer team behind Trainspotting took it away and made it into a film. It was pretty much out of my line of sight. I did visit the set before they filmed, which was weird for me. But I didn't really have any hands-on role in the film.

WhoaSamurai6 karma

Alex, by day I'm a mortgage banker. I go to film school at night. I have a mind for numbers but a heart for film. Last week, my professor gave the ten principles of screenwriting. What would be at the top of your list?

Thanks for this, Ex Machina seems seriously creative.

Alex_Garland7 karma

Oh… well… to be honest, on an instinctive level I'm slightly suspicious of such lists. But I guess I aim for clarity and economy in the writing - particularly stage directions. So maybe: Leave as much space for the imagination of the reader as possible.

Gold_Puns_Girls6 karma

Hi Alex, thanks for doing an AMA! Sunshine is probably my favourite movie. So as a very key person in making that movie exist, thank you so much.

Question: What have you read lately that's really good?

Alex_Garland11 karma

Thank you, re: Sunshine. I've just started reading The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch. Really good feels like an understatement.

seismicor6 karma

I really liked Sunshine. The story however reminded me of an older science fiction called Solar Crisis. Have you seen it? Have you been inspired by this movie in any way?

Alex_Garland14 karma

Haven't seen Solar crisis. Was influenced by Solaris.

NorbitGorbit6 karma

when working on reboots or sequels are there usually a list of key points or character bibles you are not supposed to deviate from? what do these guides look like?

Alex_Garland7 karma

I never heard of these guides, and never saw one… Unless you mean Asimov's laws of robotics, which I was aware of, but didn't seem relevant to this story.

boomboxkai5 karma

What was the inspiration for the Ex Machina?

Alex_Garland8 karma

Books by very smart people about AI and human consciousness.

seismicor5 karma

Hi Alex. What are the chances of 28 Months Later ever happening? What's stopping you from making the movie? The second one was great!

Alex_Garland20 karma

Actually I believe someone is working on a script right now. The main thing stopping us from making a movie was that we didn't have an idea that felt any good, and anyway the Walking Dead seemed to be doing a better job than we were likely to manage...

MikeWazowski0015 karma

Hi Alex,

I'm a big fan of your work and had the pleasure of meeting you briefly yesterday after your screening at union square. I love your new film and how it's able to remain original while sill including many common sci-fi tropes.

I have a bunch of questions. Feel free to answer as many or few as you like.

1) How has Danny Boyle influenced you as a director?

2) Being aware of your work as a writer, what has been your experience working with actors before this film and how were you able to get the opportunity to helm the director's chair for Ex Machina as a first time director? Did you intend to direct it while you were writing it?

3) A lot of people seem to not like the third act of Sunshine. I find it very compelling and original, in very much the same way as Ex Machina was handled. What are your feelings about the execution of the surprise "twist" in Sunshine and what would you change (if anything) about it if you had the chance to rewrite it?

4) You said yesterday at the Q&A that Ex Machina works in part because it resolves itself, but that there were a bunch of failed ideas for sci-fi projects that we will never see. Does this mean drafts of other projects that got scrapped or short films you wanted to turn into features? Why did they "fail"?

Thank you so much. I'll be looking out for more of your work!

Alex_Garland4 karma

Hi. Pleased to meet you again, via Reddit. 1. I learned a great deal from Danny, on many levels, about how the industry works, and how film sets work - though we work very differently, and have different aims.
2. I've worked a lot with actors prior to this, so that process was very familiar. The director thing just felt like the easiest way to approach this production. Didn't think about the directing when writing. At that stage, you're just testing to find out if the idea works. 3. That question is slightly too loaded for me to answer! 4. They failed because they weren't good. But one or two actually got made… Cheers.

architect_son5 karma

Do you think that Artificial Intelligence will help, ignore, or utilize humanity if/when it gains sentience?

Also, why don't people admit that Alien Artificial Intelligence is way more superior to Human's Artificial Intelligence? Hubris, I swear...

Alex_Garland8 karma

Help. (I bloody hope)

SocialCarpet5 karma

I live in a major metro area in south Florida and I can't find your film playing anywhere in a 50 mile radius of me and I really want to see it. What's up??? When can we expect to see it in wider release?

Alex_Garland7 karma

Next week or the week after, if the early box office results give the distributor a sense of confidence.

roku94135 karma

Alex, if there was a kickstarter for dredd 2 to happen would you do it?

Alex_Garland9 karma

I wouldn't. I think I've lost the right to work on Dredd. It should be someone else.

notaCSmajor4 karma

What do you feel are the biggest challenges to you when you're hired to work on an adaptation like Never Let Me Go, Dredd, or your unproduced Halo script (which I've totally never read). How do you overcome them and is there any difference in the revision process with these types of assignments compared to your experience with writing original scripts?

Alex_Garland5 karma

There is a difference. Frankly, adaptations are (for me) easier. Feels like someone else has done the heavy lifting.

Horizon_Brave4 karma

Hey Alex, thank you for the AMA!

I love Sunshine and I wanted to ask: what do you think about the final product?

And what do you think about a Dredd Sequel?

At last: Can you already say something about "Annihilation" and "Time Keeper"? :)

Alex_Garland11 karma

Well… I love Sunshine too, but there are elements of it that I think I handled badly. Haven't seen the film since the end of the edit, so I don't really have an opinion about whether it stands up. Hope it does… Dredd sequel will happen one day, I hope, but it won't be with me. Our Dredd version lost a lot of money, and that doesn't buy you the right to make a sequel… Needs another team, with a fresh approach. The character is too good to stay in cinema hibernation forever. Annihilation is a terrific and strange book by Jeff VanderMeer, which I just adapted into a screenplay. Timekeepers is lost in time.

shivan214 karma

What is the one thing we should notice, without revealing any spoilers, in Ex Machina?

Alex_Garland14 karma

The protagonist is the robot.

shivan214 karma

Do you like Game of Thrones? Have you met D. B. Weiss?

Alex_Garland10 karma

Love Game Of Thrones. Haven't met that guy. I live in the UK, so I'm not very connected with that world.

abitbolgeorges3 karma

Your father being a cartoonist, how have you been afftected by the shooting in Paris on January ?

Alex_Garland5 karma

I don't think that gave me any insight into what happened. Expect my response was just like anyone else's.

MaGreene3 karma

Advice for aspiring writers?

Alex_Garland7 karma

Prepare for it to be hard, and for the self doubt to never go away.

sofiabonami3 karma

How long did you work on the script?

Alex_Garland3 karma

In terms of actual writing, maybe five or six months. But I'd been thinking about it for years.

OneScriptWonder3 karma

Hi Mr. Garland - Cannot thank you enough for taking the time do this, especially for folks like myself looking to break into the biz.

My question is more around your process. I understand everyone has their own strategy in developing a story/screenplay, but what's yours? Do you outline and go into character backgrounds before going into the screenplay? Do you write treatments? If so, how many drafts until you feel it's at a place you're comfortable in beginning to tackle the script?

Thanks again!

Alex_Garland14 karma

Since writing Sunshine, my method has been the same… Open a new file, and write down the story beats (perhaps fifteen separate lines). Then I start writing. As I reach a story beat, I delete it. Then at the end, I have a complete script, and all beats deleted. No character, no backstory, and (almost always) no treatments. Don't like that stuff, because stuff that works on a treatment often doesn't work in a script. Best way to find out is just to cut to the chase. Key is to get to a first draft ASAP. It will be crap, probably, but doesn't matter. You then have something to work with. And you just keep rewriting until you feel done with it.

HenryHenderson3 karma

Who is the rudest celebrity that you have ever encountered?

If you had a 2 week holiday in Thailand now, where would you go?

Alex_Garland9 karma

Jonathan Ross once scared the shit out of me in central London by leaning on his car horn when I was on my bike. Thought I was about to get run over by a truck. So while he wasn't rude, he was scary. Does that count? In Thailand, I'd probably head toward the border with Myanmar.

seismicor3 karma

Is there any classic novel you would love to adapt for the big screen?

Alex_Garland13 karma

Hmmm…. Hmmmmmmmmmmm….

Maybe Heart Of Darkness.

rule2productions3 karma

What are some of the movies that you find the most inspiring?

Alex_Garland6 karma

Films from the seventies, often. But that might just be because I was born in '70...

dstrauc33 karma

Hi, Alex! Big fan. I remember buying The Coma on release and reading it in a weird fever dream when i was around 17. Thanks for the awesome read!

My question is about 28 days later. when you were writing it, did you have any ideas about production - like, did you think about who to sell it to, what the budget would be, etc. Or did you just have the idea and write out the script and then worry about selling it later?


Alex_Garland7 karma

28 Days Later was a spec script (written without a deal, etc) but after the first draft I showed it to Andrew Macdonald (producer of Trainspotting), who said he liked it and wanted to produce it. Andrew on I worked on the script for five drafts, and he taught me a lot about how to write for films. The first person we sent it to was actually Chris Cunningham, who passed. Then Andrew sent it to Danny Boyle, who liked it, and pretty soon after we were in production.

phil22223 karma

Hi Alex,

Do you think Ava can fall in love?

Alex_Garland3 karma


peepjynx2 karma

I loved Sunshine (actually I love all your work). For someone stepping a toe into the world of screenwriting, what advice do you have for adaptations? I notice most novelists who've had their work turned into TV series and/or movies don't do teleplays or screenplays. Is there a reason why or why someone shouldn't? And for those making the attempt, what are some of the things to keep in mind?

Alex_Garland2 karma

I think the key is to feel respectful to the material, but not beholden to it. That's not always possible, and is perhaps harder when you wrote the source.

SillySturridge2 karma

Do you have any particular advice about writing action? How much is too much or how little is too little? It can be hard to find the balance.

Alex_Garland6 karma

Personally, I err on the side of doing little. Action is very hard to write coherently/interestingly. And rarely survives unchanged to the screen.

Blergblum2 karma

Hi Alex! I'm a spanish writer and the market here both for movies and books is currently so down I can't imagine landing any of my stories to anywhere... how do you deal with the stories you have already written but you know for sure there never gona be on production? and how much time do you fight for a script or a novel before forgetting about it and moving to the next one? Thanks, love your work since I gaze "The Beach" (first) in spanish in my gf library.

Alex_Garland4 karma

Thank you for the kind words. I think if you work as a screenwriter you just have to get used to the idea of writing scripts that never get made. It pretty much seems to go with the territory. For what it's worth, my personal strike rate is roughly three to one. So of three scripts I write, one gets made. (So far, at any rate).

shivan212 karma

How did you get acquainted with Danny Boyle? What is he like?

Alex_Garland6 karma

Met him when he adapted a book I'd written. He's a nice guy. Good sense of humour, and very sharp.

mrshatnertoyou2 karma

Would you say that you think AI could very well be a superior creation then man and if so in what specific ways?

Alex_Garland5 karma

Could be. Could be smarter and more reasonable. Could live longer. Could get to other star systems. Maybe eventually other galaxies.

shivan212 karma

How do you see AI development in upcoming years? Is there a threat?

Alex_Garland4 karma

I'm not worried about the threat. But Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are, and there's not much doubt they are smarter than me, so...

BlueAnnapolis2 karma

Hi Alex! I assume the Beach is at least partially based on your travel experiences. Any favorites spots across the world?

Alex_Garland3 karma

Myanmar, and the Philippines.

therealsushipoo2 karma

Hi Alex! First of all, I'd like to wish you all the best for Ex Machina! Hope it gets a release in India soon!

My question for you is: Being this your maiden directorial venture, how did the FIRST day of production feel like? Also, any tip for budding film makers from around the world?

Alex_Garland4 karma

First day of production was easy. The whole shoot was, in fact. It was six weeks, so we didn't have time to reflect, which also in some senses made it straightforward. Tips for film makers… I don't know… don't go into production unless you are sure of the script, maybe.

MBprocast2 karma

ALEX!!!! Thank you for being here. Your films...your involvement...just, impressive to say the least. Are you available for interviews? I'm the host of a movie-based podcast and we'd be honored and privileged to have you on. I thought I'd throw this out to the universe and see what comes back. I hope to hear from you soon. Even if I don't, I look forward to your answers here!

Thanks again, Zach

Alex_Garland2 karma

Well, if you contact A24 then it's perfectly possible. Cheers.

Lefse_Cakes2 karma

Never Let Me Go is one of my favorite books, and I loved the adaptation you wrote. What were some of the challenges you faced translating that story to the screen, and how did you overcome them?

Alex_Garland4 karma

Then main challenge was that the novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro, is a good friend of mine, and I really, really didn't want to fuck it up. I overcame it by showing him the script. If he hadn't liked it, I would have ditched it immediately.

fickleminded2 karma

Hi Alex!

Was "The Beach" inspired by Thailand or Palawan? There's some debate going on about this.

Alex_Garland3 karma

Neither! I know people often say it was based in Palawan, but actually it wasn't. Honestly. But it was in the Philippines...

Demonarisen2 karma

What is your favorite thing about screenwriting?

Alex_Garland5 karma

Not doing it. I love finishing a draft, and very rarely enjoy writing them.

TupacLovesElvis2 karma

Hi Alex,

I saw 'Ex Machina' yesterday and I thought it was incredible. I thought virtually every aspect of the film was flawless, even the parts you don't explicitly explain (like why Nathan drinks so much) I really hope more people get to see it because it deserves attention.

Gotta ask a couple questions so here goes:

Do you agree with me that Ava is amoral as opposed to immoral? Also, why DOES Nathan drink so much?

Alex_Garland5 karma

Thank you very much. But… for me, Ava is moral. TBH I'm on her side, if 'her' is the right prefix. But also its subjective, and open to debate. So I'm not exactly disagreeing - just saying where I come form.

dmorin2 karma

Hi Alex,

Almost right on top of each other we've had a story about Alan Turing (even though it only barely touched on the Turing Test), a self-aware robot (Chappie), and now Ex Machina. Do you think this is just a coincidence or the sign of a growing interest in the topic of what I'll call "achievable" artificial intelligence? Plenty of sci fi movies over the years have dealt with AI in theory, but I think I may even be quoting something I heard from you in another interview where someone said, "If Google came out tomorrow and said they'd invented this, we'd be surprised, but we wouldn't, you know?"

Alex_Garland2 karma

I think this stuff is around because we are feeling paranoid about big data and tech companies, more than AI itself. But I could of course be wrong.

Frajer1 karma

where did you get the idea for Ex Machina from ?

Alex_Garland3 karma

From reading about AI and consciousness. Specifically, the story came to me while reading a book about consciousness and embodiment, written by Murray Shanahan, who is professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial in London. I was in pre-production on Dredd at the time, and wrote it down very fast, then put it aside until Dredd was cut and handed over.

AnthonyMimming1 karma

When is enslaved 2 coming out?

Alex_Garland2 karma

No idea. Sorry. Contact Ninja Theory...

Bowlero1 karma

Do you think your film will make up for the disappointment I felt when I discovered it was not an adaptation of Brian K Vaughan's comic of the same name?

Edit: missed a word

Alex_Garland5 karma

That's your call, not mine.