Evolution: Writers Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit on Pokémon Detective Pikachu
May 23, 2019
Pokémon fans have been eagerly anticipating the release of their beloved franchise’s first live-action film.
With numerous forms of anime, video games, media, and more than 800 pocket monsters to choose from, Pokémon Detective Pikachu leads the charge as a step into the future. It turned out to be a good call; the film earned a highly respectable $58 million in its opening weekend.
You can thank the writing team, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit, for helping to bring the wonderfully weird franchise to life. The writers, who met 13 years ago while attending Brown and whose previous credits include Netflix’s One Day at a Time and Amazon’s The Tick, were approached by Legendary to help craft the story early on in the process.
“They asked themselves, ‘Who are the nerdiest writers we know?’” Samit said.
Both were familiar with the Pokémon world, having played the games. By their own account, they were “fans going into it, which definitely made it easier to write.”
Still, there were challenges for the duo.
At first, Detective Pikachu was a game that had only come out in Japan. It wasn’t even available in America when Samit and Hernandez were hired, so they read a translated script. Hernandez, who studied Japanese for two years, even watched Japanese YouTube videos of the game to familiarize himself with the character (“my Japanese didn’t help much,” he said, laughing).
Despite these obstacles, the more the two learned about the story, the more excited they got about the project.
“It allowed us to create things knowing people weren’t going to be ahead of us, and we were able to surprise hardcore fans. It was a great tool to have surprise at our disposal,” Hernandez said.
Many of Pokémon’s trademark elements were not available to the team, however.
“What interested us going into the story was that it’s such a different side of the Pokémon universe; there’s no Pokémon battles, no trainers, no Poké Balls,” Samit said.
Still, they wanted the film to feel like part of the Pokémon universe; a natural progression based on the story’s past. The two honored history using one of Pokémon’s defining themes: Evolution.
“This idea … that these creatures can all evolve into better versions of themselves, we thought that was … interesting,” Samit said.
“But not about just these creatures, but what does it mean to evolve? How do our relationships evolve? Can people evolve?”
Samit and Hernandez agree these questions helped them determine the emotional core of the film, though not relying on classic iconography introduced obstacles.
“We had to satisfy the hardcore fans who have been waiting for this movie for a long time while at the same time telling a completely new Pokémon story that could be accessible for someone like my mom who doesn’t know anything about the franchise,” Hernandez said.
“We even had to choose which Pokémon characters should appear in the movie. That was a huge process that required a lot of coordination between us, Legendary [and] The Pokémon Company.”
As much as evolution is a theme in Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the collaboration Hernandez described was a theme in writing it.
“Meeting with concept artists and storybook artists and meeting with the director … it made it feel like we weren’t just writing in a vacuum, which is how a lot of movies are written,” Samit said.
“We were constantly rewriting … We were getting feedback all the time.”
The longstanding partnership that exists between Samit and Hernandez facilitated their successful work on the fast-paced project. According to Samit, one edits the other so frequently that by the time a script is finished, it’s impossible to tell who wrote what.
“We just trust each other that if one of us will cut something … we don’t take it personally,” he said.
According to Hernandez, part of that process is getting together to read the work out loud, line by line. In the case of Pokémon Detective Pikachu, this part was fun, especially when it involved Psyduck, a “bizarre little creature” Hernandez and Samit say they loved creating.
“Sitting down to write this very neurotic duck was just endlessly amusing,” Hernandez said.
“We were like, ‘Psyduck is hilarious. He’s one of our favorite Pokémon characters. We really think he could be the breakout character of the movie.’”
After working on the film, the writers say it is wish fulfillment that keeps people coming back to Pokémon again and again.
“I think in this life it’s rare to find a friend that’s as true as [those] portrayed in Pokémon,” Hernandez said.
“It’s like if you think your dog was your best friend and had magical powers and could save your life under the right circumstances.”
He also identified the wholesome nature of the story as a reason for Pokémon’s popularity.
“There’s a deep-rooted instinct and a longing to connect with others, and maybe that’s a “hippie-dippie” way to look at it but I really think it’s true,” he said.
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan