How screenwriter Noga Landau took her contained sci-fi, "Tau" from film school to Netflix
August 15, 2018
Have you heard the film school fairy tale of a woman who wrote a script for a screenwriting class; attracted top agents overnight, secured Gary Oldman as the voice of her robot, and distributed the film worldwide as a Netflix original?
Screenwriter Noga Landau is that woman. Today, she works as a writer on Sci-Fi Channel’s The Magicians and as writer-executive producer for the TV movie The Haunted. Here, she shares some of her journey writing Netflix's feature film, Tau.
Celeste Thorson: How did you break into screenwriting?
Noga Landau: I was in film school at UCLA back in 2014, when I wrote Tau … It was one of those things where I had 10 weeks to write a script and pass the class. So, I wrote this one and it got out into the world. It was cool, it just started to happen. I remember waking up and having emails from like, [Creative Artists Agency], Lionsgate and Legendary and all these people and that’s how the gates opened. It was this script that did it.
CT: How did you come up with the concept for Tau?
Noga Landau: I knew I wanted to write a movie about a situation where someone couldn’t escape by just like, blowing up the house. I wanted to tell a story about kidnapping, where the way to escape was about love and what it means to be a human. I always loved Beauty and the Beast, and I think it was just in my head when I started to meet these characters.
I read a scary article online about why most kidnapping victims are never found … Right around that time of the Cleveland house of horrors. Those three women were found in a lower-class neighborhood and this article was basically saying theoretically, the reason why we don’t find most kidnapping victims is because they’re not in bad neighborhoods in Cleveland. It’s because they’re in mansions being kept by people who have the means to keep kidnaped persons forever. That freaked me out and I was like, I think I know what movie I have to write.
CT: The main character, Julia, is a strong female lead. What was most important to you when crafting her?
Noga Landau: What was most important was yes; a strong female, who was the one in an awful situation to keep her head on straight … [To have] a brilliant plan for what to do, but also it was important for me to write a female character who felt beautiful, deep, complicated emotions … Sometimes, we forget to do that with our strong female leads. It’s great to show that you can be a really tough girl but at the same time have a deep amount of compassion and love for other people and lifeforms.
CT: What was the most challenging part of writing an AI character?
Noga Landau: On the page, the character was easy to write because I thought of Tau as what would happen with a little kid if they started to become aware of the world, what happens to all of us as we grow up. First, we start by asking a lot of questions. As Tau gets older — and Julia raises him in a way — he starts to ask the bigger questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do I have to die? What does all this mean? That’s how I took the character through his little journey.
CT: How did Tau find its way to Netflix?
Noga Landau: It was acquired by Netflix after it was completed and when something premieres on Netflix, it goes all over the world. There are people reaching out to me from all over the world; like, Asia, South America and Europe. It’s amazing. The reach and scope of the audience that happens instantaneously is beautiful. It's the best outcome you could hope for with a script you write in film school.
CT: You’ve written horror, sci-fi and supernatural projects. What draws you to those genres?
Noga Landau: Just being able to not only write characters but also write action and set pieces and think of cool things that no one has seen before. When you write [those genres], you get to set things up like a metaphor that would otherwise be heavy-handed in a straight drama. I love being able to use horror and sci-fi as metaphors for life.
CT: What metaphors were you exploring with Tau?
Noga Landau: It was about what it means to come out of trauma and decide to write the story of your life. In many ways, it’s a metaphor for what it means to become a parent; the love to take something and show it what it means to be human. What it means to become an independent, free-thinking grown-up.
CT: What were some of the most challenging parts of creating the rules of the world, including the sci-fi environment, for Tau?
Noga Landau: The world of the movie is just in the house. So, I would say the hardest part of it was figuring out why someone would do what Alex does. Why are the stakes so high that you have to start kidnapping people? Why do you so profoundly misunderstand this technology that you have created?
In the beginning of the story, Tau was supposed to be an extension in some way of Alex; an extension of his parents that don’t understand the amazing child that they’ve created. I think preserving that for the screen was the hardest part. Otherwise, the house was fun. It was fun to think of what a smart home would be like.
CT: What advice do you have for screenwriters who are in interested in writing sci-fi?
Noga Landau: Honestly, all that matters in the story is … the emotions behind it. You can do all the robots and explosions and fight scenes you want, but if it isn’t about something deeper than that, then it doesn’t go anywhere. So, figure out what kind of emotion is behind every action, every line, and every set piece.
Tau is streaming now on Netflix.
Written by: Celeste ThorsonCeleste Thorson is a Los Angeles based screenwriter and actress. She’s written and produced numerous lifestyle and E/I television shows. She’s appeared on episodes of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, NBC’s Heartbeat, USA Network’s Unsolved, and TV Land’s The Exes. You can learn more about her work at imdb.me/celestethorson and follow her on Twitter @CelesteThorson