‘The Misfits’: How Renny Harlin builds the foundations of an action-heist film
June 11, 2021
Is there such a thing as a well-intentioned thief? The Misfits, the latest film from director Renny Harlin and writers Robert Henny and Kurt Wimmer, considers this question as it spotlights a group of misfit Robin Hoods as they tackle the near-impossible task of stealing gold bars concealed under a prison. This action-packed heist film follows their recruit, Richard Pace (Pierce Brosnan), as the convict capable of breaking into and out of just about any location. But just because they have the right reason for theft, doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed.
Harlin came across The Misfits by way of a producer/friend who was developing it with Henny. Harlin responded to it because it combined many of his favorite elements: A great story, humor, compelling characters, and plenty of twists. He immediately saw its potential and sent it over to Pierce Brosnan.
“Pierce and I have been trying to make a movie for a while,” Harlin says, regarding his choice. “When Pierce read it, he really responded to it, but he also thought it was a little too ‘slap sticky’ and his character didn’t have enough of a read on it.”
Brosnan had worked with Wimmer in the past, so he suggested bringing him on board to build the character. All parties involved were pleased with Wimmer’s first draft and moved forward on the project.
“Kurt had a strong take on it,” Harlin says. “He literally wrote one draft and that was it.”
Harlin admits that he misses some of the really comedic scenes from Robert’s original script and thought there were great opportunities that they didn’t end up doing. But that’s all part of the development process and how a script evolves as the project moves closer to production.
Making a heist film
Just like any good story, it all starts with character, which Harlin believes is disappearing a little bit in movies today. He adds that there seems to be a sense of fear in trusting the audience with the emotions of the character so what often gets created are spectacles that get bigger and bigger, instead of remembering what people really connect with.
“What brings people to the theater is comedy or a laugh, or a love story where you get to cry, or a horror that has you on the edge of your seat. They want to feel something,” Harlin says.
For heist films, regardless of what the people are stealing — whether gold, a nuke, or valuable items — it matters who the characters are and that the audience can relate to them. “We want characters to be smart and unpredictable, so you have to keep twisting the story and make the heroes clever and villain just as clever,” Harlin says.
As Harlin prepares to make his movies, he’ll figure out the tonality and figure out what other movies have a similar style. For The Misfits, he found himself gravitating toward films like Ocean’s 11, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Italian Job, and Coen Brothers films. He even found some similarities he could use from his 1996 film, The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Harlin also brings this kind of energy to the set, often playing music for the cast to get them into the right mood. “Whether the music is emotional or tense, it gets them to the right frame of mind and to understand the pacing of the scene,” Harlin says of his process.
The writers, a perspective
“I used to write more, then I kind of dropped it,” Harlin admits. “It wasn’t until COVID that I felt isolated from the world and no longer had the constant responsibilities of running to meetings. So, I rediscovered my craft and creativity and, actually, I bought Final Draft and I started writing [again]. I wrote two scripts last year.”
One of those screenplays, a madcap comedy titled Inspector Palmu, is in pre-production to film in Finland, while he's still putting the other one together.
Harlin's experience working with writers in both TV and film — with dozens of credits in both mediums to his name — varies from great to disappointing. Generally, he's found working with TV writers to be a better experience. While he knows it’s a controversial statement, his experience has shown that TV writers tend to produce better results simply because of the pressure.
“TV writers are highly professional because they are churning out a TV series and every week is a new script. They have to keep characters alive, the stories compelling, and the audience engaged. They are highly disciplined because everything has to be good and convincing, and it has to be done on-time, week after week.”
Obviously, he’s had great experiences with film writers as well, having liked Henny’s script, with Wimmer only needing to do a single draft to prepare for production.
“Development is the hardest thing in the world. You can talk endlessly, but what’s on the page is what counts. He adds, “It’s hard enough to make a good movie from a good script, it’s impossible to make one with bad script.”
How Harlin approaches hiring a writer is like anything else when it comes to interviewing.
He says, “You have to find the right person with the right strengths — some might be great with action or plot or dialogue. You have to find the right person and encourage them. You cannot be afraid to say they went down the wrong track then pull back and fix it.”
For Harlin, movies are made to entertain. His goal with The Misfits is to have people leave the theater or streamers with smiles on their faces. Ultimately, he wants viewers to be entertained for a couple of hours, feel the arc of the character, and become better people at the end for it.
The Misfits is in theaters June 11th and on digital and on-demand June 15th.
Written by: Steven HartmanSteven Hartman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College and had internships at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Village Roadshow Pictures, where he was the assistant to the director of development. His screenplays have placed in a variety of competitions including 'Fatty Arbuckle', which was a Top 5 Finalist in Big Break’s Historical Category in 2019. Steve is a full-time writer and creative video producer by day and a screenwriter and novelist by night.