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Interview: Author Greg Keyes talks 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm'

Earlier this month, I reviewed the excellent prequel novel 'Dawn of the Planet Apes: Firestorm', which covers the 10 year period between 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and the upcoming sequel 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm.' I recently had the chance to interview the book's author, Greg Keyes. We discussed the implications the book raises for the film, and how he became involved in the project in the exclusive Q-and-A which follows below:

'Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: Firestorm' author Greg Keyes discusses new book in our exclusive interview
'Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: Firestorm' author Greg Keyes discusses new book in our exclusive interview
'Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: Firestorm'

Greg, first off I wanted to state how much I enjoyed the book. Tell me how you got involved with the project? Were you given clear direction on what the book would entail or did you have your initial concept from the onset?

Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. I got involved in the project when Steve Saffel at Titan books asked me if I would be interested in doing a 'Planet of the Apes' book. I said I was, and then there was a vetting process with Fox. After I was approved, I got to read the script for 'Dawn' (I had already seen 'Rise' several times) and then we had a massive conference call in which the envelope for the book was discussed. For example, they wanted the book to be set nearer to 'Rise' than 'Dawn' so as not to risk spoiling some of the amazing stuff that is coming in 'Dawn'. I came up with an outline for what I wanted to do, it went through a few revisions based on the reactions of the creative people at Fox. When the outline was acceptable to everyone, I started on the book.

I liked how ‘Firestorm’ is told from so many characters perspectives, especially from the point of view of the apes. What was your process for getting into their heads? Was it a challenge writing a narrative from an animal’s viewpoint?

I don’t know that it was any more difficult to write from an ape’s perspective than a human beings – it’s just different. They’re still characters. I did do a lot of research on the cognition of non-human primates. My degrees are in anthropology, and I have friends who have worked with apes. I talked to them a good bit.

I will say it was exhausting to write from Koba’s point of view.

Despite such a large cast of characters ‘Firestorm’ feels like its Koba’s story, first and foremost. Is the takeaway here that he will have a bigger part to play in ‘Dawn’ vs. ‘Rise’, possibly as a threat to Caesar’s rule?

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and see the film for the answer to this. From my point of view, I wanted to show some of the heartbreaking things that happen to apes in captivity, and Koba’s eyes seemed like the best to see that through.

I think one thing that that separates the POTA franchise from other sci-fi properties is its emotional impact. That was so clear in Koba’s tragic backstory. Is that empathetic element something that drew you to the project?

Yes. There are truly tragic elements in the POTA movies. I think movie makers (and fiction writers) often shy away from the tragic in favor of the happy ending.

I thought that aspect was beautifully reflected when the orangutan Maurice signs “I think maybe they hate themselves” regarding mans cruelty to apes. Is he the group’s mediator in a sense, in addition to providing some levity?

I was really thinking about the nature of Orangutans when I wrote Maurice, and about the way he was portrayed in 'Rise'. I thought the script writers were spot on, and wanted to continue that depiction. As to his role in 'Dawn' – You’ll have to wait. But it will be worth it.

There are a bunch of great characters in ‘Firestorm’, many whom won’t appear in ‘Dawn.’ Was that frustrating or liberating in creating characters that would exist only in the book?

These characters come alive in my head, but I also knew they were headed for a bad end. They did what they were supposed to do and then stepped off stage. The fact that they won’t appear again is sort of indicative of the fact that – if you lived through the events of this book – almost no one you knew would still be around.

How much of an impact has the film series had on you personally?

I was pretty young when I saw the original 'Planet of the Apes', and for a time in the seventies I was pretty obsessed with it. The elements of deep time were especially intriguing to me. So were the awful things that happened to the balance of the astronauts – things we do to animals without much thought. But when you stuff a human being (instead of, say, a chimp) for a museum exhibit, it suddenly becomes horrible. It made me think more about how we treat other animals.

‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is one of the best prequel I’ve ever seen. I was slightly concerned that they changed directors on this film from Rupert Wyatt to Matt Reeves. Have you had a chance to watch ‘Dawn’ yet? If so, how do you feel it holds up to ‘Rise.’ Is there a big tonal difference?

I read the script, but I haven’t seen any version of the movie. This is sort of typical of how these books get done. I’ll see it when everyone else does.

Have you been in discussions for perhaps writing a book bridging the gap between ‘Dawn’ and the next film?

No, but it’s pretty early for any such discussion to take place. I takes a while to get a movie together, and they don’t start talking books until the movie is close to being finished.

Greg, thanks so much for taking the time out for the interview, I appreciate it and can’t wait to see where ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ picks up from the pieces you put in place.

Thank you, it was my pleasure.

You can order Keyes's book 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm' from all major booksellers, including Amazon. 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm' hits theaters on July 11th.