Screenwriter Nicole Perlman has long loved science and science-fiction. She broke through in Hollywood by drafting a Guardians of the Galaxy script that convinced Marvel Studios the motley crew of extraterrestrial outlaws was fit for the MCU. She's gone on to contribute to the scripts for Captain Marvel, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, and the in-the-works Black Widow movie. But all the while, Perlman's had a dream of bringing one of her science idols to the big screen.
For years, Perlman has been developing Challenger, a biopic about Richard Feynman, the eccentric theoretical physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb and investigated the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Her script's clever title might reference not only to the doomed shuttle but also the fiery scientist tasked with determining what went wrong. And now, it seems the pieces are coming together to make this dream project come to life.
SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with Perlman at Fantastic Fest, where her directorial debut, "The Slows," was making its World Premiere. There, she told us about her journey from screenwriting to directing, and all about Challenger.
"It's making movement," Perlman said. "We have a director and a star attached. It's a question of can we make it for the financing we currently have." While she demurred from revealing who's lined up to helm or headline, Perlman did tease, "Well, I'll tell you that we have a woman director, which is fantastic. And we have a big name actor attached for the part."
"The thing about Challenger is that it was my first real door-opener for Hollywood," Perlman said of her script. "And that was a love letter that I wrote to a flawed person who I still admired. It's been amazing over the years how my views on Richard Feynman have evolved, like my views on the Challenger disaster have evolved. Because the very first time I wrote this script—I wrote this script when I was still in college—that was before the Columbia shuttle disaster happened [in 2003]. So, my original story was very upbeat at the end, being like, 'And now everything's better!' Then, my following drafts were like, 'Don't ever think that things are going to be better forever, because it's complicated.'"
"Now, I'm planning to do one more draft in the light of all this Space Force (stuff)," Perlman said, referring to President Donald Trump's plan for a military branch dedicated to space warfare. "Which actually really ties into the Challenger disaster. Because the more that I've learned about it, the more I realized how much it overlapped with the Strategic Defense Initiative and Star Wars, and how that the pressure to get the shuttle back in the air was really, really heavy because it needed to match a certain schedule for the strategic defense initiative. So, then, that goes into a larger question of ethics and politics and science and fooling ourselves about what is possible. Now that feels really relevant, so I'm going to be doing a rewriting with the Star Force of today in mind."
Asked if this meant the new draft would address the jingoism involved in space exploration, Perlman said, "Exactly, and also the idea of using space so militarily. And what is that going to mean? And whether that's even possible, much less a good idea. Strategic Defense Initiative was never going to be possible. It was always just this pie in the sky kind of thing. Any scientist could really look at it and know that, and yet billions of dollars were spent on it."
"These are all things that are very near and dear to my heart," Perlman mused. "I think that the thing about Challenger is I learned more about how Hollywood works through Challenger than anything else because there are a million ways a project can come together. There are a million ways a project can fall apart, and so I'm not counting my chickens yet. We've had big-name directors and big-name stars attached to the project before, so fingers crossed. It's very important to me. I just want to make sure it's done right."