May 14, 2014 | by Brian Short
This is an article from the Spring 2014 issue of LSA Magazine. To read more stories like this, click here.
The X-Men. Batman and the Avengers. Spider-Man. These are the biggest names in the superhero business. And alumnus Chris Yost (’95) has worked with them all.
A veteran screenwriter of superhero cartoons, Yost has written for shows such as X-Men: Evolution and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Recently, he made the transition from Saturday morning to the cineplex, writing the screenplay for Marvel’s live-action blockbuster, Thor: The Dark World, which has grossed more than $644 million worldwide — $190 million more than the first Thor movie .
Such massive and diverse successes peg Yost as a natural writer, but the truth is that it took some time for his career to take shape. For example, he entered LSA as a computer science major, but he quickly found it wasn’t a good fit. Stuck for ideas, he started flipping through the course catalog.
“I found some film courses. I was like, hey, I like movies. I started taking classes in film and video [in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures].”
Yost enjoyed his coursework, but growing up in a middle-class family made chasing an artistic career seem irresponsible or impossible or both.
“I wrote one screenplay that I was really happy with, but I never really considered being a writer a potential profession. Wanting to be a writer was like wanting to be an astronaut.”
After graduation, Yost worked in advertising in Detroit, producing TV and radio commercials, but it wasn’t until he moved to California and enrolled in a film business program that he discovered his passion for writing.
“There was this one class there on how to deal with writers. We had to write five pages of a screenplay — to see how writers felt while they were working — and I wound up writing two whole screenplays. That’s when I figured out that I really enjoyed it.”
Around this time, Yost contacted the Los Angeles office of Marvel Comics. He interned with them, and then wrote TV scripts as a freelancer. Eventually, they brought him in to work on developing the company’s properties into movies.
By the early 2000s, Marvel had licensed many of its most popular superhero properties to movie studios — including the X-Men to Fox and Spider-Man to Sony — but it also had a bullpen of popular heroes with major name recognition. The company decided to make its own movies as Marvel Studios, and with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Marvel’s The Avengers, they created a sprawling, shared movie universe.
Yost says that working in such a massive and popular world doesn’t intimidate him, and it doesn’t negate the challenges that he faces as a writer.
“No matter what the medium is, you’ve got to know what your character wants; you’ve got to have compelling scenes. At the end of the day, the real, human issues are always the same.”
From Words to Reality
Thor: The Dark World was fun and challenging to work on, Yost says, but his favorite part by far was seeing the world of the movie being built. The movie is set partly in Asgard, a mythological realm where the Norse gods live, a city exploding with brightly colored buildings and gleaming towers. The outfits that the Asgardians wear are half Lord of the Rings and half Flash Gordon — layered like medieval armor and shiny as a ray gun. Seeing his words come to life was an experience Yost won’t forget.
“Being on location in London, and seeing the sets being built and the costumes being made, all based on what was on the page — that is a whole different thing.
“It’s such a rare thing to have your writing produced, and I was really very conscious of how special it was to have some of the best actors working today — Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston — performing my lines. Whatever you write, they’re going to bring so much more to it.”
Yost is grateful for the classes and the community that he had in LSA, a place that he credits with setting him “on the path” to becoming a writer.
“It was definitely liberating, being surrounded as I was with people who were just incredibly creative in different ways. It really opened me up to the potential of art, and I’m so grateful that, even back then, they had that kind of Screen Arts program available.”
Now, Yost is hard at work on the script for another action movie, Max Steel, based on the popular toy and cartoon series about a boy and his alien friend. Meanwhile, Thor will return in The Avengers: Age of Ultron in May 2015. After that, Yost will co-write Thor 3 with long-time collaborator Craig Kyle.
To read more stories from LSA Magazine, click here.
Illustration by Jeremy Wheeler. Photo by Andy Windak.