Will Beall Beverly Hills Cop Axel F
Will Beall, photo by Katharine Hauschka.

Will Beall is no stranger to contributing to cop drama blockbusters. Perhaps its because he once lived a similar life to the characters he writes about.

A screenwriter behind sequels from big franchises like Bad Boys: Ride or Die starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as well as the upcoming Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F starring Eddie Murphy, Beall comes by his knowledge of cop dramas honestly.

After graduating from San Diego State, his first career was as a police officer and worked gang and homicide units in South Central L.A. One would think that going from cop to writer wouldn’t be natural progression, but for him, the volatile natural of the job made for great storytelling fodder. 

His first foray into writing was the novel L.A. Rex , which tells the story of an LAPD officer assigned to the most dangerous precinct in the city. Published by Penguin, the book put him on the map and paved the way for him change careers.

Now, his screenwriting credits range from Aquaman to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. He’s also lent his authentic voice to TV series Castle, Gangster Squad, Deputy, and Training Day.

Beall knew from an early age that he wanted to be creative, and made his dreams a reality when he published his first book. Taking on legacy sequels is something that excites and challenges him. MovieMaker recently spoke with Beall about his summer movies and the sheer pleasure of sitting down to write. 

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F Screenwriter Will Beall Q&A

Sonya Alexander: When did you decide to become a police officer?

Will Beall: That’s going back a few years. I was an English major and I worked as a reporter for a couple of newspapers in San Diego. When you’re a young reporter, you’re what they call a stringer, where you’re just grabbing stories wherever you can get them.  I also worked for my school paper, The Daily Aztec. A student was murdered. I got visiting hours at this jail after they had arrested the suspect. It was her boyfriend. I interviewed him through the glass partition.

It was a thing I did on my own…I blundered into the investigation. It was not what I should have been doing as a reporter. When it was over, the D.A. Pete Gallagher, who later became a judge in San Diego, told me all the cops and homicide detectives who were working on the case were upset with me because of how involved with the case I was, but they also thought I’d make a pretty good cop. I felt like L.A. was the place I wanted to do it because I’d grown up on movies like Colors. (laughs)

Sonya Alexander: Do you ever miss being an officer?

Will Beall: I miss the camaraderie and the people I worked with. I also miss South Central. Because of where I worked, the 77th Division, it was socioeconomically and culturally isolated. It was almost like a small Southern town that was picked up by a tornado and dropped in the middle of Los Angeles. It was like small town policing in a way. 

Also Read: 7 Roles Eddie Murphy Turned Down

Sonya Alexander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Will Beall: When I was around eleven, I wanted to be a Disney animator. I loved those 2D pen and ink Disney movies like 101 Dalmatians. At St. Mary’s Elementary School in Walnut Creek, I thought I was super-talented and that I was going to be the next Ollie Johnston. There was a family friend who worked for Don Bluth. I put together a half-assed portfolio to show him. He said, “I’m going to do you a favor right now and tell you it will never happen.” It was devastating but I also realized he was giving me a gift.

He was treating me like a grown-up. then I thought that maybe there was something else I could do. I still have it somewhere…the illustrated script for The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The illustrations were the storyboards. I didn’t know what those were at the time. I thought it looked like a comic. I was inspired to write a 30-page sequel to the Chuck Norris movie Lone Wolf McQuade. I wrote that when I was thirteen. That was my first spec script! 

Sonya Alexander: How did you make the transition from police officer to writer?

Will Beall: I was writing while I was cop. I had been doing it for about ten years. I had this idea that I was going to write a book. I wrote a book that got published and it got some attention. 

Sonya Alexander: What was your writing process like for that?

Will Beall: My process has always been frantically filling up yellow legal pads while I’m in court. Some of it was like a journal. At first, I thought I wanted it to be non-fiction, then I fictionalized it. That changed the job for me. I had not intended to leave. It changed the way people reacted to me, though. I had a core group of friends and colleagues that didn’t care. The larger ecosystem of the department had people either starstruck or resentful. Neither was conducive to staying where I was. Scott Rudin optioned the book and then I wrote the screenplay for him. 

Sonya Alexander: What’s the difference in developing a character for a novel as opposed to a script?

Will Beall: Writing anything is to acknowledge that any person on the planet has as rich of an interior life as you do. Their world is just as big and just as important as yours. In a novel, any character’s interior life is there for you. In a screenplay, it’s very different. A character has to show you that. Also, screenplays are ugly to look at. They’re schematic, not as pretty as prose. 

Sonya Alexander: Had you seen all the movies of both franchises?

Will Beall: Yes. When I was around twelve, Beverly Hills Cop came out. I saw it in the theater with my grandad. It was a cultural phenomenon. It was a big deal for me to see an R-rated movie. At the end of it, I felt like I’d been to a party with the whole audience.

You can tell everyone in that movie is having a blast. With the first two Bad Boys, I think Michael Bay delivered a kind of action no one else was doing at the time. The Bad Boys franchise has heightened action turned up to eleven but also laugh out loud humor. Like with Beverly Hills Cop, you can see there’s an alchemy when they’re on screen together. 

Sonya Alexander: How did you get attached to both?

Will Beall: I was working on Beverly Hills Cop. I’m like a subcontractor. They needed someone to bring a different energy to Bad Boys: Ride or Die. I raised my hand. I was already familiar with Bruckheimer and those guys. There was so much already there, and I came up with my take.

Sonya Alexander: What’s the challenge of doing dialogue for these series that take place over a large span of time?

Will Beall: There’s a shortage of truly iconic characters in American cinema. You can probably count them on two hands. Your first assignment coming into something that’s existed and has an incredible fan base is to be a good steward. You have to have respect for the characters and respect for the fans. If you don’t respect the fans, they reject you. Thankfully, everyone involved loves movies and these characters. And they love their fans. 

Sonya Alexander: What advice would you give someone in another profession who wants to get into screenwriting?

Will Beall: Write. Don’t write the kind of spec you think they’re looking for. Write something that you’d want to see. Also, luxuriate in the pleasure of writing. 

Sonya Alexander: Of the two movies you’re written for that are coming out this summer, which was the harder to write?

Will Beall: I think for me, Beverly Hills Cop was more challenging because there had been thirty years since the last one. There are certain compulsories, just like in figure skating, that you have to have in a Beverly Hills Cop movie. Fans have expectations. The challenge is how do you fill those expectations and subvert them. The legacy sequels I aspire to are the 2018 Halloween and Top Gun: Maverick, which is the best movie to come out in twenty years. Maverick is like a fusion reactor of entertainment. Those were the gauntlet for me, my inspiration.  

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F premieres on Netflix on July 3. 

Main Image: Will Beall, photo by Katharine Hauschka.

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