Quint nabs the first interview with Roger Avary about CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN!!!
Published at: Sept. 16, 2007, 8:25 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I first met Roger Avary when I was a teenager, back in the early days of me writing on this site. If I remember correctly Harry introduced us at DragonCon in 1998 and then promptly left for some obligation so we just sat and had a conversation for half an hour or so.
Being the stupid 17 year old I was, the very first thing I blurted out was "So, what's up with you and Tarantino?" This was at the height of the big rumored feud between the two. Even though I broached it with a complete lack of finesse or subtlety, Avary's response was very warm and a touch sad. He said the whole thing was blown out of proportion. There were things that had happened, small things, that drove a wedge between them, but there was no active hatred on his part and his mutual friends he had with Tarantino said the same thing was going on with Quentin. He said he had hoped one day they'd be able to get back together as friends and that did eventually happen.
Over the years Roger has been instrumental on getting me access to a few things he's been involved with, including his own RULES OF ATTRACTION (click here and read that report) and my visit to the BEOWULF offices 2 years ago (click here to read that one!).
When it was announced that he was adapting the CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN series into film I asked if we could do a short email interview about it and the result is the following chat.
It's still early days, but Avary is surprisingly open and transparent about the state the film is in currently, what his dreams are and an overall view of his plans.
Quint: Alright... Wolfenstein. What's interesting about adapting this property to me is that there really isn't a set storyline that you might be tied to. I might be talking completely out of my ass here, but what I remember of Wolfenstein 3-D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein is very little plot, but a lot of fucked up Nazi occult stuff. Am I wrong or did you pick this project because of the fun you can have with the situation, the setting and the creatures?
Roger Avary: I first played Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple II, but it wasn't until Romero & Hall's masterpiece Wolfenstein3D that I wanted to realize the adventures of B.J. Blazkowicz on the big screen. I mean, what's not to love? It's a WWII "guys on a mission" movie, which means you're going to be blowing shit up, storming bunkers, busting dams, derailing trains, and killing Nazi's. I love WWII films, but with Wolfenstein we get the creature effects as well, and the guys at id Software have already done all the heavy lifting for me in that department. They went to the imagination well and pulled up buckets of craziness -- and as you know, I respond to crazy.
Quint: I've always defended video games from people who say it is impossible to make a good movie based off of a video game. I view it as just another adaptation. You can just as easily fuck up a book or a comic, and there are plenty examples of projects that have, but it's all about the people making it. I think your approach to SILENT HILL was the closest we've come to a movie that took what worked in the video game and translated it to the screen. What is your approach on WOLFENSTEIN?
Roger Avary: The reason people say that is because they develop a proprietary relationship with the avatar they're playing. They control the moves, they navigate the universe, they become the character themselves -- and it's difficult and frustrating for them to relinquish that control over to a third party. Also, it should be said that the writing and acting in most videogames isn't stellar to begin with, so it's a bit of an uphill climb to perform an adaptation that both lives up to people's expectations and improves on the original's deficiencies.
John Milius once told me a story that went something like this (and I'm doing my best to paraphrase here): Stanley Kubrick called him up one day, wanting some advice on buying "the best handgun ever produced." Obviously, Milius is the guy you call when you want to buy a gun. His one requirement was that the weapon must have "never been fired." Milius thought about it, and told him that it would be a Colt .45 Special produced in 1942. He then warned Kubrick that to find this particular handgun in mint condition would be nearly impossible. "Money is no object!" Kubrick told him. Months passed and eventually Kubrick received a call from Milius: "Stanley," he told him, "I found the gun. Not only has it never been fired, but it's in the original box!" Kubrick was delighted, money changed hands, and the gun was shipped to England, where Kubrick lived. A few months later, Milius calls Kubrick to ask "How did you like the gun?" To which Kubrick responded, "Oh! I love it! I re-bored the barrel and realigned the bead, swapped out the Mahogany handle for Mother of Pearl, changed out the hammer, and swapped out the pins." Milius was aghast, "You've -- you've -- you've destroyed it!" To which Kubrick responded "NO! I MADE IT BETTER!"
When performing an adaptation one needs to be willing to disassemble and recreate from scratch, as Kubrick famously did with THE SHINING. And whenever someone whines to me about breaking canon, be it with THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, SILENT HILL, or even BEOWULF, I remind them that the original book, videogame, or poem will ALWAYS exist in its original form for their enjoyment, but that a movie has special needs and compromises that occur due to a variety of real-world constrictions. Making a movie is not unlike building a house. You can plan all you want that your house is going to have a copper roof, but when there's a shortage of copper, or your local building codes restrict it, or whatever reason happens that prevents you from putting copper on your roof, you sometimes have to compromise and go with tin. And sometimes, by the good fortunes of the universe, your compromises make the film better than if you had all the resources possible. You're not always going to have the technocrane you need, or the actor you dreamed about, and so you roll with what the universe delivers, and you make it the best it can be with the limitations that rain down onto you. Sometimes, the bond company forces you to cut pages -- and the trick is to roll with those compromises and make it work regardless. Fans of source material are pretty rigid, and always think they could have done it better, and maybe sometimes they could have -- but most filmmakers who have undergone the trial by fire of making a movie understand the dance one has to undergo over the process of making a movie.
Quint: In many ways, as strange as it is to say this, SILENT HILL is a bit more higher brow than WOLFENSTEIN. Does that play a factor in how you approach the material? What kind of tone are we to expect?
Roger Avary: I was given a story bible by id Software, which outlined the dos and do nots of the Wolfenstein franchise. Primarily it outlined who B.J. Blazkowicz is and what kind of behavior I should be mindful of. For example, B.J. respects action and bravery over rank and discipline; he must not act as a traitor or for personal gain; he is not racist or an anti-Semite; etc., the list goes on and on. I was really grateful to be given these specific guidelines by the creators of the character because I want to be as true as possible to the spirit of the Wolfenstein franchise, and to the proud tradition of WWII "guys on a mission" movies that inspired the game. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a very specific kind of adventure, and my intent is to make an experience that's true to the franchise and very different from my other work as a director.
Quint: What are you going to make sure is included in the movie? What can you not wait to see realized onscreen? Will we see Robot Hitler?
Roger Avary: I'm attempting to strike a balance between the over-the-top elements of the Wolfenstein franchise with a certain quotient of reality.
Quint: Setting? Castle? Countryside? Both?
Roger Avary: Castle Wolfenstein is a given -- a primary character of the film, even. Our story will take us to a variety of surrounding locations, however. And it will, of course, take place during WW2 in the European theater of operations.
Quint: Do you have a script yet? If not, when are you going to begin writing? What kind of research are you doing?
Roger Avary: I like to write on location, so I'm about to leave for Castle Wewelsburg, which was Himmler's base of operation for his Paranormal Unit. I've also been watching every World War Two film ever made.
Quint: I know this is early, but what is your gut telling you about casting? New faces? Character actors? Known actors?
Roger Avary: With a movie of this scale it's almost a certainty that we'll need to anchor it with known leads. But I'm trying to build an ensemble of talent, tapping into the wealth of European actors for roles like Dr. Otto Giftmacher and of course Hilda von Bulow. As for B.J., all one needs to do is look at the box art on the Return to Castle Wolfenstein game and you can see who I see in my mind for the role.
Quint: When do you plan on shooting? Where do you plan on shooting?
Roger Avary: Well, the looming strike is wreaking havoc with the entire industry, so I can't say with certainty that we'll be able to make our planned start date next spring. If it happens, I'm going to be spending the entirety of next year in Paris working with my tech crew prepping the complex creature effects and miniatures. The strike for me will mostly mean that I have triple the prep time, so I might try to squeeze in a quick micro-budget movie I've been planning to shoot with my new RED Camera. Since I'm financing it myself I don't need to worry about the bond company restrictions on drop dates. I'll probably spend much of early next year scouting a variety of Eastern European locations for Castle Wolfenstein, bunkers, derelict submarine bases, villages, warehouses, etc.
There you have it. Thanks to Roger for taking the time to do this and thanks to you guys for giving it a read.
This is a busy month for me. I have Fantastic Fest in less than 2 weeks and all the interviews associated with that, plus some really high profile ones lined up for the end of the month, including the star of one of 2008's most anticipated releases. 'Til then this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.