Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I recently took a quick detour to LA in order to catch an event put on by Legendary Pictures, the folks behind Man of Steel, the Christopher Nolan Batman films, 300 and the upcoming Guillermo del Toro monsterlicious Pacific Rim.
I was already up in Reno visiting with my Grandfather right before he went under the knife to get his cancerous bladder removed, so the trip was a bit of a welcome distraction. Grandpa is fine, by the way... he's still more man than machine, so you don't have to worry about him showing up at your doorstep when Skynet takes over.
So, Legendary took over a couple of the studios at Red Studios (as in Red Cameras) and invited a few journalists to come in and watch some footage from their upcoming slate and toss a few questions at Legendary head honcho Thomas Tull.
Mr. Tull has been a friend of Harry's for a long time. We sat on the same row at a BNAT once, but I had never met him before this event. Naturally I'm a massive fan of the tone his company sets within the industry. The Dark Knight was the first movie since Children of Men to floor me in the same way movies routinely did when I was a child. Legendary has a reputation amongst filmmakers as the place to work for. They can bring the budgets without the micromanagement, which is why they attract filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Zack Snyder and Michael Mann.
That very aspect was a centerpiece to this quasi-State of the Union presentation, complete with footage from their filmmakers including Mann and Gareth Edwards, discussing their upcoming flicks and talking good about their boss.
Tull took the stage and outlined Legendary's slate, starting with a first look at a trailer for an upcoming flick called SEVENTH SON, which has recently been moved to January 2014. Tull was particularly giddy about this cast, calling Jeff Bridges his favorite actor of all time and loving that he got Jeffrey and Maude Lebowski back together onscreen.
It's quite clear that Ray Harryhausen was a giant influence on director Sergey Bodrov (Mongol) because over the course of the two minute trailer this monster filled period piece comes across as contemporary answer to the Sinbad movie. Taking place in sword and sorcery times, Seventh Son follows Ben Barnes as a young man being shepherded through a crapton of monsters by Bridges, who is kind of Rooster Cogburn by way of Gandalf the Grey.
The image of Jeff Bridges shooting blue magic at a dragon Julianne Moore (ala Maleficent) has my butt in a seat for this one much like the thought of Nicholas Cage magic-fighting Alfred Molina guaranteed I'd be seeing The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Add in to that a bunch of crazy monsters, including sure throwback to Kali, and you have an interesting looking movie.
The only negative thing I have to say about the trailer is that the CG looked pretty rough. Since the film doesn't come out until next year, I'm hoping these were early renders.
Next up was talk about 300: Rise of an Empire. Tull talked about how important 300 was to them as a company. It started the relationship between them and Zack Snyder, was a huge hit and it's something they're very proud of.
“We had no interest in making 301. To make a movie just because the first one made a lot of money... that's not what we do, especially with a movie that's this important to us. It started with Frank Miller calling me and saying he had another story to tell. When he told me the story I got really excited and said 'If you're in and Zack is in, we'll do it.' That's how this whole thing started.”
Since I was at a Legendary conference you better believe I was anticipating some Godzilla stuff. Sadly we didn't get any footage, but Gareth Edwards did record a bit from the set, which looked to be a battleship interior or possibly a submarine.
Tull described Godzilla as being very important to him, saying it was one of his favorite things at the company. He said he used to watch Godzilla marathons on TV every Thanksgiving and with that he introduced the tape from Edwards.
Edwards talked about Godzilla's nuclear-panic origins and what they were doing with this reboot.
“The themes at the heart of that film were the more you try to harness or abuse the power of nature, the more it will come to kick your ass and put you in your place. I think those themes are even more relevant today than they were back then and with this film we have the opportunity to create a contemporary version, a reimagining of Godzilla, while also harkening back to the nuclear themes of that era.”
So it sounds like there might be a climate change subtext to this new movie. Interesting.
Immediately following this, a title card appeared on the screen behind Tull. “Warcraft.” Naturally Duncan Jones' project hasn't started shooting yet and there wasn't any pre-production material they were willing to show, but Tull did want to briefly discuss it.
He said there's a lot of potential for a great franchise from this property, but they're taking their time because “the road is littered with bad video game movies.” Tull promises a movie with a great story that anybody can enjoy, not just video game fans.
Tull then moved on to the in-production Untitled Michael Mann Project, which was previously known as Cyber. The film stars Chris Hemsworth and both he and Mann recorded a little video to talk about it.
The film focuses on cyber-terrorism and hacking and Mann said he became interested in this subject a year and a half ago and some of the stuff that he found out when he was researching it is just now hitting the press. Mann thinks this is an established reality and will sadly be something that we have to live with for many years to come.
One of their projects in development is with the Dowdle Brothers, the guys behind the Quarantine remake, Devil and the rough-to-get-through The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and it's a horror flick set in the catacombs beneath Paris. It's called As Above So Below. I can't say I'm a massive fan of the work they've put out so far, but I'm open to seeing the Dowdles have another shot. As cheesy as it is, I liked Devil, although I still contend that it should have been called Hellivator.
As Above So Below only had a “tone-piece” done, with footage of the hundreds of thousands of human skeletons down in the catacombs with cards talking about who hundreds have gone missing in there over the years.
Spectral was next up, an original project that has elements of modern military action and supernatural ghost stuff. Tull bought the pitch and brought on commercial director Nic Mathieu, who he believes is “next on deck” as a director to be reckoned with. Mathieu was onhand to talk a little about the project as pre-production art showed behind him.
The art showed a very Modern Warfare style combat squad engaged in gunfights with what look like ghosts... thin, white creatures obscured by an aura of blue-white light. Mathieu promised this set-up is different from most supernatural films because instead of cowering in fear or running away, the might of our military is going up against these things. He also promises a big, big movie out of this story.
They showed some of the weapons being used and they had a distinct sleekness. The concept art therefore looked like a pleasant mix of District 9 and Mass Effect, gritty and real with some elegant science fiction thrown in. Looking forward to seeing more from this as it continues its way through production.
Pacific Rim was next up. I know the movie is finished, but those cruel bastards didn't screen it for us. Instead we were presented with one of the monster fights in its entirety. Charlie Hunnam's Jaeger fights a fat monster and it's big, full of detail and fun and scale. We all know one of the Guillermo's key strengths as a filmmaker is giving his monsters distinct personalities and that was in full display here. From the jiggle of this creature's belly as the Jaeger grabs it to the anger of the Jaeger's pilots shown through subtle ticks and hand gestures, there's a lot going on. The impression I got from this fight was that it was big, but not overly busy, like the worst of the Transformers set pieces. I particularly liked the moment when the giant robot starts to fight dirty by grabbing storage containers and using them to give an extra umph to a punch to the kaiju's jaw.
Guillermo was on hand to answer some questions. I kicked off the Q&A with a question about bringing in Ellen McLain to voice the AI of the Jaegers. She's the voice of GLaDOS in Portal and in that very first trailer you could hear her clear as day.
”It was clear to me that we needed something beautiful in that voice. My daughter is my wingman, we had done co-op on Portal 2 for a long time and I did Portal 1 when it came out. It becomes ingrained in you, that voice. I didn't want to use her as a negative force of evil. I called Valve and asked “Can you give us the filter?” so we went full GLaDOS for the first commercial, but I thought it was too much. If you're a gamer, it's too distracting so we created our own GLaDOS 2.0 filter that's a little less full on.”
On the Kaiju: They are basically designed to be weapons. They are the cleaning crew, the cats sent into the warehouse to clean out the mice. There are design similarities between all of the kaiju to give the sense that they are all connected and designed for a similar purpose.
Did you know there was a warehouse somewhere that has all the work Guillermo did to pitch At the Mountains of Madness? This includes 85 images, a 3-D ILM creature effects test and a ton of physical maquettes. Who wants to join me in my upcoming raid on this warehouse?
Guillermo's deal with Legendary was that if Mountains happened, he would retain producer and co-writer status on Pacific Rim, but if it fell apart then he would step in and direct. “Mountains collapsed on a Friday and Monday I was onboard Pacific Rim.”
LEGENDARY COMICS – Tull strikes me as the guy from your group of friends that loves all the geeky shit you do, but he just happens to have a great business sense and many many millions of dollars. If I won the powerball I'd probably strive to be like Tull because he's using his business prowess and deep pockets to fulfill his deepest, darkest geek wishes. He's working with people he wants to work with, allowing them to produce the kind of art he himself is obsessed with.
That feeling was all over the presentation, but none more evidently as when he started talking about Legendary Comics.
The first project they brought up was the Pacific Rim tie-in book written by Travis Beacham with Guillermo acting as “godfather” according to Tull and “officially sanctioned pain in the ass” according to Guillermo himself. The two men discussed how shitty tie-in material usually is, with Guillermo citing an awful experience on the Blade II graphic novel. “It was unreadable, unviewable, uneverything. I vowed that would never happen to me ever again if I had the chance. With Hellboy, Hellboy 2 and Pacific Rim, I not only supervised the graphic novel, but everything that comes from the movie. The DVD, the Blu-Ray, the way they are put together, the collectibles, the toys... everything goes through me.”
But Legendary isn't just wanting to do tie-in books. They want original material and, it seems, to make Legendary Comics a real counterpart to the film company by making it a place creators want to work. He's got a comic called Shadow Walk being done by Mark Waid with input from Tull himself and Max Brooks about the idea that the “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” verse from the bible was talking about a literal valley of death and what that would be like.
He next described Grant Morrison coming in to pitch a project and before even hearing what it was Tull said he'd do it. Can you imagine a studio head doing the same thing these days? It seems like there's no gut instinct at the studio level anymore, everything has to be fed through a computer and approved by 20 people so they can all point at each other and say “not my fault!” if a movie doesn't work.
At this point, Tull opened up the floor to a Q&A session. The geekier press in attendance asked more movie related questions and the more professional guys (like my buddy Borys Kitt) were more focused on the business side, in particular the potential split from Warner Bros as Legendary's contract expires in the next couple of months. I'll run through the highlights below.
MASS EFFECT – This one's near and dear to my heart. I'm a big fan of the world set up in this video game series and you're starting to see the imagery from that game lifted by modern sci-fi filmmakers (Oblivion comes to mind as well as an upcoming sci-fi flick that I'm currently embargoed on, but will go into detail about in the coming weeks), which tells me it would make a hell of a movie.
Tull: “If you've played it and you know the universe, you know it is not uncomplicated. To try to hone that, to bring that down to a place that will translate into screen storytelling... we're pretty close, closer than we've ever been. We're not going to be the guys to screw up Commander Shepard. We're committed to it, but it has to be great or we're not going to do it. We're treading on sacred ground.”
THE GREAT WALL – A film that will be one of the first projects for Legendary East, an offshoot that is teaming with China Film Group, one of the biggest distributors in China. He hopes to have the first draft of it very soon.
WARNER BROS – Tull downplayed any kind of personal friction between Legendary and Warner Bros and said it really boils down to the two companies comparing corporate goals and seeing if they still line up at the end of this 10 year partnership. He went so far as to say that Legendary wouldn't be where it is today without the partnership with Warner Bros, but he was also clear that if he finds a better opportunity at another studio he'll act in the best interest of his company.
”We have two (priorities). We make stuff for our fans, make sure our content is great and we grow our value for our shareholders, in that order. If we can find the right situation over the rest of the summer to help us achieve that vision then that's the way it is.”
One term Tull kept using when describing his business, both on the creative side and the numbers and charts side is “Measure twice and cut once.” Naturally that means to do shit right the first time by doing your due diligence before making a permanent decision. That applies to every deal he's thinking of making at the end of the summer, be it with another studio or if he re-ups at WB.
Tull on the collaboration with the filmmakers, how much leeway they get: ”It would be fiscally irresponsible to hand over a check and go “see you at the premiere!” although with Chris Nolan that's pretty close to how it happens. But it really is a true partnership. I think you have to have one field general, but if you have that understanding and that trust that you're all trying to do the same thing, make a great movie, if you have that then it's a lot easier to have tough conversations because you don't have any other agenda.”
LEGENDARY TV – It was brought up that Legendary has flirted with TV shows in the past and asked if that's still a possibility. He has looked into starting his own channel, a Legendary Cable Channel, but found that it was a very tough market for an upstart channel. He also looked into a flat out producer model and didn't think that was for them, too. “Rather than take a big swing and be sitting here talking about all the capital that we wasted, we try to be efficient with our fact-gathering.” If it's going to happen it's going to happen the right way.
Tull did let slip that he's been quietly buying intellectual property for when the scenario is right for a big TV push. He ultimately said that TV is fantastic, that he wishes he had been the one to make Game of Thrones, but he'd never ever use it as a way to dump stuff they're not sure would work as a feature, like Mass Effect. He said unequivocally that Mass Effect, if it happens, will be a feature.
And with that the Legendary conference was over and I headed out for an afternoon of cool shit with my good pal AJ. You see, the big Kubrick Exhibit at the LACMA was about to wrap up, so I hoofed it over there to get my fill of movie geek amazingness.
I've typed a lot of words for you in this little report, so I'm not going to wax on too much, but it's simply incredible. I know this exhibit travels and if you find it in a city within a few hours drive of you then make a point to check it out. I took some pictures while wandering the halls, so here's some sacred movie geek artifacts.
We're going to start with A Clockwork Orange:
As a critic I've been asked for quote approval before, but with today's technology it's usually boring old emails... there was a letter at the exhibit from critic Sidney Skolsky giving permission for a quote in association with the early Kubrick noir THE KILLING. This might be boring to everybody else, but it was very interesting to me...
It wouldn't be a Kubrick exhibit without some creepy sex masks... Fidelio...
I'm a great fan of the old fashioned paint-on-glass matte paintings and they had a great one on display which Peter Ellenshaw did for Spartacus:
Just what do you think you're doing, Dave? Some cool shit from 2001:
Kill it with fire!
The AI section was amazing, showing just how closely Spielberg stuck to Kubrick's vision. In particular there were a series of storyboards that Kubrick oversaw that underlined this:
Next up... I am... in a world... of shit. Full Metal Jacket!
And my favorite section, naturally... All work and no play...
Thanks for following along with my recent LA adventure. I've had to travel many thousands of miles immediately following this little trip for some fun goodness and with Comic-Con coming up you're going to be downright sick of me by the end of July. It's geek overload time! You ready for it?