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Robinov: Nolan Not Taking On JUSTICE LEAGUE, Announcement On DC Comics Films Coming Soon

Posted on 12 April 2013 by William Gatevackes

jeff-robinov-premiere-argo-01You can take a lot of things from Warner Brothers’ President Jeff Robinov’s talk with Entertainment Weekly for their Summer Preview issue, which should hit subscriber’s mailboxes today and newsstands on Monday, but the main thing we’re taking from the interview is that we should never trust scoop from Latino Review’s El Mayimbe ever again.

Back in the beginning of March, El Mayimbe once again broke out the camcorder and gave us a video blog detailing some hot scoop regarding the tumultuous Justice League film. Unfortunately, that video has been taken down (surprise, surprise), but we reported on the contents of it here. Mayimbe stated emphatically that Christopher Nolan would be taking over a Joss Whedon-like supervisory role with Warner’s DC Comics films, that Zack Snyder would be on board as producer if not director for Justice League and that Christian Bale would be returning to the film as Batman.

Entertainment Weekly, which is part of the same Time Warner media conglomerate that Warner Brothers is, asked Robinov point blank about the rumor:

However, Robinov was unequivocal when asked if the rumor is true that Nolan will produce aJustice League movie, and bring Christian Bale back with him: “No, no it’s not.” (Nolan’s reps, who have previously declined to comment on that rumor, also confirmed Robinov’s statement and told EW that he definitely wasn’t involved with Justice League. Nolan is currently busy prepping his sci-fi film Interstellar.)

I’m sure Mayimbe will say these denials is just a smokescreen by the studio to throw people off the scent of his rumor. But Nolan is prepping Interstellar, and casting has already begun. It’s not logical that the director can have as hands on a role on the DC Comics film franchises that El Mayimbe claims while directing a new film at the same time, especially with a 2015 target date for the Justice League film.

This has come at the end of fairly bad stretch for El Mayimbe. How bad? Let’s roll out the “El Mayimbe Roll Call of Shame!”

  •  June 5, 2012: El Mayimbe claims that four sources have told him that Black Panther will be the second film released by Marvel in 2014. We all know now that it is Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • December 3, 2012: States Darkseid will be the villain in Justice League. And…
  • December 13, 2012: States the movie will be based on three particular issues of the Justice League of America comic book. And…
  • January 24, 2013: That the JL line-up will consist of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Flash. This version of the film was eventually scrapped, making these three rumors moot.
  • January 29, 2013: Theorizes that Tony Stark will be headed into space at the end of Iron Man 3 based on a armor that showed up in a toy design. This has yet to be rejected, but as recent ads for the film show us, the armor could simply be part of the armor armada that Stark calls in during that big battle scene. UPDATE: We now know this one isn’t true either.
  • February 4, 2013: A big one, where El Mayimbe states that Planet Hulk and World War Hulk will be the framework for Marvel’s Phase II and Phase III. This was shot down by Ain’t It Cool News and Joss Whedon. Mayimbe holds on to the idea that his version is still true, and gives reasons here.
  • February 15, 2013: States Jason Momoa was offered the part of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. The part went to Dave Bautista. El Mayimbe states Momoa priced himself out of the role.
  • March 3, 2013: The Nolan/Justice League thing we are talking about today.
  • April 3, 2013States the Controller will be a henchman for Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy. Rumor yet to be refuted.
  • April 8, 2013: Stated Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez is developing a film for Marvel, most likely Doctor Strange. Rumor yet to be refuted.

SBSCOOPBANNEREl Mayimbe has become the film rumor version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. And like that fable, there will quickly come a time when film sites like us will simply refuse to listen to him anymore.

Why is he so wrong so often? Is it like he wants us to believe, that he is right and the studios are lying just to make him look bad? Dubious. Are the studios changing their plans after lets the cat out of the bag? Even more dubious. Or are his sources at Marvel and Warner Brothers deliberately feeding him incorrect information just to discredit him? That seems more likely.

The truth will come out in the coming months and years. Maybe, flying in the face of all logic and all denials, El Mayimbe’s rumors will come true. We’ll see. But if that happens, I’ll be the first to apologize for being wrong, something El Mayimbe is reticent to do.

Well, now that that’s over, let’s go back to the Robinov interview. The other big news from the interview is that Robinov states that there will be an announcement coming in the next few weeks about Warner’s plans for films based on the DC characters, including what films they will be making. My guess this would come after The Man of Steel debuts on June 14th. No better time than than after a big weekend for your tentpole film to tell us where you’ll be going from there.

Robinov also states that starting with The Man of Steel and going forward all the DC films will not be standalone films but be open to be part of a shared universe. That goes for the new Batman films as well.

Be sure to check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly for more.

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Talking About The EVIL DEAD Reboot With Director Fede Alvarez – Part 2

Posted on 07 April 2013 by Rich Drees

FedeAlvarez

In the second half of our discussion with Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez, we talk about the rebooted franchise’s future, which, by its nature, is somewhat spoilerish. If you haven’t seen the film already, take care moving forward.

Q: Now I noticed that you used some of the original audio of Professor Knowby, so in a way are going the J. J. Abrams/Star Trek route by being a remake and a sequel at the same time?

A: We’re not overwriting anything. We’re not saying that this movie overwrites the mythology of the original. They live together. If you see it from a certain point of view, this happens at the same house, thirty years later. The car’s still there. If you didn’t see the second one where the car goes back in time, at the end of the first one everybody dies. The car’s still there. But this happens thirty years later and there’s an old rusted car next to the house. There’s definitely a lot of things to geek out over if you’re a fan of the original.

Olds-Evil-Dead-RemakeQ: Given everyone’s excitement over the reception of the film at SXSW there has already been some talk of a sequel. Given that Evil Dead II took an interesting shift in tone away from the first one are you thinking of doing something similar or do you have to go in a completely new direction to avoid even further comparisons to the original?

A: If people know where [a sequel] goes, than we’ve failed. I think we really have to surprise people with a sequel. We have to really go to a different place. I agree that there is something in the Evil Dead saga that every movie is in a completely different place from the previous one. It would have to happen with this one too. The sequel should surprise you and should be something that you don’t expect.

Q: So it may very well be an adaptation of the off-Broadway musical?

A: (laughs) That would be good. I loved that.

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Talking About The EVIL DEAD Reboot With Director Fede Alvarez – Part 1

Posted on 03 April 2013 by Rich Drees

FedeAlvarez

This weekend, director Fede Alavrez’s remake of Sam Raimi’s classic horror film The Evil Dead opens. Recently, I had a chance to chat with the director about the film, working with Raimi and the perils of remaking a cult classic. Part of our discussion moved into territory that would spoil the film, so we’ll save that for later this weekend.

Q: Over the last several years, we’ve seen a lot of horror film remake that no one has been too happy about, but the word coming out of SXSW (following the screening of The Evil Dead) has been very positive. Did you have to live with the worry that fans were not going to be receptive no matter how good a film you put out there.

A: A little bit, at the early stages when we didn’t know exactly what the movie was going to be. Remaking a cult classic sounds like a fool’s errand and it’s going to be impossible to succeed. But it’s so different from all those other movies in that it isn’t a big studio release. This is a franchise that is owned by Sam Raimi, Rob Tappert and Bruce Campbell, the guys who did the original movie. They’re the ones who wanted to do a new Evil Dead, they’re ready for a new film. It comes from them and they’re the creative producers.

It’s completely different from those other horror movies you’re talking about. Those are properties that are owned by studios and they’re not connected to the original creators at all. They do three or four different scripts from different writers and then one day a director comes in and shoots it. This movie, I write it with one of my best friends. The two of us are the biggest Sam Raimi fans since we were kids. So we write it from scratch. We do two drafts and then we had Diablo Cody do a pass on dialogue but we didn’t use much of that, so that’s why she doesn’t have a credit. Then we shot the movie and cut the movie and my director’s cut is the one you’re going to see in the theaters.

And that doesn’t happen often in Hollywood. Usually there’s a producer’s cut and that doesn’t have much to do with what the director wanted to do. And like I said, [those other remakes have] a script that was written by several writers trying to do different things and that’s why those movies sometimes don’t work as they’re so many voices at the same time. This one is just Sam and myself basically just going out and making the movie. It’s a more independent film in a way.

Q: How involved was Sam in giving feedback during development? It seems to be that it would be like an adoptive father trying to raise a kid while the biological father was looking over his shoulder.

A: Part of his job was to give us as much freedom as he could. He knows as a director that the last thing a producer has to do is not be in the director’s face forcing him to do something that he doesn’t want. He was really committed to giving me that freedom. He said at the beginning “I am going to give to you everything that they never gave me, which is complete freedom to do whatever you want to do.” And he knows his audience better than anybody. He was really helpful in the process of the writing. When he read a scene that he knew that the fans were going to love, he would always encourage us to keep going and go a little further. He was a great mentor to have. He struck the perfect balance between being there and giving me all the room possible to make the movie I want.

Evil_DeadQ: I think most people see the decision to cast the film’s lead as a female character instead of a male one as a concession that you just can’t replicate what Bruce Campbell did in the original films. Was there anything else that came out of that decision that you discovered you could do while in the writing process?

A: Well, it wasn’t so much that we said “Well, since we can’t use Bruce let’s create a female character,” as it was more an organic thing of the story. The thing, though, is if I talk too much about it, I’ll be spoiling the movie. The heart of the story is kind of the same as the heart of the original story – these women are driving these men crazy, right? The women are the ones to get possessed first and the guys are the ones who have to deal with it. Such a great idea from the original and it’s something that really sets apart the original film from the rest of the trend which was always a woman being chased by a guy with a chainsaw or a hammer or whatever. Evil Dead was completely contrary with guys being harassed and tortured by the women. That’s something I think is a key idea in the original and is definitely back in this one.

We have a new hero, in a way, and at the end of the day Jane’s character is that person. But like I said, if we talk too much about it I think we’ll be in trouble. But it wasn’t just trying to do something different from Ash it was just something that organically happened with the story.

Q: In the film you stayed away from a lot of computer created visuals and instead opted for practical effects.

A: I think horror needs to be done with practical effects. Nobody’s scared of CGI. Even if you don’t consciously recognize the CGI, I think your mind does. And if for some reason you see something that feels off or weird, you’re not scared. So we knew that we wanted to be scary, graphic and gory we had to go practical. All of the best moments of the movie are not only practical, but 100% real. It’s the same kind of effects you could have done in the `50s.

And also you want to pay some respect to the original movies. Those movies are classics, they’ve stayed around for ages. You want to make sure that you don’t make a film that is forgettable in two or three years. And when you use CGI usually movies get dated fast. Usually the greatest CGI in five years looks weird and then ten years later is unwatchable.

And it is here where our conversation veered into spoiler territory, so see the film this weekend then come back on Sunday for Part Two.

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Michael Uslan Talks Superhero Movies to the Wharton School: “Hollywood Doesn’t Get It.”

Posted on 06 July 2011 by William Gatevackes

Michael Uslan has been a producer for almost thirty years, and nearly all of his projects have been comic book related. He has been producer or executive producer on comic book properties such as Swamp Thing and its sequel, Return of the Swamp Thing, the Fish Police television series, Constantine, The Spirit, and, most notably, just about everything Batman related from Tim Burton’s 1989 offering on.

Uslan is making the rounds promoting his forthcoming autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman, set to arrive in bookstores from Chronicle Books on August 10, 2011. One of the interviews he gave recently was with Knowledge@Wharton through The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The interview was wide-ranging, dealing with Uslan’s childhood to his work for comic creator rights to his comic writing experiences. But what he has to say about the way Hollywood views the comic book film is what caught my eye and deserves a little bit of analysis.

The tone of the interview is set with a question about Uslan acquiring the rights to Batman in the 1970s:

Knowledge@Wharton: In 1979, you acquired an option on the movie rights to Batman. You’ve never disclosed the price you paid.

Uslan: It’s irrelevant. In 1979 dollars, it was huge.

Actually, it was relevant because, as the interviewer reminds Uslan, his autobiography goes into how he had to sell his comic book collection to afford law school.

Later the interviewer asks about the first Batman franchise:

Knowledge@Wharton: Some of the middle Batman films were less successful, both critically and commercially. Was there a point when you became aware that the series was getting off track?

Uslan: Let’s talk generally in the movie industry rather than specifically. Generally, years ago you were dealing with simply movie studios. Today, the bulk of those studios are worldwide conglomerates that have their hands in many different businesses. Sometimes, unfortunately, people lose track of what is important. As a result, at some points in time, the tail begins to wag the dog. [These conglomerates] become way too focused on merchandizing, toys and Happy Meals, and begin to impose directives that movies should have three heroes, three villains, and each one should have two vehicles and two costume changes. Then the danger you run into — which I have seen over and over again — [is that the movies become] products that closely resemble a two-hour infomercial for toys, rather than a great piece of film that’s character-driven and plot-intensive. That’s sad.

There is another trap in the movie and TV industry, whereby people who do not understand the comics and who don’t have the same respect for the integrity of the character or its creators, are willing to ignore 20, 40, 60 years of history and mythology of a character, and make changes for nothing more than the sake of change or, on some occasions, for [the sake of] someone putting their own ego stamp on it so they can claim it as theirs. I have found that never works.

If, however, a company such as the current management at Warner Brothers, for one example, finds a great filmmaker with a passion for a character and a vision for a character, and gives that filmmaker everything he or she needs to execute that vision, that’s when you get great pieces of cinema like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises. For example, when audiences walk out of The Dark Knight, they no longer are limited to merely saying, “That was a great comic book film.” They can now say, “That was a great film.”

It’s interesting the way Uslan answers the question by appearing to side step the question. But savvy Bat-fans know that it was when Joel Schumacher took over the Bat-franchise with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin that the quality went down hill. Those films also corresponded with the addition of Robin and Batgirl to help Batman out, the group facing no less than four villains in each of the films (if you count Debi Mazar’s Spice and Drew Barrymore’s Sugar, henchwomen to Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face as full-fledged villains), and two blatantly obvious “Let’s-provide-the-film’s-tie-in-action-figures-with-another-Batman-and-Robin-to-buy” “Arctic costumes in Batman and Robin. It’s not hard to connect the dots to see that it appears that Uslan is laying the failure of the first franchise at the hands of the Warner Brothers marketing department.

However, it is a bit ironic to read Uslan’s statements in that second paragraph, considering that Uslan produced The Spirit, a film where Frank Miller seemed all too willing to ignore 60 years of history and mythology of Will Eisner’s character, and make changes for what appears to be nothing more than the sake of change or for the sake of Miller putting his own ego stamp on it so they can claim it as his. Same can be said for another film Uslan executive produced, Catwoman, and that films director, Pitof. And these are two of the worst comic book films ever made for that very reason.

Uslan then spoke on the mindset of Hollywood executives concerning comic book films:

Knowledge@Wharton: What’s your view on how Hollywood interprets comic book superheroes?

Uslan: I’m chagrined that in a lot of places, they still don’t get it. They’re still making changes just for the sake of change in comic book superheroes that are being brought to TV and movies.

I sat through a meeting in Hollywood where a production executive, who was approximately 26 or 27 years old, said to me and a very famous director, “The lesson of The Dark Knight is that all comic book movies must be contemporary, dark, gritty and violent.” I looked at the director and he looked at me, and we said, “Excuse me, what?” “Yeah, period pieces don’t sell,” [the executive replied.] I said, “Is that something that you have facts and figures to back up? Or is that just something you heard in the hallways that you’re regurgitating?” He said, “Well, everyone knows it.” I said, “Like Titanic?” And he said, “Well, that’s different. That’s history.” I said, “Like Indiana Jones?” He replied, “Well, that’s different.”

I said, “No, the lesson of The Dark Knight is if you respect the integrity of the character and have a filmmaker who’s passionate about it, with a vision for it, who can execute it, then that’s what you do. Otherwise, you guys will be on a kick to do The Dark Ant-Man, The Dark Flash and Casper The Unfriendly Ghost. And all you will do is continue to violate the characters.”

I have no idea who this unnamed production executive is, but odds are that he works or worked at Warner Brothers, because that essentially echoes the sentiment/philosophy that Warner Brothers Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov put forth in a August 22, 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal  and that we mocked here not long after. The WSJ interview took place after the very dark and very gritty The Dark Knight made oodles of cash for the studio.

On something quasi-unrelated, Uslan did have interesting things to say about the 3-D movie craze and if The Dark Knight Rises will play into it:

Knowledge@Wharton: Will The Dark Knight Rises be in 3-D or is Nolan doing it in 2-D?

Uslan: He and [cinematographer] Wally Pfister have said they would not shoot in 3-D. I totally believe he’s right. He’s going for something that feels very real…. I think 3-D doesn’t behoove that effort.

Knowledge@Wharton: Some industry observers have wondered whether 3-D is overhyped.

Uslan: One of the great experiences I had as a member of an audience was going on opening night to see the restored print of Lawrenceof Arabia at the Cinerama Dome [movie theater in Hollywood]. I couldn’t add to that. It’s a learning curve. And it’s not just about the technology developing; it’s about the techniques developing.

My biggest objection at the moment is to what Hollywood is always really, really good at — which is killing the golden goose by taking movies not shot in 3-D and playing with them in post production [to generate a 3-D image] to try to salvage bad pictures, or to come up with a flimsy excuse to charge $12, $15, or $18. When you inundate the public with a lot of bad movies in 3-D, just as fast as you turned them onto it, you will turn them off of it.

Personally, I can’t argue with that.

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Preview: SAW 3D

Posted on 24 October 2010 by Jeff Stolarcyk

When Saw premiered in 2004, the low-budget independent horror film made back its budget eighteen times just in its first weekend and went on to gross over one hundred million dollars over its nine weeks in the domestic box office as strong word of mouth and a horror fanbase oversaturated with J-horror remakes came out in force. When Saw II premiered a year later, the film eclipsed its predecessor’s opening weekend numbers, cementing both the staying power of the moralizing, trap-making serial killer Jigsaw and the film franchise’s week-before-Halloween slot in theaters.   “If it’s Halloween,” the tagline goes, “it must be Saw.” Fear of competing with the juggernaut has contributed to a slew of recent horror contenders finding their releases shuffled or shelved.

On October 29, 2010, Jigsaw’s last trap is sprung as Saw 3D, the final chapter in the intricate crime thriller saga, appears in theaters and according to the film’s director, “the idea is to go out with a bang.”

Filmed on location in Toronto, the last installment in the series was filmed in 3D, with a budget nearly 17 times that of the original film. From the outside, it might seem like Saw has outgrown its independent origins, but even as director Kevin Greutert embraces the latest in Hollywood technology he, along with his cast members Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell and Cary Elwes – who has been conspicuously absent from the weaving, branching storyline of Saw since the first film – consider the legacy of the horror saga and their responsibility to long-time fans to make the movie right.

Mandylor, who plays the murderous Detective Hoffman, and Russell, who plays Jill Tuck, the estranged wife of the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), have been the actors with the most longevity in the series, each appearing in every film since Saw III.  But director Greutert, along with Bell, shares the distinction of participating in every feature-length Saw film, beginning as an editor on the first installment and graduating to director with the sixth film. Greutert’s predecessor, Saw V director David Hackl similarly graduated to director from a vital crew role (production designer) in earlier installments.

“I always did want to direct,” Greutert confides. “It took awhile to get promoted.”

His editing experience has proven to be a boon. “[Saw creator] James (Wan) had a very graphic design sense of cutting the film,” referring to the franchise’s trademark of dynamic handheld shooting. Greutert’s eye for detail was also taxed by the strict continuity of a series of overlapping and interlocking, flashback-laden films. “Nothing gets past the fans….It helped a lot, having cut the films.”

Saw’s fanbase is important to the cast and crew.  “People want to put the clues together and they really pay attention,” said Mandylor. While many series with a die-hard fan cachet claim to avoid the throngs of online communities that arise around them, Saw takes a different approach. According to Greutert: “Fans have a lot of impact on the series, whether they know it or not. We like to get a good sense of what’s working and what’s not working.”  Evidence of the fans’ influence over the direction of the franchise is the return of fan-favorite actor Cary Elwes. Previously, Saw II director and co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman had indicated that the fate of Elwes’s character had been intentionally left vague, allowing fans to make up their own minds. However, Elwes said, “the fans campaigned heavily to bring Dr. Gordon back.”

“I thought he was dead,” Elwes said of his character, Dr. Lawrence Gordon.  “I thought anyone who sawed his leg off with a rusty hacksaw was not going to get very far.”  The actor remains mum on the significance of his role in the film, though. Greutert is similarly elusive. Bringing Elwes back, he says, “was something that we wanted to do and needed to do for a very long time.” He begins to say something, and stops himself. “Everything I want to tell you is laden with spoilers.”

Cast and director alike had plenty to say about the decision to release the film in 3D. In the midst of a backlash spurred by exorbitant ticket prices and a slew of shoddy post-production conversions to 3D, Greutert and his stars never question the decision to go three-dimensional.  In fact, the filmmaker says that he lobbied to shoot Saw VI in 3D, but that the infrastructure required to do so wasn’t in place. The jump to 3D was the first decision made in Saw 3D, even before the script was underway.  The result is a film that was conceived for 3D and filmed in 3D.  The story of the film, which involves Jigsaw’s fatal traps being displayed publicly, plays into the immersive aspect of 3D filmmaking. Greutert explains, “There’s an implicit message about horror audiences and watching voyeuristically. 3D takes that to another level.”

Using the newest innovations meant more takes and adjustments to the signature Saw aesthetic of tight, close-up shots. During filming, Mandylor called the process “tedious,” though he now recants that comment.  “the ones who suffered more than anybody were Kevin and the camera guy.”

Elwes said he enjoyed filming in 3D and didn’t find it much different than working on a traditional film. “Kevin gave us some notes here and there, slight variations on movement. We were very subtle about the 3d. We cut the yo-yo scene,” he says with a laugh, joking about exploitative shots from the 3D movies of the 1950s.  Russell confessed that shooting was slower than normal, but admitted that she was impressed by the 3D footage that she’s seen.

Elwes, who has seen the final cut of the film, calls Saw 3D “the most graphically violent movie I’ve ever seen.  It’s relentless. Unbelievable.” Despite the film’s violence, Greutert is hesitant to label Saw 3D ‘torture porn’.  It sort of cheapens what it is – which is a psychological thriller. The only people who ever call it that have never seen a Saw film.”  Greutert is proud that the series wears its social consciousness on its sleeve, though he admits “We may have overdone it a bit with the health insurance angle in VI.”  Elwes seems to agree with his director, stating “I’m proud of the fact that the films are all morality tales, not just violent films for violence’s sake. I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”

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MULHOLLAND DRIVE Was Originally A TWIN PEAKS Film?

Posted on 25 April 2010 by Rich Drees

Was David Lynch’s failed television pilot turned critically lauded film Mulholland Drive originally conceived as a story for her Twin Peaks-character Audrey Home? That’s what Sherilynn Fenn, the actress who played the sultry ingénue for two years on the cult 1990s series told me this past weekend.

Fenn was a guest at the bi-annual Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, NJ, where I was able to have a brief chat with her. While discussing her non-involvement with the Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me due to her working on the 1992 Steinbeck adaptation Of Mice And Men (“David was so upset!”) she let slip the following -

[Lynch]  initially asked me to do Mulholland Drive, which he had written originally for Audrey. David wanted to do a movie between the first and second seasons and it was Audrey goes to Hollywood.

Unfortunately, the press of fans lined up for autographs behind me prevented me from following up with some of the dozen questions that were already starting to form. Did Lynch already have a script written or was this just the germ of a story idea he was just beginning to toy with? Could this have been one of the two other Twin Peaks film ideas that Lynch purported to have that were scotched by the box office failure of Fire Walk With Me?

Previously, we knew that Mulholland Drive started as a new television series that Lynch had pitched to ABC. The network greenlit a pilot, but decided after viewing it that it was a little too extreme and declined to go to series. Lynch took the pilot, shot some additinoal footage and reworked the ending, transforming it into a feature film.

But this puts the origins of Mulholland Drive at a period earlier than most have assumed before. And it does offer us a small glimpse into how an idea may percolate in David Lynch’s imagination until he feels it is the right time to bring them to life.

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SLAMMIN’ The SALMON With Broken Lizard

Posted on 11 December 2009 by Rich Drees

SlamminSalmonCastThe five man comedy troupe Broken Lizard have been steadily turning out dependably funny comedy since they first hit big with their second film, the cop comedy Super Troopers, in 2001. The film was such a hit that it lead to more Hollywood work for the group both collectively and individually.

Their latest film, The Slammin’ Salmon, opens in limited release this weekend. Set in a high-end Miami seafood restaurant owned by a belligerent former boxer played by Michael Clarke Duncan, the staff find themselves under pressure to bring in a night’s worth of receipts to cover the owner’s debt to a Yakuza crimelord. Needless to say with one waiter off his meds, another slowly getting drunk and a waitress slowly burning her face off through a variety of accidents, things are not going to go as planned. The Slammin’ Salmon marks the first film from Broken Lizard that wasn’t directed by  member Jay Chandrasekhar. Instead Heffernan has taken over the directorial reins, delivering the same trademark Broken Lizard comedy that fans have come to expect while spicing the movie with a few directorial flourishes of his own.

I sat down for a quick interview with 40% of the group – Heffernan and Steve Lemme – to discuss the new film.

We started off the interview with a confession.

FilmBuffOnLine: I literally finished watching the screener for the movie about 20 minutes ago.

Kevin Heffernan: In the car on the drive over?

FBOL: Actually, sitting over in the Marathon Grill on my laptop.

Steve Lemme: Nice.

KH: Did you at least have headphones?

FBOL: Yes. After the first “motherfucker”…

SL: How is it to watch a movie like that under duress?

Kevin Heffernan and Michael Clark DuncanFBOL: Not the worst conditions I ever watched a movie under, but still… It was a lot of fun. Michael Clarke Duncan blew me away.

KH: Yeah, yeah. Unbelievable.

FBOL: He’s the secret weapon of this movie.

KH: Oh yeah. He steals it and it’s something you don’t expect. He gives you a performance like you’ve never seen before.

FBOL: What inspired you to cast him?

KH: When we wrote [the movie], the premise that we came up with was if you’re a waiter in a restaurant and the restaurant was owned by Mike Tyson, what would that be like? Would he beat the crap out of you, or what? We started writing this character in the voice of Mike Tyson. There were flights of fancy and there was all these kind of crazy things he says. And then you’re like, oh shit, you got to cast that part. Who do you get to play a believable boxer who can terrify you and kill you and also do this comedy stuff?

SL: We did consider Mike Tyson for a few moments.

KH: For a heartbeat.

SL: We were like “Could we? Should we?” There was the “X-factor”-

KH: We couldn’t get insurance for the movie.

SL: Yeah.

KH: Obviously, he physically fits the role and he had done Taladega Nights. So we gave him the script and he loved it. What we didn’t know was could he do what was on the page. Green Mile, he’s nominated for an Oscar. But does he know comedy? Is going to improvise or what? The first day he had all his lines, he was great. He improvised, he had comedy… And you’re like “Oh my God!” And he just went from there.

SL: It’s hard for us, especially with this character most of all. We find that when other actors come and read some of our dialogue… We intentionally twist logic around a little bit, so sometimes it is hard for people… It’s easy for us, because we’re writing it, but for other people to grasp it… And we were looking at this thing like “Jesus Christ.” Not only are there these huge chunks of dialogue but they have to do with nothing that actually makes any sense. As an actor you can’t grasp on to “Oh, it’s about this particular theme,” because its – Bam! Bam ! Bam! – all over the place.

KH: When we met him he was so funny and we were like “Michael, why don’t you do more comedies?” and he was like “I don’t know. No one ever offers me.” He’s the big scary guy. Hopefully after this he’ll get a chance to do more comedies because he is just inherently a funny guy.

FBOL: In most of your films, you guys circle around an authority figure, almost a Margret Dumont character to your Marx Brothers. Is that a template you consciously pursue or does it grow organically out of the ideas you pursue?

SL: Well, our first movie was Puddle Cruiser and that did not have one. I think it was born out of necessity. I might be wrong, but I remember when we were writing Super Troopers the advice that was given was “Nobody knows who you are so you’ll have to have some name actor with you.” So we were like “OK. We’ll have an older gentleman, our police chief.” It seems to be a good model.

KH: Even Beerfest, for example, we put Cloris Leachman in to that role. You can have someone who is outside of your food group like Michael or Cloris or Brian Cox and it opens up your movie a bit more. I think it is intentional. Also, when you are playing screw-ups or anti-authority people you always need that element of authority somewhere floating around in the script.

FBOL: What is your process for writing?

KH: It’s pretty much everyone sits around a table. It could be one guy has an idea or two guys have an idea, but ultimately you sit down at a table with five guys and you start throwing ideas out. One guy will be in charge of transcribing and keeping it all organized. You keep getting ideas until the point where you make an outline and then a script.

FBOL: The script is pretty hammered down by the time you go in front of the camera?

KH: When we made a film like Puddle Cruiser you don’t have the money to do multiple takes. It was always a good idea in our minds to have the script solid and you get in there, do your two takes and get out. As time has gone on, we’ve become more efficient and have a little bit more money, so we can expand that. We tend to layer joke in the more drafts we do, and then if some things don’t work you can take them out.

Steve LemmeSL: It used to be during rehearsals we would improvise a lot. Also, when we’re writing, it would be hard to get a joke through. So if I’m pitching a joke, I’ve got to make four other guys laugh. We all have different senses of humor. So even if it doesn’t go through, if you think it’s good enough, you’ll make a mental note to “improvise” that while on the set.

FBOL: See if it flies in front of the crew?

SL: Right, yeah.

KH: A new test audience.

SL: (Pointing at Kevin) There are some guys in the group who will ask the director, “Do you mind if I try something like this?” And they may get shot down. I don’t ask. I just do it.

KH: Laughs.

FBOL: (To Kevin) This is your first time directing. How did you wrestle the chair away from Jay?

KH: Oh man, it was hard. We did wrestle. Indian wrestling. And surprisingly, he lost. The film came together very quickly because we shot it independently. So we were putting the financing ahead of the writer’s strike last year, so it was a very quick process. At the time it all came together, Jay was obligated to another movie. We were working at Warner Brothers at the time and he was obligated to one of their movies, so he couldn’t commit to the eight months to a year that it takes to do all the directorial duties. So I said, “I’ll do it.”

FBOL: Well, you worked on the editing for Puddle Cruiser and Super Troopers before…

KH: It’s so collaborative. We all work together on all different facets of the filming anyway so it’s not like we didn’t know what we’re doing.

FBOL: Were you chosen to direct by the time you guys were writing or after you were done with the script?

KH: We actually started writing this script at the same time we wrote Beerfest. We were getting ahead and we wanted to have a higher budget and lower budget script depending on what was available to us at the time. We wrote multiple drafts before we even got to the point where we decided who was going to play what parts and who was going to direct.

SL: In truth, what happened was is that Club Dread came out and for a variety of reasons, one of which was for our fans it was a shift from Super Troopers, so the movie may not have been one of our fans’ favorites. But we also opened against The Passion Of The Christ.

KH: chuckles growing to a belly laugh while Steve relates the following.

SL: We like to say that the Lord smote us down that weekend. We weren’t in a great place after that came out. So we were like “Alright let’s come back with a multiple attack here- a low budget, medium budget and big budget, which we had anyway just in case. We had some time on our hands, so we were able to do so many drafts of Beerfest and of this movie. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it is very complicated. People are coming in doors, running around… Actually, I thought that would probably be the biggest challenge for him as a director. Everybody is somewhere in a tight spot at all times. I know Kevin had to choreograph the whole thing. If there is a scene going on here, I may still be in the background on fire or something like that.

FBOL: That was a great set. Was that a found location or did you guys build that?

KH: We built it. We got this soundstage in Van Nyes. We had a pretty low budget, so we hired this guy named Erich Schultz. He’s predominantly a construction foreman on movie sets. He’s also a production designer and he built this set for nothing. It was really kind of fun because it was like going to work in a combination TV set but also like a stage play. We had never shot a movie like that. It was 25 days in just that one set.

SL: It also had that awful feeling… If you’ve ever waited tables. Even after a month of being there, just seeing the restaurant, I definitely had that feeling. ‘Not here again…’

KH: You wanted a little variety.

SL: Yeah.

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Will We Ever Get To Go To Visit The RED STATE?

Posted on 10 October 2008 by Rich Drees

Over at AintItCool this morning, writer Quint has a pretty good interview with writer/director Kevin Smith about his upcoming comedy Zack And Miri Make A Porno. It does get into spoiler territory, so if you’re trying to remain virgin for the film (pun intended), then you will probably want to give it a pass.

The two did get into a discussion about the status of his horror script, Red State, which Smith had actually planned on shooting before Zack And Miri, but postponed over funding issues. Smith is still having problems trying to find backers willing to put up the cash for the movie and contains some plot details for the film. As such, we’ve put the spoiler-filled quote at the other side of the link.  Continue Reading

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Bruce Campbell Talks EVIL DEAD 4

Posted on 28 August 2008 by Rich Drees

“When he’s ready, I’m ready.” 

 So says Bruce Campbell about returning to the Evil Deadfranchise, which launched both his and director Sam Raimi’s careers back in the 1980s. Last month at the San Diego ComicCon, Raimi stated that he and his full-time brother and part-time writing collaborator were gearing up to work on a draft for a fourth installment of the cult classic series that sees Campbell’s hapless Ash fighting off legions of the undead.

Seeing that the last installment of the film was 1992′s Army Of Darkness, Campbell acknowledged in a recent interview with MTV Movie Blog that Ash strapping on the chainsaw and loading up the boom-stick again will take into account his advancing age.

Sam gets to hide behind the camera. I can’t. But I think he’s planning on factoring that in. As like a major factor. It’d be a major liability, you know Ash runs out of breath or his back goes out and [stuff] like that. I mean I just blew my hamstring fighting a stunt guy for Burn Notice, the show that I’m doing now. So there’s a little bit of truth to all of that!

But while other aging action heroes who have returned to the silver screen have carted along younger sidekicks – We’re looking at you Shia, – Campbell says that Ash won’t be so encumbered.

I think the audience would be insulted if you did, because then you feel this obvious pressure to appeal. The beauty of the Evil Dead movies is that you’re only appealing to one demographic and that’s people who like horror movies. And you just have to please them. You don’t have to appeal to the studio. You’re already pleasing them by giving them part 4.

And while Raimi is now considered one of Hollywood’s more in demand directors thanks to the financial success of the Spider-Man franchise, Campbell thinks it would be best if a new Evil Dead film would return to its low-budget, low-tech roots.

I mean if we were really smart [though], we’d go back to a handheld movie and shoot it in 16mm and find someplace in the middle of nowhere. And have a crew of 10 people. If we were smart.

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Even BABYLON A.D. Director Not Thrilled With Movie

Posted on 26 August 2008 by Rich Drees

It is never a good sign when studios release a film without screening it for the press first. It is a tacit admission that the picture is such a stink burger that not even the easiest of critics who flip over backwards at just about anything that flickers across the silver screen – I’m looking at you, Peter Travers – would be willing to say anything good about it. This coming weekend sees the release of three films, none of which I believe are getting shown in advance- Disaster Movie, College and Babylon A. D..

While it was fairly obvious months ago that the “comedies” Disaster Movie and College were probably going to be quick dumps into theaters to grab as much cash as they can before word of mouth sinks them, there had been some hope for the Vin Diesel-starring action flick Babylon A. D.. That is until the film’s director Mathieu Kassovitz gave an exclusive interview to AMC’s SciFi Scanner detailing the level of interference he received from studio 20th Century Fox.

I’m very unhappy with the film. I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience.

Kassovitz goes on to describe the vision he had for the film, adapted from a French novel by Maurice Georges Dantec, and how that vision was compromised at nearly ever turn by the studio. It is a fascinating read, and, in a time when most interviews are merely an exercise in shilling one’s latest product, it is refreshingly and excitingly candid.

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