What was the biggest challenge for you to bring this graphic novel to the big screen?
Well, getting the tone right was something that we spent a fair amount of time on and just calibrating it right. And that process obviously lasts right through post-production because we did different takes in the scenes with the actors and sometimes push the jeopardy a little more. That allowed us to really make sure that we could slightly reposition scenes if need be.
There is a real old-fashioned, It Happened One Night type of relationship between Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker. Was that planned or did it just happen naturally?
Well I think you try to create characters as much as you can on paper, and when the actors come in, of course things hopefully start to come to life. I think Mary-Louise brought so much to that role and I just think she took to the wide-eyed, goofy, geek girl immediately and with such conviction and zest. For my part, I immediately believed that Bruce Willis’ character would fall in love with her over the phone.
What was the casting process like?
When I came on board, Bruce had already signed on. They had talked seriously about Morgan [Freeman] taking that role and Helen’s [Mirren] name also had been brought up. We always wanted to head into that direction and once we had them and we had John [Malkovich], it had a little bit of a snowball effect. And then Richard [Dreyfuss] came on and Ernie [Borgnine] came on and so forth. I think they were enthusiastic about the film and about the characters because the characters allowed them to play roles that they are usually not associated with. So for them, despite all the experience and despite their huge body of work they really felt like they got to do something that really excited them.
There was question early on about the rating. Now, it seems that you’ve packed as much of an R as you could inside a PG-13 rating.
I think our spirit was R. Our mean-spiritedness maybe was R. I don’t feel like we pulled any punches and I myself am relatively squeamish so I don’t think the rating hampered or influenced us greatly. I just wasn’t sure the movie really needed to be R.
There are certainly expectations from fans when it comes to the violence.
Well it’s slightly different from the comic book, and I think if you base your opinion on the comic book, I could totally see how you’d arrive at that point of view. I think that the film has comedy and it isn’t quite so dark to begin with and that was just a function of what direction that the writers had taken. Early on, that was their take, they basically said, how about we do this. Because they had to do something obviously to expand the sixty page comic book.
It’s difficult to adapt anything, whether it be a thousand page novel or something like this…
I agree. I don’t think that an adaptation cancels out the original iteration. I mean, they can co-exist. Like one of the two all of a sudden tries to usurp the other.
What can you tell us about R.I.P.D.?
I’m very excited about the project. It was not really intentional on my part to stay in the comic book realm. That just happened to be one of those curious accidents, but I read the script and I just really fell in love with it. It’s a similar case of, I suppose, using the comic book as inspiration and staying true to the spirit of it even if you are not necessarily structuring the narrative the same way that the comic book is structured.
In creating the look for Red, and possibly for R.I.P.D., do you go the route of storyboards or do you kind of know exactly what you want to see?
Well I’ve worked with the same people, some of them for ten-years now, so with my DP I’ve made like four movies I guess. And I’ve worked with the same costume designer and production designer. We all understand each other and we all have our own shorthand, and that really helps. I think there are scenes in the movie that you need to storyboard. There are scenes where you might storyboard so you have a plan going in, but you understand and assume that it is going to be something else. And then there are scenes where I think a shot list suffices. Where you know I just need these pieces of coverage and then there are scenes where you need to use previs [Previsualization], which is an animated, digital form of storyboard. Still in the 2D realm, but a little more conclusive when it comes to timing.
One thing I really enjoyed about the film is that you seemed to avoid the “shaky cam” trend. It feels like an almost classically shot film.
Well when I associate with the classic Hollywood style, is a style that is unobtrusive. And that was certainly what we all tried to get out of the way and enjoy. The script had a charm and it was entertaining in ways where I just wanted to make sure we didn’t crush it and we didn’t obscure it. We created shots that would help enhance it for, for example, when we have a shot or we have a moment in a scene where John and Bruce are trading off pieces of dialogue, they are finishing each other’s sentence, you have to shoot that in a two shot. So you need to see the two bodies together and see how they relate. I guess when I try and figure out how to shoot a movie the script always comes first and everything follows from there. So whatever the script needs, or what I think the script needs [Laughing] that’s what I try to do. And I just didn’t feel like it would help the movie to push the style too much.
Did you see Red? Let us know what you think!