Interview: Producer Extraordinaire sees 'Red' and 'Transformers 3'

Thursday, 05 August 2010 20:45 Written by  JimmyO
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Lorenzo DiBonaventura

Lorenzo di Bonaventura has had a pretty successful producing career. With the Transformers franchise, GI Joe and the recently released Salt, he seems very comfortable in the action genre.

While at Comic Con, Lorenzo was enjoying the sight of kids in costumes and insane crowds to talk about Red. The film stars Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, John Malkovich, Karl Urban and many, many more, but don’t expect your typical action flick.

iamROGUE had the chance to talk with the producer about Red and his thoughts on fan reaction, hype and disappointment. It was an interesting chat and he is a fascinating guy. And thankfully, there was a little Transformers 3 talk...

Are you excited? I’m definitely feeling ‘Red’.

How did you come across Red?

One of my executives found it first and brought it to my attention. And I’ve had a lot of success with graphic novels and with novels. What I love about it is you tend to know the central character really well, put aside plot and everything else for a second and you start with this really rich thing. What appealed to me about Red was there was something incredibly sad about Frank [Moses, Bruce Willis’ character]. This idea that, how our society discards people - not just based on age by the way – they discard them for a lot of reason. So there was an undercurrent of something there that grabbed me emotionally, and you know it’s a hard core visceral experience. So we sort of wanted to take Frank on a happy journey you know, and let Frank live a little. And that was sort of what happened to us, and that is sort of what we said to people when we sent it. People were like, ‘Oh, you wanna do a dark hit man movie.’ And were like, not really, it’s not that we imagined that it would be what it turned out to be, but we knew we needed to breathe and have some fun.

With audiences having preconceived notions of what a certain type of film should be, what are the challenges you face as a producer.

The challenge is not to be discouraged by that and not to get influenced by that too much. If you start listening to everybody else, you lose sight of where you need to go, and it’s really easy to lose sight. So in this case, I’ve worked on graphic novels or comic books that I’ve really gotten personally lambasted for having been involved in it. That always scares you a little bit, you know. I know one thing, we’re trying our best and sometimes we nail it and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, it’s not because we are not trying to.

The particular challenge with this project, once we had sort of gotten the script form, was that it follows something that nothing else – I don’t remember any other movie that followed - from Dirty Dozen to The Expendables from what I can see, or Ocean’s 11, all those movies do the same thing which is, you say what the problem is, you put the team together and then you take care of the problem. This movie does not do that. This movie takes you from each point, so every ten to fifteen minutes in the movie a new character is introduced. That’s a very different rhythm. The concern was, it fights momentum in a way because you have to stop, introduce the character and why is this character in there, how ya doin’, who are you, blah, blah, blah… So it was really a challenge to keep momentum going to do that.

Now the experience of watching it, for me anyhow, I’ll let the audience decide from them, but what I find is you are watching along five to ten minutes and you are going, oh this is kind of fun. Then, oh, it’s Helen Mirren! And then you are watching again and then, oh, John Malkovich! So it oddly almost operates like, you ever heard the “whammy chart”, you ever hear that…?


It almost operates like a whammy because you’re like, whoa, there is Ernest Borgnine! You know what I mean… there’s Richard Dreyfuss! So the joy of that is stretched out through the whole movie for the first two acts. You meet one person in the third act. But everybody else you meet literally takes you through the first two acts.

That is really unusual. Very unusual!

And to have a cast like Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, this is an amazing cast.

We got every one of our first choices except for one.

Who was that?

Well, the interesting thing with Malkovich was, we wanted Malkovich and we were having these really active conversations… and John C. Reilly, those were the two people that we were really debating between. Then there was a complication in Malkovich’s thing, so we decided, oh well, let’s go to John C. Reilly. He said yes, and then he dropped out on us three weeks before we were shooting, which is scary. Then we were like, our original first choice was John Malkovich so let’s see if he wants to do it. He signed on and it was such a… I can’t imagine this movie without Malkovich! This role was designed for him to do whatever crazy thing he wanted to go and do. Marvin is one wild character.

How much freedom did you feel there was from the source material, or do you stay pretty close?

Warren [Ellis] was awesome from the beginning when he said, ‘…listen man, you can’t possibly do a movie out of what I wrote. You guys have full freedom to go wherever you need to go with my blessing.’ So that got taken off the table for us. Sure some of the fans will say, why isn’t this what he wrote, but he’s cool with it and I’m cool with it. So that was a great freedom. We were very true to who Frank is, and that is what “Red” is. So when you meet him, you meet the guy from Red, there’s no doubt about it. And then things change.

So this is not a Hard R?

No, it’s PG-13. It’s not gritty the way Warren wrote. It’s just not. That’s a particular kind of movie. It has to be like, almost insular about one guy. We wanted to take that guy on a bigger journey. As soon as you take him on a bigger journey the tone shifted. And then what happened was, it kept shifting because of the characters that got involved. I would say that it is, it’s an old-fashioned term but I would say this is a romp. One of the things kind of cool about it is that it’s an old style Hollywood movie. I oversaw Ocean’s 11 when I was at Warner Brothers and that has a lot of it as well. It’s very nice, there is nothing… you get to see all these great looking people doing this thing together and there is real pleasure in that, that goes outside what the experience of what the plot is about or what the movie is about. It would be hard to describe whether it is more action or more comedy; I’d say it’s almost fifty/fifty. So some people would see it and go, it’s an action movie, and I’ll go, ‘really’ and then someone will say it’s a comedy and I’ll go, ‘really’! It’s really both. It’s not what we call an action comedy. This exists on a different level. And that was the fear in doing it actually because it’s not tonally where you go very often.

Transformers 3, where are we with that?

Kickin’ ass is where we’re going with that!

[Laughing] Nice!

[Laughing] In every conversation I have with Michael [Bay], it was always, how do we avoid being stale because the third movies can always be stale. That’s the trap. So one of the ways we’ve done that is we’ve added a whole new level of cast, Malkovich is in it, Frances McDormand is in it, Patrick Dempsey is in it, and Rosie is in it instead of Megan. That gives the movie already another thing that is going on. We are shooting in 3D and what Michael is gonna do with 3D is gonna blow people’s minds. It is incredibly dynamic because he is not compromising his shooting style. And what I’ve seen so far in 3D has locked off cameras, and Michael is not locking off any cameras. It’s exciting!

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