During Dread Central’s recent set visit in Toronto for Screen Gems’ upcoming sequel, Resident Evil: Retribution, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the mastermind behind it all- writer/director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson, who is once again back at the helm for the latest sequel in the hugely popular and fan-driven Resident Evil series.
Between takes on the wintry CineSpace soundstage that was dressed to resemble the frozen tundra of Russia, Anderson discussed with us his ten-year dedication to the Resident Evil films, how closely Retribution mirrors the RE video game storylines, future plans for the franchise and so much more.
Check out the highlights of our interview with Anderson during our recent set visit, and make sure to check back soon for more from the set of Resident Evil: Retribution. For Anderson’s update on the Death Race franchise that we previously reported on, you can check that out here!
Q: You’ve always been an integral part of the Resident Evil franchise, having written all of the episodes. But now you are directing back-to-back episodes as opposed to handing them off to another director. So what is keeping you excited?
A: That hasn’t changed. I’ve always been really excited about it and it was always a painful decision not to direct the two episodes that I didn’t direct. If I had been given my druthers, I would have done Apocalypse and Extinction. At the time, it was kind of conflicts with other studios, movies, and other commitments. It is not like this is…movies are not an art form where you get to kind of sit in your art gallery and paint, you know? You don’t do that. You’re spending a lot of somebody else’s money. Like I said, given my druthers, I would have directed every single one of them. So I am just happy to have been able to do the last one and this one.
Q: Can you talk about how your work with 3D has changed after doing both The Three Musketeers and the last film in 3D?
A: I think we have just become more adventurous with each movie. I mean, taking the cameras out on location a lot more. Obviously, not here because we are not going to go out onto the pack ice. It has got nothing to do with 3D. We are trying to become more adventurous with it I think. You know, more location work, more camera movement, and more aggressive camera movement. I think the camera work on this is pretty aggressive for 3D. I think people’s tolerance for what they can watch in 3D is obviously becoming stronger. So we probably have more kind of muscular camera moves in this one.
Q: The ending of the fourth film was a climatic ending. We have heard that this one starts with a flashback. What was your motivation for sort of not jumping right into the action?
A: This one starts basically with the pay off from the last one. So we are start on the deck of the Arcadia. So it is kind of like a direct continuation of that.
Q: So are the flashbacks a little bit further?
A: I can’t…(laughs). I can’t tell you about the flashbacks.
Q: Can you talk about the decision of bringing in Barry, Ada, and Leon?
A: That was kind of fan-driven. All of the fans were pretty vocal about how these were the characters that they really wanted to see. We really tried to cast actors who kind of brought those characters to life as close to the video game as possible. You have no idea how difficult it is to find someone with Leon Kennedy’s hair. It is just not the easiest thing in the world. He has to be manly and has to have these long bangs. Geez, could they have made it more difficult for us? But I’m very happy with the actors that we have.
Q: How do you know the characters that the fans want?
A: Basically from being on the internet and going to…I do a lot of press and I go to a lot of…I have a very close and open dialogue with Capcom, who have their own Resident Evil forums as well. So it is kind of through a lot of communication.
Q: Are you finding it more difficult to draw some inspiration from the game besides the characters? Because you are bringing in Las Plagas zombies in this one…
A: Not really. There is such a wealth of stuff in the games. So for Las Plagas we are going back to Resident Evil 4 and there are elements of Resident Evil 5 in this. We have a big car chase that I am very excited about because in Resident Evil 5 there was this awesome kind of hummer, motorbike, heavy machine gun battle with rocket launchers. I am like, “This is so great.” So we have kind of taken inspiration from that. I think there is so much cool stuff in the games and I think it will be a long time before we ran out.
Q: We have heard from some of the cast that when you were writing this one you were thinking of a 5th and 6th film and that there was almost talk of you guys filming them back to back.
A: We definitely…there was an earlier discussion about that, but then we just decided to focus on this movie. But if it is that we make another one, I do know where it would go. It would obviously be great to kind of make two full trilogies and then just bring everything to an end.
Q: That is the thing. Your significant other was mentioning that she can only play the character for so long. In your mind is the 6th film the finale?
A: Definitely. Unless, of course, no one goes to see this one. Then this one would be the finale, just maybe not a very satisfying one. (laughs)
Q: Do you see yourself continuing beyond with your involvement and with Milla’s involvement by maybe producing?
A: I have always said that we really take the movies one movie at a time because we put so much effort into them. While I have an idea of where I would like the franchise to go, it really is a movie by movie thing for us. I think quite often filmmakers kind of think so much about what the franchise will be and sometimes can neglect to put their efforts into the movie that they are actually making. So, for us, it is 150% of effort into this one entity right now.
Q: How do you feel that the style of action is different? What is your directorial approach and what are some of the choices you are making to make this one stand out apart from the rest?
A: Like I said, the camera work for 3D is very aggressive. The action is just different for a Resident Evil movie anyway; it’s not different from the games. Like I said, we have taken a lot of inspiration from action sequences in the games. But to do car chases in 3D with cars, motorbikes, and kind of lots of…because the Las Plagas undead can obviously use weaponry. That is a whole new aspect that hasn’t been in the movie franchise before. So that has been pretty exciting.
Q: I want to ask about the visual tone of the movie and not the action or the violence. What is the overall look and the color scheme? Is there a certain palette that you are going for that is unique?
A: It is kind of like it is an epic undead movie. It really is a globe crossing thing. We have physically shot in Washington D.C., Red Square, and Shibuya in Tokyo. We’re obviously recreating snow and ice sequences, but we have actually gone out in the snow and ice as well. So it really has a globe crossing feel to it and each one of these different places we have tried to kind of invest with a different feel. So I am excited about the snow and ice obviously because as you can probably see with Ada laying in the red dress against the crisp white snow and the black umbrella – it is very, very graphic novel-y. So that is very stark.
But then the Red Square sequence is completely different. It’s all at night and very gritty. So the idea was to kind of make the movie like a kind of nightmare where you tumble from one bad dream to another but can’t quite wake up. So each part of the dream feels very different but also very unpleasant. We have really tried to…it is almost like the visual look of three or four different films packed into one movie, deliberately so because each scenario you go from is radically different from the next, both in the way we shot it and also in the way we lit it. So it has been drive Glen, our DP, crazy. Normally you get a DP and you set one look for a movie, and every two weeks it is completely different.
Q: With all of the different looks, globetrotting, and the non-linear narrative is there a unifying theme that you are leaning on specifically to kind of bring that all together?
A: It’s hard for me to explain what that is without giving away the plot twists and the movie, but yes. I think it really has some cool twists in it. They are kind of inspired by the video game, but I think it should be a very surprising narrative. I’m excited to put the whole thing together. And I’m super excited to be working with returning actors from the franchise as well. That has been one of the really fun things – to bring back Michelle (Rodriguez), Colin (Salmon) and Oded (Fehr) back. Not just to work with them as people because they are nice people, but to also have those familiar faces in the franchise I think is really exciting.
Q: We asked (Producer) Jeremy (Bolt) earlier and he said that tomandandy is coming back to do the score for you. What do you have in mind sound wise for the score? Will it be something similar to Afterlife?
A: It will be a kind of progression on it. I want to kind of mesh their more electronic stuff with an orchestra this time. So it has a kind of more epic…it still has that cool tomandandy feel, but it has a more epic scope to it.
Q: The score for Event Horizon was very aggressive. The score was just pounding and pounding; I really liked it.
A: Hopefully what we can do is…there we combined Michael Kamen, who is very kind of orchestral and orbital. That was…I think with tomandandy we can get the same kind of feel, but with them. They are very experienced composers now but what they obviously love is electronic. The track they composed for the opening of the last movie is one of my favorite bits of movie music in any of my movies.
Q: Have you figured out the Umbrella Corporation and where ultimately everything is or in each movie are you sort of like, “We don’t have to worry about it yet.”?
A: You know, they are just this web of evil and they are ever growing with their fantastic graphic design (laughter) and their lack of attention to detail. It is like they build these incredible facilities and these death dealing machines, but they never manage to use them in the correct way. They always build too many vents and access shafts. (laughter)
Q: That is true, but you know what I am saying. You mentioned that the 6th film you could see as the series finale. Have you always thought, “Well, the actual final headquarters is in Barcelona”- for example?
A: I have a very definite idea of where their final layer will be, but I can’t tell you. But it will look beautiful. (laughter) Yet it will be easy to get into somewhere. (laughter)
Q: Are we going to see what happens to Chris and Claire in this one? Obviously, Wentworth (Miller) and Ali (Larter) are not back, or are they?
A: (laughs) No, Wentworth and Ali are not back but their characters are still in the franchise.
Q: When did you first come up with the idea of having these good and bad versions of people?
A: It was really thinking about it and we had talked about it for years about bringing Michelle back because I just loved working with her so much. She was such a cool part of the first movie and the more I thought about Michelle, the more I thought about how she really as an actor has been unable to explore other aspects of her career because she is always cast as the same character, and I am guilty of that of course. At the start of her career, I casted her as the bad girl with a machine gun.
But now since then, it has been 10 years of her playing the bad girl with a machine gun a lot of the time. I wanted to kind of give her an opportunity to play something different and she was very excited about that. So that where the idea of characters that are both good and bad came from. It was to give her an opportunity to kind of spread her wings a little bit because I do think that she is an underrated actress. No one rocks a heavy machine gun like Michelle Rodriguez. We have bits of footage and it is just incredible. She is firing this huge big ass machine gun and bullets are coming out in slow motion and she never blinks and never hesitates. The only time she gets flustered is if she doesn’t reload the magazine properly or fast enough. She is like a real pro. She is ready to go to war and she does it really, really well. But some of the most fun things in this movie has been watching her trying to walk around in a pair of high heel shows because that is the real challenge for her. That has been the kind of fun stuff.
Q: We saw her take a shot of something during the scene you’re filming. She was explaining that it sort of made her stronger or more impervious to bullets or something like that. Is that the case? I’m not sure.
A: She injects herself with a Las Plagas parasite. It is kind of taken from the game. There is a moment in the game where one of the characters injects themselves and we built exactly the same injection device. We are framing the shots in exactly the same way. So there will be a kind of unpleasant little parasitic creature in that vile that you will see squirted into her veins. It is a theme in all of the games with characters injecting themselves and they develop their super powers, but they pay the price for it.
Q: How do you work with a fight choreographer in order to bring your vision to life?
A: I am working with Nick Powell again, who I worked with on The Three Musketeers. I really like Nick because as a fight choreographer and second-unit director he is the full package. He directs the second-unit, but he also helps choreograph the fights. He did The Bourne Identity, which I thought at the time really revolutionized the kind of look of action movies. So he has done that, but at the other end of the spectrum he also did all of the sword work on Gladiator. He is also phenomenal at car chases as well. He did all of the car chases in the first Bourne movie. He directed all of that. So he was a good all around talent to bring in. Basically he and I sat down and I showed him the inspiration from the video games. We discuss where we can kind of take that inspiration and build upon it; we also watch a lot of movies together.
Q: What kind of movies did you watch for this one?
A: We watched a lot of Thai movies this time around because of the movies he has done. He did The Last Samurai as well. He has worked with a lot of Japanese stuntmen and he has worked with a lot of Hong Kong stuntmen. But we felt the area that hadn’t been mined by western cinema much was that whole kind of high impact Thai style of fighting. So we just watched a lot of action sequences from a lot of Thai movies. There were moves and just a general feel that we thought we could infuse the movie with. You know, that kind of bone crunch where you really feel the impact. We tried to bring that into the movie, which is also good for 3D because obviously 3D makes it harder to sell those kinds of fake phony punches because you see the distance between the fist and the face. So that kind of Thai style of fighting where you actually make contact is a lot stronger.
Q: We see the submarine coming out through the ice in the scene we were just watching. How much time do you guys spend in the sub in the movie?
A: You see the subs a lot in the movie, but there is not really much inside of the submarine. It is just because I wanted to get the characters there. It is more of getting from point A to point B.
Q: It has been over 12 years since you first got involved with the Resident Evil franchise. Can you draw a line from that point back then to today both in terms of the relationship with the franchise, working with Milla, your own career, and this whole journey that you have been on?
A: It has been a fabulous journey. I am very excited about what we have managed to do with the franchise. I always refer to the first Resident Evil movie as “the little movie that could” because at the time it was kind of unfashionable to do video game movies. There had been several that hadn’t work. Mortal Kombat, the one I had made, was one of the few movies that had actually done well. But then the sequel to that didn’t do well at all. It was also an R rated movie at the time when American studios didn’t really want R rated movies. It was right after Columbine and all of the studios had said, “We are not doing R rated movies anymore.” They were really backing off from it.
So when we put the movie together it was pretty much financed all out of North America. There was no studio deal attached to it. Sony only became involved in it during principal photography. I remember that the deal we had on it was that if the movie didn’t do incredibly well at its first American test, and these are incredibly stressful things for a filmmaker anywhere where you go and first put your movie in front of the public, but if we didn’t score certain amounts they could have put the movie straight to DVD. It really felt like the movie that nobody wanted. I vividly remember reading a review of it. I think it was The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. I can’t remember which, but it was one of the two trade papers that said, “This movie basically has no audience. It was made for no one and no one wants to go see it. IT has no audience.”
And then the movie did have an audience. It scored huge and really played to an audience. The movie did really well and the franchise built from that point because we all stuck behind it I think. Milla stayed in the franchise and I stayed attached to it because I had been involved in franchises where I hadn’t stayed attached and I felt like the franchise went off in the wrong direction. So I am really proud that this tiny little movie that was made in Berlin, made all with foreign movie, made by a European crew, and starring a woman from Russia kind of had built into a big success. The fact that each movie has successfully done better I am very proud of.
Written and directed by Paul Anderson, Re5ident Evil: Retribution stars Milla Jovovich, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing, Kevin Durand, Shawn Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Johann Urb, and Colin Salmon. Look for Re5ident Evil: Retribution in theatres on September 14, 2012 from Screen Gems.
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