Friday, April 15, 2011

Priest Director Scott Stewart, in his own words

Director Scott Stewart, courtesy Sony Pictures
This interview was part of a media roundtable at WonderCon with about eight other print and online reporters. "Q" is a question from one of the others, "UFN" is us. A few minutes of 3D footage, as well as the "sizzle reel" trailer, were shown the night before at the Metreon a block up from the Moscone Center where WonderCon is held.

Scott Stewart: Hello! Did you have a chance to see the footage last night? What did you think? Did you like it?

All: Yes!

Q: I went in thinking "Oh, it's vampires, seen it," but I walked out thinking, "I've never seen that before." It was amazing.

SS: Cool!

Q: Paul Bettany was telling us how easy it was for the two of you to work together. How was it?

SS: He's totally lying. It was horrible. No, it was great. It was really great. We had gotten to be friends on the last movie. We only worked together for a certain amount of time on that picture because it was an ensemble, and this was a chance to kind of put the whole movie on his shoulders. I knew it was something he could do, and everything about the movie is a big leap forward from the last movie we did. It's a more ambitious story, a much more straightforward story, and it was a chance to design a whole land and allow him to really inhabit a character he has to carry. I read the script and thought about who the archetypal heroes are, and I thought about Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen and John Wayne. Paul's somebody, when you look at him, you can put him in any time period. You can put him in the future, put him in the past, whatever, and he fits. Some faces are really contemporary. They just feel really contemporary. So I wanted somebody who looked like he would fit in this world that would be a little heightened. He also does a really great job of making his face look like a mask, and you just get the sense that there's a rage there. You know, he sits down and he's so charming and funny and nice. In movies, he's got a real ability to convey that anger. That, to me, was reminiscent of some of the characters John Wayne had played, so that's what we went for.

UFN: He mentioned that this had three times the budget of Legion.

SS: Which meant we had three dollars! Yeah, Legion was a really low-budget movie by the standards by which we work, generally. So yes, this was definitely more. By the standard of other movies... we don't have the budget of Pirates 4, probably not even a fraction of that, so what we had to do was be really clever as to how to make the movie feel visceral and exciting and textured and detailed, and make the world comprehensive. We just had to plan it really carefully and focus our planning and efforts on just the things we were going to see in the movie and try to be really efficient.

UFN: I think you can really see that on the screen, and I'm wondering if you feel that, compared to Legion, you're at another level now.

SS: Yeah, [Legion] was a little movie, a throwback to 70s horror. Yeah, I hope so! It feels like a nice step forward, because in every way I have more experience. I felt better equipped to do it. The learning curve of a director is... [makes a sharp upward angle with his hand]... and I guess in any great art it never ends, so every time you do it, you get better at it. I would have been very ill-prepared to try and embark on something as complex as this movie, given the schedule and the budget, without having embarked on it once before. So it's really helpful. It felt like it was a trial run for Priest.

Q: You said you did some of the visual effects yourself?

SS: Some stuff I did. I took much more of a hands-off approach on this one. I used my ability to do the visual effects more as a pre-visualization, doing storyboard animatics and those kinds of things, helping to design the vampires, helping the studio see what the world was going to look like and feel like. Because we really did want to try and push it, and that can be challenging. They have to take a leap of faith with you, so my goal is to try and make it not that much of a leap by showing them as much as I can, and hopefully delivering it, and they were all really excited about it. We designed the movie for 3D, we had talked about shooting for 3D. I wanted to shoot on film, and Don Burgess, my cameraman, a legendary guy who's shot Spider-Man and Cast Away and Forrest Gump and a lot of great movies, he's a great cinematographer... It's a landscape movie, it's part of being a movie that has real scope, and we wanted to shoot wide-screen and shoot on film and use old lenses. So we kind of got the best of both worlds, because when the studio started seeing the movie being put together, they went, "Oh, okay then... let's talk about converting this film to 3D." We did initial tests and they just looked so good! And they gave us the time. They pushed the release date to May for that. It was a nice big vote of confidence because it's expensive to move a release date.

Q: How closely did you work with [Priest graphic novel author] Min-Woo Hyung?

SS: He came out while we were in pre-production and spent a few days with us. The TokyoPop people brought him out. And we were nervous, because I had come into the movie with Cory Goodman's script, and there were 16 books and this sprawling thing mostly set in the old west, and some in the crusades, and there's a little bit of stuff in the future, but he never finished it. It's a cliffhanger, and you have no idea where the story's going, and Cory realized it would be really tough to make into a movie, like how to structure it for the time period. Westerns are hard, so he put it in a kind of apocalyptic future and imagined that that storyline had gone into the future. When Min-Woo came and read the script and looked at all the design stuff we had, and we sat down and talked about what our intentions were, it was really pleasing to us, because he said "I was thinking where the story would go if I thought I would ever write more, and I imagined going here, and here, and here, and that really feels like what you guys did." He was inspired enough by that to actually, much to the pleasure of TokyoPop, go back to Korea and write this big long bridge story between where the books left off and the movie began, which TokyoPop released as a new series of Priest comic books, which is really cool.

Q: Has there been talk at all about making a sequel?

SS: Not quite ready to talk about that. There are some things that we're working on that are ways to take the most successful aspects of that story and put it in a new context in a way that's exciting, and lets us really get into the story and the characters, that I think you'll enjoy.

Courtesy Sony Pictures

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