Tuesday, November 25, 2003
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE X-MEN MOVIE FRANCHISE
SAN DIEGO -- With the release of X2 on DVD on Tuesday, The Continuum presents excerpts from a recent convention panel attended by writers David Hayter and Michael Dougherty and director Bryan Singer, as well as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen writer James Robinson.
(Excerpts involving Robinson will be presented here in The Continuum before the release of the LXG DVD).
The following is part one of the X-Men material, with part two here on Wednesday.
QUESTION: How did you decide which characters to use?
DOUGHERTY: As far as adding other elements of the comics, it's really kind of flipping old issues, the encyclopedia of X-Men, stuff like that, and trying to decide what kind of figures fit in this universe. Luckily, because of X-Men 1, the boundaries were already set. We weren't going to do anything outlandish and introduce Sugar Man or Mojo or anything like that. There were certain rules. The world was defined. So, it wasn't too difficult because you had to pretty much throw out a lot of the crazy, drug-induced stuff that the X-Men writers in the comics had come up with. As much as people want some of these bizarre mutants that are really interesting, theyıre not going to fit in the film universe.
HAYTER: You can't be entrenched in the fact that you're a fan of the comic. We have had, at various times in both movies, have had Beast as an element. And both times, wanted to do it. We thought, "What a great character." But it's extremely difficult to pull off on film and not look ridiculous.
So that's the first thing. It has to be filmically feasible.
Second, and I just remember how X-Men came together. You take elements from the comic books. There's a recurring theme of a young girl coming to the X-Mansion and they reintroduce the audience to the X-Men and where through these people. Kitty Pryde was a great example of that.
So we took that element and used Rogue in that position.
Then, once you have a basic idea where your story's going, you want to track the character elements that run through the comic book that are going to create the most conflict, the most tension, the most interesting. And we, obviously, spent a lot of time thinking about love triangles between Cyclops, Wolverine and Jean, and in the second movie, Rogue, Wolverine and Bobby.
So you try to take these characters that you can film. Because all you have to do with Rogue is color her hair and get her out there.
QUESTION: Were there any characters you were sad to cut?
HAYTER:In a way. On the first movie, Beast was a big part of the first two acts. First of all, we'll never know if we had the money to create him in a way that wasnıt ridiculous. That was a concern.
But then, we knew it would be too expensive to take him to the Statue of Liberty. So, he always broke his leg just before they were going to go. Then, it was like, "Oh, boy I wish I could go with you."
DOUGHERTY: Didn't he fall down the stairs or something? (laughs)
HAYTER: Actually, we had a scene where Magneto came to the mansion and broke Beast's leg. Which worked out beautifully time-wise because we were about to start the third act.
DOUGHERTY: It sounds like Nancy Kerrigan or something. (laughs)
HAYTER: So I was sad to see Beast go because he was a cool character. And on the first film we couldn't do too many creature characters because we didn't have the money. But I wasn't sad to see him go in that he wasn't serving the story. It would have looked silly.
QUESTION: You knew you were going to have to depart from the costumes because some of those would have looked silly. Can you talk about the decisions you had to make?
HAYTER: Like I say, it's a matter of what looks good in the comic that you can replicate on film. And it was Bryan that came up with the line, "What would you prefer, yellow spandex?" because if you put Wolverine, the toughest guy on the planet, in yellow and blue tights and suddenly that's difficult to pull off. It looks great in the comic book because he's shaded right and he's got all these muscles. On film, it's really an actor and it's very difficult to pull these things off.
Plus, there's a difference between film and comic books, which Bryan had to illustrate to me. We had a lot of discussions. The first movie was going to end, the third act, where he finally picks up that mask and puts it on. And Bryan was like, "I can't have the audience attached to the lead actor and then in the third act have his face covered." It might not even be the actor then. It could be a stunt double.
You may want it as a fan, but it just doesn't work in the movie. And for your most emotional scenes, you can't look at an actor in a mask.
QUESTION: Michael, you were coming on to a sequel with established characters, but you also had new characters like Deathstrike, Stryker and Nightcrawler. Can you talk about what it was like to keep that dynamic going while you were writing the screenplay?
DOUGHERTY: It was really a matter of massaging what was already there. Because when we came on board, Stryker and a lot of the new characters were already established that they were going to be in the script. Actually, when we came on board, Angel was in the script.
HAYTER: Angel's been cut from both movies.
DOUGHERTY: He did make it in the second film. When you go into the Weapon X lab, you see his X-rays in the background. And there's cameos there, too. Sabretooth has his X-Ray in there, as well as Marrow.
But, really, they were already kind of in there. The only really new element we added as far as characters go was Deathstrike. But as far developing those characters, it was really a matter of taking what Dave and Bryan had already done and then just revise and revise and revise, so that those relationships just became more firm.
We were on the set when they were shooting it, and the actors can contribute. Aaron Stanford (Pyro), when he came to the set, it was amazing. In real life, he's kind of this punkish guy -- in a good way. When he came in to do his audition and they put him on tape. He just kind of leaned forward and started a stream of conscious, saying "Who's bad? What are you going to do?" and he was flipping his lighter on and off, which he brought as a prop.
And Bryan just pointed and goes, "That's Pyro!" That's what got him the role, really.
He brought this teen angst to it, which was there on the page but that just pushed it over the edge. It's like a huge collaborative effort day-to-day, working with the actors, with what's there and with Bryan.
QUESTION: David, originally X2 had Sentinels and they were worked out. Could you talk about the process in dealing with such well-known elements?
HAYTER: You know, adapting something like X-Men where you have 35 years of history is now like taking a set story ... the goal was writing an original story using the elements of X-Men and trying to create, really, an entirely new story.
The second movie started out being influenced very much by God Loves, Man Kills, and it retains some of those elements, but it's a completely different story and adventures.
In regular adaptation, you want to take the story beats and you want to flesh them out in a way thatıs exciting and satisfying. With this, it was more like, we need to create a movie that works and then make it feel like X-Men. So the idea is to have a completely fresh story and create the same feeling you get reading the comic books.
Because of Bryan, it was really created as a movie first, and then massaged it as an X-Men piece as it went. Then you have time for details and things that will really grab the fans.
QUESTION: Were they tough cuts?
HAYTER: Well, the Sentinels were tough because we had really beautiful designs and some really, really cool stuff and some exciting sequences. But at the same time the concern was -- again -- extremely expensive and can you do killer robots better than Jim Cameron. That's something that I don't think anybody really wants to take on. And can we do something more interesting than killer robots?
It's such a big part of the X-Men mythology. But you've already seen it.
I think, in a film, you get a more satisfying result out of adding somebody like Deathstrike, who is singular, specific to the mutant world and bad-ass. That's more satisfying to me than the Sentinels, where as fans, it may be disappoint that they're not there, but story-wise, it's far more compelling to see this mutant who's been taken and turned and used and manipulated. It's just better than the big robots.
QUESTION: Michael, what kinds of things did you have to cut?
DOUGHERTY: The hard thing is being the guy that has to watch a lot of things get cut. As I said before, Angel. He actually became a really good character. I know a lot of people complain that Cyclops was barely in the movie, but he was supposed to be in the movie more.
He was going to wake up in Stryker's facility in a prison cell. And he's going to hear a voice in the next cell over. And he was going to start talking to this mutant prisoner. And finally he asks him what's his name. And he finds out it's Warren. And we were never going to see him. You were just going to see his eyes.
And eventually they pull of this escape and he blows the wall open and we realize it's Angel. And it was this great sequence.
We find out about Warren. He was a kid that when his parents found out he was a mutant, had him sent off to get fixed, to get corrected. And he woke up in this experimental facility instead. And that was really tragic.
By the time we came aboard, I think the Sentinels were down to a cameo.
HAYTER:There was one left that was following Stryker around.
DOUGHERTY: It got cut down, cut down, cut down to the point where it was just opening a door.
HAYTER: The first appearance of the Sentinels, they were tearing things apart and dropping from helicopters. And Fox was like, "Gee-zus!" And then "Can't you cut those metal robots down?"
QUESTION: What was it like working on the dialogue and being on the set for rewrites?
DOUGHERTY: While we were making it, it was hell. David's been through it, so he knows what it was like.
There are all these moments when you're eating craft services and you've got food falling out of your mouth and you're watching Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen going through a scene. And then Bryan goes, "Stop! Stop! Stop! New line!" And you got cookies coming out of your mouth and you have Captain Picard and Gandalf standing there.
And you don't know what to do. And you spit one out, hoping it will work.
Sometimes you get sent back to the trailer. And it's like being sent back to your room. Like it's a time-out and you have to write a better script.
The good thing was that because the first one was already made, you knew what actors were playing the roles. So you could hear their voices and see their faces in your mind as you were writing. I think that was a huge challenge on the first one because you didn't know who was cast.
On a sequel, when you have a cast coming back, you can think ahead and it flows a little bit easy.
On set, it was stressful. Looking back, it was all fun and good. And I had a great time, obviously.
QUESTION: One of the great little quips was when Magneto talks about Rogue's hair. Can you talk about that?
DOUGHERTY: It was fun writing that for Ian because you can think of Ian being this catty old man. What we realized in the script was that Magneto and Rouge has a relationship in the first film, in that he was trying to kill her.
That moment got written, I think, while we were shooting it. Because we realized there wasn't a scene between the two of them and there should be because he tried to kill her. We thought about if there should be some dramatic moment or some heartful scene. And we thought, "Nyahh, he should make fun of her."
So it was just, "I love what youıve done with your hair." And it's this cool thing, with him and Mystique laughing at her.
(Look for part two of this story on Wednesday).
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