Wednesday, November 26, 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 two of the X-Men material.
QUESTION: Was there the temptation to take something directly from a comic book, like dialogue?
HAYTER: You learn very quickly that having a comic book next to you and putting a line in the movie is probably going to get you yelled at.
What I'm trying to say about why the way the films worked as they did: I'm pushing for the pure X-Men. Bryan is pushing for a real film which is not going to be laughed at, as opposed to being laughed with. You just start to get the sense that the things you love on the page are sometimes very over the top. And when you say them out loud, it's not quite as easy to translate.
So as to the process, I would try to bring in some of that flavor and then Bryan would come in and say, "Well, this is fine, but that's too much."
QUESTION: How often did you craft some of that dialogue with the actors?
HAYTER: It's an unusual situation doing a film with Mr. Singer. He's constantly, in the sense that Kubrick was, constantly rewriting, constantly reworking, constantly looking for opportunities to make it better, to make it more elegant, to make it smarger.
The actors play a part of that. But I think it's clear to the actors the overwhelming process going on between Bryan and his writers that they'll make suggestions, but actors aren't overreaching for changes to the script.
On occassion, like on the train in the first movie, when Magneto says, "Young people," Ian just made that up and we all cracked up, and it's in the movie. There's things like that. There's things where they say, "I can't say this. This doesn't feel right, doesn't sound right." So there are things that are massaged.
But it's really Bryan who's our filter. He's like our kidneys.
QUESTION: In X-Men, you have tons of exposition. And you used Rogue and Wolverine to bring people in the world. Can you talk about that?
HAYTER:The difficult of the first film was setting up a world that was that unusual with that many characters with wild powers and why do they have powers? Why do they have these names? Why is there a school with a jet in the basement?
You really had to explain all of that stuff. So the device was bringing Wolverine blind into the whole thing. Wolverine sort of represents the audience. So bringing him unconscious and having wake up and go through the mansion elicits a very natural response, which is "Where am I? What the hell is this place?" And then you're led very naturally through the place.
You don't want to spend a lot of time on exposition in film. You don't want to be saything this is this and this is that. But, there are questions that need to be answered by the lead character, so it's justified in the film. Plus, you have Patrick Stewart doing it, which makes it much, much easier because he has that voice. And you've got some really cool stuff to show.
QUESTION: Can you explain some of the tricks you used in X2?
DOUGHERTY: I'm a real believer in show it, don't say it, and assume your audience is smart. Assume they can figure things out on their own without having to hit them on the head over and over again.
It's a careful balance because you want to get it out there but you don't want to get it out there so much that it becomes repetitive and boring. But you don't want to hold back so much information that it becomes confusing and the audience doesn't get it.
And it's really tough. It's a matter of showing and don't saying it.
Like with Pryo. We had to reestablish this essentially new character, with a new actor playing it, and what his powers are. You can say, "Oh, he has the ability to control fire," but wanted to show it in a conflict first and then later on in the seduction scene where you have Magneto trying to lure him to his dark side. And then you have Pyro saying, "I can control fire, I can't make it." And that helps answer any questions the audience might have about his powers.
QUESTION: What was it like to get notes from the studio and people who might not understand these comic books?
HAYTER: The studio is putting up a huge amount of money and they're understandably concerned about that. And you can't be irresponsible about that. If you're an artist and a painter, you just paint and it's no problem. If you're an artist and a filmmaker, you have to rely on other peoples' massive sums of money.
So when they say something, your knee-jerk reaction is to say, "Boy, what a bunch of morons." But then you cash the check and you think, "They're all right. They're just doing their job." (laughs)
What you need to do is take a look at the note, get around the awkward presentation of it -- because they're not writers, they're executives. What you do is you try to figure out what they're missing from the film that elicted this note. I've found that they don't need you to necessarily do the note the way they said, they need to solve the problem that they're addressing. If you can take the note, identify the problem, come up with an idea that answers that problem and then go back to them and say, "OK, look, I thought you were confused by this, so what is we go back and do this, this and this." And if you give them a fresh idea and they feel it answers the problem, you've avoided having to just put in their horrible note the way its presented. Because that's not writing, it's just note-taking.
It's a very delicate thing. Because you want them to feel respected in the process, but you don't want it to ruin your movie. You can't shut them out and you need to find a balance.
DOUGHERTY: What he said.
HAYTER: You can't say it better than that. (laughs).
DOUGHERTY: It has to be a conversation, both ways. When they give you notes, and yes, you have your hissy fit. Then you get that out of the way and have a conversation. Luckily, since we work so closely with Bryan, you have Bryan on your side. And a lot of times, you only agrees with two of them and Bryan will call them up and say, "I only agree with two of them." And they say, "OK."
Sometimes they give good notes. One of the coolest sequences in the film was the result of a studio note. It was the jet chase through the storm. It came through a note. We had a sequence where there were lightning strikes coming out of the clouds. And Tom Rothman, the bigwig at Fox, said, "We've seen lightning. Is there anything else she can do?" And I said, "Tornadoes." So that went in.
So that's an example of where their input can be good.
HAYTER: There was a lot of discussion on the first film, where he gave the claw finger, when he drops two of the claws and gives the Wolverine finger. And we didn't want to do it because we were like, "This is going to be stupid. We're not going to do it." And then somebody in the production say, "You have no idea how important the finger is to Tom Rothman."
So it was like, "OK, we'll try it." And it's a great moment. And Hugh sold it beautifully and Byran shot it beautifully and it really worked. So there's an example where they were not going to let that go, and we didn't want to do it and we did it. And it worked beautifully.
DOUGHERTY: The tent scene in the second one was the same thing. That was Tom Rothman's very scene in the entire movie. He was not going to let it go. And we would say, "It's not really a point in the story." And we would say, "Keep it. I don't care. It's hot." And God bless him, it's great.
QUESTION: Bryan, can you talk about your relationship with your writers and what it's like on a day-to-day basis?
SINGER: First, these guys are my friends. I've known David for 10 years, and I've known Mike for four or five years. So, we hang out and we develop relationships where we trust each other a lot. And I believe in maintaining a strong force in that confusing and difficult universe that is often working in a big studio picture. So maintaining a story and loyal army of true friends that aren't afraid of telling each other when their ideas suck, is very advantageous.
So we protect each other. And I don't like to make a move on anything until we've beaten it out and we're all kind of in agreement on it.
QUESTION: So when David and Michael come at you and say "We can't do this," do you put the iron fist down or do you think about it for a minute?
SINGER: I would think about it for more than a minute. I would continue arguing about it. Ultimately, in the end, I will win. (laughs) But not after a good strong fight and they concede I was right. (laughs) That's how it usually works.
HAYTER: Bryan will listen to everybody. But then what will happen is, if he's set on an idea, he'll say, "It works because of this, this and this." And I'll say, "It doesn't work because of this, this and this." And we'll go for an hour or two or three back and forth. And then, finally, when somebody runs out of things to say, that's who wins. It's always Bryan's decision in the end, but he is extremely democratic in the ideas that he'll allow into the film.
QUESTION: Bryan, I'm curious about your devotion to the comics. I heard you even watched all the 90's cartoons.
SINGER: You're bridging the gap between the fans of the comic and ultimately a huge group of people that may not be familiar with the comic. The cartoon kind of did that. So it was important not to just the read the comic and the character histories and biographies, but also to look at what had traversed in mainstream television for kids. And then somehow find the collection of most exciting characters and how that translated and used that.
That became kind of a big guide. For an animated series, it was pretty sophisticated and captured the issues of tolerance and the pyschology of these characters and relationships and romances and things like that.
So I found that to be a really good guide, as well as the biographies, talking to Stan Lee and talking to Chris Claremont and talking to these guys, who are big comics fans.
I never grew up reading comics. Ultimately, since becoming involved with X-Men, I've become pretty faithful in observing the universe. That's another nice thing about having good friends and trusted collaborators and partners and writers who now the material. Because I can always say, "You want to put Deathstrike in the movie, but can she heal?" And they say, "Yeah," and then you've got a fight.
QUESTION: You know your material better than any studio head. What was it like for you as a director to protect the material.
SINGER: Just my love for it. And I command a certain amount of control on films. And I throw immature tantrums. It's sort of my own mechanism. I go, "I can't do that!" And they'll go, "OK, don't make him do that or he'll go crazy and we'll lose the picture."
You could write a 20,000-page book on ways to navigate through the studio system and get what you want.
Shooting in Canada is very helpful. We're thousands of miles away from the studios. We're all a bunch of friends, so it's kind of like making an independent guerilla movie -- with 2,000 people and $125 million. (laughs)
QUESTION: Is there anything that you have to put your foot down about?
SINGER: You guys would know better. I try to block bad memories about of my head.
QUESTION: The Danger Room?
SINGER: I made the choice. I cut it. You go to these meetings -- and this is another tactic -- where they say the budget is too high and you have to cut $10 million and they want to sit down and help you do that. And I say, "I don't want your help." I'll sit down with my department heads, not even my producers with be in the room, and I'll cut $10 million.
And then they'll say that another $10 million has to go. And then eventually you'll lose Angels and Beasts. And even when you've spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars building a Danger Room set, you then say, to animate that sequence and bring life to it, and it's not clear and it's tangential and it's another $5 or $6 million, I sit with my own team and make that cut. It's frustrating -- and that's why you make X-Men 3.
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