X-Producers: Lauren Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter talk about 'X2'

Mon, April 28th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

When Lauren

Shuler-Donner and Ralph Winter pushed the first "X-Men" movie into

theaters back in 2000, they probably didn't know they were opening the

floodgates to the superhero movie genre. Now the pair has taken their franchise

to the next level with "X2".

The producers sat down with the press

for roundtable interviews. Several members of the press took turns asking

questions about the new mutant movie. Comics2Film/CBR News is pleased to provide

readers with an edited transcript of that conversation.

Warning: This transcript contains MAJOR SPOILERS.

REPEAT: MAJOR SPOILERS

PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Q: The actors have said there's less pressure on this movie this time around.

Is it the same for the producers? How do you follow an act like

"X-Men?"

Ralph Winter (RW): In one sense it's easier. In one sense, with the actors,

they know their parts. They know their character. They're into it. They don't

have to discover that in this process.

And it's easier in some physical production things. We built Cerebro in the

first movie. We figured out a better way to do it. Before, we had to move the

walls overnight to do it. Now we built it in a way that [director Bryan Singer]

can push it in five minutes and move walls.

So there's a number of elements that are easier in doing it, but the

pressure's still there to do better, do more, raise the bar.

Lauren Shuler-Donner (LSD): Also to make a sequel that will stand on its own

and not be dependent on the audience having seen the first one. So while we have

to be true to our fans and take the movie one step further, we were very conscious

of trying to explain to a new public what the powers were.

For example, you saw a scene in Cerebro where Logan first walks in and he's

smoking a cigar and Xavier tells him not to. And he puts the cigar out in his

hand, which is kind of fun, and it heals. That's for the people who don't know,

who hadn't seen the first one, that sort of thing. So we always had to think about

that.

But it was a lot easier in terms of the visual effects, things that we had

already done the research and development on.

Q: Regarding making it stand on its own, were there discussions about needing

to reintroduce elements and relationships?

LSD: Yeah, but if we could do it in a fun way.

RW: Like setting up Wolverine's healing power. Like setting up Rogue and her

powers with the funny drawing. There was a lot of different things to try to set

those things up in a subtle way without paying a lot of attention to it so we

could move on and go deeper...

LSD: ...without pointing to it.

Q: I think "X-Men" had the biggest box office for a July release

ever. I wonder why you decided to push the date up to May this year.

LSD: It's a great day.

RW: May's a great at the beginning of the summer. You know, "The

Mummy," "Spider-Man" have all done well being at the front end of

the summer. We could make it and so we wanted to make it. We wanted to be there

at the front.

LSD: Also, I think there's a general excitement among audiences to go to the

movies and if you're the first one out, it's great. You're the tip of the summer

and you get that excitement and they all come to the box office. Fox staked that

date out two years ago.

Q: It wasn't too long ago that you'd say, 'OK, we'll finish the film and then

decide to release it,' but you knew before the first frame when it would go out.

LSD: Not only that, but we finished filming in November and we have a total

of 1000 visual effects. 820 hard visual effects and about 180 additions. It was

very hard. In fact, we saw our final visual effect Friday.

RW: You all saw the film when?

Q: Last night.

RW: Last night? Yeah, so you've seen all the new shots cut in, which weren't

even cut in on Friday night.

LSD: Literally, 1:30 on Friday, we finaled the film.

RW: Yeah, it was too late to make the Friday screening.

It's good news and bad news having that. The good news is we were aiming at a

very specific target, so all the elements that go into launching a move can be

focused in on that date. The bad news is, yeah we've got to be there and there's

a limit to the amount of changes and what you can do.

LSD: One other thing about the release date: When you're in the middle of the

summer, you have to worry about the monster that came out before you and, if

it's doing really big business, will you be able to keep your theaters. We don't

have to worry about that. We're the monster. We're going to start off. So, it's

a great date and it's a relief to come on that date.

Q: When does "The Matrix: Reloaded" come out?

LSD: May 15th is the monster that comes after us, but it gives us

enough playing time to get our audience.

RW: But we're PG-13 and it's R so we feel like we might get a little more

playing time as well.

LSD: Right.

Q: This movie was originally rated R. Was there any concern about making it

PG-13?

RW: The movie was never rated R.

LSD: We were always going for PG-13.

Q: Then it wasn't at any time rated R?

LSD: No. It was never rated R. We went up in front of the board and there

were a few things they objected to, which we have cut out and which will be on

the DVD, but our intention...it was written as PG-13. You can't create...you

can't film an R movie and then have it end up a PG-13. It doesn't work.

Q: So you didn't lose anything when you cut scenes for the board?

RW: For instance in the fight, that happens in the augmentation room. From

the origin of it we have two characters that have claws. At some point they're

gonna fight. At some point there gonna go at it. So for us it was about the

intensity of that. It was about the blood, which we tried to hold back on,

because that's what really pushes it over the edge and makes it unnecessarily gory.

So we made changes in that fight sequence to minimize that for the ratings

board, but I don't think that diminishes anything from the fun of that.

And then hopefully in the DVD we'll be able to show just how that was

generated and all the choices that were made and maybe a more full version of

that fight will appear on the DVD. We'll see.

LSD: Blood is an issue. You have to be aware up front of what you're doing.

Q: How far do you want to take the franchise? I'm a huge X-fan and one of the

best storylines is the rise of the Phoenix and the eventual war with the

Sentinels, which seems impossible to actually do on film.

LSD: Well, we'll figure it out. You can tell by the ending of this movie that

we're leading to that, whether that will be "X3" or that will be

"X4" we don't know at the moment.

Q: Marvel comics seem to be this overflowing well of concepts. Is there

something about knowing you have a large fan base for these concepts? Or can you

not take for granted that just because it's a successful comic it'll make for a

successful film?

RW: I think that's true, you can't assume.

LSD: Yeah.

RW: I think what we have in X-Men is characters that are accessible, that are

credible. One of the things that Bryan had always insisted on from the beginning

is characters that you can see, as if they walked by you on the street. They're

real. They're credible. They're not campy. They're not over the top comic book.

So he's got specific radar for that. I think that's what's helped us.

You know: It's funny hair on Wolverine but you've seen people walk down the

street in Hollywood like that, or in New York. It's not that far off.

Maybe the blue person is too much, but most of these characters you can see

them walk down the street and are they or aren't they a mutant? I think that

makes it real as opposed to seeing characters in yellow spandex suits. I think

that's where it makes it real to the audience and it's part of what draws the

audience in.

Q: What about Fantastic Four?

RW: That'll be a tougher one to do because that is a little more

light-hearted so that'll be a challenge.

Q: That's been tried several times and failed, so why bother at this point?

RW: It's popular. It has its own fan following. It's going to be a fun one to

try to crack.

Q: How close are you?

RW: We're working on a script, another one.

Q: Will we live long enough to see it?

RW: [Laughs] I don't know. I don't know.

That one is more fun and upbeat and funny. So that's gonna be a tricky one to

break open.

Q: How much fun was it to be back on the set?

LSD: It was great fun. We happen to be a group that really likes each other.

It was like a reunion. We hang together. We party together. We play together. We

do paintball together. Even coming together to do this junket. We're just...we

like each other a lot.

Q: How involved are you in the making of the video games and how much of the

film relies on the games in terms of getting ideas into the film?

LSD: In the case of this movie, we were not involved in the game at all.

Usually you are. Usually you're involved from the get go but we were not on this

one.

Q: The beginning of the summer movie season keeps getting earlier. Can you

define a summer film? Are there certain characteristics a movie has to have to

be a summer film? Would you be comfortable taking "X2" and putting it

out in November?

LSD: People are available. That's what a summer film is all about. There are

more people available to see your movie therefore your movie will perform better

at the box office.

RW: It's about the kids. It's about making a big, event picture that kids

will want to come see and there's more kids available over the course of the

summer then there is at Christmas. It's harder to get kids out in October or

February.

LSD: The weather's nice. You don't have to deal with snowstorms. Even adults

go on vacation so it's a better time in terms of box office.

Q: How have the kid audiences changed? Are the kid audiences

savvier? More

cynical?

LSD: All of the above. MTV plays a lot in that, I think. Don't you?

RW: Yeah.

Kids are smart. You can't play down to them. They're reading stuff on the

net. They're watching these comic books. They're educated consumers so we're

trying to make a smart movie for them.

And Bryan's got a real desire for that in terms of the design of it and

constantly playing ideas off of other kids to find out, "does this make

sense? Does this look goofy? Is this stupid," and, it's a smart consumer.

Q: What kind of challenge is that? Is it a challenge to get the studio to

make a smart decision and keep the intelligence level up a little bit?

RW: The studio's been very supportive I think of this movie...

LSD: Oh, entirely.

RW: ...in getting behind Bryan and getting behind the story.

Q: But the first time around there were some sticking points.

LSD: The first movie, you have to remember that there were not many

successful comic book movies that preceded it. So they did proceed with caution.

They were smart enough to know that this was a potential franchise, but they

proceeded with caution and rightfully so.

Our budget was restricted so that, if it did work, we could make another

sequel, just as our budget was restricted on this one so that we could make

another one.

But it's very interesting how the studios work. They look at their year and

they plant their tentpole movies, these blockbusters. So they have one being

released in May and one being released July fourth and one in August. And then

they schedule the other movies around that: one in November, one in December and

then they schedule the others around it. So, they plan well in advance.

Q: Does it make any sense ultimately, or is it the old "nobody really

knows anything?"

LSD: Nobody knows anything, but it's different than it used to be. Studios

are now owned by corporations. I mean, there used to be Samuel Goldwyn and Jack

Warner, and people who loved movies ran the studios. Not to say that Sony

Corporation and Vivendi don't love...they do, but they're corporations. So now

we have our chairmen, our presidents answering to a corporation, therefore their

mandate is to make money.

By the way, the executives that we deal with, the presidents, Tom Rothman,

Hutch Parker, love movies and their job is to make really good movies.

But it's News Corp. that's running the show.

Q: It seems like money is more important than a really good movie.

LSD: Well, hopefully one leads to the other.

RW: And we're in a tricky position, because we're responsible for those

dollars that're there, but ultimately what matters in the final product. What

matters is, and what the world remembers, is what the movie's about.

So the tricky thing about being an advocate with Bryan and ourselves for

what's going to make the best movie, as well as what's gonna be fiscally

responsible to make sure we get to come play again. So that's constant tension

there in doing that.

But ultimately it's about the movie. That's what lasts and at the end of the

day, nobody cares how hard you worked or how difficult it was. All that matters

is, does the movie work or doesn't it? That's the constant thing to put in

perspective and it enters into all the kinds of discussions that shape the movie

along the way.

Q: There are a lot of good movies that don't make much money, and lousy

movies that often make lots of money. So how does that make?

LSD: It also depends on how the movie is sold. A lot of times there are very

good movies..."Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." I personally loved

that movie. It wasn't sold right, which is why they're doing it again.

"Election." You know, it's just sometimes the studio doesn't quite

know how to sell it or it's not coming out at the right time.

RW: There's only so many things that we're in control of as producers as

well. So the thing that we can most control is how the movie turns out. So

that's what we work at the hardest. Then in terms of selling the movie there's

so many people, again, because it's such a big event, there's a lot of other

people who get involved with that. I think we're very fortunate with this. This

is gonna sell and get to the marketplace and do well.

But you're right. That's a common problem as a producer is to figure out how

to make a good movie and be sure that it gets to the audience that's intended.

LSD: I think also, sometimes, by the way, "bad movies",

quote/unquote, do well sometimes because the studio was smart enough to release

that movie at a certain time when there was no other movie like it around. And

it's a family movie, for example, or it's an action film. The audiences feel

like seeing that and they're the only game in town. They'll do really well.

Q: "X2" is a very hard PG-13 movie. It pushes the envelope. Your

audience is a very PG-13 audience. Is there a responsibility not to push that

envelope?

LSD: We know going in, we're not gonna show blood. We're not gonna show a

degree of violence that would be objective to a PG-13 audience.

RW: And the stuff that's there I think is within that world. Again, you've

got people with claws, you know they're gonna fight. So, they're not gonna just

show those claws without actually having to use them. So that's all within that

same world.

Q: So why would you not show blood, aside from pleasing the ratings board?

For your audience's sake, what harm would seeing blood on the screen do?

RW: It makes it gory. You know, when you actually see the claws coming out or

you see the claws going in, with blood spurting, that's just over the top.

LSD: It's more visceral and there's no need for it in this world, in the

X-Men world, because some of the powers, like Magneto's powers are not violent.

There's reason to go that extra step, where it become exploitive.

Q: Is this just an aesthetic thing or do you think audiences respond to

violence on the screen?

LSD: Well, I think it's tricky times, by the way. I think we're even more

sensitive to violence because we're watching it every day on the news. I think

as a filmmaker it's our responsibility not to perpetuate that and also to be

sensitive to what's going on.

RW: It depends on the movie you're making as well. I don't know how you would

make "The Sopranos" as a movie, without making it R. How do you make a

horror movie...if you make a horror movie that's PG, you won't do any business.

That's a pretty specific, niche audience that wants that kind of stuff. So it

depends on the picture.

But yeah, I think we try to take some responsibility about what goes on and

who the audience is and try to be faithful to that.

Q: If you were making a period piece, like "Timeline" which takes

place in large part in the middle ages, does that make for a safer place to say

things or put things in because you're not being overtaken by events?

LSD: No because you do go back in the Middle Ages but we land smack dab in

the middle of the hundred years war and the French and the English are fighting

and they're brutal. They're brutal. So we had to be very careful not to show too

much blood. They're using swords all the time and we had to be very careful not

to go in and have all the blood spurt out.

Plus, you know, if you've read the book, there are several beheadings in the

book and we had to just be very aware that we wanted to make a PG-13 movie.

It's not safer back there at all. That's the whole jeopardy of the movie.

Q: When is this movie due out?

LSD: The 25th of November? Whatever the Wednesday is before Thanksgiving. I

think it's the 25th or the 26th.

Q: One of the views of the book was what a stinky era that was. It was just a

nasty, dirty time. Are you able to pull that off?

LSD: Well we didn't...yes, we make it as real as possible. Particularly when

we get to the fights. The way of fighting in the middle ages was trebuchets and

arrows on fire and that sort of thing and I think you'll find the battle unlike

any battle you've ever seen.

Q: Who's involved in that?

LSD: Richard Donner. Who starred in it or directed it?

Q: Directed.

LSD: Richard Donner.

Q: Who stars in it?

LSD: We have a really eclectic cast. We have Paul Walker, Billy Connolly,

Anna Friel, who if you don't know, she's fabulous, Gerry Butler, who is a new

actor, like [Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman], real leading man, he's going to be

in "Tomb Raider 2" this summer, David Thewlis, Frances O'Connor...cast

of millions.

Q: That's a great cast.

LSD: Thank you. They're all really good actors.

Q: Getting back to the idea of a "bad movie," nobody sets out to

make one but everybody knows that they happen. When you see a project going

south, why is it so difficult to pull the plug? Why do bad movies get made and

released?

RW: Part of it is, you don't see it until you're part way through shooting

and the script is not coming out on film the way you thought. It's an awful

realization when that happens. It's awful, but you know, you're right. I don't

think anyone starts out to make a bad one. I think everyone's got high

intentions.

Sometimes, yeah, you've invested so much into it you think, maybe we can fix

this, maybe we can...because you do tell a different story in post-production.

You can manipulate the story a little differently. So there's always hope prior

that, maybe we can fix this, maybe we can shape it differently.

Q: Does anyone ever acknowledge it or does everyone always keep up

his or her game

face and say, "God we're having a great time"?

RW: No, I think people do recognize it and "how can we fix it and

work..."

I'm not talking about this movie.

LSD: No!

RW: I've got movies on my resume that aren't the ones that I want promoted.

Yeah, you try to fix it. You try to figure out, "how can we stem the tide

here?"

I've worked on movies as well where, it's not fun in the process, but the

movie turns out great. And you can also have a lot of fun making the movie, and

the movie comes out poor.

So that's not a fair judgment of how it's working.

Q: It fascinates me that, if you recognize the movie is going bad, you have

to keep going. You can't just pull the plug.

RW: Generally it does have to keep going.

LSD: And it depends on the elements that make it bad. For example, your lead

character is very unlikable. Let's say the lead character was cast wrong, occasionally

they're re-cast, but if you're character is very unlikable then you strive in

the following scenes that you're filming to make them more likable. You're

trying to fix it as you're going along.

Q: When you come out to the press like this on a bad movie, are you acting or

are you lying?

RW: You pick and choose, on those movies, what you'll say. You pick and

choose carefully. You find the things you can say nice things about and the

other things, like my mom told me, you don't talk about.

LSD: And the truth is, whether it's a good movie or a bad movie, people

worked really hard. They worked twelve, sixteen hours a day, seven or six days a

week, and you don't want to hurt all those people who came out and did the movie

by bashing it yourself. So, you find the best elements and you talk about that.

 
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