Bryan Singer's Mutant Agenda

Mon, April 21st, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

Bryan

Singer, director of "X2: X-Men United" recently 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 happy to provide

readers with an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q: Did you go right from filming the first one into development on

"X2?"

No, there was a period of rest but the ideas of the story germinated during

the making of the first film. It carried slowly into the script development

stage and eventually the prep and shoot. Gradual, so there was some time between

them.

Q: In the new movie, you don't spend a lot of time re-introducing

the characters. How effective do you feel that was?

I call it the "Lost Horizon" concept. You make a film, as they did with

"Lost Horizon." They made it three hours long, they took an hour to establish all the

characters aboard a plane. The plane crashes and they go on an adventure. Then

when they looked at the picture they said, 'this is a really long picture.' So

then they cut the first hour off. But because they had that first hour for the

characters to develop and for their relationship to evolve, when they finally

crashed and discovered the lost city and whatnot, you really felt that you knew

the characters.

I think that this film, "X2," is designed to stand on its own

as a film, as a separate entity. It's kind of like the movie I could've,

should've made the first time, but could not have made without having made the

first.

I think now that those characters are so defined, even when they movie into

X2, you know where they're coming from. The universe is somewhat established.

You see them use their powers very early on. There's a few things I put in

there, like in Lord of the Rings, he opens the picture with the dream, with

McKellan falling and fighting the dragon, and likewise there's certain things

for the audience so they can catch up to speed, but ultimately it seemed like

there was no point to it. The characters were already moving forward and I

didn't want to move backward and waste that kind of time.

Q: There's a scene where Wolverine is covered in blood. Was this movie

ever in danger of getting an R rating?

Yeah, originally we got an R rating and there were just a few minor things of

intensity that were trimmed. Very little. I was really pleased. 

There's very

little blood in the movie. There's some intensity in it but its not a gory

picture by any means and its somewhat heroic and no one is...like in the first

picture we had Rogue get stabbed right through the chest by Wolverine, but we

solved those problems in the story and it's fun and the audience realizes that

there's not a terrifying threat and it's not a massacre. It's heroes having to

defeat villains.

Q: Was there more pressure on you doing the sequel then there was on

the first one?

No. Not really. I think some of the pressure was alleviated by the fact that

fans, the core audience who've supported the X-Men universe for forty years

really embraced the first picture. There was more time and money this time

around and I had a better sense of what I was doing because I'd already

established these characters and I'd already cut my teeth on the genre. So I

felt a little less pressure and actually a little more freedom.

Q: Is Kurt Wagner from the comic book or was he created for the movie?

No, he's from the comic book. He's a very popular character.

Q: Is his look similar to his look in the comic? He looks like a

demon.

It is very similar. That's the wonderful dichotomy of Nightcrawler. He's a

character who is deeply religious and a sympathetic character, but at the same

time has the physical appearance of a demon. The one thing we added to it were

the scarification on his face, to give him an interesting sense of history.

Q: What are your plans for the franchise? Will we ever see the

Sentinels?

It's possible. I couldn't say specifically. The war is always getting larger

in their universe and their conflict as more mutants are born every day.

Q: I like the way you opened up the story. I found myself rooting for certain

characters and then becoming uncertain about them. Is that something you were

going for?

Absolutely. One of the fun parts of an ensemble picture, especially there are

so many characters  where the lines of good and evil are blurring

constantly, there's a lot more  room for unpredictability and surprise.

You're following one character on a journey and you find it disrupted by another

character and then another character introduces another mystery  and then

that's solved just as more characters are introduced and unholy alliances are

formed, but not quite...it's kind of like...ever since I made "Unusual

Suspects" I've enjoyed the challenge of ensemble pictures and so this time

with "X2" it's like, 'OK, we've got all these characters, bring on a

couple more.'

I enjoy that challenge: balancing.

Q: The franchise could go on forever. How will you say goodbye to this

franchise?

I think when the time comes for me to say goodbye it will not be that hard at

all, but until that time I enjoy myself.

Q: Are you going to do another one?

I'm not sure. I don't know. I have ideas and things have been established in

this film that would lend themselves to future pictures but at the same time,

circumstances have to be appropriate. I'd probably like to do  something in

between. I don't know if it's back to my roots of  smaller films or go and

make another kind of event picture. I'm not sure yet. I'm developing things.

Q: You mentioned that the war is getting bigger, and there're a lot of

conversations in the movie developing that. Can you talk more about that and

about relations to current events?

I think a lot of those are very coincidental. The storyline was conceived

prior to September 11th and remember the X-Men universe was created in the early

sixties during the height of the American Civil Rights movement. So these ideas

of bigotry, tolerance, fear, war, fear among society, I think, are perpetual

ideas. We've had them for thousands of years ever since man recognized his

fellow man and they saw that two people had different color hair. 

So I think it

is oddly relevant. I desperately tried to not to let current events as they

unfolded impact the process of making this film. This film is, for me, primarily

a wonderful piece of fantasy entertainment. I think if it didn't have some

relevance to some social issues or some personal issues then it wouldn't be

truly entertaining. I think truly entertaining movies affect you. I think Star

Wars talked about growing up and religion and myth and many serious things, but

in a spectacular way. I think good science fiction ultimately tells stories of

the human condition from an extraordinary perspective. 

In that way, it's ironic but there's nothing wrong with it. But it is eerie

in certain aspects.

Q: In a way the film is very anti-establishment. There are a lot of people

who look like special ops getting killed, police getting killed, the air force

getting dogged. Did you worry about that in these times?

No, not at all. The soldiers depicted in this film are truly

following...they're not even working for the United States. They're working up

in Alberta in a secret base. They're working for someone who's completely rogue

from the government. The President of the United States is very on the fence and

very concerned, justifiable, about the issue. There are mutants who possess

incredible power and who are terribly violent and dangerous to human society and

mutant society. I view these as henchmen.

In terms of airplanes getting dogged and police getting dogged: no one in

that sphere is seriously harmed. It's not about bullying the authority. I

personally have tremendous faith and support of our authorities and our

military.

Having shown it to friends of mine that are in the military, they get a kick

out of the fact these soldiers are a bunch of rogue dirt bags who get what's

coming to them. And then we see that. We definitely see that.

This guy Stryker, he's operating in his own universe. He's tricking the

President. He's conning the President into his operation. So it's quite the

opposite, if anything. He's more of a terrorist.

Q: How involved are you in the video game spin-offs from the movie?

The Wolverine's Revenge game was designed  separately from the picture,

but what I did was I had the game creators come on up and take a look at the

sets and tour them and take a look at a lot of our artwork and our conceptual

designs and take them through some of the story and so that they would be able

to infuse the game with a lot of the properties that we created, a lot of the

designs. It's nice. It's created kind of a synergy between the game and the

movie, but at the same time, the game stands alone and the movie stands alone.

Q: How intrusive is that? By the time you factor in the DVD and the video

game, how intrusive is all that on the movie-making process?

I don't find it intrusive at all. It's a welcome distraction. I will say...I

shoot pretty tight movies. I don't shoot a lot of fat, a lot of things to cut

off or cut out as it were, but ultimately if there's a moment that you find

precious that you've shot, and you know it just doesn't work in the context of

the picture, you always have that in the back of your mind, 'oh, I'm putting

this one on the DVD.' I think, for that, as a filmmaker it's real fun. There's

one little beat in X-Men 2, a subtle little beat that I was very proud of, just

directorially, it's very subtle and silly, but for me I'll enjoy putting that on

the DVD. 

And then getting some perspective from it. I was able to with X-Men 1.5, get

some perspective on the movie a year later and actually talk about it on a

running commentary, which I didn't feel I was able to do the first time around.

Q: Has it gotten to the point with these event kind of films, where you actually

start thinking about the DVD prior to the shoot?

What I do, in the case of X-Men 1 and the X2 DVD, there's a gentlemen named

Rob Burnett, who's a DVD producer, who I've been friends with for years and he

produced the re-release of the Usual Suspects DVD. He does a really good job and

is very creative and very thoughtful. He kind of outlines the kinds of things

he'd like to do and then I tell him some of the things that I think would be

interesting and then I step away from it.

I provide him with materials he needs, throughout the process and give him

what time I can, but I will not allow anything to intrude, whether it's the

marketing or the publicity or press or any of these aspects to intrude the

process of making the film because it would ultimately sabotage the entire event

itself.

Q: The opening weekend is now a big part of the success of the movie. How integral has

scheduling become to the entire process of filmmaking?

Well, the days that "Bonnie and Clyde" could open in two theaters

and then sweep America and become the biggest movie over the course of a year

are over. You really have these opening weekends. You know where you stand by

Friday at nine o'clock. 

Yeah, it's very frustrating and it's frightening, but at the same time the

dates have tremendous value. I recognize the value of being one of the first

major summer films out this round. I also believe that a film is never finished.

It's merely abandoned. In the case of my films they're usually ripped from my

fingers.

Like financial limitation, scheduling limitations breed creative

solutions. I try to work within them responsibly. But if I were to do a more

independent movies, a more exploration film, I would go the style prior: you put

your money together, you make your film and then you put it out there when

someone buys it.

Q: Is there a time when you might say no to money? As you

said often limits will inspire creativity.

I take a mixed philosophy about

that, somewhere in between the two. It is my responsibility to the project to

fight for as much resources as I can get, within the context that I think is

necessary for that film.

I did a project called "Apt Pupil" some

time ago with very little money, but the plot didn't require, and it would have

been irresponsible if I had spent a lot more money because it was very daring

and quite dark. The gamble wasn't worth it.

In the case of X2 you feel more

comfortable spending more money because you know there's a wider audience and

you know you're building on a saga, a universe, franchise, whatever you call it.

But I also respect the fact that with all my battles, I always set my mark

higher than the actual budget.

In the case of X-Men 1, I was trying to make a

$100 million picture for $75 million. IN the case of X2 I'm trying to make a

$200 million picture for $120 million. So, I'm always tasking myself and always

setting those limitations.

I believe in what Spielberg says, that truly those

kinds of limitations breed amazing creative solutions, as he discovered with the

classic scenario of the shark in "Jaws" which never worked. As a

result we got the barrels in the water and everyone's terrified.

Q: I've read

that you are committed to making a movie that is both a blockbuster and an

intelligent movie. Were there struggles the first time around in making the

movie that you wanted to make?

There were. I would be lying to you if I told

you there weren't. But they also new that I was the director of "Unusual

Suspects" and "Apt Pupil" and my first feature "Public

Access" and they had seen those movies and they understood the style with

which I approached filmmaking.

I remember Bill Mechanic and Tom Rothman at the

studio at the time, had just scene "Apt Pupil" which is incredibly

dark, and we walked out the screening and I said, "Do you still want me to

do this 'X-Men' picture?"

And they're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. This

thing's not supposed to make money. You'll do great. I love your style."

I

was like, "OK."

So I approached it and I took this universe as

seriously as I would take, as I imagine Robert Wise took "The Day The Earth

Stood Still." In that way I would please fans, because the X-Men fans take

this universe very seriously and they support it and have supported it for forty

years, and also I would help, because I never came from a comic book reading

background, bridge the gap between the fans and the uninitiated.

Q: Do you now

get mobbed by fans, or have people coming after you saying, "why did you do

that," or "why didn't you do this?"

I just keep cutting my hair

so nobody knows what the hell I look like. 

I enjoy going to comic book

stores. I look around and see what's there and occasionally someone will say,

"hi." I also enjoy going to the comic conventions. I was terrified to

go when the first "X-Men" movie was about to come out because there

was so much skepticism. Then I found myself before several thousand people at

the convention in San Diego and it was a very warm reception. 

It's kind

of interesting to me because I never grew up reading comics and now things that

I directly created in the film have now translated in the evolution of the comic

book and that's just baffling and astonishing to me.

Q: How have the fans

treated you?

They're very sweet. I was a Trekkie and a sci fi fan myself;

hard-core, just comic books were never my fortes. I may have betrayed them if I

was too mired in the comic book early on. I surrounded myself with people who

are very knowledgeable about the comic book, and I'm extremely knowledgeable

about it, but who are entrenched in it and also entrenched in he fan base, who

can advise me one way or another. Like, "I'm gonna make this one character

do this one little, extra thing. Is that gonna be cool? Is anybody gonna

complain?"

I override the lore a little, but still maintain the essence

of the characters.

Q: Is there an example of something that was easier to do

this time around as opposed to the first time?

Oh, Rebecca's [Romijn-Stamos]

makeup. Nine hours down to six. That's easier. Different kinds of appliances.

Larger appliances that still had the detail of all the smaller appliances the

first time around. I thought was not only quicker but also more elegant.

Just

everything in general. The actors found their characters more...In the beginning

Hugh Jackman, since we cast him late in the process of the first

"X-Men," it was taking him a while to find this character. He arrived

on the set of "X2" Wolverine. Pure, complete, done, nailed. And all

the characters really rose to the occasion. And we all knew each other and had a

shorthand.

The kind of shorthand I had with my cinematographer Tom Sigel, who

I shot four movies with, I had with ...

[Singer is interrupted by as the

interview period is winding down]

Q: How was it to be on the bridge of

Star Trek in Nemesis?

Oh it was a thrill. The two thrills of my life, besides

having the opportunity to make movies and all that stuff, is spending twelve

hours on the bridge of the Enterprise in a Starfleet uniform as it was rocking

back and forth with pyrotechnics on a giant gimble with the entire cast.

And

when Patrick Stewart, two weeks later, invited me to have dinner over at his

house and he said he had a surprise. I was like, "Oh, what's the surprise?

Maybe it's pictures of me in my Starfleet uniform," which he had. But we're

sitting there having a little hors d'oeuvres and suddenly the doorbell rings and

William Shatner comes in and joins us for dinner. Then I went upstairs after

dinner and played "Next Generation" pinball with William Shatner at

Patrick Stewart's house.

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