Over the past seventeen years, Bryan Singer been able to jump from genre to genre with great results. While he’s previously made superhero movies (X-Men, Superman Returns), thrillers (The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil), and a film about trying to assassinate Hitler during WWII (Valkyrie), in his upcoming Warner Bros. fantasy Jack the Giant Slayer, he’s tackling a classic children’s fairy tale with a modern twist. As usual, he’s delivered a fun ride that audiences will love.
Recently I landed an exclusive phone interview with Singer. We talked about making the film, the CGI and 3D, his thoughts on 48fps, how they rewrote the whole film during pre-production, Twitter, X-Men: Days of Future Past, his Battlestar Galactica remake, and so much more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Collider: What the hell has the last few days been like for you doing all the press?
BRYAN SINGER: It put me a little under the weather. I did 80, eight-zero, TV interviews yesterday. That’s a record for me.
What’s it like being asked the same six questions again and again?
SINGER: Its maddening…it’s harder on camera because you just feel like you want to give a good answer. You feel weird repeating yourself, repeating the same phrases over and over again so you try to say the same answer differently and then every once and while you just give a different answer [laughs] and you hope people don’t look at both broadcasts and say “Well in Italy he said this, but in Spain he said this.”
This seems like it was possibly the most challenging film you’ve done with the two monitors, 3D, so much CGI. Was this the most challenging for you?
SINGER: Oh, yeah, by far. Because you’re dealing with characters, interacting with creatures that- real life people interacting with giants that you performance captured way in advance and making them seem seamless and real and like they’re really there. That’s just very challenging. It uses the latest and greatest technology. To do it the way I did it on this movie would not have been possible five years ago, let alone ten years ago.
I was on set, I watched you work, and one of the things we talked about was the high frame rate, the 48fps, I’m curious now your thoughts on the process. I follow you on twitter and I saw your tweets when you saw The Hobbit down in New Zealand, I’m curious what your thoughts are on the format.
SINGER: It’s a challenging thing. In some cases it’s very effective and it really, really helps enhance the scene and it prevents strobing and allows you to have more detail in the action. It also can be expensive because you have to render more frames for your digital effects. It’s something I believe is definitely worth exploring, but it may be hard to justify in most circumstances.
Talking a little bit about the actual production process on this one, from when you first got involved with putting together the script to what everyone is seeing on screen, how much changed along the way?
SINGER: Well, it changed completely and totally. I was in the middle of pre-production and it re-read the script and I realized I didn’t like the story, it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t bad, there was just too much ambiguity between what the giants were and their relationship with mankind, who was the hero, and who we were really rooting for. So I phoned up Chris McQuarrie, who’s an old friend, he’s worked on a number of things with me and basically I had him come in and together we- actually I flew to Seattle and met with him and we had a series of meeting where we formulated a new plot and a new direction. I sent it back to the studio who was a little shocked because we were in pre-production and I said, “Look we’re going to have giants, we’re going to have a beanstalk, we were preparing for all that anyway, it’s not going to impact the stuff you developed so far, but I think it’s important to make this a better movie and to take this new path.” So Chris did a page-one re-write of the script and then I brought in Darren [Lemke] and then I brought in Dan Studney to continue writing through pre-production and production to make the film that you saw.
I really like the beginning the way that you cross-cut between the two storylines, where did that come in? Whose idea was that?
SINGER: You mean in the very opening scene?
When the princess is explaining her situation and you basically are realizing that the two of them are in very similar situations.
SINGER: Yeah, I felt I needed both scenes to establish the conflict between the uncle and Jack and the conflict between the father and daughter, and yet they felt- when I read them on the page as they were evolving they each felt…just long winded on their own so I thought, “Why don’t I shuffle the cards and just connect them and cut back and forth?” and then I was able to do that in the opening scene, which actually shot much later, where you cut back and forth between them as kids. It sort of creates a sense of connectivity and destiny to these two characters. They’re both so different, their lives are so different, and yet oddly similar.
SINGER: Oh, I like it. It’s something I never thought I would really be into, but I promised myself that if I got involved with a movie that had a lot of scrutiny on it again, like an X-Men movie, I would have it as a way to connect with fans and also clear up rumors and things like that. I think it’s a great tool. I wish I had it on Valkyrie. On this movie Valkyrie I did all these people were saying “oh the movies in trouble, they’re have to fly back and do reshoots.” And I could have simply tweeted “No, there are no deserts in Germany. I’m going to shoot a desert scene that I have planned and budgeted” instead of having to call a press conference or wait for the junket.
You know something? I think Valkyrie is a very underrated film. I really enjoyed that film, sir.
SINGER: Oh, thank you very much. I’m very proud of it.
I love the fact that you’ve been tweeting little behind the scenes photos regarding X-Men and how you’ve been announcing casting on X-Men. Has the studio or any agents come at you and said, “Dude you have to stop announcing things on twitter.”
SINGER: No, not yet. I mean they sometimes get a little nervous when you tweet images, but no. I usually just say, “Is the deal done? Good, thanks.”
I would imagine a lot of studio people and agents don’t want to piss you off so it’s pretty much a hands-off approach.
SINGER: Yeah, no one’s complained. It’s always very flattering. It’s a good way- by the way it also isn’t a rumor. If I say it’s happening, it’s happening. As opposed to it being like, “someone’s in negotiations, yes they might be playing this role.” If I say they’re playing the role then they’re playing the role, and if I say I’m doing something then I’m doing it.
SINGER: Yeah, I start shooting April 15th in Montreal.
And how long are you going to be up there for?
SINGER: Probably until October.
That’s a healthy shoot.
SINGER: It’s a big movie. It’ll be the biggest movie I’ve ever made.
I’ve been so impressed that you’ve been able to put together this incredible cast for the sequel. How difficult was it for you to get all these people involved?
SINGER: I got the impression that everyone was kind of excited to come back. The actors from X-Men: First Class are contracted to, but the ones I’ve spoken to are very enthusiastic. Jen’s very excited, I’m with Nick these past few days and he’s excited, and Hugh, Ian, Patrick, Anna—they remember we felt very good about those first two X-Men films back then. I think there’s a good feeling about all of us working together again, and I’m very excited to work with the new cast members as a director as opposed to just a producer.
SINGER: I don’t think the high frame rate would make sense for this movie, but I will be shooting native 3D, yeah.
Are you going to use the same camera package, are you using Red Epic?
SINGER: I’m not sure yet, I haven’t made that decision yet. I’m looking at a few systems, so we’ll see.
I’m such a huge fan of the John Byrne/Chris Claremont comics, I think that it’s probably, if not the best, one of the best of the X-Men storylines. How challenging has it been for you guys to adapt what fans love into a successful movie?
SINGER: Well you have to capture the essence of those stories, and if you try to do every single detail that’s in this story, that can be too much for a movie. But if you can grab the essence of that story and those characters, and then realize it’s a movie it’s not a comic book so there are certain parameters that are different, it’ll still be satisfying to fans and non-fans.
One of the things that excites me about you taking on X-Men again is the advancement in technology. What technological advancements in the past few years might you be able to apply to future films like X-Men or another thing in the future?
SINGER: Well I love the motion capture technology, that’s exciting for certain things. But just qualitatively, you can do more qualitatively. I was re-watching the X-Men films and I realized how poor the quality of Mystique’s transformation was, for instance, in those early films. It’s almost like the blue animation was just resting on top of her skin and there was no incorporation with the actual flesh. It looked a lot worse than I remembered. So just stuff like that, just better quality visual effects.
I’ve seen on Twitter that you’ve been working on the script. Are you pretty close to having a locked screenplay?
SINGER: There’s no such thing as a locked screenplay [laughs]. Maybe with Aaron Sorkin, but it’s really an ever-evolving process. The actors haven’t had a draft yet so I’m trying to get a draft to them soon, and I just want to do one more pass with Simon [Kinberg] before I give them a draft and then keep working from there. That’s how you get double golden rod, triple salmon colored pages. You’re always just coming up with stuff.
When we left at the end of First Class it was in the late 60s, and rumors have been online that the sequel takes place in the 70s. Are those rumors true and have you guys figured out when it takes place?
SINGER: Yeah, we have, and part of it takes place in the 1970s. And Richard Nixon’s in it, that’ll be an interesting casting choice. I can tell you that, that’s a little confirmation I guess.
SINGER: Yeah, and there’ll also be some more science-fiction-type aspects to the story and, without giving it away, some technology that we haven’t seen yet in the X-Men universe.
What was it like for you getting the phone call from Fox saying, “Hey, would you consider directing this thing?”
SINGER: Well, it was very weird. I was on a boat off the coast of Hawaii on a working vacation, I was with John Orloff, the screenwriter of the Battlestar Galactica movie which I’ve had to step away from at the moment, obviously for this, and I was working with him and Jason Taylor who runs my company. We were on a boat and we were doing some work but also relaxing a bit and I had had a drink, so I was a little relaxed, and I didn’t even realize I had phone service so I took the phone out of my pocket and it was a call from Emma Watts at the studio. She just said, “Matthew’s not doing the movie, would you like to direct it?” I wasn’t sure that was actually the case, I thought maybe it was a momentary issue they were having.
I didn’t know what to think, and then Simon called me up to prepare me to get the draft, because I needed to get the most recent draft at that point to make that decision. And then Matthew called me the next day and that’s when I realized, and I said, “Are you sure?” and he was like, “Yeah I’m sure,” and he explained his reasons and I thought, “Okay, well I need to get into this.” So it was a little like, “Oh, okay well now I know what the next year will be.” Jason Taylor, the head of my company, looked across the table at me on the boat and he just saw my facial expression, because suddenly when you know that your whole next two years are going to change, it does cause a reaction.
About Battlestar Galactica, I was really looking forward to your take on this thing. What can you tell people about your thoughts on the version you want to tell and do you think that could still happen after X-Men?
SINGER: It possibly could, I don’t know, that would really be up to Universal. But I did feel we were making good headway with the script, John and I, so we’ll see. I don’t know. I’d rather not give details about the story, the take, because if it did happen I’d want to keep it a bit mysterious.
Jack the Giant Killer opens this weekend. Click here for all our previous coverage.