Opening this weekend is director Ruben Fleischer’s (Zombieland) Gangster Squad. The movie is set in 1940s Los Angeles and stars Sean Penn as real-life gangster Mickey Cohen, who became the target of special task force known as the “Gangster Squad” made up of Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, and Robert Patrick. The film also stars Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, and Mireille Enos. For more on the film, be sure to check out our set visit coverage here, and watch six clips.
At the Los Angeles press day, I landed an exclusive interview with producer Dan Lin. During our wide ranging conversation we talked about making Gangster Squad, editing, the test screenings, improv on set, and more. In addition, with Lin producing a number of other projects, I got updates on Sherlock Holmes 3, The Lego Movie, Suicide Squad, the ACME movie, Brotherhood, Moses, and much more. Hit the jump for the interview.
Note: This interview was done before the recent Godzilla legal developments.
Collider: I definitely wanna touch on certain things that were not identified or talked about in our on-set interview. I’m curious about how, in post-production on this, how did editing on this movie go compared to some of the other ones?
DAN LIN: I think it was a complicated post process. One: we were recreating period L.A. so there were a lot of visual effects and they came in pretty late in the process. Set extension shots, matte paintings, looking at a lot of the action scenes that you saw, the car chase in the movie—a lot of that is accentuated by visual effects, so it was really looking at that and how do we make it look as realistic as possible? Two: we had an amazing cast in the movie and they all have different performances modulated a different way, whether it was Sean’s performance as Mickey Cohen or Josh’s performance as O’Mara, and so we did a lot of modulating of the actors’ performances as well in post. Really Ruben did a fantastic job on that, and then James Herbert, who worked with me on Sherlock Holmes, came in and helped our main editor Alan Baumgarten really accentuate the action in the movie as well.
How did the test screening process adjust this movie?
LIN: We had great test screenings, I’m really being honest about this. The movie tested so high, and it really allowed us to make the version of the movie that Ruben wanted to make, which is a fun, entertaining version of the movie. This is not a “serious” movie; there are some serious scenes in the movie, but this is really a fun, entertaining action movie and the audience really responded. You can feel a visceral reaction to the audience; people laugh and cheer, they laugh in all the right places, they’re applauding at the action, and at the end they feel really good, so the test screening only validated that this is the right tone for the movie.
There’s some really, really good banter between the characters, especially in the first third between Ryan and Emma at the bar. Talk a little bit about the banter, and was any of that improv or was it all in the script?
LIN: There was some improv. It was all really based off the script that Will Beall wrote, but certainly Ryan and Emma had worked together before and so there was a certain natural chemistry. Will was with us on set, and Ruben, Will, Ryan, and Emma, they would try different things. But I think once you’ve worked on a movie together—they had so much chemistry on Crazy, Stupid, Love. they just brought it to our movie and then they used that just to fill out the characters even more.
What’s the status on Sherlock 3? When I spoke to Jude Law, he said Warner Bros. was still working on a script.
LIN: Yeah it’s still in development. Drew Pearce is working on the script and Downey, as you know, is still finishing Iron Man 3 so we’re waiting for Downey to finish that movie and to get a script from Drew.”
LIN: Yes, it’s a high priority for the studio and for all the filmmakers involved.
So it’s just a question of once that script is done?
LIN: Yeah, I mean we wanna make the right movie. We got a great response to the second movie and frankly the Moriarty character sets such a high bar that we want to make sure we’re telling the right story for the third movie.
That’s another question I wanted to ask you. Obviously I don’t wanna spoil anything for anybody who hasn’t seen the second film, but the second film ends in such a way that it could go either way in the third film. Do you imagine that characters could return, if you will?
LIN: I don’t wanna go into detail about that, I just want to say that there will be some new locations, new settings for the third movie. Just like Sherlock for the second movie took us in a new location; the third movie will take us to a new location as well.
Something else I’m incredibly excited for is the Lego movie and I especially love that some of the characters names are President Business, Bad Cop; these names are amazing. Are you guys filming that yet?
LIN: We are; we are in production. I actually just got back from Sydney. I spent two weeks out there with [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller, the writer/directors of the movie. Right after the holidays we will be recording more voices. We’ve been all the actors’ voices right now to put in an animatic of the movie, then in February we send this animatic from Santa Monica where we’re doing that work to Australia. We’re really excited about it. You mention different characters names, that truly comes out of Lord and Miller movie. If you know their work; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, they are funny guys, they are quirky guys. This is very specific to their tone and they’ve created a whole new set of original characters that no one’s seen before.
They are 2:2 for movies with me and I think 21 Jump Street is one of the best movies this year. I love that movie. With Lego you’re dealing with this huge corporation which that obviously is very important, how much are you guys able to go for it and how much do you make sure Lego is happy?
LIN: They’ve been really a great partner in the process. For instance, they’re building some of the models for our movie. I just got back from Australia and they built a pirate ship that we have in the movie and they really have helped us design the characters. So we really are able to go for it in that they allow us the best way to approach the movie in that it is truly a Lego built movie. The vision that Lord and Miller had for the movie was that anything you see in the movie can be actually built out of Lego bricks. And with Lego they know their core audience so well that they’re really helping to educate us about their core audience and what they like and what they may have issues with.
I’m looking forward to the 21 Jump Street sequel, I’m curious how is the production process on Lego, because I know they’re supposedly filming the sequel in September, is it one of those things where you guys are working on it intensely for eight months and then it’s up to the animators?
LIN: Yeah, we’ll work on it intensely until February, Lord and Miller are; they’re re-writing the script, working with artists on this animatic and hopefully in February the plan is to send this animatic to Australia and they’ll have less day-to-day involvement and free themselves up for other projects.
Of course the other thing is Warner Brothers has so many IPs and I know that’s it’s already been rumored that Batman’s in the movie, and Chris and Phil have sort of said to me that there’s going to be fun characters. Is it one of these things where you’re actively going after other IPs to make sure they can be in the movie, like Harry Potter or Superheroes, do you know what I mean?
LIN: Yeah, I don’t want to comment too much because I really want the audience to be surprised when they see the movie, but just know that the beauty of the Lego movie is that you can go to different worlds can collide in different ways that you can’t do in other movies.
One of the other projects you’re listed as producing is Justice League. Are you still on that?
LIN: I’m not involved in that day-to-day right now.
I also noticed on the always accurate IMDb that you’re listed on like 20 other projects. What’s bubbling up in terms of things that you think might be moving that much closer to the camera in 2013?
LIN: We’re really optimistic about a Moses movie. As you know there are competing Moses movies, we have one that we’re developing with a big director with an amazing script by Michael Green and Stu Hazeldine, so that’s on the front burner for me. I’m waiting for a script on a project called Brotherhood, and that kind of ties into Gangster Squad, it’s another cop movie. This is set in 1980s New York and it’s about two New York City detectives who were actually working for the mob, who ultimately took them down. I love this genre of cop gangster movies, cops and the mob, between Departed and now Gangster Squad, and I’m hoping Brotherhood will be the next one. It’s based on a book.
LIN: (laughs) No, Bill Dubuque is writing it right now. He’s an amazing writer that just wrote The Judge for Warner Bros. that Downey is starring in and David Dobkin is directing. And so Bill is a really interesting new voice that I’m excited about, and the book was written by NYPD detective William Oldham.
I definitely wanna bring up the fact that the comic book genre is literally the most popular thing out there right now, you know The Dark Knight Rises $1 billion, The Avengers $1.5 billion, etc. Warner Bros. obviously has Justice League in 2015, but are there comic book properties that you’re interested in that you’re trying to also bring up?
LIN: There are, we’re always looking for great stories and my mission at my company is to make hero stories, and naturally that dovetails into comic book stories. So Warner Bros. is developing a lot of A-list comic books, and I’ve been trying to dig up what are the hidden comics that people aren’t as aware of but still have some gems of stories that we can tell?
For example, Suicide Squad.
Do you guys have a script for that?
LIN: It has a script from Justin Marks, but that is on a hold right now. I think Warner Brothers wants to finish their A-list stories first and then we’ll talk about stories like Suicide Squad.
LIN: Tom and Jerry is on hold right now, but ACME is moving forward. We’re really excited about it; we’re hearing different takes on it from writers. It is a live action movie not an animated movie and we’re really using the inspiration of Wile E. Coyote and ACME, a company that makes everything, as the inspiration for big, live-action family adventure movie.
I was going to say that seems like a no-brainer, Warner Brothers has the Looney Tunes or am I wrong about this?
LIN: We’re not going to use Looney Tunes in the ACME movie, it’s a live action movie. What were so excited about is the lead character is a Steve Jobs meets Dean Kamen kind of character and because it’s ACME you can create some incredibly funny, wacky inventions that you can’t do on any other movie. So naturally it’s just a super imaginative movie.
Again that seems like a no-brainer when Warner Brothers has the IP, it’s like what is the hold-up on developing this one?
LIN: Just finding the right writer for it. To Warner Brothers credit, as soon as they brought it to them they bought it in the room. So you’re right Steve, it is a no-brainer, but it’s how do you put it in the right way? Obviously we have the underlying property, but what’s the right take to distinguish the movie from other movies in that genre.
For more on Gangster Squad, here’s all our previous coverage.