Producer David Ellison on Wanting ‘Life’ to Feel “Grounded and Real”

     March 25, 2017

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With Life now playing in theaters, I recently sat down with producer David Ellison, the CEO of Skydance Media, to talk about the film. If you’re not familiar with the sci-fi thriller, Life stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Hiroyuki Sanada and it revolves around the six-member crew of the International Space Station as they come into contact with the very first evidence of biological life on Mars: a small, single-celled organism. As they begin to research the specimen, however, this “life” proves far more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. Life was written by Deadpool’s Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese and also produced by Skydance’s Dana Goldberg along with Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn.

During the interview Ellison talked about how none of the characters in Life make dumb movie mistakes, what he learned in friends and family screenings that impacted the finished film, the challenges of trying to make a film set in zero gravity, wanting the film to have a claustrophobic feel, and more. In addition, we joked around about the rumors that Life was a prequel to the upcoming Venom movie. Check out what he had to say below. You can also read what he had to say about the future of Terminator, Mission Impossible 6, and World War Z 2 by clicking the links.

COLLIDER: I got a bunch of things I want to talk to you about, starting with Life. One of the things I really appreciate about this movie is that no one makes stupid movie mistakes, like just ignore the situation or dealing with petty bullshit. They’re just outmatched by something far more intelligent than them. Can you sort of talk about that aspect of the script?

life-movie-posterDAVID ELLISON: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things from when we first set out was that we wanted to make a movie that was grounded and real. The original idea was inspired by the Mars Curiosity rover, and then just simply pondering what would happen if they found something in the dirt and brought it back to the ISS. And we wanted the movie to feel as if it really could take place today and you could open the newspaper and read the headline and believe that this was really happening.

And so we really approached the movie from that direction, we wanted the script to be a love letter to NASA, we wanted the ISS to be represented as it is today and not as it is in the future, and as a result the characters had to function in our world as well. It’s not something that’s 10,000 years in the future. We wanted everyone to feel grounded and real, that was something that Paul [Wernick] and Rhett [Reese] really strived for and it really is credit to them. The very first draft of their script is 90% of the movie that we made.

This is a fun question…when did you decide you wanted to make the prequel to Venom? Because this is the ongoing theory online.

ELLISON: [Laughs] Yes, yes, yes, yes…and we got caught! No, I mean, that was obviously something that marketing wanted to occur. So we just said, “Ok.”

But have you read these theories? People are like really convinced.

ELLISON: Yeah, yeah.

I actually emailed the studio and was like, “Is there any seriousness to this?”

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Image via Sony

ELLISON: I just personally called and said thank you to Sam Raimi because we’re making his next movie and he’s like, “It’s all good.”

[Laughs] That’s fantastic. For me it was very crazy because I emailed the studio and like 36 hours later the announced the release date of the Venom movie and I was like, “Ok…This is now even more strange because Venom has been quiet for forever.”

ELLISON: Yeah. We’ve read all the theories, but it’s obviously not connected and kind of an ironic accident.

Without getting into specific things of the film, it is possible that after you’ve seen it…

ELLISON: It is completely possible and being a comic book nerd that you could absolutely take what happens at the end of the movie to be the seed of the Venom origin story. You could absolutely run that direction.

One of the things I appreciate about this movie is that it falls into –There’s been a number of movies recently that have come out like Lights Out and The Shallows… very effective 90-minute thrillers. This movie is like 100 minutes and sort of falls into that category of a tightly-paced movie without a lot of fat. Can you talk about that resurgence, if you will, of these movies.

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Image via Sony

ELLISON: Absolutely. I think one of the –You know, Alfonso [Cuaron] also did it incredibly effectively in Gravity, the movie is 90 minutes front-to-back and from 5 minutes in you don’t have a single second to catch your breath. And one of the things we talked about very early on was wanting the film to feel tense, tight, almost this claustrophobia nail-biting tension, and we never wanted our characters to have a break from that. One of the things in making all the Mission movies with Tom [Cruise] that he constantly talks about is downward pressure and never letting that up, because your characters are always more interesting the more downward pressure you can put on them. Obviously once the turn happens in the movie, we never wanted them to have a break, and it was just constantly in the editorial process shaving it down to where it’s non-stop from front to back.

One of the things about this film is that you do it in zero gravity, so you’re having all the actors on wires the whole time. How many takes got ruined because of wire work mishap?

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Image via Sony Pictures

ELLISON: At lot of it was wires, there’s definitely some takes that got ruined. It was really challenging on the cast, being on wires 12-14 hours a day. But that wasn’t the only way we did it, it was literally as high-tech as everyone being on wire works and different rigs, to literally the tricks of standing on one leg because that gives you a little bit of sway, and then just when you’re sitting down sitting on a surface that actually moves slightly. So it was from the highest tech wire removal to the absolute lowest tech version, it just really depended on the shot. But as a result of that, Daniel [Espinosa] had top approach the film with a tremendous amount of specificity because you had to understand if this was a shot that required wire removal or it did not. So everything had to be planned intricately in advance and I think Daniel did an amazing job.

Who do you like to show movies to early on in those friends and family screenings for honest feedback and do they really give you honest feedback?

ELLISON: Yes. We showed it to a couple of really, really talented filmmakers who I have great respect for, and yes, they gave us very honest feedback and were instrumental in really helping to shape the picture. There are a couple of things that I won’t say that used to be in the movie that were removed or adjusted and other things that we thought we should take out that we actually put back. And it’s always great to have friends that you can show it to that’ll be honest with you and it was absolutely instrumental in this process.

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Image via Sony Pictures

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Image via Sony Pictures

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Image via Sony Pictures

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