Lorenzo di Bonaventura Exclusive Interview – G.I. JOE
Posted by Frosty
When I was growing up, I dreamt of the day I’d see “Transformers” on the big screen. Last summer I got my wish, as director Michael Bay delivered a kick-ass movie and the film made buckets of money around the world. In fact, the movie did so well that Michael is currently in pre-production on the sequel, and they’re getting ready to film it this summer.
For me, last summer was amazing. I got that dream project and it turned out great. But for millions of others who also grew up in the 80’s, they were still waiting and dreaming of their wish project…they were waiting on “G.I. Joe.”
So thanks (at least partly) to the success of “Transformers,” director Stephen Sommers is currently hard at work filming a movie version of “G.I Joe” that’ll hit movie screens in August of 2009.
Since I know many of you care about “G.I. Joe” and are curious what’s up with the movie, when I got the opportunity to speak with Lorenzo di Bonaventura – the producer behind “The Matrix,” “Oceans 11,” “Harry Potter,” “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” – I knew it was going to be something special not only for the site…but for all the fans dying to know what they can expect when “G.I. Joe” hits the big screen.
During my interview with Lorenzo, I tried to ask all the questions a fan of “Joe” would want to know. Of course I’m sure I missed something, but I’m very confident after this interview you’ll know a lot more about the project and will feel more confident that it’s being done with care and love.
Of course a big thank you has to go to Lorenzo for giving me some of his time. And with that, here’s my exclusive interview with the producer of “G.I. Joe.” I hope you like it.
Collider: Since we’re going to have a few minutes, I think a lot of people out there would like to know what it’s really like to produce movies, to be in that position that you’re in. So what exactly is like a typical week for you?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: One of the great things about it is there’s nothing typical and I think that for me that’s one of the great things about being a producer is that you’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. And you’re constantly running to the next problem, the next idea, the next creative notion, so there is no sort of…the rhythm is continuously changing. And for me that’s really invigorating, I know for some people they find that really destabilizing because there’s no sense of okay, today we do this, tomorrow we do that, a, b, c, d, e you’re a, z, w, f and you keep going and so as a producer what I love is you can stimulate all the different parts of your brain that you want. I mean it’s open to you, particularly on some of these big movies where you’re creative, a businessman, you’re a financial analyst, there’s all these different hats you get to wear for a short period of time before you put the next one on.
Collider: Are there certain movies that are easier to produce or are they all just as challenging?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: You know, I don’t have experience in…I’ve only made a few movies that are in the $20 million—high teens low 20’s—so I can’t say I’m much of an expert on those kinds of movies, but my experience is that every movie has a myriad of problems that you have to solve and it really doesn’t have anything to do with how much it costs or how little it costs because they all have the same problems and sometimes having a lot of money can create a problem because you have sort of an infinite horizon and sometimes having no money forces a creative choice on you that’s fantastic and other times you don’t have the flexibility when you don’t have enough money to do something. You know, you can come up with this great idea but you don’t have it so my guess is that all movies have the exact same thing which is there’s the pros and cons of how big they are. At the end of the day they’re all a lot of problems. They’re good problems, you know?
Collider: I think a lot of people are also curious—myself included—when you have a property, let’s say “GI Joe’ or “Transformers” or whatever property you’d like to talk about, how does it exactly work with getting the studio behind it? How does it all come together for you?
Lorenzo: Well, it’s a 2-step—it’s not a 2-step, it’s a multi-step process. First you have to get excited about it yourself. Depending on the property, you may have to get a director or writer excited about it before it’s capable of being brought to a studio, so they can sort of see more of it than just the germ. Then there’s usually a number of layers that you’re going through in terms of the studio, so you have to be willing to hear no a bunch of times before they finally say yes. I can say that as an executive it was true, trying to get Matrix made in my own company. I’m President of Production and I got said no to all the time by my bosses on the movie to now as a producer whether it be “GI Joe,” or “Transformers,” or “Nowhereland,” which is an Eddie Murphy movie we just finished. You’ve got to go to the studio, you’ve got to convince them of why it has merit and you’ve got to get them emotionally attached to it. That’s the key is getting them emotionally attached to it.
Collider: Is it any easier with the success of Transformers with the studio per say a G.I. Joe? Is it more, you know, they understand now what’s out there?
Lorenzo: Yeah, of course. But you know, they wouldn’t spend this kind of money if they didn’t fundamentally understand it because having been on that side, you’re just not going to roll the dice on well, that guy thinks it’s a good idea. I mean, there’s a few guys that you can look at their track records and say over and over again you’re going to do it, but by and large when you go to this kind of money we’re talking about, $100 million plus, the studio has to be convinced of what it is. Now, are they convinced of all of it? No, and part of our process as filmmakers is they don’t have enough time to spend it to learn it inside and out, we do. So our job is to filter it for them and be able to bring forward the best ideas so that they can gravitate to what we’re gravitating to on a large scale.
Collider: And I guess because you produced Transformers, how would you compare taking another popular 80’s, cartoon toy property, what’s the challenges of this one? And can you…?
Lorenzo: They’re completely different. I mean, to me I don’t look at them as toy properties number 1. I understand why people say that but I don’t look at them that way. I look at them as mythologies. So, G.I. Joe is a really, really in depth mythology and Transformers is a really in depth mythology and for me the reason I gravitated towards both things was because of their storytelling, you know. The characters involved and intertwined nature and G.I. Joe it’s very funny how everybody’s very intertwined. It’s very different than in a lot of the comic book mythologies I’ve run into. The lines between good and evil are drawn differently. I think the Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes, it’s a great thing and is Storm Shadow evil? Well, some people think so. I don’t. Is Snake-eyes also righteous in this? I’m not so sure, he’s blaming his buddy for something he may or may not have done, you know, so it’s that interesting duality where the characters live in a world that’s good guys and bad guys but it’s also a gray area.
Collider: You have a hell of a cast, but it seems daunting to be able to introduce all of these characters and give back stories? What’s that going to be like?
Lorenzo: Well, it’s a hard question to answer. We think we’re going to deliver on all the characters. We think the script actually delivers really well and sets up each character. You’re going to understand the back-stories of virtually every major character and then you’re going to understand the roles of the ones you don’t. You may not know everything you know if you’ve read the comic book but you’re going to recognize them if you’ve read the comic book and you’re certainly going to want to know more about them by the end of it which is part of the tease. And there’s some character info that will be new to the comic fans.
Collider: A lot of people are curious about the tone of the movie and perhaps the age range that you guys are aiming at. How would you answer that question?
Lorenzo: I’d say…it’s interesting. I don’t really…it would be disingenuous to say you don’t think about that at all but in truth you try to find something that you think is pretty cool and then you sort of say to yourself oh, who’s this going to appeal to, you know? When you try to do it the other way around it never works. Oh, let’s make something for 12 year olds; oh let’s make something for 20 year olds. It just doesn’t work, in my experience. You know for us, we think the people who grew up with the comic book and the animated show are going to be our core audience. We think that the older audience that identifies with the pre-83 Joe is going to have some education to go through but are going to relate to the title because the values of it are the same. The storytelling is different but if you think about the values, they’re very similar, you know? Integrity, honesty, bravery, courage, you know things like that that I think you just associate with both versions of G.I. Joe. It’s an all audience movie. I mean, there are 2 really strong romances. There are a lot of things in there that’s going to appeal to people.
Collider: I wanted to ask you with Joe, a lot of people are curious if it’s going to be PG, PG-13. How are you going to handle the violence? You know, is Cobra Commander going to be really evil?
Lorenzo: It’s going to be PG-13.
Collider: So are we going to see…because I asked Dennis Quaid this and he was talking about the way…he compared it to Spider-Man how it’s a bloodless violence. Is that kind of a similar….?
Lorenzo: Yeah, that’s fair to say. Look I’ve been involved with a lot of R-rated movies and a lot of PG-13. You just sort of begin to understand the difference and Stephen Sommers has no intention of making an R-rated movie and it would be silly to do so because you should appeal down to kids.
Collider: About Stephen Sommers, a lot of people online have really been…there’s been a polarizing kind of thing. What was it about Stephen that you guys as the studio and producer kind of felt he’s the right man for the job?
Lorenzo: He’s just…his enthusiasm, his excitement, his sense of adventure, his embracing of the mythology, his understanding of the characters. So I think that more than anything it was just he immediately got the sort of central precepts of what this mythology offered, embraced them and has such a great sense of adventure and fun about it, you know, when you make a movie like G.I. Joe, we’re not taking ourselves seriously, we take the movie making seriously but it’s a fun movie. And Steve really embraces that notion. It’s like we want to make great action sequences and great romances and all those things that entertain you, but we’re not trying to tell you that we’re going to give the world a message here.
Collider: Speaking of action set pieces, Transformers had a few of them that were pretty daunting. What can fans look forward to with G.I. Joe with those kinds of action set pieces? Are there a lot of little ones or are we going to look forward to a lot of a few really big ones?
Lorenzo: In G.I. Joe, yeah, there’ll be 2 or 3 really big ones and a couple of sort of medium/small ones. It’s very different; it’s hard to describe it actually. I remember in The Matrix, we sold the Matrix to understand it you have to see it. It’s one of those things where the tone and scale and personality are singular to themselves and we hope the audience can connect with that.
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