Exclusive Paul W.S. Anderson Interview

     December 21, 2008

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

With “Death Race” getting released today on both DVD and Blu-ray, I was able to talk with writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson on the phone a few days ago. While my time was limited, we managed to talk about a lot of different subjects like his previous movie “Event Horizon”, how Joan Allen got cast in “Death Race”, his thoughts on 3-D, IMAX andBlu-ray, and he even told me he’s working on another “Resident Evil” movie and a remake of “The Long Good Friday”. It’s was an interesting conversation and one I think you’ll like.

And if you never got to see “Death Race” this summer….here’s the synopsis or you can watch some movie clips here.

Three-time speedway champion Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is an expert at survival in the harsh landscape that has become our country. Just as he thinks he has turned his life around, the ex-con is framed for a gruesome murder he didn’t commit. Forced to don the mask of the mythical driver Frankenstein—a crowd favorite who seems impossible to kill—Ames is given an easy choice by Terminal Island’s warden (Joan Allen): suit up or rot away in a cell.

His face hidden by a metallic mask, one convict will be put through an insane three-day challenge. Ames must survive a gauntlet of the most vicious criminals in the country’s toughest prison to claim the prize of freedom. Driving a monster car outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers, one desperate man will destroy anything in his path to win the most twisted spectator sport on Earth.

Collider: So how are doing this morning and where are you at right now?

Paul W.S. Anderson: I’m in L.A. enjoying the sunshine.

Yeah, at least it’s not raining anymore.

Paul: Yeah, listen I love the rain. I’m from England so I really like it when it rains here.

I can’t say the same.

Paul: It only happens for a couple of months in the year, especially around Christmas time so it kind of makes it feel more like the holiday season. I almost wanted to get in a car and just drive to Vegas a couple of days ago just to see it snowing.

Yeah, it’s a once in a 30 year moment.

Paul: Yes.

So I’m going to switch from us talking about the weather to jumping into…you’ve had…a lot of people I’m sure are going to talk to you about your most recent film in DVD and Blu-ray but I just noticed that “Event Horizon” has recently come out on Blu-ray.

Paul: Or just about to I think.

Oh we got it in the office already.

Paul: Ah, okay. I think it hits the streets in about a weeks time. It’s exciting actually. I mean, I’ve been waiting for the Blu-ray of that for ages.

I was going to say what’s your opinion on Blu-ray? Are you a huge fan of the format?

Paul: I’m a huge, huge fan of Blu-ray. I think the picture and the sound quality is just such a massive improvement and I think for movies like “Event Horizon” where the image is a key part of that film and also the sound, as well, in any scary movie is an important element. You know it’s great to see something like that on Blu-ray.

Oh I completely agree.

Paul: I think if you’re watching “Dumb and Dumber”, I don’t know whether you need to buy the Blu-ray of a comedy or something like that. But if you’re watching “Event Horizon”, “Death Race”, “Alien vs. Predator” I mean I think these movies are definitely enhanced by the Blu-ray experience. And certainly Blu-ray is expensive but I think you really for certain movies you’re absolutely getting value for money.

Yeah, and I definitely agree with you with certain movies. I think there’s certain movies that, you know, if it’s a sci-fi film or something that is something that you wanted to see in a movie theatre or almost were forced to see in a movie theatre that the Blu-ray experience is worth the money.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.

That being said, I wanted to ask you…

Paul: Nothing against “Dumb and Dumber” by the way. I liked “Dumb and Dumber”, it’s just I would never buy the Blu-ray of it.

No, no I agree with you. “Dumb and Dumber” is a great movie but I don’t necessarily know if the picture quality needs to be Blu-ray.

Paul: Yeah.

We’re definitely on the same page, but speaking about technology and filmmaking and stuff that’s going on right now, the industry is abuzz with IMAX, with 3-D, with trying to push the boundaries of technology in film. How are you, as a filmmaker, for anything in the future, thinking about possibly doing 3-D or IMAX with your stuff?

Paul: I mean I’m definitely thinking about it. I’ve always seen my movies in particular as being an immersive experience. I mean with the technology at my disposal I’ve always tried to make them as immersive an experience as possible. You know, quite often when we’re shooting the movie I’ll talk to the D.P. and I’ll say you’ve got to feel you’re almost on a ride at Universal Studios. I want the audience to feel like they’re inside the shot. Let’s make them like with “Event Horizon” let’s really disorient them. Let’s have the camera moving in weird ways so that it kind of fucks with the audiences equilibrium. So I’ve been trying to do that with regular movie technology and IMAX and 3-D are another kind of tool from the tool shed that allow you to make movies even more immersive. So definitely that technology I’m very interested in.

Yeah, I mean I know the recent “Final Destination” that’s coming next year, they’re shooting in 3-D, and all the animated films recently are going 3-D. Is there a specific project that you’re developing or thinking about that you might really want to incorporate that technology?

Paul: I mean like I said pretty much everything I’m involved in there’s the discussion about 3-D. It’s just a question as to whether it kind of makes particular sense. I can’t say there’s something that I’m doing definitely 3-D, but I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next year or two there’s one or two projects that end up being 3-D or kind of IMAX driven projects that I’m involved in.

Another technology question I always like asking directors about is HD cameras and actual film. Have you seen the red camera and have you looked at other HD cameras and are you thinking about shooting on video? Have you shot on video and I don’t know?

Paul: No, I haven’t shot on video because I felt like I’d never done a movie that’s been appropriate for that yet. I stay very current with all the new technology. I go and see all the demonstrations. I test stuff with cameras, so I think technology wise, I mean, my movies have always been pretty much been on the cutting edge of like new technology and definitely these new cameras are right on the cutting edge but I think they’re appropriate from my point of view for certain kinds of films and not appropriate for others. And I haven’t made a movie that’s been completely 100% appropriate for something with the red camera or shoot something that’s entirely digital.

So I’m going to ask you about the writing process on “Death Race”. When you were writing the film, where you always thinking Joan Allen? Because having her in the movie was an interesting choice which I dug.

Paul: Yes is the short answer. I mean I always had her in mind. I wrote it with her in mind and that’s why she’s the first person to be approached for that role. And I was very happy that she said yes. In the script even the physical description of what the character looked like, I mean it read like Joan Allen. I had a few battles with the studio over it because in the development process they were failing insistent that the warden character should be a man. And I’m like no I don’t think you should do that because what’s really interesting is to take this character that’s very familiar from movies, I mean, you’ve seen the bad-ass warden character in so many prison movies, but it’s always the same. It’s always the same guy effectively. I mean it’s usually James Cromwell or someone who always reminds me of him. You know, and it’s always a man and the fact is there are plenty of prison wardens who are women. I mean that’s a reality in the world and San Quentin used to be run by Jean Woodford for a long time before she ended up being in charge of all the correctional facilities in California. So I was very interested in kind of like putting a new spin on the warden character by having it be a woman. And also I wanted to make the villain in a mainstream Hollywood movie a woman as well. I think that is something that’s rarely done. I mean it’s nearly always a guy and I thought especially Joan Allen who you associate with the kind of good moral center of the movies she does. She’s usually the good heart of a film. To kind of take that persona and then completely twist it I always find very exciting.

In all your movies you always have strong woman character, at least I think so.

Paul: I’ve always from my very first film, “Shopping” which was Jude Law and Sadie Frost, I mean I’ve always liked strong women characters in films. When I first came to Hollywood, there was this kind of rule that was expanded by several people within the industry that I heard many times that female led action movies don’t work. And I would hear that time and time again and that’s because we were coming off the back of several of them not working like the remake of “La Femme Nikita” for example…the name of which I’m blanking on right now with Bridget Fonda. You know those movies hadn’t worked so Hollywood was very down on female led action movies, but I always liked the idea of like a sexy woman with a big gun and so I kept pushing to try to get those movies made. And if not as the very lead of the film, I’ve always tried to put strong women in my movies. Actually in “Event Horizon” Jolie Richardson’s character, I think was originally written as a man and then we retooled that character so she could play it.

Yeah, I’ve got to tell you man, I’ve got to get onto other subjects but about “Event Horizon” I remember seeing that in the theatre and that movie definitely…I really enjoyed that film, man. I really did.

Paul: Thank you. There are certain moments, I mean I sat with an audience where there’s the pull back from the daylight station, you know towards the start of the movie where the camera’s spiraling, I think it goes through about 640 degrees of rotation. I saw people leaning over sideways when they were watching that, trying to kind of keep their equilibrium. And that would have been a very interesting shot or a very interesting movie to have done in 3-D or in IMAX. That would have been a very immersive thing, I think.

Yeah, I definitely agree although I think the film works as is, but you’re right. There’s a few elements in that film that would have been interesting.

Paul: That’s an example in my work of how I’ve always kind of strived toward IMAX and 3-D which is that kind of immersive feel.

What are you currently writing right now?

Paul: I am working on…I’m developing a couple of movies at Sony. One is a remake of a British gangster movie called “The Long Good Friday” and the other we’re working on another Resident Evil project.

Do you know what your next directing project is going to be?

Paul: I’m developing a few things. I’m not 100% certain what it’s going to be. You know I’ve really only just come out of the kind of “Death Race” experience. So I’ve never been the director who kind of runs….directs one movie into another, so I’m just taking a bit of time to do some writing and be home with my family.

And as long as I can ask one more question, is there a comic book property that you’d ever envision trying to tackle or like a dream comic book that you read that you might be into?

Paul: I love comic books. I can’t…there isn’t one sitting on my desk that I would love to do an adaptation of right now, otherwise I’d definitely be pursuing it. I’m very excited to see what Watchmen is like.

I saw about 30 minutes of that movie and it’s kind of good.

Paul: I’m sure it is.

Yeah, kind of. I know I have to wrap up.

Paul: It’s just a degree of how amazing it’s going to be.

Yeah, it’s impressive, but we’ll see what happens but what I saw was great. I also did a set visit and let’s just say they spent a little money on it.

Paul: I’m sure they did. A bit of that 300 money.

Yeah, exactly. Okay, I know I have to wrap but thank you so much for giving me your time today. I really appreciate it.

Paul: My pleasure. It’s been great talking to you.

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