Opening this weekend is director Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. Produced by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the film is a new take on the classic monster and it’s loaded with an awesome cast led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, and David Strathairn. For more on the film, watch a featurette on the new Godzilla roar, check out new images, watch 5 clips along with 11 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, or click here for all of our previous coverage.
At last weekend’s New York City press day, I was able to participate in a group and exclusive interview with Legendary CEO Thomas Tull, which I’ve combined into one big interview here. During the interviews he talked about the scale of the movie, how everyone they wanted to cast said yes, his reasons for hiring Gareth Edwards, the design of Godzilla, how the project came about, who ultimately decided on the budget, the importance of international box office, the magic number needed for Legendary to make a sequel, the prospect of a Godzilla/Pacific Rim crossover, his thoughts on possibly delving into the Universal Monsters library, Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the interview.
THOMAS TULL: You know, the truth is at Legendary we really make movies that we want to see, and someday I’m sure that won’t work but- I remember, it’s obviously a completely different thing, but our first movie was Batman Begins, and there was a lot of things about Batman back then, and there was this guy named Christopher Nolan, that seemed to have worked out okay with him at the helm. So I think it’s just about the execution, and we want to make sure, from the very first teaser all the way through, the fans knew that we were also fans. There’s all kind of things that I think are tough execution, but if you get a great filmmaker like we did with Gareth and- I don’t know did you guys see the movie?
TULL: It’s clearly my fault if people don’t like the movie, but that’s the movie we wanted to make.
The scale of this movie is absolutely enormous, it has to be, and financing a movie like this and making a movie where it has to be this big, how do you decide how much is going to be done on the computers and how much is going to be done on set?
TULL: You know all those things are- they’re decisions made that are very specific to the situation and what you think you can pull off, CGI vs practical. Gareth is, in a way, an old fashioned filmmaker. We share the passion for Amblin’s movies back in the 80’s and things like that, so there were some things that he wanted to do practical that I think were great. Hopefully you couldn’t tell the difference and tell me which- other than Godzilla probably, that we didn’t do practical. It’s really looking at each set piece or each item and deciding what you can get away with and not have people bump on it.
Can you talk about the process of luring Bryan Cranston onboard and what he brought to the movie?
TULL: I think this is first time in over a decade of doing this that every single first choice actor said yes, and if you think about that – first of all the call is it’s a Godzilla movie and the second thing is it’s a director doing his second movie. Bryan, in particular, I think was pretty skeptical going in and once he understood the tone and what we were trying to pull off and then, more importantly, sat down with Gareth, he said yes, as they all ended up saying yes. And you can’t really threaten Heisenberg, so we couldn’t even go that tact with it. But he’s phenomenal, if you guys saw it.
There are many filmmakers that have gone to their first film to a second film where they have a lot more money and it’s just gone off the rails. Were you hesitant at all? What was it like on set? Because Monsters was made for like $1.50 and duct tape and this is like $160 million.
TULL: Yeah, that was pointed out to me once or twice at the beginning of this. All I can tell you is that we wanted a fresh perspective. I was blown away by Monsters, he literally made it for like $400,000 or something on his laptop, and there was something in it that just kind of grabbed me. Then when we sat down and got to know each other…I don’t know, whatever that fairy dust thing is, he has it. He was a fan of Godzilla and then came up with some things that I thought were incredibly inventive. The halo jump scene, for example, was all Gareth. We watched the ’54 movie together just to kind of geek out about it. Then in the process we said, “Okay, why don’t you do some pre-vis for us?” And I still have this stuff locked away, but the trestle bridge scene in Hawaii, he did pre-vis, it’s what you saw, and I walked out and looked at him and was like, “Alright, let’s do it.” He’s the only director that we talked to and offered it to.
It’s that combination of intimacy and scale and understanding what works primarily about this that makes him.
TULL: You know, I don’t think he’d mind me sharing this, but when we were sitting around after we watched the ’54 movie, and we sort of hinted at this in the movie, but we didn’t do it the way he described it, but it just hooked me. He was describing to me what he saw in his head- that the soldiers are trying to figure out where Godzilla is and he roars. Then one of the guys is counting, he goes, “one-onethousand, two-onethousand, three-onethousand”, and then he roars again. Somebody says like, “What are you doing?” and he says like the thunder, you can tell how close he is and he’s now only a mile away. And I thought, “That’s awesome.” I just though that was really cool. Sometimes it’s the little things that give you the confidence.
TULL: [Laughs] Wow, that’s…that’s pretty interesting.
You need to get on the phone with Peter and start talking about that.
TULL: Yeah, well look, our saying around our shop, “You can never have too many giant robots or monsters.”
Godzilla’s kind of a hero in this, he kind of comes in and stops these anomaly’s and King Kong’s kind of an anomaly so it kind of makes sense.
TULL: I love it all.
I’ll write pitch and send it off to you.
TULL: I’ll hear it, absolutely.
If Godzilla could visit one city next, which one would it be?
TULL: Probably Baltimore because I own part of the Steelers [laughs].
TULL: A couple things including the original maquette design that wasn’t leaving, because that design, we worked on it- the two things we obsessed over was the roar and the Godzilla design. I’ll never forget the day that Eric- because we spent I can’t tell you how many hours just listening to the roar, “No, its not quite right”, just playing with it. The second thing was the design. It’s actually harder than it sounds like because of the proportions, if the head’s too big or too square…and the day that in our estimation that we got it right and were excited about it, they took a 3D model and made the maquette and brought it in. I was like, “You can leave that right there.” So that one’s gone.
What was the tipping point in getting that design just right?
TULL: I mean literally looking at hundreds of different iterations. It made me think, not all that long ago before computer renderings you would have had somebody draw this, which would have been incredible. At least with a computer you can- I mean we did plenty of art, but you can sort of model things and look at them, but it’s the proportions that were really, really difficult. Even thinking about the tail. What’s too long? What’s too short? What’s the balance going to look like? We talked about how big his heart would have to be, how fast he would have to go and how many calories- we obsessed over things that are probably not- I’m sure my wife would be very proud of me, but yeah we just looked at all that stuff again and again.
Legendary obviously has a lot of projects in development, when you finish promotion for Godzilla what’s the first thing you go back to? What’s the priority?
TULL: Well we’re finishing up Warcraft, which we’re really excited about. Duncan Jones is shooting for us and it looks amazing. I just came back from Toronto and I got to see a pretty good chunk of Guillermo del Toro’s next movie for us, Crimson Peak, which is pretty great. Then we have one coming out in August called As Above, So Below that I can’t wait for people to see. It’s our first microbudgeted film, or whatever you want to call it, and I just can’t wait for you to see it.
That looks awesome.
TULL: It’s pretty cool.
You mentioned that you watched the original movie with Gareth, were there any specific things or themes that you felt had to be held to bring back in this movie?
TULL: I think a couple things. The sense of awe and terror in some ways, that it’s like this force of nature. The second thing is recognizing in ’54 what Godzilla symbolized for Japan and taking that history seriously and at least understanding the DNA. And even though Godzilla’s gone through many iterations since then, that the original notion of this was the personification of what happened there. So that was one of the things we talked about a lot- except we wanted to root for Godzilla, so that’s the only thing that we tweaked slightly.
Is that something that Gareth had in mind all along or did that develop later?
TULL: No, when we first sat down there were five or six rules that I said to him, “These are the things. We can do anything, but here are the things that we feel really strongly about.” He agreed with them and that was one of them, that he wasn’t the bad guy, that he wasn’t just going to fight the army.
Why was that an important distinction?
TULL: Because Godzilla’s awesome [laughs]. I mean, we just didn’t want it to be- and hopefully if you saw the movie it’s not on the nose, there’s not people holding up lighters as he passes by, it’s just sort of he’s awesome and he fights- we didn’t want to hit it over the head, but when he rips that thing’s jaw open and does all that, we wanted people to cheer. So that’s what we were going for.
Here’s the exclusive portion of the interview:
So Crimson Peak…
THOMAS TULL: Dude, that movie.
TULL: I’m not kidding you I saw an hour and a half of that movie. That movie is going to blow people away. It’s an interesting thing, Guillermo edits and cuts footage while he shoots, so Jon Jashni and I saw like an hour and a half of it- I am astounded. It sounds self serving, but nonetheless true. People are going to lose their minds when they see what he did.
I expect nothing less from Guillermo and everything I know leads me to believe he’s making something special. And he put together a hell of a cast.
TULL: I mean I- you know there’s no sense in hyping it, but I think he’s taking it to a whole other level, even for him.
I’m definitely curious about the behind the scenes… where did the idea of doing Godzilla come from? When’s the first meeting? Did someone walk in your room and say, “We should do Godzilla“?
TULL: So Jon Jashni, who runs development and creative for us, came to me and said, “Hey we’ve been talking to Toho,” and he’s being kind of smart aleck because he knows how I feel about Godzilla, he’s like, “Hey, I got us the rights to Godzilla, is that cool? Do you want to make it?.” I looked at him and I said, “If you really did that, that’s insane.” So he goes, “Yeah, we got to talk to Toho and everything, but we have the rights to it. So we then talked to Toho about our intentions, the tone and everything. We talked about the design, because that was the one thing they wanted to make sure, and I agreed with them. The good thing was there was no compromise anywhere. There was nothing like they said, “We want him to have dorsal fins or we want him to just look like and Allosaurus” or something. From there we just dug in, we talked to exactly and worked exactly with one director, and that was Gareth. People freaked out a little bit about that given the fact that he had just done one movie, one small movie. And at least once a week I would turn to somebody and say, “Are we really making a Godzilla movie?” I cannot believe that I get to do this.
It’s insane. Obviously you know it’s going to be a big budget movie, or at least it should be a big budget movie, how does it get figured out in terms of where the budget will actually go? Who decides ultimately this is the set price? Just talk people through how that all gets decided.
TULL: Legendary is a little bit different in that we don’t just produce or just finance, we do both. So a lot of the time if it’s our production, it’s our nickel on the line as well. So at the end of the day I’m responsible for that and what you generally do is to get a script, hopefully fall in love with it, and then your production department will come back and say “If you want that rendered the way it reads, here’s what it is.” Then you figure out is that responsible? Is that irresponsible? What are the things you can do? In this case we were extraordinarily fortunate that- it’s not an inexpensive movie, just a shade under $160 million, but its not a 200 or 250 million dollar movie and we didn’t have to compromise at all. Everything that we wanted in the movie is in there, and to the scale and scope that we wanted, and I think some of that is because we’re very cognizant of the battle fatigue and just having 80% of the movie be destruction where you become numb to it. We wanted to make sure that you cared about the human characters and cared about this cast. So those were all the things that we thought about.
What’s interesting is the film has a very slow burn to get to the third act, which is ridiculously amazing. My question is, how did everyone figure out you wanted to do a slow burn like this? Was it always that way in the script? Can you sort of pace people though it? It’s a whodunit basically.
TULL: Yeah, we wanted absolutely from the beginning, even before a script was written, we wanted it to be a mystery, we wanted to have things that the audience would learn along the way with our characters and things that you’d want to solve. And Godzilla showing up on screen should be a big deal, right? You want plenty of screen time, but at the same time if it just becomes ordinary then that’s a problem as well. There were just all these stores of rules of the road that we had from the beginning, and whether you want o call it a slow burn or a reveal or whatever, the key was let’s have a real plot with a real story, let’s ground it in a lot of science that will make sense and intrigue people and have them leaning forward instead of just saying, “I just got to watch Godzilla blow up a bunch of cities and not mean anything.”
The marketing on the film has been very well done. Obviously with Godzilla, it’s so important in Asia that the film performs. I’m sure you’re very involved in what’s going on over there, but since we’re not there can you tell people what’s going on in Asia? is it opening in China? Because I know that’s a huge part of the box office. I know Legendary has partners now in China.
TULL: Yeah, Asia is a big important market for us and I would start with Japan, because this is the origin and the 1954 movie, which is still one of my favorite movies, it’s a very serious topic and an important movie culturally in Japan. It was important to us that this movie be well received there. We’re fortunate enough to have Ken Watanabe, who’s an amazing actor, in the film. So you start there, and then in China, we’ve done very well in China. We have a big presence and an office in Beijing. We’ve been there for quite a long time and our movies have done well there, so hopefully we’ll have a chance for this to do well there again. But it’s a challenge. When you make a movie that you want to succeed globally, you have to sort of think about how you’re going to market the film in each of those places and what nuances are going to make it either attractive or repellant, and it’s not easy to do. When people say “international”, well that’s a great catch phrase, but selling a movie in the UK or Germany is very different form China or Malaysia or any of those places. So it’s really about North America and then a whole bunch of territories to go to.
I know you don’t talk about sequels and I’m not even going to ask you about it. What I am going to ask though is…the movie cost around 160. I know there’s a lot of marketing costs, is there a magic number at Legendary that you are like, “We need to hit this number and everyone’s going to be very happy”?
TULL: You know…
I like putting you on the spot like that.
TULL: Yeah, I know you do. Look, I think for us if the movie does- I’d really like for it to at least have a four in front of it globally, and if it does that we’re in a good position.
So basically over five and six we’re talking about the S-word, or could be.
TULL: We love this universe, we love Godzilla, and if we’re fortunate enough to have a high class problem we’ll deal with it then.
[Laughs] I’m curious about deleted scenes and what didn’t make the final cut. Was there anything that was close to being shot that didn’t get filmed? Was there any sequence that was lost that you were sad to see go?
TULL: Man every time you make a movie there’s stuff. That’s the only cool thing these days about digital and Blu-ray and everything is that you can show- and frankly in a lot of times as a fan when I go in and watch the director’s cut or I watch deleted scenes, in the back of my mind I’m like, “Yeah, I see why you cut that out.” In this movie, I think there are some things that fans are really going to enjoy seeing.
TULL: I do want some surprises, but I will say that there was nothing in terms of the overall scope or “Geez we had this great sequence with Godzilla but we just couldn’t.” All that’s in there. It’s more of some of the nuances and length of scenes and some different things that that’s the hardest thing because you fall in love with all of them and then you sit back, “It’s a four hour movie if we don’t-” You just have to think about the pace of the film and making sure that it’s front and center.
So I have to ask you as a fan of another universe that you helped create and a fan of this universe that you’re hoping to reboot, if you will, is it possible that the world of Pacific Rim and Godzilla are the same world or are they completely different?
TULL: They’re completely different worlds.
Am I the only one to ask or are other people asking?
TULL: You know, you’re the only one that has asked it in that way. It was very specific versus saying, “Is there any way Godzilla would ever fight-?” or something like that.
I asked Guillermo point blank when Pacific Rim was coming out and Godzilla was being put together I’m like, “This could be a fun crossover.”
I want to get back into the Asia thing because I know how important foreign box office is now. I’ve been noticing more movies form America getting released in China and I know how important that box office is. Can you sort of talk about that and how important the box office is internationally?
TULL: Well for Legendary we probably are split 40% domestic to 60% international. So our films, just the kind of movies we make, tend to over-index internationally. It’s where a lot of the growth is, and fortunately even foreign audiences seem to just love American movies. It’s our second biggest export I think, in fact. With China in particular, we’ve been there for I think six years now just trying to figure it out and earn a place in the community and so forth. We have a great partnership with China Film Group and our movies have done really well. So I think you’re starting to see more and more collaboration. And it is an important market for us, not only in terms of sheer numbers, but they’ve built out amazing infrastructure in theaters there. We have a great relationship with IMAX and our stuff- seeing Godzilla in IMAX to us is pretty cool, is a great deal. IMAX has a lot of screens in China. But I think you have to draw the line at pandering. I think you have to draw the line in terms of-“Quick let’s throw something in here so that it’s- I mean, like on Pacific Rim with Guillermo, the triplet from Crimson Typhoon that was in the script, that was just an idea and we thought it was cool. It’s really trying to balance all of that. That’s the one thing that’s interesting about the world we live in, it truly is becoming communal- instant communication, different cultures crossing over. So it’s fun to be around.
I know that you were very hands on with Guillermo on Pacific Rim and Guillermo told me how he’d be like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?” And you’d be like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did that?” Was it the same experience on Godzilla? I don’t want to get specific, but there’s some stuff in the third act that’s pretty effing great. How involved were you in talking about that?
TULL: Well look, this is Gareth’s movie, but we had a great partnership and there were certain things, certainly the fight in the third act was very important to me. We had a great team that worked on this stuff, amazing people and craftspeople that worked on the film. It’s as cool as you think it is sitting around I’d go home and I’d be like, “I worked on the Godzilla battle today. That’s what I did for a living today. That’s insane.” So yeah, it was great to sit at the soundboard and geek out and obsess about getting the Godzilla roar just right or making sure that the first time- we don’t want to spoil it for your readers, but when (spoiler highlight to read) he uses the atomic breath that you were like “Yeah!”
TULL: I just wanted all of that in there. I still can’t believe we got to make a Godzilla movie.
I was saying something out in the hallway and I’ll say it right to you: The two people I really love in Hollywood are you and Megan Ellison, because you produce these geek movies that I love. These are the properties that I would want to see. And Megan makes these smaller movies with great filmmakers.
TULL: She’s amazing.
She’s amazing, but you guys are on two opposite ends of the spectrum, if you will. I’m curious, what are you reading? Or what’s been exciting? Because you’re now moving into that level of you have a track record, such a long track record of producing quality stuff. I’m leaning toward Universal right now, they have a lot of IP.
TULL: Yeah, they certainly do and the comment I’ll make- I don’t know Megan, I’m very good friends with her brother David at Skydance, but what I admire about what she does is just she doesn’t care. She just does the movies she wants to make and I’ve heard that artists really love her as a producer. I think we’re very lucky in this time period to have somebody that has the means and the taste and so forth to make what she’s making, because she’s obviously fantastic. Then for us, you know, it’s sort of 80/20 for us. 80% of it’s been Batman and Superman, 300, Watchmen, Godzilla, and then we make The Town or 42 or movies like that and it’s just stories that we think are great. We have one coming out in August called As Above, So Below that we’re really excited about and then on the Universal side between the Jurassic World and Unbroken, which is another-
I’ve seen some of Unbroken at CinemaCon.
TULL: You know, we didn’t produce that, we’re kind of coming on a moving train there, but a really exiting one.
Universal has Universal Monsters, I don’t know how you feel about Universal Monsters.
TULL: I’m a huge fan and I think that’s a rich tapestry, of course.
Is it something that Legendary is like, “hmmmm” or is it something that you’re like “We got Jurassic World, we’re good”?
TULL: Look, when it comes to world class amazing storytelling opportunities we have an insatiable appetite so it was not lost on us that they had cool stuff like that.
They have an amazing IP list.
Godzilla opens this weekend. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.