While it’s always great to talk to actors, if you want to know why certain decisions were made on a movie, you’ve got to talk to the producers. While an actor can tell you why they delivered a line a certain way or how they got involved in the project, they can’t tell you why certain characters were brought back and why others weren’t. In addition, they can’t talk about the budget, working with Capcom and Screen Gems, and so many other key behind the scenes decisions. So when I got to visit the set of Resident Evil: Retribution last month in Toronto, one of the key interviews was with producers Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody, and Robert Kulzer. During our wide ranging conversation they talked about what’s different in the fifth installment, what fans can look forward to, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what they had to say.
Before going any further, here’s the official synopsis from Retribution and the just released teaser trailer:
The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race’s last and only hope, ALICE (Milla Jovovich), awakens in the heart of Umbrella’s most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex. Without a safe haven, Alice continues to hunt those responsible for the outbreak; a chase that takes her from Tokyo to New York, Washington, D.C. and Moscow, culminating in a mind-blowing revelation that will force her to rethink everything that she once thought to be true. Aided by newfound allies and familiar friends, Alice must fight to survive long enough to escape a hostile world on the brink of oblivion. The countdown has begun.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get this interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Resident Evil: Retribution opens September 14.
Question: If I’m not mistaken, the last film ends with a boat, with a lot of planes coming at them. It’s a big climax. With this film, do you guys take a little bit of time, or does it just jump right into the action?
Jeremy Bolt: Well, there’s action. There is action.
Don Carmody: Yeah, nonstop.
Bolt: This film had a lot of twisting, turning moments. It’s playing, respectfully, with the audience. We want to make people think a little bit, although you’ll enjoy it if you haven’t seen a previous film. If you have seen the previous films, you’ll enjoy it even more. It has that video game spirit, where you have to engage it a little bit.
You’re bringing a lot of characters back from past movies, so will people who haven’t seen those movies still get it?
Bolt: Yeah. That’s why it’s called Resident Evil: Retribution, and not Resident Evil 5.
How does that work then? How do you feel that you’re starting fresh, that anyone could come into the world, at this point?
Bolt: There will be a voice-over from Alice, who will set the world up. New characters are properly introduced. You don’t need to play the game to know Leon Kennedy and Jill Valentine are coming back. Unlike the previous films, we actually have a sequence which is very much in the real world, which is going to be an interesting part of this version of Resident Evil.
Would that be Oded’s sequence?
Bolt: He is in a part of that. This is actually quite difficult to talk about, I’m just realizing (laughter).
Carmody: I think everything is explained well enough that, even if you haven’t seen the first few Resident Evil’s, you’ll understand what’s going on, without too much confusion.
I think each movie has really defined itself on Alice’s mission. She’s always discovering something new in herself, which lends itself to the new adventure. How would you describe that arc for her, and how that mirrors the movie, and what you’re going for in this installment, to differentiate itself from the rest?
Bolt: I think you feel she’s getting very close to the answer, if you like, of the whole Resident Evil franchise. We are within sight of the end, or of something we think might be the end.
There’s been a lot of talk about the finality of the Resident Evil series. Do you have ideas in mind for that?
Robert Kulzer: Everything has to come to an end. The question is if it’s by your choosing, or if the audience chooses it for you (Laughter).
When Paul did Afterlife, he had mentioned something at Comic-Con about a new trilogy. The third one had wrapped up, and he had envisioned a new trilogy. Beyond six, could you guys see doing a Resident Evil from different perspectives and different angles?
Bolt: Yeah. I could see a prequel to (Resident Evil) 1, definitely. And, possibly, spinning out another character, yeah. The really exciting thing for us as producers, and Paul as a director, it’s so expensive to release a movie these days, that it gives everyone confidence, so you can get creative under the umbrella of the franchise. This is something studios are doing all the time. If, as Robert said, the box office deserves it, we’ll keep exploring it.
But, going back, how does this one really differentiate itself from the others?
Bolt: It’s more science-fiction-y. This is more tricks-y, turn-y, plays respectfully with the audience.
Carmody: But, at the same time, it has probably the biggest action.
There’s a big car chase scene as well. Can you talk about shooting that?
Bolt: Yes. It was a lot of night work.
Carmody: A lot of very cold night work. A lot of machine guns, very loud machine guns.
I was trying to figure out how Russian zombies can drive motorcycles.
Bolt: They’ve mutated. The last parasite has enabled them to have certain motor functions and mental abilities. The undead have evolved.
Kulzer: We’ve moved it from Africa to the streets of Moscow.
Can you elaborate about the good and bad aspects of Oded’s character Carlos and Rain? I believe those are the only two characters who have that duality.
Bolt: The idea is no one is who you think they are. The only thing you are certain of is that the Umbrella Corporation is all-powerful, is always one step ahead, and Alice is the only one that’s really getting close. We wanted to create an atmosphere where the audience goes, ‘Is that person really Carlos? Is that person really Rain?’ There’s good Carlos and bad Carlos, and it’s very much taken from the world of gaming, where everything can change. We are definitely, as I think Paul has done with the previous movies, taking narrative structure out of the video game world.
Kulzer: We felt the last movie was really quite linear, pure action-survival. We felt that we definitely had to try something narratively, from a structural point of view, that would make it more of a mind-bender for the audience. With Alice, you go through the movie and you kind of question everything. As it becomes this ongoing battle for survival of humanity, you might even find humanity in the least likely places, even in your enemies. To a certain degree, they may have things you need for survival. There might be alliances in the story, that Alice wouldn’t have trusted, but, for her survival, she might have to make a bargain and see how it goes.
Bolt: She is definitely fighting to hold onto her humanity. She has a relationship with a young child in the film, and there’s definitely an echo of a mother-daughter, a little bit of a Ripley-daughter connection. Even though, when you see the film, you might go, ‘Why is she doing this?’
Carmody: The story is much more broken down, the narrative.
Bolt: She’s focusing on it to remind herself of her humanity.
How much is the market guiding the direction of this franchise, i.e. the box office?
Bolt: Well, we’re in 3D again. The thing we try in every version of the film is to use different environments, and that has worked for us. We’ve been in the desert in 3, the city in 2, so again here, we’re using different environments. Paul believes you’ve got to give the viewers the promise of something different. I think a number of franchises make the mistake of just making it feel the same. This will feel totally different.
Kulzer: There is definitely feedback coming from the international distributors. The movie performed so strong internationally, you say, ‘Is there a way to make it a global phenomenon, rather than set it in just one location?’ We were in Raccoon City, we were in Vegas, we were in Los Angeles. Is there a way we can make it a global event?
You mentioned this has a sci-fi edge to it. Are there films that you drew ideas from, or how to make it a sci-fi film?
Bolt: I think Inception had a huge impact on everyone. I think Westworld is an important film to Paul. Everybody knows, because he talks about it enough, the Alien trilogy, Blade Runner, all these things are inspirations. As a filmmaker, I think he just keeps trying to push himself to do better than the last one, and to make it as entertaining as possible. Just taking up on Robert’s point, there are sequences in Moscow, there are sequences in Tokyo. We really tried to make it global.
You obviously have an open-door relationship with Capcom. What was their reaction when you came to them and said, ‘We need two of the big characters, Leon and Barry?’ The fans have been clammoring for them.
Bolt: And Ada Wong. We have a great relationship, so it’s very much, ‘Who are you going to cast? Do they look like the character?’ They were very, very pleased with all of our choices, particularly Li Bingbing, who plays Ada Wong. They visited us on set last week, and they were really blown away by her.
Are they any closer to doing a Capcom game that’s closer to the series?
Kulzer: I think we’re stealing from each other, in a good way. They are two different worlds. They are so good at what they’re doing, and we try to do our thing. I think we want to keep it that way.
Carmody: Everything (Laughter).
Kulzer: I think the one we’re shooting right now, with the ice. In the script, it read like a $50 million sequence. We have a week and a couple of days on second unit, so it requires a lot of attention from all departments.
Carmody: As you can see, before we even yell action, we’re yelling, ‘Roll this, roll that, roll this.’ There are 15 different things that have to happen before the actors can start talking. That’s a challenge, but all of the sequences have been very challenging. The car chase in Moscow, when you see it, it’s astonishing. It’s really, really cool.
If I’m not mistaken, the box office has been going up and up and up for all of them. But are your budgets basically the same though?
Bolt: No, they get higher, because it’s more expensive for everyone, including us.
Kulzer: Let’s blame it on our currency.
Kulzer: They ideally would want it to do just as much as the last one.
Bolt: They’re very trusting of us and Paul. They see this as we know what we’re doing, the box office has increased, and they want to give us the freedom to do that. They’re pretty great to work with and, also, their marketing department is phenomenal. That’s such a godsend for a producer, when you have a distributor who knows how to market a film, because that’s one piece of the pie we really can’t control.
Kulzer: They are very much involved. We have to get the script approved, and then we have to figure out the right budget number. Once that number has been agreed on, we try to stick to it. Each movie we try to bring in new people, or bring back people from the previous movies. They obviously are engaged in making it the best possible movie for the price.
Are you considering bringing back TomAndAndy to do the score?
Bolt: Yes, they are doing the score.
Carmody: They’ll be here on Thursday.
Is there a new breed or reiteration of a previously distinct creature that you guys are particularly excited about?
Can you talk about working with Paul and Neal (Moritz) over these past 10 years, and how you’ve grown together?
Bolt: Don and I have worked together for five years, and Robert and I have worked for 10 years on the films. We’ve all been a part of this, but I would say Milla, she’s always had a fierce core. If there’s anybody who could take on an alien, it’s probably her. That core has evolved, so now there’s a strength and a toughness about her, but there’s also a strong sense of her being a leader. I think you could definitely see her leading everyone against Umbrella, and literally saving humanity. Paul has evolved from being… he’s always obviously loved the world that we’re in, and he’s always loved the technical aspects. But I think it’s interesting because, as Milla has evolved, he’s very much become a part of that. They have fallen in love and gotten married, so there’s a total synergy between filmmaker and the iconic leading lady. I think that’s really part of why the franchise has worked. From our point of view, Milla is essentially a third partner. From my point of view, that’s interesting because I was partners with Paul for 20 years, and she’s now essentially a partner in this as well.
Carmody: Nobody knows Alice better than Alice. She probably knows that character better than Paul.
Bolt: It’s interesting when we negotiate her deal, of course, because Paul has a vested interest (Laughs). His producer hat is on, and then his husband hat is on.
Kulzer: Going back to the first one, you really feel it was meant to be. We didn’t really cast her. She cast us. She was basically lobbying to do the character, and we almost had no other choice to take her. Now you look back, and she’s become a really integral part not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera. She’s doing a really good job.
Are there characters that have not yet been announced, that might be making an appearance, that are still under the radar?
(Long pause, no answer)
Will we see that character that was in Resident Evil 1, that was supposed to be her “husband” or boyfriend from that movie?
Bolt: No. James Purefoy? No, you wont’ see him. But there are definitely elements from Res 1 that come into this. Yes, Paul has another movie in his mind, which will be the completion of this cycle, and we’re moving towards that. That will connect, in some way, to the first film.
What zombies are you really excited about in this film?
Bolt: Well, the Russian motorbike undeads are phenomenal. They’re in their Communist uniforms, on their motorbikes, great makeup from Paul Jones, they’re just terrific. Obviously, it’s more enjoyable for us, having done it for so long now, that the undead are getting a bit more intelligent. After awhile, you feel sorry for them.
Bolt: Not really. It’s very early days.
I’d like to go back to my first question. There’s a big ending in the fourth movie, with like 100 planes coming in.
Kulzer: We are not copping out of it.
Bolt: You will not be disappointed. It will be the Pearl Harbor of zombie movies.
And, that’s how it opens?
You’re getting all Lost on us.
Bolt: That’s another one. Michelle’s in the movie. Lost is a big influence.
I was just saying because when you set something up that big, the audience wants that payoff.
Bolt: Yeah, they will be satisfied, but it may not be in the linear way they are expecting. As Robert said, we played around with the narrative.
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