Back in early May, I got to visit the set of Underworld: Awakening when the production was filming in Vancouver. While on set, I got to participate in a group interview with directors Mans Marlind & Bjorn Stein. Here’s some of the highlights:
- When they were starting out, they wanted to work together but they both liked the same aspects of filmmaking, so they decided to direct every second day. One would direct one day, and the other the next day, and whoever’s day off it is would just be the other director’s “best buddy,” there to help him on whatever he needs help on. The best buddy also deals with the producers and such while the other director is focused on the shoot.
- They say Underworld: Awakening is different from the other films in that it’s a more emotional story, and the look of the film is all them.
- Regarding comparisons to Twilight, they say Underworld has a completely different vibe than those films, it’s very dark. It’s a completely different vampire.
- Underworld: Awakening was the first time either of them had worked with a digital camera as opposed to film.
- What’s new about the 4th Underworld is “we’re bringing them into the real world because man now is a player. Before, it was just Lycans and vampires. It was really fun to bring the werewolves into downtown to see what would happen.”
- There’s a big car chase scene in the movie where the characters are being chased by Lycans through the middle of the city.
Hit the jump for the full interview. They also talk about filming in 3D, the way they work together, how they got hired to do the movie, and a lot more.
Before going any further, if you missed the recently released teaser trailer for Underworld: Awakening, I’d watch that first:
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Underworld: Awakening gets released January 20, 2012.
Mans Marlind: Me and Bjorn, we’ve known each other since we were like eight or nine and I think we did out first movie together when we were fifteen. It was called Wednesday the 11th. It was not a classic. But we started working professionally together like ten years ago because we got the same script on the same day. Before that, we always worked like next to each other, like I’m helping him reading his stuff and he’s helping me. Then, we saw it like, “This is a sign, you know? We should do this together.” The thing was that we knew that other directors are like focused. One guy would focus on camera. The other guy focused on performances. We realized that we both like the same thing. So, we said, “How are we going to do this?” And we said, “Let’s do it every second day.” That means actually that when we prep, we’re next to each other all the time, like this [rubs his hands together] and we do all the storyboards and we do all the meetings and decide the vision of the film together. But then, when we shoot, we do every second day and when Bjorn directs, I’m his “Best Buddy” which means I’m just there for him because war is totally fucking hell, you know? And to have somebody there who is totally like you, who doesn’t have a secret agenda or another agenda, is extremely helpful. It’s very hard to make a movie. [laughs] So, it’s really good to be two. So, when he’s directing, I’m just his Best Buddy and, here’s Bjorn!
[Bjorn enters room]
Bjorn Stein: Hey, everybody!
Marlind: I’m telling them how we work. So, Best Buddy means that I’m helping him and sometimes I can tell him, “You’ve got it, move on” or “Maybe you should punch in here and get a closer thing.” Also, the thing is, I’m prepared to talk to producers or the production designer, while he’s taking care of the fire of the day. And the next day, we change. Then, I’m directing and he’s my Best Buddy. What’s cool about this, especially on a huge movie like this, we don’t get as tired because when you don’t direct, you can sit back a little bit more, you can have a coffee, and you’re not stressed the whole time. It’s funny because when we speak to fellow directors, when they hear about this, they go, “God damn, that sounds great.” But you need to have someone who you’ve known since you were kids because it’s about taste. Taste and trust.
So, it sounds like those innumerable conversations that have happened over the years, comparing notes on films and getting on that same page and being able to know that he has your back and vice versa.
Marlind: Yeah, it’s extremely helpful.
Stein: We weren’t sure that this was going to work because we’ve worked separately as well. Although being friends, when we tried it, it gave us more upsides than we actually could think of.
Marlind: There’s one big downside, money. We share everything. But we’re from Sweden which is almost a Socialistic country, so… [laughs]
How is your Underworld film unique from Len Wiseman’s? Patrick was a Production Designer and was as much a pseudo-Director in many ways. How will we know this is your film as opposed to a Len Wiseman Underworld movie?
Marlind: I think different things. It all derives from, of course, story. I think this is a more emotional journey than what we’ve seen Selene go through before. I think one of the strengths we have is that we really, really love the hardcore action and all of the blood and all of the guts, but we also love the emotional things and the things that touch you, and makes you care. Not just go, “Wow!” but you want to cry. So, I think we’re going to see a new side of Selene in this film, a much softer and a much more emotional Selene. I think we’re going to be touched, we’ve always been touched otherwise we wouldn’t be here, but I think we’re really going to be touched by her journey in this one. And I think the way we style it, the architecture and the framing and everything, that’s totally us, I’d say. The look.
Stein: The look will be different because it takes place in a different environment. So, that’s a given change either if Len were to do it or if we were to do it. It will look kind of different in a way. And it’s also 3D which gives you limitations in how you tell a story, but also opens up ways of storytelling in other ways. So, that will give you a different look as well.
Genre films—the genre itself—tends to work on a pendulum. They go in one direction, reach their apex, and then come back. I mean, for example a vampire film. You get vampires, vampires, vampires and then you reach a saturation point. Given films like, I hate to bring up Twilight, but I’m going to, and I’m seeing films like Jim Mickle’s Skateland that it’s swinging away. We’re going back towards more feral vampires. Is that a consideration or is it just off the table because this story doesn’t address that?
Stein: I don’t worry a bit about it because it is what it is. If people decide to turn their backs on vampires and suddenly want to look at Godzillas, then there’s nothing we can do about that. But, for us it feels like this thing has been going on for ten years, so it has created its universe, it has its fans and will continue. So, I think it has a different vibe to it than most of the other stuff in terms of how they’re portrayed. It’s a different kind of vampire.
Marlind: And we only go for what we like. We only go for films we want to see. That’s the films we want to make. What we like about these films compared to Twilight is that they’re dark. You don’t get to make a seventy million dollar movie that is fucking dark. The good people die in this movie, or a lot of them do. There are some tweaks here and there are turns there that you don’t see in your average seventy million dollar movie and that’s what we love.
One of the things I liked so much about Storm is that you weren’t afraid to make the main character unlikeable.
Marlind: No. Thank you!
I loved the ambiguity of the end also.
Stein: That was a big discussion. We said, “We have to make him a sweet asshole,” because at one point you have to care about him of course. How far can you push that in saying, “Well, he’s an asshole.”
Marlind: We actually used About a Boy as a reference, when the schticks about the producer gets money, we were using About a Boy saying, “Look, you can have a guy who’s not really likeable and he’s still a good character.” But it’s a hard way to go.
Stein: It’s also about casting as well. You have to find the right guy who can pull it off.
Marlind: Yeah. We always say, “The next one… let’s open on a beach,” but, all those scripts suck. So, we always end up in dreary places like this or Eastern Europe.
Stein: When we started coming over here from Sweden, I think the second script we got opened on a beach and we ere like, “Fuck yeah!” [laughs]
Stein: But it was like meh. So, we’re obviously not destined to shoot on beaches and nice warm weather, but rather damp, cold, dark.
Marlind: I think it is heritage. Bergman was mentioned earlier, we got that with mother’s milk. We got the Bergman, but we also got the American movies, so we’re in a twisted version of that. Of caring about the performances, but we also want all the ba-boom as well.
I’m curious about you doing action. I don’t know if you’ve done any action before this, but this is a pretty heavy action movie. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do and how has it been transitioning into more action?
Stein: For us, we don’t want to get stuck in a genre, so we’ve done everything from a youth drama to a thriller to an epic sixteenth century [film]. For us, if it’s a good script and it’s a good project, it doesn’t matter. Action is something we love. We love movies. We’re movie fucking freaks. We love it all. We started out in the core section growing up with horror. Horror is great because it’s something you can do yourself when you’re a kid and get a pretty good result because…
Marlind: You don’t have to rely upon performances.
Stein: In the same amount. But as you grow older, you learn more and more and more stuff and we just want to challenge ourselves in doing whatever we haven’t done before.
Marlind: I mean, everything we’ve done has had action in it, but never this amount. No, no. It’s a treat. It’s a treat to make these kinds of movies, to have these teams with all the muscles. We say, “Can we just go and maybe have this” and they say, “Yeah, sure!” And then, “pffft” it happens. I mean, that’s fantastic.
Marlind: We were very fortunate that there’s been—the good things about other films being made is that there is already a road of hardware. “That guy’s good. That guy’s good. He worked really good. That prop guy’s good.” That’s not about repeating other people’s stuff. That’s just getting good people on the crew. So, that’s been very good.
Can you talk about working with the RED Epic cameras? Can you talk about your experiences with them? You guys are one of the first production teams to use it.
Stein: We come from film and using film cameras and—
Marlind: That being said—
Stein: That being said, this is the first time I’m impressed, actually, of a video camera, a digital camera, and it’s quite amazing. As we have it right now, it is almost too good because, in movies, you want to hide some stuff because it’s an illusion and digital shows fucking everything. The resolution is awesome. We just saw yesterday tests on a big screen because we haven’t really seen any good 3D films yet that technically work.
Marlind: Well, except for Avatar.
Stein: Yes! Avatar works, but they spent an exorbitant amount and that’s something else. It’s also very much a CG environment. But, with this one, you don’t get the artifacts—the “ghosting”—and all those problems you can have with 3D. We saw none of it and, for us at least watching these scenes, it’s like watching a movie that happens to be 3D and I think the Epics are helping that because of the resolution. You get a lot of clarity in it, which helps with the 3D.
Marlind: We were actually flabbergasted yesterday when we saw our first stuff on the big screen because, you all have seen 3D movies and you say, “Oh, here’s the foreground and here’s the middle-ground” or people sometimes look like cut-up cardboard figures. This was nothing like that and I think that’s because of the Epic. So, yeah, it’s a great fuckin’ camera.
Now that you’ve seen those tests, is there anything you might change or add?
Marlind: Everything! [laughs]
How many more weeks do you have left?
Stein: Two and a half.
So, everything is pretty set in stone already.
Marlind: The thing is, with film, it’s not that we’re junkies to film, but we always said, “Film looks better.” And I’d love to dance on the grave of film as soon as digital is better, and we might just be there right now. We might just be there.
Stein: Also, this being 3D, it’s another thing. If we were to shoot another 2D movie, I’m not sure yet. Once you sit and grade the film, you will see how much you can push it, how far you can take it, and stuff like that. That’s when you’ll have a good answer. It looks great right now.
Marlind: Well, explosions. It’s still those little things that usually give digital problems. With explosions, it’s a bit of a “white-out.”
Stein: Over-exposure and stuff like that.
Marlind: Yeah, those little things, that’s always been a digital problem, but that’s like one problem and you gain so much more. But if we were to shoot a really, really gritty thriller in South Africa, I’d still go for film.
Can you talk about what’s happening out there on set today in terms of the movie, in terms of the story? Can you talk about overall what’s the best scene in the whole movie?
Stein: There’s two ways to see that: there are big ba-boom scenes and there are emotional scenes. We just shot one the other day which was a very emotional scene.
Marlind: Which one?
Stein: In David’s room.
Publicist: You can talk about it.
Stein: I can talk about it! I was like, “Fuck!”
Marlind: I was afraid someone would come in and [makes gunshot sound]
Stein: Yeah, it was a meeting between Selene and Subject 2 which she’s called here which was amazing where the meet for the first time face-to-face. They’ve been in the same room and everything, but this is time they get for themselves. And it was incredibly intense acting-wise. That was great. Then, we have other scenes we’ve done with… [sighs] We’ve done so many.
Marlind: The car chases, they’re something different.
Stein: Yeah, we have an excellent car chase where they’re chased by Lycans in the middle of the city.
Marlind: What’s so cool about this movie is that we’re bringing them into the real world because Man now is a player. Before, it was just Lycans and vampires. Now, Man is a third player and not a very good player. It was really fun to bring the werewolves into downtown to see what would happen.
Shot for shot?
Marlind: Shot for shot. 100%, and then we shoot 80% of it and 20% is French improvisation.
Stein: We say, “If we’re German in Pre-Production, we can be French on set.”
Since there have been three Underworld movies, how much do you want to keep in a similar type vein as those other movies and how much do you want to create your own vision of it. Obviously, even though this is the fourth movie, it is supposedly a new start, so how hard is it to balance that?
Stein: I think it’s pretty simple. For us, just trying to keep it in the zone of the previous films and yet we bring out own personalities to it and, as I said, it’s also 3D, so it will feel different no matter what we do. But, I mean… We’re not going one-eighty in the total other direction in terms of the moods of the film.
Marlind: Because we are fans of these films before we even knew we were going to direct it. So, we respect the films and we respect the people that love these films. So, it’s not about, “Hey, you know what? She’s gonna wear pink the whole movie, Fuck you!” Her dress, we spent weeks talking about her coat. We spent weeks talking about her new coat. Those things are important, you know? And we spent weeks talking about the guns. “What are her new guns going to look like?” The details are really, really important, and that’s for the fans.
Did you pitch the studio on your take or did the studio come after you?
Stein: We got the script sent to us via CAA, our agency, and read it and I think we were a little bit of the outsiders coming into the mix. But we just read the script and said, “Fuck yeah, this is cool! What if you do it like this?” Being still in Sweden, we wrote this pitch and sent it over and they were really interested. We had an iChat meeting first and then we talked to Gary Lucchesi and Len Wiseman. Then, they saw Storm and Storm is a cousin in a way because it has a tough, kick-ass chick in one of the leads. It is also in a dark world. The look is the same. If you look at them, they’re similar. So, we had meetings with them and everything fell into place within a couple of days and we started working. We came over for a meeting and just hit the ground running. So, it was BOOM!
Marlind: They said, “Come to the meeting, but bring some rain clothes because we might be going to Vancouver the day after.”
Both: And we did!
[laughter] Having two directors on the movie is certainly rare, but it’s been done more in the last ten years than the previous thirty. Obviously, the two of you have a tremendous chemistry together.
Stein: You think? [laughs]
I’m wondering, in theory, do you think two directors on a movie is a good thing and how did the cast respond to hearing two different voices?
Marlind: First of all, there is no general. Everything is specific. There’s this directing couple that suck or there are the Coens who are great. So, there’s good and bad just like there are good and bad directors out there. We always say to every actor “This is how we work. We are two and, when Bjorn is directing, you talk to him. I’m the guy by the monitor. You don’t talk to me. That’s the rule. Since filmmaking is chaos, it’s really nice to have some rules. So, we’ve never had a single actor go, “Oh, whoa… I can’t deal with that.” Sometimes, we do a scene where I start the scene, and the next day, Bjorn finishes it. And since we have everything planned beforehand and since we’ve rehearsed everything, usually it’s no problem.
Stein: It’s about clarity as much as, “Here are the rules and this is how we do it” and it’s worked so far.
With your horror background, do you see this film on some level as more frightening than the previous Underworld films?
Stein: No. I wouldn’t say it’s more frightening. Elements of it are more frightening, but, it’s more tense.
Marlind: No. There’s no scary beats, I would say, There are a lot of suspenseful beats and there are shocking beats and there are disgusting beats and some even terrifying, but there’s no horror in that sense, I’d say.
You mentioned that the story is going to be more emotional that the previous Underworlds, can you kind of elaborate on that in terms of Selene’s emotional arc or journey through this film? Can you talk about why you think her story might resonate more with audiences?
Stein: It’s about discovering being a parent and I just did that three years ago myself. It is the most emotional thing I’ve ever experienced and therefore it’ll be for her as well. It’s also being thrown into a situation where she was not expecting it, so that makes for her badass attitude that she has had. It doesn’t really work well because this fucks her up emotionally so bad. She loses someone, gets someone, all within a couple of minutes or hours. So, it all fucks with her brain and the rock-solid chick we’ve seen before might not be so rock-solid anymore. That’s the difference, that’s the way we haven’t seen her before, more fragile, but also, we talked about motherhood. You become more fragile, but you also become more defensive.
Marlind: Like a tigress. She’s more brutal in this one than you’ve ever seen.
Is that because she has more at stake, is that what you’re saying?
Marlind: It’s absolutely that. She defends her daughter in the end in such a…
Stein: I don’t know. If you ask anybody who’s married and has a kid, “Who would you save if you had to choose one? Who would you save, your husband or your child?” Thinking about that question, it’s not that easy. But, in the end, just being a parent, I think instinct says to go for your child because it’s more vulnerable, blah, blah, blah…
Marlind: It’s the future.
Stein: That’s what kind of happens to her.
Marlind: But in this story, she suddenly find out. She goes to sleep and then twelve years has passed and suddenly she has a kid who is a really strange kid as well. She’s not like the Twilight kid. She’s an Underworld kid.
For more on Underworld: Awakening: