When Martin Campbell was first announced as the director of Warner Bros. Green Lantern movie, I’m sure some fans were disappointed. The fact is, Campbell’s name doesn’t carry the same weight with fandom like Christopher Nolan and Jon Favreau. But while some might have liked another director, Campbell has been making movies for decades and he knows how to frame action and tell a story. In addition, he’s the one who successfully rebooted James Bond in Casino Royale, and it’s one of my favorite Bond movies. Simply put: I thought Campbell was a solid choice and someone who could launch what will hopefully be a massive franchise.
Anyway, last year I got to visit the set of Green Lantern on the last day of principal photography. While there I got to speak with Campbell with a few other online reporters. During the interview Campbell talked to us about why he wanted to direct the film, was there talk about doing 3D before production started, how they’re using a color palette for different parts of the movie, directing the flying scenes, casting Ryan Reynolds and Peter Sarsgaard, the challenges of being the director on a 103 day shoot, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
Before going any further, at this year’s WonderCon, Warner Bros. premiered ten minutes of footage from Green Lantern. Shortly after their presentation, they released four minutes of it online. If you haven’t seen the footage, I really recommend checking it out.
As usual I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Green Lantern gets released June 17.
Martin Campbell: First of all, I haven’t been offered lots of these superhero movies. [laughs] I’ve done some “real” superhero movies, but not comic strip superhero movies. It was because I had never done one. Secondly, it was because Green Lantern is probably one of the most interesting, and it has the widest scope I think. If you compare it to Batman and Superman, the world of Green Lantern is way bigger and potentially way more interesting in a lot of ways I think.
Was that the most interesting thing to you? Your other films like the Bond films and Edge of Darkness are very gritty and sort of crime dramas. Here, you are going far out into space and the universe. Is this a whole new challenge for you?
Martin Campbell: Oh, yes. It is. It is a new challenge that I have never done before. So, of course, that was a big part of the equation. Absolutely.
Can you talk about the film vs. digital conversation? Was there a lot of debate with you guys using film or digital? Was there talk about doing 3D before production started?
Martin Campbell: There was no talk about 3D before we started production. Avatar hadn’t come out at that point. [Cinematographer] Dion Beebe and I talked a lot about whether shooting on HD or film. We just decided to shoot it on film because there is a lot of clear contrast between OA and Earth, the night scenes, the day scenes, and the scenes in the plane. It’s all over the place, and we just felt that film was the better choice. It was as simple as that. We tested both. We ran scenes on both to compare them both and it was just a decision based on preference.
Are you planning to do a different color palette for different parts in the film?
Martin Campbell: Very much so. For OA, we will have a tone color palette. You looked at the drawings and concept work, and that is what we hope to achieve with OA. Really, there is no overall look to it because there is such a variety of looks in the film. As you’ve seen, we have space, OA, and Earth. So there isn’t just one particular style. For example, on OA, we used a lot of wide lenses because we wanted to show the scope of the thing and make it look great. The colors of OA are very much related to the concept drawings that you have seen. There is such a variety of different scenes. The look of the film alters slightly depending on where we are.
Martin Campell: It doesn’t really. There is a lot of grounded action and, obviously, the action on OA. The point is that I have tried to keep the action as real as possible. I always look at these superhero films and I see people hurdling towards at a hundred miles per hour and then they get up, shake their head, and charge back at a hundred miles per hour. Nobody seems to really get injured or hurt. I don’t find any threat in that. There is no tension in that whatsoever. If you can be powered into a pole at a hundred miles per hour and then you can get up and fight back – where is the action in that? So I’m trying to keep the action as real as I can. Clearly, Hal, in becoming the Green Lantern, suffers. He gets beaten up and he gets thrown about. He has a tough time in the training and everything else. So it’s really that you have to keep your feet on the ground as far as action is concerned.
One of the things that happens a lot in the comic is that there is a lot people talking as they are floating. That works in the comic, but I imagine that is going to look odd on film. Have you found a way to get around that?
Martin Campbell: You can certainly do that if you have endless action scenes and they are flying about and you are dealing with whoever it may be. But that doesn’t …and that is largely because in the comics. For the most part, there is a lot of action. They are always dealing with whatever villain they are confronting. It’s in the air inevitably because it’s based around action, if you see what I mean. That is why they talk a lot in comics while floating around. Since we are the origin story, there is a lot more to set up than just the obvious like OA and the other Lanterns. There are a lot of relationships that have to be established. There are also a lot of characters that have to be established. So, to be honest, that would be the answer. I imagine that if there are future Green Lanterns then, of course, a lot more of it will be in the air probably.
Can you talk about casting Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan? There were a number of other well known actors who were up the part. What differentiated him that led you guys to cast him?
Martin Campbell: It was largely because of his ability as an actor. He looks great and he has a sense of humor. He is physically terrific. I mean, what more could you have? He’s got all of those elements. I think we tested something like 8 or 6 people. I can’t quite remember the number. As for them being in the film, you go through a process of elimination. You look and say, “Well….” and to be honest, Ryan was always my first choice. You go through a studio process where you obviously look for and test out other people. It’s, for no other reason, for you to confirm who you first thought was the great person. For my money, it was always Ryan. I thank god that has turned out to be true.
Martin Campbell: I don’t see Hector Hammond as the villain. He is, unfortunately, a product of circumstance. There is something with Hector Hammod, who is infected by…and he turns into “Hector Hammond”. There is a certain pathos there and there is a certain sympathy you get I think from Hector, even though he does some very dastardly things. Peter Sarsgaard is playing Hector and he is one of those wonderful actors that seem to transform himself into another character completely. With a lot of actors you get a variation of the actor that you have seen before, but with Sarsgaard you get something completely different every time, and that is what he did with this. I think this part suits him. He has the big head and we have the big head. [laughs] It’s a nightmare by the way, but it looks terrific. Again, you have to keep these characters human. You can’t just make them black and white. They can’t just be villains and just evil. They have to have personalities. They have to have character.
Was there anything he did in particular that surprised you? Was there any scene where you thought he was particularly memorable that you maybe weren’t expecting?
Martin Campbell: I think in just about everything he is sort of surprising. The truth is that when he put that head on, and it was a 5 or 6 hour process, I never saw him as Sarsgaard. I saw him as two entirely different people. With the head on, I just didn’t even…I just thought of him as Hector Hammond. I never considered him as Peter Sarsgaard at all.
Was there anything that shifted once you guys started filming and were on set?
Martin Campbell: No, I don’t think so. Every scene you tamper around with in terms of dialogue scenes and things like that. I tamper around with those with all of the actors. We try to make them better. We discuss them and we work them out. But there was nothing in the action stuff or the big scenes that we…we did preplan very carefully, but outside of that, you hope for a little bit of magic to strike. You hope to correct yourself if you are going off course. Geoff [Johns] has been viable in terms of far be it from me to say that I know all of the Green Lantern lore from beginning to end. I don’t, but he does. So he has always been, if you will, the dictionary when it comes to keeping the whole thing as accurate as possible.
Were there any non science fiction, comic book movies, or stories that may have inspired you when you were tackling this?
Martin Campbell: No. My favorite when I was brought up was always Batman or Superman in terms of the comic. There were a lot of western comics and bizarro comics. It was stuff like that. But not really. I just treated it in the same way as if I were directing Hamlet. I take it that seriously. I treat it the exact same way.
Martin Campbell: I never compared it to Star Wars. I just think it’s just the origin story, which I think is what is so good about it. It is someone, who on the face should never be a Green Lantern. He seems to have every attribute that says, “No!” to becoming a Green Lantern. But the ring recognizes that Hal has those qualities inside of him, and chooses him. So by the end of the movie he has become potentially the greatest Green Lantern in the world. Those sort of arcs I think are really interesting and that is what is so good about the origin stories. You can start with a rough diamond and end up with a polished gem. That is the great thing about it. All of the other characters in the comic books like Sinestro or Carol – we see where they go in the progress of the story. So it has terrific scope. Again, it’s because of the characters.
Since this film is probably going to end up in 3D, does it influence anything?
Martin Campbell: Believe it or not, I don’t. The reason was we had the people up and we talked to them. The 3D thing has been abused slightly I think. There is no question about that. Avatar did it magnificently and then, of course, there was the old leaping on the bandwagon thing where there have been one or two films which, let’s face it, all know look bloody awful with the 3D. The awful thing about that is that people think it could tend to kill the whole 3D thing, which [James] Cameron absolutely brought front and center. But I think that will correct itself. I think we have seen one or two tests on this, which have been really good in the post session. But some we do anyway. Technology is racing ahead even as we speak. We are hoping that it will look really great.
Can you talk about the score at all as you are going into post production? Do you know who will be doing it and do you want there to be a Green Lantern theme?
Martin Campbell: I haven’t even…we are working 18 hour days at the moment. I never think about that until I finish the movie. A lot of it influences when you put the movie together. When you have a lock down, you know?
Is that when you say to yourself that you want to go find a composer?
Martin Campbell: No. We think of composers. There is a list of composers like there is always a list of actors. You take John Williams, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, and whoever it may be. There are certain composers who are wonderful at themes. John Williams is brilliant, as we all know, at themes. Zimmer is a terrific composer. He is not necessarily thematically, but he is the upper side of the score. So we will just have to wait and see. I have to see the movie and then we will decide.
Can you talk about the challenges of being the director on a 103 day shoot? How do you manage to keep your energy up for that kind of shooting schedule?
Martin Campbell: First of all, you don’t want the studio to come near you. That is the thing that drives you. [laughs] Mercifully, they kept away from us on this. You just have to work. My day starts at four in the morning. I wake up at four in the morning and I start prepping. At seven we start shooting and we finish at seven at night or whatever time it may be. Then, you have to wake up at four in the morning. That is what goes on. Today, is our last day shooting with the main unit. We got second unit for two more days. It is just an endurance test. That is what it really is, and you have to do it. In this day and age, with the cutbacks and everything else, the studios are very tough about budget. You can’t afford to abuse that.
Was there anything scheduled for the second unit where you were like, “No, I need to do that.”
Martin Campbell: I try to do it all myself, but you can’t. You physically can’t do it. You have to have a second unit. I would much rather do the whole damn thing myself.
Martin Campbell: No. I don’t think so. I think they actually have done what they were scheduled to do. I’ve never taken one sequence back from them. It’s all been scheduled and they have done what they had to do, and we got on with what we had to do.
Do you keep in mind the pressures that come with a preexisting entity like this that comes with its own fanbase and how you have to deliver for them?
Martin Campbell: No. That is what comes afterwards. All you can do is just put your head down and go for it when you are actually filming. That becomes the big question afterwards. Finally, all you can do is do your best. You cut the film together and give it your best shot. You hope that they are all going to like it and that everybody is going to be satisfied. Of course, there will be people that won’t be. Hopefully, there won’t be an awful lot that will be. That is the way the world is.
Would you be willing to come back again and restart Bond in a few years after the latest financial problems?
Martin Campbell: No. I’ve had enough of Bond. [laughs] I’ve done it twice.
Here’s more of our Green Lantern set visit: