If you’re curious how Warner Bros. Green Lantern movie came together and why certain decisions were made, you’re in the right place. That’s because last summer I got to visit the production on the last day of filming in New Orleans. While there, I got to participate in a group interview with producer Donald De Line, production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson and Geoff Johns (Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics).
During the interview they talked about the design of the aliens and the look of OA, is the Green Lantern movie more Star Wars or Superman, how the film is a space opera on a grand scale, designing costumes for aliens and such a wide cast, are the different colored energies going to be explained in the movie, casting the actors, the decision to release in 3D, are there any hidden easter eggs for the fans, and a lot 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.
Question: I was wondering if any of you can talk about the military aspect of the film. Did you speak to any companies or did you console with the military on each of those aspects? How deep did you get into all of that?
Grant Major: We didn’t have any official connection with the military at all. You’re reminding me of some of the companies that we dealt with like Northrop Grumman and some of these people that we took a lot of advice from. We had one or two experts that gave us advice on what something would be and what the controls system would be. Obviously, we put a lot of weight into the F-35s and getting the right sort of technologies involved there. It was done without any true involvement.
Donald De Line: But in terms of technical consultation, I just want to say that [director] Martin [Campbell] was very concerned, as was everyone on this team, about keeping it reality based and the verisimilitude of the situation. So every time we shot anything having to do with flying or a pilot, we had a jet pilot sitting there on set at the monitors. The actors spent time with the pilots beforehand so when they were going to go shoot their scenes with simulation and everything – they knew exactly what the attitudes were and they knew that all of the language had to be technically correct. It’s something that Martin was very concerned about with getting those details right. The actors were concerned about it too. It’s something that a lot of time and effort went into. It really didn’t matter what was going on. If it was anything that had to deal with that person, the technical person was on the set at the time.
Ngila Dixon: The same thing went on with the uniforms. We went right into it. We had…
Geoff Johns: Captain Riggs the astronaut, and the test pilot.
Ngila Dixon: Yeah, we made sure that every box was ticked in terms of it being right.
So what kind of things did you find you had been doing wrong in the comic?
Geoff Johns: I actually went to Edwards Air Force Base and spent a day with the test pilots up there before I started writing Green Lantern.
So you had it down pretty much anyway?
Geoff Johns: Yeah. I was good. I did a lot of research on it.
So everything was totally 100% right?
Geoff Johns: Yeah. I actually got a letter from the U.S. Air Force afterwards thanking me for doing it.
I have a question regarding the overall design of the aliens and the look of OA. You have the comics, which are happening right now, that are some of the most wonderfully designed comics out there. Now, you’re making it into a feature film. Do you ever think about which designs needs tweaking and what doesn’t need tweaking?
Grant Major: You know, the comic books are the source of the story. They are the source of the characters, the world, and all of that. To me, the drawings can take it so far, but the cinema is a different medium. It’s a time based one and it’s more immersive in a way than a book. Now, we are right in there with sound, and all that sort of stuff. I think it was really a sort of two way street in a way. We can look at the things that need to be right for the fan base, but I also wanted to spread my wings a little bit, and have my own sort of angle on it somewhat as well. I wanted to be sure that we can bring as much to it as we personally can as well. It’s like the best of both worlds I suppose.
Ngila Dixon: You keep going back to it. I keep going back to the comics because of the physicality that is there. You are never going to be able to replicate that. You’re always looking to make sure to get it. While I am trying to make things hyper real, I also never want to lose that heroic quality that the comics always had. So you are always trying to keep that balance going. One of the things that happened to me was that there is a scene in the film where, as a child, Hal is given his father’s flight jacket. It happens in the comic as well. This was hell for me because I couldn’t get that kind of leather jacket in 2011 or 2012. They are so not a fashion item now. How am I going to sell that? How am I going to make this work? I went through all manners of permutations on that subject. I had every jacket known to me dragged into my office and inspected. I had Vietnam era green jackets. How could I make this an iconic moment in the film? I was going on and on about it. I would obsess on it for awhile. I would go away from it and then come back to it. I would look at the great stack of jackets and make people put them on again. I was in Ozzie’s Office and I stuck up on the wall one of the frames from the comic book, but it was really large. I thought that I would just go back to comic book, which is what I did. I combined one particular flight jacket, which was very retro, with a very contemporary jacket. I came to this sort of joining of design and comic style. I thought, “Eureka!” I can see it now.
You guys have mentioned a couple of times that the movie takes place in 2011 or 2012. Is there a reason for that? Will there be just a title card or is that something you talk about internally?
Geoff Johns: It’s 2011.
Donald De Line: Yeah, it’s 2011. We are in the bubble on the movie. We forget what year, time, or space where are in. We will reenter society soon.
There is not some kind of continuity maybe with another movie coming up?
Geoff Johns: No.
I know there are minor characters, but there were two characters in that first scene that we saw that we haven’t really heard anything about. It was like “watch your back” guy and then there was “nerdy looking” guy. What are their stories?
Donald De Line: That guy is a guy that works at Farris Air Craft. He is another one of the pilots that works at Farris Air Craft. We see him in the bar scene.
Is he one of the guys that Hal punches out?
Donald De Line: Exactly. He is very upset that he has blown this, and potentially cost them a lot of money and future for the company. Then, I think you are talking about Carol’s father, Jay O. Sanders?
Oh, no. At one point, there was a nerdy looking guy.
Donald De Line: Oh, that is Tom Kalmaku.
Does he have any lines? How does he fit into the movie?
Geoff Johns: He is a big character in movie.
Donald De Line: He is Hal’s best buddy. You know him from the comic book.
Geoff Johns: He is a fellow pee wee with Nyla and Grant.
Donald De Line: He is sometimes called Taika Cohen, depending if he is using his dad or mom’s last name. He is half Maori and half Jewish.
What kind of stuff is he doing in the film?
Geoff John: He plays Hal’s best friend.
Donald De Line: He works at Ferris also.
Grant Major: He’s the brains.
Donald De Line: Engineering. He is not a pilot.
Will he be going by “Pieface”?
Donald De Line: We don’t call him that.
Has it been determined if the rings will speak in the film?
Geoff Johns: The rings will not speak.
How will members of the corps know when their personal battery is low? Will there be a way that the ring will communicate with them?
Geoff Johns: Yeah.
But not through speech? Will it be visualized?
Geoff Johns: Yeah.
We saw it blinking when it was time for the hologram.
Geoff Johns: Yeah.
What is the way into this movie for audiences who are not familiar with the comics? It really is this space opera on a grand scale, which is not what audiences have been seeing from films like The Dark Knight or Iron Man. Those films have been more earthbound. For the audiences that are not fans of the comic, is it more like a Star Wars or Superman?
Geoff Johns: It’s a bit of both actually between Star Wars and Superman. It does feel a lot like that. The story takes you in from Hal Jordan’s eyes.
Donald De Line: Yeah. I was kind of new to Green Lantern and, as a producer, I started learning about Green Lantern. I have my deal at Warner Bros and I started looking into the DC world. I read Secret Origins and I was like, “Wow. This is really interesting because Hal Jordan is a regular human being.” For us, the unwashed masses, that were not steeped in the Green Lantern lore – I thought he was a great access character into it. So we take you from Hal Jordan’s point of view, as Geoff was saying, and he gets chosen. So it’s that great thing where any of us can be chosen. You know, what do I really have inside of me? Do I really have that hero ability, gene, quality, or whatever you want to call it? We take him on that journey, but he also gets taken to OA, and he learns about the Green Lantern Corps. So we, the general audience, are going to this amazing place full of wonderment and all of these things we fantasize when we think about what else is out in the universe. We are getting a glimpse into this version of what it could be, and it’s a intergalactic peace keeping force. We get to learn as Hal learns, and go on that journey. I think it’s really a perfect natural fit to open up the stories.
Geoff Johns: The emotional story is relatable. I mean, everyone deals with fear everyday. Having to overcome fear and what that is all about. The movie is all about fear, and what that means to us on a personal level. That is universal. If you are alive, you feel fear.
Ngila Dixon: It’s got a pretty damn good story.
Donald De Line: Yeah, it’s a good story.
With Dr. Amanda Waller being in the film, who is a character through out DC comics, this feels like the first DC comic book film that could sit up a continuity that could have other films tie into it. One of the things I noticed at Comic Con was how Thor, in a way, looks very much like Iron Man in terms of its sort of “look”. Are you guys trying to set a base of look with the Green Lantern? Is there an idea or aesthetic that you want to set up for future DC films?
Geoff Johns: Martin Campbell is obviously doing his own thing here and building an entirely different world. It’s a different take on Green Lantern and whether or not that leads to more films being connected to it has to be determined.
Grant Major: We wanted to stay away from Star Wars and all of these other things that have been done before. We can’t be accused of doing other movies.
Donald De Line: It does have a very organic approach when you look at it.
Geoff Johns: The thing about DC comics and their characters is that they are not Marvel characters. Marvel characters are so grounded in reality, and you can see how big this movie is already probably just from the art room alone. DC characters are more epic and iconic. They embody ideals so their worlds are canvases that they are aimed across, and they are huge. The Flash just doesn’t run fast and beat up a guy because he is trying to take over his company. The Flash is all about time, other dimensions, and reality itself. It’s just how The Green Lantern is about the universe, space, and the emotional spectrum. So the goal is to have DC films embody the best of what the DC characters are. They are not just like Marvel characters. It’s a very different universe in my mind. The Dark Knight is the ultimate crime superhero film. If you want to do a vigilante film, you can’t do better film than a Batman film done by Nolan.
Geoff Johns: I can’t risk talking about other DC feature films. I’ll get hung.
Will you get in trouble?
Geoff Johns: I’ll get in trouble right now.
Is there anything that is set up in this film that might lead to a bigger world?
Geoff Johns: I can’t…they will shoot me.
Donald De Line: With just going to OA you can see how that could lead to a bigger world.
Geoff Johns: The world of Green Lantern is so big. The different mythology of Green Lantern is so massive. All of the different characters like Guy Gardner, Jon Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and the different corps.
Will there be any hints of those characters?
Geoff Johns: Well, this is just the first film. So it will just be the start.
No talk about Earth 2 anywhere in a throwaway line, dialogue, or anything?
Geoff Johns: No.
Are you concerned at all about people who don’t know the difference between The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern? Is there any concern when it comes to the marketing?
Donald De Line: We obviously thought about it in the very large sense of two movies having “Green” in the title in the same year. You know, we have about 5 months between us. I think that people are obviously incredibly savvy – consumers are very savvy right now. If there is enough out there, they will understand. I think they will know what Green Hornet is, and they will make that distinction. I think come January and by the time 5 months have passed they will know it’s a whole new world. Certainly, it was something we had to think about and be aware of to make sure there was enough space between the two projects.
Is there any thought in the production schedule about filming certain scenes in the beginning in order to let the actors find their characters? If I’m not mistaken, your first days of filming were in that bar scene.
Donald De Line: That’s right. The very first day of filming.
Was that factored in?
Donald De Line: Oh, yeah. Some directors are kind of more attuned to that. Martin is a director that really likes to go as much in continuity as possible. You obviously can’t do it sometimes because of all of the other insurgencies that go along with a big production like weather, sets, and when things are ready. But as much as possible, he always wanted to go continuity. The characters really got to grow into the roles that way.
Angela Bassit says something about the rest of this being classified. Do we find out what that classified info is at some point?
Geoff Johns: Yup. It’s two words for the D.E.O.
Donald De Line: Department of Extranormal Operations.
Unit Publicist: I would like for Grant to comment on that set. A lot of this movie is being shot virtually on a blue screen soundstage. But that set that we saw, which we call the underground bunker, was a spectacular set design. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it really blew me away. Can you talk about it?
Ngila Dixon: You said it wasn’t big enough.
Grant Major: Yeah. I was going to start by saying that here we are at the Second Line Studios, which are great facilities, but they aren’t the biggest studio. We need bigger still, you know? It is secretive and hidden away. It’s all concrete and it keeps all the earth above it. It has secretive ways of getting into it. It essentially goes back to when we were looking around for locations that maybe suited for this. We ended up at NASA just up the road here where they’re building tanks for the shuttle. They had this big pressure testing facility, which actually had this big rim at the end of it. Martin and I looked at it and thought, “Wow. This is a great sort of graphic shape to have at the end of this.” It was so sort of back fitting. Finding a way of working in that ring into it, I thought, “Who is to know how big an alien is when it comes to earth? “ It could be a blue whale or it could be a microbe, who knows? It’s essentially an MRI sort of thing. But it’s also hinted at that there is more to this facility than we see in the film. Maybe there is more and maybe they have the spaceship there somewhere?
Geoff Johns: And other things.
Donald De Line: That’s right.
What you just said about “who is to say it’s a microbe or a blue whale” is part of the reason of why people like Green Lantern so much. It’s really bizarre science fiction when you get to it. It’s insane. What I have seen today is a wild science fiction movie. It’s less like Dark Knight or Iron Man and more like Star Trek. Was there ever any studio pressure to make the story about a guy on earth fighting baddies and the mafia?
Geoff Johns: I’ve told this story a lot, but when I first worked with Richard Donner, we asked the studio about The Green Lantern. An executive there, who is not there anymore, said: “Can you do it without the ring?” Everybody was really, really sad. But with Donald grabbing on to it, the studio embraced Green Lantern for what it was. Everybody who has worked on it has embraced it for what it is.
Donald De Line: That is the great strength and the wonderful, wildly, imaginative, fresh part of it that really excited everybody.
Has the recent success of Star Trek been in any way helpful in showing that you can do things that can go anywhere?
Donald De Line: Sure. All of these movies, whether it’s Avatar or whatever, show that audiences want to keep going somewhere new. They want their imaginations to expand and they want a new experience delivered. That is what it’s all about – going to the movies and taking that journey.
Can you speak on a designer level about that moment when you realized the depth of imagination for having to design costumes for 25 non-existing alien beings, their movements, and the world around them? What was the first emotion that hit you once you realized how big that was?
Donald De Line: [laughs] Panic.
Ngila Dixon: We actually had incredible fun with it once we got over it. I was talking to [set production assistant] Sonia [Torres] when you were looking through room and one of those characters there, Princess Iolande, on the wall…I was like, “What on Earth?” To be able to have that opportunity to come up with ideas…she is kind of like my living lava lamp. The idea that that body is really just a shell for a galaxy that is living inside of her – your imagination can go to extraordinary places with that sort of thing. Grant and I have had the craziest discussions about textures and ideas. One of the most recent ones that we had was when we started talking about movements and we started to see the very first movement tests. The one thing we felt really certain of was that if it looked like a bear then it should move like a bear. Every creature should be a complete surprise to you in terms of what you were expecting.
Grant Major: Considering crawling around the most deep sea creatures, microscopic creatures, or all of these sort of odd things. Unfortunately, all we have is Earth references here. I suppose the audience also has to appreciate it. They have to able to see and recognize things. There is that temptation to go so bizarre that people won’t really understand what the alien is.
Nyla Dixon: The possibilities there are infinite, but you still want to relate to it.
Donald De Line: It has so many levels to it too. In terms of thinking about constructs and conversations like, “Okay, Hal Jordan. He has a certain frame of reference as a pilot and as a guy who grew up on a coast city. He is a human being, obviously, and the first human being to be chosen as a Green Lantern. You go and you say ‘Okay, well, if it’s Tomar-Re for instance…’” So Grant had this whole raft of exploratory done on what Tomar-Re’s constructs would look like, what is his frame reference, and what is his world made of? What kind of dimensions? Your mind can really go out there.
Ngila Dixon: We really insist on every level. You have no idea.
Grant Major: I see him as a parasite. It’s a sort of viral thing. When you look at parasites like hookworms and things like that they got a particular translucent quality to them, but they also have these teeth and eyes. I kind of like this idea that inches in…it’s a painful thing for this thing to crawl down your throat with all of these barbs on it. It’s not coming out again. But its also got a translucent thing to it. You can probably see inside of it and see the yellow energy that is inside of it. It’s all sorts of things. At the end of the day, the thing that horrifies most of us the most is being able to be eaten I suppose. So its got to be something real. We are looking at a cloud, ghost, or something like that and it isn’t enough. Just smoke and light isn’t enough. It has to be something tangible. So we keep coming back to the sort of primal fears.
Are the different colored energies going to be explained in the movie?
Donald De Line: Yes.
Geoff Johns: Tomar-Re talks about them.
So Peter Sarsgaard is the villain for a good chunk of the film but then once the Parallax eats him he ceases to exist. It’s not like he is going to be performing within the Parallax, right?
Donald De Line: There might be some interesting things that happen.
So the Parallax doesn’t speak or does it?
Geoff Johns: Well, when it’s in a host it speaks.
So will Peter Sarsgaard’s presence be felt in some way in the big finale?
Donald De Line: His presence might be felt in some way. We don’t want to give everything away. It’s a really carefully thought out deliberate thing.
Can you talk about Peter Sarsgaard? He looked amazing when we saw him come on screen.
Donald De Line: He would come on set and he does a little tiny physical…he is very physical as an actor. Peter can do so much and he can say so much by doing so little. He would make a gesture like in the way he would lean down to take a drink and you would go, “That’s amazing and I know everything about that character in that moment.” He is very physical and he was completely immersed in that character. Hector was really interesting because he is a brilliant character and he is somebody that Hal grew up with. Hal was a childhood friend of his and they both have complicated relationships with their dads. So we never wanted him to be a black and white villain. He is someone that you emphasize with and you watch him get taken to the dark side. You feel for him and he really goes there.
Geoff Johns: Peter elevates that character up to a whole new level. From a comic sector, Hammond is in there and he is what he is in the comics, but he added such complexity and depth. That one shot where he takes a drink is completely original and it is awesome. You will see it when you see the film, but it says everything about the character.
Did he lose weight for the role or am I imaging it?
Donald De Line: He is really into running right now.
Ngila Dixon: It was extraordinary. At one point it was just like, “Stop. Stop. Stop.”
Donald De Line: He was in really good shape and he got in better shape as the movie went on. But it worked for Hector and it was just part of his whole kind of thing while he was here.
Was he running around in the New Orleans heat?
Donald De Line: Sure he was. Absolutely. With those bare foot running shoes.
Geoff Johns: But you run everyday.
Donald De Line: I do. I like running in the heat down here, but in the early morning.
When did the decision to go 3D come into the film?
Donald De Line: It’s going to be a post conversion process. We are not shooting it in 3D. Someone at the studio talked about it right before we started the movie.
A lot of the post conversion 3D films we have seen so far haven’t been impressive. How is this going to be different in terms of what we have seen so far?
Donald De Line: We’ve seen tests of iterations of it already. You see all of these people here who are so committed to their work being realized in the best possible way. That goes for Grant, Nyla, Martin, and [cinematographer] Dion Beebe, who is really world class. A series of tests are being done at Warner Bros. We put up film and we go and look at it. It has to be of a certain quality level or we just aren’t going to stand for it. So in the last 6 months there have been great inroads and we figure we are going to look at another test when we get back to L.A. We are just going to make sure that it is what it needs to be.
Can you pull back from that if you’re not happy?
Donald De Line: Yes.
At Comic Con we had 3 different directors come out and say that their films weren’t going to be in 3D. There was also an article the other day about how audiences are getting wary of post conversion too.
Donald De Line: I saw that. Well, you know, we are shooting the movie in the regular old school way.
Donald De Line: We know it will work right- the dimension and the depth you are going to get with that stuff. You can see like even when the characters were flying down into the central battery and you saw the ship come up and pass the camera that way. The scope of that will be magnificent.
There is a lot of blue screen in this movie. Sometimes, to be honest, when there is so much blue screen in a movie it doesn’t look real. How are you trying to make it seem real?
Grant Major: We design it much in the same way as whatever and past a point it’s going to be the quality of the visual effects work that carries it out.
Donald De Line: That is exactly right.
Grant Major: We are not being held back at all while trying to think of all of these great ideas. But we got some heavy hitters in terms of special effects house to make it real.
Donald De Line: We are just going to have to stay on these guys to deliver the absolute best possible quality. That is why with that very first Tomar-Re test everyone was so excited because as a very first test we were like. “Wow!” He looked pretty amazing even in that beginning nascent stage. So that really gave us a lot of hope and encouragement.
Green Lantern isn’t as well known to the general public as other comics. Assuming that the movie opens and becomes a big hit, are you planning to set up a storyline for the comic book so that fans can rediscover it?
Geoff Johns: The book does very well right now, but we will have a lot of collections that will be out for people who get excited about Green Lantern and want to read more about it – Secret Origins, Rebirth, and everything else. But for the comics, we have a very specific storyline that starts the month of the movie that is very introductory. It just makes sense.
Warner Bros new mentality seems to be to have synergy between all of their departments.
Geoff Johns: Yep.
Am I wrong or is there an animated Green Lantern series coming out?
Geoff Johns: There is a CGI animated series coming out in November.
Are you guys trying to find a way to have the movie universe come into any other aspects like the animated series? Or is that its own separate universe?
Geoff Johns: The animated series will take a lot of inspiration from the movie. It will focus on Hal, Kilowog, and all of the other Green Lanterns, but it’s not going to be canon. It’s not going to be an extra piece of the film’s story, but it will embody the same elements.
Geoff Johns: There is Amanda Waller. I think there is a Central City billboard in there somewhere and a bunch of other stuff.
Will there be a construct of a green boxing glove?
Geoff Johns: Well, the first thing he makes is a fist. It had to be.
Is there any possibility at any point of them walking by a Daily Planet newspaper just sitting around.
Donald De Line: We had it in an earlier draft of the script. We had it that when the ring was choosing Hal it circled and went through as the Daily Planet hovered over.
So there is no chance of that still being in there?
Donald De Line: At this point it’s not in there.
Geoff Johns: There is stuff we are working on. If you know the comics, and I don’t know how many of you do, you saw the amount of details that have gone to. Even Salaak right there has got his thing and he is very much who Salaak is. The details around it I think are pretty…any fan will be pretty siked I think. The Sinestro Corps symbols there for Parallax are pretty cool.
Here’s more of our Green Lantern set visit: