Most audience members don’t know the names of the people who finance the biggest movies. They know the actors and sometimes the directors, but the talent behind the best blockbusters can’t make their movie without the backing of someone who believes in the filmmaker’s vision. In the past 14 years, Legendary Pictures founder and CEO Thomas Tull has made the production company one if the heaviest hitters in Hollywood by backing such hit films as The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Hangover Trilogy, Inception, 42 as well as cult favorites like Trick ‘r Treat and Observe and Report. So you should probably know his name.
Yesterday, I got the chance to speak with Tull about the studio’s next film, Godzilla, which he also produced. During our conversation, we talked about his love of the character, why he thinks Gareth Edwards is the right director for the job, how he preps for the studio’s Comic-Con announcement, their new relationship with Universal Pictures, and more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Godzilla opens in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D on May 16th.
THOMAS TULL: You know, I’ll tell you the only thing I know in this business, I have had the absolute privilege of making movies that I loved when I was a kid and loved my whole life. So whether it’s Batman, Superman, Watchmen, the 300 story, we just make stuff that I want to see. With Godzilla, I’ve been a huge fan my whole life. The only guiding principle you can use is to make something that you want to see. The first time I had Gareth come up to my house, we watched the ’54 movie together and just sat around talking for hours about what Godzilla was and what the promise of it could be and just kind of geeked out on it. It’s one of those things to me, the only way we can come at a film is we’re huge fans and what do we want to see?
What were you most excited about when it comes to this remake of Godzilla?
TULL: Well, it’s not a remake, it’s our chapter. I think what I’m most excited about is all the principles that we laid out in the beginning, I feel like we were able to hit on those things. All I can tell you is when I watch the movie, which is I don’t know how many times I’ve done now with editing and everything, I walk out giddy just because I feel like that’s the movie that I want to see. In terms of the acting between Aaron and Lizzie and Cranston, they did an amazing job. Gareth is going to have a very long and prosperous career, and when the big guy shows up I get goose bumps, so hopefully the rest of the world feels the same way. That’s how I feel about it.
The film made a huge splash when it was announced at Comic-Con, that great teaser, and I was curious- you also had a great announcement last year with Warcraft. People just don’t really see what you’re going for and then it just hits them with the title. What’s your process for preparing for those kind of announcements?
TULL: The first thing is we try to show and not tell, so we try not to be one of those that do big splashy headlines that never go anywhere. When it was time to talk about Warcraft we took our time, we knew what the story was going to be, we had a field general in Duncan Jones. Same thing with Godzilla, we kind of measured twice, cut once. Because we get it, whatever taste is in the mouth- I don’t want to talk about anybody else’s movie, but I understand fan skepticism when you’re like, “Oh yeah, a Godzilla movie.” Which, by the way, our first movie was Batman Begins and was not dissimilar from questions and conversations from people about where the Batman franchise was, so I get it. That first little tease that we put together with Gareth was just to say- look, if you look at Legendary’s body of work, you’ll have some opinion on that, on what we do, and from a Godzilla standpoint, here’s what we’re up to, see what you think. Thankfully people had a big reaction to it.
You mentioned having Gareth over and watching Godzilla and geeking out about it, I was curious what is it about his debut film Monsters and his particular vision for Godzilla that made you decide he was the right person to direct the remake?
TULL: I would say a couple of things, when you watch Monsters you understand that the effects he did on his laptop were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I was astounded. I was astounded by the way he- you can tell by the camera placement and everything, and holding tension, before somebody explained to me who did it and how much they spent and everything I just thought this is remarkable I want to meet this guy. So I called him in and as you can imagine in our little ecosystem of Hollywood more than a few people said to me, “That’s kind of a crazy thing to go from that level of film and then hand over Godzilla“, but his previous work was amazing. You cant teach what this guy does. We’ve had the same thing- I’m not putting him yet in this category, he has to earn this, but I’m saying when you’re allowing Chris Nolan or Del Toro or any of these guys that are master craftsman, you can just tell, and with Gareth he has a ways to go before we have that conversation, but that confidence you can just feel it. On the other hand, instead of just being technical about it, he just lit up. We would talk about our favorite shots in Jaws and how you could create tension around the monster, and then he had this great idea that he was talking about, he had this thing in his head, it’s not in the movie, but where Godzilla would be getting closer and when we’d have the roar he could imagine a soldier counting, “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” like thunder it was getting closer. I thought that was cool as hell, so I just loved that. And I told him how important the roar was to me, that that signature piece needed to be classic yet our version. We just completely had a meeting of minds on it. I felt great about doing it and I feel even better now that I’ve seen what he’s done.
Legendary has a very unique relationship working with its filmmakers and really giving them a lot of trust, and you guys have also started financing more of your movies to where you put in 75% into Pacific Rim and Godzila and 100% on 42, I was curious how does that change the production process for your films?
TULL: Well it doesn’t- here’s the thing, for a while now we’ve developed our own stuff and whatever situation it calls, whether a studio partner is 50/50 with us, or we do 100%, or we do 75% or 90% and for the most part they just distribute, whether that’s Warner Brothers or now Universal, it’s always a unique situation. Every movie is almost like a start up company. So we just believe in what we make and we’re in a very fortunate position to be able to make stuff regardless of what model that follows, so that’s how we think about it. I also think that filmmakers understand, we don’t have to make twenty movies a year, we make four to six. We’re very hands on. Each one is very important to us and from a fiscal responsibility, filmmakers understand that it’s highly personal for us and they’ve been great about it. So it’s just one of these things where you just have to be really thoughtful about it, because every movie that we do, and we’re certainly not going to bat a thousand, but if the Legendary logo is on it, we want it to be great, not good, not okay, so that’s at least what we aim for.
TULL: When you think about the assets of Comcast and Universal, whether it’s the theme parks, which are great, whether it’s the great library that they have, they have a massive distribution system. Comcast had 20 something million broadband subscribers and now with buying Time Warner cable it’s quite a bit more. They were also incredibly enthusiastic about the kind of things that we make and it just clicked and was the partnership for us.
Legendary was such a key player in some of Warner Brothers biggest franchises and I was wondering, have you had discussions with Universal about resurrecting some of their key properties or coming in to work on some of the ones that are currently ongoing?
TULL: Yeah, our first one with them is Dracula, which comes out in October, and we think the Universal monsters universe is really interesting and it has some great stuff. I’m not the worlds biggest remake guy, meaning finding titles and saying, “Hey it’s got some brand awareness, let’s just make a movie.” You’ve got to have something new to say, or technology that wasn’t available, or a new chapter that kind of speaks to this generation of fans. They’ve got some unique assets, so we’re certainly discussing those things.
How soon can we expect an announcement on what the future holds for Legendary and Universal beyond Dracula?
TULL: I mean, Comic-Con this summer is always something that we- we love Comic-Con and we generally have a big presence there. So we usually have something to say there, and just as things come together. For us it’s always about making sure that there’s substance, that things are well thought out, they’re real, they’re going to happen versus just haphazardly making Hollywood type announcements. So that’s where we are there, just making sure that when we do something to say that it’s something.
TULL: Well to be honest with you, we got on a moving train there. That’s more of a financing arrangement on that film. It would be disingenuous to say we’re producing it. So it was really about getting into business with our partner at Universal. Luke Evans, who we believe is a really good actor, he was in Clash of the Titans for us, plays Dracula in a way that’s kind of unique. It’s an origin story and it’s something that we read and thought was really good. But you’ll see kind of post-this, you’ll see us being much more hands on producing and so forth, but this was just sort of- let’s get in the game together and bridging to that.
I don’t mean to come out with so much skepticism, I’m just curious about Godzilla and Dracula, these beloved properties. Also you had an original with Pacific Rim, I really enjoyed that film a lot and it did incredibly well overseas, and I was just curious what’s the status of the sequel?
TULL: We love being in business with Guillermo and frankly that movie, if you look it up, did I think more business than the first X-Men, did more than Batman Begins, our first movie, did more than Superman Returns, The Fast and the Furious, Star Trek– so for a movie that was an original property that we made up it’s done really well. It did north of 400 million dollars globally and both the home video sales and the merchandise have way over-indexed, so it seems like fans really loved the world. So we’re going to sit down with Guillermo and as long as we think it’s authentic and there’s something to say, we’re certainly open to it.
So when you look at the final products of these films, what’s sort of the satisfaction of working with Guillermo del Toro or Gareth Edwards and seeing that vision coalesce?
TULL: It’s amazing. I’ve been a film geek since I was a little kid and to start with an idea and then get a stack of papers with words on it called a script, then storyboarding the art, and you sit with these guys and now all the sudden it’s a movie, and to see fans reactions to it when you put it out, it’s- you know, there are ups and downs like any other business, but I’ve got to say that when you’re able to work with people like this, whether it’s Gareth or Guillermo or Zack Snyder or Chris Nolan, it’s a privilege to do this and I’ve never lost the awe, the awe factor of just going in and watching peoples reactions to what you’ve spent, in a lot of cases, years working on. That’s a good way to put it, I love what I do and it’s a privilege to do it.
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