Taking the franchise’s action and mayhem to a new level, Underworld: Awakening is the fourth and most spectacular installment yet. With the film opening this weekend, creator/producer Len Wiseman graciously took some time away from finishing up his director’s cut of Total Recall (due out in theaters on August 3rd) to chat with Collider about both films and possible upcoming projects.
During the nearly 30-minute exclusive conversation, Wiseman talked about the risk of stepping outside the box with the story for this Underworld film, the he was so involved with the production that he watched dailies online every day and gave notes throughout the entire process, his feelings about test screenings, and that there’s no immediate plan for a fifth installment but he’s always open to it. He also said he believes there will be a Total Recall trailer available in March, that his approximately two-hour director’s cut is just about ready for the studio to see, and that he needs very few insert shots. As far as what’s next on his plate, he said that he’s writing a script that is a good mix of thriller and action with a supernatural quality to it. Check out what he had to say about that, and so much more, after the jump:
LEN WISEMAN: It only took convincing in the sense of, “What story and angle are we going to take on it?” The studio has always been very supportive and are always asking me if I could work on another one. So, it really just comes down to what that concept would be. It really has to start with the idea that is interesting.
Did it feel risky at all to essentially re-invent the franchise with this story, or did it organically feel like the next step?
WISEMAN: Both, actually. It was definitely risky because, any time you go outside of the box of something that is familiar, there is a nervousness about it. But, at the same time, if you’re not willing to take the risk to go outside of that box, a part of me also feels like, “Well, then why bother?” So, I didn’t want to tell the same story again. I felt like we had told the forbidden relationship story between Michael and Selene almost twice now, with 1 and 2. I didn’t just want to have a retelling of that. And then, the hidden nature of the world is something that I really love about Underworld, but at the same time, I don’t just want to show people the same concept with different settings.
Since you were busy with Total Recall, how involved were you, once production began?
WISEMAN: Too involved. As kind as the directors may be, I think too involved would wrap it up. I’m always very involved in the Underworld films. So, I was doing prep and I was in Toronto, but while I was shooting and prepping, I was racing back between systems and breaks. We had the PIX system set up for all of the dailies that would go online, which is wildly helpful. I could watch exactly what was going on each day, and make comments on the dailies and production elements, as they were happening. Now, by the time that you wrap that night, your dailies are up on the site. It’s scary, but at the same time, it was so helpful, to help from a different location. And then, I was always in touch on Skype and doing what I possibly could.
Did you give notes in the editing room as well?
WISEMAN: I did, and all throughout post and every stage.
WISEMAN: There are some deleted scenes, as there always are. Right now, because I’ve been so busy, I can’t recall exactly what those are. I actually start mixing it up in my head with the ones that have been cut out of Recall. But, there are a few scenes in there. I don’t know, necessarily, if they’re ones that the directors want to put back in, as their director’s cut, but I can remember three or four scenes that had changed.
Did you test screen the film at all? What are your thoughts on the whole test screening process, in general?
WISEMAN: I have a love/hate relationship with it. I think it can be valuable, and it can also induce a bit of false anxiety, at the same time. So, we did test screen it. I think it works for clarity and getting a sense of whether or not the audience feels that a movie is clear, but I do think that it can lead you down a panic path, sometimes. Not even necessarily Underworld, but in general, with testings for other movies I’ve been on. When we did the test for Die Hard, as well, if one person mentions, “Well, I didn’t really understand that that was actually his wife,” then it becomes, “Oh, shit!” Now, all of a sudden, you find yourself talking about, “In the course of these four scenes, let’s put ADR where mentions that that’s his wife.” And then, you end up over-compensating because there’s a panic. So, that’s where the hate relationship comes into it.
WISEMAN: I think a clarity of where we are at. I’ll give you a perfect example: There was not a wrap-up in the intro, that catches you up on where the series has taken us so far. That was completely informed by the screening. Those things are very helpful. I’m so close to the material that I didn’t write with a wrap-up in mind. After the screening, a lot of the questions that came up were more to do with where we left off with the other films and, if they knew that information and what had transpired, then it would help them enjoy this story. That’s strictly there because of a test screening.
Since Kate seems open to doing more of these films, and the ending of this makes it seem like you could easily do another one, have you thought about ideas for a fifth film?
WISEMAN: I honestly never pictured that we would even do a fourth one, back in the day, so I’m the worst person to ask about these things. Usually what I answer is wrong, anyways. It really just comes organically from whether an idea pops up that seems interesting. With Underworld 4, the studio, quite honestly, would have loved to do one right after Underworld: Rise of the Lycans came out. It was a matter of time because I was working on other movies. But, it was also needing to have enough of a core idea that I could get excited about. It’s all based off of that.
So, no, there’s no immediate plan, but Underworld does have a serialized, extended history and room to evolve. It has a lot of layers of character and past stories. It does have a serial nature to it, so I’m always open to it, but each story has to have a heart that I care about. Until the daughter aspect really became the seed of this idea, there were just talks about Underworld 4 and what that would be. It never really evolved into being a plan to do a movie until I started focusing on what that relationship would be, and what if Selene actually did come face to face with a daughter that she didn’t realize she had.
A lot of these movies are informed by the movies that come before them. There was a lot of stuff in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans that, honestly, I really was pressing to put into the first Underworld, and wanted to go back into that time period and actually show a lot of that and just simply couldn’t. Budget wise and everything, there was no chance I could do that, so that ended up finding its way into Rise of the Lycans. Same thing here. With Underworld: Evolution, they had the idea nad were starting down the road of them possibly having a child, but there was no time to deal with it in that film, so it became the basis for this one.
Often, directors are attached to a number of projects at once, but you haven’t had your name attached to anything in the past few months. Are you currently working on anything now, or developing anything, aside from finishing Total Recall?
WISEMAN: A couple things. There’s a project that I’m writing, that I’ve been working on for about two years. That’s something that I’m just currently revisiting, with the little time that I have. The minute that I’ve got Total Recall sewn up, then I’m going to dive back into that. Aside from that, there’s just other things that they’re wanting me to look at, but nothing too solid right now.
What type of project is the one that you’re writing?
WISEMAN: I guess I would say it’s a good mix of thriller and action, that has a supernatural quality to it.
You did a great job with the pilot of Hawaii 5-0. Have you been asked to direct any other pilots, or would you like to do any more episodes of the show?
WISEMAN: I stay on email constantly with those guys, going back and forth about coming back to do one. It’s simply just been a time thing. I’ve been in a cave. Between Underworld and Total Recall, it’s just been very, very busy.
WISEMAN: It was just such a bizarre experience for me. I had never done that before and dove right in, and didn’t exactly know what to expect. It was really fast-paced. I thought, “I’ll just tailor my shooting style to fit the television schedule,” and I don’t know how to do that. I realized that your brain only shoots one way. You realize that it’s not about changing. It’s just about hauling ass and doing what you do, much, much, much faster. It was quite intense, but I thought it was a fun result. It’s done amazingly well. I’m very, very happy for the whole team involved. It’s been nice to see it take off like it has.
Do you know when we’ll see the first trailer for Total Recall?
WISEMAN: I’ve seen it, and it’s great. I believe it will hit in March. I could be wrong, but I think March.
Where are you at now, in the editing process?
WISEMAN: I am two days away from turning in my director’s cut. I’m actually just doing some finishing touches on it. So, I’m done with that, and the studio takes a look at it fairly soon. So far, it’s actually been a very fun process. There’s a lot of excitement around it, and I’m very happy with it.
How long is your cut, at this point?
WISEMAN: I think we’re close to two hours, but it’s not all completely assembled. We still have a lot of the visual effects shots that we’re putting in, last minute. I’ll be here for about 20 hours today, and another 20 hours tomorrow.
Are you at a point where you’ve figured out that there’s a shot or two that you might still need, and you might need to do a day or two of pick-ups?
WISEMAN: I am at that point. I have been very fortunate, on this one, that we got almost everything – I would say 98% of everything – in our shoot. Really, the only things that I have are literally tabletop inserts, like gadgets and buttons and car consoles, and all that boring stuff. Nothing too heavy, thank God.
WISEMAN: I would say how much it really plays with fantasy versus reality, in a way that I wanted to dive into a little bit more. It’s a thing I’ve always been fascinated about with Philip K. Dick’s story and the concept itself. It really has to operate on two playing fields, at any given time. It’s either the fantasy or reality. That’s the thing that I think is the most exciting. It’s got a load of really fun action sequences and visuals, and a whole new world to experience as well, that is really fun, but what makes that all super-engaging is this constant mystery of what world we’re existing in, whether it’s his fantasy or reality.
Since you like to be so creatively involved in your films, how involved are you in the marketing of the movie? Do you help out on the trailers and posters, and the things that get released?
WISEMAN: I do, more so on the movies that I direct than the ones I produce, and that’s just the nature of having the time and the focus, and you have much more of a direct point of view of exactly what you’re trying to present with your film. So, I always get involved in that, if it’s something that I’m directing.
Working on both Underworld: Awakening and Total Recall at the same time, did you ever think you wouldn’t survived juggling it all?
WISEMAN: About every Wednesday and Friday. There were many conversations and I would tell Kate, “This is insane!” I never knew that they were going to overlap. I had no idea. You develop different things, and I had a lot of time where I was developing. I took a lot of time writing other projects and actually developing Total Recall. I really wanted to take the correct time with the script. The way that it added up, I had no idea that, when they gave the release date for Underworld, and then we ended up getting the release date for Total Recall, that it would be right on top of each other. That became complicated and busy, but what are you going to do? You’re passionate about the projects, so that keeps you up until 4 o’clock in the morning. I’d be prepping Total Recall, and then racing off at lunchtime to check PIX and get on Skype with the guys in Vancouver (for Underworld). I’m glad that process is over, I’ve gotta say.
One of the things that did add up nicely, about the schedules for Total Recall and Underworld, was that when I started Total Recall, I thought, “Kate would be great for this role,” but once Underworld got its schedule, there was just no chance that it would happen, so there was this massive casting process. And then, they ended up pushing Total Recall by two weeks, and Underworld started a half a week earlier, so there was a window where Kate had two days in between. So, that was a real nice surprise. For as stressful as it was, it was nice that, all of a sudden, we found out we got pushed, which is usually bad news, but I was like, “Wait a minute, that two weeks now means that Kate will be available and we actually get to spend some time together as well.” That was nice. Kate will tell you herself that she got a little bit of a bum deal with marrying the director, not really having had a sense of how much I do work.
As a writer yourself, you clearly enjoy creating these new worlds. How difficult is it to get your own original material into production these days?
WISEMAN: I’ll be honest, it’s extremely tough. I was working on an original piece before Total Recall and the studio loved it. What becomes even more complicated is anything that’s original and is also expensive. That’s really tough. That makes it even that much harder. Anything that is over $100 million and is not tied into a property or a comic book or an existing film is, in this climate, really, really tough. You don’t see that many of them.
So, I got to the point with that idea that I had been working with, after maybe six months, where it was just too expensive and I was told, because it’s not a known property [they wouldn’t do it]. It was not that they didn’t love the script. It was simply just risky when it’s that expensive and it’s original. So, that being the sole reason, it’s frustrating for a director. And, that’s something I hope to be able to continue to do.
I started my career developing Underworld from scratch, and I’d like to keep doing that. I don’t think Underworld could happen today. If I said, “Here’s a $60 million movie called Underworld,” and it had no existing nature to it, I think it would be very difficult to get it made today. I happened to find a time when they were still taking risks on new ideas.
Because these films and the character of Selene have become so popular with fans, have you and Kate ever had any funny moments, either at conventions or on Halloween, where you’ve seen people dressed up in costumes from the film?
WISEMAN: Oh, man, so many. It’s so bizarre to me. It shocks me, every time, to see that. We’ll go to Comic-Con and see people dressed up. I did see a Death Dealer show up at Comic-Con one time, but we see quite a bit of the Selene suits. We’ve had people dressed up in a Selene suit that want Kate to sign the suit itself. I always find that kind of crazy. It’s good to see. When you get to the point where something you’ve created has action figures, that’s fun. For Underworld: Awakening, they did a spot for Adult Swim. They did this little ad campaign thing where they recreated one of the scenes with puppets, and the fact that we got to that point, you know you’ve made your mark when you are put in puppet form. That was very fun to see.