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June 2004
The Chronicles of Riddick: An Interview with David Twohy

By Todd Gilchrist

The Chronicles of Riddick: An Interview with David Twohy

David Twohy directed the film "Pitch Black", which in turn spawned the sequel "The Chronicles of Riddick". While promoting the film in Los Angeles recently, he talked about the making of the film as well as bringing back Vin Diesel as the main character.


You shot a scene with Kristin Lehmann that didn't make it into the movie. Can you talk about it?

DT: Oh, we're starting with that question? She had a whole thing going, and there was a concern that between the Judi Dench character, who was a little mystical herself, and the Shirah character played by Kristin, there was a little too much mysticism going on and it didn't allow the audience to get grounded as much as we needed them to be to go forward and enjoy the movie.


Has Universal given you a number the movie has to hit to ensure the sequels get made?

DT: Not at all. They never signed up... the didn't sign me to do three and they didn't sign Vin to do three. What we, Vin and I, have said is that we have thought about the characters and plotted the characters for three chronicles. So we know in our heads where we're going, and we talked about where the other characters are going in future installments of the films, but Universal has always been consistent in their wanting to see how this opening weekend did, and the second weekend- the second weekend is key for them, to gauge the drop-off.


Vin Diesel and Judi Dench seem like a strange pairing.

DT: It is strange, isn't it? Let's call it unexpected.


How did you convince her to join the cast?

DT: She had not seen "Pitch Black" though her family had, like the younger Denches had seen it and were fans of it, so I think my sense of it was they kind of said, Mom'- or Grandma'- you've got to do this, you've got to do this kind of thing. That helped a lot, but then, it also helped that Vin has been a lifelong fan of hers. It was his idea to put her in the movie initially. I supported it. I'd originally wrote Aereon for a sort of androgynous character, but I said we can try that, her in that role.' He sent her a bunch of flowers to her room in New York, to her dressing room when she was doing a play in London, actually, and had still never met her, and then I went out the following weekend and talked to her about it and she said yes.


How tough was it to get this project off the ground? Why did it take so long?

DT: We're not so good that we can actually calculate these things unless we're doing something like "Lord of the Rings" where we're shooting all three of them at once. Any film has a strange launch to it. I had written a treatment for a sequel shortly after we had done "Pitch Black". "Pitch Black" did okay, it didn't do great at the box office. I turned in a treatment for it and they looked at it and they said it feels a little too rich for our blood, and we don't want to do that. So we said fine, but it was really that "Pitch Black" caught on not in its theatrical release but in its after-market release, and a lot of people started talking about it and just didn't forget about it, they were telling friends and friends were picking it up, and suddenly Universal woke up to the fact that people were still talking about it and it's doing really good business in the DVD marketplace. Maybe there's something here. And, by the way, didn't you write a treatment a long time ago? Can we see that again? And then suddenly, the expense that was a big expense back then wasn't such a big expense at all.


Could you go back to a lower budget if the next films required that to get made?

DT: A lower budget aesthetic? We would cross that bridge if and when we came to it, but we'd also have to factor in what the audience's expectations were as well, and would they allow us to go back to our humble roots. I don't know.


Talk more about scenes that were cut.

DT: Well, it's always the case. The first version for me was two hours and fifty minutes long, and now we're at two hours. So fifty minutes of footage fell by the wayside between the first cut and the last cut. But guys, that isn't that unusual. Very few movies can say we lost one scene and that was it.' It has been my history where I will shoot a lot more than I will use.


Is that stuff you would restore to the film for the DVD release?

DT: There is stuff that I was borderline on, and the studio was less borderline on that I was, but I must say that the version that we have out now has a lot of drive, has a lot of energy, and it feels like a good pace for a summer film. It certainly feels like, the director's version would be longer by about fifteen minutes.


What scenes?

DT: There you go, the Kristen Lehman thing, the Shirah character, I'd be interested in putting back into place.


She was in early scenes of the movie?

DT: She helps tell him what it is to be a Furion, and helps to introduce the notion that your origin is with a race called the Furions.


Where do you get your ideas?

DT: Well, the toughest question probably is where do you get your ideas from?' and it's hard for any writer to, if you have an imagination, then you gravitate towards this business, and then when you're in the business, they pay you pretty good money to be imaginative and spin these things off. So it's kind of what I do; I don't want to talk about it too much, because it feels like I'm jinxing it, but it's like what I do. It's why they turn to me; it's because I have an imagination. I watched a lot of science fiction films growing up, but probably no more so than most of us do.


Was "Dune" an influence?

DT: Yeah. The Frank Herbert novels I actually never read, but I also read a lot of Robert Heinlein, a lot of Harlan Ellsion, a lot of H.G. Wells, and things like that.


How do you map out the universes of these characters in your mind?

DT: We do. Some of the stuff that we couldn't fit into the movie you'll find on the website, for instance, which gives some more information about it. We have a deep Necro history as well, which is also available on the website, and that will be used for other enterprises and-or other feature films as well. There's a lot more depth than you see in the movie, but sometimes it's just a reservoir where the actors can go to and understand where they came from, sometimes just for that, and other times it can be the foundation for other things.


How has the internet helped your development of the project?

DT: Well, of course certain sites speak to our core audience, our core science fiction audience, our fan-boy based audience, and we never want to lose them. You have to broaden it to support this kind of budget, but we can't lose them at the same time. The core can't drop out of the middle, so it always has been [a useful tool] for me moreso than you might think.


Where would we see Riddick going in number two? Do you have it plotted out?

DT: We do but we don't want to give it away right now.


Are you involved in the ancillary "Riddick" projects like the animation or video games?

DT: I wrote the story for the anime piece, and I worked with the writer and screenwriter, Bret Matthews, as he developed the script. I would have done it but I didn't have time; my hands were full. I wrote a story for them, I had a hand in the game as well, about how that evolved, and there's a science fiction channel spin-off. They want to do a sort of Kira: The Lost Years as well, and I'll be doing the story for that, just so the expanding universe has a creative continuity to it, it doesn't get too corporate, and it doesn't have too many hands in it.


Talk more about the Kira program.

DT: It will be a two hour pilot followed by a series based on the Jack-slash-Kira character, and how she went and searched for Riddick, and what trouble befell her along the way.


Will Alexa be on the series?

DT: Probably not, because -a- she wants to pursue a film career, not a cable career, and -two- it might deal with a slightly younger version because this is five years later, she's playing 18, 19, 20 and she would be 15, 16, 17.


When would it film?

DT: As soon as I write it.


How did Vin Diesel's star power help this movie get made?

DT: First of all, he's one of the prime reasons we're doing it. It's because he loved the character of Riddick, and he wanted very much to get back and do it again, so as much as anything he was pushing me to do it. I'll go off, I write, and we'll talk a bit, and then I'll go off and write the script. We come back, we read through the scenes, and he starts spitballing the Riddick character in terms of alright, I've got that line, but what is Riddick thinking beneath the line?' He starts to voice that, and sometimes that leads us down new paths, and maybe the subtext that he reads beneath the line is actually better than the one I wrote.


How has he changed since you worked with him on Pitch Black?

DT: Kind of in a big way and kind of in no way at all, and more the latter, because he's still the kid who's like I can't believe we're making movies,' very much a kid in a candy store like that, but he's also a producer and a kind of star where he wasn't then, so there's less of hit that mark, look there, say this, next, move on.' It's a little more collaborative than that.


With Kira, why did you pursue a more paternal conflict instead of a romantic one?

DT: Well I thought there was a little sexual tension there, but we actually wanted it to be a lot of different things, like they're still figuring it out as well, so that's what we wanted it to be; not just one thing. There's an allusion to she thought of you like an older brother' but then in that jail scene, they're pretty close together, and suddenly it doesn't feel like a brother and sister.


Was there any Borg influence on the Necromongers?

DT: You know, only as much as you want to put in there. In thinking about it, I haven't kept up with all the Star Treks, I've probably seen every other one in the series, I'm aware of the Borg and I'm aware that they are this collective thing, they're not in this movie.


Talk about the religious overtones.

DT: Historically, there were nine great crusades. It was Christianity and Islam going back and forth and just ravaging towns and countries, and this kind of felt like a crusade to me. It has good historical precedents.


How tough was it to broaden the scope of the movie's audience from "Pitch Black"?

DT: It's more of a challenge for Universal than it is for me, and that's their expertise and not mine, but we did talk about those difficulties. There was a push from the studio, explain a little bit more than you think you have to explain, and if it's too much explanation, we'll cut back. We'll do less in the movie.' But they were pretty clear that it should be a stand-alone movie as well. You can allude to "Pitch Black", you can rely on it to a certain extent, but don't over-rely on it, and I was always trying to find that type of lock.


Talk about the production design.

DT: The production design crew is new to me. I always describe it, but never in the detail you need, of course. But the next step for me is to describe it in the script, and then I sit down even before the production team is hired with a team of concept artists. I have that luxury now. So I get some really good people, and I say start sketching.' First it's here's what I wrote, then what I think, and we'll verbally download for a couple of hours and start sketching. Then they will bring back some sketches that look too familiar, like something I've seen before, because they all went for gothic' first. I said, gothic we've already seen; let's think of something else. Eventually we ended up with this heavy baroque thing.


How tough is it to do effects work with mobile cameras.

DT: You used to be able to tell it was an effects shot just because it was a lock-off, but now we're getting away from that- everyone's getting away from that. Hey, it's not harder for me- I just move the camera. The visual effects guys are screaming about it sometimes, though.


How did Judi Dench adapt to effects work?

DT: She was a yeoman about it. We had to put little blue dots all over her face, like nine blue dots on her face fro track marks so they could understand, where the visual effects people could understand where she existed in 3-D space, but once she understood what they were for, and that we weren't just playing a game on her, she was fine with the blue dots.


Were you concerned that Vin Diesel's star power diminished too much before this movie?

DT: Those kind of calculations are not so much my game as they are maybe the marketing branch at Universal. They calculate all of those things, they calculate the budget against that, how well my last film did, which wasn't very good, how well Vin's last film did, which wasn't very good, so they come up with a price. Here's what you guys are worth to us. Do you want to make it?' and we go, uh, okay.'


Him talking about Below being mis-marketed. DVD plans?

DT: I'm not going to do a deleted scenes thing. There's going to be a theatrical release of it, and then there will be the director's cut, which restores some footage, Shirah included. By the way Kristen wasn't cut out for anything that she did wrong. It's something that I did wrong, which was probably just layering a little too much mysticism, but one the audience gets grounded with the theatrical version and they have their bearings, it might be the opportune time to re-introduce her and start to layer in that mythology a little bit more rather than get it all in one bite. It drops in December.


What's the deal with the gimp' characters, the guys with the masks?

DT: That's what we kind of thought, like an electronic bloodhound, guys who fought the Necromongers in another life, these Necromongers come from all different places, and they've had their faces partially blown off on the battlefield, and somebody comes along and says you know what? We've got just the job for you. Come join us and we'll replace some of your physical senses with electronic senses, and you could become an electronic bloodhound for us. You could sniff out various life forms for us.


Do you want to do non-genre-related material after this?

DT: Yes I do, but they keep coming after me for, once you do the genres, they keep coming at you with genre pictures. Maybe you should be grateful for that. I would just love to do something without visual effects next. I don't know if I'm going to be allowed to. They're already coming after me with very interesting science fiction projects, so it's hard to escape it when they start coming at you with really good stuff. Not actively working on, but talking about some cool genre possibilities. That said, part of me says I don't want to do genre next. I would love to do something; just give me a drama.


When would "Riddick 2" fit into your schedule?

DT: The studio will know two weekends into the opening; the first weekend is to see how it does, the second weekend is to see how well it holds up. I would want to slip in a little film first. These films, if I have to write it and direct it and produce it and oversee 900 visual effects shots, take two years, almost two years of my life.


The film's theatrical elements.

DT: There's no secret that we are inspired by Macbeth for that relationship, you know, a woman who has enough ambition for them both, and a man who has real uncertainties about that. I mean, that is classic Macbeth. But yeah, we dress up in new clothes with new dialogue and put it in a new setting and it plays well. I'm not the first to borrow from Shakespeare, by the way. See "Forbidden Planet".


Did Vin have a lot of input?

DT: Yeah. Vin's a guy who [believes] the way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas, and he has a lot of ideas, but they tend to circle themselves not as a producer. Well, he's a producer, but not in the sense where he's looking over the budgets at the end of the week or something like that. He's more concerned with protecting his character, and protecting the other characters in the story, so one of the things he uses his producership prowess to do is protect the heart of the story. That's what he's there for as a producer.


What input did he have on things like the cast?

DT: He wanted Judi Dench, and we went and we did that. These other characters, I would either read them from scratch, and when I culled them down to the top five or something, I sent him a tape and said what do you think?' and he says, I tell you what. Let me come in and read with them and then get this real personal vibe going with them and then I'll know what I think.' Then we would agree on people from that point. That's how we worked together on the casting. It was pretty collaborative.

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