Paul WS Anderson Interview, Resident Evil Afterlife

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson sat down and talked with us about his upcoming film, “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” The 3D science fiction action horror movie is the fourth installment in a series of film adaptations based on Capcom's survival horror video game series Resident Evil and stars Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller. Resident Evil: Afterlife is the first movie shot with Avatar’s cameras since Avatar. It’s also the first 3D film to be shot outside of the studio and to be edited fully in 3D.

Paul talked to us about how using 3D cameras outside a motion capture stage led to all sorts of malfunctions, how it was helpful to the technology to go through that troubleshooting process, and why as a filmmaker he’s so excited about working on the cutting edge of technology. He also shared his belief that filmmakers have a responsibility to their audience and that if they’re going to ask people to pay a premium price at the cinema, they should be prepared to deliver a premium product. Here’s what he had to say:

MoviesOnline: How does it feel to be back at Comic Con again this year?

Paul WS Anderson: It’s fantastic. I love it. I came here 15 or 16 years ago when it really was just a bunch of us and some comics. So, it’s fun to come back here. This is my fourth year in a row and it’s definitely nice coming full circle talking about wanting to make a movie and being excited about making it in 3D and now actually having shot the movie and I literally just came from finishing the film. I flew in last night. It really is the best Resident Evil and I’m very, very proud of it.

MoviesOnline: What are your thoughts on how 3D has been completely overwhelming the industry in the past year?

Paul WS Anderson: Well, I mean, obviously I’m excited about it because I do think 3D is the future of cinema entertainment, and home entertainment as well. I just came from Japan and saw the new Bravia 3D TVs. They’re unbelievable. I’m very excited about that, but it was funny because we finished shooting Resident Evil in December and still 3D wasn’t anything special. “Oh that’s kind of interesting, 3D.” And then Avatar came out and suddenly on January 1st back in Hollywood it was like “3D!” Everything had to be 3D. We’ve just continued making our movie. I think the interesting thing is really it’s going to be the first proper live action 3D movie of the year. And I don’t think anyone’s really seen a proper 3D live action movie since Avatar.

MoviesOnline: Does that worry you that people have suffered through all these bad conversions?

Paul WS Anderson: No, it doesn’t worry me because I think people are still excited about 3D and when they come see this movie, I know from the people we’ve shown it to who go “Oh wow! That’s what 3D is supposed to look like.” Damn right, that is what 3D is supposed to look like because you’re supposed to shoot it in 3D using 3D cameras. You’re supposed to build sets that work with 3D, you’re supposed to shoot it in a way that enhances the 3D, and then you’re supposed to edit it in 3D. We’re actually the first movie to edit fully in 3D as well. In the cutting room and on set, we were wearing the glasses. I mean, I spend my life wearing these glasses. I wish someone would design something slightly more fashionable than my dad’s old ‘80s Ray Ban look. I’m sure that’s going to come. I think people are going to see this movie and they’re going to go “Oh, that’s why we’re paying an extra 3, 4, 5 bucks to go see these movies.” Imax is a good example of that. Imax is very picky about the movies they put on their screens, especially the 3D ones. They very, very rarely go with R-rated movies. I think Watchmen was the last R-rated Imax movie and that’s really only because Imax has a huge relationship with Warner Bros. because of all the Harry Potter movies. For Imax to endorse this film by putting it onto 3D Imax screens is a huge thing, and the only reason they’re doing it is because they know how good it looks. So, I think it’s going to be a good thing. This is why last year when I was talking about it, I said if I wanted to shoot in 3D it’s because I felt that was the right way to do it. I think we as filmmakers have a responsibility that if you’re going to ask people to pay a premium price at the cinema, you’d better deliver a premium product.

MoviesOnline: What was your troubleshooting process on the set?

Paul WS Anderson: I’m spoiled working with Ali and Milla because they’re just not divas at all. They turn up for work, they’re in a great mood, you beat the hell out of them, you send them home with bruises. They come back the following day and go “Yes, sir. What would you like me to do now?” They’re lovely to work with and they’re very committed. They’re so not divas. Our joke was that the biggest divas on the set were the 3D cameras because they were the ones that never wanted to work and they always had problems. They don’t like it when it’s too cold or when it’s too hot. They don’t like it when it’s too dry. They don’t like the rain or the moisture. Of course, we were shooting big scenes in the rain so we made it difficult for ourselves.

MoviesOnline: When you had these troubles with too dry or too hot or too moist, was there someone you could call at James Cameron’s company or how did you work through those things?

Paul WS Anderson: Vincent Pace who built the cameras with Cameron was very attentive. They provided very good support for us. Listen, I don’t want to make too big a deal out of it. It’s like any new technology. It’s a little more difficult to work with. You move a little slower and you don’t get as many setups, which means you need longer to shoot the movie, which means the movie costs more money to make. But again, getting back to the point of if you want people to pay a premium, you’ve got to deliver a premium. I felt that was what we had to do. Certainly the easier and cheaper way would be to just shoot it 2D and dimensionalize it. But I think that bandwagon is going to crash and burn pretty soon once people start getting used to the new wave of 3D movies – Resident Evil, Pirates of the Caribbean, Scorsese’s new movie (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). All the big ones are being shot in real 3D.

MoviesOnline: Was it helpful to the technology to go through that trouble shooting process? You said this is the first one they’ve done out of the studio.

Paul WS Anderson: Absolutely. You learn the problems and the problems get fixed. It was funny in our work because the cameras are big. Essentially each camera is two cameras slaved together. You realized there was no Steadicam because there’s no Steadicam rig built that can handle that weight. There was no motion control rig. We had to build our own motion control rig because one didn’t exist. You realize in the last 10-15 yrs, cameras have gone through this process where they’ve been miniaturized. They’ve gotten smaller and smaller and the lenses have gotten lighter and lighter. All the hotheads and the cranes that you have, all the technology is built for lightweight cameras. Suddenly 3D cameras come along and they’re beasts. They’re the size of this table. I was looking at the technocrane one day. I can’t remember which head it was but it had one of those hot heads on it and the camera starts vibrating and it just goes wank, really loud, bam and the camera [is] just pointing straight towards the ground. The gears in the computerized hothead had just given up. They couldn’t take the weight and the strain anymore. They were always jamming up which is really weird because you’ve got millions of dollars of technology and there’s a man with a huge hammer just bashing it like crazy trying to free up the gears. And I’d say, “Is that really how you solve the problem?,” and he’d go “Yeah. It’s fine.” And then, bam, bam, bam! And then the camera would start working again. It was fun being on the cutting edge of technology because I really feel that this is something. It’s the equivalent of sound coming in. Or it’s the equivalent of color photography coming in. I mean, I think these changes in cinema only occur once every 40 or 50 years and it’s exciting to be a filmmaker working on the cusp of one of these big changes.

MoviesOnline: What is it about this franchise and these characters that has sustained your interest and passion?

Paul WS Anderson: It’s a fascinating world. It’s two things. I think the undead touch a primal fear that we all have. There’s something very primal about the fear of the dead coming back to life and the unstoppability of them and the inevitability. I think we all have these kind of recurring dreams where we’re being chased by someone and they just will not stop. They don’t go particularly fast but they’re coming and they’re coming. People have these dreams. Maybe it’s just me. But all the people I know [have them]. I think they touch a primal fear and that’s one thing. And also, the fear of an apocalyptic world and how this modern world is kind of on a knife edge and could tip into chaos very easily is something else. I think that’s one of the strengths of the franchise. That’s why I think it’s an enduring franchise.

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about casting Wentworth in the role? Did you have an audition?

Paul WS Anderson: No. No, we didn’t. I was a huge fan of his from Prison Break. I thought he was a very appropriate actor for us because the thing that Milla and Wentworth have in common is they’re very serious actors. They take their craft very, very seriously. And I think if you’re making a movie with creatures in it, that’s what you absolutely need from your actors. I always go back to Alien and Sigourney Weaver because having made an Alien movie myself you realize it’s not the most terrifying creature in the galaxy. It’s actually a man in a rubber suit who can barely stand up and he’s not scary at all. But Sigourney Weaver in the first Alien, she sells the horror and she sells the believability and that’s what Milla does in our movies. She sells terror. She sells the undead. Even when I say “Cut,” the undead will get on their cell phones or they go to the craft service table and they drink a diet coke. They’re not scary unless the actor makes you believe that they’re scary. And Wentworth is from the school where he takes it very, very seriously and the situation very seriously, and he, like Milla, helps sell the believability of the world.

MoviesOnline: How was it working with him?

Paul WS Anderson: It was great. He’s very prepared. He would have lots of thoughts about the character and the dialogue well beforehand. We’d have lots of talks about how he saw the scenes. We discussed a lot, but then when he came to set, he’d be very prepared and just would do it. So he was a real pleasure to work with. And also, he was really magnetic and charismatic. He comes across great in the film. He’s very cinematic. He reminds me of 1970s actors. He’s got this dark allure of a Richard Burton or a Richard Harris or a young Anthony Hopkins. I think that’s the kind of mold that he comes from. He’s quite old fashioned in a way. He’s like that – really old school 60s, 70s movie star. I think he has a huge career in films.

MoviesOnline: How were things different this time working with Milla on the fourth installment?

Paul WS Anderson: We’ve obviously made four of these movies together. We’ve been together for all of the films. The change this time was we had a daughter. It was one of the pleasures of my making the movie, to be honest, getting to have my family around me at work and then at home as well. As I was saying, Milla’s a very serious actress and she takes her craft very seriously. She’s very committed to the work she does. We don’t really let our personal relationship affect the set at all. It was a delight really. The thing about us is we love what we do. We both love filmmaking and we both love Resident Evil. We take our work home with us and talk about it when we’re lying in bed. It’s fantastic. It’s great to be able to combine your work life and your personal life like that.

MoviesOnline: Is Ever big enough to be afraid of the zombies on set or is she aware of what’s going on?

Paul WS Anderson: I wouldn’t let her come to set when the zombies were around because I didn’t want her to have nightmares but she certainly enjoyed coming around to all the sets. She’s very much grown up as a movie child. She’s only two and a half but she knows if she wants to sit on set and look at the monitor, she has to be quiet and wear headphones. She tells me, “Daddy, there’s a lot of cables. You have to be careful of the cables.” She’s a real delight. She travels with us everywhere. She’s a very good traveler. She’s very well behaved on airplanes.

MoviesOnline: How much actual zombie action is in this film compared to the others?

Paul WS Anderson: A lot. They’ve sped up because they’ve sped up in the games. When we did the first movie, I was very insistent that they had to be the slow Romero-esque zombies because that’s what they were in the game. They weren’t running fast. But slowly as the games evolved, and I think it’s one of the strengths of the game franchise, the undead and the creatures evolved. And as they’ve evolved, so have we. One of the big things is the Majini undead. You can’t just have the same thing over and over again. If a franchise is to survive, like the T virus, it has to evolve and mutate. I don't think we’d be correct making Resident Evil: Afterlife with the same shuffling zombies that we made the first Resident Evil with. We’ve gone to the game and so now we definitely have a lot of undead but we’ve gone with the Majini style undead. They move faster and they just want to eat you and then maybe something unpleasant will burst out of their mouths as well. You never really know. We’ve gone with the Majini dogs as well with the heads that split open. I think they look phenomenal. The Executioner, I think, is the best creature Capcom has ever designed. He’s my hero. I love him.

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” opens in theaters on September 10, 2010.

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