On opening night at Austin, Texas' South by Southwest Film Festival, while fanboys and reporters were fawning over the highly-anticipated comic book adaptation Kick-Ass, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal were (comparatively) quietly premiering a short but promising collection of footage from their upcoming sequel Predators. Joined by effects guru Greg Nicotero, the duo debuted two versions of a theatrical trailer for the film, unveiled an extra scene and an image gallery of creature designs, and fielded questions from a capacity crowd at Austin's Alamo Ritz theater.
The following morning, Rodriguez and Antal spoke directly to reporters about the project, which is scheduled to be released on July 7, 2010. In addition to expounding upon some of the answers they provided during the preview question-and-answer session, Antal talked about his approach to the iconic material, Rodriguez offered a few details about upcoming projects, and both explained the excellent working relationship they shared with one another and distributor Fox as they worked to bring Predators to the screen.
What is it that you think the last few cinematic iterations of Predator may have lacked that you wanted to restore for Predators?
Nimrod Antal: I think the hunt, and suspense. Trying to take it back to what works in classic horror films and trying to keep the monster in the shadows as opposed to throwing him in your face right off the bat. I think if you look at the timeline on the first film, you have I think 40 minutes into the film was the first time you see the cloaked Predator. So I think we concentrated in trying to bring that back into it, and I think we were successful.
You can't do 40 minutes now, though, can you?
Antal: No, and we don't. We handle it a little bit differently, and you're introduced to something early on.
Robert Rodriguez: But you can get away with a lot more, that fear, if the characters you write, the audience is – the characters are the eyes of the audience. So whatever the characters are doing believably, you will feel that, and you will not need to see them show up in five minutes if their presence is there and they have something to react to. And also it's easy to be a jerk and go back and say what didn't work at the time, and then you go back and say, oh yeah, well, Predator 2 was slightly in the future and that maybe pulled you that much further away from the characters that you could not relate to them because they were not current. Or you could say that AvP did not work because it became too much of an ultimate fighting champion bout rather than concentrating on character. So we've had the benefit of being able to see in the pictures what didn't work and now we can know what not to do, but had we been second, maybe we would have done something completely different too.
How much freedom did the studio give you?
Rodriguez: They were really good. They came down and they were actually great collaborators, because I guess early on they didn't want to scare me away. They said, "we want you to protect this movie from us. We want you to make it down there and do it your way. We'll give you a budget, and if you stay within the budget, you can do anything that you want. We don't know how you make movies down here for that price, [but] we just want to get in the hands of a filmmaker. We know that's what you do with these franchises that people try to revitalize, like Batman with [David] Goyer or Chris Nolan, just bringing it into their world." They said "that's the only way we can pull this off. Do your thing and make it cool and make it a Troublemaker Studios movie, you don't have to make it a Fox movie. We'll release it, but you don't have to make a Fox movie." So their only thing was make it as good as you can. So they were just very supportive.
Antal: Also to speak to that, I think that tactic, and that was a tactic on their part, was the best way to approach it. Because when you have someone on your neck the whole time and telling you this and this, you get to a point where you say, listen, what do you want me to do? But in this case, the fact that they had entrusted us with this project, it made me at least feel like I wanted to work even more, because now I can't say that well, the studio came down with a mandate. So it was really a positive environment for me and as far as creatively, it was just great.
Will this feel like a Predator Pandora? And did we see lady Predators in the concept art?
Rodriguez: I think some of them were just really sleek. What the idea was, and I might have mentioned this at the beginning, was that I was going to pick some art that we could talk about, and had forgotten how much art we had cranked out. Most of it was done by three guys that work at Troublemaker Digital who were churning out stuff to see, because I said let's see a lot of ideas so we can pick the best design. Create with this jawbone or that eye set, this body... and as I looked, we just had so much great stuff that I said, "well, let's just put it all up so people can see how difficult it would be to go through that process. Because you're like, "that's great – let's use him!" and 50 more flash by and you can hardly tell that there's a little bit something different here, and I like that one more. And then there are a lot of decisions you have to make as far as finding the right combination. And probably what we ended up with is some of those drawings, combinations of the drawings in there, but you'll have to wait for the movie to see what we actually used. Plus it changes more when you get to the sculpture stage and you play with the idea more, so some of that stuff isn't even final designs.
The footage you screened included music cues from Alan Silvestri's score, but the trailer indicates that John Debney is composing the score. How much of the music will reference or draw upon the original themes?
Rodriguez: I think we're going to go for something that fits the tone of the movie really well. That original score went great with the movie, but the notes and the music do really evoke a quality – you know, when he showed me his rough cut, or some scenes, every once in a while at the right moment I started hearing strings from the score – because we had a temp score, and it really works. To just go, oh, yeah, we're in a Predator movie. So I asked Fox, do we even have the rights to be able to use that music? They [said] oh yeah, you can use his original score, we can give you the original charts if you want to re-chart them and write something using references of it, here's the full thing. So we'll probably incorporate some of that. At the right time, because you don't want to overuse it. but it's like the James Bond theme – you can't use it all of the time, but when you do, you can get the audience really, really pumped.
Talk about the tone of the film. Will there be a lot of humor or self-awareness?
Antal: I think we had a balance. Clearly we wanted to concentrate on what the original film had brought and given, and I think that was the direction we were thinking of, but that said there are some hilarious moments in the film – really hilarious stuff. One of our actors, Walton Goggins, was just a blessing to have because you can have stuff written but he would improvise stuff, and I can't do it justice for you guys. You have to see it. but there's three or four beats where you'll be laughing.
Rodriguez: Yeah, it's great. When you have a cast like that, and also characters themselves where they don't know each other, the dynamics, they are from such different worlds, they mix together and they clash. We wanted the humor to come naturally from the characters in this story rather than us putting jokes in; it feels very real and improvised and maybe sometimes some of the best ones were improvised. Like we need to get this idea across and let's try it in three different scenes and we'll cut the two that aren't the funniest – that don't give it the levity it needs before something horrific happens. For misdirection, humor works, and for overall entertainment value, when an audience is audible, they know they're having a good time, so you do want that, but you don't want them to roll their eyes. A lot of that, my notes on the script were I'd get to a line and go, "no one's going to laugh at this. They're going to roll their eyes."
Antal: Yeah, there was a few times where I was really nervous because there was something in the script that I really disliked and I'd go up to Robert and I'd be preparing a speech and be like, "oh God, how can I try to get this out [of the scene]. I'd go up to him and give him this long monologue and then he'd go, "oh, dude, I never wanted to do that in the first place. Let's get rid of it."
Robert, what's going on with The Jetsons?
Rodriguez: I'm axing Jetsons. I'm actually doing another Spy Kids for The Weinsteins. That is a new version with new kids and it's actually pretty cool. That's probably what I'm going to do right next."
Is that a reboot of your own franchise?
Rodriguez: It's funny. It's like I can go do someone else's franchise that I don't own, or when I had the idea for this I thought, 'That's kind of cool. It's about 10 years later.' That's my most loyal audience. More than the geek crowd are the kids. Every day kids and families ome up and say. 'Thanks for Spy Kids. We're showing our new kids that.' So I thought let's revitalize it with an amazing cast and new kids. That sounds not as good as probably it really is but when you read the script, it actually is. It didn't sound like we were going back to the well for the fourth time. This actually feels completely new. I just turned it in so that's why I'm so excited about it."
Will this update the techniques you used on the previous installments?
Rodriguez: It's going to be more like the first ones. It'd be very practical, very realistic. It's like the Casino Royale to For Your Eyes Only. The other movies were the For Your Eyes Onlys. I love For Your Eyes Only, the Roger Moore James Bonds. This is the Casino Royale."