It's been four years since we've seen a movie from Bryan Singer, but it might feel longer. Though 2008's Valkyrie was a cracking, high-stakes tale about the failed plot to kill Hitler, it was seen by precious few audiences, and fans of Singer's big blockbuster filmmaking have to go all the way back to 2006's Superman Returns. But now Singer is back in fine, very large form with Jack the Giant Slayer, an epic fantasy film that takes the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale to new, motion-captured heights.
Shooting a film largely outdoors, with tons of extras and special effects, carries its own challenges, but Singer dove headlong into the motion-capture technology used to create the giants. In fact, he delayed the start of production on the film solely so he could use "simul-cam" technology that allowed him to see the CGI giants in the frame with his human actors. For a guy who was using models to simulate a damn explosion on X-Men 2, that's a pretty big leap in technology-- and Singer says he's excited to use it on his next film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, which shoots this summer.
I talked to Singer a fair amount about the next X-Men movie, and why he's been so careful to keep it secret, and you can read about that here. For more about Jack the Giant Slayer, and why shooting it was such a relief after much-scrutinized movies like Valkyrie and the X-Men films and why Ewan McGregor's hair looks so good, read below. Jack the Giant Slayer is in theaters this Friday.
High fantasy with humor is something we don't see much these days, with Game of Thrones being what everyone wants to imitate. Where did you get the sense of where you wanted the tone to go, and did you have people fighting you?
No, no one's really telling me anything about that. I knew there would be a body count, and I knew the giants would be eating people and stepping on them and things like that. I thought the only way it's going to be comfortable for kids to enjoy--and I really want kids or families to see it--is if you inject it with some kind of adventure humor, so it reminds the audience that they're seeing a fairy tale, they're seeing a fun, humorous adventure. Humor always makes things more fun. There's a lot of humor in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park. I wanted capture that kind of tone and vibe.
Is this the first time you've made a movie with kids in mind as an audience?
Yeah, this is the first movie I've made where I was thinking of the 8 year olds instead of the 18 year olds.
Did you ever catch yourself skewing too old?
Yeah, there were a few shots that I rendered and then removed because they were just a little too graphic and unnecessary. But frankly I did that more so I wouldn't alienate the parents, because I think the kids can handle it.
Yeah, this movie is violent. Do you feel like you need to push kids in that way? I remember seeing Jurassic Park when I was too young and being scared, but not many people let kids feel that way anymore.
There's a difference between a kid coming out of a movie between being scared and being upset. If you take a kid to see Zero Dark Thirty that might make them upset. When it's adventure violence, and there is humor, and it is infused with humor, it makes it just a delightful scare, a fun scare.
I remember when you started shooting this there were stories about you using natural light to shoot it. Why did that make a difference, and why was it worth it?
To bring the giants into the real world. I didn't want the audience to feel like they're entering a big CG world. I wanted it to feel very real. When the giants show up, you really feel that they are really co-existing with the human characters. I used some virtual locations, because it's hard to build a kitchen with a 600-foot ceiling [laughs], but at the same time I used a lot of existing locations, cathedrals, palaces here in London, forests, fields, some really great locations.
RIse of the Planet of the Apes felt like the first time they took mo-cap out into the real world. Was that the big technological step that allowed you guys to do this?
They were able to do their mo-cap because the apes are human sized. With us we had to do all our giant work on a volume, then I brought the giants there on the live-action set by way of simul-cam, so through my monitor I could see a crude rendering of the giant play out the scene with my actors. So I knew where they were and where I should put them.
And that was why you delayed the shooting, right?
There was a little delay, yeah, just to get the movie ramped up properly.
That's not necessarily an easy thing to do, with a movie this big. Is it hard to sit everyone down and tell them that?
I also was occupied because I was producing X-Men: First Class as well. We wanted to do it right, and also I really wanted to educate myself so when i started doing the mo-cap I wouldn't slow things down. We actually achieved quite a bit, we came in under budget, which is always nice.
This felt less under scrutiny when it was under production than Valkyrie and X-Men. Was it more peaceful working on this?
Yeah, it was not a highly scrutinized movie, it was kind of coming out of nowhere, which was kind of fun. It was nice, I was able to test the movie at a bunch of recruit screenings for it. it was my first time I ever did recruit screenings with families. It was really fun watching it with kids, and they get all excited and start laughing or kicking the seats. That's been some of the most fun part of the process.
Did you feel like you needed that break to do something with less scrutiny?
Yeah, I definitely did. And that's why I have Twitter now. If I had Twitter on Valkyrie, when people start saying "Oh my god, they have to come back to LA to do reshoots because the film's in peril," I'm like, "No, there are no deserts in Germany. I am coming back to shoot a budgeted and planned-for scene for 3 days in the desert." I can clear those misconceptions up.
Have you been able to do that yet?
I sometimes release little announcements and things that are happening. There were concerns about something, "Oh, I hope he doesn't have the leather costume!" so I could write "FYI, no leather," and fans get excited about that.