Part of the joy of playing with toys and action figures as a kid was having characters cross pop culture universes. X-Wing pilot Luke Skywalker fit surprisingly well in the model Batmobile I had growing up, and Spider-Man regularly teamed up with the Power Rangers to take down evil. It was a blast to stretch the boundaries of imagination beyond copyright laws and branding and figure out how two very different characters from two very different worlds would interact. So with that in mind, and considering that they’re both owned by the same companies, why not make a G.I. Joe/Transformers movie?
This past weekend I had the pleasure of sitting down with G.I. Joe: Retaliation producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to talk about the new action-packed film hitting theaters this weekend. Check out our conversation below in which the blockbuster moviemaker talks about not only how a how a G.I. Joe/Transformers movie could come together but how a sequel gets the green light, what it means to have a star like Dwayne Johnson in your franchise, the scary gamble of pushing a film back nine months, and prioritization of “ninja stuff.”
It’s kind of a big question, but I do want to ask about the politics of sequels. When you’re dealing with big blockbuster movies, you’re dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars, but there’s also so many factors involved, like you have the box office returns of the first movie, critical reception, fan reception... I’m curious, where does the balance come down to when you’re trying to figure out when to move forward?
Well, I think on a selfish level, what you start with is what didn’t you get to do the first time and what could you do better, just on a selfish level, you know? So, you tend to focus on that first, I think. You listen to the fans, you hear the fans. I particularly listen to the fans who like things because their enthusiasm is much easier to understand why they’re, if they’re coming from a fairly positive point of view, why they’re articulating a case for something is much easier to absorb than if they’re coming from a negative point of view. That’s me, anyhow. You know, you do look at it, and you say, there’s the business side of it where you look, “Ok we need $300 million for a wide. How do we do more than that? Where did we not do well? Where did we do well? Why was that?” You sort of do that analytical thing, which I find you do it and at the end of the day, you get a lot of confusing answers from that. So, again you sort of retreat back to, “Ok, what do we think we can just do better as filmmakers?” You know, and what can we do bigger? In this case, we thought by bringing in cast, it would create a bigger experience. So, that was one of the first objectives was to bring in guys like Dwayne [Johnson] and Bruce [Willis], where suddenly that changes the complexity of the movie before we’ve done anything to the story.
And you mentioned listening to the fans. How exactly do you go about doing that?
It’s online. Thankfully, there’s so many different way, fan forums that you go into, G.I. Joe forums that I go into. You know, there’s a cautionary thing, there are so many conflicting points of view that come from the fans that if you’re not careful you sort of get lost with what you want to do, because if you’re trying to please everybody and you go, “Wait a second...” And I’ve fallen in the trap of that before. So, now I don’t do that. I read it. I listen to what’s going on and I go, “Oh, I like that. That’s smart. I get that.” So, you cherry-pick a little bit, I guess.