Artist, writer, producer and director Len Wiseman has carved himself an impressive career in the action-based world of Hollywood in less than 10 years.
Cutting his teeth in the art department on blockbusters like ‘Independence Day’, ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Godzilla’, he swiftly moved on to create his own fictional worlds, with the ‘Underworld’ franchise, starring Kate Beckinsale as a vampire warrior and Scott Speedman as a werewolf, and the fourth instalment of the ‘Die Hard’ franchise, working with veteran Hollywood actor Bruce Willis as the legendary John McClane.
After dipping his director’s fingers in television with ‘Hawaii Five-O’, Wiseman shifted back to blockbusters, with his latest, ‘Total Recall’, a reboot of the Philip K Dick short story made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 90s.
Teaming up with Irish actor Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid, Wiseman’s now wife Kate Beckinsale as Lori and action star Jessica Biel as Melina, Wiseman chats to IFTN about his latest foray into the action world, why he dislikes 3D, and what memories he would choose if he visited Rekall.
Many would consider it a brave move to take on a reboot of any film, but to take on an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, and one that is still so prevalent in people’s minds, could be considered risky. Did you feel that pressure when you signed up?
I’m constantly reminded about it at the moment. But you shoulder that, you know that’s a part of doing any kind of remake. The combination of a remake and then a movie with Arnold, it is quite a task, so I kind of cut through a lot of the pressure by being comforted by the fact that it’s such a different take. If I was trying to replace Arnold I would actually be more concerned, and I was not looking to replace Arnold in any stretch of the imagination. I was looking to do a different version of Quaid, but not a different version of Arnold. When this thing was announced it was ‘Is it going to be The Rock, is it going to be, you know, every WWF wrestler’, and I was like ‘Wow, they’re really going to be surprised, because I really have no intention of doing that’.
At the same time, did you feel it was important to reflect back to Paul Verhoeven’s vision of ‘Total Recall’ to satisfy its original fan base?
In ways of [being] a fan of it and the fact that I didn’t want to leave too much behind. It’s a tough job when you have something, when you want to tell your own story but you want to pay homage to the fans that really like that movie, and I’m one of them. I loved that movie, I was 14 at the time, so I also thought that I wanted to bring to life some of the things that I remember from that age, not necessarily the adult doing the movie now. I’m more looking at what stuff do I recall that I want to bring to life just to put a twist on it, to have the fun of having this new experience with some stuff that you can remember.
Colin Farrell in 'Total Recall'
I think people watching the film will be surprised to hear how much of it was actually shot using real sets and tangible objects as props rather than green screen and VFX. Why was it so important for you to shoot this way?
I love practical effects and sets and it’s kind of my background, I started in the art department. I worked on building sets and props and designing sets for a long time so it’s something my head is wired into. But also I just think it’s a better experience, I have a love/ hate relationship with visual effects. I say that coming off a movie that’s a massive visual effects film, but I use them in a way of extending, and when you can no longer build. You can’t build an entire futuristic city obviously, but I try. I build it out until I just hit a wall, and then that wall becomes green screen and then I’ll keep going.
It’s amazing work, I was really happy with Double Negative, who did a lot of the visual effects work. I was really out for it to be as real as possible, to be very realistic, very gritty, and they did a great job, but I’m always exhausting everything I can do practically first. I just think that you have a disconnect, if you’re watching something that’s entirely CG, you may have an experience where you say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing visual effect’, you’re still saying that’s a visual effect, rather than going ‘Oh my god, did he just do that?’ That’s what you get from practical, with the other one, you admire it rather than experience it.
Do you think your art department background gives you an advantage over other directors who started behind the lens?
I don’t know if it gives me an advantage... I’m aware of how it’s built, how it’s constructed, and I understand how much it takes. When I ask for something I know what I’m asking for. I know how long it takes, I appreciate the work that goes into it because I used to do that work. I also know what you can get away with and how you can cut corners. Say a set costs $300,000, how you get $2 million worth out of that $300,000 set. That’s what I used to have to help do.
3D still has a dim quality overall to it that I’m not wild about.
Was it a deliberate decision from the beginning not to shoot in 3D?
Absolutely. I was about the only one that was not into shooting the movie in 3D to be honest.
Was there a battle there?
Yeah. Not an ugly battle, but just a constant conversation about making this in 3D. It’s very hard to get a movie of this scale and a summer movie, that’s not done in 3D. I’m not a huge fan of 3D, again, it’s that connecting quality. I find that still there’s a disconnect that I have, if even two times during a move that I’m going like this (removes fictional 3D glasses) just to compare, that’s two times that I’m stepping out of the movie, and I really love a contrast. I like dark, but I also like to see what is going on, so I try to create a setting that is both very dark, but you really do see everything that is going on. That is a deep contrast and bright brights, and 3D still has a dim quality overall to it that I’m not wild about.
Len Wiseman on the set of 'Total Recall'
Talk me through using the super slider system for the fight scene in Rekall. Does a technical scene such as that need one seamless take?
The super slider is a remote camera system that travels about 35, 45 miles an hour on this rig, it’s what they shoot football games with. Nobody has ever put those camera systems together to where you could possibly create an entire scene through that. When I read the script there’s one scene where it’s described as such an elaborate set up to do that shot, it says ‘Quaid ends up killing 12 men before he’s able to take a breath’. I was really captured by ‘How can I make the audience feel like he’s killed 12 men before the audience themselves can take a breath’, and the only way to do that is to keep it in one shot that feels like it’s building, building, building, and you’re watching it and then right when he’s done you go ‘oh Jesus’.
And the way to do that was to put these cameras together. It was a lot of R&D, it took two days to shoot just those six seconds. Colin and the gang had to do the fight 22 times because it was all timed out to a metronome. Everything had to be exactly on [point], these cameras, one would cross over, the other would pick up, and their lenses would meet, so we had seven of these rigs that went around the room, the behind-the-scenes is actually as fun as the shot, I think.
Finally, if you went to Rekall, what memories would you choose?
There’s one point in my career where I was going to continue as an artist, and I started doing story boards and illustrating and I was dabbling in comic books for a little bit. I love to draw, I don’t do it anymore, ever ever, I have a huge bunch of people that do it for me, and it kind of makes my heart sink a bit, because I don’t get to that anymore. So I’d probably experience that, what would it be like if I’d continued to be an artist, would I be happier? I think that’d be fun to do.
‘Total Recall’ is released in cinemas from August 29. Directed by Len Wiseman, it stars Jessica Biel (The A Team), Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) and Ireland’s own Colin Farrell (In Bruges).
See IFTN next week (August 27) for an interview with 'Total Recall' stars Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel.