Interview: Riddick director David Twohy on getting back to basics

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[I'm one of the very few people in the world who really enjoyed THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. Where others saw a confusing storyline, I saw a CGI heavy SF film that had actual imagination and didn't play by predictable rules. Admittedly it was a departure from the tighter, simpler PITCH BLACK, a tense action adventure which introduced Vin Diesel as Riddick, a tough as nails, brutal survivor of an interplanetary criminal. Taken together the films—both written and directed by David Twohy—were one of the odder SF franchises in the CGI era.

Although the Chronicles of Riddick was a flop, both Diesel and Twohy remained committed to their vision of a huge SF film epic. Making another Riddick movie was practically a passion project for them—and you can't make an effects heavy SF movie on a shoestring. However, after years, and by putting their own money into it—luckily the Fast and the Furious franchise has kept Diesel a highly bankable star—Diesel and Twohy managed to make essentially an indie SF action movie, probably the only one of its kind.

The result returns to the simple Pitch Black premise of Riddick the unstoppable against nature and man. Betrayed by the Neocromongers who made him their leader at the end of Chronicles, Riddick finds himself alone and badly wounded on a deserted planet. Surviving by various methods, he devises a scheme to get back to his home planet, Furya. It's an action movie through and through, with entertaining turns by some familiar faces—Dave Bautista and Katie Sackhoff play two of the dozen bounty hunters who provide much of the conflict in int film—and little known. Matt Nable and Jordi Molla play leaders of the two squabbling factions of bounty hunters, one a disgusting rabble, the other military precise. Neither provides too much resistance to Riddick's superskills.

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After professing my love of Chronicles to a Universal PR rep—surely something she didn't hear every day—I was granted the chance for a brief interview with Riddick director David Twohy (too-ey). I was eager to have a chance to talk with this film vet who clearly has his own quirky sensibilities. As a writer he's written some pretty ace movies—The Fugitive and G.I. Jane—and on the Riddick franchise he's used the budget he has to put a distinct vision on the screen. He's not like too many other Hollywood folks out there. In the interview he mentions the plans that he and Diesel have for two more Riddick movies. I sincerely hope this film does well enough to enable them to make them. In a world of cookie cutter would-be blockbusters, Diesel, Twohy and Riddick are all rugged individualists.]

THE BEAT: It took so long to make this movie. What was the tipping point that allowed it to get made? You and Vin had worked on it for so long. What was the moment you knew it was going to work out?

TWOHY: That tipping point for us was the Berlin Film Festival [in 2010], taking my spec script down there and selling it to the foreign market and selling it better than any thing else at the market. That was the tipping point for us when we realized we would have barely enough money to make a respectable follow up. That allowed us to come back to LA and shop around for a domestic partner, someone who could release it the US and Canada. And lo and behold that ended up being Universal who had told us, “No, no we’re out of the Riddick business. We’re not going to do it any more.” So, it’s a crazy business. [laughter] The company that said no to us a few years before was now saying please, come with us. So now, it’s a happy partnership now that we’re back in bed together. But for a while I thought it would be released by Sony or Film District. They were showing strong interest but I think Universal’s competitive blood started to stir up and they had to throw their hat in the ring again

THE BEAT: Well, it makes sense because they have the previous two movies on DVD, right?

TWOHY: I guess. It has some dividends in that they can box it all up—even though they’ve already done that. With the manga piece they did they threw that in and called it a trilogy. I don’t know what they are going to call this one.

THE BEAT: It seems now for filmmakers there are more options available. This is pretty close to a DIY movie in that you financed it yourselves. I guess when you started it Kickstarter hadn’t kicked in yet, but this almost could have been a Kickstarter movie in a way.

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TWOHY: I was vaguely aware of all that and I did say to Vin at one point, “if you used your Facebook page, if everyone who was on your Facebook page kicked in a buck, we could probably make this movie, Vin.” [Diesel has 46 million followers on FB] And he didn’t quite know how to respond to that. He was intrigued but I don’t think he wanted to put it on his fans to finance this movie. The difference is then it becomes very much a vanity project or what is thought of as a vanity project. And this ain’t that. This is us making a movie because we never stopped hearing from the fans that they wanted more Riddick, I heard it and Vin heard it and after about five years of hearing it to the point we were sick of it, we got together and said okay.

THE BEAT: The movie is a bit of a morality play or an immorality play in a way. Riddick is such an antihero. You have him doing awful things and then a bible clutching character. There’s sort of a range of faith.

TWOHY: We do dip our toes into faith in this series. In Pitch Black where Riddick was talking about God, a mom was wondering, assuming that he was an atheist, being such a merciless killer. He says “No, no, no I believe in God, I just hate the fucker.” So we started there. Certainly we didn’t shy away from religion and faith in the second movie. There were the Necromongers, a militarized theocracy. We never wanted to leave it behind. I’m always interested in why people believe in God and have faith. It’s something that’s if done well can help elevate a movie. If done not,well, it feels like pandering.

THE BEAT: How do you see the evolution of the Riddick character in the film? He went through a very unexpected transformation in the second movie. I love in this one where he says “It’s always the shot you don’t see coming that gets you.” What’s going through his mind in this film?

TWOHY: The evolution of the character is interesting because he is a guy who rather early on in this movie realizes he may have lost a step. That he got a little fat, a little complacent. That he may have, crime of all crimes, gotten civilized. And so even though he was basically shot in the back and left for dead, that’s his plight in this world. On this dumping ground, Riddick takes it to a different level. Okay this planet is going to be a proving ground, if I can master this world and survive it, then I can survive anything and I’ll be the man I once was. He fears that his years on the Necromonger throne and in the bed of the Lord Marshall and consorting with consorts, he fears all that has slowed him down and dulled his edge. He’s a man that wants to get back to what he was. That’s an interesting evolution for him. And it could be applied to the franchise as a whole.

THE BEAT: It’s a very unique history definitely, I can’t think of another movie franchise that fits into this model. You also have an interesting three-act structure. The first one is man against nature. Riddick in an almost wordless sequence fighting for his life by every means possible. Then a middle section where he’s Riddick as Predator with the bounty hunters fearing him as the threat. In the final act you bring all those factors together.

TWOHY: The scope of the movie is determined by our budget. We knew we wouldn’t haven’t the budget we had on Chronicles so we knew we had to limit it to one planet and we realized in this movie we wouldn’t have anyone fighting the legions of the undead and the Underverse. We quickly latched on to the Jeremiah Johnson opening where it was one man against the world. We both gravitated to that. But I said “This can’t be the whole movie, Vin.” [general laughter.] Even though he may have gone for it. “Just me?” So we had to, in a nod to Pitch Black, we brought back the Johns character’s dad.

THE BEAT: I really enjoyed that element.

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TWOHY: My favorite scene in the movie is where Boss Johns has Riddick in chains and is just trying to get the last bit of information about his son out of him. I played the whole scene without music, the whole five-minute dialog scene. Vin was killing it and Matt Nable [Boss Johns] was killing it. Once in a while when you really get the good stuff you can clear out the music and let it go.

THE BEAT: Riddick is something different in each act.

TWOHY: He becomes almost a ghost, out there just killing them, almost a supernatural force. So it is an odd structure but look, if we’re going to do an independent movie outside the studio system and I don’t have to justify everything to the studio, where it’s “How can you have him be sympathetic in Act One and turn him into a killer again in Act Two.” It’s all about point of view and whose eyes you are seeing him through and what they’re feeling and I think I can do that. And then in act three it’s okay now we have a combined task to get from point a to point b and we’ll pressurize everything and see how they hold up and see if they crack or fold or not. All that is interesting, and I do it intuitively. I don’t want to have to explain to a studio and explain how it works together. I just want to write it and shoot it.

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THE BEAT: This is a little off topic, but have you been following any of the discussion this summer about how Save the Cat has killed movies and led to the formularization of action movies especially?

TWOHY: Can you explain that a little more?

THE BEAT: There’s a book called Save the Cat which gives a very, very rigid structure—on page 25 this has to happen and page 46 this has to happen. People have taken all the summer movies and they almost all fit exactly to this formula.

TWOHY: Oh really? I didn’t know it was to that degree but I do know that some of these movies start to feel they are made by factories instead of hand made. I’d like to think that this movie Riddick, feels more hand made than factory made.

THE BEAT: You do have two more movies planned…or dreamed of, correct?

TWOHY: I think that is correct. [laughter] You never know but I think there are two more movies.

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THE BEAT: Obviously a lot depends on how this movie does. Again everything has been so topsy turvy this summer. Nobody really knows. I couldn’t even tell you. I hope it does well.

TWOHY: I’m in exactly the same spot. I don’t know.

THE BEAT: Would you be able to talk Vin into Kickstarting it if you needed to? [laughter]

TWOHY: Interesting. What is the most a movie has been Kickstarted?

THE BEAT: I think Veronica Mars raised a few million.

TWOHY: Ah well we can’t make a Riddick movie on a few million. This movie has 850 visual effects in it and those people want to get paid. So I can’t do it.

THE BEAT: So what do you dream of in the next two movies?

TWOHY: One movie may well be a return to the Necromonger movie which I am laying the ground work for in the directors cut in this movie. I shot more than I included [in the release.] There was a bookend piece where Riddick goes back to the Necromonger empire, kills Krone, the guy who shot him in the back. He assumes that Vaako was behind it. So there’s more in the directors cut. There’s a lot more material between Riddick and Vaako and that would pave the way to a return to the Underverse, should we be able to afford that version of the movie. If not, then there is clearly the return to Furya [Riddick’s home planet], which is a different movie, a more grounded movie and one that I doped out first.

THE BEAT: I loved all the hints of Furya and Riddick’s longing to go home. I would love to see that movie so my fingers are crossed.

TWOHY: I think it’s a great finish to this franchise.

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Comments

  1. Loved both of the movies and cannot wait to see this one.

  2. Jon Q. Citizen says:

    Have been waiting for years…..was super-psyched when I heard they were filming this one…..I count the first two Riddick films in my Top 5! I’m hoping this one does well, I’d love to see a trilogy!

  3. Brian Spence says:

    Great interview. I also loved Chronicles. This interview is kind of spoilerish though. It probably isn’t to the point where it will ruin my enjoyment of the flick though.

  4. My problem with Chronicles is that the female character was supposed to be the young girl from Pitch Black but a few years later. But rather than get someone who sort of looked like her they used an actress who looked like a fashion model and I didn’t believe her for a minute. I expect that it was Universal who demanded that they use an actress who was not just attractive but beautiful, but her attractiveness was completely distracting right up until the moment they killed her off, which seemed like a big waste.

  5. So jealous! Neither of the cinemas near me are showing Riddick – I must head into the city next week to see it :D

  6. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Movie was pretty okay and a lot more like Pitch Black than Chronicles. Nice to see some funny bits and what not written for the bit characters in the movie instead of them just standing around with no lines and nothing to do like in other similar films. First 20-30 minutes reminded me a lot of the first arc of Prophet.

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