Heavy breathing, hammering heart and outrageous enthusiasm in the form of tiny little squeals were just some of the things I experienced right after receiving a text from my editor last summer asking me IF I was available and wanted to attend a set visit for XMEN. Umm, let’s not kid ourselves. Considering the film has an amazing all-star A-list cast and the prequel, FIRST CLASS is pretty kick-ass, naturally it was a no-brainer. However, when I discovered Michael Fassbender, Hugh Jackman and James McAvoy would be filming on set that day. I jumped on the chance like a cheetah on its prey.
Soon after that, this over-heated and grateful gal, flew out to Montreal on a very hot August day, to join a select group of equally curious and enthusiastic reporters. The morning after our arrival, we met our sweet Fox rep, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to be driven to the film set of X-Men to see some of my favorite mutants in action. I can’t speak for the rest of the gang, but I could feel my heart pounding out of chest as we arrived, checked in and made our way throughout the different stages.
The Scene and Sets
Since the film was about a week away from wrapping, the majority of the 39 sets built for the film had already been broken down. We did however get to walk around the Inner Sanctum, which was beautifully crafted out of a massive stone and decorated with stained glass. The Sanctum is a hidden Chinese monastery, which we expect to see in many future X-men scenes.
Next, we took a walk over to Charles Xavier’s mansion set, which was like walking through a time capsule. It was completely decorated in a 70’s style, from furniture to accessories. We dropped our things down and took a seat around the dining table, which is where all of our interviews would take place. The dining room table was near the foot of a double winding staircase that was designed with the letter X in mind. Within the staircase itself were also several hidden X’s. According to production designer John Myhre, there were many X’s woven throughout each set. Singer mentioned that this is something Myhre loves to do, which we thought was very cool.
The highlight of the day came when we were escorted to the stage where one of the final scenes was being shot, over and over again throughout the day. I had to literally keep myself from squealing and squirming like a fan-girl, when I saw Hugh Jackman aka Wolverine, Michael Fassbender aka Magneto and James McAvoy aka Professor X walk down the steps from the elevated set for a quick break between scene takes, as the production crew and now us, got to watch playbacks of the last scene shot on TV monitors.
Without giving too much away and spoiling anything for all you mutant-fans anxiously awaiting the film’s release, the scene they were filming that day was set on Xavier’s plane. Hank was flying the plane, while Erik and Charles were having one of their usual heated disagreements. Logan was standing nearby, trying to play peacemaker. They were both extremely emotional and passionate as they yelled and accused one another of different things. As their fight grew louder, Charles got up to grab Erik and in turn, Magneto’s powers kicked in and the plane started to lose control. (The plane itself was built on a massive high rig with hydraulic parts to give it the movement and thrusting required for this scene.)
Charles fell back as things went flying and breaking around him. (No stuntmen were required for this part as everyone was cleverly secured in their position so that no real injuries could be possible). The argument ended with Charles walking away and into the cockpit. Although, the scene didn’t give much away, it was powerful enough to give us massive goose-bumps, wet our whistles and leave us wanting for much more.
We watched the same scene 2 or 3 times before heading back to the X mansion and anxiously awaiting the cast and crew to come and join us for interviews. One of which was with director, Bryan Singer. Not only did Bryan Singer direct one of my all-time favorite films, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but he is just one of the coolest and most down-to-earth people ever. We chatted about the Sentinals, on casting Peter Dinklage, on reuniting with Hugh Jackman, working on the script with Simon Kinberg, how Days of Future Past will differ from First Class and much, much more. See what he had to say along with some of the cast, writer, and producer to follow this week.
I’ve got to say, it’s really effin’ cool to interview you on the set of an X-Men.
Bryan Singer: Oh yeah, me too. It’s definitely cool to be interviewed on the set of one.
Jumping right on into this one, talk a little bit about when did you know the entire cast was going to be able to come back. It’s kind of contenting on if Hugh doesn’t want to be wolverine, or if certain people like Patrick and Ian don’t want to come back.
Bryan Singer: Well we knew we had a movie when Patrick and Ian were on board, because they’re really the center of the story, their relationship and their evolution. So then we knew we had a movie. We hoped that Hugh would because he would be a wonderful conduit to the past and a character/actor that could play in the past and the future. So I reached out to him and called him, and I was in New Orleans and he called me back and said I’d love to do it. So that’s when I felt we’d get pretty much everyone back. We already had the other younger actors; they were under contract so they were coming back anyway. Then the rest were just gravy, and also we wanted them to work out and they were integral to the story but knew we at least had a movie when Patrick, Ian, and Hugh solidified.
People have said a number of different things, kind of characterizing this as almost two movies in a way. Can you describe how that looks from your perspective?
Singer: You know, it takes me back to The Usual Suspects more than any other film ever has in the sense that that movie I shot an interrogation scene in the first five days and that was Kevin Spacey, Dan Hedaya, Chazz Palminteri, Giancarlo Esposito, and then Kevin stayed on and we did the Stephen Baldwin, Pete Postlethwaite, Gabriel Byrne movie. With this it’s very similar, in the beginning we shot with the original cast, it was the scenes in the future, it’s not a majority of the picture but it does interweave through the picture much like Usual Suspects and then that crew left, my familiar old friends left, and then my new friends, my X-Men: First Class friends showed up. With one lap-over day with a scene between Xavier and himself, sort of. Then it felt like a different movie, like a lifetime ago. Then we all went to Comic-Con it was strange because it was like ‘Oh my old friends and my new friends,’ it was weird, and Hugh and I were the only two people really with both groups.
You guys paved the way for superhero movies with the first one and since then people have picked up on tropes of comic books to put into films, and with this one you’re picking up the trope of ‘what does the future looks like for these characters.’ Has that crossed your mind when you look at it that, ‘we’re the first ones to take a movie that is what happens to these guys in the future?’
Singer: Yeah, and to really play with time travel in a way. I know there’s certain people in suspended animation or to take characters like Captain America and to bring them into the present, but this one actually delves into being a time travel movie. Once I took on that and figured out a methodology for it I embraced the fact that like Time Machine, Back to the Future, Terminator, Looper, I’m now in that world or trench, but it’s a very fun opportunity to see maybe this is a future. When you see the X-Men in this future, it’s almost like you start of and it’s sort of a dreary ‘maybe’ future, it’s one you hope didn’t happen, maybe it won’t happen, and that’s kind of what it feels like. So I went full out, that’s why it’s very dark and they’re all militant and I wanted to make sure they all looked like they’d been fighting a war for ten years.
One of the things that a lot of people are excited about is we’re finally going to get to see Sentinels doing battle with the X-Men, and not in some shitty way, like full on Sentinel stuff and we’ve seen a picture that you’ve released, so what can you tease people about the Sentinels in the movie?
Singer: Well the Sentinels of the past, it’s not, I mean, I have to say, there are movies like Transformers, and Iron Man, and Pacific Rim, that have already explored robots of all different sizes and shapes and scope and caliber, I knew that to make another robot attacks people or hero movie is not- yet they are an element in the picture. So they serve the story in an interesting movie, and not necessarily in an obvious rock-em-sock-em battle robots at the end of the movie kind of way, although there is some of that now that I’m really thinking about it. Come to think of it, more than I probably realize. It’s just not that, particular what you saw in that picture, is not he totality of it. That’s not exactly the whole of the technological threat.
Well it’s just that Sentinels have been a very huge part of the comic book and a huge part of the X-Men for a long time and fans want to see them on screen.
Singer: Well we tried to make the ones from 1973, the Sentinels of the past a little fun and stylish but also a little retro, and the key is they’re not made of metal. That’s very important to our story because we’ve got a very powerful mutant. So that was a challenge to, to make them look like they could be made of polymer or some other material, plastic or something, but still have them be formidable when flying around and all that.
I’m interested in how you’re approaching the continuity on this movie because like with Last Stand with the cure thing and I think there was even a Bolivar Trask in that one.
Singer: There was, I even noticed that when I rewatched it, I forgot.
Are you taking the time travel element to correct some of that stuff?
Singer: Again, what’s weird is there will be people who it will freak them out a little when you go back in time and start altering things, but what’s most interesting about this story is that yes it potentially alters thing but it also brings the characters closer to who they are destined to be. When I fired pitched X-Men: First Class it was always ‘how do I explain how Xavier and Magneto became friends?’ and then frenemies, and this explains how they became Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Those incarnations of the characters, because look at who he was, this rich kid from Oxford and the other was off on a revenge mission. It wasn’t so much the belief system and in the end you have a hint of Patrick Stewart because Xavier is wheeling up to a school potentially, or to his mansion, and with Erik you have the same thing, you have Shaw’s theology, which he acknowledges agreeing to, but they haven’t put them into practice and you haven’t start to see them become those characters that you met in the early X-Men films. So you’ll get to watch that kind of happen.
You talked about Trask there for a second and when we were talking to Lauren she said you guys had a list of people who were possible and you went ‘Peter Dinklage!’ so obviously beyond the fact that Peter Dinklage is one of the coolest guys in the world what was it that made you think he’d be perfect for that?
Singer: Well one I’m a big fan of his, a big fan of Game of Thrones, so I was very familiar with him and I’m a fan of his. He’s from Jersey; I’m from Jersey, that’s cool. But I also felt there was something, he’s also incredibly talented, but it’s perhaps unlikely. I like the idea of not a very big guy building very big robots, something ironically interesting about that. But he’s first an foremost, carries the screen, and there’s not a second that you take him for, he even talks about that in a little speech he gives in congress in the movie about when he was young he was underestimated, don’t underestimate small things.
You’ve been described by Hugh Jackman as very…
Singer: Handsome? [Laughs]
As a huge fan of time travel movies and being very interested in that aspect of this film and we talked to Simon a little bit of how he approached time travel with this. Can you talk in a little bit more detail about something you wanted to achieve or something you were desperate to avoid?
Singer: Well I wanted it to make sense, and very often with time travel, and this is a rare film where past and future are co-existing, so I had to create a set of rules where that made sense to me. So that’s what I set out to do. I created a very specific set of rules. When do things change? Who observes the change? Who has no memory of the change? Who has no memory of what was and who does, and how that works. I think I cracked it, I think I figured it out but that was my first, when Matthew left the picture and I took it on, that didn’t exist, there was a structure but there was no concept of time travel or how it works. So until I figured that out I had some misgivings about doing the movie. Once I figured that out I was very hooked, I felt like they had me cause I was like now I know how to do this and shoot this.
Well I’m definitely curious, does that mean are you playing with the rules where say Hugh is in the 1970s and something happens, is there an immediate change in the time line?
Singer: No, and that’s how it works. It’s not immediate. That’s the way, that’s my picture in Back to the Future. But It’s tough, like with Looper, you can make the excuses of multiverses and there’s a moment where they just don’t want to get into the time travel talk of it all but I see Joseph Gordon-Levitt sitting across from Bruce Willis and my first thought is the first thing he is going to do is ‘Okay I’m going to get Rogaine, I’m not gonna be a jerk, and I’m not going to be involved with this woman, I’m not gonna do this, and not gonna do this’ and then suddenly foom! They’re not sitting there anymore; they’re sitting somewhere else. That’s the thing that you’ve got to, for that movie it was fine because it was people running around in the past and future so it was cool to see them affect each other in a certain way. This is a much more emotional story, well that was emotional in a different way, I shouldn’t say that. This is a story about a bad future, not a bad situation with an individual, but a bad future and how do you go back and change that. So it’s a very simple conceit and I pitched it to James Cameron when I was in New Zealand and he put it into physics terms and I wish I could articulate the physics of it, the experimental physics. It deals with the notion that objects and things evolve differently and behave differently when they’re observed and when they’re not observed. So I play with the principle of the travel, in this case it’s consciousness that moves into your younger self, and that traveler is the observer and the observer perceives one thing while the rest of the world perceives something else. In this case, Hugh is the observer.
Having worked with this set of actor before and your experience as a director, is there something you’ve picked up along that way that, specific dos and don’ts?
Singer: Like with the actors? Like their habits?
Yeah, that you try to avoid or things that have helped you?
Singer: Yeah there are some things. There’s nothing I try to avoid with them because we want to try new things and do things we haven’t done before, we don’t just want to repeat scenes from X-Men one and two. But there’s definitely a short hand. Hugh Jackman certainly have a short hand, and Nicholas Hoult and I have a great short hand cause this is my second movie with him. The other actors it was much like they haven’t left, it was very strange. Personalities hadn’t changed at all; personalities toward me haven’t changed at all, particularly Anna Paquin who teases me. Like when she was 17/18 on those early films, I was her verbal punching bag, and then I would torture her by blowing off horns and firing guns sound effects in the middle of scenes and stuff. Now she’s like a thirty-year-old mother and she’s going at me, so it’s the same thing. There’s a lot of absolute familiarity, I even told Hugh that when we were at Comic-con, ‘It’s weird, I don’t see you for these stretches of time and everyone has become so famous and they’re all doing their own things and yet it doesn’t feel any different than it did on those early X-Men films.’ That’s not just me saying it, it’s strangely too. The new cast is very different though. Jenn Lawrence I know because she was in a relationship with Nic so I knew her socially through Nic so I kind of knew her already and knew what her personality already was like so that was more comfortable. Michael and James are just actors I admire so much and I was extremely intimidated and even though I’ve worked with a lot of big actors I was very intimidated working with them. And knowing they’d done these characters, even though I was on set a bit during First Class I wasn’t directing them, so they’d done them for someone else and here I’m asking them to do more, take it to the next level with a new guy. But they’re really fantastically talented and they have a lot of ideas which I like, they really care about the characters, Michael is really trying to bring the character closer to McKellan and James enters the movie in a completely different place than he left the last one.
So how much do you think the percentage of you shooting 3D is in the film?
Singer: Most of it, the only stuff we don’t shoot in native stereo is complex action stuff. Complex stuff where we’re just trying to keep the camera more agile and we’ll post dimensionalize that, but anything dramatic or characters. Today is a very rare day where I’m shooting 2D because you can’t get the cameras, lenses, and rigs in the jet, but normally, we did an intimate scene in that jet that follows this scene where I actually forced the 3D cameras into the space. So this is rare, normally we’d be shooting native stereo.
Talk a little bit about coverage if you don’t mind, when you’re shooting, you were talking earlier, that when you’re shooting in 3D the rigs are so huge you only have one rig, are you ever doing any second camera for extra coverage just in case?
Singer: Oh yeah, yeah I do some. It depends on how much space I have. I mean the rig is this big, so as long as I’ve got some room here I can put another one, but in a jet I don’t want to try and put three cameras in at one time there’s just no way. So I figured I’d just use these, plus I’m using some wider lenses, which we don’t have with 3D.
Something we touched upon with Hutch and with Simon is it’s a very complicated X-Men movie. Are you at all worried or are you building in scope for people that don’t necessarily know everything to get caught up and to get into the story really easily if you haven’t necessarily watched every movie or read the comic books?
Singer: Yeah, in a Marvel way there’s like a recap of characters. We label characters. In the beginning we kind of recap everything. There are things, images we see that help people. It’s still is tied into the universe so it’s nice if you’ve got some familiarity but you don’t really need to know, you can be really entertained by the movie if you haven’t seen an X-Men film.
In the other X movies you guys have very consciously put little Easter eggs towards the larger X-Men universe in it but this movie is big enough that you almost don’t need that. Are you doing them anyway and when do you find yourself saying ‘this would be a good time to reference this person.’
Singer: There’s a little one I did with Quicksilver the other day, which was fun, which I just cute together. It’s cute; it’s one of those nods to the larger universe. So yeah we do a few.
Can you talk a little more about the process of shooting Quicksilver using the high-speed camera?
Singer: Yeah, with the phantom I can shoot over 3000 frames a second or something to that effect. So I’m doing like a variety of different things, high-speed photography, slow speed photography, just a bunch of different technologies, motion controlled cameras. So sometimes we’ll be at our own speed, sometimes we’ll be at his. So we’re using that technology and it’s all 3D technology so we can shoot all of that native stereo, even at that speed.
Lauren suggested that that is fairly eye popping in 3D.
Singer: Yeah it’s fun. He’s not in the movie a lot, he’s just sort of in one section of it but there’s a fun sequence, which will be fun to watch in 3D. Lots of stuff.
I know the studio’s already thinking about the next one to come, are you going to be directing or has that even be something that’s crossed your mind?
Singer: Yeah we’ve talked about it; there are a few ideas.
You mentioned a mash-up version?
Singer: Yeah, there’s part of me, I know I did, can I be honest? It was something I’d be thinking about in the last week or so because I’d just had a bunch of thoughts about something. You know as you’re shooting an idea pops in your head or you have a conversation about another universe and you start thinking ‘Oh wouldn’t it be interesting to see these.’ Is it right or is it pre-mature, is there an opportunity. I think for me it’s very much a time line issue, there’s certain things I’d like to see, it’s not necessary but I’d like to see us move into the next decade. The seventies is great, it would be great to take it into the next decade. The eighties would be fun to meet some familiar characters when they’re very young, maybe get to see how other characters besides Xavier and Magneto came to be and got their start. So that’s something I personally would like to explore, just as someone who has worked with those characters in other films, the earlier films. Then there is the possibility of that (Marvel Mash-up movie). I think we’re just going to finish this one, see how it feels and then get home and be in Los Angeles and at Fox, I’ll be cutting at Fox, and I’m sure every day I can wander over and have a conversation about what to do next.
It seems the attitude at Fox is different now about planning, moving forward.
Singer: I think they always understood that the X-Men universe is every bit as exciting and large and potentially fruitful as the remaining Marvel Universe. They’re different characters. The Marvel characters are very familiar, they have household names like the Hulk and Spider-Man, things like that, but that doesn’t mean the X-Men universe is any less rich. Time travel is something that is a staple part of the X-Men universe that we were able to explore, and a lot of great new characters. So at some point, it’s just doing it right, you can’t just whip up that formula and go “uh here is my Gambit movie and my Deadpool movie, this movie, and that movie, and they’re all gonna be hits!” You’ve gotta take care with each one. It’s different, they’re different, and they’re not household name characters that you’re smashing together. There’s like Avengers for instance, some of them are ensemble characters, it’s kind of a different universe, it’s more thematic, it’s like a more serious universe, and it requires a different kind of care that I think Fox is anxious to explore.
Talk a little bit about how technology is possibly help create or enhance some of the characters in the X-Men universe because obviously what CG can do now you can’t do 12/13 years ago.
Singer: Yeah, just a lot of things digitally that we can achieve. Powers, transformations, things that happen n the future that require a lot of visual effects that have to look really real and that we probably never could have done on X-Men 1 or 2. And also processes that I used on Jack the Giant Slayer, like simulCam which really help when you’re dealing with 18 foot robots or dealing with things that aren’t there that really help the actors, help me understand how they should interact with these virtual things and where I put the camera in relation to them. So that is also a relatively new technology that we’ve been using a lot of.
I saw on Jack that you did a lot of pre-viz, and Laura or someone was saying that you did a lot on this. Can you talk about how much pre-viz you actually did for this and how it might have changed when you were on set in certain conditions.
Singer: I probably pre-viz’d about sixty percent or fifty percent of the movie, because there’s a lot of dramatic stuff I don’t pre-viz. They try to pre-viz it, it’s funny, but now Third Floor their technology is so advanced over there, which is the company I go to, and plus I’ve got guys I’ve carried with me through the years who work with them or separately, and it’s so advanced that they have pre-vizes that they have performances that are like [Bryan makes weird noises]. So I try to show these pre-vizes to the actors and they’re like ‘would you like me to do it like that? Is that what you’re looking for?’ [laughs] When it’s very sophisticated stuff you don’t change much, you don’t change a lot from what is pre-vized because it involves wire rigs and lighting and interactive lighting and safety and it has to marry with the next shot. So if you start messing around with that stuff, but in between if there’s a line or something we’ll try it, but usually I try to commit to that pre-design, but again it’s only half the movie, it’s a lot of the action.
Simon and Nic both talked about the process by which on a day you might shoot a scene as written and there might be time where the actors can sort of play around with options.
Singer: Yeah, Yeah, I try.
Has that been your process on all of these movies?
Singer: On all movies, since even The Usual Suspects, which was very written and constructed but there were days when “mmm, let’s try this.” I call it workshop a scene. It’s like, there’s something missing in the scene I didn’t feel it. We shot a scene the other day we call it ‘The Tivo Scene,’ Nic builds his version of Tivo it records, but it’s full of dozens of tape recorders and it fills that room over there and he’s like ‘I build this little device’ and his monitoring the three networks because it’s seventy three, and Hugh says ‘All three?’ and he goes ‘And PBS.’ So he’s looking for material about this incident that occurred but we couldn’t figure out how to end the scene, there was something about the effect it had, without getting into specifics it just wasn’t there and we felt it wasn’t there and there was something there, and we basically said ‘lets throw a concept out.’ So I’ll throw a concept out like ‘what’s really on those screens, what are we looking at?’ Then Hugh had a thought of just referring to it and that helped the scene out, and that’s bringing the actors in. If you give the actors, these particular actors, a problem ‘I’m not getting something out of the scene’ and it’s the writing, we just don’t have the scene, if you give them the problem and just give them some key thoughts they can bring some great solutions to the equation too. So if it’s just not perfect, or I’m not getting all I can, I’ll open it up to them and say let’s talk about it. It’s fun to do that and we build in time to be able to do it, I’m pretty good with schedule, I’ve made a lot of these films so I know how much time I can afford to workshop. We did one day in the green box, we were having a discussion about something and the whole crew watched me and all the stars, the Oscar center, discussing and then eventually we came back to where we were in the beginning and that’s okay too. Not a lot of that, we’re pretty much on schedule. But on X2 I had that, they kept talking about Wolverine and Jean Grey’s relationship so for two hours I sat on a piece of wood while they’re building the X-Jet in the woods somewhere and it took me two hours to think ‘Wait these characters should kiss.’ It’s so simple, so I just ripped off Empire Strikes Back for that scene under the plane.
We see right here, the X, and we’ve heard there’s a lot of Xs
Singer: Yeah, John Myhre puts Xs everywhere. I always say that but I actually heard he’s very deliberately doing them on every set so I’m starting to find them. I’m like ‘Oh, look at that pillow, or that ash tray, or that thing.’ So yeah, that’s one that was pretty obvious, I actually didn’t notice but then when my friends come I’m like ‘Hey didn’t you notice? Lets take pictures in front of it!’
With each new movie it seems like you have to up the action, to improve upon the last one, but as your approach to action changed over the last 13 years or your technique?
Singer: Only that I can do more. With X1 I could only do so much, like I didn’t have the money, time, or ability to do a Nightcrawler sequence from X2 but on X2 I did. Well here now I wouldn’t have wanted Sentinel robots back then it would have been a nightmare, but now I feel comfortable having that kind of stuff to me. But to me I’m never going to be the kind of director I think who just has action adnaseum, or action and destruction ad naseum. I just don’t think it’s in me unless it’s motivated by the story and the characters. If it is then I will destroy planets, but it just has to factor into the story and the drama and stuff like that. So yeah I’m able to do a lot more and different stuff, and cool stuff that I haven’t seen yet, so there’s that. But it’s not just [makes explosion noises].
You’re friendly with Mr. Peter Jackson. He’s obviously using high frame rate, is that something you’re interested in or is 3D something you’re more interested in?
Singer: I don’t even think I’m that interested in 3D frankly, it’s necessary now, so if I want to have good quality 3D it’s good to be able to shoot in native stereo. Maybe down the line the technology for conversion will be so polished and so great that I won’t have any desire to shoot with 3D cameras. I don’t particularly like to go see 3D movies, but when I’m doing it I kind of do enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the image in 3D, there’s a childhood fun about being able to see those dimensions. With high frame rate it’s the same thing, when it enhances the image quality it’s exciting, when it makes it too clear or too vivid where it starts to look exposed, then I’m not as much of a fan of it. There’s some parts of The Hobbit where it enhanced the experience enormously, I mean I saw it at the premiere with 12-foot lamberts so it was bright as anything. But you know it’s interesting, if it pushes the image forward and makes the experience more exciting it’s a good thing, I just don’t seek to go see 3D movies.
Do you find yourself composing the frame differently for 3D?
Singer: Yeah, definitely, yeah you do. Jack I directed with the 3D monitors and the glasses and I did it there but I think what I did was I limited myself because I became so captivated and caught up with the framing for the 3D that I didn’t shoot as aggressively as I had in my previous action/adventure films. I wasn’t giving my editor the volume of material; he complained tremendously about it that I wasn’t giving him the coverage. He’s like “You’re better than this, you’ve delivered wicked shots and things that you’re just not giving me on this,” and I was like ‘Well Jack is a more traditional movie and stylistically it wasn’t supposed to be all whatever” but I also blame the fact that I was a bit distracted by the monitor size and by the 3D itself, so I made a commitment on this film to not direct in 3D but knowing that I have the knowledge of shots that work in 3D and shots that don’t. Like my DP pitched a shot where they have all these great murals in the Pentagon and we have a character walking through the Pentagon at night and they’re really cool murals and he’s like ‘Hey lets get a shot where we follow him like this,’ and I’m like ‘No, it’ll be him walking past blurs and strobes’ those shots just don’t work in 3D. If you want them to you’ve got to have everything moving towards you or backwards.
Simon told us that drafts never got over a hundred and forty pages.
Singer: Yeah he’s very cleverly typed that way, he’ll have one line ‘ACTION! Massive action ensues!” and you’re like Okay? Is this ten minutes of massive action, and then “The chase!”
So was there ever a point before he started working on drafts where you guys thought the movie was so big you thought you should go the Harry Potter route and split it in two.
Singer: I thought of that purely out of greed, but there was never a structure, or enough material to justify that. I just thought ‘Hey, cha-ching,’ but I think you’d end up blowing it; one of the films would suffer because of it. But no, it was always tight, the structure of ideas were tight, the original treatment was pretty tight. The movie is coming in it seems at about the time, and the last 25 minutes of it are just boom-boom-boom-boom, stuff happens that just builds to a thing.
One of the things that’s so important is we know that the movie is going to have action and big set pieces, but I think one of the reasons that First Class is so good and why people care about the X-Men is the characters and the dialogue between the characters and ultimately that’s what you’re going to go see. Talk a little bit about crafting scenes with these characters and make the dialogue sort of sit and memorable.
Singer: Since I started making films with The Usual Suspects, and working with Chris McQuarrie, I’ve been a nut for dialogue. When I first saw Star Wars when I was 12 years old, I came home and recited all of the lines from it. Before I talked about Death Stars exploding and Tie Fighters I was talking about how funny Princess Leia was and how sarcastic Han Solo was. So to me that’s always the most important thing, and I love hearing great actors say great lines, and these actors are fantastic. This is a more serious film than First Class, the characters we encounter them in very dark places, we have fun with that. It’s hard to see, don’t try to give them too much to say, just make what they say really strong. Like Michael Fassbender and I were talking about this the other day and he was just like ‘Give me less, but give me the idea,’ and with these actors when they say the idea it’s very strong. I also like language that paints a picture that to me is very important. Dialogue to me that paints a visual image, I remember we had a line in X2 describing the adamantium and Ian McKellan says, “The metal on your bones carries his signature.” Obviously the image it paints is a guy signing his name on a femur, yet it paints a picture of pride, of ownership, and of authorship on the Adamantium, and yet it was elegant as opposed to “He put the metal in your body!” which is the bad dialogue. So I try to find dialogue that paints a picture, and for this movie, particularly speaking to audiences that may not have seen or remembered X-Men: First Class or the early X-Men movies, dialogue that will take us back to who Raven was to Charles and who Raven became to Erik, and who Logan was to all these people in the future. It’s fun when you go back and Quicksilver says to him “Is he okay,” and he says “When I knew him he wasn’t so young” and immediately it paints a picture of some mature awesome dude in the future that Wolverine did whatever, but now he’s discovering this dysfunctional teenager.
Do you see any convergence between, in movies we have franchises and sequels building to interconnected storylines, meanwhile on TV we have a very noticeable evolution of the way storytelling is happening there. Are those things coming together?
Singer: I think television is moving more into movies, particularly with serialization and almost cinematic proportions and expectations. A show like Game of Thrones is a perfect example of that, or even a show like The Wire, which isn’t all about instant gratification it’s about inviting someone into the long experience of television the way you’d be invited into a theater for two hours. So I think in that way, and the quality of writing in television is probably much better than most film writing.
Could you see a point where film goes a bit more towards TV and maybe there’s still event films but they’re shorter and more episodic so almost this sort of thing where you think ‘Oh I could break First Class, I could tell it in two chapters.’
Singer: No I think the film experience will if anything go the opposite, you’ll be required to make a big long epic experience, so as not to be confused with the home viewing experience, to justify paying the $40 or whatever it’s going to cost for your kid to go see a movie in a movie theater. I don’t know if what Spielberg and Lucas were talking about will come into fruition, I think it’s very clever for getting smaller films out there, but there will always be people trying to differentiate ‘Why do I have to see this in IMAX? Why do I have to see this in 3D? Why do I have to see this in a theater?’ Well you do because it’s X-Men.
You’re filming here in Montreal, was there ever talk to be filming in another city? Did it ever come close to another place?
Singer: It never came close to another place. I loved making Jack in London, I love living in London and shooting there, with the exception of the drive to the studio which was very long, and I kind of dreaded shooting anywhere but London. Matthew and I got to do First Class in London so I thought ‘Oh we’ll go to London,’ and they said ‘Nope there are five shows in London’ and I said ‘Oh okay, where?’ and they said Montreal. I had prepped a movie that fell apart many many years ago here so I got to live here a little bit and it’s a really fun cultural, exciting town that I hadn’t got to experience making a film there yet, so I was kind of happy about that. In the end I’ve made a lot of great friends here, there’s a lot of great food, and it’s a good town, so I’d come back here.
You’ve also been prolific on Twitter, and releasing pictures and stuff for fans.
[Quick break while Bryan took our photo and posted to Twitter- so cool!!]
Singer: The reason for that is I’m very shy with social media, I’m very awkward about it, I’ve never been big on it or anything, but I made a commitment that if I ever did a movie again that had a big pre-existing fan base I’d go on Twitter. One because it’s nice to have a relationship with the fans, and two because it allows you to be connected to the fans in a way. I’m not on the defensive usually but more the reassurance, meaning when there’s a concern or a confusion about something, instead of having to call up a journalist friend or have a press conference or hope that someone clears up the confusion in some article you get to put it out there and control it. And you get to release images for instance that aren’t exclusive to one outlet but they’re shared by everyone. So if an outlet wants to write an article from their own point of view, they have access to your Twitter picture to support their article but if someone wants to pass it along or republish it or do whatever they want to it, they have access to it. So it gives me direct connection with the perception of the movie, so when fans say “No leather costumes,” I hired Louise who is brilliant, and the first thing they said was “Oh my god there’s going t be those leather costumes again” and I can just simply write “#noleathercostumes” or whatever I wrote and they’re all like “Yay!” We had on Valkyrie, we had something that really drove me crazy, and we had a lot of press scrutiny for whatever reason on that movie I did with Tom Cruise. So we were scheduled to come back and shoot this desert sequence for three days which was integral to the movie and they were like ‘The movie is in trouble, they’re coming back to do reshoots!’ and I’m like ‘No there’s just no desert in Germany, we’re coming back to shoot a desert sequence.’ So I could have defended it or just said ‘Guys, chill.’ So it helps with that, but I’m not defensive, if someone says ‘I hate this idea,’ I’m not going to be like “Retweet, Fuck you!”
At the same time does it let you get stuff out on your own terms there’s no paparazzi shot from a building somewhere.
Singer: Yeah, and sometimes there is, like one time Beast and Magneto were having some fight in a fountain, and that one literally I was about to take a picture of them an tweet them and I thought ‘You know what, This will be paparazzi’d.’ I’m shooting in super 8MM that day because we have these sequences that are shot on Super 8 and 16 as well because of the nature of the scene and I was like ‘I’m not going to worry about that I’ll let the paparazzi, cause I saw them in the bushes, it’s too late. They’re going to take a better picture than me, and I’m going to play with my 8MM camera and shoot material for my movie that day. I very consciously thought of that, but I did want to get one of Mystique out there before people started to chase her around. So some are more fun for that.
Did you see any change in maybe the way the paparazzi came after Jennifer or something.
Singer: Oh like before when she was a nobody and now she’s like the biggest star in the world? [Laughs]
But you did put an image of Mystique out before anyone else could grab something.
Singer: Yea there didn’t seem to be a lot of images of Mystique, I didn’t check a lot after that day of shooting, but there didn’t seem to be tons of pictures of her as Mystique on the street, it was more about Beast and the other guy. And they were some fun pictures, they actually were really dynamic.
As far as crafting the Sentinels I would presume they’re primarily digital.
Singer: We built one. We build one big one, You didn’t see it? It was laying over on the sound stage.
We haven’t seen it yet.
Singer: Oh it’s probably unimpressively laying on its side or something. But yeah when it’s standing up that’s why I took the picture of it I was like ‘This is cool!’ It’s always good to build one thing, I never got to do that on Jack, I wish I had built one giant. I know Peter built one Kong, just to have it as a photo reference and a lighting reference and to kind of super scan it for the CG, but yeah most of that will all be in the computer.
Well Legacy Effects built the Sentinel, as far as I know, and I’m curious what was your involvement with them because they’re really good at what they do. I’m curious; did they originally come to you with one look?
Singer: No, no, I had very strong feelings about all of the designs about the characters and very specific about what I was looking for, and they came with different ideas, different head ideas, different body ideas. Originally it had this round thing and then a big fan, and I’m friends with Guillermo so he let me watch Pacific Rim a while ago so unfortunately I had to say “It’s too much like those robots. I need something cruder, more seventies.” So I had them put in the vent on the chest, so yeah I tell them bits and pieces of what I want and the story behind the non-metal aspect of it and the internal aspect, then they bring stuff, different iterations and eventually they come up with a great look.
Originally you had a July release date and now you have a May release date.
Singer: Yes, there is only one person who isn’t psyched about that. One person who is utterly disgusted and devastated and infuriated and that’s Richard Stammers my Visual Effects supervisor. The rest of us are excited. It’s a very good date for us and also from a thematic sense, it’s a post-Vietnam movie, it deals with notions of war and the idea of war. It’s a darker story and a more tragic story of the X-Men movies so I think Memorial Day, there’s something about that date thematically that works, and it’s traditionally very good for X-Men pictures.