Riddick is clearly a passion project for writer/director David Twohy. The third entry in the series took its sweet time arriving to theaters, following 2004’s underwhelming The Chronicles of Riddick, but while that sequel has its fan, it didn’t stay in touch with what arguably made the first movie (Pitch Black) so appealing. Riddick isn’t a blockbuster character but an antihero monster slayer. We see the character return to those simple animalistic traits in the new film where he faces off against a batch of mercenaries and monsters on an unknown planet.
But it wasn’t easy getting there. Twohy more than likely could have made a bigger sequel with a PG-13 slapped on, but he set his sights on a dirty R-rated Riddick film. And we’re all the better for it.
Here’s our chat with Riddick director David Twohy:
Both A Perfect Getaway and Riddick seem like a “back to basics” approach to filmmaking. Was that intentional after Chronicles of Riddick?
It very much was the desired approach on A Perfect Getaway. I wanted to shoot something fast in 40 days and outside. This one was by force of circumstance, because we’re an independent movie and had a smaller budget. We crafted a story that would fit the budget.
What challenges did you run into with that smaller budget?
Well, when you do a studio picture all the paperwork and legal stuff is already taken care of! [Laughs] Everyone is always on that shit. With this I found out what happens when someone is not on top of that shit. I heard there were some problems with crew getting paid and the studio facility being paid as well. Suddenly we were shut out: the doors were closed; the locks were changed; and some of us wanted to get our laptops we left inside [Laughs]. That was because the lawyers didn’t finish the paperwork. If they don’t do that we can’t bond the film, which means you can’t close the bank loan. It was all there for us, it just couldn’t flow to us. We were shutout of our studios, had to run back to LA for two months, get all the paperwork right, and relaunch in Montreal. With low budget filmmaking you don’t have a studio step in.
With Below, you also dealt with problems that were out of your hands. How do you deal with a circumstance like that?
Yeah, you shouldn’t have to deal with that and I try not. My hands are already full writing and directing, because that’s a full time job. Actually, that’s why I don’t produce, as well as there’s already enough producers. Below was actually a smoothly ran production, as was this one. Once we started shooting it was a straightforward 48 days. A lot of good actors came to play, but just getting to that first day is tough. Now I understand why some movies go down and don’t get backup.
When working on a production like Chronicles, what’s the biggest challenge there?
At one point when I realized [a problem] when I went on the second unit stage. I always try to keep an eye on second unit, because you don’t want them shooting things you don’t need and that will cut into your footage. With that said, more and more will get thrown on the second unit, to hopefully keep up with your schedule. When I went onto the second unit stage and I realized they had a bigger crew than my personal crew [Laughs]. I felt something was upside down there! Why is that? I realized it shouldn’t be that way. There was something a little off about that approach.
I learned different when I worked with Ridley Scott. I worked with him on G.I. Jane and when I visited the set I asked, “Where’s Ridley?” They told me was up in the hut. When I went into the hut he had one camera, one light, and shooting closeups of bullets on a table. He wants to shoot everything himself, even the closeups.
Now having made two sequels and knowing people have an affinity for the character, do you have to consider those expectations in the writing process?
You do, but there’s such a diversity of expectations. I mean, some people like Pitch Black more, some prefer Chronicles of Riddick, and some like both or neither. There’s so much diversity of opinion out there, so ultimately you have to listen to it, put it aside, and make what you want to make. Up until making the first movie I was so snowed into filmmaking problems that I was just trying to get out of Australia with my skin intact.
[Laughs] How would you describe collaboration between you and Vin Diesel?
It’s almost effortless at this point. We do a lot of our talking upfront, as we’re developing together. Then I go away and write it. Vin made a few comments, which I incorporated. Before shooting I only did two drafts of the screenplay. You know, the more I do this I don’t have to write 70 drafts like a lot of productions do.
On the set we have a shorthand. We just go about our business. In post-production we didn’t have to test the movie, because we’re an independent production and we knew the story we wanted to tell. I don’t have a studio come in with a lot of notes, and sometimes a lot of silly notes. I did a cut I liked, showed it to Vin, read his comments, and changed it.
How do you deal with notes?
The only problem is when they come from too many people and too many sources. Inevitably they become conflicting notes, and that’s when you feel paralyzed as a filmmaker and problems occur. In this case, Vin so loves the character and trusts me, so we don’t have those issues. It was just him and I deciding the cut of the movie. I always appreciate small creative groups, whether it’s me and a couple of people at a studio or Vin and I. As long as it’s a small creative time, it’s good. If the team gets too big, then..I think doing a movie with two studio financiers would be a nightmare.
Do you recall the first time you and Vin Diesel met? Did you hit it off immediately?
No, we didn’t hit it off imediately. I remember he was going to come in and audition and then the casting director told me, “He’d like to talk to you on the phone first about the character.” I said, “Really? No one else is asking for that. Why doesn’t he come in and give me his interpretation of the character?” I got coerced into a conversation with him about the character before he came in to read. By the way, Vin Diesel was not Vin Diesel then [Laughs].
[Laughs] Was it a good phone call?
It was a little weird. [Laughs] It was a little weird, because it’s on the page and I want to see his interpretation. Sometimes if you leave yourself open an actor can bring nice nuances to a character. By the way, Vin didn’t audition great. Auditioning is not his gift; it’s more inhabiting the character is his gift.
Riddick opens in theaters September 6th.