LEN WISEMAN EXPOSES “UNDERWORLD”

So… vampires versus werewolves. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?
In short, it came about as an opportunity out of left field. I was taking a meeting at a different studio for an entirely different project. The project didn’t happen, but they really liked my reel and artwork and a lot of stuff that I had to show, and they called me after the meeting and told me that they were looking to develop a werewolf film and wanted to know if I would be interested. At the time, I really wasn’t too thrilled about doing a werewolf film as my first feature. I’m heavy into genre films and have been since I was like 13-years-old, but I’m not specifically a horror buff, and I was a little bit nervous about doing the werewolf thing.

You mean the familiar old setup of watching half-dressed women running from the wolves?
Exactly. I didn’t want it to be (one of those movies where) we’ve got this local sheriff in this small town and he’s tracking down these mysterious killings in the forest, and is it a dog or what? I wouldn’t be interested in seeing a film like that, so I sat down with it for a bit and thought, let’s find a different opponent, something that would be a danger even to a werewolf, and have fun with it. (My friend and screenwriting partner Danny McBride and I decided that) the best opponent for a werewolf is a vampire, so that kind of kicked it off.

As it turns out, there was already a backstory connecting the Vampire and Lycan clans.
I love the idea that the vampires and werewolves used to share an alliance. Back in the Dark Age, the vampires would look over the werewolves at night when they were more feral and out of control, and the werewolves would return the favor and watch over the vampires during the daytime when they were more vulnerable to the light. We weren’t able to get as much of it in the script as possible because you just have to cut stuff down. They shared this alliance together, and for some reason, that split up and they have been at war for centuries. In this movie, we find out why that split was taking place.

So, the werewolves were your entry point, but you seem to favor the vampires in the movie. Why is that?
We definitely didn’t want to approach this movie as though the vampires were automatically the good guys, while werewolves were the bad guys just because the werewolves are ugly. We wanted to play with it a bit. We assume people are going to think werewolves are bad guys because it’s a creature — and there are bad guys among them — but we wanted to be sure that everybody knew that there was good and bad on both sides.

This is an ancient rivalry that appears to be taking place in the present day. You chose Budapest as your backdrop, but introduce heavy-duty guns into the story. What was the specific effect you were going for?
I was obsessed with combining Old World with New World elements. I wanted a very classic vibe to a lot of the film to offset the actual characters, the vampires and the Lycans, so that you feel they are a bit Old World. They have a bit more of a classic vibe about them, the way they talk. We wanted to go a bit more “Interview with a Vampire” with the vampires, more Anne Rice than Blade. At the same time, I wanted the really slick weaponry, the cars and all the slick action that you get out of a modern action film today. You’ve got a really Gothic city, but all the modern gadgets are present.

One detail that really embodies that in the movie is that the vampires use marble busts for target practice.
Perfect example. That was definitely by design: Let’s do a really high-tech shooting range, but what they’re using for targets are these really old busts that you would find in some Victorian mansion.

So all this talk leads us to the inevitable comparisons with The Matrix, which in turn emerges from the same music-video background as you do. I wonder if you could weigh in on the subject.
I can definitely weigh in on that because it hasn’t just followed me in this film, but it has also followed me in my music video and commercial career because I just happen to like dark visuals. With the type of style that I like, people have always said, “Oh, was that influenced by ‘The Crow’ or The Matrix or ‘Batman’?” The thing that gets many people going in that direction is that there are not that many films that have a push-dark style. In the grand scheme of films, you have just a small select group that are like that, but most films share more of the same look than our films. If I’d just directed The Bourne Identity, I doubt I’d be sitting with interviewers and having them say, “Now the lighting style looks a lot like ‘The Fugitive.’ Harrison Ford was wearing a gray T-shirt, and I noticed that Matt Damon was wearing a gray T-shirt, too.” That doesn’t really happen because those movies have a “normal” look to them.

The interview continues in part three of LEN WISEMAN EXPOSES “UNDERWORLD”>>>




Posted on September 18, 2003 in Interviews by
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