|Kurt Wimmer in Austin,
-- Alicia Vogel,
| The Article
who leaves this room I’m going to kick their ass,” Kurt Wimmer said
with a grin to the students at the packed crowd at the University of
Texas at Austin, Saturday, April 9, 2005. When the UFA staff left, he
added, “The UFA officers are gone, let’s fuck this room up.”
And he wasn’t kidding. We were treated to a preview of the trailer for
his upcoming movie “Ultraviolet” as well as an action scene from the
film. He apologized for the some of the digital effects not being
finished, and said “there were some rough edges.” However, in my
opinion, the rough edges of the trailer were about on par with the
first trailer of “The Hulk.” The action sequence shown was reminiscent
of Equilibrium’s sword fight in DuPont’s office, but a much more
flamboyant style. Wimmer said that the martial arts in it were based on
wushu mixed with other styles. As I told a friend of mine the next day
at dinner, picture gun-kata strategy mixed with caffeinated wushu.
Action fans, you may start drooling now….
Wimmer himself oozed sincerity, and had a natural energetic charisma.
He welcomed questions due to his own lack of mentorship and kept
encouraging audience interaction. A student in private conversation
after the final panel told him he was gratified that he would answer
them so straightforwardly and honestly. He said he couldn’t picture
what others would have said. The student said that he’d ask other
“industry people” questions such as how they got into film and the
answers would be very vague such as “Well, I went through the chain and
worked my way up.”
The following is a summary of topics and questions covered in the two
talks Wimmer gave at the conference, and the panel at the end. Answers
are paraphrased due to a lack of a recorder. Quoted material is his
words that I managed to capture to paper.
How was filming Ultraviolet since you had a bigger budget?
It didn’t have a bigger budget. EQ’s budget was 20 million dollars,
Ultraviolet was 33 million dollars which is an insanely low amount for
a sci-fi movie with as many effects as it has.
On Ultraviolet in general:
“Ultraviolet took twenty years off my life.” He said they chose to
shoot in Shanghai…and said it was an amazing city because it is
Mainland China’s push to create Hong Kong’s equal. Due to the budget,
they needed a first world city with a third world workforce in order to
pull off the look of a futuristic sci-fi film. Visually Shanghai did
create the foundation for the look of the film; along with the modern
buildings there was immense poverty. The language/cultural barrier was
huge. Wimmer indicated that the language problem was vastly
underestimated because when they shot Equilibrium in Berlin and Italy,
there were enough fundamental concepts that Americans share with
Western Europe to communicate. But, he added, “try finding a bathroom
in China. Try it. You’re basically going to have to pull it out and
show them.” Another obstacle was that the Chinese film industry
typically shoots with straight locations so they were unused to the
idea of building sets.
In a discussion after the panels, he mentioned that Ultraviolet was
written to be especially visuals heavy in order to sell the film
Does Equilibrium have the highest body count of any film?
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “I hope so.” He said that Ultraviolet
topped Equilibrium’s body count, so not for long. The trailer had been
shown before this point, so his answer elicited laughter.
Questions on Equilibrium’s lack of distribution:
Columbine had a huge effect on the film industry. You can’t put guns in
trailers anymore. “Sin City had 23…I counted them, but they aren’t
firing.” In Equilibrium they are always firing, because “When Preston
has a gun out, he is shooting.” After Dimension broke even with the
world distribution rights, they decided to release it here how they
did. “I was heartbroken at the time, but I’m not bitter. Equilibrium
did what I wanted it to do, which was to get another movie.”
Is he worried that Equilibrium is his one-hit wonder?
“It was my one hit failure.” His thought after the film’s poor box
office distribution and results was “I’ll never direct again.”
On filmmaking and the question: “What’s the hardest task you find as a
Before this question, Wimmer had said to the audience: “How many value
your soul?” Nine-tenths of the audience raised their hands. “How many
don’t?” Four people raised their hand. He said, smiling “Four people
are going to make it.”
The hardest task is politics. As a director you are guilty until proven
innocent. Film producers are cynical and almost want to see you fail
because they get paid anyway. You have to be a bulwark against all the
doubt and gossip. “I navigate through information.” He elaborated “Be
the person with all the answers and make sure they are the right ones.”
People want to be led. You may not think so but after a grueling day
people just go “just tell me what to do.”
Wimmer further advised to learn about as many things as possible about
film jobs. This way when a guy tells you the lighting can’t be done a
certain way; you can say, “Bullshit! It can and I’ll show you how.” In
the case of Equilibrium, it wasn’t until he finished the film that some
people finally understood what he was trying to accomplish. “Process
will crush you if you are not strong.” He added that in terms of
filming, that “Equilibrium is probably the purest movie I’ll ever make.”
Questions regarding Film versus HD (High Definition Digital Video):
Equilibrium was shot on film. Ultraviolet was shot on HD. Unlike some
of the hype, HD is not any easier than film and has many of the same
problems, but it’s cheaper. But, he wouldn’t go back to film. The
resolution and the quality will only get better. He was asked if he
liked the look of HD. “There is no look,” he answered.
How does he feel about working with CG?
He said he
didn’t really like working with CG, as it’s not photorealistic yet--but
it will be. Right now the industry is still in its infancy. He said
that it does take away some of the storytelling ability to some degree.
However it will “save your ass.” It makes great looking trailers, and
unfortunately that is what is important in the film industry right
now…cool trailers and opening weekends.
How do you
You don’t get
to choose, as you are really in more of a committee sort of position
where everyone tries to agree on a person. Movies do live and die by
casting. Marketing actually has determined the amount of money a
certain actor/actress can bring into a film. For Equilibrium, “the
smartest decision I made was casting Emily Watson” (he mentioned her
Oscar nominations.) “After she was cast, everything else fell in line.”
When he wrote Ultraviolet, he wrote it with Milla Jovovich in mind. He
further explained that she is one of the very few women (and he
apologized to the women in the audience) that can pull off portraying a
killer. He goes “Anyone see Elektra?” No show of hands. He laughed and
said no wonder that film didn’t do well. Personally he didn’t buy
Jennifer Garner being a killer. But Milla, he said, is “a killer
Ukraine.” He recalled that on the set he asked her to punch him
expecting to get it in the stomach and she gave him a black eye.
being an actor is easy, that “it’s all chocolate and flashbulbs.”
People don’t know how much it takes for an actor to do emotional
scenes…and for them to do it again and again on each take.
catalyst for writing?
“It starts with
a feeling.” He indicated that it usually starts with himself. His
intention is to have written stories that will have moments that have
made people stand up and cheer. Ultimately, he wants people to come out
of the film desiring to become a better person. He advised to put truth
into the story. His opinion is that there is too much manipulation in
film (For example, token kids or dogs put in films for marketing
reasons.) He emphasized several times to write what you feel.
people to write, as writing is a form of editing. It’s difficult to
balance the nexus between a story that maybe only you care about and
for what an audience would be interested in. Wimmer also writes for
visual interest. He invented gun-kata for Equilibrium to give it the
visual dynamics in order to give the film something to look at.
When he first
started writing scripts, he would get asked to direct them. Being the
writer it puts you in a much better position to make the necessary and
inevitable day-to-day changes to the script.
In general, to
him writing is a form of therapy. He said he has stacks of scripts,
some of which he wrote for himself and just sit on a shelf. Equilibrium
was one of them until a friend of his, producer Lucas Foster, saw
interest in the script.
“There is no
such thing. People who get writer’s block are people who don’t know the
end.” The end is the point, and everything leading up to it must lead
into it. Wimmer can’t stand it when Hollywood have endings re-shot.
“The story is the most important thing. If you have a good story, you
can get away with just having reasonable actors.”
about some of his writing projects he said the Thomas Crown Affair was
pretty much how he wrote it. He enjoyed adapting it to work within a
modern relevance but still keeping essence of the theme of the
original. On Sphere, however, he was the first writer, and said that
none of his work came through in the resulting film.
significant experience for him as a starting director:
off the first film I worked at.” He said it was for incompetence and
that he was making a different movie than he was hired for. Instead of
making a “good” film, the backers wanted a straight-to-video movie to
be packaged in an attractive box. (His term for it was “video box.”)
His biggest mistake (referring to the incompetence) was in not
understanding how to block shots visually in order to convey the story.
What are the
five best movies to watch for beginning directors?
He learned more
from bad movies than good movies. “Watch everything.” From this you
learn more on how you make movies. Wimmer lamented the recent lack of
directors who have their own discernable style. “When you saw a DePalma
film, you knew it was DePalma…now everything looks sort of generic.” He
added, “I get off on the visuals. Seriously.”
What films in
the future would he like to make that wouldn’t be in the action genre?
He would be
interested in films that were more of a “Primal Fear meets Silence of
the Lambs” thriller. He has a script he would like to film called
“Lovebirds” which is based on a real-life married serial killer couple
in the 1970s.
Would you be
interested in working for TV?
indicated an interest in doing more NC-17 type films, instead of going
to TV, which is the opposite direction. In addition, to him films are
“About the ending. About destiny. Serial TV is made without ad end in
sight.” He would “write and produce, sure, there is a lot of money in
it.” But Wimmer said he wouldn’t direct it because there isn’t enough
time in a television production schedule to do the quality of film he’d
like to create.
Did you think
Christian Bale is Batman because of Equilibrium?
“I think I got
him the movie.” He made a wager with Bale during Equilibrium saying
that he would bet $500 that he was going to play Batman. Bale took it
thinking he “couldn’t lose.” Later, Warner Brothers requested for a
copy of Equilibrium to review. When Wimmer heard that Bale did get the
role “I thought, that motherfucker owes me $500.” He laughed and did
quickly add that to Bale’s credit he did call and said he lost the bet
and owed him the money. Wimmer replied not to worry about it and “that
he was glad he got the part.”
thumbnails for full images...
very special, heartfelt thanks to both Alicia Vogel for being our eyes
and ears at this event and to the UFA, University of Texas, Austin for sponsoring