Sundance 2013 Interview: WWE Studios President Michael Luisi

Sundance 2013 Interview: WWE Studios President Michael Luisi

Sundance is the premiere place for independent films and unique artistic voices, so there’s no better play to spend an evening with WWE. WWE Studios invited us to a private dinner to meet Michael Luisi, president of WWE Studios, and have some sushi and sake at Yuki Arashi on Main Street. We spoke to Luisi about the future of WWE Studios, including their reboot of Leprechaun and an animated Scooby-Doo WWE. Then we had some tuna rolls and edamame.

Crave Online: My favorite WWE Film by far is That’s What I Am.  Are you looking at those kinds of movies to keep making with WWE?

Michael Luisi: No, we’ve actually got a very different business model than that particular movie. I think it’s a wonderful film, I agree with you, but the type of movies that we’re making now are more in the genres of action, thriller, crime dramas. We’ve got a movie coming out in March, Dead Man Down with Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace and Terrence Howard that one of our guys named Wade Barrett is in. We’ve got a movie coming out in March as well called The Call with Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin and Michael Imperioli. We’ve got one of our superstars in it named David Otunga. So what we’re really looking to do is have a portfolio of films where we use our talent in a more strategic way that’s more organic to the movie. The movie still comes first and the movie will appeal to all audiences, whether or not they’re a WWE fan and even more so if they are.

Was That’s What I Am sort of a test if that kind of movie would work?

No, they’re really not related. That was a movie that was written and directed by the man who had this position prior to me so that was just a movie that he was passionate about and we wound up making.

I know about Dead Man Down. What is The Call about?

The Call is a thriller starring Halle Berry. She’s a 911 call center operator and she receives a telephone call from Abigail Breslin who’s been abducted and she has to figure out Abigail’s location and see if she can get her rescued in time. So it’s sort of an edge of your seat thriller shot in real time.

So are you looking at more psychological thriller as well as physical thrills?

Yes, definitely and I would say that Dead Man Down is sort of a crime thriller, so those are definitely genres that we think will appeal to, as I said, not only our audience but the broader audience as well.

You do also have a few franchises to keep going: The Marine, Behind Enemy Lines and 12 Rounds.

That’s right. Another big component of our strategy going forward is the extension of not only those franchises, but looking to participate in franchises with third parties that are not necessarily ours. We’ve got Marine 3: Homefront that’s coming out March 5 through Fox Home Entertainment. Mike “The Miz” is the lead in that one. 12 Rounds: Reloaded with Randy Orton comes out in June through Fox. We are doing a reboot of the Leprechaun franchise with Lionsgate. We are doing one of my favorite projects, although I’m really excited about everything we’re doing, but we are doing a feature length direct to home animated Scooby-Doo with Warner Brothers Home Entertainment where Scooby and the gang go to Wrestelmania and with the help of your favorite superstars they solve a mystery at Wrestlemania.

That’s kind of amazing.

Yeah, the reaction from both Scooby fans and WWE fans was staggering. People were just overwhelmed and excited. We got phone calls from moms saying, “My boys love WWE and now you’re going to create something that I can watch with them. I’m thrilled to see that.”

There’s a long history of Scooby-Doo. Do you inherit some animation with that and add some animation of WWE likenesses?

So it’ll be animated versions of our superstars. They’ve all voiced their own characters. We had fun recording sessions with everyone from Vince McMahon to John Cena to The Miz doing that one as well. Then the Scooby voices are voiced by the voice actors from Scooby, and there’s a tradition in Scooby of bringing in other iconic characters and personalities to the Scooby-Doo mysteries, so it was fertile ground and we’re just really excited about it. We think that’s going to be something that all of our fans can really enjoy, as well as all the fans of Scooby.

Would they have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those kids?

[Laughs] I guess they would have, you’re right. That’s always the question, right? The assumption is but for the kids they would have gotten away with it. Of course that favorite one liner is in ours as well.

If it takes place during Wrestlemania. Will it be out by Wrestlemania 2014?

It will come out right around Wrestlemania XXX, the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania, March 2014.

So is the Wrestlemania in the Scooby-Doo film going to mimic the real Wrestlemania that year?

No. No, no, no, because the animation process takes about two years from script to actual presentation to the audience, so we had to come up with a storyline well in advance of whatever’s going to happen at Wrestlemania in 2014.

There would have been no way to plan the Wrestlemania storyline that far ahead?

You know, I wouldn’t say whether or not there would have been no way, but we had our story and we’re going with it, but I can promise you there will be lots of fun tie-ins to the road to Wrestlemania all along the way.

How did the Leprechaun franchise end up with WWE?

Well, it’s controlled by Lionsgate and all of the movies that we’re doing now we do with co-producing, co-financing partners. I come out of 12 years at Miramax so I have a lot of relationships from the Miramax days and when I went out and pitched our new business model to the people I knew at Lionsgate, they said, “Hey, you know what would be kind of fun? Finding something to do with your guys with one of your superstars that revolves  around one of our existing franchises.” And I said, “I’ve got the project for you: Leprechaun, Hornswaggle.” Our talent Hornswaggle who will play the Leprechaun in the reboot of the franchise.

Will you have a role for Warwick Davis?

I think that’s still an open question. Maybe a cameo. I don’t know at this point. The script is still in development.

Would it take elements from any of the existing Leprechauns?

No, it is a true reboot of the franchise.

Will the tone be less cheesy and campy than the originals?

The tone is going to be a little darker, a little more traditional horror than the Warwick Davis ones that people remember, trying to find a way to please fans of that genre but at the same time this is really being played for scares.

How long before your Leprechaun will go into space or visit the hood?

[Laughs] You know, I guess it depends on how enthusiastic the fan reaction is to the first one that we do.

The Rock became such a big superstar, do you have any projects with him or is his movie career totally separate now?

No, he participated in Wrestlemania last year and he’s been involved with WWE events since then and I think there’s nothing that would please us or our fans more than if we could find a way to do a movie project with him. So “to be continued” on that front.

Was The Rundown a WWE film?

We were involved with it but I wouldn’t call it a WWE film.

I got the DVD of No Holds Barred for Christmas and I was very happy to see it with the WWE Studios logo on it. Was that a process to get that on the film?

I’ll tell you exactly what happened. I started at WWE and discovered that the distribution rights which had been with New Line had reverted to WWE and the movie had never been on DVD before, and I said to Vince McMahon, my boss, I said, “This is a movie that people know and love and if we were to go and spend a little time and effort to remaster it and put it out on DVD for the first time, I think the fan reaction would be staggering.” And it was. It overperformed my most optimistic projections and it’s still selling strong. It’s just a fun ride and fans love it and we’re happy to be able to bring it to them on DVD for the first time.

No Blu-ray?

You know, no Blu-ray now but given the reaction it’s certainly a conversation that we’re having. We’ll see. If the fans call out for it, we’ll consider it.