Comic-Con 2013: Courtney Solomon on Getaway and Dungeons & Dragons
Courtney Solomon is the CEO of After Dark Films, which produces the “8 Films to Die For” series every year, as well as a run of “After Dark Action” last year. He also directs sometimes. His next film is Getaway, the upcoming car chase thriller with Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez. Solomon brought some behind the scenes clips of his stunts from Getaway to Comic-Con, where we landed an exclusive interview with him. We previewed the film and got into his history with Dungeons & Dragons, having directed the 2000 movie and remaining involved with the new plans for a proper D&D film. We also touched on the future of the Universal Soldier franchise and After Dark Films.
CraveOnline: Earlier this year, when I saw Fast and Furious 6, I said you won’t see a faster, more furious movie all year. Am I going to have to eat my words when I see Getaway?
Courtney Solomon: Well, we don’t have planes and tanks so there’s a difference there. You might have to eat some of your words when you see Getaway.
Good, I’d be happy to if you can deliver a faster, more furious movie.
I mean, let me be realistic. We didn’t have $170 million to make our movie, but we went and made a crazy, fast and furious ride that basically starts from moment number one and goes 120 miles an hour until the end of the movie. We really did the stunts in the movie. Nothing you see in that movie is CG. Everything is actually done, which is part of the panel we’re doing at Comic-Con tonight, to show some of the behind-the-scenes. We actually did it as sort of a throwback to Bullitt and the classic films because people really said, “Why don’t they make movies like that anymore?” As an audience, you can tell the difference if it’s CG or if it’s real. There are some stakes to it. It’s crazy, we killed 130 cars making this movie that are actually in the movie being destroyed as they go through this crazy ride.
Is that a record? What did The Blues Brothers do?
Wow, The Blues Brothers was a lot.
They wrecked even more in Blues Brothers 2000.
We definitely have a lot more than The Blues Brothers. I actually recently saw it. It was on HBO and I saw it on one of those movie channels. That movie’s insane and it’s funny, I love that movie but we definitely did more than that. The interesting thing is that ours has an intensity to it because there’s stakes. It’s a different storyline obviously insomuch as he really has no choice but to keep getting away from these police and getting away from the bad guys chasing him. There’s motorcycles, there’s cars, there’s super cars chasing him. So there’s your Fast and the Furious element because we run the gamut.
There’s different types of cop cars, the BMWs vs. the Opals so it’s intense. It’s a really intense experience. I’ll tell you what, doing the sound was equally as intense as shooting the movie.
Of course I’m using their language. I’m not talking sh*t about them. I just think it’s fun that a movie has to be both fast and furious. It can’t be just fast or just furious.
No, but I like that. I think it’s cool. I think it’s definitely cool. That’s a great franchise. I love what they did with that but we’re more akin, do you remember the original Fast and the Furious. They did all their stuff practically in that. Do you remember how different the movie felt, say, to Fast 6?
Yes, it was in the fourth one they started going more digital.
Right, after Tokyo Drift. So they were an inspiration to a certain extent but we had our own script and our own concept. We just decided to go for it. There’s no other way to put it.
Were there a lot of classically trained stuntmen employed on Getaway?
Oh yeah. I just finished the movie two weeks ago and the credit roll is crazy because there are so many stunt people and car people and tow truck people. Anything you can think of that would have to do with cars is incorporated into this movie, obviously starting with a Shelby Super Snake being a star with Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez. It was insane. There were three main guys from the US. One of the top stunt coordinators, Charlie Picerni.
He’s going to be at out panel tonight and his son, Stevie, was driving the Shelby in pretty much most shots and did some other stunts and his other son Chuck. These guys have done pretty much every major car movie or commercial or movie with car stunts in it that you could name. You come up with any name and they’ve pretty much done it. So we had them and we had a team of over 50 Bulgarian stunt artists. Those guys are fearless.
What’s an example of a stunt you’d always wanted to see that you finally got to do in Getaway?
I always wanted to see a car driving on a train that was exploding, but actually do it. And we did it in the movie. Literally, they’re driving along. The whole movie takes place at night. It starts in the day and it ends in the morning so it’s over one night, so we were always shooting through the nights and it was the winter. In Bulgaria, it was minus eight, minus nine Celsius in the winter so you would get black ice pretty much everywhere we were shooting and when you’re doing those stunts at 60 miles an hour, where cars are really crashing.
The day we did the train, which was my crazy idea, we had two full trains and the car is driving across the train. Now the actual width of the cars on the train itself are not much wider than the actual width of the car itself. So the element of error for the stunt driver is miniscule. If he goes the wrong way right or left, he’s going off the train and it’s a real bad accident and wreck because he’s going 60. We were salting the train because literally you couldn’t even walk across it. I was walking across as we were setting up the shots, and you were slipping. On a metal train, black ice is no fun.
Meanwhile, as he’s driving through it, there’s gas bombs in these other train cars that were exploding that he’s driving through. Literally, I would say he was going 50 and there’s another train car exploding. He’s driving straight through it with the gas bombs blowing up, riding this thing, covering his windshield and still keeping on. Back to your question, I always wanted to see a car driving across a train that was exploding. I didn’t realize how dangerous it really was and how difficult it really was to make that happen. Maybe CG might have been easier in that particular instance but we actually did it.
Is that in the trailer?
Oh yeah, part of it’s in the trailer, sure. There’s pieces of it in the trailer, then the car flies off the train and that’s in the trailer too.
You’ve been in the business for so long, has forming a directing career been more difficult than you anticipated?
No, not really. Forming a directing career, writing career, producing career in the movie business I think is hard for everybody. It’s the exception, not the rule, that gets to the top obviously. We all know that. But no, I directed my first film and then I directed my second film, American Haunting, and then I sort of diverted a different way and started After Dark Films and gave other filmmakers opportunities to direct films for four or five years, and built up my company so to speak so that I would have a bit more autonomy for the films I made myself in the future, then went back to directing with this film. I feel like I’m blessed and fortunate. I’ve had a fairly, as far as the movie business goes, easy time that way. Directing is a very hard job.
Your first movie was a very long-awaited adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons.
Of which there’s a reboot going on right now.
I know, we’ll get to that. Did you have frustrations on your first movie with budget, things you wanted to do but couldn’t, things you were forced to do?
First of all, the budget I always read is very misreported. But I had a ton of frustrations on that movie. Nobody really knows the true story of that movie, which I unfortunately can’t tell you right now for other reasons which I’m sure you’ve read about as well. That being said, let me just put it to you this way: The first one was not how I wanted to start my directing career. When I got the rights to Dungeons & Dragons, I was a player for many years before that, I always intended to have the movie made but be an executive producer. I was a young guy – I got the rights very young – and come to Hollywood, use it as an entree in Hollywood and learn. So that was my original intention with the first movie.
It didn’t pan out that way for many reasons that have nothing to do with the making of a good, bad or indifferent movie. They have everything to do with politics and corporate politics and money matters quite frankly. By default I ended up directing the first movie, not wanting to. I will let you know that there was one point when I first came here in my original plan, where I actually had it set that the team making the movie was going to be Jim Cameron, Stan Winston doing all the effects, Digital Domain at the time. This was 1993, seven years before Lord of the Rings even existed and I was just going to be a producer on the movie, but really one that sits on the side and got to learn from these super talented guys.
For reasons that have nothing to do with me and have everything to do with the people that own the property, it has been a thorn in my side for now 20 years. No matter who buys the company that owns Dungeons & Dragons, it always seems to be a thorn against just letting the best possible movie get made.
I never knew about James Cameron. Were you involved with the Steven Spielberg story?
No, that was prior to me. I think that was 1984. As I understood the story from people that worked at TSR, Spielberg came to them I believe and Gary Gygax wanted to have control over the project as the story goes and obviously that wasn’t going to happen.
You don’t ask Steven Spielberg for creative control.
In 1984, so let’s put it into context.
But you wouldn’t ask James Cameron for that either.
Some people would.
How’d that go for them?
Well, you know how it went for them. History is what it is. I could just say that there might’ve been a dinner where certain people were involved where the first question that came out of certain naive people’s mouths was, to Mr. Cameron, “What are your qualifications to direct this movie?” To that I say, I shit you not.
Do you have any stake in the new D&D reboot?
I’m the producer.
So is this going better?
As far as working with Warner Brothers is concerned, as far as this is going to be a $100+ million version of Dungeons & Dragons it was supposed to be in the first place, all of that was great. Warner Brothers is a fantastic studio. They obviously, between the Lord of the Rings movies and New Line, and all the Harry Potter movies, are the best studio around I think to make a fantasy franchise. They have a really interesting, good script for it that they’ve been putting together for quite a long period of time. So yeah, I think it could be a super cool movie and you can finally see that universe envisioned because there’s the money to do so. Right now it’s a question of who the filmmaker’s going to be to bring that vision to life and that’s up in the air at the moment. There’s obviously people that don’t want to see the movie get done.
Would Warner Brothers give a filmmaker creative control like they’ve done for people like Christopher Nolan?
Warner Brothers is an extremely collaborative studio and the executives there are extremely smart and work great with the best filmmakers out there so absolutely, they know where their strengths are and they know whose strengths to go to. That’s been my experience. I have Getaway with them right now and then Dungeons & Dragons and my experience is they’re a very good team over there. Smart.
I’m a big fan of the Universal Soldier series and I like where John Hyams has taken it. Where are you in thinking about another one?
Well, that isn’t actually my franchise. It’s other people’s franchises. I got involved with it in an executive producer way because After Dark gets involved with various different things. There’s some interesting plans which I’m not at liberty to discuss but they have a new direction for it, a new reboot that they’re working on, which I think John is supposed to be involved with. I think if they get it going, which it looks like they have a good shot to do, I think it’s going to be super cool. If the audience liked the last one, this one’s going to be bigger and hopefully theatrical.
Day of Reckoning was very divisive, as I imagine was intended. Is there also a mind to the people who didn’t like the last one would have something to hook into again?
I think so. I think so. I would say it’s more diverse. In other words, that it could attract the naysayers and the lovers at the same time. I don’t know, to be honest with you, John’s a very passionate filmmaker. He goes for the vision he feels is the right vision for the picture and you’re never going to get everybody that’s going to be happy when that happens, or any movie really.
Of course we can see how the series would continue with Scott Adkins, but are Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren interested in popping up again?
I think they’re going to try to reboot it as a fresh thing. So whether they have some piece in flashbacks, it’s possible but I did see an outline that didn’t contemplate that. I spoke to Van Damme the other day. I should’ve just asked him.
Is there going to be any more After Dark Action?
There might be but it’s going to be on a more limited and selective basis. We’re really moving into the direction of trying to do one or two theatrical horror movies a year now as opposed to the 8 Films to Die For. We want to do higher quality movies quite frankly, and in order to do that it’s just a matter of time. Do you divide your time amongst eight, plus five action movies which then fragments your time all over the place and you just can’t really do a great job on anything? Or do you divide your time between maybe there’ll be a directing project for me and two or three producing projects per year where we can really focus on those movies and really try to make some cool movies?
So there might be one or two smaller action movies as well. I love sitting in the action and the horror genre. Those are my fun, favorite genres. I love the sci-fi genre but the audiences just don’t seem to be responding to anything sci-fi. I’m curious to see how the new Riddick is going to do. I’m curious to see how Ender’s Game is going to do. I’m really curious but you know what I’m saying. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s a generational change or what it is, but they just don’t seem to be responding.
Well, they’re counting on new Star Warses.
That’s a different entity all by itself though. I don’t count that in what I’m talking about. I’m saying studios have made big movies and we’ll see. We’ll see, and we might have a surprise with the actual original Horrorfest brand and some new plans that we might put out with that.
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