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Ex. Steven DeKnight on Pacific Rim future (and past), next projects & more!

06.08.2018

As a fan of the first PACIFIC RIM, I was excited to see where they would take the sequel and although I was disappointed not to have Charlie Hunnam back, PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING ended up being a really fun robot-smashing romp. Director Steven S. DeKnight was brought in to take the reins from Guillermo del Toro, coming off many successful TV gigs, including Marvel/Netflix's Daredevil season 1 and Starz Spartacus series. I talked with DeKnight for the blu-ray/DVD release of UPRISING and we tackled some interesting ground, including the choice to have most of the action take place during the day (as opposed to mostly at night in the first film), how he got the job, a first draft that featured Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Becket as the lead (and how they adjusted when he bowed out), plans for a third film and what that might look like and, finally, what's next on his agenda and his interests in comic book features. There's some insightful stuff in here, including his thoughts on doing big-budget features vs. smaller, mid-budget features and where films like that can live and breath in the future.

Paul: What initially drew you to writing and directing Pacific Rim Uprising?

DeKnight: Came completely out of the blue. I mean, I’d like to say that I pursued it for many years and finally got it, but that’s absolutely not the case. I was actually working with Mary Parent, the producer who went on to run Legendary. I had written a small, three-people-in-a-house Hitchcockian thriller and we had set it up at a studio and were in the process of getting it off the ground when she called me up completely out of the blue and said, “Hey, what do you think of PACIFIC RIM 2 instead?” which caught me completely by surprise. My plan had been in features to start very small, work up to medium and several years down the line hopefully get a shot at a big movie. It was never my plan to jump straight into a big movie.

I was a fan of the first movie, I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro, especially his Spanish-language work. I’ve been a fan since CRONOS. And, I’ve bought all his movie books and poured over them and studied them long before this came up. So, it was very daunting to take the mantle from Guillermo. And, one of the first things I wanted to make sure was that Guillermo wasn’t being forced out in any way and I was told, “No, no, no, we talked to him, he can’t do the sequel due to a scheduling conflict with a passion project that he’s going off to shoot, which ended up being THE SHAPE OF WATER.” So, that’s really how it came about. Like a bolt of lightning; complete surprise to me.

Paul: One stark contrast was that Guillermo’s film took place mostly at night, whereas Uprising takes place mostly during the day. Can you talk about that stylistic choice?

DeKnight: Yeah, very conscious decision. Guillermo did such a magnificent job in the first movie with his action scenes being at night, in the rain or underwater. My feeling was two-fold coming into it. One, there was no way in hell we would ever top that and any attempt would look like a cheap retread of what Guillermo did in the first movie. And, my other feeling was that it was done so well in the first movie, let’s give the audience something a little bit different in this movie so it doesn’t feel like we’re stomping on the same ground again. We didn’t want it to feel repetitive. So, we made the decision to do all the action sequences, except the attack on the Shatterdome, during the day, which created massive problems and concerns on the CGI side of things, since it’s a lot harder to hide anything in broad daylight. But, that was really where that decision came from.

You’ve got a great cast here with John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Charlie Day, etc., but notably absent is Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Beckett. Was there ever any talk of him being a part of it or was it purely a scheduling issue…

DeKnight: The first draft of the script, which I love, I thought it was just really, really great work by my two main writers at that stage, which was Emily Carmichael and Kira Snyder. Emily is co-writing the next JURASSIC WORLD movie and Kira has won an Emmy on The Handmaid’s Tale. So, I got two fantastic writers and we put together what I consider a very, very strong script with Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Beckett, the lead of the movie. Max Martini as well as Raleigh’s co-pilot. And, I set down and I met with Charlie Hunnam and pitched him the story, we were still working on the script, and he could not have been sweeter. I was really looking forward to working with him. And he just had to get the script and read it an approve it.

So, we finished the script. Legendary reads it and loves it. And I’m thinking this is gonna be smooth sailing, easy process, I don’t know why people complain about features. Literally, I go to bed, I wake up the next morning, I hop on Deadline, as I always do, and it’s announced that Charlie Hunnam’s doing a remake of PAPILLON and I look at the date and it’s the exact middle of when we have to shoot this movie and I thought, “that’s not good.” ‘Cause I knew PAPILLON was his passion project. I’m very he got a chance to make it. So, that threw everything into chaos, because we couldn’t shift the date, cause we were locked into other actors’ schedules and release date and, frankly, there was concern that-it’s long enough since the first movie, but if you wait six or seven years is anybody really gonna be interested?

So, we whipped up a completely different story that had some of the same action elements, but the two main characters were two new characters, a brother-and-sister pilot team. And, we whipped up that script and we looked at it and thought, “Eh, it’s okay, but it’s not as good as the previous version and something feels like it’s missing.” So, then the idea came up about “what about Stacker Pentacost’s son?” and brought in the writer T.S. Nowlin, who had done THE MAZE RUNNER movies. And, he helped form this Jake Pentacost story.

And, in that story-this was eventually cut out of the movie-you find out that Raleigh Beckett had died due to radiation exposure from when he went over on the other side of the breach. And, Mako got very sick from the same radiation, but because she was there a shorter period of time, since Raleigh ejected her, she survived, but because of that exposure could never pilot again. It really didn’t test that well and we always thought in the back of our head, “That’s the story about what happened to Raleigh, whether or not that’s actually what happened to Raleigh, we have some leeway with.” Whether that was a cover up story by the PPDC…cause the idea was always that we wanted to bring Raleigh back into the third movie. 

The ending of Uprising suggests that the next entry in the franchise would put the Yaegers on the offensive. Do you have a story idea in mind for a third film and can you talk about what it might be?

DeKnight: Oh, definitely. I mean, I can’t talk about it in detail, but when we were putting together UPRISING I was constantly taking notes about the next movie. One of the things I wanted to make sure was that we didn’t paint ourselves into an impossible corner where doing a sequel would just be problematic, story-wise. So, yes, there is a very strong idea that we have for the third movie if we get a chance to make it.

The only thing I can say is that it’s a bit of a putting-the-band-back-together. Obviously, at the end of this movie most of the world’s  Yaegers have been destroyed once again, so it gives a chance to redesign them from the ground up. The precursors have been beaten back.  Newt’s [Charlie Day’s character] still under control. That would play a huge part in the next movie. And the idea of taking the fight to the precursors; there’s a lot of fantastic ideas in there that I can’t really talk about, because Legendary would smoother me in my sleep. But, I hope they get the chance to make the third movie and if not, that they explore wrapping it up in a graphic novel or something, because we did leave on a bit of a cliffhanger and I would love for the series to get a firm ending.

Paul: You could potentially make these infinitely if you wanted to, even with spinoffs and what not. There’s a lot of potential with the franchise…

DeKnight: That was definitely the plan is to end the third movie where it blew the franchise up in such a way that you could go in many, many different directions.

Paul: You’ve worked on quite a few successful TV shows (Daredevil/Spartacus). Are there any other series’ in your future or is there any other property out there that you’d like to adapt?

DeKnight: There are. There’s actually many TV projects swirling at the moment. I’m in the process of finalizing a deal I can’t talk about for about two weeks, but there is a property in the-I’d say superhero genre-that’ll probably be my next thing. I’d like to dip my toe into some horror on the TV side and I’ve been dying to try some comedy on the TV side as well. I love television. I think what you can do in TV these days compared to when I started in the early 2000’s with Buffy is phenomenal. Because of the explosion of content, everybody wants and needs to take more chances for things that are outside the box.

It’s given us things like Legion and Atlanta; things that when I was starting out there’d be very little chance that something like that would get on the air and stay on the air. Now, with shorter runs and more content being needed it’s such an exciting time. I love television. I love that long-form storytelling. And, I definitely want to keep a toe in there while I also do features.

For features I want to go back to my small three-people-in-a-house thriller. And, I’d love to do big movies again, but I love these smaller or medium-sized movies. I hope places like Netflix and Amazon and Apple, when they’re up and running, really start to nurture those mid-budget movies, those twenty million or thirty million dollar movies, whether it’s dramas or science fiction or anything. You know, the kind of movies that the big studios don’t make anymore. Pretty much you make an eight-million dollar Blumhouse movie or you make a hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar spectacle.

Paul: So, is TV your next project or is it the smaller feature?

DeKnight: Probably immediately TV with features coming very quickly on that. I’d like to get some things off the ground in TV before I start my next feature. This [PACIFIC RIM UPRISING] was a massive, massive project that was 24/7 for two years. The next feature doing something smaller, it’s more like three months of intense time instead of two years.

Paul: So, fans are very curious about you being involved in a DCEU project. Is that something you’re interested in or do you have a specific character you’d like to tackle there?

DeKnight: Oh, of course, I mean, I great up reading comics all my life. I love the DC universe, I love the Marvel universe, those are my two staples. Yeah, I get asked this all the time, “Would you do a DC movie?” Well, of course I would! Who wouldn’t? Look, I have not talked to DC, I have not been contacted by DC, but yeah, of course. I love their roster, obviously I’d love to do a Superman movie, I’d love to do a Batman movie. I’m also really interested in things-I know they’re doing a TV series now, so that’s off the table-but Doom Patrol was always one of my favorites. If I had my druthers I’d tackle something a little less known by the mainstream on the DC side, which is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Doom Patrol. Comic book people and fans know about Doom Patrol, but the general public doesn’t know who the hell you’re talking about when you’re talking about Doom Patrol.

And even on the TV side-on the TV side I’d love to get my hands on House of Secrets and turn that into a TV show; to do something like that, a good anthology.

Paul: It feels like there’s more freedom in that…

DeKnight: Oh, much more freedom. I mean, look, let’s be honest, as great as it is to do a big, hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar franchise film, freedom is not a word that’s usually associated with something like that. There’s a lot of masters when you get to that much money. I’ll always remember when Rob Zombie was talking about doing THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and he had a great quote where [he said], “Freedom comes with a paycut.” Very true. But, y’know, I’d like to straddle both worlds. I’d like to do the smaller things to feed my sould and I’d like to do the bigger spectacles to feed the kid inside me, y’know the kind of movies I grew up loving. This is not me shitting on big movies at all. I love big movies. I go to see all big movies. There’s something magical about seeing a big Steven Spielberg movie on the big screen that, to this day, gives me the tingles as I’m sitting there and the lights go down.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING is now on digital HD and hits blu-ray and DVD on June 19th. Preorder HERE!

Source: JoBlo.com

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