Exclusive: Filmmaker David S. Goyer

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Having moved to the top of the ranks of Hollywood screenwriters with his work on Dark City, the “Blade” trilogy and Batman Begins, David S. Goyer has a lot of experience with dark, moody films. With the new dramatic thriller The Invisible, he’s made the full shift to directing, as the movie explores the mystery behind a teen named Nick Powell, played by War of the Worlds‘ Justin Chatwin, who suddenly realizes that no one can see him and then has to figure out what has happened to him.

It’s certainly a departure from Goyer’s superhero work, but it’s also more in the vein of his directorial debut, the indie drama Zig Zag, as ComingSoon.net found out when we talked to him about the origins of the project.

ComingSoon.net I was surprised when I found out that you didn’t write this movie, because I just assumed you had.
David Goyer: Yeah, I think everyone just assumes–you’re not the first–most people have assumed I wrote it, but I didn’t even rewrite it.

CS: I guess because we’re used to you as a writer, we just assume that you would want to direct things you’ve written.
Goyer: The irony is that I directed the pilot for “Threshold,” that series that was on two season ago. I didn’t write that, I didn’t write this, and the two movies that I’m attached to direct right now, I didn’t write either.

CS: Is this a conscious decision to move more towards directing and away from the writing?
Goyer: Yes, it has been a conscious decision to do more directing. I’ll always be writing, but really in terms of directing, because of the vagaries of the business, my model has been to write something for myself to direct, and also try to develop something at the same time that someone else writes. It just so happens that in the last two instances, the movies that got greenlit first were the ones that I didn’t write. It’s just funny.

CS: How did you get involved with directing “The Invisible”?
Goyer: Spyglass [the production company] approached me, I guess it was after the last “Blade” film. I was having a meeting with them and we were talking about the projects they had, and they mentioned this. I said that I’d be interested in it, because I had seen the original Swedish film that it was based on, which was never released here. On their list of projects, it was not one that they thought I would be interested in, but I was very interested in it. Also, it’s just nice to… once you do a big movie, everyone in Hollywood assumes that you only want to direct big movies then. “Zig Zag” was smaller, but Hollywood’s perceptions of people are very different. Once I had done “Blade,” in Hollywood’s mind, I was a big director, so then everything that I was being offered or developing were really big movies. Everyone just assumed that a movie like “Invisible” was too small for me now, I guess. I really admire what Guillermo del Toro has done with his career in that he’s just bounced back and forth between small movies and big movies, something I hope to emulate to a certain extent. “Invisible” never should have been a big film. It’s a smaller movie, and I was every interested in casting relative unknowns. Fortunately, Disney and Spyglass backed those creative decisions. Because we made it for a certain price, I had a lot of creative freedom that you might not necessarily have with a really large budget film.

CS: With “Blade” you had all those effects and the studio breathing down your neck, but what were the challenges of making this movie? I assume you didn’t have to deal with special effects this time.
Goyer: There are actually about 80 visual effects in the film. They’re more than people think, they’re not necessarily apparent, which is great. The first preview screening, we had mentioned to the audience that the visual effects weren’t finished and I heard some people talking afterwards, “I didn’t get it, I didn’t see any.” Which I love. Those are my favorite kind of visual effects. The primary challenges with this film were we made it on much smaller budget, a much smaller shooting schedule than something like “Blade.” Certainly, the budget of this film was a tenth of “Batman Begins.” The primary challenge and also what attracted me to the project is the fact that it’s kind of mixed genres. It’s a supernatural melodrama if you will, and it’s a fairly serious movie that’s aimed at teens or aimed at people in their young ’20s. Typically, movies aimed at that quadrant if you will are either goofy comedies or slasher films or things like that. There are very few movies that are more serious that are aimed specifically at younger people. You really have to think back to come up with… you think of “River’s Edge” or maybe something like “Crazy/Beautiful” or maybe “Romeo + Juliet” or something like that. You can’t come up with a lot. I really responded to the original Swedish film. It really stuck with me, I found it very haunting. The irony with this film is that if anyone has seen “Zig Zag,” they won’t think it’s a stretch that I did this movie, “The Invisible.” If anyone sees “Batman Begins,” or any of the “Blade” films, or “Dark City”, they’ll say “What?” They would never think I would have directed this film, but that’s cool That’s what I want.

CS: The original Swedish movie was written by a Scottish writer, based on a Swedish book, so was he involved in adapting it into English for your movie?
Goyer: Yeah, a very bizarre genesis for the project. (laughs) Oddly enough, the Scottish writer had written the original script in English and it was translated into Swedish, then did the first adaptation of his own script but he had departed from the project before I came onto it. He definitely had laid a great foundation. Originally, Spyglass wanted me to rewrite it, but I really felt that I wanted a woman writer to take a whack at it, that it needed a female perspective. One of the other things the movie does that is unusual for an American film, it’s more prevalent in European films, is that the focus of the film gradually shifts over the course of the narrative from one character, Nick, to another character, Annie. The protagonist actually changes, and the second half of the film really becomes her movie and I really wanted a female voice helping me with that.

CS: Having written so many scripts then handed them over to directors to do their thing, how did you approach being on the other side? Did you work closely with this other writer?
Goyer: I certainly worked very closely. I would argue, being a writer myself, that as a director working with someone else’s script, I’m probably more sympathetic to a writer than maybe someone who’s purely a director, because I understand the process. I wanted, in this case Christine Roum, in Vancouver with me the whole time; I really wanted her on set. I like that dialogue. I think that’s often how you get the best movies, when you have another voice in the mix. I think that’s where some of the best work comes from. Certainly, that’s what Chris Nolan had said when he brought me on “Batman” is he wanted someone to bounce ideas off of and to challenge his own ideas, and he would challenge mine. I think that creatively that’s the best way to work.

CS: It’s good that on your last two big movies, “Batman” and “Blade II,” the directors were also writers, so maybe they could understood that aspect of it.
Goyer: Yeah, and sometimes I’ve read, “Guillermo rewrote [Blade II]” and I’m like, “Really?” ’cause I was there the whole time and he didn’t do any writing on the movie. Obviously, he’s a writer, but we worked together, but I think that’s where the best work comes from. I would come up with something, he would challenge me, and vice versa.

CS: I always felt that making movies should be a collaboration and it’s always odd when you have these writer/directors making all the decisions, because that’s how you end up with 3 hour movies because they’re too precious about their words to cut anything.
Goyer: I don’t really believe in the auteur theory. It’s a little ridiculous. Even in movies that are quote-unquote auteur films, it’s such a collaborative medium anyway. So many ideas come in from the production designer or the editor. I believe that a director’s job is to direct and to empower the people working with him. I’ve always said that I’d much rather hire someone who’s better at their respective job than I am. I want to hire an editor who’s better at editing than I am. I want to hire a production designer who’s better at production design and hopefully guide them, that’s who you get the best work out of someone.

CS: There’s also the collaboration with the actors. Justin was obviously in “War of the Worlds”… how did you end up casting him?
Goyer: Justin came in and auditioned. We saw every young actor in Hollywood practically. It was a script that had gained a lot of traction among young actors. A lot of people wanted to do it, because it takes these characters into pretty extreme directions. It offers these actors an opportunity to do something you don’t get to do in a typical Hollywood film. Everyone came in and auditioned. He’s a real revelation, people are going to be blown away by him. He was great in “War of the Worlds” but he will become a movie star after this film.

CS: I assume Christopher Marquette isn’t doing his usual comic sidekick thing in this movie?
Goyer: No, Chris is great. I’d been aware of him in other movies and on TV shows, so I had actively pursued him and asked my casting director to see if he would come in for it. He’s an incredible actor, and then Margarita Levieva is the real discovery in the movie. People will be talking about her after this film opens. She had been in virtually nothing. She’d been in one guest-starring role on “Law & Order”, nothing else. She’d just moved up from L.A. and she plays Annie in the film, and she is just going to blow people away.

CS: You mentioned this is a movie geared towards teens, but at one point, didn’t you have a problem with the MPAA in getting an R-rating?
Goyer: We got a PG-13 and it was not easy. (laughs)

CS: I’ve been seeing that a lot lately with movies that would be important for teens to see because it deals with their issues, but they get an R-rating making it harder for them to see it.
Goyer: Well, that was my primary argument. I really wanted teens to see it. It’s a double edge sword, because if you try to make a serious movie about serious issues that involves teenagers… We deal with teen suicide in this film, drug use, potentially a relationship between someone who is underage and an adult, all sorts of things. It’s done very tastefully, and it’s not graphic and a lot of the stuff is simply implied, but by its very nature that tends to push it towards an R, which is unfortunate, because obviously, so many teens really deal with these issues. It’s this strange paradox. Fortunately, we arrived at a solution that artistically, I don’t think I had to gut my film in order to get there.

CS: I’m kind of bummed I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, and since Hollywood Pictures doesn’t usually screen their movies for critics, I probably won’t get a chance to.
Goyer: It’s funny, ’cause I really wanted them to screen it for people, because the people who have seen it have liked it, but they don’t like showing their movies.

CS: I’ve gotten mixed reactions when I asked directors about this, because some don’t want people to see it early because they feel they’ll spoil the surprises for anyone who reads the reviews. It’s a strange world right now where movies are just thrown out there like this.
Goyer: Look, it also depends on the film, but in this case, I’m very proud of this movie. I’ve screened it in front of enough people and the reaction has been consistent enough that I think people are going to like it.

The Invisible opens this Friday, April 27. Check back later this week for video interviews with the cast of the movie.

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