Comic-Con Exclusive: Talking Resident Evil with Director Paul W.S. Anderson

Although director Paul W.S. Anderson was making movies for many years before he tackled Capcom’s Resident Evil as a film, that’s the movie he’s become the most closely associated with, having written all five movies and directed three of them.

This September, the fifth chapter in the series, Resident Evil: Retribution, will open nationwide September 14th, bringing back not only Milla Jovovich’s Alice but a lot of characters from the previous installments – many of them who are dead – as well as introducing Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) and Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) from the games.

Even though it may not seem like the movies have gotten that much bigger in terms of business since the first movie in 2002, the previous movie, Resident Evil Afterlife, which was the first one filmed in 3D, became a nearly $300 million global phenomenon. That may be why Resident Evil: Retribution is boasting its own global initiative as Alice and friends end up travelling to a lot of different places outside Raccoon City in this one.

Both Shock Till You Drop and have interviewed Anderson many times, but for one reason or another, this writer has never had a chance to even meet him, so it was cool to finally be able to meet and talk to this master of the horror and video game movie genre. So how many times have you been at Comic-Con, eight, nine?

Paul W.S. Anderson:
Ah, it must be into double digits by now, yeah. But I used to come to Comic-Con just as a fan back when it was comics. [laughs]

Shock: “Resident Evil” is an interesting thing, because you’ve been making movies for a while but you jumped into the franchise roughly ten to 12 years ago, so you must have a pretty good relationship with Capcom and they must give you quite a bit of freedom with what you can do in the movie.

Well, the first thing I did when literally when the ink was dry on my contract to direct the first movie is I got on a plane and I went to Osaka, which is where Capcom is based. I met with everyone from Capcom and talked to them about my vision for the movie, and they gave me their ideas, and we’ve had a very kind of open dialogue since then. They are involved in all of the films. They come to the sets. They always give me kind of advance notice of what’s going to be in the new games. They show me scenes and things like that, so that’s why some of the locations that are in the movie directly relate to the world of the videogames as well.

Shock: Were there any characters or anything that you’ve been wanting to get into the movies over the years that you finally got in this one?

I actually wanted to bring back some characters. I mean, that was the big thing for me. Milla jokingly referred to this movie as “Resident Evil: All Stars,” but I think it’s not a bad description because it’s really kind of the best characters from the videogame meet the best characters from the movie franchise, whether the people from the movie franchise were dead or not.

Shock: I guess Michelle is one of the main ones who is back now.

Yeah, we brought Michelle back, Oded Fehr came back, who got blown up in the third movie, Colin Salmon, who got cubed rather memorably in the laser corridor in the first movie, he’s back as well. Then, also, from the videogame, there’s a couple of characters, Ada Wong and Leon S. Kennedy, who the fans have been asking to see on film for a long time now, so we’re very excited to have them in the movie.

Shock: You started to go global with the last movie, and I understand that this one is even more so, getting away from Racoon City to show how the whole world has been infected.

Well, the last movie, in terms of scope and size, had a big leap I thought, but essentially the last movie was a siege movie–most of the movie took place in the Prism. So this movie truly is a global film. I wanted to make what I felt was the first truly epic post-apocalyptic movie. To that end, we went to Tokyo, we went to Moscow, we shot in Washington D.C.. We shot in Times Square in New York City. We really traveled all around the globe to kind of capture a look and a feel and the kind of scale that I think we’ve never had in the franchise before.

Shock: Are you still going to have horror elements in the movie, because I remember the game being pretty scary.

I think as the franchise moved increasingly towards big action, there was a tendency for the films to be not so scary. I’ve heard that from a lot of the fans, they loved the scares that were in the first film. I made a conscious decision to make this movie truly, truly terrifying, and I think there are better scares in this film than there have been in the rest of the franchise. I mean, I’ve seen the movie play with people who’ve never seen it before—even some of the crew, who’ve watched the film, and they’ve read the script and they know what’s going to happen—and people are literally jumping out of their seats. It’s a scary, scary film.

Shock: While some directors have done trilogies, there are many filmmakers who don’t necessarily feel the need to do sequels to their movies, since they want to do different things. You didn’t direct the second and third movie and then you came back for the fourth movie, and you’ve stayed involved, so why was it you decided to keep going?

I love “Resident Evil,” and maybe I would’ve directed the second and third movies. I wrote them and I produced them. Certainly on the third movie, I was a very hands-on producer. I was on the set every single day. The reason why I didn’t direct those movies was always due to scheduling conflicts with other films. When you make films with multiple studios, 20th Century Fox don’t care that you’re making a movie with Sony and vice versa, so sometimes my availability was an issue. But I love the franchise and I would love to stay involved with it as much as I can. They’re awesome movies to make. As always, anything that involves kind of a lot of blood and horror and violence, usually there’s an inverse relationship. As the more horrific a movie is, the more fun it is to make. Often, the most unpleasant movies, people find are comedies, that are supposed to be a lot of fun, but end up being pretty tough films to make.

Shock: So do you feel like you’d want to do another “Resident Evil” movie after this or do you feel you always have to do something in between?

However it comes. I mean, there’s no real kind of plan to do one and then do something else, then do another–it’s more kind of organic than that. It may look like a planned thing, but like a lot of things in the film industry, there’s no real plan. (chuckles)

Shock: “Three Musketeers” seemed like a nice departure to do in between.

It was definitely a fun thing to do between two “Resident Evil” movies, something that was a complete change of pace, yeah.

Shock: You also directed the “Death Race” movie, which also has turned into a franchise, whether or not you’re involved with it after you directed.

Well, I’m definitely involved in “Death Race.” I’ve written the outlines for the second and third films, and I’ve produced both of those movies as well. I’m pretty hands-on on the franchise. We just finished the third movie “Death Race: Inferno,” and Ving Rhames is back, Danny Trejo’s back, Luke Goss is back.

Shock: That was shot in South Africa, right?

That’s right, yeah, and the desert in South Africa it looks epic—until people can go see “Fury Road,” also shot in Africa, I think “Death Race” is going to hold them over.

Shock: I just saw “Dredd” a couple nights ago and that was also shot in South Africa and the environment was really distinctive.

Yeah, it’s amazing. I mean, the third “Death Race” movie really has just an epic feel to it.

Shock: Do you have anything in development that you’ve wanted to get going on? I know you’ve been developing a movie based on “Castlevania” that’s been up and down so is that something you still want to do?

Watch this space for “Castlevania.” It hasn’t gone away. It’s something I’ve been very keen to do for a long time, and it’s had its ups and downs, but hopefully I’ll have some news about that soon.

Shock: Videogame movies is a genre that’s gotten a bad rap, but you’ve done pretty well with them actually. What do you think is the key to doing videogame movies?

I think it’s a tough genre, I mean, I really do. I think studios look at videogames, and they love them for all the wrong reasons. They love them because they feel like they’re a pre-sold title. People know the name, and they think because they look like movies, you look at all the kind of animated sequences and the cut sequences, you think, “Well, it’s like a movie. How difficult can it be?” Of course, it’s difficult. I think what people neglect is you have to really have an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, of the intellectual property that the movie is based upon. I think, quite often, studios and filmmakers treat videogames with a great disrespect. The amount of filmmakers I’ve heard who are promoting their videogame based movie and go, “Well, I never played the videogame,” that’s kind of like doing “Anna Karenina” and going, “Well, I never read the book.” How can you expect to make a great movie? I think that’s one reason. When I first came to Hollywood, my first American movie was “Mortal Kombat,” and at that point, people in Hollywood said, “Well, videogame adaptations just don’t work,” and they pointed to “Street Fighter,” “Double Dragon,” “Super Mario Brothers,” and the list went on. I made what I felt was a fairly obvious observation, which was, those were bad movies. You have to make a good movie. I mean, just because it’s a successful videogame doesn’t mean it’s going to become a successful film. If you look at the strike rates of videogame movies, it’s very low. There are very few that do turn into franchises. Often, those franchises are not very long running. You have to make good movies, and that’s what we try and do with the “Resident Evil” films. We have a committed cast and crew. Milla, Michelle, these people put a lot of energy, passion, and love into these movies, and I think that shows.

You can also read what Anderson said about a possible crossover between the Resident Evil and Underworld franchises here.

Resident Evil Retribution opens everywhere in 2D, 3D and 3D Imax on Friday, September 14th.