Priest Set Visit Report - Scott Stewart

Priest Set Visit Report - Scott Stewart
Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet & Lily Collins on the vampire movie PRIEST 3D, opening in theaters nationwide on May 13, 2011.
Updated: 05-07-2011


Q: Looking at the vampire designs, and the vampire movies. In a lot of ways these sound like vampire kind of creatures that could be called almost anything. They have vampiric aspects is that like you're trying to sort of separate yourself from the current wave of vampire films in that way?
Scott Stewart:   It wasn't conscious in the sense of saying that I just don't want to do it. You've got to go to Cory's script originally they are not described as characters that talk and have all that stuff. Also when the studio called me I was just finishing shooting Legion in New Mexico. And they called me and asked me if I was interested in Priest. I had read the script, and I thought Cory's script was really cool, and just of the world that it created was very interesting. It's a totally designed the world, and it got elements of a lot of different things that I like it's part Searchers and is clearly it's an homage to The Searchers. But it's also a science fiction film. It takes place in this Orwellian industrial theocracy, where it is always night in the city and they have smokestacks, and there is this cool history to the story. I worked on the script too and I did a pass and I brought that back into the film, which will hopefully have sort of a history of the human vampire war and it's going to be fully animated 2-D R-rated fiction, and hopefully they're going to announce who is going to direct that because it's very exciting. So that's the few minutes a sort of tell the history of all that stuff. And to me I was sort of looking at it and wondering what can I add to it. I'm not going to make a sexier cat-suit wearing vampire then Kate Beckinsale, and True Blood, was. And there's Twilight and everything that is around and it's like, what do I have to contribute to that? To me, I really liked Priest, because it's kind of more of a war movie and the theme of the movie, which is brought up quite strongly. I think in the current draft, is that it's a movie about sacrifice. And in many respects it is also an after the war movie. It's like what happened to the generations of people that came home from fighting a war that the world got tired of war. And instead of coming home like their fathers and had ticker tape parades down Broadway, they were made societal pariahs, you know, it's like the Vietnam vets.
Q: It's like Ethan in The Searchers too he comes home from the Civil War and he's broken.
Scott Stewart:   And he's broken and you have a very dark history in that he's done terrible things. And that he is not entirely a good guy and he has a certain hatred in him. And so the whole theme of sacrifice is really strong in this movie, where it takes place, a generation after the wars between humanity and vampires. It ended and vampires have been put on reservations the queens are being hunted. It just sort of starts off right off the bat and to me, it's very interesting where you have vampires, reservation scenes where the vampires and stored away in these awful depraved crypts and they have human familiars. In our world, one of vampire bites you, if it doesn't kill you, It turns you into a familiar so you're a slave. There is no human looking vampire with one exception, which is Karl Urban's character because he is a Priest, which is a scene we have in here called the birth of blackout scene. And there's something also very THX'esque about the whole thing, the Priests are only referred to as Priests. They don't have names so as Priests and Maggie Q. is Priestess and Karl Urban is Fearsome Priest until he becomes Black Hat. Min-Woo is doing a new book that's going to bridge where he left his 16 books off to where our world is and the sort of post apocalyptic future. And how the vampire race came to be and all this other kind of stuff so I think it explores that in a very different kind of way. In a sense, these creatures are metaphor for something. There is a metaphor for the war that we fight with the other that we don't even know why we are fighting it anymore.
Q: How are you dealing with the source material, have you touched on a little bit or is it basically a separate entity?
Scott Stewart:   It's there in spirit, and basically some of the designs sense. Sure, we have the cross tattoos on the faces of Min-Woo's book which is amazing and is real kind of sprawling and literally set in the west in like old West 1880s, it jumps around other time periods and it's sort of like a soap opera there's no conclusion after book 16 that suggested that there was going to be many, many more books and never went anywhere further. And now he's doing more, so I came to it based on Cory's script, and Cory's script was a departure on it in many ways, but it used a lot of the elements and Min-Woo has been very supportive and came out to visit and we looked at a lot of the artwork together and we talked about how his series would continue. And I think as we progress will see what the world is a pretty unified because our movie has many elements of his book and his books are going to become more like the movie and we're all doing it together, like Tokyo Pop.
You've gone from Legion, which is pretty heavy tasking film. When we talked at comic con you talk about how excited you were in the workload. What is the workload of this film compared to that film, which already seems huge in scope.
Scott Stewart:   You guys saw footage right? This is a much bigger movie, we have nearly double the schedule in terms of time shooting is a much considerably larger budget. The visual effects budget alone of this movie is larger than all of Legion's entire movie. And that's been really great because it's just fun to be able to work on a much broader canvas and be able to not be so restricted in the things you want to do. But those kinds of restrictions often force you to be really inventive. And so Legion was a great first movie to do it than a contained environment relatively speaking. It allowed me to really focus on designing the action and designing the system speeds. The movie has that opening 10 minutes that you saw in the movie takes its time to develop the characters. It's 20 minutes, and it's a slow build, where we get to meet all the people and the pace of life in the diner, and the phone goes out, and the TV goes out, and the radio goes out, and Gladys arrives and then you're just about ready and everybody sitting there contemplating what is going on. And then she shows up at it has a sort of slow build, which I love, that movies had that I grew up, on you guys all grew up on, to me the slow build is really effective. There's a nod to getting them interested early we kind of had an explosive beginning but there will be really takes its time and shifts focus and building suspense beats was really important for me to not just make things scarce, but to kind of make them come out of character and to really craft the movie and make it feel handcrafted, It's more operatic. It's a travel log film, and it's a big landscape movie. There's big-city sequences and then we go out to the little out posts towns of the wastelands. And there's cool futuristic looking motorcycles. It's just such a larger landscape, and in some respects it's interesting because there are fewer central characters. Legion is an ensemble so you have to deal with six or seven different characters all the time and in this movie, it's really about the Priest, and Hicks, the sheriff. And then eventually Priestess and the Maggie Q. character and you are just kind of focused with them. So it's a very different kind of experience from a storytelling point of view. And it's also really fun because Paul and I had already worked together, and it was great to be able to focus an entire movie on his character being the central character as opposed to one of the members of in a ensemble a very important member.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about between Legion and Priest your films take on religion to a certain degree, or at least you are using that as a backdrop.
Scott Stewart:   Next one is going to be an Amblin a little family movie.
Q: Talk a little bit about your interest in doing that.
Scott Stewart:   They're pretty loaded subject matters. I was initially very resistant, but I was flattered that they called me about Priest, because I always thought it was a really cool project that I had read before I'd ever thought about directing it or had the option to, but I was initially resisted because I thought oh gosh. I'm going to get pigeonholed as a religion guy or the post apocalyptic guy and of course I have gotten sent a gazillion of those things now which everybody knows not give me because I would hate to like one and want to do it in because I think that would be a really bad idea right now. I think those things are interesting, thematically. That's kind of where I was going. We did is really kind of a movie that a meditation on faith, very broadly a meditation on faith. Each character in the movie expresses different points of view and has a different kind of reaction. I don't know if you saw the clips, but Quaid was like, I don't believe in God. This is a bunch of bullshit, and of course Rod Dutton's character, who we contemplated was probably Southern Baptists in upbringing was like I knew this day was coming I just didn't think I would be around to see it and other characters just couldn't be bothered with it. And they're just dealing with the reality of what is happening in the not thinking too much about this couldn't really be true or it is true or whatever. So people come at it from different various points of view, but ultimately the story is about the ideas of faith and it's a kind of what ifs story, which is what if God lost faith in man as opposed to. We can only talk about us having lost faith in God in a very Old Testament kind of way, because as a kid reading the Bible, they would teach… and I did not grow up in a particularly religious household at all… what you would learn the story of Noah and his ark because kids like both, and kids like animals. Read this one, and it was kind of like "Read Puff the Magic Dragon and Noah's Ark" as if they were the same thing. And to me I always thought the story was truly terrifying, because while everybody in the whole world dies except for two people. That's pretty severe, and nobody ever really portrays it like the genocide that it is. "You've learned a lesson," and God's like, "I'm sorry I won't do that again, and they'll make a rainbow and you guys can all be cool. Right?" "It is my Testament that I will not do that again." Well, what if he changed his mind and decided and kind of how it could happen. The whole world becomes possessed. It's a very Old Testament view. In one respect, because there are no demons in the movie and in the controversial aspect of the movie I guess if there is a controversial aspect of the movie is that it is all coming from Heaven theoretically that there are angels and there are no devil's in this movie. I didn't grow up with them.
Q: So you've kind of gone on now from Old Testament to New Testament with Priest. One thing that I have been asking about is the sort of use of Christian iconography in a movie that is set in a parallel world, where it's an alternate history can you talk a little bit about the development of religion. In this kind of totalitarian church thing was born out of any of the things that it's spawned?
Scott Stewart:   Our cross never has the Christ figure on it. In Priest, world it's almost like a corporate symbol. It's across with a circle around it and you see it stamped on everything. It's like eastern European propaganda during Soviet totalitarian era it to be in industrial revolution by way of East Berlin. It has a lot of the elements and so it is just kind of mythic storytelling. Min-Woo used it and Corey Goodman, the original writer of Priest used those elements. Sold there are things that the theme is sort of like Roman Catholic tradition. But our characters are called the Monsignors it's like Christopher Plummer and Alan Dale played the members of the Monsignors, who ruled the city and were in the Monsignor Orelas era so like in all the big electronic billboards. You see Christopher Plummer's face and he's saying, "Remember to go against the church is to go against God and absolution is the only way." And people go all day long, there is a scene where Priest comes in and confesses in a simulated confessional so he kneels down and he says; "Forgive me father for I have sinned", and his voice plays back to him and his crummy little thing that says "Voice identification match". And then all your sins scroll up the screen. And it's like they are tracking you, and he's speaking to Max Headroom basically. And he's going, "Tell me more yes, tell me more," and it just as "Faith Works,  security, Faith Works security, God protects you the city protects you the church protects you." And the Priests make a very clear distinction in the story about their relationship with God, which is viewed as very, very positive and the source of their power. They're kind of like Jedi Knights and the clergy, which are using the threats of war to control their population and have them feed the fires of industry to the point where they've made themselves vulnerable to vampires, because they have blackened their own skies and the sun doesn't shine anymore on the city, because all the smokestacks pump out soot.
Q: You're sort of setting the clergy up as negative and corporate and all of that. So then are Priests and Priestess good guys? Middle ground?
Scott Stewart:   While the story is about a character who the way the story begins is that it says it wants. The war was over, the Priests came and were trained in the art of vampire combat. And they've single-handedly turned the tide for man and won the war. And then they were decommissioned and returned to society, so the Priests have been disbanded at the beginning of our movie and had been for a generation. And so he goes back to ask Priest when he finds out that the character who we believe is his niece at the opening of the movie like The Searchers has been kidnapped that he goes and asks to be reinstated. And they say "No, there's just wasteland bandits there are no vampire among us. There is no wolf at the door". You just go back and go about your business. And I'm sorry, but we can't. And for very personal reasons. That's where that idea of sacrifice comes, because if you have lost so much to fight for a cause that you believed was true or someone had told you was true. You finally had to do something for yourself, and they say no. You start to question whether the sacrifice he made your whole life is worth it and that's sort of the existential dilemma of the character. So it really is about them and not all the clergy are bad either Allendale's character is quite sympathetic to the main character in the movie.
Q: Is it weird to be two days from finishing your feature and your first feature still hasn't come out yet?
Scott Stewart:   It's a little weird.
Q: If a little weird, because not having Legion out there you're not getting the feedback from audience of stuff like that. Are you operating in a vacuum or are you or does that response even matter to you anyway? Are you just going to make what you need to make?
Scott Stewart:   While I would like to think that it matters to me, what people think about the stuff. I hope people like it I don't think I could go to work and do this. If I was just doing it to try to make people like the stuff. And I think ultimately, you just got to make what you like. And that surround yourself with really talented people who are smarter and better than you at everything that you do. And then if you find material that you think is really fun. I mean, I try to choose what movie to do. I don't think I have a method yet. I've only done two. Is based on what I would want to see them and try to make that the best. I mean, I love genre movies, and I love comic book movies, but more often than not, the visual stuff kind of overwhelms the story. And my favorite films are usually ones that are managing to have a really great balance between all that stuff. They are visually spectacular, but the characters, you just love. And you keep going back and seeing them again because it was a mostly about something. I'm kind of a big fan of the saddest happy ending possible. I think Paul Thomas Anderson talked about that. And I read an interview with him where he said, "I aspire to make the saddest happy endings possible in my movies", and I just went, "Ah, that is brilliant."
Q: Are you a big Western guy? Because this is obviously Western influenced, but looking at the footage of Legion and having been on the set. It feels like a classic siege picture sort of like a Rio Bravo.
Scott Stewart:   Yet it definitely has that elements to and Bad Day at Black Rock was a pretty big influence on it as well. And you see this scene when Michael first arrives and the composition is where the characters is standing where he is standing relative to the diner, where they are all standing for the three days that we shot that sequence of very long sequence. You saw a truncated sequence of it I thought Bad Day at Black Rock. It's also gray, I mean John Sturgis film is just incredible on how he blocked those scenes you to see characters standing in those really awesome triangle patterns, and they keep switching places and there's always a lot of depth to the frame. And it's just like a textbook example on how to block a scene. I think it with Jim Mangold, I saw a screening of 3:10 to Yuma. When it came out, and he was talking about how he was getting really tired about how westerns needed to be like historically accurate and you had to save the date and it was all that realism and he said that westerns used to be much more like Greek tragedy. It was like a very mythic storytelling, and it was a way of telling a mythic story and science fiction is the same thing. You know you're telling it in a kind of fantasy world that has a certain kind of language and I love that I'm much less interested in telling historically accurate western picture that I am about looking at The Searchers or Rio Bravo or Bad Day at Black Rock. Which is kind of a high burden Western or 310 to Yuma. For that matter or, for me the best was Unforgiven. That was just the best ever.
Q: And also with Legion you are composing in widescreen. It looks like you're at least going with the long takes such a trying to get away with is that something that you would really like to try more of? To go for longer take and to let things play out. You talk about the slow build, and it's also obviously through Rio bravo and Carpenter just let that film take its time. It lingers. But before, you know it you're sucked into that film is just the mood.
Scott Stewart:   It's all about the pace. What I aspire to do, I have no idea whether I have been successful or not, you guys can tell me is when you sit down to watch a movie and it's like you're going to see a country full of men, and you sit down and you watch it and you go within three shots you're like oh okay. Good.  I'm in good hands is going to be awesome let's just enjoy this because these guys really know what they're doing. And it's so great when you see somebody who has made a film like that. And so for me, I just always aspired to try to do that and my disappointment usually comes when I feel like I have disappointed myself in that it's not quite gotten there or I've had to compromise, because you guys interview directors all day long and probably always talk about how the frustrated compromising is the hardest thing about doing any of this stuff and it doesn't matter how much time or how much budget or any of that stuff but as far as long takes but I have really embraced widescreen, I mean in this movie I wanted originally to shoot Legion anamorphic true anamorphic and we were able to because I think Michael Bay had all the lenses. Seriously, like he did there were no available lenses he kept breaking them on his movies, which really sucks. And so this time around seven months ahead of our shooting the movie I said reserve the lenses for legend and I wanted C. Series lenses which were like the ones from the 70s so they have all the flaring and all the aberrations and all of the stuff that we love from alien and Blade Runner and close encounters in particular, and a lot of those other films.  
Q: Is it studio pressure, if you try to go for like longer take did actually say like you need to cut your to lose audiences?
Scott Stewart:   They call it vacuuming out the space. "We just need to vacuum the edit a little bit." And I've been given a lot of latitude… I think a lot more latitude than a lot of directors get and I'm very grateful for that. It's all part of the things and hopefully the films will come out and people respond to them and they'll hopefully do reasonably well enough so people will go okay alright. Well, we're going to be intimidated by you and allow you to do what she wanted to hopefully. And hopefully I get to that place.
Q: What about doing the Black Hat character. How is it that he becomes kind of half human half vampire as opposed to a familiar?
Scott Stewart:   There is a sequence that we did, where he becomes the sort of vampire's secret weapon. They take him in the suggestion is that because he is a Priest, he was able to withstand a lot more and the queen in her only cameo in the film. She feeds him her blood as opposed to them biting you and taking your blood. She gives him the blood of the queen and that becomes his mission, which is to get the other Priests to leave the cities and join him because the Priests defeated the vampires. The idea is that if we can make an army of vampire Priests then we will be unstoppable.
Q: Listening to you talk, I mean, you are obviously seasoned in film language. It's great that a guy like you is jumping into the genre and applying what those guys are doing to this to the genre. But are we ultimately going to lose you as a horror fan, or are you going to go on to do drama's I mean, what do you want to do as the guy who came out of the effects field?
Scott Stewart:   I don't know, I mean Peter Jackson and Jim Cameron and all those guys. I mean, I have worked for George for four years. They make and have made the movies that I want to be making. There's a lot of different stories that mean you'll get tired of guys running around with guns or vampire hunters and all that kind of thing. Sometimes you just got to want to make a little something set somewhere. New York somewhere Los Angeles or whatever, and they'll find myself wanting to tell other stories. I like making things up. I like Philly design worlds, after Lord of the rings you kind of think well who's going to do it next? And then what's after that. The matrix kind of almost and then it didn't. And then he got a right Peter Jackson got it right in a somebody's got to try and hopefully there's a bunch of us out that they're going to try to do that and just think really big because I want to feel the way I felt when I saw those things for the first time. And I think we all aspire to that experience.
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Staci Layne Wilson
Read our review of the PRIEST movie here (coming soon)
Read our on-set interview with Karl Urban here
Read our on-set interview with Paul Bettany here (coming soon)
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