In the 13 years since orchestrating the breakout hit Pitch Black in 2000, helping launch Vin Diesel’s acting career, writer and director David Twohy has only directed four feature films, two of them sequels to Pitch Black. While he provided the story for the Dark Fury animated film (a bridge between Pitch Black and its first sequel) and was given thanks on at least one of the highly acclaimed Riddick video games, Twohy’s biggest accomplishment might just be getting the greenlight for production on a third live-action Riddick film.
After the critical and box office failure of the big budget Chronicles of Riddick nine years ago, it’s been a long and challenging process for Twohy and Diesel to get the financing in order to tell more of their Riddick story.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to interview David Twohy during the Riddick junket and the first question we asked was whether or not he even imagined a long-spanning franchise around the Richard B. Riddick character.
Screen Rant: Let’s jump all the way back to Pitch Black. Did you have any idea this character would go on another 13 years?
David Twohy: “No. If you ask Vin, he’ll probably say, ‘Yeah, I saw it all.’ The future was unfolding before his eyes. I was just so concerned with getting the movie done and getting out of there because we were falling behind schedule. I was in the Outback of Australia subject to weather—I was just trying to get out of Australia with my skin, without the bond company coming in and tacking my hide to the side of a barn. I just wanted to get out alive. And then only when we edited the movie and put it in front of a few test audiences and they were starting to whisper about this Riddick character did I know we were on to something. I thought, ‘Hey, this could be the start of something,’ but I didn’t know what that could be. We certainly didn’t plan it as a franchise—we were just so consumed with trying to make the first movie work.”
This franchise is unusual because you and the star have both stayed together through three films, and you both have a hand in brainstorming. Talk me through you and Vin’s process when you get together and talk about it.
“We don’t hang out all the time, so we tend to get together for intense periods of time—only when we’re contemplating making a movie or actually making it. It’ll be me going up to his house in the hills, sitting on the kitchen counter, and starting to throw out some ideas and seeing what he gravitates to. We also have to have a sense of what kind of resources we’re going to have to make the movie with, how much money, because that will determine what kind of story we’re going to tell. We knew this time because it was kind of an independent movie, not a studio movie, that it would mean less money and more freedom. Okay, great. But we can’t do everything, so let’s limit it to one world. We’re both fans of Jeremiah Johnson, we’re both fans of The Castaway.
The idea of stranding him for at least some of the movie appealed to us both. Being basically shot in the back on a cliff and being left for dead on this planet. So we just kind of know in our heads what we want to do, doing a callback to Pitch Black in the Boss Johns character—the guy who’s looking for answers about his son’s death—I told him that would be a good heartbeat for the story, a very personal quest. We just outline some very basic things. I might have written a treatment—I did write a treatment—and then we’re off to the races. That’s how we work. Spitballing off each other. We, of course, overreach at certain points or realize that’s more than we can achieve with the amount of money we’re going to have, so we’ll scale it back. In the early meetings, anything is possible. We throw some wild shit down. And then sooner or later, it’s the brain that has to organize it and make it a telling, singular drama, as well as an extension of the franchise.”
Trying to picture this. Are you guys drinking beers or coffee?
I drink, and Vin abstains from that. He has tea, and he carries around a pack of Americans that he tries not to “smoke.”
What do you do when you disagree?
“I’ll tell Vin, I’ll say, ‘Let me show you how it would work on paper.’ And then I do that and he inevitably comes back where he says, ‘Okay, great, I see it now. I see what you’re talking about.'”
As he’s become increasingly important in other franchises, has there a chance in the amount of input that he wants to contribute?
“You know, he was always a guy who wanted input. It’s just a question of how long I would listen to it. In the first movie, not very long. It was like, ‘You know what? Let’s get shooting now. I don’t have time for this anymore.’ In the second movie, Vin was a producer as well. He was a bigger star because of Fast and Furious, a couple of those movies, so you listen longer. And now it’s to the point where we’re just creating together because we’ve removed the studio from the creation equation so it’s just Vin and me now. And I like small, creative groups, and this is about as small as it gets. So it’s good.”
There’s a line in Riddick where he jumps on a space motorcycle and says, ‘I’m going to ride it like I stole it.’ That sounded almost like a callback to Fast and Furious.
“If it was—and I don’t think it was—I don’t think Vin had a problem with it. If he had a problem with it, he should have said it. It didn’t at the time. I’ve seen it elsewhere now, now that we’ve shot it, but by the time that I realized that it was getting to be common coin, it was already baked into the movie.”
There’s this great, long silent sequence in Riddick where he’s interacting with this space puppy—wait, does that thing have a name?
“They’re jackals, but it doesn’t have a name per se.”
On set, what did you have in there as a stand-in, and how did you direct him in those scenes?
“For the puppy, he had a puppet. He could get a sense of the weight of it—it was silicone, so it had the right weight. It was very nicely detailed, had glass eyes and fur. Actually, it’s in there for a couple wide shots where he’s picking up the puppy and running with it or something like that. So he had a real sense of eyelines, the weight. For the larger dog, we had a couple of pieces. There’s a larger digital effects dog—just a big, gray stuffed animal—that these guys would bring in and plop down to see how the light on the sets hit the balls on this thing to get the correct shadows. They’re also for actors to see how big it is. If you’re going to pat it on the head, if you’re going to come up beside it and smack it on the neck to say hi, then you know exactly where your hand should be. He always had something like that.”
Picturing Vin Diesel with a giant stuffed dog is pretty adorable.
“Oh, yeah. Everyone loved that puppy by the way on the set: ‘Can I hold him?'”
Vin’s already talking about the next Riddick movies he wants to make. He says he sees two sequels—is that what you see?
“I believe there are two more movies. And I think it’s good that we are looking at ending the series so it doesn’t feel like an open-ended thing, like we’re doing it just for monetary reasons and we’ve just got to keep rolling it over and rolling it over. I think there’s a real end to this and I know what that last movie looks like. The real question is: is it like a two-parter rather than a one-parter? So I think we’re both thinking the same thing, that there’s two more movies in the series.”
Do you think Furya is the priority?
“Yes. That’s where we end up. I know what that movie looks like, I’ve talked it out. It has all the right notes, it’s a great movie. The real question is: what do you do before you get there? Is it a voyage through the Necromonger universe? Do you have to earn the right to return home by some trial of fire? That’s what we’re talking about doing. Perhaps.”
Is the return of Karl Urban’s Vaako a possibility?
“It is. There’s actually more shots than I was able to use just for time reasons in this version of the movie. I’m now restoring a lot of that for the director’s cut DVD. So the director’s cut has a full scene with Karl, not the half-scene seen here. Karl describes how he as a young Necromonger boy went on this mission that turned out to be Furya because there were other people who had Riddick’s eyes just like him. So he’s the key to finding Furya. And then the epilogue of the director’s cut is Riddick returning to the Necromonger empire looking to deal with Vaako, who he thinks has doubletimed him, but that turns out not to be Vaako at all. Vaako has moved on and crossed over into Necromonger Heaven and Hell, and so at least in the director’s cut version, we’ve laid groundwork for Riddick possibly following him.”
The director’s cut of Chronicles of Riddick had about 15 minutes of extra footage. Is that around what you’re thinking for this one?
“This is probably more like eight minutes of footage, something like that. I can’t recall what the running time was on Chronicles, but it was heavier on the mythology. The studios, like who was guiding us at the time, tend to steer away from mythology. They just thought it was a little too mystical. But there are people who really gravitate to that. Some people liked Pitch Black a lot as opposed to Chronicles. Some people liked Chronicles a lot as opposed to Pitch Black. I’m fine with that. I’m happy to let them debate it out. But there is a place for mythology in these movies.”
What feedback did you get from Chronicles that became important as you shaped what you wanted for the third film?
“Well, we did get accused of overreaching with that film. Being too grandiose. And you know what? If that’s true, I think it’s an excusable thing. Because, look. If you don’t overreach, you don’t really know the length of your grasp. Had we had all the money in the world, we probably would have picked up right there and stuck with the end of that story. But we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. We weren’t a studio movie anymore. Our resources were going to be a lot closer to Pitch Black than the Chronicles of Riddick. So we tried to be smart and responsible and custom-designed a story that would fit the amount of money.”
Tough question: Because of where Riddick came in the early part of Vin Diesel’s career, do you think there would be a Vin Diesel if not for Pitch Black?
“[Laughs] Um….no. I think life is so full of those chaotic factors and has so many variables upon variables that I don’t think you could say that. I don’t think I would be here today if I hadn’t shot Pitch Black, and I don’t think Vin would be. Now, I believe he’d be a star. But maybe not necessarily in the Fast and Furious pictures. It was Universal who picked up Pitch Black and released it—kept it from going straight-to-video, as a matter of fact—and I think there’s probably a linkage between them releasing that movie and them putting him in the Fast and Furious series.”
Riddick is written and directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista and Karl Urban.
Riddick is out in theaters on September 6, 2013.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
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