Den of Thieves was quite the directorial debut for Christian Gudegast. A cops-and-robbers semi-true-life thriller, the film was one of 2017's earliest hits, coming out of the gates in January to earn over 2.5 times its budget. Unsurprisingly, a sequel was almost immediately green-lit.
Of course, this wasn't Gudegast's start. A well-worn screenwriter and script doctor, he's been active in Hollywood for the past two decades - especially in relation to his Den of Thieves star Gerard Butler. Indeed, Den of Thieves was originally commissioned in the early-2000s, with studio financial troubles locking it in development hell for over a decade.
Screen Rant recently caught up with Gudegast to talk about Den of Thieves for the film's home video release (on digital now, DVD/Blu-ray from April 24) where we discussed that protracted development and what's next for the filmmaker, as well as reveal some exclusive details on Den of Thieves 2.
Den of Thieves' Development Hell
Screen Rant: I wanted to start talking about Den of Theives' development a little. You were working on this movie for such a long time - it was in the pipeline for so long - what clicked, what fell into place to make it now?
Christian Gudegast: Well, it was basically at Relativity Media, you know the studio that went bankrupt, from 2007 to 2015 when they all went belly-up. So, the project and myself were in director purgatory for all those years - we were greenlit about four different times while at Relativity and just never made it there because the company itself was, as we all know now, dysfunctional. So, once they went bankrupt we were able to - myself and the producer Tucker Tooley - were able to get it out of bankruptcy court just before it went in. It if would, then we would have lost it probably forever. But we were able to get it out at the last minute before it went into actual court, and we got to STX, and once we got to STX we were greenlit immediately, and went off and made it. It was really a function of being at a company - a studio - that's healthy and fully operational.
SR: In that time, did the idea or the script or any big part of the story change much? Or is what was eventually made very much what you originally envisioned back in the early 2000s?
CG: It had small adaptations along the way - like little tweaks - more character stuff, you know? Because all the characters are based on, pretty much, all people that I know. And it was just about sort of infusing all the different characters and their stories with more and more human moments. And those are really the changes that were made, but the A-plot was always the same. And the whole thing of the regulars vs. the outlaws, that was all part of the original DNA of the original script.
SR: Speaking of that plot, you've got a great sort of Usual Suspects-style twist to this and I wanted to just talk about how that works. Because I love it when a movie has a good twist, and this one is built up - you've got little teases and scenes going throughout - how did you go about infusing the movie with these clues?
CG: Well, as strange as this may sound, that was never initially the plan. We never meant for it to have a twist at the end. It was supposed to be a straight heist of this federal reserve. Again, the heist itself is based on an actual, attempted heist that never actually happened, but they believe if it went down, they were going to try to do it in a similar manner to this. Which I think in a way made it a little bit healthier, because I wasn't reverse-engineering all that logic - it just felt more natural. And then, by the time we got to the end of the story, we looked at it and realized the twist would actually work. That was something, also, the studio was really high on. For me, the movie had to work without the twist as well, and it has to be about the characters and if you're emotionally invested in all of them, it would survive without the twist. But everybody really liked it, so we went with it, stuck with it, and audiences seem to have really dug it. So I'm glad that we stuck with it.
Den of Thieves 2
SR: When you put it in and it was definitely in the movie, did you ever think it would end up being a springboard into doing a sequel?
CG: Initially not. That's all a function of studio filmmaking. Every studio wants a little mini-franchise if possible. Thankfully, thank god, we're all very fortunate that it did very well and now we're going to do a sequel which is great. But that wasn't initially the plan. That's just something that sort of you know as we were making it and we were feeling that the twist was working, and it setting up well for a sequel - if it performed, that we would do one. And it performed so... the sequel will be something that I have researched for years and years. I'm adapting a different story to make it a sequel about the Pink Panther mafia and the diamond thieves from Europe.
SR: And what sort of stage of development is the sequel - congratulations on that by the way - what sort of stage is that in? If you've been developing the story for a while you must be further along than if you've just got a green light.
CG: Correct. The whole story is done. It's not written, but the outline is completely finished. We're now just waiting for all the deals to be done with the producers the stars etc. And once that's all handled, I will write it. But it's all... the hard work is done. It's all structured, it's all outlined, I have the whole story. It's just a matter of putting pen to page.
SR: And is that going to bring (should all the deals go through) Gerard and Donnie back together and have those two as cop/criminal - advance that relationship? Or when you say it's going adapt another story is it going to focus more on Gerard's character?
CG: They're both going to be it. It's all going to be set in Europe. And it's going be about Big Nick hunting Donnie, who's involved in a diamond heist and he's teamed up with the former Pink Panther mafia, and it's about Nick hunting him along with... Nick is also going to be hunted by another group, I won't reveal right now. It's gonna, there'll be a few different kinds of twist in this one. It'll be hopefully very surprising.
SR: So it's really sort of stepping beyond - I'm really glad it's set in Europe, I can't wait to see what you do with a different location given how much LA was in this one - but in terms of expanding the idea, where do you see Den of Thieves as a franchise? If you now had to define the "Den of Thieves franchise", what would say it is?
CG: It is about... the A-plot is centered around or based on actual heists - this will be based on the Antwerp diamond exchange heist of 2003 - and it's about, on the character side, it's about the blurring of lines between the sides. And sort of an examination of all the people involved in this world and how they are much closer to in terms of their character and who they are. Your actions make almost the exact same person, and in this next one I think the hunters will become the hunted, and it's an examination of that.
SR: And in terms of influences, this first movie obviously had shades of Heat and The Usual Suspects. Is there any specific movie you're honing in on as an influence for Den of Thieves 2?
CG: Yes. Gomorrah, Suburra, Sexy Beast and Ronin. Those four.
SR: So much more European then?
CG: Yes, much more.
SR: Can you say what cities you'll be visiting? Or is that not set yet?
CG: Yeah, it is. It will briefly in London, it will be in Belgium, it will be in Marseilles, it will be in the Cote d'Azur, and it should be in Montenegro.
SR: And so with the sequel... one of my concerns with the sequel after watching the movie is that you spend so much time building up these two gangs, these two sides - the criminals and the police - and you kill the majority of them in the finale, especially on the criminal side. In terms of building up that new team - you obviously got the Pink Panther side for the criminals - are you going to build up a new cop squad for Nick?
CG: We are. We are. There are going European based, from Interpol, and a few of the old cops are going to come over from the united states, but they're going to be working with a whole new cast. We are very excited to cast a bunch of great European actors, and it's going to have a whole different sort of energy and vibe. It's going to be a very cool, sort of European gangster vibe.
SR: I'm sure you can't talk about casting or anything but one thing that was really a cool sell for Den of Thieves was the cast - you have such an interesting set of actors on both side of the line. What sort of stars are you going for this time? Some up-and-comers, some unknowns - what sort of dynamic are you looking to create?
CG: A combination. Some like known great European actors. Some up and coming young actors - European - and then like we did in the first Den we'll probably put in a few more fighters, maybe like Anthony Joshua, someone like that. And then maybe even some footballers.
SR: OK, wow. So real mix and very authentic feel kind of thing?
SR: This will obviously the second time you've directed Gerald Butler, but you've also worked on a couple of films that he's been involved in before. How have you guys built up a very strong creative relationship? How is it to work together and keep working together?
CG: I mean, he and I are - we're like brothers. We're boys. It's a pretty unique relationship actually. There's a lot of both he and I in the characters that he plays and it's almost as if he and I kind of walk through this character, all the way through the movie, all the dialogue. We literally sit at dinner or get together and sit down and we almost act out like every scene and we like explore them. So he's basically playing a version of he and I combined and so it's been a very unique setting that he and I both just respond very very well. Because we got an amazing performance out of him, he's as proud of his performance in this as he in just about anything he's ever done. And we hope to continue on that, to sort of show another side of him. Further reveal who Big Nick is and put him in a whole new world. We're very, very excited about it.
SR: When you say reveal more, will you be going more into his past - because obviously, we had the family life in the first one - but his was said, but you left plenty of room for interpretation, which gave him a mysterious quality. Will you explore who is a bit more in the sequel?
CG: A little. We will, a little bit. We'll see different aspects of him, we will. But it's also going to be a little less... the tone of this next movie's going to be a little more fun because it's almost like he's escaping to Europe to get away from his wife's problems, so it's going to be a fun ride.
SR: Interesting you mention the fun and the lightness. Because that was one thing that I thought worked really well - his relationship with the FBI and that antagonistic bro humor that they had. So that's going to be much more prominent this time around then?
CG: Yes. Exactly right.
Christian Gudegast's Other Upcoming Films
SR: I have to ask about the other film that you guys worked on - you wrote the script for - London Has Fallen. That is such an interesting franchise as well. What was it like to come into that and work on that movie that was part of something else and has now grown into a full franchise? Were you tempted - or were you offered - to come back for Angel?
CG: No. No, I didn't come back. That was another work that existed before me. They got me at Gerry's request, just to help out his character and all that, and to ground the action a little bit more. It was a little too - before I was involved - everything was very sort of not real, and then my job was to add a reality and make it more visceral, more honest, more reality-based. That was a one-shot deal and that his own... the tone of that is not exactly my style, but we had a great time working on it, but I won't be working on it again, no.
SR: And the other Gerard Butler film, you did some work on Afterburn, which is the sci-fi he's doing, right?
CG: Yeah, that was actually a long time ago. That was probably god five or six years ago.
CG: Yeah, yeah. That was another Relativity project - any project that was at Relativity has suffered the same fate of being dragged through development forever - so that was another Relativity project that has now found new life. Apparently, they're going to make it, so right on. I won't be involved in anything beyond what I already did, but it's kind of a cool project, so hopefully it gets made.
SR: Obviously, the next year or two will be Den of Thieves, but do you have anything in the works you want to do next - Den of Thieves 3 or something completely different?
CG: Yeah, there are a couple of things that are totally different. I'm doing a thing called Vanguard, it's a television show for Starz about a navy seal, and then I am doing a thing called North Hollywood about the Los Angeles North Hollywood shootout - the bank robbers who shot it out with the LAPD back in 1997. Doing that with David Ayer, doing that next.
SR: Interesting you're working with Ayer, because your styles, both of you, there is a similar approach to the realism,
SR: How do you work? Do you guys confer?
CG: 100% We sought each other out and we're both going to produce, I'm going to direct, and it's a great script, and it's a very sort of honest, detailed... it's sort of like Captain Phillips or United 93 - just imagine that but about that day. It's the biggest shootout in the history of the world - police shootout that is - in world history. There were 36000 rounds shot in 44 minutes, and it's just about the day and the heroism of the LAPD.
SR: Ayer's obviously done stuff like End of Watch that fits very much into the style of movies you're talking about, but he's done some other, crazy stuff. He's done superheroes, he's Netflix fantasy - would you be interested in stepping out into one of those genres? Would you be interested in doing a superhero movie or doing something really weird on Netflix?
CG: Something really weird on Netflix, yes. Superhero movie, that would possibly down the road. I've got too many other projects that are in the pipeline that would come first, but down the road certainly, yes, of course. There's no way to avoid these days.
Den of Thieves is on digital now and DVD/Blu-ray from April 24.