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?'"