Trent Luckinbill is an American producer and lawyer. Trent, his twin brother Thad, and producer Molly Smith, started the production company Black Label Media in 2013. The films he has produced include The Good Lie, Sicario, La La Land, and 12 Strong. He recently produced Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sicario.
Screen Rant sat down with Trent and talked about the origins of the sequel, the director Stefano Sollima, the film’s theme on immigration, cutting down the films length, the risks of a franchise, plans for a third film, making a great film versus a political statement, and what the actors brought to the characters.
Trent: Get down there, it was like. First of all, Benicio has a massive fan base. Latin America, he's like their guy. And then, but Josh, with all his movies, you know, just recently come out. It's like, you know, you had all of Thanos gloves.
SR: The summer of Brolin.
Trent: Summer of, right.
SR: So, first of all, congratulations on the film. I enjoyed it. You actually did one of my other favorite films this year, 12 Strong. I loved it.
Trent: Oh yeah, yeah, we were proud of that one.
SR: I love it a lot. That's a really good film.
Trent: Fuglsig with Bruckheimer. We had a good time on that one.
SR: So, the first film. I went back and watched it again and it's so intense. And this one also, the same thing. I was like gripping my chair. In that scene with that, when they go into the Target or whatever. It is, it's intense. It's real intense. So, I have to ask, what I mean. Because I know that the sequel was kind of announced, almost right after the first film. So how did you know what the story was going to be? Was this always part of the plan?
Trent: No. I mean it was Taylor Sheridan who wrote it. He always said as we were making the movie. He always had ideas where this could go. But he wrote it as a single picture. And we obviously didn't leave it teed off plot to go into a second. But I think we always thought if we had the of response for these characters, and for the movie, and certainly it overwhelmed us how much responses we got critically. And then even after the box office, the fans that found the movie, it was really impressive. But we always thought we'd love to see more. And we'd love to follow these characters in their world and see where they go. And so, there was a lot of seeds planted early on. And then when it had the response, we talked to the Denis. Taylor was ready to go. He had ideas for a second. So that's kind of how it happened. But we always thought there's more, there's more to see.
SR: It's interesting because I randomly was watching a documentary on Vice about drug cartels and coyotes.
Trent: Is that The Trade?
SR: Yeah, it was amazing.
Trent: It really was.
SR: The first Sicario really speaks a lot about the drug side of this. This is more about the immigration side, which I also find just as intriguing. When did you know that that was going to be the direction of this film?
Trent: Honestly. I think Taylor is such a brilliant writer. A guy like that and you know, obviously he wrote Sicario, Comancheria, which is Hell or High Water. And then Wind River. All on spec. In a row. So, it was, I guess, thematic trilogy. I think, we've come to understand that he just has such a cool vision. And it’s just sort of abnormal in a way. Like the way he constructs his scripts and all that. That we literally were like, “Go do all these ideas in your head, put them down on paper. We know it's going to be great and we're not going to bother you.” Kind of, in a way. And so, this was something I think. He comes from Texas and I think he has family that are in law enforcement, whatever. I think these are issues that he just understands. And it's constantly has an eye on. So, some of these things, I think were ideas that he pulled from reality. And to focus on the immigration I think was an idea about how to sort of look at what's going on the border. And what could potentially happen and things like that.
SR: Denis did the first film. And did it brilliantly. And Stefano, man, I felt like this film was made for him. You know what I mean? He did such a good job. What went into picking him as the director?
Trent: The biggest criteria we had was, because Denis is so good holding tension. We knew part of the DNA of the first movie, it was just people. We never let them up. Like you said, like you never let go of the chair. So, we literally, once we knew Denis schedule was going to be a conflict. And we were like, “We got to find somebody that can hold tension like Denis.” So that's kind of how we started our search. And we all sort of knew Stefano through different avenues and different projects around town. And loved his work. And once we really drilled in on like really what he did in Gomorrah and Suburra. We were like, “Oh yeah, you know what, this guy's, he's got some of the same characteristics.” So, we were thrilled that worked out. And he delivered on that. Because we feel like it is just as tense as the first one.
SR: Right, and I know he's doing Call of Duty next now. It's making me think, “Oh, I can't imagine what he's going to do with that franchise.”
Trent: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
SR: One thing that is really interesting to me is that more particular now is that in the last couple of years, with the current administration that's going on, immigration has been such a big thing. What do you want people to take away from Sicario 2?
Trent: From an immigration standpoint?
SR: Yes. And the drug trafficking as well.
Trent: Ours is inspired by things that are going on certainly. In the first one we did a really good job of, and we tried really hard to show both sides. Right? Not to make any commentary on it, but to actually say, “There's great people and bad people on both sides of the border and this is affecting good people and bad people, or good people on both sides of the border. So, you had that cop who was really dirty in the first one, but he just was trying to do what he needed to do. But he got caught up in it. And then you had, in this one, you see people along the way that are living in fear and affected by what's going.
SR: And circumstances.
Trent: Yeah, exactly. So, I think our idea was just to focus on, cartels aren't Mexico by any stretch of the imagination.
SR: Oh absolutely.
Trent: And we wanted to make sure, that people understand that we're not saying anything like that. We're focused on what the effects and the consequences of drug trade. And the effects and consequences of trying to combat that. And obviously our guys sort of go off the rail with their approach. And so, I think that's really sort of where we wanted to land. And sort of straddle that line and just show it.
SR: And it's also interesting too, because United States government in this film, they have their hands dirty as well. So, one thing that I kind of really like about this film is that you guys do show different sides of every situation. And Stefano was telling me earlier that the original draft of the script was very large, and it was scaled down. Why was it scaled down to what we got? And how big was it originally?
Trent: You mean plot wise?
Trent: Yeah, it was. I think we… I'm just trying to think about what his comment would’ve meant. It was certainly a longer movie, which is always a struggle in filmmaking. So, we wanted to make sure we hit that two-hour mark, roughly. But it was also, we wanted, the plot was big. And there were other twists in there that we thought pulled, I think probably pulled away from our characters. And what you love about this one was. The first one you saw Benicio’s character halfway through the movie. And you're like, “Who is this dude? Someone mysterious.” And then Matt just comes in ready and confident and he's executing the plan. For the most part the plan went according to Matt’s original scheme.
But in this one I think it's about you actually know the characters. You know their dynamic between each other. So now you're focusing on them. And you get to kind of get in their head a little bit more and see their decision making, the consequences. You see that morality tested not just once. You see Josh, and they're actually presented with the same question, right? Which is “How do you know?” It's not just Alejandro got to defy orders in order to save dudes, do right by this girl. It's also Brolin going like, “I have to defy orders to do right by my buddy.” He's making decision to sacrifice for his friend. Alejandro is making a decision to sacrifice for the girl. So, we liked that. We wanted to spend enough real estate on that. And so, I don't think we took a lot out. But it was probably just some small plot things that would have eaten up too much time.
SR: What did you learn from the first film to the second film that either carried over or you were like, “Well, you know what, that, producing wise, didn't necessarily work on the first. Let's try to change this up for the second one.”
Trent: Gosh, honestly, it was the other way around. We were like so focused on… Because we all loved the first one so much. We just wanted to make sure we did right by it. And that people in the audience felt like this was a distinct movie and it could stand alone. Which we feel like it can.
SR: Absolutely. That's what I loved about this movie actually. I did see the first film, but I didn't have to see it first film to enjoy this film.
Trent: Yeah. We've tried to stress that in marketing. Because it's true. You can walk in and see this movie and not have seen the first one to love it and get it. And then you want to go back and watch the first one. But we just felt like we had built such great characters and such a great world that we wanted it to be different enough, but also be true too, for the fans and the audience. I think it's like anytime you're dealing with sequels and in a franchise. I think everybody struggles with that. Because you depart too much and all of a sudden they're like,”You messed it up.” But also, our company Black Label, we really sort of gravitate towards these, kind of, prestige commercial intersection. And we felt like the DNA of the first one was so prestigious. And that we had to make sure that it lived up to that. So it was kind of more of a guiding light, then it was trying to like differentiate too much.
SR: Stefano (Sollima, the director) was telling me earlier that Mr. Sheridan (the writer) had a plan for a three chapter story with the Sicario franchise. So, can we expect a Sicario 3?
Trent Luckinbill: Absolutely.
Trent Luckinbill: We were so thrilled that people responded to the first one. And we felt justified in making a second. Because we loved it. We were probably the biggest fans of the movie. And we feel that way again. And obviously we've, even more than the first one, we kind of teed up a little teaser. We would love to kind of see… Look, this was always in the back of Taylor's mind and we loved it. And we thought, “God, it would be great if we could get there.” And I think we’d like to do that now. I certainly feel like the second one lived up to the expectations.
SR: So many people nowadays are consumed by media, whether it be television or films. And I don't want to say less research, but I don't think a lot of people, general mass population do a ton of research on certain things. Do you hope this shines the light on current world events that are actually happening right now?
Trent: Yeah. I mean, I think it's just a reflection, a little bit, of current events. I mean, it's like I said, it's not a commentary. So, I don't think we're… Certainly, there are a lot of complicated issues in immigration. With all, with administrations and countries and all of that. And it's something that we've dealt with in the past and continue to deal with as a country. But I think we were just inspired. As this film, as a plot driver. Because it's relevant and it's important and it's real. But we weren’t taking, and don't want to take, a political position on anything. It's not, that's just not... To us, that's not really necessarily a great movie. That’s not a movie we want to make. We just liked to explore the world a little bit.
SR: When it comes to hitmen, where do you rank Alejandro compared to everybody else?
Trent: He's the baddest.
SR: He's… I know.
Trent: How about that double handed trigger shot.
SR: It was amazing.
Trent: That was all his idea.
SR: Oh really?
Trent. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He said, “I want to try something.” And then he walked up and did that. And we were like, “Whoa, that's amazing.”
SR: I always see those memes of like, “Who would you want protecting you?” I would totally put my trust in Alejandro.
Trent: Oh, yeah. He’s so calm and his approach is very assured.
SR: Yeah. You spoke a little bit about Benicio when you said you were in Mexico City recently?
Trent: Yeah, we just got back with.
SR: What did the actors actually bring to the characters that may have not been on the page?
Trent: Oh God, that's a really good question. Because there's a lot. I think Brolin really, in the first one, found that character. He made more of the character then was on the page. Just confidence in the first one. The humor and all of that. This one really asked them to find that dilemma, the morality. To expose that in a way. Benicio knows that character really well. When we're making the movie, he's very clear on what he wants to do with it and limitations or whatever it is. So, he's constantly coming in and making sure that we're all on the same page with what Alejandro is going to do in the scene. And he's always right. And the… Oh, I'll give you a great point. Alejandro, he brought the whole death thing. That’s really powerful, was an idea from Benicio. That was not in the script.
SR: And that was also a great tonal shift from the isolation of the desert. Amazing. Well, congratulations man. Thank you so much. That was amazing.
Trent: Yeah, no, thank you.
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado/Sicario 2 (2018) release date: Jun 29, 2018