EXCLUSIVE: As Resident Evil: The Final Chapter nears release that will see the six-film series cross the $1 billion gross mark to close as the most successful video game-to-movie franchise, writer-director Paul W.S Anderson and his Impact Pictures producing partner Jeremy Bolt will soon shop their next video game to movie franchise play. Their manager Ken Kamins has begun taking meetings with the filmmakers on Monster Hunter, a wildly popular video game IP from Capcom, the Japanese video game maker that developed and distributes Resident Evil. Anderson has written the first film’s script, and they come armed with still and VFX visual renderings of the creatures (including the above image of a dragon wreaking havoc on LAX) and a detailed game plan that will include a partnership with Dennis Berardi. He’s the co-founder and president of Toronto-based VFX house Mr. X that helped enable Anderson and Bolt to bring in the Resident Evil series for reasonable net budget in the $50-plus million range for each of the final 3D pictures. Monster Hunter will cost a similar amount.
The role-playing video game Monster Hunter is a bestseller for Capcom and should be catnip for tentpole IP-hungry studios; the game is especially popular in Japan (where the Universal theme park already has an attraction) and in China. The logline: For every Monster, there is a Hero. An ordinary man in a dead end job discovers that he is actually the descendant of an ancient hero. He must travel to a mystical world to train to become a Monster Hunter, before the mythical creatures from that world destroy ours.
While films by Anderson and Bolt haven’t been beloved by critics and not all of them have succeeded — Pompeii, with Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington that Anderson directed before this final Resident Evil was a misfire — Anderson and Bolt have crafted a largely unsung success story with Resident Evil. That started modestly in 2002 as a film geared toward the international marketplace that required a rousing test screening to convince Sony it deserved a theatrical release. It has been an exceptional franchise in that its global grosses continue to grow with each new installment, with Clint Culpepper’s Screen Gems releasing in the U.S. Anderson, who wrote all the screenplays, directed the first film, skipped the next two and returned to direct the last three 3D efforts. The series was well out front of the zombie craze that preceded The Walking Dead and WWZ, and it became one of the rare action film franchises anchored by an actress. Here, Anderson and Bolt explain how Resident Evil became the rare video game property to find long term screen success, how they are wrapping up the clash between Alice and the insidious Umbrella Corporation that caused the zombie apocalypse, and how they hope a successful formula will help them turn Monster Hunter into another long-running film series.
DEADLINE: Why end Resident Evil here, and how deliberately did you build in payoffs when you did the first film?
PAUL W.S. ANDERSON: When we made Afterlife, the first 3D movie where I returned as director, we said we wanted to make a trilogy, building toward the climax. When we made the very first movie, we dreamed that maybe we could make a franchise that might hold audience interest for another movie or maybe two. A lot of the ideas we pay off in this film were ideas that we had 16 years ago when we shot the first one. The agenda of the Umbrella Corporation, truth about the Red Queen, the truth about the Alice character. Those were all secrets that we’ve been keeping for 15 years now. Hopefully what it does is make people want to watch all the movies again, with all the new knowledge they get from this film, and reconsider what they’ve seen.
DEADLINE: How much of the mythology of Resident Evil was informed by the video game?
ANDERSON: The video game was the starting point and if you’re a fan, you can see its DNA built into the films. The way they look, the way they’re shot, and their influence even on characters like Alice who are not in the video game. She’s very much based on archetypes in the video game. It’s probably the only video game adaptation where the central character is not from the game.
DEADLINE: How did it start?
ANDERSON: I was playing the Resident Evil video games and I disappeared for two weeks, to the point where Jeremy was a little worried about me.
JEREMY BOLT: He wasn’t returning any calls.
ANDERSON: I was in my apartment, just down from the Chateau Marmont, playing the first three Resident Evil games back to back. I emerged with stubble and red rimmed eyes from not having slept, see Jeremy and say, we have to turn this into a movie. I loved the games but also I loved what they were based on. I was a huge fan of the last cycle of zombie movies, the George Romero movies, the Lucio Fulci movies. When I was a teenager, that was the hot genre; a movie came out every month. And I loved this game, the first of which has you playing characters who go into a mansion in the woods that is overrun with monsters. Underneath the mansion is a secret high-tech facility and a laboratory, overrun with monsters. Clearly, there has been some kind of terrible accident or disaster, and you, as one of the video game characters, have to deal with it. I thought it would be great for the movie to tell the story of what that disaster was. The first film was essentially the prequel to the first video game. We used the locations and creatures from it, and the storyline, but we told the pre-story of what happened to that lab and the people in it.
DEADLINE: Most video game movies disappoint. Why has this lasted?
ANDERSON: I think it’s a combination of passion and experience. I had already done one video game adaptation that worked, Mortal Kombat. That was my first American movie and the reason I didn’t get shipped back to England. I learned an awful lot about what fans like from adaptations and what they don’t. I had a real passion both for the Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil games, and that was the reason we made those movies. I played Mortal Kombat in the arcades in London, and knew all the characters and backstory. While some saw Mortal Kombat as people punching one another and ripping their spines out, I knew there was a mythology there.
BOLT: You were also very inspired by Enter The Dragon.
ANDERSON: Mortal Kombat, like Resident Evil, was based on some really strong original movie IP. Enter The Dragon had a lot of Jason And The Argonauts in it. For me, that’s what Mortal Kombat was: Jason And The Argonauts meets Enter The Dragon.
BOLT: I think that’s an important point. Because we’re both really big gamers and huge film buffs, when we look at a game, it triggers movie ideas. One of the things about Resident Evil that is key to its success is the Umbrella Corporation and the idea of this ubiquitous, omnipotent, evil corporation. That is what triggers movies from The Manchurian Candidate to The Ipcress File to The Terminator.
ANDERSON: Corporate malfeasance.
BOLT: That provided a strong background for the whole series, the small individual taking on the evil corporation. Alice, taking on Umbrella.
ANDERSON: We’ve never seen them as zombie movies as much as science fiction thrillers. I think that’s partly the secret to their success as well. If you look at straight zombie movies or even straight horror movies, the successful ones tend to do business in North America but never travel outside of North America. Home invasion movies are very popular in America, but in Europe the whole concept doesn’t work because no one’s really that concerned about it and it doesn’t really resonate. A lot of horror movies look like giant successes here but then barely play foreign. I think because we’re not a straight horror movie or a zombie movie, and we’ve had this sci-fi thriller edge, it has allowed us to play so big outside of North America.
DEADLINE: Why did you focus on a heroine when most action movies in 2001 or 2002 were anchored by male actors?
ANDERSON: My first movie was Shopping, which starred Jude Law and Sadie Frost. Sadie was the reason it got financed because she had been in Dracula and was the central character. Jude had never been in front of a film camera before. We auditioned all the young actors in London at the time and it came down to these two young unknowns Jude, and Ewan McGregor, who’ve both done very well. So from our first film, we’ve always liked strong female characters. Then I came to Hollywood, and there studio executives recite this law: female lead action movies don’t work because guys want to imagine they’re that guy. They’ll feel emasculated if you’ve got a woman wielding a heavy machine gun.
DEADLINE: And female moviegoers didn’t really seek out these kinds of movies.
ANDERSON: But we’re from Europe, where Jean Luc Godard famously said, all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. I love women in movies, and I love sexy women. What’s sexier than a woman with a gun? Those movies do work in Europe. We were very much coming from that background and the first Resident Evil movie was financed entirely outside of America. There was no American money in the first film.
DEADLINE: So America was not your first priority.
ANDERSON: The first movie was a British-German co-production, starring a woman who was born in the Ukraine, with a hybrid British/German crew, and we did all the visual effects in London.
BOLT: We had another very strong female presence, Michelle Rodriguez, who just popped out of Girlfight at Sundance.
ANDERSON: In Europe all the posters had the two girls and that has become kind of a Resident Evil thing. It’s Milla, but she’s always had a strong supporting female to go alongside her. We only closed the deal with Sony two-thirds of the way through the shoot and it was just a straight P&A deal. The first time Sony saw the movie was a test screening in Burbank, and our deal with Sony was if it scored under a certain percentage, they could put the movie straight to DVD. They didn’t have to take it theatrically.
DEADLINE: What was the percentage? Do you remember?
ANDERSON: It was pretty high.
BOLT: It was very stressful.
ANDERSON: It was over 80. For horror movies and action movies, it is hard to get that high because people feel bad about liking a movie where people get eaten alive. It’s easier to like comedies. By that point, we’d had Hollywood experience. We hung on to the movie. Everyone was pressuring us to test it early, and we said absolutely not. Jeremy and I held out until we had pretty much the version that we released. The visual effects weren’t completely done, but close.
BOLT: We learned our lesson on Event Horizon, where the studio pushed us to test early and we weren’t ready. They were like, don’t worry about the visual effects. Rubbish. You have to test it in the most perfect condition.
DEADLINE: What happens after a Event Horizon test before it was ready?
BOLT: The studio gets nervous.
ANDERSON: I’m sure they never tell you, but your P&A spend goes down.
BOLT: There’s a different story in there also, because Event Horizon obviously had some very extreme sequences in it.
ANDERSON: But the first Resident Evil, we got it in great shape. We took it to Burbank. Everyone from Sony was in the audience sitting behind us, making us even more nervous. We start the movie and there’s that sequence where everyone gets killed in the hive, and there’s a woman trapped in an elevator and she’s trying to get out and the elevator brakes are going and then the elevator drops and her head’s sticking out, and she’s obviously going to get decapitated. Just at the point where she’s going to get decapitated, we cut to black. And this guy in front of me stood up and went, “I love this movie.” The whole audience erupted, cheering. I looked back and I see all the Sony guys. They’ve got big smiles on their faces. We talked about this afterwards and how we were idiots for not thinking ahead and hiring someone to do that, regardless of whether the movie was any good or not. The test went great. We scored very, very well.
DEADLINE: So you scored beyond that straight-to-DVD threshold.
ANDERSON: Yeah. The studio was very enthused about it but definitely the financing had to come from outside of America. The first movie worked and Sony became very, very involved in the rest of the franchise. Now, excluding France and Germany, they distributed everywhere in the world. Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems has been great.
DEADLINE: It’s rare for a director to start a franchise, turn it over to another director, then return. Even though you wrote all of them and the two of you were hands on producers, why get back behind the camera?
ANDERSON: I loved it. When you ask why it works, the passion of the people involved is very important. We love the game and we loved the idea of reviving the zombie genre when there were no zombies around. It was before World War Z and The Walking Dead. No one had seen a zombie on the screen for 15 years. So we were very fired up about that. Then, Milla [Jovovich] came to the project. She loved the video game, played it with her little brother. Michelle loved the video game also, so there was this huge energy going in that has continued throughout the franchise. Some movies have been stronger than others, but it became a family affair, with the same crew. If you look at video game adaptations, quite often that isn’t true. You see filmmakers giving interviews, saying I never played the video game. It is very disrespectful to the IP. How can you adapt something without understanding the original IP? You’d never dream of adapting a book without reading it. Somehow, people feel with video games it’s OK just to kind of jump in there without really understanding its DNA.
DEADLINE: It is a family affair. Paul, how long did it take you to fall in love with your leading lady?
ANDERSON: It was fast. I met Milla on the steps of our office on Sunset Strip and I remember, she was smoking a cigarette. It was like lightning.
DEADLINE: What is your connection to the gamer audience of Resident Evil?
ANDERSON: The first thing I did when we finally closed all the deals was I got on a plane and flew to Japan and met with the creator of the game and with Capcom. Through a translator, I spent two days pitching my vision of the movie. They gave me their thoughts back. With a translator, and with jet lag. It was quite an ordeal. These people had invested seven or 10 years of their lives into that game.
DEADLINE: They were making a lot of money on the game.
BOLT: Their priority was, don’t damage the brand. Enhance it.
ANDERSON: It worked out for them, because every time we release a movie, sales of the game spike. When we released the first one, sales on the second game were declining but went up. The movie franchise and the video game franchise have really supported one another and have a symbiotic relationship, feeding off one another. We’re not a direct reflection of one another because sometimes what we do deviate from the games. They’re not just straight adaptations. I also feel that’s a mistake others have made. If you’ve played a video game like Resident Evil, it’s important that there are shocks and surprises. You’re playing and then, suddenly, one of the characters gets eaten and you’re like oh! That’s part of its fun. If you just do a straight adaptation of that, how can a gamer enjoy the movie? It’s like watching Alien for the first time and somebody already told you Sigourney Weaver is the only one to survive at the end. When the captain, Dallas [Tom Skerritt] gets eaten, these were huge shocks.
DEADLINE: It would not have helped knowing the results of John Hurt’s indisgestion…
ANDERSON: Can you imagine if someone had told you all of that? It would just rob the movie of its magic. That’s why we went with the idea of the prequel. The gamers would feel that it was definitely in the world, with all the locations, and that it followed the story line. But we were telling a fresh story within that world. I think that was good for both the gamers because they got to learn something about their universe that they didn’t know already. It was also good for an audience that didn’t know anything about the video games. It put everyone on the same level. You didn’t have to have massive knowledge of the video game to understand the first movie.
DEADLINE: One tricky part of video game movie deals has been rights-holder involvement in film, a medium they don’t really know, where they press filmmakers to adhere closely to the game. How hard was it, especially through a translator, to get Capcom to trust what must have seemed to them a risky proposition?
ANDERSON: We were very respectful, down to me getting on a plane to Japan. But contractually, we could have just done whatever we wanted.
BOLT: Well, they had consultation, but Paul’s right. We treated them with tremendous respect and earning their trust is one of the reasons for Monster Hunter, being the movie we’ll do next. They control the rights, and the game is now bigger for them than Resident Evil.
ANDERSON: It’s very much their crown jewel.
BOLT: They’ve said what they love about Paul is he understood the spirit of the game and expanded and made more of it. Commercially and creatively, they really respect that. They are trusting us again, on Monster Hunter.
DEADLINE: The movies are around a $915 million global gross, but the grosses continue to rise, you clearly will surpass $1 billion mark. What does that mean to you?
BOLT: Proud, especially because we think this is the best one and we’ll end on a high note, creatively. We’ve learned a lot from this film and take those lessons into doing something new, in the video game world we know best. Any commercial filmmaker has to love that.
ANDERSON: We worked on franchises before, and Mortal Kombat and Alien Versus Predator were big hits. But there, we were guns for hire. Here, got to be more in control.
BOLT: Our partners at Constantin controlled the rights. It started with Bernd Eichinger, who founded Constantin in the mid-’90s, when we were going to do a version of The Stars My Destination. He’d seen our first movie, at the Munich Film Festival.
ANDERSON: He really liked it, met us and really became a mentor. He was this tremendously charismatic, passionate filmmaker, and so when I emerged from my apartment with the red eyes and a beard, determined to do Resident Evil, Jeremy tried to buy the rights from Capcom. We discovered they’d already sold them to Constantin, who we were getting into an overhead deal with. It was destiny. They had had the rights for two years, but hadn’t developed a movie they wanted to make. They were literally thinking of letting the rights go when I pitched them. They said, we love that idea but we don’t have any money because we spent so much on all the other adaptations by George Romero and others. We’re thinking of letting the whole thing go. I said, I’ll write it on spec.
BOLT: It was called Undead.
ANDERSON: I delivered it to them, with Undead written on the front. I said if you like it, we’ll change the front page and call it Resident Evil. If you don’t, I’m going to go and make this movie called Undead because I really have fallen in love with the idea of doing an undead movie.
DEADLINE: It could have been a stand-alone?
ANDERSON: I think the fact that we partly developed with that in mind is one of the reasons it played so well to audiences that didn’t know anything about the video game. I approached it from the standpoint that if you don’t know Resident Evil, how do we make a great movie that people will get really invested in? The key was Milla’s character having amnesia as well, because she became the audience, in a way. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. The audience didn’t know what the hell was going on and she became the heart of the movie for the audience.
DEADLINE: Something like Bourne, where the audience is discovering along with the protagonist?
ANDERSON: In the final movie we pay that off because she’s never gotten her memory back. She’s always been the woman whose memories basically start when the franchise started. So that’s one of the things that we address in this movie. You discover the truth.
DEADLINE: Why haven’t critics loved these films as much as your core audience? Is that terrible?
ANDERSON: One of the first times I came to America and wanted to be a filmmaker, I was in New York. I’d made short films when I was a kid, but I was still a student. I went to go and see the opening day of Total Recall, the Arnold Schwarzenegger version, in Times Square. It was the first time I’d seen a movie in America. In England, you never know whether an audience liked the movie or not because their response at the end of the film is exactly the same. They sit there in stone-cold silence, and then they get up and leave. It’s a cliché but everyone’s very restrained there. I’m watching Total Recall with a Times Square audience, back when Times Square was a bit edgier than now. There was that scene when Sharon Stone tries to kill Arnold and he gets the gun and he’s got it on her and she says, “Don’t kill me. I’m your wife.” He goes, “Consider this a divorce,” and he shoots her. The whole audience went insane. People were literally standing on their chairs. Even before he said the line, there were these two women who stood up right beside me. “Kill that bitch. Shoot her in the head!” The audience reaction was so strong that you couldn’t hear any of the dialogue in the following scene over the hollering. I thought, that’s what I want to do. I’ve always loved film but I never realized film could play like that. So we’ve always been populist filmmakers. For us, the ultimate arbiter of whether a film is good or bad is when you sit with 350 people who’ve paid their money to see your movie. Do you entertain them? Do you do your job as an entertainer? Do you scare them? Do you make them cheer? Do they applaud at the end? That’s always been our approach. We haven’t cared that much about critics because also, as we got older, movies that get ripped a new asshole get critically reappraised later.
Our first film, Shopping, was hated by the British press. They said things like, Jude Law was too good looking to be an actor. Completely ridiculous. There was another quote which is ‘Shopping is nothing more than a reckless orgy of destruction.’ What’s wrong with that, on a Channel4 budget? We had the same budget as Ken Loach was working with at the time, and we had car chases and techno music and helicopters. We actually put that line on our poster in England. Shopping, a reckless orgy of destruction. About five or six years after, it got released again in the glow of dark movies like Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. People started going back and saying, Shopping was the first movie that did that kind of stuff. Event Horizon is another example of that. The films get reassessed. So while it would be great if you get awesome things written about you all the time, ultimately we put our faith in the audience and in history, that what we do will be validated long term.
DEADLINE: Have you cracked the China marketplace with Resident Evil?
ANDERSON: The fourth one was the first to get released in China.
BOLT: There are high hopes for this one. Capcom’s games are very closely connected to China, so we are quite hopeful. Monster Hunter, by the way, is huge in China.
DEADLINE: You gave me a Monster Hunter logline. Explain the mythology and how you turn that into a narrative feature.
ANDERSON: What I love about Monster Hunter is the incredibly beautiful, immersive world they’ve created. It’s on the level of like a Star Wars movie, in terms of world creation. There are no real central characters so it’s a bit like when we first approached Resident Evil and imposed our own characters and story on that world. I think this is a perfect IP for us to do exactly that same thing again. The Monster Hunter world includes these huge deserts that make the Gobi Desert look like a sandbox, and they have ships that sail through the sand. These full-on galleons, but rather than sailing on the ocean waves, they sail through waves of sand.
You’re fighting these giant creatures, some as big as a city block. They live underneath the Earth and when they burst out, it’s like the best of Dune. You also have these flying dragons, giant spiders, the most wonderful creatures. That’s what really attracted me. I felt there was a fresh, exciting world that we could expose and build a whole world around, like a Marvel or Star Wars universe. Everything is about world creation, nowadays, and how can you build a world where you can have multiple stories going on? I thought this was our opportunity to have a cinematic universe.
DEADLINE: How will you set this up as your next film?
BOLT: We went ahead and got the rights ourselves. Capcom, because of Resident Evil and their respect, agreed to give us the rights. They loved Paul’s pitch and then we partnered with Dennis Berardi. The three of us formed a new company, and we are taking Paul’s script and the whole package out.
ANDERSON: We started the process and talking to Capcom about five years ago. Like Jeremy said, it’s the crown jewel so there was a lot of conversation. What will you do with it? What will the story be? They really wanted to be sure that we were going to do it justice because it’s their top money earner now. It’s huge, a cultural phenomenon in Japan and it’s giant in China, where it’s an online game that has 15 million paying users. If you do the math, the movie could potentially be the biggest of the year in China and Japan, where people line up around the block when new games are released. It has sold 38 million copies so far, which is bigger than Resident Evil was when we started the adaptation of that franchise.
BOLT: It’s a different…where Resident Evil is sci-fi/horror/action, this is a PG-13 action/adventure. We’re excited about going to a slightly different genre. As Paul said the game is a bit of Star Wars, a bit of Lord Of The Rings, it’s a little more fantasy. We’ve found a way of connecting the Dune-like sand covered world of Monster Hunter with our world. So we’re bringing this massive Japanese game into the world of America.
ANDERSON: The central characters are very relatable American characters. You take a person from the ordinary world who thinks they’re in a dead end job, they have no future, they feel like their life’s a failure, it’s going nowhere, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. It’s about a normal American who gets dragged into this parallel world, this Monster Hunter world. Then eventually the parallel world ends up coming to our world. So you have the creatures from the Monster Hunter world invading our world.
The mythology is that basically monsters are real and all the monsters and creatures from our mythology, whether dragons or the Minotaur, or Chinese dragons, it’s all real. They were real. They really existed in our world. For every monster there was a hero that fought the monster. And then those monsters just disappeared, overnight. They ceased to exist, as did our need for heroes. They became a thing of myth and legend, but eventually the monsters will come back. Unless we have a hero to help fight them, our world with be devastated by these returning creatures, after we’ve chosen to put our faith in technology rather than heroes. All of our technology won’t mean anything once the dragons start raining fire.
DEADLINE: How far have you fleshed this out?
BOLT: We’ve got about two movies. We will likely shoot in China or South Africa for a budget comparable to the final Resident Evil, about $50 million net.
ANDERSON: It’s definitely intended to be a franchise because the movie starts in our world and then it goes to the Monster Hunter world and then the final act comes back to our world and it’s basically this epic battle in and around LAX. Then at the end we’re suddenly confronted with the fact that the mythological creatures of our world have come back to wreak vengeance. So we definitely have the second film where that would be planned out.