Exclusive: Director Scott Stewart Talks 'Priest'


Scott Stewart's directing debut, Legion, has only just opened, but we already have our eyes on another prize: his forthcoming film Priest.  Like Legion, Priest is an action/horror film with religious overtones that stars Paul Bettany.  Speaking with us yesterday during his press rounds for Leion, Stewart clues us in to why these two films are nothing alike. Read our full conversation after the jump.

Are you afraid that when Priest comes out, people will see it as another action/horror/religious film from Paul and Scott?

Priest is so different from Legion.  It really looks much more like a science fiction film.  It doesn't take place in our world.  That in and of itself wouldn't make it different, but tonally it is more somber.  It really is a war movie – or should I say, an after-war movie.  The priests are like Jedi Knights who have won the war for man against vampires.  The church is really just the government in the movie.  They are industrialized – even the cathedrals have smokestacks. It snows black ash in the cities; there are automated confessional booths; it has a very Orwellian quality.  It is a very different experience.  The movie has this desaturated, somber quality.  There is a Wastelands, and the priest character meets up with this young sheriff to try to find this young woman who has been kidnapped by vampires.  It's definitely an homage to John Ford's The Searchers.  The vampires are the Comanche, and the priest is similar to John Wayne's character.  The priest was a soldier but now is an outcast.  He used to be a warrior; now kids look at him like a freak.  Legion is really an ensemble; Priest is not.  It really is the story of this one priest character, and his relationship with this sheriff.  The sheriff is the total opposite of the priest – he has an itchy trigger finger and is always angry, and the priest is always about calm and focus.  But over the course of the story they are both more similar than they realized.  What does it mean to have sacrificed for a cause, only to realize later that you have given up so much.  Friends, family… the priests don't even have names, they are numbers.  You have even sacrificed your own identity.  Like the Crusaders, society worried about how powerful these priests could have become, so they have been decommissioned. 

I feel like we have been hearing about Priest for years or decades.

Yeah there was another version of the film – another script, another director, and Gerard Butler was attached.  The studio decided to go in a different direction.

Is it a completely new script?

No, but I did rewrite it.  It is largely similar, I just worked on the characters and the mythology and the relationships.  Currently we are scheduled for an August 20th release.

Coming from a CG background, how involved are you with that in the films you direct?

I try to be involved, but as a director who knows what he wants, knows how he wants it to look.  The benefit I have is that I have relationships with people who I know are good at it, and I want them to do my films.  There is a general approach to how to shoot scenes with entirely CG characters.  Priest has a number of entirely virtual characters.  The vampires are entirely CG when they are moving because they move so quickly and are not human.  There are a bunch of different "flavors" of vampires – hive drones, guardians, queen. 

None of them sparkle, right?

No, none of them sparkle!  It's not about them burning in the sunlight, either.  They are photosensitive – they are albino and live in caves – but we took a David Attenborough, Planet Earth approach to the vampires.  They are the enemy we don't really understand, but we fought them for centuries.  They are mysterious and alien, with their own culture.  You sense that they think and communicate, but you don't really understand what they are saying.  To me, that was interesting.  When the studio called and asked if I wanted to do it, I wasn't sure if I really had anything to say about vampires that hasn't already been said – and said well.  I wasn't going to do the sexy vampire movie – that's just not what I was interested in.

Do you think there is a movement now to bring vampires back to monsters and adults, and away from lovesick teens?

Yeah.  Every few years there is a resurgence of [romantic] vampires.  When I was growing up, it was Anne Rice, and her vampires were certainly sexy vampires.

But even with Anne Rice's vampires-

There was an adult quality to them.

Yeah.  They were still vicious.  They were still creatures.

Yeah.  These vampires are even more so.  They are totally feral.  They will rip your throat out.  Or if they just bite you, they will turn you into a Familiar.  If they bite you and don't kill you, you become like their slave, and you look like a diseased person.  You lose your hair, become really pale, and become a vampire slave.  Humans are not vampires.

So when one of these vampires bites you…

You are either dead or infected.

Do these vampires still drink blood?

Yeah, but they are like mammals that prey on other mammals.  They live on reservations now, because [humans] put them there after the war.  Their Familiars kill chickens and feed them chicken blood because they are not allowed to feed on humans anymore. So the Familiars say.  In the film, one of the priests says, "They were murderers." And one of the Familiars responds with, "They are what God made them to be, just like you."  Because priests themselves are kind of freaks of nature.