Priest isn't your ordinary holy man. Based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung, these priests are warriors, fighting armies of vampire-beasts. Plus, few priests are as good-looking as Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. We chatted with director Scott Stewart about how he created the post-apocalyptic landscape of the film, the MPAA, and how they went from 2D to 3D.
The color scheme is very stylized. Was it based on the graphic novel?
The graphic novel is actually black and white. It is very stark, which is really informative because I like to think in terms of silhouettes. Like the the silhouettes of the priests. The Western priest has a different silhouette than the Monsignor, who has more of an Orwellian silhouette. The color palette is quite controlled. Red is really restricted in the movie, except in a few key areas. The damsel in distress has red hair. Red for blood - though a little less red for the MPAA.
We tried to create a very stark landscape. The cities are in cyan. We removed blue from the sky because blue skies feel happy, so we made them slate grey. We bleached the deserts white. So they are in the desert but it's not warm - it actually looks very cold. The idea of making a movie that, in many respects, is a western, but color corrected like a science fiction film was a really interesting contrast. We removed colors like yellow and tobacco from the movie, so it is much cooler. We left more color in the prologue, because that happened before the world became what it became.
Tell us about the motorcycles in the film.
The priest motorcycles were real - we really engineered them. Tyruben Ellingson designed them with me. We called it "brutal functionalism" - it's like you are riding a big jet engine in Superman position. The bikes worked, but they had a really long wheelbase and we only had about 12 weeks to build them - usually you take years to engineer a vehicle. So when you would get these bikes going up to 80 miles per hour, they would start to rattle and vibrate. We had people go down. Fortunately, no one was permanently injured but we had some scary injuries. So for some portions of the film we had to use a reengineered bike where we brought the front wheel in, chopped off the front of the bike, and digitally filled in the front.
Was the opening sequence always meant to be animated?
When I first got the script, it was just written as a scroll. People never read the scroll, or they read it and don't remember it. So I rewrote it and boarded it out, made an animatic, figuring maybe we could at least put it on the DVD. I presented it to the studio anyway, who was going over the visual effects budget. They saw it and said, "Well this is several million dollars right here." I knew if I held firm, I might get something. I've been friends with [animator] Genndy Tartakovsky for years, and always wanted to work on a project with him. I knew that he could do it as 2D, hand-drawn animation, and it would be a fraction of the price. So I went back to the studio, told them it would be an homage to the original manga, and it could be done for a fraction of the price.
Did you have any problems with the MPAA? Did they require a lot of cuts?
When we were getting ready to make the film, I knew we were right on the edge of PG-13 and R. We actually had to change very, very little of the picture. Just a few frames here and there. Some of the kills - like Priest cutting up one of the creatures midair - we really thought we would have to cut. But when you make the blood a little less red, it allowed us the PG-13. We are primarily fantasy-character violence, which is what allowed us to get away with what we did. The sound is something the MPAA seemed to fixate on. Like, when a guy gets stabbed, they wanted us to lose the stabbing sound.
Why shoot in 2D and convert it to 3D?
I wanted to shoot on film. I wanted to shoot anamorphic. I was inspired by big widescreen landscape movies like Bad Day at Black Rock. I liked the idea of using old C-series lenses from the 1970s. They added a certain amount of distortion, which I felt made the movie more tactile, more organic.
Did you know it was going to be converted to 3D?
We talked a lot about it. I certainly designed the movie, compositionally, to work in 2D, but also lend itself to 3D. What you are seeing on the screen is a lot of combinations between 2D and 3D.
Got any plans for the DVD?
Hopefully a gag reel. We have a great gag reel where Maggie is looking really cool [swinging around a rope weapon] and suddenly it looks around and smashes her in the head. Not at all fierce. The studio definitely wants to release an unrated version on DVD, and we have a TON of extras. I am a huge blu-ray and DVD geek. I've learned a lot about movie making from listening to commentary tracks. So I want people to feel like we are being as generous as possible. There will be multiple commentary tracks and a bunch of documentaries. For the blu-ray, they are doing some cool interactive stuff, like 3D models that you can spin around.