Without a doubt one of the most hotly anticipated films currently coming down the line is Vincenzo Natali's Splice. Starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as a pair of genetics researchers whose research enters some, shall we say, dubious territory, the film was originally intended as the director's follow up to Cube but ended up sitting for nearly ten years before finally entering production with Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro on board as an executive producer.
I had the chance to visit the set last week and while I've been sworn to secrecy on most of the things I saw and heard I did have the chance to sit down with producer Steve Hoban - well familiar to fans of Ginger Snaps - star Delphine Chanéac and director Vincenzo Natali. My conversation with Hoban follows below the break and the other two will follow over the next few days.
TB: So, when did you become attached to the film?
SH: I’ve been friends with Vincenzo for years and we’ve made other films before. So I’d been commenting on the script, just as a friend, for many years. I’ve seen the script since the first or second draft which was almost ten years ago but at that point it was with a different producer. Then about two years ago Vincenzo and I were talking about this project, I was staying at his house in LA, and he thought it was all caught up in turnaround and other legal issues and thought he couldn’t get it out after this other producer failed to get it made. I asked him to let me look at the contracts figuring there must be some way and saw that we could though it would cost us some money once we got the film going, quite a bit of money, but we would be able to go ahead and do it. So that’s how it started.
And at that point Vincenzo had already had a conversation with Guillermo Del Toro, Guillermo had told Vincenzo that he had been a fan of his stuff since CUBE and wanted to produce a film for him some day so Vincenzo got Guillermo’s company Angry Bull involved. So we started doing some more work on the script and sometime soon after that a producer at Gaumont who was familiar with Vincenzo’s work approached us about another project that Vincenzo was involved with. Vincenzo had just completed a draft of the script that we thought was a really good draft and we thought maybe we should give this to Gaumont instead. We thought this would be better as his next movie than the project Gaumont was originally interested in. This was actually originally supposed to be his next project after CUBE. So, the timing seemed right, creatively it seemed like the right thing and the script had just gotten to where it could be shown to investors. So off it went to Gaumont and they really liked it. It was a bit expensive but as a co-production with Gaumont and Canada and the other companies involved we were able to pull it off.
TB: What is the attraction to you for this kind of film? For genre film?
SH: I guess I just always grew up reading these things, science fiction and stories that had ideas behind them, stories that are about characters … originally not even that. Gorwing up I was always reading plot driven stories and idea driven stories and had that interest, and as I got older I got interested in novels and films that were more interested in character and more thematic stuff but I never lost my interest in interesting or unique or sensational or horrifying storylines. So as I started getting involved in the film business I started looking for projects that would meld those two things, that would be very character driven but would also be idea driven stories as well. So I have done mostly genre films but they’re also all films that aren’t just interested in servicing that genre. Like GINGER SNAPS, it’s a genre movie but it’s really about much more than just a werewolf. The whole werewolf mythology was a metaphor in that film and I think in the case of SPLICE the concept of splicing human DNA with the DNA of other creatures, that’s the launching pad for an exciting, dramatic story but it really gets to explore larger thematic ideas and that’s my interest in genre. It’s really about interesting ideas and concepts but told through character.
TB: I’ve always believed that genre film gets – well, sometimes it’s deserved – but often an undeserved bad rap, but intelligent genre film lasts for a reason.
SH: That’s it. Hopefully what we make tend to be intelligent genre films but I’d say most films – genre or not – don’t tend to be very intelligent. I don’t think that genre films on the whole are any worse or less intelligent than any other films. It’s just that when you say genre films people tend to assume a certain kind of thing, that it’s not going to be as thoughtful.
TB: Now, the casting on this, you managed to get two actors who are not really known for doing this sort of film, not that Sarah [Polley]’s all that well known outside of Canada …
SH: She’s better known outside of Canada, I would say. Absolutely. It was a little bit of a surprise for us. Obviously we were familiar with her and she was creatively in the mix from the very beginning when we started talking about casting. She was always on the initial lists. But we didn’t quite realize what kind of international appeal she had at that time. It was only after we cast her in the film that we would say to different potential distributors for the film that we have Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody, expecting the reactions to all key in on Adrien, and were very surprised to see how enthusiastic people were about the idea of Sarah Polley. They were no less enthusiastic for her than for Adrien Brody, which was a big surprise. She’s been well known in the indie scene for quite some time but this is beyond that, even with studios the reactions were, “Oh! She’s great for that!”
TB: They’re both unusual choices in that it’s casting against type a bit. They don’t usually do this sort of thing though both have dabbled a bit in the past.
SH: Yeah, I think they both like genre. They both have an interest in it. They’re both certainly having a lot of fun in this particular genre movie. For us, though, the reason to cast them had nothing to do with whether they liked this kind of film or had done this kind of film before or not. It was all about casting actors that you would believe to be scientists and that were the right age and I can’t think of very many actors who fit into both of those categories. Really, Adrien and Sarah were the leading two who were the right kind of age and who you could really believe. There are plenty of others out there who are the right age, but to come across as being as intelligent as these two do? That’s the tough thing. And they both have a very unique sort of charisma. You never know how it’s going to work until you see them working together but that chemistry is really working. We thought it was going to work, that’s why we cast them, but we didn’t know. They’re both very personable, they’re very talented, very charismatic, very intelligent. And the other important thing to us, because this is a genre film, is that they’re both actors who are seen to be quality actors and certainly they are. I defy you to come up with any male and female who are of higher quality within their age group.
TB: One last thing. I know Vincenzo’s been living out of the country for a while and you’ve got the international money in this … it seems for most people that unless you’re David Cronenberg or Atom Egoyan you can’t really make a movie here and expect people to actually see it. With that in mind was it a deliberate choice for you as a production team to come and shoot it here, back at home, rather than in LA or Europe? Was that something you really wanted to do?
SH: Well, I can say this for both Vincenzo and I: we make movies in Canada. We don’t make movies anywhere else. All of the production crews we work with are Canadian, this is home for us. Vincenzo living in LA is a choice he made for his career, not to work there but to be allowed to make movies and have access. It’s something that all directors, producer, writers and actors – everyone here in Canada that wants to be making films that will be seen by a wide audience, you have to consider the idea of LA. For me, I’m really happy I’ve been able to stay in Canada. There was a time I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do that. But we’ve never even thought of making it anywhere else. There’s never a thought of making any film anywhere else because this is home. Even if I was living in LA right now, production home is still here and certainly it is for Vincenzo. The city was written as Toronto, everything both of us has ever done has been conceived and written of as Canadian projects. It wasn’t about bringing it home, it was where else would we shoot it?
In addition to that it became a really critical element in the financing as well, there are certainly advantages to being a Canadian film maker. There are big disadvantages as well. Access is one of them , when you’re not in LA it means you’re not cultivating those ongoing relationships. I go there periodically but it’s not like at dinner I can just bump into someone who will remember me better because they saw me at a meeting last week, I fly away. I don’t have that ability to build those sorts of relationships, I have to be more surgical about how I do it. But on the other side, the advantage we have here is our tax credit situation. They’re starting to do the same thing in the US but it doesn’t compare to what a Canadian content or co-production film can do here. We couldn’t have done this film with this budget in the US.