A while ago HN Entertainment’s Nicholas Whitcomb and CJ Paschall had the pleasure to speak with StudioADI’s Alec Gillis about various topics such as his work on the Alien franchise and Demolition Man. Continuing from that exclusive interview the subject moved towards Alec’s recent work on Shane Black’s The Predator.
HN: So more recently you were involved with Shane Black’s The Predator, can you talk a little bit about the early conversations you had with Shane regarding the design of creatures for that movie, and what you wanted to showcase with that sequel. We know there’s specifically a pretty big upgrade, no pun intended, for the Predator that we see on screen, but what were those conversations like?
GILLIS: “Well initially, the earlier drafts of the script had what we were calling the menagerie, which was a bunch of alien specimens that were escapees from a crashed spaceship. So the loonies had multiple problems on their hands, they had a giant Upgrade Predator plus six or eight weird creatures attacking them, and it was a big sequence with a convoy where these creatures were gonna be after them. It was a big CGI component to those creatures obviously, but Shane Black is a big supporter of practical effects, and his frame of reference, like a lot of is like well Aliens worked, Jurassic Park worked, Starship Troopers is the same, so he wanted to have parts and pieces, puppet heads and things like that. His desire was to have that mixed bag approach [CGI and practical], ultimately the menagerie was cut, but we did a bunch of designs which you can see on our YouTube channel.”
“So you can see a bunch of our Predator stuff [on YouTube], a bunch of designs that didn’t make it, and not only of the menagerie but of other Predator characters as well, but this happens in movies. That cut of the menagerie happened while shooting was going on, while the principal was being shot, so that wasn’t a huge surprise. The bigger cut for us was that we had built two, what we call Emissary Predators, and shot them and those were reshot, but our experience with Shane was fantastic. I love his movies, I really love his writing, Fred Dekker and him wrote Monster Squad, which Tom and I worked on, so we’ve known Fred since ’86 or so. Obviously Shane was in the first Predator, I didn’t meet him on that, but we’ve had our meetings over the years with both of those guys, I think they’re a great team, and they’re both super supporters of practical effects. It’s always a question of whether or not they can get them into the movie, because there is definitely a studio driven desire to not have practical effects in films, that comes from the studio that doesn’t come from the filmmakers.”
HN: Kind of a follow up to that, you mentioned the menagerie and the Emissaries, I actually spoke to someone who saw the first cut of the film with all of that footage still in there. Was it hard for you to see all of that changed? I mean the theatrical cut that got released is pretty radically different from what was originally going to be in the film, the day and night cuts.
GILLIS: “I put these kind of cuts into two categories: One is it helpful for the film? If it’s helpful for the film, I’m all for cutting our work. If it’s not helpful for the film, or if it’s fear-based or whatever, then obviously that hurts more.”
“So the big example of this is The Thing (2011). We did a lot of work on it, and we’ve been around long enough, you kinda start seeing the signs that are telling you that your work is not gonna be in the film. They are signs like “Oh they’re shooting a plate, we just shot our creature and it got applause. Ha! Now they’re shooting a plate and they’re holding up silver balls, oh alright well that’s just to cover themselves. Oh now they’re asking to scan our creatures so that they have them for possible replacement I guess.” So they you go like “Alright this is just the nature of modern filmmaking, they cover their bases and all that kind of stuff.” At the time of Thing (2011), Rick Baker’s work in The Wolfman had been replaced, Stan Winston had had things cut and replaced, so it happens, and it isn’t an issue of quality. It’s an issue of style and dynamic, and there’s a whole lot of reasons. It’s like when you hear a joke and you laugh the first time, by the tenth time you hear the joke, you wonder if the joke’s even funny. This is what happens when you shoot something, and you cut it into the movie and they go “Wow! That’s awesome, but you know what,” and after fifth viewing or whatever, and this is what happens in post-production, people get weary of what they’ve committed to on film, and they start saying “Wouldn’t it be better if it looked like the flesh was pulsating?” “Yeah we can make the flesh pulsate, but you know what? It’s probably easier to just replace that entire creature, because we’ve already got the scans, and in that way we can make it really do some dynamic things! We can make it run down hallways, smash walls,” and do all this other kinds of stuff that the Thing should never do. But because they can, it becomes seductive. Everybody is trying to do the right thing, they’re trying to make it cooler and better. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. It doesn’t mean that the audience is gonna love it.”
“So my point being that, we’ve been through this a number of times. I don’t really take it personally if somewhere down the line a gaggle of executives impose upon a director that you’ve gotta change this or change that because it’s kinda what you expect from a gaggle of executives.”
“The bottom line is with The Predator, I didn’t see those cuts of the film so I can’t comment on whether or not those Emissaries needed to be cut from the film, but because they were tied in with the scenes with the menagerie, and the big attack on the convoy, my assumption is that it wasn’t working with them in it. So I can see why they cut those characters from the film.”
HN: Along with those major changes to the third act, it kinda seemed like there were several different endings planned for the film. Obviously, the one that made the final cut was with the Predator Killer suit of armor, which still opens up a whole new path for sequels, but we’d also seen some photos of an aged Newt and Ripley inside that pod. Were those meant to connect back to the Alien idea that Neill Blomkamp had?
GILLIS: “Were there photographs of an aged Newt?”
HN: Yeah, I forget who [posted], but they surfaced and Breanna Watkins was standing in for Newt and Ripley.
GILLIS: “Huh. Well, then you know as much as I know. There is one other thing that I know, and that is the Fox legal department. [Laughs].”
Alec Gillis is currently on various social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram, also consider following the official Studio ADI YouTube channel and Instagram account for some really amazing effects videos that the team over there posts on a regular basis. There might be a new Demolition Man video on the horizon, the channel and Alec’s social media accounts are totally worth checking out to get some excellent insight into the world of practical effects.