Alex Garland Interview


Screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, Alex Garland talks to me about his latest film, the gritty, honest and hyper-violent re-incarnation of Mega City One’s finest, Judge Dredd in Dredd 3D (in which Garland is also credited as a producer). As a fan of the comic strip he also chats about doing justice to the character, reveals sequel ideas and quashes rumours surrounding a behind the scenes bust up.


Nick: In early drafts of the scripts, you began looking at characters such as Judge Death, Total War story arcs and pro democracy, but it was unworkable to get them into an origin, or first movie. Would you be interested in putting these stories into a later Dredd, and do you think that they are now more possible as we have now had a first film and introduction, or a re-introduction to the character?

Alex: We have had a first film that hasn’t yet been released, and it’s certainly not more possible now. It may be in four weeks time. It’s an 18 rated, R-rated film. To generate the kind of money to justify a sequel is a tall order. That said if I was able to work on a sequel, there are definitely particular stories I’d like to tell. Second film, broadly would involve characters like; Chopper and Judge Death. Storylines like, ‘Origins’ and ‘The Cursed Earth’ and it would be about Dredd’s history and the history of the city, which are bound up in each other. It would also involve the weird deal, between the fact that he’s a fascist and the terrorists are pro-democrats; he’s an anti-hero and that it’s a complex situation. So, yeah, I’d love to try that. I just want to be clear that it’s a fantasy, but I’d love to do it.

Then after that, if I got any further and haven’t been sacked (giggles), it would be the crazier stuff, which for me is Chief Judge Cal (based on Caligula) and the Dark Judges. Basically, it would be about a chief Judge who had gone insane and the city getting invaded by this completely malevolent rifts and perversion of the judge system.

Nick: Could you tell me a little bit about the process of re-inventing Dredd for a 21st century audience?

Alex: My intentions from the absolute get go was not to re-invent Dredd, but to do Dredd in a way that did justice to the character in the comic books. You could call it a re-invention if you were taking as your starting point from the original Sylvester Stallone movie, but my approach to this was, I knew we would never have the budget level and also, it doesn’t really suit our aesthetic in terms of me, Andrew McDonald and Allon Reich, who are the producers I worked with. It’s not really our scene to try and do something that is too far away from reality on some level. We knew flying cars and very elaborate CG robots and stuff like that were really not going to be on our scope for the first move. That aside the first thing I did after sitting down with Andrew and Allon, was to contact John Wanger, who was the writer who co-created Dredd and to bring him in, not as a way of name checking the creator, but I wanted him to be actually working on the film as a proper, paid, part of the team, which he was.

He would always be there, from my point of view, to keep track of his character and to make sure we were doing it right. I would always send him the drafts, he would change lines, which I’d accept happily. Karl (Urban) did the same as well, he’d tweak the lines too. So, what I’m trying to say is, we weren’t trying to re-invent him, we were trying to be appropriately respectful to him.

Nick: In a way, this is kind of Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) film, as we see Dredd through her eyes. Were you aware of this at the time?

Alex: Yeah, definitely. The standard set up with a film, not with a sitcom, not with a comic, and often not with a standard TV series, as apposed to the brilliant recent American re-invention of television, is that in a film the character goes on a big journey and changes a lot, and Dredd couldn’t do that. He is not about change, that’s not what he is. He changes in a way and that way is like a glacier, that’s how I would visualise it. I used to see him as a glacier and a desert. A glacier, because he moves very, very slowly, and a desert, because if there is one thing in a desert, you look at it. If there is nothing but a cactus, you look at the cactus. So if he tilts his head you put all this extra meaning into that. I always knew that in the heart of this film would be a rock that hardly moved, in an eternal way. The traditional story arc, as in Anderson’s journey, that was intentional, so somebody is travelling at least at that accelerated pace.

Nick: What was your favourite scene that you had written and were then finally able to see in the finished product?

Alex: Slo-Mo (answered before the question had been finished).

All that Slo-Mo stuff, that was the hardest thing to get right. It began very early. While we were shooting Never Let Me Go, Jon Thum, who is the VFX supervisor, was constructing very worked up, very high end preview sequences of Slo-Mo, to try and find out if some of the basic ideas of Slo-Mo, one of which is that you’re not really going, as it were raging bull slow, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, but you can have a really extended slow sequence. How far can you do that before it snaps? How trippy can it get? How far can you pull the viewer out in to some really weird hallucinogenic space before they lose track of the story or the action? We started trying to figure that out a long time before pre-production and we finished working that stuff out, and I mean this literally, in the final minutes of the grade, at the very end of post production. Tweaking the colours, trying very different approaches to the colour scheme and levels of saturation, the framing, the camera moves, it went on and on. On a personal level it’s my favourite stuff in the film.

Nick: What was it about Karl (Urban) that you liked when you first met him?

Alex: He got Dredd in a very deep way. We never had the kind of discussion that you often have with actors. That’s not always a bad thing. I have had long conversations with actors about motivation, characters, and how a character got to a certain point, which is just part of an actor’s process and there is nothing judgemental about that at all, but Karl just arrived fully formed. I think that like me, he had read Dredd when he was younger, he knew Dredd, and he understood it backwards. All sorts of things that we had as private rules, that we would observe. He sat down and he basically said, ‘I hope your gonna do this, and I hope your gonna do that’. He wasn’t stepped back, he was stepped forward and he was kind of saying that these are the terms that I would be interested in doing the character, and that was a fantastic relief.

Nick: Karl Urban described working with you as a rewarding collaborative film experience and you obviously have an affinity for him. Would any future project with your involvement hinge on Karl being involved?

Alex: Well Dredd would (sniggers). It’s hard to say about future projects that don’t exist. If it’s a story about three Amazon women on an island, then probably not, but if it was Dredd, I just couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. It was such an easy thing to get wrong. People probably misunderstand in a way what he is doing. It’s a very controlled performance. I’m sure he’d speak to you about this a lot more eloquently than I can, but if you don’t have a whole section of your face, then you have to create a different language of communication, like the way you tilt your head, or the way you look at someone. One of my favourite shots in the film, is this bit where Anderson has just met this lady in a flat, and realised that she had just killed her husband, and so she is freaking out in the lift and she is clearly in a state of turmoil about this and there is a focus pull from her to Dredd in the background, just looking at her and he doesn’t move, but its got so much information in it, and a kind of totality of Dreddness in it.

Nick: Many attempts to adapt comic heroes to the big screen have failed, with this in mind what was the most important essence for you to bring to the screen?

Alex: A kind of hardness, I wanted the film to just be very hard. Soft in its drugs, weird maybe at times, but to have a relentless hardness. For me that is part of the character that I didn’t create, I’m just trying to continue it. It would be easy to try and humanise Dredd. He is already human. He is not a superhero, he is just a man and can’t really do anything that a normal man can’t do, but people could try to humanise him. People try to do that in films, they want to contact him more, but John Wagner, who created Dredd said to me once, “the harder you make him, the more people will like him” and I will always remember that.

Nick: I wonder if you could clarify some of the stories and rumours surrounding your on set relationship with Pete Travis (Director) during the making of this film.

Alex: All I would say is that at the heart of those stories, there was always a line that Pete and I had fallen out or that there was a disagreement, but there really wasn’t. That’s not a spin. Pete and I never fell out and I last met him for coffee four days ago. We had a very clear honest working relationship the whole way through and I like the guy a lot. The problem I have with this question and I have various problems with this question, not with you, but with the issue is that… what I think that it does is unwittingly, is that it polarises questions between me and Pete. That itself is a deception because what it does is take attention away from people like, and I want to be very clear about this, people like Jon Thom the VFX supervisor, Anthony Dod Mantle, who is an award winning genius cinematographer, who, when we are talking about Slo-Mo, a lot of what we are talking about is actually Anthony Dod Mantle. Now if this becomes a pissing contest between me and Pete, all that does is attract attention away from Anthony, Jon, Mark Eckersley who is the editor, Paul Leonard Morgan, who wrote the score. I think this happens in films too much. There’s a lot of bullshit and a lot of the bullshit tends to be about taking credit away from these really interesting people, who are working in what is fundamentally a collaborative medium. It’s a bunch of people working together. I was part of a team, Pete was part of a team and there are also those crucial people that I just mentioned. I’m not trying to be evasive whilst clearly also being evasive, I just wanted to reframe the question, to what the reality of making the film was, the reality is Anthony Dod Mantle and Jon Thum doing amazing work making Slo-Mo. It shouldn’t be Pete and it shouldn’t be me. I don’t want this film to be presented as something it’s not, it’s collaboration.

Nick: Stylistically the film is very different in terms of the way Mega City One looks very different from the comics, and that is probably going to be the most controversial point with some of the fans…

Alex: You reckon? I will have a bet with you that it would be the eagle on the shoulder.

Nick: …What would you say to fans about that?

Alex: The approach to the city was very much the same as the approach to the uniform. If you did a very faithful adaptation of the uniform, you’d have someone who would be in big trouble if they got stabbed in the stomach, and Dredd is out there on the front line, so he needs protection. The way I saw the city was as a city that didn’t have money, falling out of itself. It’s got very high unemployment, the blocks are like 1950s and 60s tower blocks, built in a functional utilitarian way, to house as many people as possible, they don’t have architectural flourishes, they are about housing and a lack of money. So, that dictated an aesthetic. The other thing about it, while we’re on it, one of the things we experimented with in post was what the city looked like, not just in terms of the design of the blocks, but how close they were together. One of the things that we discovered was that if you put the blocks very close together as they are in the comic, they shrink, because you have no sense of scale. You need to be able to see small buildings to understand how massive the big ones are, you need to be able to see cars on roads to extrapolate outwards. So, that look of the city, those utilitarian blocks, that are widely spread and end up looking like a graveyard from a big area wide, that’s where it comes from.

I would say that, that is kind of DNA house style. This is one of the things that me, Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich, that’s what we really agree about. I think you can kind of see that aesthetic in 28 Days Later, or Sunshine, there’s weird stuff but there’s also real stuff.




Copyright © 2012 MCM BUZZ – Movies, TV, Comics, Gaming, Anime, Cosplay News & Reviews