The Chronicles of Vin Diesel
If the importance of DVD was even in doubt, Vin Diesel helped put it to rest as he made the press event for the DVD release of The Chronicles of Riddick the only exception to his four week lock down in his apartment in preparation for Find Me Guilty, a film he's currently in production with Sydney Lumet. But for Vin, The Chronicles of Riddick was reason to make an exception. Vin's excitement and enthusiasm over the Chronicles Series is evident. Vin spoke to a group of online journalists, who he affectionately called 'My Guys!'.
Vin wasn't the same muscle bound superhero you're used to seeing on screen. He'd put on weight for the role, changed his shape to look much more stocky than svelte, and was wearing an orange knit cap which seemed to be hiding a full head of hair! He spoke passionately about The Chronicles of Riddick series, the possibilities with DVD and Video Games and the incredible turn his career has taken.
How pleased were you with the Theatrical Cut and what did you want to go back into the Director's Cut?
I was pleased with the theatrical cut and I was excited about the DVD Director's cut, because I was excited about the idea of adding other story elements to the DVD that we weren't able to incorporate into the theatrical experience. I think that it's interesting that there's an extended version on the DVD. I think we're finding the DVD medium is defending itself as a separate medium. Unlike the VHS copies of movies we used to get which were kind of an opportunity to see the movie at home, the DVD experience is an opportunity to fully explore this universe, The Chronicles of Riddick universe. It's usually an opportunity to go behind the scenes in an interesting way. And the director gets an opportunity to tell the full story and not be limited to theatrical running times.
How important was the footage that was edited back in? And how important were the three scenes with Shira?
I think it gives you a sense of origin for our Riddick character, this enigmatic character. In a cool way, the Shira character really comes in at important moments, like when she's on the runway. The Shira character in creating this story was designed to introduce Riddick to his Furian nature. So, on the runway she unleashes this radius of fury, this burst of fury that repels this negative energy - which is this long explanation which you'll see in future Chronicles of Riddick pictures. When we were creating this story, we were creating a story which would be told over three films. The Shira character plays to that, The Shira film is introduced in this film but is paid off in the third film. The way that it is designed, and I hope I'm not giving too much away but... in The Chronicles of Riddick 2 we now go into the underverse, and then C3, if you will, is that final return home to Furia.
Are the next two films a lock? Are they definitely happening?
Nothing is a lock in this business. I guess we'll see what happens with the DVD.
With so much substantial new footage, do you think people will wait for the Unrated Director's Cut of the DVD?
Yeah, I think that people will wait for the DVD. Pitch Black was really introduced to the world through DVD. When Pitch Black came out it was introduced on the DVD format. I've always felt that The Chronicles of Riddick is this intense ball of energy that hasn't really exploded yet, and will continue on throughout the DVD release. But there's a sequel to the video game being made. There's constantly work being put on the franchise. I think that there will be the follow up. I think we have to see Riddick go to the Underverse and think that we ultimately have to see Riddick go back to Furia.
How much is riding on the DVD in terms of the future of the franchise?
For me, we made Pitch Black for 20 million dollars, I think we can continue this character regardless of the film budget. So will the next film be a PG hundred and something million dollar movie? I don't know. The next film, by virtue of the fact that it takes place in the Underverse, which is obviously going to be a lot more gruesome than New Mecca, the sequel to this would be rated R. With a return to the rated R fashion that Pitch Black was shot in.
Do you think that you'll use other formats like the animated DVD, the video game to tell the Riddick story?
Absolutely, that was the whole idea of having the other formats, that was the whole idea for the Peter Chung homage to Riddick. That was the motivating force for having Tygon do the video game Escape from Butcher Bay with Star Breeze and Vivendi, because it would give us the opportunity to explain some of the back story of Riddick. In the video game you learn how he got his eyes, and you learn what he's been doing... Why are there so many Scarface DVDs around here? 'That's so funny', Snoop said to me after he came to the premiere (imitating snoop), 'Man, that was like Scarface in space, you pimped it up there'. So the video game does a lot to flesh out the universe and the mythology and so that what was so fun about doing the video game. It was a much less expensive way to play and to be creative.
Did you know when you first played Riddick that it would have this extended life?
When I first did Pitch Black I was drawn to this intense character arc. This was the first character arc that I had seen that was that interesting. He starts out this serial killer and then he's the only guy you want to save you. I thought that was a really attractive element to doing this film. Once we were actually shooting in Australia and we were nearing the end of production, that's when I started to think 'wow, wouldn't it be cool if we could follow Riddick off of this planet and allow him to introduce us to this whole universe and mythology. That concept started when we were nearing the end of our production shoot in Australia for Pitch Black.
So do you consider this your 'Lord of the Rings'?
Yes. This is only partially fantasy though, obviously. The expertise of David Towey is that sci-fi world. So this was a fusion of sci-fi and fantasy. That was the objective.
As a filmmaker, what do you think about the gamble that you do when you create a mythology without any guarantee that you'll be able to make all the films to complete it?
It's thrilling and it's frightening. It's thrilling because you're going for a story that isn't done in a reactionary way. Usually you do a film and they're like, 'Oh, we made a lot of money on that so let's put something together and do another one.' I think we're being responsible in our storytelling by thinking of all three stories before making the first one. But there is that level of anxiety, because you get questions like, 'Is the future film dependent on that?' It's a realistic question. If you're enjoying the creative process then it's not life threatening to be creative.
Do you feel a responsibility to make this first film as concise and independent from the other films as possible?
I don't. The whole objective in my mind is to introduce characters in the first film that don't pay off, in a very George Lucas, seventies way that don't pay off until later films. I like that. I think that speaks to a well thought out trilogy. The film business is so arbitrary you don't know what will happen. We made Pitch Black with a film called Polygram...
When you were an independent filmmaker, I remember when you used to tell people that without a doubt you were going to be the next big action star. Now you are. How is the reality different from what you expected it to be?
Wow, that's a long answer. I've got to tell you, a lot of people say that they love what they do - I really really love what I do. To the point where I'm obsessed with what I do. It's my hobby, it's my lifestyle. I don't think about it as much as I could because I always feel like I'm behind the eight ball. I feel like I should be talking about Hannibal the Conquerer already. So I feel like I've got to get back and get to work and make sure that that's right. I'm in a very lucky position because on one hand I do these big action films that are fun, that are empowering to some degree. You charge people up when they go and see this whole production. But on another level I'm able to work with Sydney Lumet.
I've been working with Sydney Lumet for the last four weeks. I've gained weight, my whole look has changed. I'm incognito because I don't want to drop too much on you. But I've been working with Sydney Lumet and I can not tell you what kind of unbelievable experience it has been. I've locked myself up in my house for four weeks, because I'm playing a character who is defending himself in court but living in prison. A character named Jackie Diversy. I don't know if any of you remember the boys from New Jersey, the trials that went on in the eighties, the largest mob trial in history were twenty defendants were acquitted. That's the story I'm doing right now.
I feel incredibly fortunate, and isn't it crazy that you remember me as the guy who said 'I'm going to do all this, I'm going to do all this'. It sounds crazy, but it was what I really believed. I don't know how else to say that. I know it sounds like bullshit, I know it sounds fabricated and people say stuff like that, but it's what I wanted to dedicate my life to - the making of film, the exploration of film.
What have you learned about film making from Sydney Lumet?
I've learned so much. He is so incredible. So demanding in some ways. We'll do five to eighteen pages of dialog a day. We'll do seven minute talking shots, ten minute talking shots. He's incredible, he's got it all mapped out in his head. What I really think is that Sydney Lumet is going to be someone we will all be reminded of next year when Find Me Guilty comes out. We've got Peter Dinkledge in the film. The greatest thing about Sydney in terms of him teaching me Directing stuff, because he knows at the heart I'm a director, and plan to return to directing shortly. He'll have me come look from behind the monitor to see these very interesting, very cool shots. Literally he'll stop and say, 'I'm pulling the camera back with a dolly but I'm changing the lens so the subject stays the same proportion but the background starts to blend.' He'll walk me through all these things. I used to say this with Steven Spielberg - I'd go out to London just to get a coffee with him, let alone do a role that he wrote for me. With Sydney Lumet I'd be on that set at six in the morning just to watch him work, because he's doing it so fast, he's going to be doing this whole thing in under a month - 28 days. He's cooking, every day that I go on set I feel like I'm doing an opening night performance. It's very reminiscent of the theater experience of the younger years, before going out to Hollywood. And it's just a dream, the New York actors are so rich, everyone in that courtroom is incredible. This is the only day that I've left my apartment. I know that sounds crazy but it's some form of method acting. I have been so locked on this character that it's amazing that I'm doing anything besides resisting lines. But, Riddick is my baby! So you got me.
- Geoffrey Kleinman