Countdown to 'Hulk': Producers James Schamus and Larry Franco Hulk out

At a recent "Hulk" press junket, James Schamus and producer LarryFranco sat down to talk to the members of the media in a roundtable formatinterview. Schamus, who has collaborated with director Ang Lee on many movies,co-wrote the script and also served as producer on the project. Franco is also aproducer.

At the roundtables, members of the press took turns asking the pair questionsabout the development of the film. Comics2Film/CBR News is please to presentthis edited transcript of that interview.


Q: What kind of pressure did it put on you, adapting such an iconiccharacter?

James Schamus (JS): The pressure is very much self-imposed. We knew we wantedto make a move that, in essence, paid real homage to "The Hulk" and toStan Lee and Jack Kirby's original vision. We also knew that we wanted to createa movie that nobody had ever seen before, both in terms of its language, thetransitions and the multiple frames, as well as the place it takes youemotionally in this comic book world. So we kind of did it to ourselves.

Q: Was the multiple frames an attempt to give it a comic book feel?

JS: It's not simply to reproduce what a comic book panel and page looks like.That wasn't the point because that's kind of easy. It was actually to try toinduce in a very seamless way, an entirely new way of telling stories that'sakin to the intensity of the comic book experience that a kid would have whengoing into this world; the fracturedness of it. The forced perspectives. Theincredible, sometimes aggression of the transitions. All those things. Really tomake it part of the story-telling, not just a graphic design element.

Larry Franco (LF): It was also a tool to convey emotion too. There's a lot ofstuff in there that you don't realize right away what it's doing to you. It'sgetting you. It's getting you angry, for one. It's getting you sympatheticsometimes, when you're trying to watch both. So, it's used for a lot of reasons.

Q: James what was your reaction when Ang said he was interested in doing"Hulk?"

JS: Well, it was exciting. To lobby him...and it was a very fast lobbying jobfor this film. He's extremely thoughtful but on this one he was decisive. Acouple things helped along the way.

One was putting down a challenge for him, which you can't write on the page,which was: you're going to make a movie that's gonna to create, for a mass,worldwide audience, in a seamless way, an entirely new cinema language. 

I mean, this film, me and Larry were just talking about this, you have morejump cuts in this movie since Godard's "Breathless," but it's not likeyou're watching an avant-garde movie, that's not the point. It puts you in thespace of Bruce Banner and the Hulk. You're all over it. You're everywhere, butyou're in it.

Number two was the psychology of it. One of the first things I did when wewere talking about the movie and the possibility of making it was I screened forhim Rouben Mamoulian's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" from 1932.

Isn't that the most amazing movie? It's incredible.

That' line in the movie, where Eric says, "the thing that scares me themost is I like it." That was inspired directly watching Fredric Marchbecome Mr. Hyde and he just loves it! 

It's the sexiest and most creepy performance, I think, in Hollywood history.

It was before the code, too, by the way, and everyone thinks these movies areso quaint. It's like, "you ain't seen nothin'." This is like hard R.

So it was getting him involved in precisely that kind of intensity saying,"you can be there. You can do this."

Then, of course, I was completely scared.

Q: There was some talk about giving Hulk some nudity and whether or not hispants would stay on...

LF: There was a lot of though put into that, more than you want to listen tome talk about. We talked about it for a long time. We talked about a couple ofthings. The frontal nudity was a bigger issue than the back nudity. We struggledwith that all the way. 

In the dog fight, originally he had nothing on. After a few shots came in andwe tried to darken that area and then we realized that, even if we darken it,the kids on the DVD, they're gonna want to crank that up. Somehow they're goingto get to the point where they realize that there's no genitalia there and it'sgonna blow the cover.

The other thing is, if we were gonna put genitalia there, what would that be?That opens another big discussion that we didn't want to talk about either, butI can guarantee you this: there is one of those animators or technical people upthere at [F/X shop] ILM that has modeled and has animated some genitalia.

JS: And I'm sure there's gonna be a Hong Kong knock off in a few weeks...

LF: But you answer your question; yeah, there was a lot of discussion aboutit and there were a lot of reasons why we didn't do it and that's one of them,because there just got to be too many things we had to hide in the shadows andthrowing a dog in front of it and all that stuff that Mike Meyers did so well.

We decided that somehow, we had to figure out how he was going to haveclothes on most of the time. Now they get ripped and you can see a piece of hisass and all that stuff, but yeah, it was talked about enough.

Q: In spite of all the destruction there aren't that many casualties in themovie. Was that because of the ratings?

JS: Ang and I, from the very beginning, knew that we were going to make amovie that would be PG-13 for the psychological intensity and the reality of theemotion that this character was going through, but we're not that interested inrepresentation of gratuitous violence. This is a mythic and epic hero. We wantedthe intensity of the experience of that kind of mythology, that kind of epicfeeling to be predominant with the audience, and not a kind of gore fest.

LF: Also, the only place that your can say that it's violent is probably inthe dog fight, and they're not dogs, for one, they're monsters. They're mutanthorses more than anything else. And it's good versus evil at that point in themovie, so it's not gratuitous at all.

And as you probably didn't notice, but there's no one gets killed throughoutthe course of the movie, except for Talbot. Most of the pedestrians all get outof the way in time and a lot of cars get...

Q: What about that security guard?

LF: You know, he's alright.

JS: He got some back problems. 

LF: "Give me a fatality report," whatever Ross says.

"We're all cool. Don't worry about it. We're OK. Somebody come getus."

That sort of feeling about "The Hulk."

Q: He comes from the comics, but is The Hulk a super hero?

JS: That's a great question. No. You know, he is and he isn't. Unlike mostsuper heroes who get in the long underwear and go save kids on the bus from thebridge, the Hulk, as we know, has a hard time keeping his clothes on.

But the reason for that is that he's also a monster. That, for Ang, was ahuge reason to get involved: that he's both a hero and this kind of monstrosity.More importantly he's us. He's our monster. He's what's in all of us.

LF: He does save that F-22 from going into the bridge, don't forget.

JS: He does. No, he does things but he's an innocent. He's like a kid. Atwo-year-old has a temper tantrum and they're just screaming and gurgling and hyperventilatingand hulking out. That's Hulk. There's the Hulk, right there.

At the same time it's a kid. Now most kids can't smash you with their thumb.

But he is that kind of innocent. That's why I think we put so much emphasis,and why Ang, I think, was the perfect director for the film, on the face and hisemotions and his feelings.

Q: In the comics, Hulk would always say something along the lines of,"Hulk wants to be left alone." In the movie it wasn't reallyemphasized as much as in the comics. How come he didn't speak. He only had liketwo lines.

JS: Once again, we went back to the early, early Hulk. For inspiration I wentright back to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the first cycle and he was not aspeaking character at that point. He picked up his Hulk-speak over the years.He's been around for forty years, so there's been many iterations, includinggray Hulk, of course, who's in Las Vegas having a good time.

We have a lot to play with if, God willing, we end up doing "Hulk2" you hear a little bit more dialogue.

Q: What was it like jumping into the world of CGI, particularly in thescreenwriting?

JS: With the screenwriting, it made it easy because I could just cookanything up and it would be Larry's problem.

LF: But that's the way it should be. The whole creative process, from thewriting to the directing has to be that way. The writer has to be able to writewhat he feels he should write, and he shouldn't be restricted by the fact thatit's gonna cost $700 million to make the movie, because they'll figure it out.Somebody will figure it out. There's a way to do it and you just have to kind oflike do it.

And Ang has the same issue. That first dog fight storyboard was 200 shotslong. Well 200 shots was practically our whole budget for the movie, so it wentfrom 200 down to 100 down to 70 down to 60 down to 40 down to whatever. 

So it's a process but it starts with allowing the creative people their spaceat first and then working it within the boundaries that you're dealt with.

JS: When Larry first put us together with ILM and was before we even startedworking on it...because Ang has that dual approach which is, "I knownothing but you're gonna do the best work of your life because of that."

So, we'd be talking to them and we'd hear this lengthy explanation as to whywhat Ang wanted was impossible to do and the technology wouldn't be created foranother 300 years. Ang's response was often to put his hands out and startwiggling his fingers and go, "well can't you just type something into thecomputer."

Indeed, by the end of the show...

LF: ...and indeed you can.

JS: I think ILM, they themselves realized a vision that they never knew theycould achieve.

Q: What about King Kong?

JS: Certainly he hovers around with the Hulk in terms of scope and size andall that, and you see certain moments, especially on the bridge...

Q: ...and when he picks her up...

JS: Absolutely. These are homages. These are moments out of the culture thatare grafted genetically into us, that "The Hulk" has access to for us.

Q: Did you have to go back and look at the comic books a lot?

JS: We did. I know when I was writing I looked at a great deal of it. I thinkAng was very much inspired and there're specific panels from the classic booksthat Ang was really involved with.

LF: We had actually big, huge blow-ups of certain comic book pages thatstruck him as he went through. We had an art department full of those sorts ofinspirations.

Q: Any specific that you remember the most?

LF: There's one tank thing...

JS: There's the tank, right there. [pointing to a nearby poster-sizedrendering of a Hulk cover]

LF: Not that one, but the one I remember the most, there's a huge tank andit's a big, giant angled panel, and there's like four or five panels on [thepage] with a tank. That was one that really struck him. The tank sequence wasreally dear to Ang and I must say I tried, once or twice to say, "Ang, youknow what? I don't think he should go after these tanks. I think he should leapfrom his house, over to San Francisco because everything we're doing is sohigh-tech. These helicopters are beyond the capabilities of Americanhelicopters, air force and these jets are gonna be five years from now, andwe're still fighting these Abrams tanks." I said, "I don't think thatit's right."

At the same time I'm trying to save myself a couple million bucks. To me,now, the most engaging sequence is that tank fight. The very one that I tried totalk him out of because at the time I though we were going so high-tech weshouldn't be dealing with these old Abrams tanks, but it's a moment in the moviewhere you really feel, "you son of a bitches."

It was based on that one comic book page that he felt strongly about.

Q: What about the feeling that people were looking at the trailer andsaying...

LF: You know what? This is a question that we're getting a lot and I cananswer pretty simply.

The marketing people have an impossible task with this movie, because notonly is it what you kind of see in that trailer, which is "Hulksmash," it is an engaging, engrossing psycho-drama. So there's all thisstuff that they have to do in thirty seconds or sixty seconds.

On top of that this Hulk is a computer generated character. It's not acomputer generated effect. It's a character. There's no question about that.That's one of the things that we stepped beyond in this picture. We referred tothat as "he" not "it." That's a big step, which hasn't everbeen done before.

So, it was the character that we were after. In order to do that you have toreally believe in the roots of it.

For instance, that shot in the trailer at Super Bowl, is not the shot. Yousaw in the movie last night: he runs all the way up. He throws the tank. Itpicks up momentum and he heaves it across the desert. He's standing there going"rahrrrrr!"

That's thirty seconds in itself, so there goes your trailer. So what happenedthere, they had to compress that action. They wanted to see the tank fly acrossthe desert and it had to happen quickly. So one of the things that happened,they had to shorten it so that swing, it's twenty percent faster than it is inthe movie. The shot is probably half as long as it is in the movie. So right offthe bat it doesn't convey what it should have conveyed.

JS: The hardest thing to convey in visual effects, which is, I think, thegreatest breakthrough for ILM, is twofold. One is Hulk lives in our world. Everyother CGI character you've ever seen lives in a fantasy world, so you're muchmore forgiving on a purely subconscious level, you're cuing off of thatcharacter, based on cues of the fantasy surroundings. 

Hulk lives in our world. He's sitting right here and then you have to cue offof him as if you're cuing off of a real person. That's almost impossible.

The other thing is weight. The digital effects are airless. They're justzeroes and ones and the biggest thing that I think ILM brought to the table,aside from all the artistry, aside from all the finesse that they did with Ang,was this Hulk weighs an enormous amount, and when he lands, he lands. Doing thatwith zeroes and ones, I've never seen it before.

Q: Do you think it might have been better to keep the image of the Hulk asecret?

JS: No. You know why? Then it's all about, "What does the Hulk looklike?"

LF: Everyone's sort of second-guessing it. It'd be hard to do that.

JS: No, but it's more fundamentally, and this is why I think they're doing actuallya very good job, because, no, it's not about it. The other day and you see thenew spots just this week, that've kicked in which are much closer to the visionof the film. Now you're really getting...it was part of the plan all along.Start with this "Hulk" and then go into Ang "Hulk". And nowit's the thickening, the resonance, the emotion as people are comfortable withthis image. 

One of the great things, we're opening this movie in about a month, is thatby the time the movie opens, nobody is going to show up going, "I wonderwhat the Hulk looks like? Let's see. What color green is he? What is the--?"

Who cares? What you want to go, what you want to hear people say is,"what's this experience going to be for me emotionally? How can I get intoit?"

That's a big difference.

Q: I have a silly question. Why isn't it "The Incredible Hulk" or"The Hulk?"

LF: It's not that silly. It took a lot of discussion about that.

The reason it's "Hulk" and not "The Incredible Hulk" isbecause "Hulk" is cooler. It's more hip.

The reason it's not "The Hulk" is, try to make a mark, a logo,whatever, that's "Hulk." Where do you put the "The?" Wheredoes that go?

"The Incredible," yeah. Maybe. But "Hulk"...that's theanswer. It's cooler. It's more hip. It's neat.

JS: And you love the power of it.

LF: "Hulk." It's big.

Q: Why do you think the Hulk is such a cultural icon?

LF: I'll tell you why, because it's everybody. Everybody's The Hulk. You'vehad your moment. You've ended up with a broken toe or a broken pinky orsomething, but you've Hulked out, and at that moment it felt great. That onesecond, or even a nanosecond. It's after that that we all have to deal withwhich is, "oh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that." You have toapologize to a hundred people, or you've wrecked your car, or whatever you'vedone.

The Hulk just wakes up and doesn't remember that that's what happened to him.It's every man. It's all of us.

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