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Countdown to ‘Hulk’: Producers James Schamus and Larry Franco Hulk out

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
Countdown to ‘Hulk’: Producers James Schamus and Larry Franco Hulk out

At a recent “Hulk” press junket, James Schamus and producer Larry
Franco sat down to talk to the members of the media in a roundtable format
interview. 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 a

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


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

James Schamus (JS): The pressure is very much self-imposed. We knew we wanted
to make a move that, in essence, paid real homage to “The Hulk” and to
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original vision. We also knew that we wanted to create
a movie that nobody had ever seen before, both in terms of its language, the
transitions and the multiple frames, as well as the place it takes you
emotionally 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 to
induce in a very seamless way, an entirely new way of telling stories that’s
akin to the intensity of the comic book experience that a kid would have when
going into this world; the fracturedness of it. The forced perspectives. The
incredible, sometimes aggression of the transitions. All those things. Really to
make 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 of
stuff in there that you don’t realize right away what it’s doing to you. It’s
getting you. It’s getting you angry, for one. It’s getting you sympathetic
sometimes, 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

JS: Well, it was exciting. To lobby him…and it was a very fast lobbying job
for this film. He’s extremely thoughtful but on this one he was decisive. A
couple 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 more
jump cuts in this movie since Godard’s “Breathless,” but it’s not like
you’re watching an avant-garde movie, that’s not the point. It puts you in the
space of Bruce Banner and the Hulk. You’re all over it. You’re everywhere, but
you’re in it.

Number two was the psychology of it. One of the first things I did when we
were talking about the movie and the possibility of making it was I screened for
him 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 the
most is I like it.” That was inspired directly watching Fredric March
become 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 are
so 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 his
pants would stay on…

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

In the dog fight, originally he had nothing on. After a few shots came in and
we 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 going
to get to the point where they realize that there’s no genitalia there and it’s
gonna 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, but
I can guarantee you this: there is one of those animators or technical people up
there 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 about
it 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 and
throwing 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 have
clothes on most of the time. Now they get ripped and you can see a piece of his
ass 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 the
movie. Was that because of the ratings?

JS: Ang and I, from the very beginning, knew that we were going to make a
movie that would be PG-13 for the psychological intensity and the reality of the
emotion that this character was going through, but we’re not that interested in
representation of gratuitous violence. This is a mythic and epic hero. We wanted
the intensity of the experience of that kind of mythology, that kind of epic
feeling 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 in
the dog fight, and they’re not dogs, for one, they’re monsters. They’re mutant
horses more than anything else. And it’s good versus evil at that point in the
movie, so it’s not gratuitous at all.

And as you probably didn’t notice, but there’s no one gets killed throughout
the course of the movie, except for Talbot. Most of the pedestrians all get out
of 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 get

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 most
super heroes who get in the long underwear and go save kids on the bus from the
bridge, 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 a
huge 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. A
two-year-old has a temper tantrum and they’re just screaming and gurgling and hyperventilating
and 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 his
emotions 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 really
emphasized as much as in the comics. How come he didn’t speak. He only had like
two lines.

JS: Once again, we went back to the early, early Hulk. For inspiration I went
right back to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the first cycle and he was not a
speaking 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, including
gray 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 “Hulk
2” you hear a little bit more dialogue.

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

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

LF: But that’s the way it should be. The whole creative process, from the
writing to the directing has to be that way. The writer has to be able to write
what he feels he should write, and he shouldn’t be restricted by the fact that
it’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 of
like do it.

And Ang has the same issue. That first dog fight storyboard was 200 shots
long. Well 200 shots was practically our whole budget for the movie, so it went
from 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 space
at 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 started
working on it…because Ang has that dual approach which is, “I know
nothing 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 why
what Ang wanted was impossible to do and the technology wouldn’t be created for
another 300 years. Ang’s response was often to put his hands out and start
wiggling his fingers and go, “well can’t you just type something into the

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 they
could achieve.

Q: What about King Kong?

JS: Certainly he hovers around with the Hulk in terms of scope and size and
all 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 that
are 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 think
Ang was very much inspired and there’re specific panels from the classic books
that Ang was really involved with.

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

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-sized
rendering of a Hulk cover]

LF: Not that one, but the one I remember the most, there’s a huge tank and
it’s a big, giant angled panel, and there’s like four or five panels on [the
page] with a tank. That was one that really struck him. The tank sequence was
really dear to Ang and I must say I tried, once or twice to say, “Ang, you
know what? I don’t think he should go after these tanks. I think he should leap
from his house, over to San Francisco because everything we’re doing is so
high-tech. These helicopters are beyond the capabilities of American
helicopters, air force and these jets are gonna be five years from now, and
we’re still fighting these Abrams tanks.” I said, “I don’t think that
it’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 to
talk him out of because at the time I though we were going so high-tech we
shouldn’t be dealing with these old Abrams tanks, but it’s a moment in the movie
where 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 and

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

The marketing people have an impossible task with this movie, because not
only is it what you kind of see in that trailer, which is “Hulk
smash,” it is an engaging, engrossing psycho-drama. So there’s all this
stuff 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 a
computer 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 to
that as “he” not “it.” That’s a big step, which hasn’t ever
been done before.

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

For instance, that shot in the trailer at Super Bowl, is not the shot. You
saw in the movie last night: he runs all the way up. He throws the tank. It
picks up momentum and he heaves it across the desert. He’s standing there going

That’s thirty seconds in itself, so there goes your trailer. So what happened
there, they had to compress that action. They wanted to see the tank fly across
the 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 in
the movie. The shot is probably half as long as it is in the movie. So right off
the bat it doesn’t convey what it should have conveyed.

JS: The hardest thing to convey in visual effects, which is, I think, the
greatest breakthrough for ILM, is twofold. One is Hulk lives in our world. Every
other CGI character you’ve ever seen lives in a fantasy world, so you’re much
more forgiving on a purely subconscious level, you’re cuing off of that
character, based on cues of the fantasy surroundings. 

Hulk lives in our world. He’s sitting right here and then you have to cue off
of 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 just
zeroes 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 that
with 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 a

JS: No. You know why? Then it’s all about, “What does the Hulk look

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 actually
a very good job, because, no, it’s not about it. The other day and you see the
new spots just this week, that’ve kicked in which are much closer to the vision
of 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 now
it’s the thickening, the resonance, the emotion as people are comfortable with
this image. 

One of the great things, we’re opening this movie in about a month, is that
by the time the movie opens, nobody is going to show up going, “I wonder
what 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 into

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” is
because “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?” Where
does that go?

“The Incredible,” yeah. Maybe. But “Hulk”…that’s the
answer. 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’ve
had your moment. You’ve ended up with a broken toe or a broken pinky or
something, but you’ve Hulked out, and at that moment it felt great. That one
second, or even a nanosecond. It’s after that that we all have to deal with
which is, “oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” You have to
apologize to a hundred people, or you’ve wrecked your car, or whatever you’ve

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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