Yesterday, we ran our conversation with “Rango” director Gore Verbinski, where he shared his inspirations for the Best Animated Feature nominee and discussed the development of the film’s distinct and unique aesthetic. But with a director as talented and in-demand as Verbinski, he’s got a number of movies in the works, either as director or producer. So we asked him to fill us in on a number of his projects, including “The Lone Ranger,” Cary Fukunaga‘s sci-fi flick, “Clue,” Chris Milk‘s “Bitterroot” and Nicolas Winding Refn‘s heist movie.
Verbinski is in the middle of shooting Disney’s big budget big screen “Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the titular masked hero. Given the movie’s tumultuous past (including a start/stop last summer that left the project in an uncomfortable limbo for several months), we were curious how that was going. “It’s going great. It’s going to be photo-real and it’s going to be interesting in its own way but it’s a complete stepping back over the fence from ‘Rango,'” Verbinski said. When we pressed for whether or not the supernatural elements of the script would be maintained or jettison at the behest of budget overwrites (at one point it was said to feature a monstrous Wendigo as well as a pack of werewolves), Verbinski took the opportunity to clarify reports. “I don’t know where this idea of werewolves came from. It’s never been in any draft I’ve worked on,” Verbinski explained. “But there’s a kind of Native American overlay of omens and other things happening that we don’t fully understand.”
Another rumored setpiece also apparently included “the greatest train chase ever,” but Verbinski played his cards close to the chest about how that sequence may materialize in the film.
But this return to live action moviemaking doesn’t mean that Verbinski is done with animation, since one of the many projects the filmmaker had been linked to was a “Heavy Metal” reboot spearheaded by David Fincher. “That was something that David Fincher and I talked about, but I don’t think he managed to get the funding. You know, it’s not a genre. It’s a means of telling a story. And I was a big fan of Ralph Bakshi and growing up and watching those. So I think every animated thing has to be for young, young kids. I think you can explore all sorts of topics in animation. And ‘Heavy Metal’ would have definitely been a hard R. But I think there’s a great PG-13 action adventure, sort of surreal animated film as well.”
And while he’s eager to make another animated film, he probably won’t stray from the core team that he brought together for “Rango.” “I think I’d want to put the band back together,” Verbinski said. “We had such a blast and we all felt like there’s so much more to do. So we’ve got some deep seeds that are germinating but I want to go off and shoot this live action movie and if they sprout, we’ll return.”
In terms of the time commitment of an animated film, Verbinski dryly noted that, “I could have shot two live action movies in the time it took to make ‘Rango,’ easily.” At one point it was said that Verbinski was initially just going to produce “Rango” but after his Universal videogame adaptation “Bioshock” fell through, he decided to direct “Rango” himself. He said this isn’t true – he was always set to direct “Rango” but at one point hatched an even more ambitious plan. “Foolishly at some point early on I thought that I could leave it and do a live action movie at the same time but there are too many decisions to be made and I find them to be very personal,” Verbinski said. “You’re directing performance late in the game. You’re adding an involuntary muscle spasm below the left eye in frame 36. I’ve got to be there for that stuff. There are a million choices to be made and I couldn’t phone it in. I would never assume in the future that I could do an animated film and a live action film at the same time.” In fact, Verbinski looks back at the proposed schedule and thinks it would have been a mistake. “When we were first talking about ‘Bioshock’ that was kind of the idea but as much as I really want to make that movie, I think both films would have suffered.”
With big animated movies and even bigger live action movies, we wondered if Verbinski had any interest returning to a more modestly budgeted film like his Nicolas Cage dark comedy “The Weather Man.” “I think ‘The Weather Man’ is one of my favorite experiences just because when you work on a film that costs a lot less money you get to say, ‘Hey, this movie isn’t for you, and it’s not for you either. And it’s okay that you don’t like it.’ Because you don’t spend $100 million and you don’t need everybody to like your movie. And I think that’s incredibly liberating. People talk about four quadrant movies all the time but those used to be accidents, like, ‘Wow 12-year-olds are going and 26-year-olds are going!’ Now it’s an algorithm.”
Another project that Verbinski had been developing for some time is “Bitterroot,” a Black List-approved script by Michael Gilio about an aging rancher who looks for justice after his life savings has been taken from him in a bank scam. Initially Verbinski was set to direct but now is producing alongside Annapurna Pictures’ Megan Ellison. “It’s a very contemporary zeitgeist thing and it’s a western,” Verbinski explained. “It’s about a great man who is broken, loads up his shotgun, gets on his horse, and rides into town to get his heart medicine.” Verbinski embraces the contemporary parallels. “I think people would want somebody to make this right. I think it’s a great time for a zeitgeist film. You want to root for someone to go fix it.” While Verbinski was initially pegged to direct he thinks he’s found the perfect replacement in music video director Chris Milk who will make his directorial debut. “I think Chris is more than ready,” Verbinski said. “And nobody else.”
One project that won’t be seeing the light of day is a heist thriller Verbinksi was set to produce with Nicolas Winding Refn directing and his longtime collaborator Mads Mikkelsen starring. “No, I think Nic certainly covered that material with ‘Drive.'” More promising is a science fiction film by “Sin Nombre“/”Jane Eyre” filmmaker Cary Fukunaga called “Spaceless.” Based on an original script by Jeff Vintar, it’s about an intergalactic assassin who wakes up in a space suit that’s running out of air and little memory of how he got there. “It’s a movie I’ve been trying to direct for 15 years, off and on,” Verbinski said. “It’s a really great script and I think Cary is the best up-and-coming young director of actors. To have him be interested in a science fiction film, well, we’re really, really lucky to have him. All the stuff in the script, all the cleverness, will be intact but you will care a lot about these guys, more than if it was done by anybody else.” Verbinski says that the film is very much a go, noting that Fukunaga is “doing a rewrite and we’re starting to do a budget breakdown.”
After last week’s cancelation of the Universal/Hasbro deal, one project that remains in question is Verbinski’s take on classic board game “Clue” (originated as a kind of goofy, choose-your-own-adventure mystery/drama in 1985). “I actually don’t know what’s going on with that,” Verbinski said, quite honestly. “I think that [Hasbro] had a deal at Universal and then Universal kept ‘Battleship,’ I guess, and let the rest of the things go?”
But for now, Verbinski is focused on “The Lone Ranger,” and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the big screen version of the beloved western series. And in just a couple of short weeks, Verbinski will take a break from the set of the film and head to the Kodak Theater in a tux, where if all goes according to plan, he’ll be receiving an Oscar for “Rango.” And if you haven’t seen it, the film is available on DVD and BluRay right now.