It’s great news that Reel FX and Jorge Gutierrez are continuing their partnership after The Book of Life with the Untitled Kung Fu Space Western, which concerns a charming outlaw teaming up with a funny, ragtag crew of rebel bandits to save their galaxy. I caught up with Gutierrez this morning.
Bill Desowitz: Finally, you don’t have to keep this under wraps any longer.
Jorge Gutierrez: Yeah, this is roughly something that I had for six or seven years. During Book of Life, I kept tinkering with it, and eventually I had enough stuff to pitch to Reel FX and they fell in love with it. And at that point, I pitched it to Guillermo [del Toro] and he loved it. But he told me that he only produces first-time filmmakers so I used up my first-time filmmaker magic coin with him.
BD: Time for you to fly on your own. But you know the routine now: How to make the movie your way without too many commercial compromises.
JG: Exactly. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to, right? And hopefully something that an audience really likes. That’s the eternal battle for the filmmaker. Obviously our world is changing constantly, so it’s hard to predict how an audience will react.
BD: So let’s talk about this mash-up of kung fu, western, and space adventure that you’re concocting.
JG: Those were the movies as a kid growing up I would see back-to-back, and they started melding
in my brain. And one of the things that I love now is food truck culture. And so one of the biggest inspirations has been seeing how different people from all over the world are mixing things up. I especially love Korean beef tacos and burritos with Indian curry sauce. So for me, that’s what this movie is about, people from all these cultures coming together, and at first not getting along and then learning that we’re all a lot more similar than we think.
BD: So you must’ve enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.
JG: If you can imagine, I’ve been working on this for quite a while and every time I saw a sci-fi movie do well or a western do well, it put the fear of god into me. And, thankfully, Guardians kind of changed everything after doing so well and Star Wars is coming, so I feel that audiences are very much into sci-fi again. And there seems to be a western revival going on on TV. And obviously kung fu is still everywhere in the world.
BD: Nice concept art but what else can you officially say about the project at this point?
JG: Just like with Book of Life, we’re definitely going to try and make something really unique and really different. I’m going to be working with Paul Sullivan, the art director of Book of Life, who will be production designing this one. So it’s the same design team. So obviously it’s a space movie, so we get to go to a ton of different places and design lots of different creatures [overseen by Sandra Equihua]. And at the same time, the story takes place in Texas, so there’s going to be a lot of cool nods to the past and the present and the future, and lots and lots of nods to the history of film. And animation wise, we’re going to make the fights pretty incredible. We’re going to be putting the camera in places you’ve never thought of before. And as far as the design, what would New Orleans in the old west look like in space but with a Chinese influence on it? But as we always say, “What is the strongest flavor for this location?” It’s baroque animation where you can be really busy as long as you help the audience look in the right place.
BD: What’s your favorite western, space film and kung fu movie?
JG: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Empire Strikes Back and Kung Fu Hustle. And the crazy thing about seeing Empire was that there was an earthquake when my father took me to see it in Mexico as a kid and he had to hold my by the emergency exit so I could see it. And then another earthquake happened and we ran out so I didn’t get to see the end of it. So I was completely traumatized by that movie — the earth literally shook when I found out that Darth Vader was his father.
BD: And here you are making this mash-up at Reel FX in Dallas.
JG: So When I arrived, I felt like an alien landing in Texas, but definitely drawing from a lot of personal history and the heart of the story is a father-son relationship and theme is redemption.