Duncan Jones doesn’t know how to let things go. At least, that’s how the filmmaker tells it. “Like a dog with a bone” is how he explains it, a “personality type” that’s kept him holding fast to projects like “Mute” (which he’s been trying to make for nearly 15 years) and his latest release, “Warcraft,” a large scale cinematic imagining of the popular Blizzard video game.
The road to the big screen hasn’t been easy for “Warcraft,” first announced as a film back in 2006, the film was long attached to director Sam Raimi before it was given over to super-fan Jones, who had to hack through the original script to make it more in line with his vision. The film follows two warring factions – humans, led by soldier Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), alongside their magical guardian Medivh, against the Orcs, led by Toby Kebbell’s Durotan – after the opening of a mysterious portal lands them in the same world. Infused with magic, mythology and plenty of impressive motion capture, the film adapts the popular video game into a brand new medium, as guided by the very dedicated Jones. But even Jones concedes that making a video game film is never, ever easy. Still, he couldn’t let this one go.
IndieWire recently spoke to Jones about how his own fandom influenced his desire to try his hand at a video game adaptation, how he’s patterned his career after Christopher Nolan’s own professional life and why he thinks he’s made the best film he could.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen an uptick in indie actors who jump directly from well-regarded first features into huge studio features. You didn’t do that. Are you grateful you didn’t?
I kind of modeled what I was going to do on Chris Nolan a little bit. He had gone from “Memento” to “Insomnia,” and then “Insomnia” to doing “Batman.” I felt like that was a smart thing to do. Rather than trying to go from the small one and get swallowed up by a studio immediately, we would take that sort of toe-in-the-water step of making sure what was going to be required of doing a studio film. For me, “Source Code” and working with Jake Gyllenhaal was really my opportunity to just get a little bit of a sense of it before I took on something of this scale.
You’ve kept your passion for “Warcraft” going, but it does seem to have gotten in the way of making “Mute,” another passion project for you. How are you keep your momentum going for that film?
I think it’s a personality type. I think you have to be the kind of person who is like a dog with a bone. You can’t let go of things until you’ve seen them through to completion. Not everyone has got that kind of mindset. Maybe it’s not the healthiest mindset, because you do kind of have to be dogged about things, but I wanted to see “Warcraft” through, and I wanted it to be the best film that I knew that we could make. I’ve always wanted to make “Mute,” and I’ve been on “Mute” for about 14 years. I’m determined, no matter what happens, I’m going to get that movie made, at some point.
Would you say that you’re closer than ever to getting it made?
Yeah. Absolutely, 100%. I wish I could formally say, “Yes, it’s happening,” but there are contractual reasons I have to wait until the absolute yes-I’m-allowed-to-say-that date, but as far as I’m concerned, yes. I’m going to be shooting that film later this year.
The film takes place in the “Moon” universe, right?
Yeah, in the Moon-iverse.
You originally wanted to do a trilogy, do you hope to do your next Moon-iverse film after “Mute”?
Yes. In fact, it’s already written. It’s ready to go. I was trying to make it after “Source Code.” It’s a female lead, and at that time, four of five years ago, it was just proving really difficult to get the film made, this science fiction film with a female lead.
It feels like it’s going to be easier these days. I think there’s more of a willingness for that to happen, and I certainly think it’s about time, but Mute’s kind of happening now, so I’m going to do that, and then, with any luck, I’ll be able to get this other film made that will make up the third part of that trilogy, as soon as possible.
Your first two films are original properties, why did you want to make the jump from kind of filmmaking to the challenge of adapting a long-standing franchise that’s also originally told in another medium and one that’s so beloved by its fans?
I am one of those who beloved-ed-ed it. I was a long-term “Warcraft” player and fan myself. I grew up loving science fiction, but also loving fantasy. I was a nerd, “Dungeons and Dragons”-playing, CRPD game-playing guy growing up, so the chance to work on this huge size of a canvas, in the way that Peter Jackson did with “Lord of the Rings,” but create my own kind of fantasy film, was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
A “Warcraft” film has been in the works for nearly a decade, are you happy it didn’t pan out those first few times so that you could do it?
I think, at the time, I wasn’t happy because, truly, I was a fan to the point where I was trying to use my contacts in the industry to find out how Sam Raimi’s film was going, because I wanted to see it. I was certainly there early on, eager for this film to come out, because I wanted to see “Warcraft the Movie.” When he moved on to do the “Wizard of Oz” movie, I was both distraught and delighted. “Source Code” had just come out and had been well-received, and I got a chance to go in and have a meeting with the producers, and then with Blizzard.
Fortunately, I think a lot of the things that were sticking and making it difficult to make the movie before – my approach was much more as a fan of “Warcraft” and was much more in sync with Blizzard – [and] I think allowed the process to become much smoother.
Do you think you would have been less passionate about the film if you weren’t already a fan of the game?
I hope that just being a fan wasn’t enough, but I do believe that as a filmmaker, my take on it was, it came out of what I loved about the game and what I thought would make a great movie, based on my experiences having played that game for such a long time. I think that was really pretty clear when I pitched it to Blizzard, and I think they felt very comfortable that my heart was in the right place on how to make this movie.
You started filming in 2014, the post-production process took over a year, you took the project to Comic-Con before you even had a completed film. How do you sustain your passion for a project, given how long it took to complete?
I’ve been on this film for three and a half years. I never would have known that the process would have taken that long when I started. I think the biggest challenge of the movie, beyond the technical side of it, is just the sheer stamina of trying to maintain the quality control, and the vision of what I wanted the movie to be for that long, and trying to do that with everyone that I was working with. The challenge of it was part of what made it, I just knew that we had to achieve it. There had been too much of a run of movies based on video games that didn’t really meet the expectations of the audience.
I think, as a fan of the game, I really wanted to deliver something that all of us, as games players, could be proud of, that this was a real movie that people who know nothing about the game would enjoy.
How do you strike a balance between making a film that gamers will enjoy that can also lure in an audience that’s never played a video game in their lives?
I think Peter Jackson had exactly the same problem when he did the “Fellowship of the Ring.” I remember, at the time, people were saying, “Not everybody reads Tolkien. Is there really an audience for that?” I think if you can make a film that creates a sense of reality in a fantasy setting, that is rich enough, that makes the audience want to go and see it, and you can bring them into that film with great characters and a story that brings them along. I think it can be done.
I think the fact that it’s based on a video game is, obviously, a challenge to some of us, to some of the audience out there, but if they’re willing to give us that benefit of the doubt, and willing to just come and see the movie, I think that they’re going to really love it.
Every time you make a movie, you really, really, really want the audience to like it. It’s too much work to just do it purely for yourself, and no one’s going to give you money to do it anymore, if that’s all you’re doing. Hopefully, “Warcraft” is going to be a similar thing.
Obviously, we have this real, unique challenge of making a movie which has a segment of the audience that we hope is really going to be excited about it, and then there’s definitely going to be a segment of the audience who is a little bit more trepidacious about it, because it’s based on a video game, and if you’re not into video games, that can make you feel unwelcome, but truly, we’ve tried to make a fantasy film that appeals to everyone, and delivers an extra layer for those people who are fans of “Warcraft.”
“Warcraft” opens on Friday, June 10.