Film critics The Massie Twins recently had a chance to sit down with producer Timur Bekmambetov (the director of “Night Watch,” “Day Watch,” and “Wanted”) at the San Diego Comic-Con International to talk about his new computer animated film “9,” which opens wide September 9th, 2009.
The Massie Twins: What do you think of Comic-Con?
Timur Bekmambetov: It’s important.
MT: Stressful and chaotic at all?
TB: No, not at all.
MT: (laughs) It is for us!
MT: All the running around and standing in lines! Every event has several hour waits in line.
TB: It’s like a theme park?
MT: Yes! How did you get involved with 9 and producer Tim Burton?
TB: My partner Jim Lemley, co-producer, gave me Shane’s short and I saw it in a hotel room in Berlin. I understood that I saw just a little bit. A little glimpse of the world. I really wanted to open the doors to see the whole world. It was a reason for me to be involved.
MT: What did you think about the visuals and the stitchpunk designs?
TB: It’s good because it gives a new direction for computer animation. It’s more grounded, real, and what I like. To make it as grounded as possible – it’s what I did in Nightwatch and Wanted. To create a contrast between genre and reality.
MT: How did the collaboration work with Tim Burton?
TB: Good! We were friends for a few years and made smart decisions I think. The best decision was to leave Shane Acker alone and let him make what he wanted, what he felt.
MT: Tim Burton mentioned on the panel that he had to fight the behind-the-scenes battles to get the film made.
TB: Yes. It’s to try to add credibility to the process and to protect and preserve the creativity and the production process. All the opinions from different people can distract the process.
MT: Did you get to check on the completion of the film regularly? What did you think?
TB: While we were making Wanted, we would see dailies. It was difficult to follow, but I did. Like doing two things at the same time.
MT: How did you feel about the PG-13 rating?
TB: I love it. It’s a signal to the audience. You must see this because it’s not boring and cute. It’s real characters with dramatic lives.
MT: How involved were you with the casting process?
TB: There were choices, but they made great decisions. It was more Jim Lemley and Tim Burton though. Since I’m from a different culture, I wouldn’t have been a good person to choose.
MT: Was this the first film you worked on with Tim Burton?
MT: Do you see a potential for short films being turned into features? Would you like to continue getting young, fresh directors and turning their works into larger projects?
TB: I think this situation was quite unique. Perhaps not a trend. The possibilities are why people make shorts. They want to express themselves and experiment. I’m really interested now in how to explore and extend the world of 9. It can be a lot of things – sequels, prequels or action figures, comic books. Endless possibilities.
MT: So this idea just had a lot of potential. How do you feel about continuing to produce these kinds of films?
TB: I’m producing movies in Russia and in America. This is the first movie ready to be released. But there are more things in the pipeline.
MT: Anything you can tell us about? Is it all top secret?
TB: I think it might be dangerous to talk about it.
MT: How about Wanted 2?
TB: Not too far away. We just started preproduction. We have a script and studio support. Mark Miller is involved all the time. There wasn’t a Wanted 2 graphic novel, so it’s a new story. We like each other and he was very supportive. I was surprised he liked it because we changed a lot. He’s very open-minded.
MT: How about the cast? Are you bringing back Angelina Jolie?
TB: We’re trying. It’s difficult though, because there’s a bullet in her head.
MT: That’s never stopped anyone before!
TB: It’s a surgery thing.
MT: Yeah, but you can create your own rules.
TB: Maybe a recovery bath.
MT: Tell us a little bit about how you got into films and how your career grew.
TB: I was an artist, a production designer. And then I didn’t find a director to work with. So I had to become the director. I think it’s a very organic way to become a director.
MT: Did you go to film school?
TB: Yes, I went to film school in central Asia. I spent 7 years to learn how to design stages and movies. It’s one of the reasons I like Shane so much – he has an architecture background and it helps him a lot. It helps you to create worlds and the all the details and helps you to organize. He understands that it’s not about what he likes but how people will perceive it.
MT: Would you recommend film school?
TB: Yes. It’s just another 4 or 5 years of freedom with no responsibilities. It’s good. To be a professional you don’t need it. But I think it’s too early when you’re just 17 or 18 to go out and work. It’s good to spend another 4 years to do nothing, to have freedom.
MT: You mean to “perfect your craft.”
TB: Yes. When I was young I had a lot of troubles because I was too unorganized. There was my mentor friend who said until you’re 22 you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter. You can make mistakes. Once you’re 22, you have to really think. That’s what happened with me – until I was 22, I was a bad guy.
MT: Do you have plans for the third part to the Night Watch/Day Watch series?
TB: Yes. I mentioned at the panel that I didn’t because I didn’t want it to go on for another 20 minutes. But yes, I think it must happen.
MT: Too many people want it! Had you always conceived of it as a trilogy?
TB: Yes. I planned to make a third movie. There are other Russian Day Watchers and Night Watchers. I’m sure there are “Others” in New York and Chicago that no one has talked about. They’ve agreed to keep a balance in the world. It’s a big idea and I see how it’s affected projects here. It was important for me to wait. It’s interesting to put it into an American environment, but I wanted to live in the country to meet real people, understand superstitions, what scares people, the mystical part of this country. It would be bad to come make the movie right away, without an understanding of the people and the culture. It’s not about language, it’s about feelings. In Night Watch and Day Watch there are a lot of small details that you cannot get if you don’t know everyday Russian life.
MT: So when you make it, will there be things thrown in for the American audiences that the Russian audiences won’t get?
TB: Yes. It creates mystery and a complexity.