Tuesday, November 20, 2012

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Tripp Vinson Talks Red Dawn Remake

L-R: Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with producer Tripp Vinson about his remake of seminal '80s opus Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley and starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, and Adrianne Palicki, which opens this Wednesday after several years sitting on MGM's shelf thanks to the studio's unsteady financial situation. With the film finally hitting theaters, Vinson was eager to discuss its long journey to the screen, as well as the similarities with and differences from its predecessor. What follows are some highlights from our conversation:

When it comes to remakes, I think there's two kinds of reactions. There's the "Oh, they're remaking that? Cool!" and then there's the "Really?" I feel like Red Dawn has had the "really?" reaction. So I was wondering if you could walk us through the process a little bit. How did we arrive at the point where we have a Red Dawn remake?

Producer Tripp Vinson
Well, it's funny. I have that reaction a lot of time when I see movies being remade as well. But, you know, from my perspective, I look at it kind of differently. I look at it as a great opportunity because I was such a fan of the original movie and that movie had a really big impact on me when I was growing up, so the opportunity to get involved in it was something that I was both very excited about and also very scared of, I guess is the word I would use because you don't want to take something like that on and screw it up.

Because, especially, you know, just when you feel so strongly about the original, it's a heavy burden. And, you know, I've been that guy in the movie theater and I've seen remakes come up and they haven't delivered on, they don't compare tot he original. So I've been that disappointed moviegoer, I know what that's like. We'll see if we avoided that with this movie, but I can tell you we certainly tried and we certainly felt the weight of the original on us as we were making this movie.

This movie was announced in '08, and we're looking at a little over four years from then to now. Did changing political sensibilities have any effect on the movie we're seeing now versus the one that was filmed?

No. I don't think that the movie was designed to be political, which is kind of a great irony because it did become political. But when we set out to make it we really tried to focus the story on the fantasy and wish fulfillment of being a kid and being faced with an incredible situation, being an underdog and rising to become a hero. That was always the focus of the story.

The politics were not something that were all that interested in, I've got to say, given the fact that we've gone through a year and a half election season, I'm really glad today that we made that choice. We tried to make something that was fun and popcorn-y. And at the same time, was true to the spirit of the original. But that was really it.

The only other political thing that was in the forefront of some of our minds as we were making the movie was there was something very interesting about making a movie that celebrated an insurgency, that seems, that was something very interesting to explore when we were developing the script.

Now, you mentioned the political aspects. When we talk about the original version, when we look back at it now, that's very much a political film. Maybe more in hindsight because it kind of reflects more of the Reagan era and the image of the evil empire and whatnot. So I'm curious, did you worry about that?

I was young when I saw the original. So I see why it was such a political film, but when you're 12 or 13 years old and you're seeing Red Dawn for the first time, what I related to and what I took my experience with the movie, it was about these kids who were in high school who had to come together to fight impossible odds. That's what it spoke to for me.

I know that that's not gonna be true for everybody, but when you see a movie, the context of your age and where you are in your life I think powers the way you view the movie and even though I'm much older now, the first time seeing Red Dawn, that experience is what I remember and what I take with me to this project and that's what is going to be reflected in the movie that we made.

What was your experience with the film as a kid, because you mentioned that it had a pretty profound impact on you...

It did and it scared the hell out of me to be honest. But it was just such a visceral film, you know. And I guess it was, I don't know, certainly the fact that were in a Cold War I'm sure played a part in it but I don't know that that was as forefront in my mind at that age as it would have been had I been older and seen the movie.

Right. It's definitely very grim.

Yeah, it is.

Did that worry you at all? When we look at the original Red Dawn it's definitely a lot darker I think than a lot of mainstream films that we see these days.

I agree. It definitely is compared to the mainstream. However, I think that one of the things that I loved about the original Red Dawn was that you didn't know who was gonna get killed, and that really added to the suspense of the movie and that was something that I think we all felt we needed to stay true to and there are, my opinion, we know, we were pretty uncompromising in that regard.

For people who grew up with the original, are there enough new surprises here to keep them engaged?

My opinion on that is absolutely. I mean, I could tell you that the approach was to take a look at the original and find a way to keep the spirit of the original alive in the reboot, but the reboot was really designed to be its own thing. Certainly there are moments from the original movie that we use in our movie, but when we could we tried twists on those original moments. I think that kind of part of the fun is to watch this and if you've seen the original you think you know where we're going but we throw a little curve ball at you.

What themes from the original did you want to make sure this new one embodied?

Well, I'll tell you, when you're taking a look at something like this, the first question that I think you have to ask yourself is, ""What is it about the original that made that story work?" And you know, I think some people would say it was the politics, the geopolitical climate of the world was one of the things that really contributed to making the movie work.

Fair enough, I understand that position. But, for me, I think that there's something more to it. And I think particularly for an American audience, the idea of an invading army is something that speaks to the American psyche, why? Because going all the way back to ""The red coats are coming!"" it's a part of who we are. At least, a part of our history in this country. And that was something that we tried to capture.

Thematically, what the movie's about, it's about, it's really simple. It's about fighting for what you're going to do when you have incredible odds? You have an army that's invading your hometown. What are you gonna do about it? Are you going to run and hide or are you going to band together and fight? That rebellious spirit is something that is celebrated quite a bit here in this country. And frankly I think it's something everyone can relate to 'cause it's the ultimate underdog story.

Obviously, Chris Hemsworth got involved before Thor was a twinkle in anyone's eye, but what was it about him that told you he was the guy?

Oh my God, it was obvious. I mean we read so many people for all of these roles and when Chris came in and read, his first reading was with the casting director and we got a very excited call from our casting director, Deborah Aquila and she set up a time for him to come in the next day for him to read for myself and the producers and the director, and it was one of those sort of magical moments where someone came in and read and in the first couple words out of his mouth you knew he was the right person for the part.

And one of the really fun things about this movie was the thing that the cast was so young and had to be so young to tell this story properly. We were able to really kind of cast who we wanted to. There aren't a lot of big movie stars that are in their early 20's. And so there was more freedom in casting this movie than what you normally experience when you're making a Hollywood movie.

And it's kind of great that it worked out the way it did. Chris and Josh Hutcherson and Josh Peck, Annie Palicki and Connor Cruise and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it's kind of a great cast and I'm really proud of it and there's a really nice lesson behind it which is that surrounding yourself with really talented young people sometimes isn't such a bad thing to do.

 I actually just re-watched the original film this past summer and I wasn't fully aware of who all was in the new one and I was looking at Powers Boothe and I was like, "He really looks like Jeffrey Dean Morgan." And later I was like, "Oh my gosh!"

Yeah, they do have sort of a similar vibe and Jeffrey did a good job with the role. And that's a good example by the way of a character that was in the original movie but we changed that character quite a bit and I'm really pleased with particularly the way that worked out.

One of the changes that was made which is out there of course was how Red China was turned to North Korea. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the thinking behind that and what your reaction to that was.

Well, it's a long story but remember, MGM was in bankruptcy, but when they went through their bankruptcy they cut back quite a bit on staffing at the company and that included distribution, so when the studio re-emerged from the bankruptcy, they no longer had the ability to distribute movies. And Red Dawn, Cabin in the Woods, they were made and another one in there were movies that were finished and they were shopping those movies for distribution to some other companies.

At that point it became clear to them that they weren't going to be able to get distribution for Red Dawn due to the Chinese element in the movie. And I'm not privy to all the details of it, that was something the folks at MGM were handling. But bottom line was, if we wanted to get the movie released, some kind of change was going to have to be made. And, that is an unprecedented card to be dealt. I don't know of another example in the history of Hollywood where something like this has happened.

But, it was something that was really difficult and you take a lot of pride in all the work you do and we had completely posted the movie and it was finished so it was very difficult emotionally to have to deal with that issue. But, at the end of the day, once we found a way to do it, I gotta say I was really pleased with the way it all worked out. I said publicly, and I still believe this, I believe the version we ended up making is a better version than what we had before. I can explain why.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (L) and Hemsworth
Please do.

Well, I mean, the original version that we made, there were some problems with it. There wasn't a very compelling, there wasn't as compelling a reason for the invasion as I think we would have liked.And once we came to the decision to involve North Korea as part of a coalition it freed us up to set the movie in a world that is slightly different than our own.

And that's established in the credits sequence. That goes through a series of events that actually haven't happened but if the dominoes fell the right way could. So to have a little step back from reality, I think let us give up to set up the movie in a darker, scarier world and I think that plays better over the course of the movie.

I'll just say one last thing about it. I know there's been a lot of skepticism about North Korea being involved in the movie, but you should see the movie, because they're not the only invading force, we took into consideration the size of their military and their capabilities and I think we found some ways to justify the existence of North Korean troops in the setting of our movie. Just as John Milius achieved that with the Cuban troops in the original Red Dawn.

From what you're describing, it sounds very similar to what Milius did in the original, where there is that card in the beginning that does kind of say that.

It absolutely was and that's kind of an interesting point to bring out because what lead us to how to achieve this was going back to the original movie and how they handled it. It was a huge influence on what we ended up doing.

I know I've said this already but I mean the movie's designed to be something that is fun to go watch. And of course it needs to be logical and I think it is and hopefully people can go in and get a bag of popcorn and relax and enjoy the ride.

One last question, and this is only tangentially connected, but I remember reading that The Hangover was based partly on an experience with you...

(laughs) Oh my God. Yes, that's true.

Did you ever think that your life experience would spawn a trilogy?

(laughs) No, I really didn't. No, of course not. I had no idea. I will say though, I'm happy to say that the two movies, I don't know what they're doing with the third, but I can tell you that the second movie I've never been to...where was that movie set?

It was Thailand, I think.

I've never been to Thailand, so you can't pin that one on me. Only the first one.


Big thanks to Tripp Vinson for taking the time to talk to me. To hear some of the audio from this interview, give a listen to the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast.


Andrew Wood said...

Great interview, Zaki. You certainly do your homework for these chats! I must admit to being unsure about this remake. Anytime a producer pitches her/his flick as a popcorn movie, I read: "we're only in it for the money," and I head for the exits. Still, I'm a sucker. Maybe I'll see Red Dawn redux anyway...

Zaki said...

Thanks for the kind words, Andy...and thanks for providing one of the questions! I missed the press screening last week, which I regret, as I don't know if I'll be able to hit up a theater anytime soon.