The director of this new Donnie Darko tale talks about this continuation of the classic Richard Kelly film.
Chris Fisher has worked in both TV and film before, directing films such as Dirty and also episodes for TV shows such as Chuck and Cold Case. Now he's going back into the world director Richard Kelly created in his 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko with the straight-to-DVD sequel, S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 12. I had the chance to speak with Fisher over the phone about his new film, and here's what he had to say.
I was first curious about how you first learned about this project and what got you interested in taking the helm for this?
Chris Fisher: I first heard of it when my agent called me and said that a company had a new script that they were interested in me directing. They sent it over and I asked what it was and she didn't know the original film, so she said she thought it was a teen kind of movie. It took me all of one page to realize what it was (Laughs), so I set it down and called her back. As it says in Richard Kelly's Philosophy of Time Travel, "the universe is fraught with great peril.' I was like, 'What's the deal here guys? What am I walking into?' The producers were like, 'Well, we offered him the script and he passed. He's doing The Box, which is, you know, a $30 million Warner Bros. movie. We have some mutual friends like James Duvall and I directed Holmes Osborne, who played Donnie Darko's dad. We also share a casting agent, so I called her and said, 'What's the deal? Should I talk to Richard?' She said he's right in the middle of this movie and I'm sure he has other things to worry about than a $4 million sequel. So then I went back and I looked at the script, and I had some concerns about it, but, kind of like the original movie, as time went by, I just kept going back and re-reading the script and after a couple of weeks, I was totally hooked. I called and they accepted the project.
So did you ever end up getting a hold of Richard then, or do you know if he's seen this film yet?
Chris Fisher: I don't. Like I said, I contacted someone who's a mutual friend of ours. If he was adamantly or vehemently opposed to be doing it, he certainly could've gotten a hold of me, but I wasn't going to presume that he was upset. You can run down this road in a million different ways and, certainly respect artistic integrity and certainly want to be a director who is admired by his peers and respects this sort of brotherhood of artistry. I've only, literally just from doing these interviews, heard rumors that he was very upset about it. Like any rumor, I can take it with a grain of salt, but I can't speak for Richard and I don't know what his opinion is. I doubt he's seen it, unless he's downloaded it illegally (Laughs), but I don't know. I know it's controversial and I'm aware of the challenges and hopefully the movie speaks for itself, that it's a worthy successor and that it's deserving of the universe that he created. To say I was a huge fan of the original film is an understatement and to say I'm a huge fan of his directing is an understatement. It's a huge challenge, one that I wonder if it was still the right thing to do and, like I said, I love my movie and I believe in the movie and hopefully that speaks more to the point than anything I can say.
The film seems like a stand-alone, but there are elements from the original of course. How did you go about creating that balance with having stuff in for the fans and just making this your own movie?
Chris Fisher: Well, I think that's the term that we kept using, in talking amongst the collaborative crew of people, and it was a very big collaborative crew of people that worked on this film. We wanted to evolve the classic, we kept using the term evolution, and we wanted to give the audience... I didn't want to answer questions we weren't trying to answer. I accepted the cosmology as fact, that we live in a multiverse, where travel between universes is possible through wormholes, that there's a primary universe, which is the universe we call home. There are infinite parallel universes that splinter off, that artifacts can come through our universe through wormholes. We took two sources as the basis of our film. One was the original Donnie Darko film - not the director's cut, but just the original film - and then The Philosophy of Time Travel Book that's contained in that. Those two sources, everything in those sources, from the second our movie starts, those are accepted truths. That the universe and the archetypes and the powers of the characters and everything we know about the Darkoverse, is an accepted fact when our movie begins, so we don't have to explain it. In effect, I would be contentious of the fact that this movie is stand-alone, because without The Philosophy of Time Travel Book and without the original film, I don't think any of this is going to make sense. Therein, actually, I think lies an interesting question. When I first saw the original film for the first time, I didn't understand it either. What I did do, is I did understand it emotionally, and I loved this character, this teen angst, this healthy anti-establishment attitude, this movie that had a religious, mythical and philosophical issues about everything from God to what it's like to lose a loved one. The mixing of the genres, the mixing of modalities in the original film was done genius. Richard Kelly just hit a home run with how it was all woven together. I don't think you're going to understand our film without understanding that. I don't think it works as a stand-alone film. Maybe, if people don't like this film and aren't happy with the end result, maybe a positive out of that is they'll go back to the original film and it might even turn on a whole new era of kids to this stuff. I'm not sure, but ultimately, the movie needs to do two things very well, and that is to satisfy the fans that already exist, and to create new fans and hopefully it can do both.
You've got quite a nice cast here with Daveigh returning from the original and Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone and Elizabeth Berkely. Can you just talk about what they all brought to the table with their performances?
Chris Fisher: Right. One of the things, when I agreed to take the movie, the one thing I said was I wouldn't do it without Daveigh. To me, the stink would be too putrid to get around if someone else was reprising her role. She was a given from Day One and I had followed her work from The Ring to Big Love. She's just an incredibly gifted artist and she gives a very subdued performance. She doesn't have much dialogue and, as you know, there are two Sam's in the movie - there's the living Sam and the manipulated-dead Sam - and both, in a sense, occupy the same spirit, but whereas living Sam is this light, ethereal, quiet, shy, forlorn girl, who I really see as this princess lost in the world. I'll deviate for a second, but I really just see this movie as a fairy tale. I think that was my ultimate goal for this movie, was to create a fairy tale with a strong female point of view that's set in the Darko universe. Now I think Sam really encapsulates that sort of fairy princess idea I had, and then manipulated dead Sam as this bad-ass, fourth-dimensional thing, but it is Sam. The cool thing I like to think about this movie is if you've seen The Evil Dead and you've seen The Abyss and you've seen Back To The Future Part II, then you've kind of seen this movie. One of the cool sort of God notions in this movie is that we do have this notion that God is benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent. I will say in the Darko universe, he's certainly not one of those three. You can pick whichever one of the three it is, but for the plot to work, I would say that one of those three things can't exist. Another cool reason to remake this movie is that in the original, it's all about the living receiver and it's about this Christ-like character who has to sacrifice himself to save the universe. In our movie, that character isn't developed nearly as well, it's played by Iraq Jack in one of the tangent universes and played by her friend Corey in the second tangent universe. Both characters are sort of underdeveloped, in terms of its relationship to the original film. We had more time to watch this manipulated dead Samantha and kind of move through time and space. She is an anywhere, anytime entity. It's just a radical character an I don't even think we came close to exploring well enough in this film. I can't give enough props to Richard Kelly and I can't pay enough of an homage to the original concept he's created, because it's so rich. I mean, what is this movie? It's a fairy tale, it's a period piece, melodrama, sci-fi thriller, apocalyptic fantasy, it's a road movie, even. It's all these things and I didn't create this world. I can't take credit for it, but I've certainly enjoyed playing inside of it.
The DVD has a feature about filming in Utah, so can you talk a bit about filming there? You don't hear a lot about movies filming in Utah these days, so can you just talk a little bit about that?
Chris Fisher: Yeah. Utah was a good idea, one, because it had this sort of Martian landscape of the salt flats that I was looking for and it had these old mines and abandoned industry and ghost-town feel. It had all the elements, artistically, that we wanted. The Utah Film Commission is incredible. They gave us 15% of our budget, and the Utah crew we had was just really talented. I think you're going to see more movies shooting there. You see a lot of movies shooting in New Mexico and I think Utah is trying to take some of that business. I think the movie really highlights how beautiful the topography is out there. It's just really beautiful country. We shot this movie on a camera called the Red 1, a sort of new-ish digital camera and the new 35mm chip, so you really have these wide landscape shots that we would ramp up for storm clouds coming through that really looks, I think, as good as film. That's probably a debate I don't want to get into, but shooting in Utah worked well for our budget, it worked well creatively and the crews out there are fantastic to work with.
So, given the huge fanbase of the original, was this ever considered for a theatrical, or was it always planned to go straight to DVD?
Chris Fisher: You know, I don't really know the pedigree of the film, in that sense. I mean, I always thought I was making an independent film. I didn't know, and neither did anyone, we all sort of found out after production that it was financed from the Fox Home Video department. After we knew that, we kind of got a sense of what the bread and butter of this movie's release would be. I think Fox did an incredible job with the quality of the DVD, and, as we all know, the economy is tough right now. The film studios are businesses and this is the business model that fits for them, so hopefully people will realize that the quality of the film is that the film was made with love and care and it seems more of a richer experience than most straight to DVD movies. I think it deserves better, but ultimately it's not my call. We are getting theatricals in most foreign territories, even though it's going straight to DVD here in the States, all the major territories are getting a theatrical release, U.K. ,Germany, Italy, from there on down.
So are there possibilities being kicked around for another Donnie Darko Tale, and would you be interested in directing?
Chris Fisher: Nobody has come to me with it. I think everybody is going to hold their breath to see what happens with this one and if the movie does well, I'm sure there will be discussions as to what happens with the next one. If the rumors that I've heard are true, and that Richard is unhappy with this, and if I was up to do another one, I'd probably want to discuss it with him. But I think, as we just talked about, this universe he created is just so rich for storytelling and these characters, there are just so many stories left to be told of them. If this one does well and people enjoy watching this, I think the studio probably would want to make another one. Ultimately, if people don't want sequels and spin-offs and remakes and adaptations, they need to stop seeing them (Laughs). Otherwise, the studios are going to keep making them. That's not an argument for the creative merit, but it's a practical argument for why these movies happen, because they make money.
I understand you're working on a TV series right now, so is there anything you can tell us about that, or anything else you're looking to develop in the future?
Chris Fisher: Yeah. I just adapted a novel by Thomas Berger called Meeting Evil. It's sort of a post-modern Western set in suburbia about good and evil. It's a script that I adapted from this really great book and really great author and I'm going to start trying to cast that. I'm currently writing for a TV show called The Cleaner, which is on A&E and it's a Benjamin Bratt show. I also directed an episode of Eureka, which is a Sci-Fi Channel show and I'm always writing and directing television, as well as looking out for my next film project.
Finally, since Donnie Darko does have such a huge fanbase, what would you like to say to that fanbase to get them to pick this up on DVD?
Chris Fisher: I'd just like to say to give it a chance and know that this movie was made with deep respect for the original film and it was a movie made to pay homage and also to try to give a new perspective into this universe that we all love so much.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Chris. Thanks so much for your time, and the best of luck with your new projects.
Chris Fisher: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
You can discover the mysterious world of S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale when the film hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on May 12.