Executive Producer Callum Greene Talks Changes During Production, the Massive Visual Effects, Release Date Shuffles, Easter Eggs, on the Set of PACIFIC RIM

     June 19, 2013

While it’s always great to talk to the actors and the director on a set visit, if you want to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of making a movie, one of the best people to talk with is the producer.  After all, they’re intricately involved in all of the big decisions and they usually have a great story or two to share.  And in the case of Pacific Rim executive producer Callum Greene, the same holds true.

During a intimate group interview on the Toronto set last year, Greene talked about making Pacific Rim, how the story and script changed during the development process, how no matter how much money you have it’s never enough, the visual effects, the release date, and so much more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

pacific-rim-guillermo-del-toro-max-martini-rob-kazinskyCALLUM GREENE:  I started with Guillermo [del Toro] on The Hobbit.  This is our fourth year coming up of working together.  This is one of the many projects that Guillermo was juggling around with when we started.  When Mountains of Madness got put on the shelf, this was the next project up and we rolled right into it.  He’d been talking about it for a long time, but then the switch to actually making it happen was a matter of days to Mountains going down, which was a Thursday and I think we were on to this by Monday.  That would have been last year — March sometime.

When you get a script and you’re getting started, then when you get on set, it changes dramatically.  How has this one changed, if at all, versus where you first started?

GREENE:  I think it’s pretty much been a realization of what Guillermo wanted from the beginning. We started with about six or seven concept designers in Bleak House in LA, Guillermo’s sort of think tank, which is up the road from his residential house.  We had the usual suspects there, we had Guy Davis and Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Oscar Ciccone, Wayne Barlow, Keith Thompson, a whole bevy of people to use, and a lot of new people he had come across — Hugo Martin, Sean, I’m trying to think of some other people, Simon Webber.  A whole bunch of people would come and join us and do sketches.  Most of the concept work, which if you look around in the offices you’ll see, those ideas were starting in January, February, March of last year, and they’ve just continued to develop.  Many of those, including the set we’re on today, are exact replicas of what we were sketching more than a year ago.  Things change, they get form and become tactile, and they’re have been some changes, and Guillermo’s realistic with changes and compromises and how to make it real.  It’s kind of crazy how you look at those cell batteries, and the Chinese cell batteries, and the Russian cell batteries, and the tools, and the little mini trucks, and the little tool buggies. We made them all, and they look identical.  I think what has opened up is the grandeur of the piece, and that’s been of kind of fantastic to see.  Instead of color print outs, we’re now seeing it for real, lit for real by our DP, and it’s come to life.  It’s been pleasant. It’s been a progression.  Not a shock, more of a pleasant surprise that we’ve been able to execute everything he wanted to do, which is pretty cool, I have to say.  To get that close.

You can practically measure the size and scope of this movie by the size of its monsters and robots.  This is a huge film.  As a producer, how intimidating is it to approach this kind of material?

GREENE:  It could be, I don’t know.  You’ve just got to try.  It’s a mountain, and you’ve just got to start climbing it.  It slowly gets smaller and smaller.  If you’ve viewed this whole scope from afar you’d shit yourself. 

pacific-rim-rinko-kikuchi-imageYeah, we’re just taking it all in today.

GREENE:  Guillermo’s appetite is massive.  When I say he compromises, he pushes us every single day to do the most we can.  We pulled out all the stops to do so.  It’s a big movie.  I freaked out on other projects and earlier films, and learned to control that, so you just get a good team around you, tackle each day, keep talking, keep planning, and somehow we pulled it all off, which is good.  It’s good.  I promised I’d get to April and then relax a little bit, and look at the day count on the call sheet and be happy.  Not until then.

This is obviously a big budget tent pole release.  It seems like you guys are able to accomplish some insane stuff on this thus far.  Was there something that Guillermo or someone came up with that you guys were really close to doing but due to budget or whatever reason you decided to pull back or change based on a reason?

GREENE:  There’s been a few little things.  There’s been some cuts and omissions. I’d say some things that have had a budgetary aspect, but there’s also a time aspect. Guillermo is a producer on this movie as well.  For example, even this morning we changed a sequence where we were going to have three performers clamber out of the belly of the beast and get sucked back in.  It was a spaghetti shot which he had mentioned back in October and I fell in love with and was like, “Oh, we have to do this.”  He was excited that we were going to do it, and we have training and pads and stunts all up there and ready to go.  This morning because of the time and pace we’re a little ahead of the schedule, and the outfits we have are phenomenally beautiful, these sort of beekeeper type outfits, but they’re so delicate as well.  With anyone falling and scampering out with the outfits, and he recalled that it mimics some sort of neoprene, it would tear in a second.  He was like, “I don’t think we can do this.”  Just practically speaking.  We’re all ready to go, we’re all ready to do it, the stunts have been rehearsed.  He said, “You know, there’s a practical element where I think this is going to rip and tear, and it’s not going to work.  Also, I think, from a story point of view, that allows me to continue to get ahead of schedule.  We don’t get to do that.  We get to go to the set a day earlier, inside the carcas, and I’ll play it better there.  I’ll play a similar gag, simplify it, make it happen.”  Yes, we got ahead.  Yes, that helps our schedule and our budget, but he’s going to use that elsewhere.  There’s been that sort of shell game as we go.  The bigger stuff?  I seem to remember some sort of nuclear reactor that was going to blow up and stuff for an eighth of a page, that might have come and gone.  There’s a few other little tidbits that have gone through the process, but I don’t think any thing that he was really in love with.  No character, we’ve added more characters than taken anything out.  I don’t think it has anything that we’ve cut that have been a real sacrifice.  Luckily.  We’re just pigging out here.

pacific-rim-jaegersWalking around the art room and seeing all the stuff that’s planned for this movie, it looks like a $300-$400 million film.  I know it isn’t, I know you can’t make a film for that much money.  How are you able to make a film, with that grand a scope, for much less?

GREENE:  I think the cheapest movie I ever produced was a $27,000 movie that went to Slamdance and won the Audience Award there, and that was harder than this.  I consider this a little easier.  At the same time, I wished at that point to have a little more money, the same is true with this.  There’s never a budget big enough.  If we just had $1 million more.  I was saying that on $27,000 movie, if just had $1 million more.  There’s never enough money, there’s never enough time.  This is a relatively quick schedule for Guillermo, 103 main unit days, about 56 splinter unit days, B camera unit days.  It’s the shortest he’s ever shot, but his biggest budget.  There’s a comfort level that the crew have around him, and we made a really good schedule.  We’re ahead of schedule right now, by about half a day, with sixteen days to go.  We’re tracking nicely under budget so we can provide him a cushion for post, if he wants to do some reshoots or stuff like that. We’re in healthy shape.  It’s the same tools.  You get the script, you break the script down, you put your figures together.  Where you have problems, you talk about it.  He’s a very clever and astute, and like I said, wears a producer hat.  I tend, as a producer, not to hide anything.  It’s not my fault if what he wants costs $2 million and we have $1 million.  I just have to find that out as quickly as possible so he has time creatively to change it.  Or to find the money somewhere else.  That’s up to him.  It’s not my role to say no, it’s to explain what’s going on.  He makes that very easy.

It was explained to us that the Tokyo set is reused four times as different places.  Whose idea was that?

GREENE:  We worked with the art department.  You know, there’s only so much we can fit in.  We’re doing 101 sets over the course of 103 shooting days.  That’s insane.  We’ve managed to put together a really impressive jigsaw puzzle.  We’ve taken over the entire Pinewood stages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9.  Jumbo.  We split Stage 8 up into two stages and put a soundproof wall down the middle.  Within all that, it’s been a careful leapfrog from stage to stage to make it work.  With this one, it was how can we manipulate the stages to have our Hong Kong set A, our Hong Kong set B, our Hong Kong set C, then destroy it.  That’s the one you’re seeing now, the destroyed version of it.  With clever tactics, the same sort of geography, the same basis of architecture, but change the facades.  Different dressing, different signage, change the angle, change the lighting. That helped us sort of leapfrog around.  That came from the art department, Andrew Neskoromny and Richard Johnson and Elinor Rose Galbraith.  Our art directors putting that together and coming back, and he went, “Yeah, that’s fine, totally.”  He helped us out, and whenever there was a little change he said, “This would work, perhaps just don’t show this 20 feet of stage.  We’ll hide that.”  He’s been totally accommodating.  That’s helped tremendously with leapfrogging it. We go from Stage 1 to 2, then 1 is being ripped out and changed, and then we go to 3 as 2 goes out, then we come back to 1.  We crisscrossed all over Pinewood, but at this stage and time we have ever single mill shop and every single stage and every single parking spot.  It’s crazy. 

pacific-rim-charlie-hunnam-gipsy-dangerGuillermo said you have about 2,000 special effects shots in this film.

GREENE:  He would like there to be 2,000 visual effects!

I may be wrong about that number.  Let me backtrack.  There’s a lot of CGI effects in this movie.

GREENE:  Absolutely, yeah.

Is there one, at the moment right now, where you’re at the moment of, “I really don’t know how we’re making this sequence work?”


So ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] and everybody have been like, “We got this.”

GREENE:  Yeah. 

Wow.  Is there one that’s more challenging that the others?

GREENE:  There’s about currently probably, the script with the revisions and page counts and Final Draft adding mysterious pages to your count all of a sudden — you add two lines and somehow you’ve added fourteen pages mysteriously — if roughly the script is 120 pages long, about 20 pages of that is entirely digital.  Within that there are some complicated, complicated sequences.  Which is why we were very, very particular about who we went with for the visual effects.  Within that, there are definitely visual effects sequences that have too many shots, and we’re working together with editorial to bring those down right now.  Those are complicated, but in a way we’re already well into those sequences.  We scouted Hong Kong, where the second to last battle happens, in August, and photographed it and planned it and did it.  We go there this Friday for two weeks of aerial photography and plate shooting to get it.  That’s it.  We hand it over to ILM and they have eight to nine months to get to work on it.  The concepts, the robots, were all done by October.  The monsters were completed by the end of the year and we handed those over.  Those were all hand-sculpted by David Meng and his gang and put together and handed over to ILM.  They’re really moving nicely along.  That was part of their deal to offer to us was basically kind of a two-for-one deal.  They were really competitive with the budget, they really wanted to work with Guillermo, which is amazing.  Part of it was a speeding up process of handing it over.  Fewer, a more core team of people, could be working longer, instead of 200 people working seven days a week, they could have 70-80 people working five days a week, same thing, not wasting money or overtime yet, to get this in budget.  That was the handshake deal, and that’s what we’ve been doing.  Every lunch we meet with Guillermo and he’s editing or handing stuff over to ILM.  That started in December.

pacific-rim-charlie-hunnamIf I’m not mistaken, your original release date was May, and then you moved to July.

GREENE:  Our original release date was July, then moved it to May, then we moved it back to July. 

There we go.  Was this a studio thing regarding movement?  Was there a reason for the shift?

GREENE:  There’s so many people involved in making such an important decision, that depending on which way the wind blows, there’s absolutely a logical reason for every date you could choose in the calendar.  For us, we’d sort of fallen in love with July.  Then there was a strong argument to move it to May to kick off the summer season, it was justified and made a lot of sense.  For us, in our hearts, this was July.  We’re a big tentpole movie, we should be back there.  We said, “Leave it alone, it’ll seem fussy.”  Then came the new year, we showed Guillermo’s footage, about 20 minutes of footage to Jeff Robinov and everyone at Warner Bros. as well as everyone at Legendary [Pictures], and was reminded, let’s go back to July.  That’s probably why we did that.  There are probably other reasons that help that, but I think that’s the real kernel in this.  We want to own that summer feeling next year. 

Does it also help to have that extra two months?  I know you guys are going to be finished by May.

GREENE:  We’re planning on being finished anyway.  At this point in time, Guillermo literally cuts every lunch time, he goes in and cuts, and every Saturday.  We’re up to date.  Talking about reshoots, I’m offering that, but the reality is we’re using two days in our last week, since we’re ahead, to go back and reshoot.  We want to do it all now, get it done now.  We’re reshooting with our original schedule, so all the original characters and the original team are all together, which is key.  I think that will help with regards to that.  Our schedule doesn’t get advanced, no.

The entire we’ve been here we’ve marveled at Guillermo del Toro’s energy.  The guy doesn’t seem to sleep ever.  His energy seems to be contagious with everybody, is that the same case with you?

GREENE:  I’ve been marveling at his energy since 5:14AM this morning!  Of course it is. I don’t want anyone in this party who isn’t passionate and responds to that.  If they aren’t, they don’t come back to the next movie.  He drives us onwards with an energy and humanity that is very, very inspiring.  You see that in the sets, in the costumes, in everything.  He’s had some sharp words now and again, always justified one hundred percent, always really fair.  I’ve worked with people that are stricter, there’s different schools of thought, but for myself and everyone here, his humor and his ability to lead us on, that brings out the best in everyone.  That energy is hard to complain about. He’s working as hard as you.  He’s not lazy, he’s not just kicking back, which I think would just make everyone disgruntled.  We’re exhausted, but we’re not disgruntled.  We’re running the marathon, and he might be in a golf cart, but he’s there with us, offering us lemonade and keeping us going.  I’m a huge fan, or else I wouldn’t be doing this.  It’s been great.

pacific-rim-charlie-hunnam-rinko-kikuchiI wanted to know about Easter eggs.  A lot of people love Easter eggs in their movies, whether it’s contenting to another universe or an homage to another film or connecting to another GTD.  Are you guys doing any of that?

GREENE:  Well, Ron Perlman’s sitting up on stage! I think there are, yeah.  As a fan of his movies, I try to rewatch and pick up on references.  If you’re a fan, there’s definitely hints in this that relate to other movies and other pieces, one hundred percent.  When you back and starting seeing stuff that he’s put in — I mean, Ron Perlman is an obvious one, that’s not a clever thing — but there’s a palette and a choice and jokes that one hundred percent he’s aware of and plants in there.  I would defer to him whether he wants broadcast those or not.  There’s fun to be had for fans.

When we go back in, I’m going to definitely ask him that question.  For example, a Hellboy poster in the background of a sequence, or stupid shit like that.

GREENE:  You can ask and see if he’ll tell. There’s definitely little things.  There’s also stylistic choices.  When we doing Mountains of Madness, you can go back and see some of those creatures are creatures from his other movies.  Those are his creatures and he’s used those elements before.  It’s fascinating.  There’s a palette and elements he uses throughout.  Consciously or unconsciously, he might just like orange and fruit baskets in every scene, whatever that may be.  Sometimes you can force it a little bit and be like, “Oh, these characters always sit down.  That’s one of his themes.”  There are things you’ll notice in there.

With props, a lot of people like to hypothetically borrow things from set, but you would not take something home that was from the production.  Hypothetically speaking, have you ever borrow something or planning on borrowing something from set?

pacific-rim-posterGREENE:  No.  I would fire myself!  It’s interesting, Guillermo likes a lot of the props, so he’s diligent in the purchase and acquisition of his props.  He gets through the elements and pieces, and is very strict with the protocol and making sure if he gets something that he wants, that he purchases it, not as a gift, but that he purchases it.  Already there’s a couple of things he’s prepaid for to make more of them to be in a set, which is a very interesting and noble gesture on his behalf.  Definitely a few things I would love, but no.  Then he’s come around to prep another movie and he sees the Parasite sitting in the corner?  That’s from another movie!  I got that from Lost in Translation!  It didn’t work out.  No, not taking anything home. 

Was the plan always to do robots in CG?  Was there a plan for stop motion or models or anything like that?

GREENE:  No, I don’t think miniatures would have worked.  There was a brief conversation.  The perspective of that probably would have made them look smaller as opposed to bigger, and I think the amount of work into miniatures — Guillermo very much loves that analog sense of reality with what’s going on.  I just saw with the Parasites replicating the bigger monster.  That was the digital, this is the analog, and it’s a beautiful blend.  We talked about miniatures, but just cost-wise and use-wise, eight months outs having to sign off on exactly how the street work and how it would all work just didn’t make sense.  It’s always been a digital embrace for those elements.  We embrace the digital and make that work.  The interior of the ComPod, the interior of the head?  We all thought that digital did that, and he was like, “No, no, we’re going to do that for real.”  It is a compromise, we couldn’t make them stand on twelve foot long poles.  We would have ripped actors in half.  He reluctantly agreed that we couldn’t go through actors like that.  What you have is a little bit of a compromise, but it’s still pretty real.  Those actors, they’re sweating.  It’s pretty hardcore.  You can tell in their performances, in their grimaces, and their facial expressions, they’re really working it.  These things are 40 pounds, which after eight hours with sparks and rain and mist, you can tell they’re exhausted.  They’re in a real battle.  That worked out nicely.  We knew those things would be digital, it was just where do we blend them in.  Hopefully it works out soon.

Pacific Rim opens July 12th.  For more from my set visit:


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