Producer Hutch Parker Talks the Quicksilver Sequence, the Possibility of Crossing Over with Marvel, Sentinels, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

     March 3, 2014


Last year, when Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was filming in Montreal, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters.  For those not familiar with the story, the movie finds Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) having his consciousness sent back to 1973 in order to help Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and the rest of the X-Men: First Class crew stop the rise of the Sentinels, giant robots programmed to exterminate mutants.  The film also takes place in the distant future, so we’re going to see the original X-Men cast and what will happen if Wolverine fails.  Trust me, Days of Future Past is a very cool storyline, and a perfect way to have the old and new cast in one film.

During a break in filming, I participated in a group interview with producer Hutch Parker.  He talked about how the project came together, what it was like the first time Fassbender and Ian Mckellan met, the Quicksilver sequence, the use of 3D, the possibilities of crossing over with Marvel, if they’re planting seeds for where the franchise can go next, the Sentinels, the VFX, Easter eggs, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

x-men-days-future-past-teaser-poster-professor-xQuestion: Talk a little bit about when you first got involved with the project and the genesis of it all coming together.

HUTCH PARKER: My context in most of this comes from having been at the studio, most of the last 20 years. I was an executive through X1, 2 and 3 and part of Wolverine, the first one. I came in to The Wolverine as a producer, the first time I had been a producer and subsequently this, fairly late in the process. The script was done. They were pretty well off with the cast. Bryan was attached. So I came in pretty much at prep. I had a lot of history with the franchise, but wasn’t that involved in putting it together.

Do you feel like the success of films like this has changed the industry as a whole?

PARKER: I do. The credit goes to Bryan, specifically the tone and the seriousness with which he approached the material and the character-based issues at the heart of the material changed the landscape and really made possible the legacy we have with The Dark Knight and certainly the X-Men films. It’s an amazing legacy when you look at the films that have been done. And that first film invited not only the filmmakers but gave the audience to take what had otherwise been fantastical notions seriously. As real myth, at least emotionally and psychologically.

What can you tell us about this movie? 

PARKER: It’s tricky, actually, because I really don’t know how much I can say. The comic will give you a lot. The primary difference is that it’s not Kitty Pryde that goes back, it’s Logan. That’s significant not only because of his mutant power because he’s so ill suited to the role he has to play as this ambassador to the past and trying to help broker a union among characters who’ve really been driven wildly apart. It’s a great opportunity for him which is really key for Hugh to play the character. As an actor, he’s always looking for new challenges, new opportunities and new places to take the character. And this does. It goes from one extreme to the other. In The Wolverine he’s more of the berserker character that we’ve longed for. In this it’s ironic that he plays a peacemaker, a broker of sane rationality in a somewhat insane context. 

x-men-days-of-future-past-nicholas-houltI love the comic that this is based on because it’s such a mythic and powerfully resonant idea. For me, from the teen alienation at the heart of all the X-Men characters, that degree to which they’re all looking to find their place in the world. The idea of having an opportunity to go back and make changes that can both ensure your future but also potentially destabilize other things. It’s such a wonderful, rich science fiction conceit. And to have the comic and its roots blended with that makes it to me one of the biggest—certainly the biggest idea we’ve ever tackled. I think it has the potential to be the biggest film and the home run of introducing the two casts together. 

And, like, Michael and Ian had never met. That was epic. The first time they met was at a roundtable and they were sitting next to each other. On one hand you wanted to just excuse everyone else from the room and let them talk. But it was fascinating because in the course of the interview they were actually seated in the same position, same leg crossed, same arms. I’m assuming sort of unconsciously. It was fantastic to watch. It’s so exciting to see these two generations of great actors come together. It’s literally the best cast I’ve ever seen in any film ever. I think it’s the best collection of actors I’ve ever seen put together. And to have them in the same space is amazing.  We shot the movie almost in two pieces. All of the future stuff, by virtue of cast dates, was shot first. The first month was this mad scramble, this furious production nightmare in some ways, to get all of that work done and those sets wrapped and then the new cast arrived. There are only two cast members that overlapped—Logan, for obvious reasons, and then James had one, which you saw pieces of in the reel, had one scene with the old cast. Short of that, it’s literally like two separate movies.

There was a point in time where this would’ve been a Roger Corman movie with C-level actors, but now we here with the best cast you’ve ever seen in your life in an X-Men movie, which is amazing. 

PARKER: It is. And again I think it goes back to Bryan and the legacy of the filmmakers who followed on, who brought such depth to the stories they’re telling. And when you talk to actors of this caliber, they want to play these parts. They’re great opportunities. The scene today—that’s amazing to me. If those two guys in that scene, with that level of intensity, over the issues that are affecting the characters of the world, that’s great drama. In a context, it would be a reach years and years ago. It was similar to what happened in the animation business. When I was at Fox we had Chris Meledandri, who was running what was kind of the family division, which was really animation. And it was considered the kiddie arm. And to see how that has evolved, mostly courtesy of Pixar, those are films now that anyone can go to and find satisfaction. I think that’s really exciting and I’m sure the studios are happy about it.

Will there be some sort of intro or catch-up for people who’ve never seen an X-Men movie? 

PARKER: Simon has done a brilliant job with the script. It’s very ambitious material and a very complicated story and one that you could easily get lost in, whether you’re a fan or not. You have so many characters you’re managing and trying to interconnect. Part of the answer is we’ll see in post, when we start to see how the movie shapes up we can start to assess if there’s stuff missing for people. But my instinct from reading the script is that he has done a really good job of laying that out now such that my hope is we won’t need to do much for the uninitiated. It’s always a little intimidating. I know people that were concerned about going to see The Wolverine because they thought they had missed out. Unless they saw all the movies it would be too hard. Friends who went were like, “Oh, I totally got it. Now I want to dig in and see some of the other films.”

I actually think that this one, partially because of that big idea, will be pretty accessible to everybody and partially because the character-based issues that we see played out are pretty clear. They play out in ways that begin, middle and end within the framework of the movie, with a little bit of exception with regard to First Class. There’s backstory in First Class that would add intel and info to the experience. But I don’t think you’ll need it.

Has there been time built in for reshoots?

PARKER: We haven’t built in time for reshoots. I don’t have any films I’ve been involved with—over 200—that have built in time for reshoots. You go in maybe naively hoping that you’re going to get everything you need, but because of the breadth of the cast and how busy they are, we’ve had to be extremely diligent during production. Bryan’s in editorial constantly. Not only as a way to know where he is, but to be checking if there are pieces missing. And so there have been able to grab things now. There’s a close up that would be great to have. Or we need a little bit of coverage here. Or here’s a bridge moment. We’ve done a lot of that on this movie. Which is a way of saying yes, we need to plan ahead. That said, if we get in post and find it gets too complex and we need to find a way to simplify it, and we need a piece to do that, you can pretty much always figure it out. It will be harder because Ian and Patrick are doing a play for a year. Jen goes back to back in The Hunger Games. Michael’s off to New Zealand almost immediately. Everybody’s going to be slammed but we’ll make it work.

x-men-days-of-future-past-magnetoDoes a digital workflow make that easier? 

PARKER: It helps. We can shoot James’ side of a screen against a greenscreen and plug him in to the other side. If you get in trouble you can do that.

Can you talk about the use of 3D? 

PARKER: Honestly, I was much more worried about it coming in. On The Wolverine we’d done the conversion and what was nice about that is there’s greater flexibility in the shooting and takes less time. The 3D camera can bog you down. But because Bryan has done a film in 3D he came very well versed. And Tom Sigel, his DP, they did it together. It really hasn’t been a hindrance. It’s seamless with the exception of shooting that cockpit. The cameras are big and there are certain circumstances you can’t get the camera in there but for the most part it’s been pretty seamless. A little slower, but not memorable or that would be a concern or complaint.

How much are you telling a standalone story versus also planting possible seeds for where the franchise can go next?

PARKER: It’s both. Simon and Bryan and Lauren are all thinking now about next steps and have ideas as to next chapters. It’ll be in conjunction with the studio and they’ll have to be on board with whatever direction they find most interesting. I think sequels are very dangerous if you assume and presume success. I think you have to plan each film as a standalone and commit yourself to that as your primary objective. We’ve got a bunch of them over the summer—movies that no doubt had plans for the sequel and believed they could be franchises and then the results don’t pan out. At the risk of being too bold, we definitely feel like we’re on to something and that this is going to be a very special film. And there are other chapters to be told from the platform that this one will give the franchise. 

There’s no question there will be another movie. But which movie? That’s somewhat a function of what everyone loves about this one. What is it that we want to click in to. Having been at the studio when we did the first Wolverine, that was a mistake. The initial intention was to do something grittier. Much more frankly in the tone of the most recent Wolverine. And the decision ultimately became to do something that was more of a hybrid and I think it came at the expense of what I feel what the audience was longing for from that character, which was a grittier, darker, much more character-centric treatment. Thankfully we got a second chance because I feel like Jim Mangold did a great job taking us to a place with Logan that we wanted to go. 

x-men-days-of-future-past-hugh-jackman-michael-fassbender-james-mcavoyIt’s certainly safe to say there will be another X-Men movie, but where the collective audience wants that next journey to take us, is something I hope— We’ll make plans and sketch ideas but it’s dependent on how everybody reacts and feels when they see the movie. And with the success of these movies in general the bar is being moved a lot. What will come out of the next installment of Batman or Avengers or Iron Man will also inform some of where are the new thresholds, where are the new boundaries we should strive for. It’s an exciting time for movies. And a lot of what Bryan has set to do is trying to take the franchise and more importantly the audience to places beyond where they’ve been before.

Given the way things have developed at Fox with this series and then at Marvel, there are a lot of fans that don’t understand why the X-Men wouldn’t show up with The Avengers. Can you conceive of any situations where studios might collaborate?

PARKER: It comes down to when it’s in their interest, when it’s in their mutual interest they’ll figure it out. At the moment, I think they don’t see the need. The franchises are successful enough and self-perpetuating enough that I don’t think they see the need. But I think they’re going to see in what Warners is doing in kind of cross pollinating and what has been done with Iron Man and Avengers, and to some degree what’s happened when we’ve married these two casts – I think the studios and the audience is going to see there’s a tremendous opportunity there and may open up that dialogue. Obviously both parties have to be open and that’s sort of a question mark.

Are you already gearing up for what you’re going to do next?

x-men-days-of-future-past-hugh-jackmanPARKER: Yes and no. I’ll be on this through post. That will get busy with all the visual effects, certainly. We’re in good shape, but it’s a really big film. So that’ll keep me busy for a while. There are a couple things that may come together fairly quickly. My hope is not, because I spent five and a half months down in Australia and then thought I was going to be home for a while. And now I’m a resident of Montreal. I’d really like to get home for a little bit. It feels like it’ll be in the spring, maybe. But I’ll get some time back in LA.

Have you seen pre-viz on the Sentinels moving? 

PARKER: Yes. I’ve seen pre-viz on pretty much everything. Bryan is a big believer in pre-viz, as is everybody on the film. It just makes it so much more intelligent when you’re going to shoot a sequence. It’s mostly blocking though. You’re talking more about design pre-viz and early detail. Not so much. We have good ideas of what we want them to look like and good concept art that we’re really pleased with. But I haven’t seen any of that realized from the animators yet.

Who’s doing the VFX on the Sentinels? 

PARKER: It’ll be WETA. We’ll have a lot of vendors working on the show, no question. You rarely work with just one in any capacity anymore. You need multiple vendors to share the work. And that won’t really start until we’re further in to post. The concept design work starts early but practical application doesn’t start until you’re further in to the cut. You know, what shots are going to be in it.

x-men-days-of-future-past-james-mcavoyDo you know how many VFX shots you have in the film?

PARKER: Not until we see a cut. I would pretty safely bet it’s over 1000.

I know we’re not supposed to talk about the budget, but this has to be an expensive picture with the cast and the VFX. Is Fox betting big on this one?

PARKER: It’s as big as it gets. Which is daunting, but to their credit—Fox has been great, I have to say, on both of these movies. The Wolverine I thought was going to be a scary one for them. It’s in Japan, there are no other mutants or very few in the film. 25-30% of the film is in Japanese. That could be scary. It’s darker and all those things. They were incredibly supporting. And on this, there hasn’t been a moment where they haven’t had our backs. So you know, when we had new ideas for the third act and there’s a fairly significant element that came up early in shooting that we wanted to add, they were right there with us. There’s some great stuff that evolved with this Quicksilver sequence that involved an enhancement of that character’s—how do I say it—of that scene, I’ll say and they’ve been great.

Bryan shared a photo of that Quicksilver sequence. Can you tell us anything more about that?

PARKER: I’m worried to say too much. It’s been an interesting one to shoot. I love what Evan’s done with the character. It’s great. You’re shooting with some very unique techniques that I’ve never done before. It’s always kind of scary doing something you hope is going to work but you don’t really know. The early stuff we’ve seen looks fantastic. And this is high speed cameras and things that do something very specific. But again credit to Bryan and Tom and our second unit for capturing this stuff. It’s a totally different style of shooting.

Is that the Phantom?

x-men-days-of-future-past-set-photo-nicholas-houltPARKER: Yes.

The Wolverine has been a big hit around the world and Hugh has talked about how he’s still very excited about the character and I’m assuming that the studio has  to be happy. Have you already started having those conversations with Hugh on set? 

PARKER: You know, he’s game. He loves the character. The challenge for us is to find the story. He needs that character’s journey to be interesting to him as an actor. That’s the key. And I think if we can do that he’s game. The challenge is stepping back and being somewhat self reflective and figuring out where do we need to see him go next. But I think the studio would be supportive and Hugh would be supportive if we found the right story and the right script. That’s what it always comes down to with these guys. While most of them love the idea of being in a franchise, they’re smart enough as artists to know they need a script in hand that they can get behind. 

The studio have been bold enough to make this iteration of Wolverine will continue to be bold in willing to see that character go further afield. That’s critical to these films. If you remake the same movies, you can kill these franchises. You have to be willing to take a chance and go in to territory that might be a little scary. But that represents taking the audience somewhere knew. The studio seems very supportive of that so I can’t believe we won’t figure that out.

Fox has Fantastic Four and X-Men and half the Marvel universe. Obviously the studio could make their own Avengers movie. Are you planting any Easter eggs in this? 

PARKER: We haven’t planted any yet. Frankly, our plate is full enough. But like the end of The Wolverine, we shot that Easter egg here. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing next in such a way that it times out, you could be putting the wrong egg in the basket. My guess is as we get deeper in to post and Fox knows what they want to do next and they can take advantage of that.

Do you know who’s doing the F-bomb in this movie?

PARKER: Yes. Actually in fairness I should say no. There’ve been a number of them in dailies. There will be a bit sweepstakes to see who gets to keep theirs. That’s how it works. The actors take the liberty to play the scenes as they feel them and we always try to make sure we have versions that don’t lock us in to it. You try to make that decision in post when you see how the scenes are feeling and when it feels most appropriate to launch an F-bomb.

For more X-Men: Days of Future Past set visit coverage, here’s a list of links:

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