‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Mark Canton on Developing an Original IP

     September 30, 2015


Producer Mark Canton is responsible for films like 300 and Immortals, so a movie that spans centuries and centers on a lone witch hunter facing off against vicious supernatural creatures seems like a very appropriate next project for him. But, while on the Pittsburgh set of The Last Witch Hunter, Canton insisted that this one’s a standout for a number reasons.

During the on-set roundtable interview, Canton broke down the benefits and challenges of building a film franchise with an original IP, what makes The Last Witch Hunter different from seemingly similar properties like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the Universal monster movies, the possibility of making more Last Witch Hunter movies and much more. You can check it all out in the interview below.

The Last Witch Hunter is due in theaters on October 23rd. It’s directed by Breck Eisner and stars Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie and Michael Caine. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this one?

MARK CANTON: I worked on it for about four years. I developed it with Lionsgate and it was in its infancy and they asked me if I wanted to get involved with the development. Geoff Shaevitz is the head of production and is the one who asked. We have a long relationship, I have with the Summit guys and Lionsgate people and we did what we always do, which is that we spent years working toward getting into this trailer. [Laughs] That was basically the story, but Breck [Eisner] was aboard early and then Bernie [Goldmann] who had worked with me on 300 and several movies, we’ve done about four movies, he came aboard. And then we just kept hammering away at the screenplay and Breck created this incredible world, which was really difficult to do in light of the fact that unlike most franchise intended properties, there was no IP on this. Normally everyone would think this would come from a graphic novel, this particular story, but in this case, the graphic novel’s gonna follow, which is kind of interesting for us. So really, we set about with Breck and the writers and a lot of artists creating this world, which we’re still doing even while we’re shooting, so it’s been very interesting and intense because it’s sort of been the mother of invention with this one. We had no Frank Miller to fall back on, so that makes it very, very original and unique. You know, it’s not a DC or Marvel property, but it’s just as badass as all of those. I know from having done them.

Do you guys have a lore bible with all of the history in it?


Image via Vin Diesel

CANTON: We have everything. We’ve created everything and we’re gonna continue to do that, yeah. The storyboards on this movie are fantastic. I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but I’ve never seen such seamless storyboards from anyone. [Breck] really lays out the entire journey of the movie, and of course if you’ve met with Vin, which I think you did, right?


CANTON: I’m sure he told you that we’re looking forward to continuing this.

Obviously we’ve heard about how much lore has been built up. This is a franchise starter, so can you talk a little bit about some of the plans you guys have been discussing?

CANTON: [Laughs] I’m sure Vin told you to say that. I don’t do that because my attitude is truthfully always you got to get the first one right. That’s my plan. My plan and the studio’s plan, and all of the filmmakers, is to get the first one right so that we can go forward, but we definitely will end the movie with a sense of, there’s more to come, so it’s been designed that way. I feel very confident about it. The quality of the crew, from the production design to the DP, there’s so many high-end talented [people] here that we’ve all sort of set upon to create something that will carry on with characters and a lot of surprises and stuff. I wouldn’t really want to talk about that because we don’t even want to tell people how this one’s gonna end. It’s good. We’re almost there, you know?

One more question about that. Do you feel the pressure to always have that in mind when you start a movie like this?


Image via Lionsgate

CANTON: When you start a movie like this, yes. I just came back from New York because I had the diametrically opposed, my little movie called Cake, which we’re doing our Academy, Golden Globes and all of the screenings for Jenn Aniston and Sunday night we had the tastemakers screening in New York and it was like a 150 tastemakers. This movie’s not about the tastemakers. This movie’s about the core franchise audience. So of course with a movie like that, it’s on one end of the spectrum. With a movie like this, I don’t feel pressure. I’m very confident about it, but it’s a hard marketplace so we have to get in between now these other humongous competitors and the studio has got to step up in marketing and distribution, but you know they’ve announced next October 23rd and that’s a big date, and so I think that was the first step in their belief. And of course they’ve had at Lionsgate fantastic success with Twilight and now with Hunger Games. I know they had the premiere last night in LA and I heard it went great, so they know how to definitely build and market a franchise, and that’s their intention with this.

With an original IP that’s in a fantasy setting, is it difficult to walk the line between telling the story and turning it into an exposition dump? I’ll use Star Wars as an example where the dialogue feels natural and not like, ‘Oh, here’s X, Y and Z. Let me explain.’

CANTON: I hate to use Star Wars as an example of anything. That I won’t do, but I will say that it’s difficult. I gather what you’re really asking is, ‘Is it hard to come up with the origin and the history and make it make sense?’

Making it natural.

CANTON: Of course. But some of us are experts at this type of mythological storytelling and clearly in my career with the 300 movies and with Immortals and other movies, I’ve always been passionate about mythology and of course we want things that make sense here. This is a big step up for Vin, too. It’s a wholly different type of journey. It’s 800 years and it’s not at all like Fast anything. It’s a whole different world. [Laughs] It’s not slow either, but it’s not fast. It’s different.


Image via Lionsgate

Will we get to see the 1200s, or is it the 12th century?

CANTON: That’s right.

And modern day?

CANTON: You’re gonna see everything that you can imagine, I promise. That’s part of the thrill of the movie. I think Vin actually posted some pictures, which definitely do not look like they’re from New York City today. If they did, it’s not the street you wanna be on. It really covers the entire chronology of the story and the literature.

Were they any red flags for you as a producer jumping into this? Maybe things that made you think, ‘If we can’t get this, it isn’t gonna work?’

CANTON: Well, we actually only wanted Vin. That’s true. That’s the needle in the haystack. We never talked about anybody else, which is crazy. Not to say someone else couldn’t have played the role, but we never talked about anybody else. So it was sort of like we did reach the point which is Vin or no movie because we were so committed to that he was the right character.

One of the things that’s most exciting is the cast, even the little role. This queen, witch is unbelievable, and the whole cast – I think what we’ve done, and we did it on purpose, was tap into the whole zeitgeist of the mythological culture on social media. Having Elijah Wood and having Rose Leslie from Games of Thrones and then of course Dean Semler was the DP on Mad Max [2: The Road Warrior]. I mean, it’s so crazy. And Apocalypto! And also having Michael Caine, from Alfred on in his career, so I think the fan base that really thinks movies can be cool certainly is going to – there’s gonna be a lot of curiosity blending all of those, and from the producers of 300. So I think it’s sort of like a perfect storm in that sense, you know? And now we just have to do our jobs. And Breck’s great. I have to say that. I think of Breck as like the guy in sports where often there’s the best player to never win a championship. That’s who Breck is, sort of like the best director who so far has not really made that movie or had that shot and he’s just killing it now so it’s great.


Image via Lionsgate

I know you guys said there’s going to be a graphic novel to accompany this. Is it gonna come out ahead of the movie?

CANTON: Of course.

Do you guys have any idea of a timeline for that?

CANTON: We’re working on it. I’m not hiding it from you. I don’t know the answer.

Do you guys know who you’re going to publish it through? Are you going to do it in-house?

CANTON: Lionsgate’s organizing it. They haven’t signed the deal yet, but it’s a big place.

How’s it shooting in this location in particular? I was just walking around and thinking if you have PAs sweep for garbage in the end, it’s still kind of impossible.

CANTON: It’s exciting. All of our locations have been kind of magical. It’s challenging and it’s a little scary, it’s a little weird, right? [Laughs] Especially when you come and you see all of these RVs in here. It’s like, ‘Where am I,’ you know? For me it’s like being shot out of a missile because I literally was in New York at the InStyle screening and party Sunday night doing the whole hoi polloi thing and then I went from that and was dropped back into this subterranean, wherever we are, in 17 degrees. It’s strange. It’s very strange, that’s what I think. A few years ago I went to a mine in Sweden with a girlfriend of mine and we went down like 50 feet underground and it was bizarre. I didn’t think I was gonna make it. So this for me is easy because as long as the car is facing the exit, I’m getting out. I was just telling my driver just keep that car facing the exit. [Laughs]


Image via Lionsgate

I don’t mean to alarm you, but while we were watching filming earlier, something fell from the ceiling.

CANTON: I’m sorry. [Laughs] It’s sort of like the bat cave, right?

Are there any rules when you come down here? Do they warn you of anything?

CANTON: There’s a million rules, yeah. And everywhere we shot because we’ve shot under the railroad tracks. We’re very safety first conscious, of course. But there’s a lot of rules. We’re very serious always about the safety of the crew, but this feels nicer than it is outside, right? It’s 50 degrees in here.

It’s not as windy.

CANTON: But it is 50 degrees in here so it’s a lot better than when you step outside. That’s a bit much to take.

It’s like 13 outside right now.

CANTON: It’s not good. It’s not as good a situation.

Do you have other genre IPs that you have in your slate that you’re developing right now?

CANTON: We’re getting very close on a few things. We’re always talking about the next 300, we’re talking about Gianni Nunnari, my partner on that and Immortals, we’re getting close to another very big franchise which we can’t say yet, but another completely different type that we’re gonna do with Lionsgate again I think. And we’re working on another Immortals, which is a completely different take on it. And there are a few other things that are coming that are gonna be outstanding that we’re trying to work our way through, that are really well known. We’ll keep doing it because I mean for me, that’s what I like, big franchise testosterone movies.

the-last-witch-hunter-poster-dieselYou mean like Immortals 2?

CANTON: Another Immortals.

Immortals: Rise of an Empire? I would watch that.

CANTON: Thank you. Well, the third 300 I’m sure, if and when it comes, I’m sure Zack [Snyder] has something special in mind for a finale. We’re talking, but he’s shooting Man of Steel and Batman, Catwoman, everyone you could think of right now, Wonder Woman, so they’re in Chicago now. They were in Detroit, so eventually we’ll all connect, maybe around Christmas and start to look ahead. He’s got some pretty great ideas about where this could all go.

Very professional hedging. I like it.

CANTON: Well, it is what it is, you know? You can’t really say something that’s not gonna be accurate because what’s the point? But we have some great things that are coming there and in other places. Believe me, I’m itching to announce the next few things we’re gonna do, but I’d get crushed by my partners. [Laughs]

Can you talk a little bit about bringing this character into an industry that’s kind of oversaturated with somewhat similar ones? Even witch hunters. There was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters last year and for some reason I keep associating this with the return of the Universal monster movies.

CANTON: Right. I don’t know what Vin said, but I would assume he’ll say something along the lines of – I know for Vin, he’s obsessed with making this great first and foremost, as we all are, but this one’s gonna defy some of the genres, I think. Almost all the effects are in camera. It’s not a huge green screen movie like 300. It’s not a movie that’s like a derivative of 300 like some others that are out or coming out next week or something. Sometimes I turn the TV on and I go, ‘What the fuck? Where did this …’ But that started with Spartacus on TV. It was like, ‘Come on. How about being original?’ I think this is different because the modern day stuff in this movie is very now and present, culturally, and it has a little bit of a feel of I Am Legend more than 300 for sure or something like that, but it’s not that bleak. It’s more romantic and sexy and more of a movie that spans so much time that that’s what I think is gonna make this character really cool. He’s stuck in his journey, in his immortality. Everyone wants to be immortal, unless you are, you know? Because then life keeps passing by. I think it’s thematically more interesting than many of those movies that you might mention. I’m not worried about the monster movies. This is not a monster movie and it’s not like The Mummy or Clash of the Titans or one of those movies. It’s more a people movie, but I think it’s more of a combination of genres in an interesting way. We’re confident.

Based on what we’ve seen today, it almost feel like more of a nature versus technology story.

CANTON: Yeah, it definitely has a feel for that and what man has wrought, that kind of feeling. We only have like 12 days left so that’s exciting.

You can check out more of my Last Witch Hunter set visit coverage using the links below:

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