Producer Hutch Parker Talks the Long Development Process, Continuing to Develop the Third Act During Production, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE

Last October, when director James Mangold‘s The Wolverine was shooting in Sydney, Australia, I got to visit the set along with a few other reporters.  During a break in production, producer Hutch Parker came over to talk about the film.  He talked to us about the cast, how he came to be involved on the project, the way the script has evolved over the years, how the third act was still being finalized after filming had already begun, collaborating with Hugh Jackman, what it’s been like shooting in Sydney and why they moved the production there, the decision to post-convert the film rather than shoot in 3D, if the Japanese actors will be speaking in English or Japanese, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for the interview.

Before getting to the interview, watch the recent trailer:

the-wolverine-poster-1Question: This is one of those projects that took a while to finally get in front of the cameras.  How long were you on this thing?

HUTCH PARKER: Well, it’s a complicated answer in some ways.  I was at the studio for almost 20 years, so I was on the other side for most of it for all the other X-Men, Wolverine, all those in the franchise.  I’ve been a producer for Fox only recently when I rolled out of running New Regency, so on Wolverine going back a couple months before the start of production.  On one hand, I’ve been with it from the beginning, on the other hand, in this capacity, more recently.

What’s it like for you being on this side of it, on set all the time?

PARKER: It’s great.  One of the hardest things for me as an exec was always, particularly as you progress further in the system, is that you’re pushed further away from the day to day, the mechanics of making a movie.  Movies really are all the small decisions, the accumulation of all the detail and all the work that’s done by the hundreds of people here, but then the hundred of people at home, and all the layers of production.  You can’t really participate in that in a meaningful way when you’re in a managing position.  So part of the impetus for me to come to producing in the first place was to take that step and to be able to do that on something that is both so new and so original by virtue of what it’s striving to achieve as a film and as a story, and yet something that I’ve had a relationship with for 15 years, is great.

This morning Hugh cited Chris McQuarrie’s old draft of the script twice and praised it, but there’s been some changes made, so he could talk to that and the evolution, and also suggesting that in fact the third act is still evolving at the moment. Could you address that a bit?

PARKER: The third act is evolving, but really from a logistical point of view only.  It’s not a question of, “What is.” And by the way, I worked on plenty of other movies where it really is evolving, where you really are rubbing your hands together trying to figure out, Oh my God, we better solve this soon.  In this case, it’s really not the case.  It’s more an evolution in the set that we’ve designed for the third act and how that changes and impacts the dramatics and the physical action we think in pretty exciting ways.  In terms of the script evolution, honestly it’s really I can’t say that from my perspective it’s much different than any script evolution in that in this case you start with a terrific foundation, an amazing comic, and such a unique piece because it’s such a standalone piece, it’s so singular in its focus on a character or on a character’s journey, much more so, frankly, than anything else I can think of that we’ve ever dealt with as the basis for one of these stories.  And I think that was a huge win all the way around and I’ve got to give a tremendous amount of credit to Lauren Shuler Donner, who has been the producer of this franchise from the very beginning, and she was incredibly passionate about her belief that this story must be told.  

The-Wolverine-Hugh-Jackman-imageIt took its time, really, in evolving the franchise and the world as a whole before there was the right to do such a specific story, but the benefits of having championed that cause are it does take Wolverine to a place… It’s akin to taking him to another planet because it is so foreign from anything he knows.  It puts him in circumstances that are really deeply alien.  And the mechanics of that story challenge him in primal and deeply psychological, emotional as well as physical, and manifestable ways that make for the kind of character you hope for, but very, very hard to find.  I think it’s what we go to comics in search of and what we go looking for, the great myths, the ones that transcend the mechanics of storytelling or plot and tap into something much deeper or richer.  But they are hard to come by and this one, we’re pretty blessed because it has those bones.  So Chris started it off with what was some great work.  He’s a superb screenwriter.  I think he set the tone for what this can be, but we’ve subsequently had help from Mark Bomback, who did a tremendous amount of work; Jim has done a lot of work on the script, as well as Scott Frank, who kind of in their ways have made contributions to realize the full potential of this, and it is, as you will see, unfortunately not so much just today, but in general it’s a really ambitious piece in the way that a film attempts to take on all facets of someone’s psyche and all facets of a world to make sure that every character is fully dimentionalized and complete with their own arc and relationship with the core conflicts.  That is something I think that as a standard, if we held that up to most films, I don’t think there’d be all that many that we would feel really fulfill that expectation.  To the screenwriters you mentioned, but I think really most notably in my opinion to Jim for his relentless dedication for making sure that happens and is realized in every nuance if you get a chance to watch his work, you’ll see he’s, as great directors are, there is no detail too small, there is nothing that isn’t important.  With that relentless pursuit of a vision, you get something that feels whole.  

The-Wolverine-Hugh-Jackman-imageWe all know the experience when you go to a film and it feels partial.  There were elements that you really love, but it doesn’t feel like they fully owned all elements of it.  In this case, to Jim’s credit… We’re all blessed to have him.  He’s such a skilled actor’s director, performance-based director, which is what allows you in part to tackle the richer things.  He’s such an accomplished thematic storyteller.  You need someone who can sculpt and shape with that vision at the helm in order for those elements to all pay off and connect.  He’s also an incredibly accomplished technical director — visual in terms of staging it, action in terms of the palette, in terms of the production design, the lighting, all of that comes under the auspices of a vision.  You know, I couldn’t be more impressed and more proud of the work that they’re all doing out there.  Hopefully you guys and the broader audience will agree.

What is it like working an actor who’s also a producer on the film?

PARKER: Working with Hugh in any capacity is great.  Hugh is unique among the major stars that I’ve had the privilege of working with in that he is… You can’t work with a more kind and generous, but also deeply dedicated professional.  His commitment to his craft is limitless and it’s matched by his commitment to the people around him.  As you guys will see, the man is what he seems, arguably one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.  That doesn’t always come hand-in-hand with the depth of talent or the range and certainly as an actor who’s coming out in Les Mis on the one hand and this brooding, angry, restless soul in Wolverine.  It’s a fairly eclectic range of roles and I think he tackles both of them with such superior skill and passion, and it’s part of what’s made him so beloved in this character.  So working with Hugh in any way is just a pleasure.

The Wolverine, the title itself, has a definitiveness to it.  And certainly when we were with Hugh, he saw this as the ultimate realization of that character.  Is this the definitive Wolverine movie? Is that what you’re setting out to make?

Viper-Svetlana-Khodchenkova-The-Wolverine-imagePARKER: Yes.  Simply put.

Starting two years ago, lots has changed — shooting location’s changed, director’s changed, the writers have changed.  Now being in Sydney with the writers that you have, the director that you have, the cast that you have, is this the dream team?

PARKER: Yes.  What you described in those changes, that’s normal.  It really is.  On big movies, that’s a very common progression.  I think what makes this unique in my experience is you have such strong underlying material that it serves as a rudder, an innate rudder for what is this, and I think at your best, when you’re lucky, that kind of a core anchor serves as a compass for bringing all the respective people together and hopefully bringing the right people to the table.  That doesn’t always happen when that so-called compass is not as clear.  Is it this one or is it this one? It can be a little bit more open-ended.  This story is so strong that the talent that it’s brought to the table, the evolution that it’s taken is more a reflection of its force of will to become than it is a reflection of problems or setbacks or any of that.  I do think in this material with Hugh, with Jim, who I really think is the essential piece to rounding all that out for reasons I said before.  And then marrying it with a spectacular crew.  It’s the best crew I think I’ve ever seen in all respects.  In their level of craft, in the quality of the work they’re doing, in the ability of everyone to work together and collaborate on two continents, as well as locations all over Sydney.  Those of you here are very blessed to have some of the best craftsmen in the world.  And we’re fortunate to have them working with us on this.  So, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any piece that doesn’t feel like the dream team, including the entire supporting cast.  They’re phenomenal.  We’ve literally on a number of occasions pinched ourselves, can you believe we’re making this movie with this group of people at this time? Because it’s very bold creatively to make a movie with as much of an international cast — that’s a blessing.  To really choose the best possible people for a role is something that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes there are other issues that come into play, that drive casting and the process, and I’m thankful to Fox, really, that they allowed all of us to go about that.

Rila-Fukushima-The-Wolverine-imageI’m curious, was there any consideration of doing this in 3D?

PARKER: Yeah.  In my time on it, there was some discussion of it.  The decision was made that we are going to convert the film to 3D after, to shoot it in 2D and then convert it, so we will be doing that, following on the Titanic conversion and the experience that Fox has had with that process.

Have they started?

PARKER: No.  We won’t start on that, you can’t start on that until you’re pretty far in post-production, so that you’re only converting that which you really use, as opposed to converting all the film.  

I’m also curious, you have a lot of Japanese actors and this movie takes place in Japan.  Are you guys going to have any Japanese with English subtitles or are you going to do The Hunt for Red October where you zoom in on someone’s mouth and all of a sudden everyone’s talking in English?  Are you doing The Hunt for Red October?

PARKER: No.  We are not.  There are pieces of the film… The film as a whole is a very grounded story in the way that Jim’s decided to tell it.  So it’s very real.  There are times when there are characters who would speak in Japanese because they’re alone, and they will speak in Japanese.  But the film is in English and will largely be in English, in part brokered by the appearance of this somewhat beastly American who comes into their midst.  That becomes a little bit of a component of how they interact with him, but no.  The film will be predominantly in English.

What informed them of the decision to bring the shoot to Australia? The tsunami, what a global impact.  Additionally, what challenges has that thrown at you?

The-Wolverine-Hugh-Jackman-imagePARKER: The challenge I think at first consideration is always a mixture of the creative opportunity and the finances.  From the studio perspective, that’s what they’re looking to balance.  And when you’re mounting a film of this scale, it naturally propels you to there are a handful of places you’re going to look.  There’s no question in this case that Hugh’s dedication, and his relationship here in Australia, had a lot to do with the consideration to bring the film here.  Frankly, Australia’s not an inexpensive place to shoot.  Without the subsidies we were able to achieve with the government, it would have been very difficult.  There are other places that are more competitive.  The other thing that really helped us was the quality of the crew here.  It’s a real factor.  When you’re doing as big of a show as we are, and as much of a built show as we are, that becomes hugely important.  You suffer mightily if you don’t have the equipment you need to really deliver on these things.  And also, the quality of locations.  

One of the issues you’re looking at — we have a largely stage-based show — but there are a lot of… One of the things that I think is really unique about this production: the range of locations is as broad as I’ve ever seen.  The places that one will get to go as an audience member courtesy of his journey through Japan and through this unusual story takes him into environments and looks.  What feels like old Japan? What feels like new Japan? It’s the Outback.  You’re getting a real range of looks and that’s something you have to look at and make sure you can create in any location you’re going to.  Because otherwise the cost of constantly picking up and moving in big ways is prohibitive.  It ultimately was all of those things, but I think to a person we all couldn’t be happier with Australia.  I think it’s by far the best of all the alternatives for all the reasons listed above, including what is on screen, the combination of the time we spent in Japan with what we’ve been able to do here.  We couldn’t ask for more.

Tao-Okamoto-The-Wolverine-Hugh-JackmanWe saw the big press release about Mark Millar becoming a consultant for Fox on the studio’s Marvel properties.  How has that impacted this film and will it in the future?

PARKER: It hasn’t so far.  My sense from what I got from everybody in terms of having made that decision of bringing him on board is that the goal is to bring him on as somebody to help steer the future iterations of these projects.  I hope he will be involved going forward, I hope we’ll have a chance to have his expertise and his insight, but in many ways, as you guys know, the decisions on this one have been made.  The train left the station.  From an input, “let’s all discuss it” perspective, the train left the station nine months ago.

So he’ll see a cut later?

PARKER: Yeah, and that’s always frankly, along with Mark will be the rest of the studio of which there are many, there will be lots of voices.  Jim’s an incredible filmmaker in that way.  I expect and hope that he’ll be a part of that process.

the-wolverine-movie-posterFox has, after the success of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, which are, like, the biggest films of the year, Fox has New Mutants, X-Men, Fantastic Four, all these characters.  Can fans look forward to any sort of Easter eggs maybe towards other parts of the Marvel universe that you guys have?

PARKER: Are you asking me as a member of the Wolverine team?

I’m saying that one of the things that the Marvel movies do very well is putting people in and having little tags at the end of the movie and building a bigger universe.

PARKER: I’m going to frustrate you by saying perhaps.

I had to try.

The Wolverine opens July 26th.  For more from our set visit:

By Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

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