Moderator Steven Weintraub
Director Francis Lawrence
Producer Akiva Goldsman
When was the last time you did anything like this for CONSTANTINE?
Keanu: Probably not since the film was released.
Francis: I think it was the premier junket was the last time.
How did you get involved Akiva?
Akiva: I had a deal at Warner Bros. at the time and convince people to let me be a producers. The script was laying around that I thought was so compelling. We started prepping the movie and then we stopped prepping and the movie went to sleep for a while. Slowly but surely the idea was durable enough and outlived what ever struggles it had. So began this restructuring of Constantine with the three of us playing various parts in order for us to get it up and alive again. I watched it again last night for the first time in a long time and it was really cool.
Was drew you to the character of Constantine?
Keanu: I wasn’t familiar with the character, I hadn’t read Hellblazer so I didn’t know the character. It was brought to me by my manager at the time. When it was brought to me, Akiva and Francis were already on board with the project. I did some research on the character and I was not hesitant but I’m not English and I’m not blonde and the character is. I had to reconcile that and part of that was what was at the base of the character. What could I bring to the character and why would I do it? It’s a wonderful and beautiful character, this kind of humanitarian, cynic, tired, world weary, tired of all the rules and morals and ethics and angels and demons but still a part of it. I loved his sense of humor. I had seen a few of Francis videos, I think the Lady Gaga video was the most recent. When I went to the meeting to meet Francis he had all the boards up and a vision was there of the film which I really loved. I was excited to have the opportunity to work with Francis and then got to meet with Akiva and get up to speed with the tea. I love the film, I love the character and it was cool to play that role and jump into it.
Francis: It took a while, my first meeting was with Bob Brassel and the script was brought to me and I went in and had to convince Bob that I had a vision for the movie and I was responsible film maker. I spent a fair amount of time convincing Bob and got past him and make the rounds to the producers. I went to New York to meet Akiva. Keanu was finishing up the Matrix sequels in Australia and it was about a nine month process. I met with Keanu a day or two after he got back from Australia. We had an epic four or five hour meeting talking about the characters and all that. I was very nervous but there was a ton of work in the presentation itself and some of my ideas were already integrated into the script. It would have been a giant bummer had it not worked. Look, I was a music video and first time director guy so there were definitely things to overcome, there was real convincing that needed to be done with every single person I met along the way.
Film came out in 2005 from the comic books?
Francis: I definitely wasn’t looking at comic book movies as references, I was looking a noir films like BLADE RUNNER over any comic book movie, like THE THIRD MAN or MALTESE FALCON. I wanted that o influence the aesthetic of the film itself.
Nolan’s BATMAN was filming as well, was that an issue?
Francis: In all honesty I think Warner Bros didn’t care that much about the movie at that time while we were making it. It all changed when they saw the first cut which was an amazing thing to see. There was a transition of power right as I got the job to make the movie so people at the top inherited the project and went along with it but I don’t think they had much faith in it so I wasn’t being noted by the studio at all.
Akiva: We were doing something weird. It was noir, it was stylish, it was horror and it was comic book. You could have comic horror, you can have science fiction comic you can have comic book romance but from the first frame of the movie you sudden go ‘oh sh*t, I’m in good hands’ and once Francis gets you and carries you to Keanu and that hallway and the possessed girl, you suddenly are in for a ride. And not one you actually expected so the studio said ‘hmmm, maybe we better pay attention now’.
Francis: I remember we cut together a 25 minute sizzle reel and had a screening and that was the most nervous I was. We were showing it to the new president at Warner Bros. and now we were on the radar, suddenly they were excited. It sounds weird because it wasn’t a cheap movie to make and we were off their radar till that footage. My first time at Comic Con we screened it in Hall H with the sizzle reel. The great thing Keanu did from early on was, we had set the story in Los Angeles and its still not often that you get to shoot in Los Angeles and Keanu, if I’m right, you put it in your deal that it had to be in L.A. Not Atlanta or Vancouver or one of these places to cheat it for L.A.
Francis: That battle was done long before we got the green light which was fantastic.
Keanu: I love L.A. and I love filmic L.A., I love being on the streets, I love the early dawn, I love the deep night, the color of the lights, people who are on the street, it’s got a good vibe.
Francis: Because we got to shoot in L.A. and thanks to Keanu that we got to shoot in L.A. I actually chose Naomi because she had done TRAINING DAY and I loved the set decoration and I saw that it wasn’t about going to the L.A. landmarks, its was getting into real L.A. like Koreatown and Echo Park, places people hadn’t shot in that much. She was great with all that.
Keanu: Shout out to Frank Capello as well, the roots of the tree.
Francis: There was good team spirit on this film for my first.
Keanu: You got spoiled.
Francis: Yes I got spoiled by all the love the cast and crew had for the project and the energy everybody had going forward. It’s not like that on everything and you don’t need too many spoiled apples to ruin the mood. This team did not have that at all. Great team spirit the whole way through.
How have you stayed grounded?
Keanu: I love what I do and I like going to work and I like being creative and we are all in it together. Just go play and have some fun. We had a really wonderful cast and to what Francis was saying everyone loved the material and working with him. It was one of those experiences where you get a relationship with the production design etc. and the world your moving in. The relationship between the operator and the first AC you work hand and hand in the ballet of the vision of the director and make the shapes and hit the marks. Mark Lebaunch was just awesome.
Francis: Pam was the first AC and Daryl on the dolly grip.
Keanu: A great L.A. crew, the best in the world.
Akiva: A part of why Keanu put L.A. in his deal, which is, if your going to shoot L.A. for L.A. and you are actually there, the city helps inform every piece of the production.
Was it always just going to be CONSTANTINE?
Keanu: Come on, you had Chazz, you had Midnight, what are you talking about.
Talk about bringing in other D.C. characters?
Francis: Not while I was on it, we were focused on Constantine’s world and not weaving in the other classic DC heroes.
Did you battle the R rating?
Francis: Originally when we started we thought it would be an rated R film and then Warner’s went through PG13 because of what it cost. We got a list of what you would and couldn’t do in a PG 13 film and we followed that list to a T. How many times you could curse, the blood, the violence and all these things. We screened it for the MPAA and five minutes into the film they put down their pads and said we got a hard R for tone. This was not something that was on the list. There was an overwhelming sense of dread is what I heard form the opening scene onward and they thought there was nothing we could do about it. So we had a PG 13 movie that was rated R. I mean we could really have gone for it with intensity and violent to get an R. rating so we got screwed on that. We did try to fight it but we obviously didn’t win that battle.
Would it get an R today?
Akiva: There is a weird subset of religious horror and that seems to get an R more quickly. What you learn is that no matter what the guidelines are its purely subjective and that’s subjectivity has sort of an ebb and flow based on the group designating the rating. We have a lot of demons and demons seem to trigger and R rating. There you have it, I’ve given prospective filmmakers the key to getting an R. rating, just have demons, you’re welcome.
Cigarettes or rain?
Keanu: That was fun. What are you talking about.
Francis: There were a couple of days were he went green from smoking those fake cigarettes.
Keanu: Oh yea that smoke from the spider in the glass.
Francis: But we got the shot and Keanu gave me this (holding up Constantine’s shotgun)
Keanu: The homies shotguuuuuuuuuuuun! Yes!
Francis: This is the best wrap gift I’ve ever gotten for a movie. Keanu had the prop guy make a second one of these. It’s made of bronze and weighs about 35 pounds. Do you have yours?
Francis: It’s probably in a Raiders of the Lost Ark box somewhere.
Keanu: I so enjoyed working with Francis and Akiva, just having Francis vision and Akiva’s story sense and humor and experience really, and then the crew that was assembled and the cast. Playing that role, I get to have these great moments with all of the characters in the films, throwing down with Peter as I’m bleeding out and that confrontation. Throwing town with Tilda Swinton chocking me with her foot on my throat, working with Shia LeBeouf and his dying scene. There were so many, and the dialogue is so juicy and that hard boiled thing and that mystery. For me at the opening in the film me back on a bed holding up a mirror and being flat to the ground. There were so may times working with so many artists. The costumes were great and the production were great. Everyone came in and rolled up their sleeves, working with Rachel Weiss and we had a short hand, working days, working nights – so for me there are moments working with everyone. Walking into those buildings and shooting on – FILM!.
Any additional pressure as first time director?
Francis: In all honesty the pressure I felt was to focus on the story, get the story right and to work with the actors. I feel like I wanted to focus on story and acting and let the 10-12 yeas of video be second nature. It’s a visual art and I like the visual side of things and images so I enjoy the world building aspect so I leaned into that. I felt the pressure to make things look good. I think people were worried that I would work on the story and character.
There is an after the credit scene.
Francis: That was Akiva’s idea which I thought was very cool. It wasn’t part of our initial photography. After the sizzle reel and we got them excited I went back and said we’d like to redo this and Akiva has an idea so they gave us additional money to get footage.
Akiva: There isn’t a lot of explanation on anything so it was a way to close that story and opening other stories should we every have gotten to do them.
Francis: There is the scene right before Constantine goes to hell and he sees the cat and puts it into his lap and he held its face and thought Keanu was going to peel his face back. In the world of Constantine it totally made sense. He has way of doing things and connections to thing. His line, “Gawd I hate this part”. When I first read the script, hell was this inky black voice and I wanted to play with time going to either heaven or hell. I pitched to Kiva that going to hell coming back would be like no time at all but you could be only be actually gone a millisecond. We shot about 360 frames a second, the wind on Rachels hair and the door shutting. The idea of hell wasn’t just a void, I liked the idea of giving heaven or hell a geography. Coming up with this idea that where ever you are there is a heaven, every where you are and a haven version of where you are. We sat her apartment next to the 101 freeway and gave it all a sense of geography and some relief and grounded it instead of it being a blank voice.
Akiva: Its Francis’s idea and an amazing idea, hell has geography – there is hell L.A., hell Brooklyn, hell your mother-in-law’s house, there is a whole earth that has hell. Now hell got to be new, entirely unexpected. In the original script it was the small hell but black and white. It’s something to think about, its disturbing and I love it.
Francis: We looked at nuclear bomb test areas so when heat hits the structure and you get this super high wind, heat incinerations, we thought that’s what hell should be like. That’s how we get that hell, forest fire, heat and really a nasty place to be.
Keanu: I remember being in hell and I remember being in the apartment. I remember the cat, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the cat till the cat woman told me what to do. (curling the cat’s face) Sometimes we didn’t know what we were going to do but we’d just do it. That scene plays to a lot of what you are talking about. I love that the demons had their brains gone so the seed of the soul had been scooped out like eating and urchin. That was interesting and fun and the way their joints moved backwards. Doing the wire jump, that was fun. That sequence has the half in and half out has the cinema, playfulness, humor, dread and has that what is going to happen. That sequence when you go in and go back out and coming back to John and steam coming off his back and the physical cost and the toll that ook him and then the drama flip. The sister and the reveal and the momentum of storytelling and the intimacy of Rachel and her sister.
Francis: Part of the idea is that it was always a bit surprising. One of the things that I’ve learned from Akiva is that a mistake some people make with scares and surprises that often you enter into a scene as a filmmaker specifically to surprise unless you feel that you are drawn in through a character moment and a connection where you feel like you are there not because a scare is coming. So when a scare or action comes in you are surprised.
A talk of a sequel then?
Akiva: It endlessly came up, we would probably make it tomorrow. We tried a lot of different ways, it was always to the studios a little bit of a feathered fish. The oddness which is a lovely thing about the film. It’s not really action packed its just action. Those seem to get harder and harder to make, as much as we’ve wanted to and we’ve had ideas. Yea, we’ve talked about it.
Francis: We talked about sequels more than the studios. The movies did fairly well and this is when people still sold DVD’s but it wasn’t a knock out success or critically acclaimed at the time. In the fifteen years since it’s release, every time I do junkets, I am signing CONSTANTINE dvd’s. People really love this movie and I think it’s found a sort of a new life in a weird way. I think people have discovered it recently weirdly, its had a cult fan base but people have discovered it in a new way. It sucked calling Michelle Monahan to cut scenes, we really liked the work she did. Constantine was in a relationship with Michelle’s character in the movie and we decided that Constantine was better alone without a companion to lean on. When we got to shoot the extra footage, we tried to fashion new scenes. I had to tell her we were cutting her scenes and we came up with some new scenes, we shot it and tried it but it didn’t work. The only piece that stayed in the movie was the moment at the end when Constantine lights the fuse. She hated that line and it was the only time in the movie. It was purely a story thing that made us cut her.
Was there talk of being blonde?
Francis: We never talked about it, in costumes too was the change of the coat and we ended up going with the black one and it was different than the graphic novels. There were slightly inconclusive test screenings. Religion is a very polarizing element in story telling. There are people that are very religious and might get offended by something and people who aren’t religious at all and feel like they are being preached at. There was a person who had me explain heaven and hell because he didn’t believe in either so he was confused by it all.