Inhumans director discusses X-Men similarities, IMAX, and why Maximus is the opposite of Donald Trump

We spoke to Roel Reiné about the upcoming Marvel series, which will be released in cinemas and then on TV

Jack Shepherd
Wednesday 30 August 2017 16:53
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Marvel’s doing something very strange with Inhumans. After first being announced as a film, the studio suddenly decided to scrap the project, instead introducing the concept of “Inhumans” humans who gain superpowers after an alien ritual during the TV show Agents of SHIELD.

Soon enough, Marvel announced another Inhumans project: a TV show focussing on a superhero society based on the moon. However, this would be no normal TV show. The first two episodes are being brought to IMAX cinemas around the world.

Director Roel Reiné helmed those two episodes, which themselves make up a quasi-feature-length film. Having worked on numerous TV-movies, the Dutch filmmaker seemed the perfect choice for Marvel’s curious project.

The Independent sat down with Reiné to discuss the upcoming episodes of Inhumans, and the challenges of bringing the series to both the IMAX and TV screens.

Hi Reiné, thanks for showing us some scenes. I’m excited to see how the full episode comes out!

It’s not finished yet. We’re still dropping in visual effect shots.

That boggles my mind, because it comes out in a month. Have you ever been in this situation before?

No! [Laughs] That’s not quite true. In my Admiral movie, there were two visual effect shots that were dropped in the night before we had to send the DCP to the theatres.

When will this be sent off?

I don’t know. Things were very complicated. We have seven visual effects houses working around the clock and they’re still working to get it ready.

How much did you talk with the VFX teams?

A lot. I see all the shots and then make notes. I pitch them the ideas. For instance, in one shot when Maximus puts his hand on Medusa’s shoulder, the hair must move away. Then when he walks away, the hair must move itself. These are all things that you must direct.

Was there anything you were not able to achieve?

Not really – I pushed it to the limits. For instance, the first time we see Medusa – which I will not spoil – she’s doing something very intimate. What does the hair do at the moment? I pitched what the hair was doing, and then we got this really cool reveal shot, of what she was doing and her hair.

That was really tough, one of the toughest shots to pull off in the VFX world. They never limited my creativity.

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How did you get involved with this project?

Basically, they saw my Admiral movie and saw my Black Sails episode. They called me in, and they called in other directors. I pitched them the way I would do the characters; how I would do the emotion and the interaction. I told them what I would do with the IMAX cameras, that I’m ‘Mr Low Angle’, and that I would design the sets really big and wide. They loved those ideas and they hired me above some serious competition.

You’ve previously said that you battled with the studio over doing some shots in a cinematic fashion, rather than for TV. Was that a regular thing, and what are the differences?

Yes. The difference is that normal TV is very conservative. We’re not talking about the first season of True Detective, which was extraordinarily different. A lot of TV is very conventional. You introduce with a big wide shot, then you have some close-ups as people sit and have a conversation. I wanted to do something different. That’s my style in my movies.

But people are nervous. They were nervous that they would not have a choice if I did something really stylish: that they would not be able to go back to traditional television. So, for every scene I had three cameras. There was one doing the rule shots, one doing the ABC version, and one doing my version. When I cut my version and showed it to Marvel and ABC they loved it, and they kept it that way and used it to show their buyers.

There was another scene where this happened: where Maximus is talking with another character and tries to convince them to join the riot. I did a very extreme version as the dialogue was timed with their movements. The camera was going 360 degrees around them, where you only see the reactions and not the talk. There, I did a TV version, but they also embraced mine and didn’t change anything.

Filmmakers – such as yourself – are moving towards TV. Why is that?

Studios are becoming marketing machines. They’re more talking about having a brand: one that targets young cinema goers as they’re the ones buying the popcorn. The movie industry has really shifted, and they’re not taking many risks. Baby Driver was really cool, but those movies are not made a lot. A lot of people went to television because they’re willing to take those risks. Then they became very successful.

Filmmakers like Fincher, Scorsese, they’re going to television. That made it good for others to follow. Then all the good writers were fed up with the movies and franchises. That’s what attracted me to television. There’s bigger TV than most of the franchise movies this summer.

It must be quite strange though, in this case, thinking that people will be watching your work – made for these cinema screens – on smaller devices.

It’s a pity. I wish people would only watch the IMAX version. But we’re amidst a huge change right now. If you read the trade press, the power of Netflix and how movies are doing, we’re in the middle of a big shift. Me, being in the middle of that, premiering a TV show at the IMAX, is really exciting – but also a big political statement.

Of course, it’s a pity people will watch on iPhones. I would watch the whole of The Crown at the IMAX, I would love to. I’m lucky because I have a home theatre. [Laughs] So I see TV in the theatre.

One of the clips we watched, where Karnak reverses time, the visuals look very much like Doctor Strange. Did Marvel give you free reign to borrow from these properties?

I was not really thinking about Doctor Strange much. Now, thinking about it, it does look like that. But it’s more of an analytical thing. His special skill is being able to see the worst versions of what is going to happen, which is a big problem for him.

There are other scenes which are funny because he only sees the bad version of it and has to recoup to see the good version. They give me a lot of freedom to design the visual effects like I want them.

For instance, with Lockjaw, in the comics it was never explained how the teleportation works. So, instead of a Star Trek, beam them up effect that doesn’t work, I wanted it to feel very organic. If there’s a dog doing it, there’s no special computers. So, you have to touch the dog and you turn into sand dust. Then, you arrive at the next place and the dust disappears.

I pitched it to Marvel and they loved it, so some of my DNA is in there, which makes me very proud.

I’ve never read the comics, but it sounds like you have.

I read them after I learnt about them making a series. In my culture, in Holland, Marvel’s not really a big thing. We read Asterix and Obelix.

When it came to the Inhumans, though, there are so many similarities between them and the X-Men. Did you consciously think you have to differentiate the two?

Yes, for me and the showrunners. What’s really different is the X-Men are born with their special skills; they’re very problematic in the human race. With the Inhuman race, they get their skills in a special ceremony. They’re closed in their own society, which itself moves to the moon. For me, that’s the key difference: they have their own society.

You talked about a class system in the society. Was politics something you wanted to explore, considering the political climate at the moment?

It’s really something Marvel chose. When they were pitching me their intentions, I really thought it was the right path. I’ve lived in America for 12 years now and it’s really scary how politics is going, how inequality between races, money or no money, is a big part of the American system. Then, when you look at the rest of the world, it’s still a problem.

Even in my home country, the Netherlands, diversity is really a problem. Racism has come back, or it never disappeared, so it’s good you tie into these big problems, either projecting or timing them in. With Inhumans we did a really good job to marry that into the system.

In the comic books you already have that, so we used it in the series. It’s very grounded, and you can relate to it easily because it’s happening on Earth.

You didn’t make Maximus into Trump, then?

No, Maximus is not Trump. Actually, he’s the opposite of Trump, because he’s very smart, very educated, and on the right side. I don’t think Trump is on the right side.

You were talking about Christopher Nolan earlier with regards to IMAX. Dunkirk was done on film; where do you stand on the film vs digital debate?

I wish I had the luxury of being able to demand we do stuff on film. I understand what Nolan’s trying to do; you see the texture on screen. I used to be a DP (cinematographer) on movies, and you could hear the film rattling in the camera. It was really rolling, which was familiar.

But with digital, you could work faster, and do more shots every day. Where Dunkirk had 70 shooting days, I had 20 days for Inhumans. For that amount of time, to do scope and big shots, digital cameras really help. I embrace that. Also, during the colour correction at the end of the process, especially when you’re in 4 or 6K, you can do so much and make it feel like film. It’s a pity that you have to make something looks like something else.

20 shooting days is working to a TV schedule then, rather than film. You’re traditionally a movie maker. Was it hard to adjust?

No, because I’ve done movies in 20 days. Death Race 2 and 3, Marine 2, The Condemned 2, they were all shot in 20 days. I know how to make movies look like movies in 20 days. I think that’s also one of the reasons they hired me, because I know how to do scope and skill on a TV schedule.

Also, when I did my Black Sails TV episode, I shot twice as much footage than the other directors, because I come from a school with less money and time.

You must have had everyone on set running around trying to do everything at once.

My strength is that I really prepare. I know exactly what I want to do, where the cameras should be, what lenses we’ll be on. When we do a recce I tell the crew what cameras I want and where. I’m so detailed in my prep, that everyone knows what we’re doing. Lot’s of directors need to figure out what they want on the set, and then you lose time.

This must have been so much extra prep because you were filming for IMAX and TV?

And the visual effect, and the complications. But I had a really good crew and knew what I wanted to do.

Iwan Rheon, who played Ramsay Bolton in ‘Game of Thrones’ and Simon in ‘Misfits’, will star as Maximus 

Are there going to be two different versions then?

Yes, the IMAX version has more IMAX shots, those with big scope, more wide angles, while the TV has closer versions of that. The TV also has 10 minutes of extra footage: scenes that are more appropriate for TV rather than cinema, that’s the difference.

Do you have a preferred cut?

I like them both!

Do you think this will become more normal? You said before that more TV shows are preparing to be shown in cinema.

I hope it will become normal, it will be a shift. If we’re in the final season of Game of Thrones – and I hear every episode will be 90 minutes long – what about a Game of Thrones extravaganza in a cinema of all the episodes? I would watch that. Hopefully this turns around, and the good quality TV shows go back to the cinema.

Marvel’s Inhumans reaches IMAX cinemas in the UK 1 September

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