INTERVIEW: Get into the action with 'Bloodshot' director Dave Wilson
While Valiant Comics may not have quite the pop culture recognition of the “big two,” DC and Marvel, their heroes have nevertheless been embraced by fans all over the world for nearly three decades. Created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin and Bob Layton, Bloodshot made his comic book debut in 1992 and immediately became a fan favorite. That’s why he’s the first character heading to the big screen as part of what is being eyed as Valiant’s own cinematic universe.
Headlined by Vin Diesel in the title role, Bloodshot marks the feature film debut of director Dave Wilson. Wilson’s work was recently showcased as part of Netflix’s animated sci-fi anthology, Love + Robots. He helmed the show’s debut episode, “Sonnie’s Edge,” which was produced through Blur Studio. Founded in 1995 by Deadpool director Tim Miller, the visual effects house has been a creative home to Wilson for nearly 20 years. Having served as Blur’s Creative Director and having worked on video games like Halo Wars 2, Star Wars : The Old Republic and Tom Clancy’s The Division, Wilson is now making his transition to the big screen. Sitting down with Moviebill, he explains why Bloodshot is the perfect project for him.
Dave Wilson: I had read the graphic novel books before and then the script sort of showed up one day. It was funny. I was in the process of prepping another movie that I thought was going to go, so I read the ‘Bloodshot’ script and there was a core concept that I loved about it, but I wanted to change quite a bit about the surrounding material. When you’re a first time filmmaker, not a lot of people want you to want you to change the script that they’ve spent time and money developing. To their credit, I came in and I pitched them my version of it, thinking that they were just gonna tell me, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ But Valiant came back saying, ‘We love your take! Eric Heisserer is still on the project. Would you like to work with him?’ I was like, ‘Of course!’ and that was it, which was wonderful. You spend such a long time making a movie that, to really make it yours, is great. They were very supportive of that, so it was a very collaborative and fulfilling experience.
Moviebill: What would you say was the biggest departure in your take from the original draft that you read?
Wilson: There were two things that I wanted to press on. One was this sort of idea of manipulation through technology, which is something thatI feel like we all face today. I call it the illusion of choice. You swipe left or right on something and there are curated responses, like technology companies deciding. There are millions of people you could fall in love with, but Tinder or Bumble are sort of saying, ‘Here are ten people for you.’ There’s a sort of false sense of agency in our lives and I felt like Bloodshot was the personification of that dilemma. People want to feel like they are making decisions in their lives, but the real decision in these happens before you even get there. Who distills down that list for you? Who goes beyond the first page on Google? Who is deciding what sites are on that page? That core concept was what I wanted this to definitely bring front and center. Then the other thing was I wanted was for you to see them manipulate him. I wanted you to go through that same process. I felt like it would engender empathy towards him from the audience. It wasn’t as as strong in the first draft and, beyond that, it was just a constant collaboration with Eric.
Moviebill: It does feel like you get to have your cake and eat it, too. Because Bloodshot’s memories are being manipulated, you get to play with action movie cliches in some clever ways.
Dave Wilson: There’s always that balance between how much you reveal. That twist doesn’t come at the end of the movie. It’s not like the big twist of it all. But the beginning was definitely a cautious balance, asking ‘How many cliches am I going to throw here before I’m going to get some anger in the movie theater? But I always feel like, if you can string the audience along long enough to get to that payoff, it just makes it that much more worthwhile. I remember reading one of the cards from a focus groups we did with the audience responses. One of the cards that I’ll never forget reading was some young woman saying, ‘Oh my God. I was so ready to walk out of this theater because of all the cliches being thrown at me in the beginning. It was so wonderful to have my thoughts justified later when someone pointed out the trope themselves in the film.’ But it’s always a balance. I feel like there are going to be military personnel who watch the opening scene and will go, ‘This is bullshit.’ JJ [Perry], my second unit director, spent time in the military and said, ‘Why does he have that magazine on his back? It would never be there.’ I’m like, ‘Exactly. Because it was put there by a 30 year old techie. A techie who works for RST, who has probably played too many video games. I know that you can never change your magazine out in the open. You would do it undercover. Someone in the military is going to be like, ‘You’d never do that!’ That’s absolutely right. There were so many jokes and inside things that I wanted to put in there that just to pay off later, but it was a balance. How long can I keep this going before I lose people?
Dave Wilson: It’s a funny story. The kind that you couldn’t write because, if you put it in a movie, no one would believe you. We were at Blur and we had all the artwork up on the walls with some statues and comic books and whatnot. The LA fires were sort of rampant that day, I remember, so Vincent, Vince’s son wasn’t in school. He had to come with his dad to the meeting and sort of sit down while we’re having a conversation about the vulnerability of the character and how Xander and Dom and even Riddick are all these sort of strong, alpha male characters that are usually one step ahead of everyone else. That it is not Ray Garrison. He’s being manipulated and he’s struggling to figure out who he is. I think that was very compelling to him, but while that was all happening, an eight-year old boy is looking at all the artwork on the walls and asking questions about everything. So Vin gets to watch his eight-year old son fall in love with the source material, asking ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Who’s this?’ At the end of the meeting, we were walking out and Vincent tugs on his dad’s sleeve and says, “Dad, I really want you to be Bloodshot.’ It’s funny because, it’s sort of generational in that Vin’s brother is a massive fan of the comics and loves this sort of memory manipulation and the fact that they’re sort of screwing with his head. So I think he sort of saw two generations of the family both falling in love with the material. For an actor who’s looking to spend the next few months in their life doing something, it’s very compelling when it spans right from an eight-year old boy to a 50-year old man.
Moviebill: That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about Valiant Comics. It may not have the recognition of DC or Marvel, but you come across people from all walks of life who are huge fans.
Dave Wilson: Oh, for sure. I think it’s also because people want something for themselves. I should shout out to Valiant’s Dinesh Shamdasani. He was a fan of the nineties version of Valiant and, when it was sort of going under, he built it into what it is now. Through Dinesh and this film, I’ve met some big Valiant fans and yes, they are incredibly passionate and driven and loyal, which makes for a very terrifying experience that you don’t want to screw up when they have spent countless dollars and years of their life investing in the character.
Moviebill: Tell me about figuring out the look of Bloodshot. Obviously, there’s a departure from his look in the comics.
Dave Wilson: It’s funny. We had many conversations about that and about showing the pale white skin and the red eyes. I was asking, ‘What is physiologically causing that?’ It turns out there was never really definitive answer. I wanted it to be a biological response to the tech, so we do get a glimpse of it, visually. If you’ve ever heard someone say like, ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost!’ You go pale. It’s simply because the blood is rushing away from non-vital functions, like the skin. It’s supplying your blood and oxygen to your muscles and whatnot so that you can run the f–k away from whatever is terrifying you. Or punch it, I guess. So in Bloodshot’s case, the nanobots are the epitome of that. When something like his liver is combating the bullets that have just entered it, I think they rush away from his non-vital functions, like his skin pigment, and they sort of concentrate where the trauma is happening. As a result, he goes pale and the red glow is noticeable because nanobots are clustering in his thoracic cavity and the red eyes are because they’re forcing his aperture open to take in visual information. So it was most about finding out how to take a science fact approach to the way he’s looking. There was certainly a portion of it where we considered him looking like that from the minute he wakes up, but it sort of complicated other scenarios as far as how we would present him to the other characters and then to the world at large. I also liked the idea of it being an escalation to that and then, eventually, to him being able to actually control what he looks like. If you’ve read more of the comics, he can even change his look. It was one of the things that we discussed, but I’m very happy with where we ended up. I feel like him having the ability to sort of overwork himself and that manifesting his iconic look was the best balance.
Dave Wilson: I’m a huge nerd. I love video games and science fiction novels and all of that. I remember when we were filming, we did a camera test for the film’s tunnel sequence. There was a move down to South Africa and I was at my monitors at a little video village. I heard one of the younger crew members, probably in his twenties, go, “Oh my God! This looks like a video game!” What I love about that, is that that’s their bar for quality entertainment. A part of me wanted to capture that and infuse it with some of the inventiveness visuals that they spend more hours on than they do watching movies. For me, it was about combining video games and comic books with a Tony Scott film. That was my goal all the way through this. Through all of my time at Blur with Tim [Miller] and the video game publishers and developers we worked with over the years, it’s hard to ignore that. That’s a big part of who I am. It’s just a matter of applying the same sort of visual inventiveness for a 60 foot screen rather than a computer at home.
Moviebill: This is the first film in what is planned as a Valiant cinematic universe. Does that broader planning affect your work on ‘Bloodshot’?
Dave Wilson: Oh, it did for sure. Vin is always wearing his producer hat, thinking about like the third and fourth and fifth film. There’s always, you know, you, you, what you want to do is you want to make, you want to focus and make one, one great movie, but then you want to make sure you haven’t sort of boxed yourself in and that there are enough bread crumbs and seed sowed and whatnot, that you can build the universe out should you need to, which we did meticulously. So there are many avenues to explore. Should we be lucky enough to explore them.
Moviebill: With ‘Bloodshot’ finished, what is a dream project for you?
Dave Wilson: I started off with a comic book film, but there’s a big love of science fiction at my core. My favorite authors are like rock stars to me and there’s an author named Daniel Suarez that I adore. If, one day, I’m lucky enough to adapt one of his books, that would be a dream come true. There are so many, though. I could sit here forever listing all the science fiction books I love, but Dan has a way of grounding it all current day that I adore.
Bloodshot is now playing in theaters everywhere. If you missed it, click here to watch the Bloodshot movie trailer.