INTERVIEW: TOMMY WIRKOLA And KEVIN MESSICK: Writer/Director and Producer of ‘HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS!’ – PART ONE

Hey guys, Dave here. Thanks to Paramount studios Australia, I was lucky enough to attend a roundtable discussion with Writer/Director Tommy Wirkola and his producing partner Kevin Messick – who were in town to promote ‘HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.’

I thought the film was brilliant. It will be reviewed soon! This roundtable discussion involved myself and one other journalist; Kosta from Celebrity-Oz.com. Due to the sheer length of the interview – we were given a half hour! – I’ve broken it up over two posts – the second part which will be available after the weekend. Which is coincidentally the weekend the movie gets released across Australia. So If you’re reading this – go see the movie! Then come back after the weekend and read part two. Anyway…

The two guys were awesome, and over the half hour we covered pretty much everything: finding out just how the hell the movie got made in the first place, the casting, the negative critical reaction, whether there will be a ‘Dead Snow 2,’ the gore and the films classification, the effects, and of course getting their advice for aspiring filmmakers…

Tommy Wirkola (left) with Kevin Messick (right).

Tommy Wirkola (left) with Kevin Messick (right).

I started us off with:

Dave: How have you guys been responding to all the negative criticism of the movie -because the movie is awesome. You know, If you’re a horror fan you’ve got the violence, the gore – You’ve got everything – there is just this fun tone to it all. It seems the horror people are loving the movie – but it is the hoity-toity critics that can’t really – where do you think the divide is? Because all these movies like ‘Snow White And The Huntsman’ – they all get a pass. But you’re movie didn’t seem to…

Tommy Wirkola (Director): Yeah, no, it’s…listen, I’m used to that kind of – there’s no …I guess I always make movies that, you know, they don’t fall in the middle. You don’t shrug your shoulders and go: “yeah they were alright.” You despise it or you love it. It looks like people are really loving the film, which is great. Of course I’m not going to say that I don’t care – because I read the reviews, and some of them are just mean. But like I said, it’s just not the film for them. It is as simple as that, they don’t like that kind of film. Or they don’t get it. But luckily the fans seem to like it, so yeah.

Kosta (From Celebrity-Oz): Guys, is there a tricky balance when it comes to finding the right tone for the film?

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah. When you mix horror and comedy and action, you always have to worry about this kind of stuff. I mean we had to adjust some things in the edit, but we talked a lot about that, especially the comedy part. If you go too far with comedy it turns spoof like. Or it somehow lessens the world you are trying to create. So I think we had the right amount. And also when it comes to gore; and if you’ve seen ‘Dead Snow’ you realize I do love a good amount of gore – and we had plenty of it in this one, and you know there will be plenty more of it on the dvd – you know, for guys who want to see more of that. Hopefully we got the balance right. It was something we discussed a lot.

Dave: So tying along from his question: Of the gore, and the violence, and the you know – higher adult level nature of the movie – and on top of that – it being a sequel to the Hansel and Gretel Grimm fairy tale…how the hell do you get this made in Hollywood?

Tommy: I’ve asked myself that question many times!

Kevin Messick (Producer): It’s crazy. Crazy! We defied the odds. But I think it happened organically. When I first saw ‘Dead Snow’ at sundance a few years ago – I came back – and I had just started working with Adam Mckay and Will Ferrell – and I told them all about this crazy Norwegian filmmaker, who had made this great film. So we all watched the film and loved it. We called Tommy in, and it was his first meeting. He pitched the idea for the movie and we loved the idea. Which was as simple as the title suggests – as the one sheet portrays. But it was Tommy’s unique sensibilities which we saw in ‘Dead Snow’ that we really loved. The first trick, and the first hurdle – was writing a great script. And because tommy is a double threat as a writer and director: his first challenge was to write a good script. And he did. I think that’s what first caught the studio’s attention. Yes they had bought a pitch from a young unknown Norwegian filmmaker – but it was the script that really got the ball rolling. People saw potential in it.

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah, and the pitch – the script – it was crazy! It was probably crazier than the movie that we ended up with! I have to give credit to Paramount; they saw what we wanted to do with it, and they understood it, and they supported it. They liked the mix of the gore, the action and all that stuff. I’ve said this many times: I’m still surprised to this day that they saw the script and said ‘alright! Go and do it!’

Kevin Messick: From a timeline perspective: It was remarkable. From the time that we sold the pitch. Which was in january – a few years ago -

Tommy Wirkola: No it was February.

Kevin Messick: February 2009. Then two years later we were in Berlin on location prepping. Getting ready to shoot the movie. So in the normal development hell timeline, that was lightning speed. To go from an idea, to a script, to go to a fully realized movie that was happening on a big scale. So yeah, I bet he’s pinched himself a few times since I’ve last seen him.

Tommy Wirkola: It’s not a classical studio movie. And you’ve got to give – like I said – Paramount deserves great credit. They had big balls by giving this movie the green light, and hopefully it will pay off for them. It has so far, it’s doing really well.

Hansel-and-Gretel-Witch-Hunters-Image-03

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in the film.

Kosta: How was it getting Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton on board?

Tommy Wirkola: Well with Jeremy; it was when the studio had bought the script. They had invited me over to start casting the film, and on the plane ride over I actually watched ‘The Hurt Locker’ I hadn’t seen it before. I was blown away by it, and when I landed I called Kevin and I said “we got to get this guy to read the script.” So he read it, he liked it. And when you meet him you realize he’s got this great sense of humor. Which was important for the film. So I knew at that moment that we had to get him onboard. He was the first one onboard actually.

At this point Kevin Messick pulls out a copy of ‘The Art Of Hansel And Gretel’ and points to a full page painting of a scene from the film.

Kevin Messick: This (pointing to the page) is what we sent him along with the script. Whilst Tommy was writing the script, we developed some initial production art. So when he got the script, he got this as well. For him, that kind of captured the whole feel of what we wanted to do.

Tommy Wirkola: So Jeremy was onboard early. And really understood what we wanted to do. I think Jeremy also wanted to do something funny. He hadn’t gotten a chance to show that side of himself, so I think that was a part of it for him. We looked a while for Gretel, but then we both saw a movie called ‘The Disappearance Of Alice Creed’  – where she was amazing.

Kevin Messick: And tough!

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah, tough, and vulnerable at the same time. But yeah, she just had something extra for the film. So when I met her, I thought she was great. We wanted her, but we were casting brother and sister. So we had to make sure that her and Jeremy liked each other. Whether they would gel and all this stuff. So we got them together, and they immeadiately got along, and that’s how we ended up with our Hansel and Gretel.

Dave: When you are writing the movie, how much of the Grimm Fairytale do you look at?

Tommy Wirkola: It was my favorite fairy tale growing up, so I knew it quite well actually. I noticed that the fairytale reads like the first act of a film. You have the world, you have the characters, you have a witch. It was such a great place. So for me it was just about taking that world, and adding gore and humor and action to it, but also – throughout the storyline – I thought it would be fun to go back to that fairytale. It’s kind of the thread of the movie. We go back to it as many times as we can. We give Hansel diabetes, you know, because of all the sugar he ate in the fairytale. We tried to pay homage to that as much as we could. To the story. Hopefully in was in a fun way.

Famke Jansen with with CGI enhanced practical make up.

Famke Jansen with with CGI enhanced practical make up.

Kosta: With the make up, especially with all the witches, it took about 3-4 hours to apply each one, if I’m correct. How was that with all the costumes? What did all the stars think about having to go through three hours of make up?

Tommy Wirkola: Well, it was all very individual. It is a pain, and they aren’t all wearing the same thing. I’ve actually done it before, I was one of the zombies in ‘Dead Snow’ – So I know how it is! The contact lenses are the worst part. After three hours in the make up chair, you feel like your face is falling off. You just can’t wait to get those insanely uncomfortable lenses out. Famke Jansen (who plays the big bad) didn’t like it too much. She struggled. And like all actors, they are afraid that the prosthetics will hinder their performance in some way. But luckily we had an amazing effects crew – they were called ‘Spectral Motion’ – who worked mostly on the troll. But with Famke, they used it to enhance her facial expressions. So that kind of problem went away pretty quickly. So it’s a hard thing for anybody to wear that make up – and for me – it was the best part of the process. All the different looks, the costumes, the witches. The powers they have. Where they are from. It was a really cool part of the whole thing, and I’m always an advocate for practical effects, and practical make up – when I can be. So it was always my goal.

Dave: The troll, who was played by Derek Mears…I’m not sure if I’m correct about this, but I remember that he played Jason Vorhees in a ‘Friday the 13th’ film or two?

Tommy Wirkola: Yes! He did! Twice!

Dave: Did you have much conversation with him on the set, while he was in the suit?

Tommy Wirkola: Yes. It was such an important part. He’s in the suit basically – and they put this giant animatronic head on top of him, which five people control. It’s insanely hot for him in there! Just lifting his arm is tough. So it was a very physically demanding part. But also, you know, something really shines through that suit. He really gives it life. And the way those guys from Spectral Motion did the face; it’s just amazing. That was something that I fought very hard for – to get in the movie. Because the audience is just happy to go with CGI these days.

Dave: These are the guys that work with Guillermo Del Toro right?

Tommy Wirkola: Yes. It was actually because of that. Because I had seen the ‘Hellboy’ movies, and it was the same company that did animatronic creatures for him there. So we approached them, and said we want to try and take it up a level or two. They jumped at the challenge. [The Troll] looks truly amazing. A lot of people; they think he’s CGI when they see the film!

Dave: It looks amazing!

The amazing Edward The Troll!

The amazing Edward The Troll!

Kevin Messick: And it was a huge challenge – especially to convince the studio to take – what is a huge gamble from a production point of view – for a character, whether or not it will work as an animatronic character acting in the scene. So we were able to do enough testing, which garnered us support from the studio. They allowed us to have that character, and I think the result is one of the most beloved characters in the film.

Dave: Well myself and everyone I saw it with were cheering whenever he was on screen. My favorite part of the movie is when he stomps down on that guys head!

Everyone laughs

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah! That’s the big one! But yeah, Derek really brought that character to life. It was a great example of collaboration between the technicians and the actor in the suit.

Kosta: What inspired you to have the film take place ten years later? I’ve never really seen that happen before with a fairy tale.

Tommy Wirkola: It’s like what I said before; the fairytale just leaves them in such a fantastic spot. If you’re children that had experienced that, if you’re parents had left you in the forest to die, where a witch captures you and tries to eat you – and then attempts to burn you alive – I mean that’s a great character set up. The more realistic answer is that they would probably need a lot of therapy. But I don’t know. That happened when they were children, and that was a skill they learned: How to kill a witch. If that’s what you learnt then you should take advantage of it

Dave: I read online that you guys had tested a PG-13 version as well as an R version…

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah I’ve read that too! It’s not true! We did test some variations of the gore. I think maybe somebody just thought it was a PG-13 version. But you know, there never was that “PG” version. And luckily we ended up with the more gorier version.

Kevin Messick: We were just fine tuning the balance of the three things that were part of the DNA of the script from the beginning: Action, Horror and comedy – and finding the right balance between all of those things in the editing. At the end of the day; the preview process was helpful. But yeah, no, it was never a clear-cut version of the film one way or the other.

Dave: yeah, because I thought that was a bit of a weird thing to do…

Tommy Wirkola: Yeah, no, it is. And the studio they were always supportive of it being what it was. We all knew you can’t make a PG-13 version of this film. It’s just impossible. And also, on the dvd there will be an even more extreme version of the movie.

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The film is out across Australia now! Part two of this interview available soon. I will place a link here once it is up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000278434549 Sarah Lambert

    My son got bullied in school today from the kids joking about why he has diabetes. Thanks. He is 7 and has been insulin dependent since he his first birthday. Our lives are so hard as it is. If you could walk a way in our shoes you would have a different perspective. Having a child diagnosed with a chronic deadly illness that can take his life at any moment, living with discrimination (because no one is willing to take on the liabily of diabetes, in schools, after school sport, day care etc..) is so difficult beyond your understand.. AND JUST TO CLARIFY, DIABETES TYPE 1 (YOU KNOW THE ONE WHERE YOU HAVE TO INJECT OR DIE ON THE SPOT) HAS NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET BEEN CAUSED BY POOR LIFESTYLE CHOICES OR TO MUCH SUGAR. IT IS HOWEVER, CAUSED BY AN AUTO-IMMUNE REACTION IN THE BODY WHAT ATTACKS AND KILLS OFF ANY ABILITY TO PRODUCE INSULIN. You have perpetuated a lie that is resulting in thousands of children being bullied. Leslie Fossen put it nice when she said, ” Why support research for a cure or better treatments if these people brought it on themselves? Why should school personnel provide daily help to prevent seizures, fainting or death in the short-term and blindness, kidney failure & chronic pain in the long-term if the kids could simply stop eating sugar? Why not assume they’re lazy & lacking in self control when applying for anything if you don’t know the facts? Type 1 is hard enough without having to battle these misconceptions every day.” The consequences to arrogance of the media spreading lies goes far beyond hurt feelings and being offended! People don’t reach out for the support they need because of the shame surrounding by the misunderstand and lies spread about diabetes. Our lives are hard enough. When did it become except able to poke fun at children fighting for their lives daily? There is no humor in it.

  • http://twitter.com/type1B Chris B

    We give Hansel diabetes, you know, because of all the sugar he ate in the fairytale.

    As a person with type 1 diabetes I didn’t find the diabetes sub plot cute or clever. I do know that this film is a fairy tale and Wirkola was not making a documentary. But really, you don’t get diabetes because you where force feed candy as a child. By playing on the MYTH that diabetes is caused solely by eating too much sugar (something that many reviewers of this film, and apparently the film makers themselves believe!) you’re just spreading ignorance. Also by making Hansel insulin dependent, you reinforce the impression that this character is suffering from type 1 diabetes. Or that every person who injects insulin does so because of poor diet. Even if the film makers intended Hansel to have a form of type 2 diabetes (in a very lose sense sugar causes weight gain, weight gain can trigger type 2 diabetes) it’s clear that the film makers had no idea what diabetes is and just used the idea of Hansel injecting as a “joke”. It remarkably ignorant, don’t people dealing with a chronic illness deserve better, than mockery and misinformation? I don’t think diabetes should be off limits when it comes to humor. But people with diabetes are sick of being portrayed as having a self inflicted illness, that’s only good for a lame punchline.

    Wirkola go back to Nazi zombies they were more believable.