- The “Aquaman” director James Wan talked to Business Insider about how the movie is already breaking box-office records.
- He also spoke about how making a movie like “Furious 7” prepared him for the pressures of making a DC Comics movie, especially one that needed to be a hit with audiences following the disappointing “Justice League” release.
- Wan also explained why looking over 2,000 visual-effects shots for “Aquaman” made him feel as though he had made an animated movie.
- And he expressed his love for the Pitbull song in the movie, “Ocean to Ocean.”
James Wan didn’t go into making “Aquaman” thinking it would have to be the saviour of the DC Extended Universe.
Sure, he knew the movie would get a lot of attention from fans and the executives at Warner Bros. But he didn’t think it would be on the level of “Furious 7,” in which he had to figure out how to send off Paul Walker’s character following the actor’s death at the end of production in 2013.
How could it be that much pressure? It’s the superhero “everyone makes fun of,” as Wan told Business Insider.
While Warner Bros. concentrated on making a standalone “Batman” movie with Ben Affleck, Wan would be hanging out with Jason Momoa (who plays Aquaman) and Amber Heard (Mera), surrounded by green screens that would one day become the mythical underwater city of Atlantis. At least, that’s what Wan thought.
Boy was he wrong.
First, the DCEU’s crown project, “Justice League,” got slaughtered by critics and underperformed at the box office last year. Then Affleck stepped away from directing and writing duties for a “Batman” movie. (The project has since been taken over by Matt Reeves, the “Planet of the Apes” franchise director.) And suddenly “Aquaman” was center stage.
But Wan has never been one to back down from a challenge.
With 2004’s “Saw,” he transcended the horror genre. Then he proved it wasn’t a fluke with the success of the “Insidious” and “Conjuring” franchises. After that, he jumped into the “Fast and Furious” movies with “Furious 7” and made the highest-grossing title to date in the franchise, taking in over $US1.5 billion worldwide. And he gave fans a touching goodbye to Walker’s beloved Brian O’Conner character.
Now, with “Aquaman,” he’s proving that the superhero everyone makes fun of is going to have the last laugh. The movie has already broken box-office records in China and looks to have brought the DCEU back to respectability in the eyes of the fans.
Business Insider spoke to Wan about the pressures surrounding the making of the movie, the process it took to sign off on more than 2,000 visual-effects shots in it, and why he’s all about its Pitbull song.
“Aquaman” opens in theatres Friday.
Jason Guerrasio: With the news of the record-breaking success in China already for the movie and the positive reviews here in the US, are you the type of guy who can ignore all of that, or do you read the coverage?
James Wan: I try not to jump the gun at this point. I want to wait until the film comes out and then assess it. But I would be lying if I didn’t look at any of that kind of stuff. I think we all want to take that in.
Guerrasio: Especially when it’s positive. It’s not like someone is warning you never to look at the internet ever again.
Wan: [Laughs] Right.
Guerrasio: Are you surprised that this movie has had such an impact already in China?
Wan: Yeah, I’m a little bit surprised. But I knew the movie was designed to be a movie that is one for the whole family. And it’s an action movie, it’s fantasy – it’s got all these elements that I think travel well internationally. So from that respect, I’m not surprised. But I am surprised by how incredible the word of mouth has been over there. It’s been amazing.
Guerrasio: You mentioned you made the movie for the whole family. It’s such a fun movie. I know that my kids would love it. Did you ever think of making it PG?
Wan: No, just because it’s an action film as well, and by that very nature the violence wouldn’t make that happen, though it’s comic-book violence. So I don’t think there was ever a PG version of this.
Guerrasio: Yeah, and then suddenly Jason Momoa will say a curse word, and I’m like, “Nope, my kids are still too young for this.” Another thing that I loved was the numerous times dialogue is interrupted by some explosion or a fight starts. It was a fun little tweak that most blockbusters don’t do.
Wan: I don’t know if you mean that in a good way or a bad way. [Laughs]
Guerrasio: Totally in a good way.
Wan: It was definitely designed. Nothing in this movie is something that I can do by accident. There’s so much visual effects – it wasn’t like I showed up on the day and said, “Let’s put an explosion here.” It’s all part of the narrative for me. And yes, I agree with you, it happens quite a fair bit.
Guerrasio: There’s so much CGI in this movie, but specifically the underwater shots. How much time did it take to get the look the way you wanted it?
Wan: It’s a big part of the film we had to get right. If we didn’t get the underwater stuff looking correct, we pretty much don’t have a film.
Guerrasio: And what I mean is: You want it to look like the characters are underwater, but not that it’s distracting.
Wan: Yeah. It’s finding balance. We did so much work. Every shot we did was kind of a learning curve that we would apply to another shot. And then we would do that shot and learn something more. And as we went down the line, what we learned made us go back to the earlier shots and tweak that. So there was a lot of that.
For example, if the actors look like they are floating and their hair is flowing, sometimes we forget that they are underwater – it looks like they are flying. So when we felt that was the look going on, we would do little tricks like bubbles showing up on the side of the screen, or the most obvious one is a fish swimming by.
The visual-effects process was very organic. We continued to discover new things that worked, or things that didn’t work, literally up until the very last minute that they took it from us.
Guerrasio: Do you have any idea how many visual-effects shots are in this movie?
Wan: Over 2,000 shots. Every single shot has a visual-effects component to it, from the big ones that have entire shots that are visual effects to a simple one where, say, we have a set and the window is a blue screen where we would enter a visual-effects shot.
I half-joke that I made an animated movie, but at the same time, I’m not joking. This is an animated movie. This is no different that freakin’ “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
Guerrasio: So the Pitbull song in the movie, “Ocean to Ocean,” has been released online, and the world is talking about it. How did the song come about?
Wan: That song was written specifically for the movie! And putting the song in the sequence where Aquaman and Mera walk out of the water in slow motion, I felt: For f—‘s sake, let’s have fun with it! It’s something out of “Fast and Furious.”
Guerrasio: Was Pitbull always attached to the song?
Wan: Pitbull was in there very early on. He was really excited to do something for the film. That sequence is very tongue-in-cheek, and we just wanted to have fun with it. And we wanted a cheeky song at that point of the movie. I just wasn’t sure what song it was going to be.
Guerrasio: Was there more pressure making this movie because it’s the DC movie after “Justice League” and that didn’t perform the way Warner Bros. hoped for?
Wan: When you make a big film in general that’s always pressure just because it’s a huge film. Especially one that has a fan base attached to it. But listen: Three years ago, they asked me which superhero I would be interested in, and I picked Aquaman because it’s the one everyone makes fun of, so there wouldn’t be a lot of pressure. I’ll go and make this movie under the radar – no one is going to care. Fast-forward, and there’s just this massive spotlight on it. [Laughs]
Guerrasio: Was doing a “Fast and Furious” movie good training to do this, in regards to the pressure?
Wan: Yeah. In a big way. It trained me to understand what it means to do a movie like this, but also how to make a movie like this fun and in a way that people will endear it as opposed to scoffing at it. That’s very important, and that’s how those “Fast and Furious” movies are done. It’s so outrageous, but people love that. In a lot of ways, I learned a lot from doing that. Also, I learned how to shoot a pretty-looking film. I really wanted “Aquaman” to feel like a travelogue movie.
Guerrasio: So with “Furious 7,” it grossed over $US1.5 billion. You transcended horror with the “Saw” movie. The Chinese box-office record for “Aquaman” – what is left to conquer? Where do you go from here?
Wan: Yeah, good question. I felt “Aquaman” checked a lot of boxes for me. I wanted to create worlds, make another action movie, do a superhero movie – I did those all with this movie.
I like the idea of going back and forth with film, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll go back and make a more intimate film. I don’t know. I don’t have my next film planned out yet.
Guerrasio: Taking a little nap from the business would probably be nice, right?
Wan: Actually, I have a lot of movies I’m producing, so maybe I’ll take some time off directing and focus on producing for a while.
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