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Exclusive Interview: Charles Roven on Season of the Witch

The producer on the film and its pulp horror inspirations

Responsible for dozens of Hollywood blockbusters over the past three decades, Charles Roven makes his first real step into the horror genre with Season of the Witch, setting Nicolas Cage as 14th century knight, Behmen, who is tasked with delivering a witch across a Europe in ruins to the Bubonic Plague with the hope that her exorcism might end the spread of the disease.

Filmed on-location at some allegedly haunted castles, the production of Season of the Witch has been a long time coming, reuniting Cage with director Dominic Sena and teaming the actor with fan-favorite Ron Perlman, who plays another knight and brother in blood to Cage’s Behmen.

Shock Till You Drop traveled to the London to chat with Roven about the film and some its pulp horror inspirations.

Shock Till You Drop: Take me back to the origins of Season of the Witch. This is a script that has been a long time coming.

Charles Roven: Yeah. I think we actually got involved with it around 2000.

Shock: How important was it to actually shoot at the real-world locations?

Roven: We never contemplated doing it any other way. We wanted the backgrounds to be real. From the time that we had done that first location scout — I think in 2004 — the biggest problem was that we didn’t have all the money in the world to make this movie. We needed to give it a big look, but within a contained budget. I don’t want to say that this was a modest budget, but it certainly wasn’t a spectacular budget. We were looking to find a period-correct castle. For all the old castles they have around Europe, it was surprisingly difficult to find a great 14th century castle. This castle we had to modify slightly to make totally correct for the period. But most of the castles that are in Europe — and we looked all over Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic — aren’t the right era. The only castle we could find that actually fit this proper period was the one just outside of Vienna. We also made the determination that we really wanted to make you feel like you were really there. There were some scenes that, through the magic of filmmaking and how we’ve cut everything together, we weren’t really there. But I’m not going to tell you which ones they were! One of the things that we feel like the film really delivers on is making you feel like you’re there because so much of it is there.

Shock: Tell me about finding the right tone. A story like this could have been extremely violent or gorey.

Roven: There’s a lot of discussion both from the creative side and from the business side. We went in making a PG-13 and had determined, from the get-go, that that’s what we wanted to be making. We felt that we could if we did our jobs correctly and, of course, the audience winds up getting to tell us if we did. Though we did feel like we could get the right kind of scares and still have a broader picture for a PG-13 audience instead of an R. So that’s what we were going for. We also wanted to make sure that we could deliver in great cinematic scares but also have a cinematic thriller and a character journey for Nic’s character. So those were the elements that we were trying to infuse with the picture and, hopefully, it’ll work as broad entertainment.

Shock: How soon did Nic come aboard?

Roven: You know, it’s amazing because that’s what’s so unique about how films get put together. Whenever we were doing what we were doing when the film first came along, I think in 2003 or 2004, we spent a fair bit of money and hundred of thousands of dollars doing location scouting with Dom really wanting to go make this movie. At that time, i remember checking Nic’s availability and he was just not available and, in order for us to even think about doing this, we would have had to have waited an entire year. That’s just not what producers normally do as much as I would have wanted Nic to be in the movie back then. So he wasn’t until, boom, 2008 when he said, “I’m available!” and in 2009 we went and made it.

Shock: Was there any geeking out between you and Nic over comic books? I know he’s a huge fan and you’ve produced some of the biggest comic book films of all time.

Roven: We did. I mean, Nic is and he knows that I am [a comic book fan]. I wouldn’t say that we’ve seen each other a lot but we’ve had a nice, close relationship since we did City of Angels together in 1998. It’s funny that you mention it, though, because I don’t think I’ve talked to Nic since I became attached to Superman. Nic, you know, at one time in his career, was attached to Superman as well. I’m not sure if he still has it or not, but I think that he owns the first Action Comics. But next time I see him, we’ll have to talk about that. He and I do share that geekiness.

Shock: Even this film has a sort of EC Comics tone to it. While it’s not based on anything in particular, it certainly would fit a Tales of the Crypt vibe. Was that something that appealed to you as comic fan?

Roven: Not actively, no, but I’m thinking about it now that you mention it. I just really liked Bragi [F. Schut]‘s script when I read it and was really happy. I’ll have to ask Alex [Gartner]. He was the head of the production when we bought this script. So it’s funny how the world turns. He left MGM three or four years after that and came to work at Atlas as a producer. It was only natural that we would produce the movie together. But it was a spec script and we bid on it along with a number of other producers and film companies. We only had it for our deal with MGM and we ended up winning it. We were really happy about it. We thought it had great cinematic elements. Great storytelling elements. Great character journeys. And we thought it could be really scary and fun, so that’s why we bought it… We certainly don’t think of it as a family film, though. This isn’t something you’d bring someone younger than a teenage to because it’s going to scare them.

Shock: I would have loved this as little kid!

Roven: (Laughs) I would have loved it as a little kid, too! I know. If you’re a young kid who loves to be scared, you should go see this movie. But there’s also great action-adventure in the picture and a great plot twist. For all of those reasons, I’m hoping it’s a wide-audience picture. I know we’re releasing it to a wide audience.

Shock: Can you talk a little more about what’s next for you? You mentioned Superman and, of course, there’s The Dark Knight Rises. It seems like a big time for DC Comics on the big screen.

Roven: And they’ve got the Green Lantern coming out, too. But we’re really excited to be doing another film with Chris Nolan and Emma Thomas. We’ve had great experiences working together. I just really enjoy making those films and being there to help Chris try and realize this amazing vision that he’s had for his Batman series. I’m also really thrilled that I was invited into the Superman process as well. It’s going to be interesting. Those are two really big films and they both have an exciting and eager fanbase that’s waiting. I’ve been a huge fan of Zack Snyder’s since, really, Dawn of the Dead and had a great meeting with him that resulted in us working together. Chris and Emma are also producing that film with me as is Deborah Snyder. So we’re having a really great time working on both this films right now.

Shock: Is the thought that they might have a shared universe one day?

Roven: No. That may be in somebody’s mind but right now the Batman lives in his world and the Superman lives in his world. Those stories are those stories and we haven’t thought beyond each individual picture.

Shock: Christian Bale mentioned recently that he felt that the Batman films would wrap up with the third one.

Roven: Well, I think that Chris Nolan has said that he wanted to make a trilogy and this is a trilogy. As far as we all know, this is it. This is the trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is the third part of what Chris created with Batman Begins and we’re not looking past that. I’ve said this about Chris before: I’ve never known Chris to do anything but focus on the movie he’s making. He gets completely immersed in the movie he’s doing and I know that all he’s thinking about right now when it comes to Batman, the Dark Knight Rises, is making it the best movie he can. He’s not thinking, “will there be another one?” And he’s already said, in his mind, it’s a trilogy. So I think he’s just focusing on making this the best he possibly can and that’s it.

Shock: Knowing that he’s sort of famous for that single-movie focus, how hard is it getting time balanced out for godfathering Superman as well?

Roven: It’s a huge workload, but there’s a way we’ve been talking about how to make it work. Hopefully, there will be a little bit of time in-between the start of production on both of them. Right now Dark Knight Rises is coming out in the summer of 2012 and Superman is coming out in the winter of 2012. So hopefully — and we’re just at the beginning phases of both of them. We haven’t even entered official pre-production on either one of them — there will be a little bit of room. They’re both going to be long shoots. I’m sure there’s going to be some overlap, but hopefully there’ll be as little overlap as possible.

Shock: You’re going to be working on Kathryn Bigelow’s next film as well?

Roven: Triple Frontier. That’s correct.

Shock: That sounds like it’s being eyed as a massive project.

Roven: It’s a big, big, big project logistically in the sense that, if the production plan happens, it’s scheduled to shoot in a number of countries both down in South America and in North America. So yeah. That’s a really fantastic project and really exciting. Working with Kathryn and Mark Boal is really great. It’s a great, great script. We’ve been on a number of location scouts and Tom Hanks is starring in the film. We’re looking to cast the other roles. We’re hoping to be able to start shooting the movie sometime in mid-March or April. That’s what our goal is right now. But, like all movies, ’till they’re up, they’re up. (Laughs) Until they’re shooting, they’re not shooting.

(PLEASE NOTE: This interview took place in late November 2010. Roven’s comments about Triple Frontier were made prior to news breaking of a delay in that film’s production.)

Shock: One last Superman question: There are persistent rumors of a CGI Superman. Can you comment on that?

Roven: You know, one of the things that you probably know about me and us working on this movie is that the rumors are the rumors and when we have something to say, we’ll say it. Until we do, there’s nothing to say.

Season of the Witch hits theaters this Friday, January 7th.

Source: Silas Lesnick