I became aware of Paul W.S. Anderson while teaching film classes at Chicago’s Columbia College. It was around the time Anderson’s Mortal Kombat was released on home video and one of my students couldn’t wait to talk it up.
Open-minded soul that I am, my exact response was, “I’d rather [email protected]*k a pencil sharpener than watch a film based on video game.” His reply won me over: “They bash Spielberg in the first ten minutes, and it’s the closest thing to Sam Firstenberg’s “Ninja” series for Cannon Films we’re likely to see.”
He handed me a video cassette, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Even after the success of Mortal Kombat, it would still be several years before Hollywood would offer Anderson the use of a superstar, so he did the next best thing. Together with wife Milla Jovovich, they created one of their own. The rest is franchise history.
Anderson’s latest, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, was not screened for the press. My admiration for his work such as it is, left me feeling confident that I could make it through an interview, even with the last installment sight-unseen.
A little side note before we begin. Each Tuesday Lickona and I flip a coin to see who will write the blurb for the Your Week section of the paper. Somewhere amidst the ballyhoo, I mentioned that Paul W.S. Anderson is the only director currently at work who makes a living exclusively in genre pictures.
My editor wrote back, “Is that true? What isn’t a genre pic? Isn’t everything in some genre? And certainly there are other directors making a living exclusively in genre pictures...?”
Since he was good enough to ask, I put together the following list of pointers:
- Genre pictures are the precursor to network drama: the same characters meet in the same setting to basically hash out a similar story. What makes them different are the individual storytellers.
- Genre films are geared for the masses and most of them have built-in audiences. An “art film” generally doesn’t qualify as a genre picture. The Seven Samurai is no more a western than Raging Bull is a sports picture.
- Film noir is not a genre. Nor is Italian neorealism. I learned that from Paul Schrader. They’re styles that exist through time, whereas genre films tend to take place in one particular time frame or location.
- What genre does Sully fall under? It’s not really a biopic, nor is it a disaster film. How about Silence? With the exception of something like Still of the Night or The River Wild, Meryl Streep is not a name often associated with genre pictures. Chuck Norris is. So are Milla Jovovich and Jason Statham.
- Back in the day films were defined by their genre: western, musical, sci-fi, gangster, adventure, etc. What with all the genre-bending out there today, there’s probably a western musical that takes place in outer-space.
- Finally, to a lot of people, the term “genre director” casts a negative connotation. At a time when genres have cross-pollinated to the point of being unrecognizable, it takes a little guts and a lot of skill to make it as a genre director.
The editor replied, “Maybe you can get all of that in a column sometime, so it’s not just for me.”
So I did. Now enjoy the interview!
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter trailer
Scott Marks: Three directors walk into a bar: Paul Thomas Anderson, Paul W.S. Anderson, and Wes Anderson. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. At what point in your career did you add the W.S. and were you just a little peeved when Wes Anderson came along to add more confusion to the mix?
Paul W.S. Anderson (Laughing): I’ll tell you exactly when the W.S. got added. I took my very first movie, Shopping, to the Sundance Film Festival where I met Paul Thomas Anderson. At the time we were both Paul Anderson. When we went on from that point...Paul Thomas is registered as Paul Anderson at the Writer’s Guild of America and I am Paul Anderson at the Director’s Guild of America. And that’s reflected in the credits of the movies I’ve made.
When I directed Event Horizon and Soldier – two films which other people wrote – I could be Paul Anderson. As soon as I wrote and directed, I couldn’t be because he was Paul Anderson. When I started working as a writer-director, that’s when he became Paul Thomas Anderson and I became Paul W.S. Anderson. Neither of us can write and direct an American movie under the name Paul Anderson. (Laughing.) Honestly, I don’t think anyone confuses me with Wes Anderson. He’s in his own terrific universe, but not the kind anyone would mistake for mine.
SM: It pains me to say that I wasn’t able to see the movie in time for the interview.
PWSA: I’m really sorry you didn’t get to see it because it’s a movie I’m very proud of. It raises the bar for the franchise. It’s got an emotional component to it that you wouldn’t associate with a Resident Evil film. It’s a massive departure in terms of visual style from the last couple of films. Kind of deliberately so. There’s no slow-motion, the whole symmetrical framing and elegant camera moves are all gone. It’s all kind of rugged hand-held, dirty, sweaty, sexy, gritty. It’s still very stylish but in a completely different way.
SM: Did you shoot it in 3D?
PWSA: I love 3D, and I’m very upset about the way it’s being treated and thrown away by Hollywood in this kind of horrible grab for the money with all these bad 3D movies and terrible 3D conversions. But I still believe in 3D, and I think when it’s properly used is a great submersive tool for filmmakers. I wanted it to be a 3D movie, but equally I wanted to give it this very aggressive visual style that I couldn’t achieve with a 3D camera. They’re too big. So what I did is I shot with 2D cameras, but I used my 3D crew and they shot everything as though it was in 3D. Even the conversion company that did it was shocked to see how good it looked in 3D. With the advantage of these small, lightweight cameras, I was able to put the camera in places I would never have been able to get the 3D cameras.