Vin Diesel has designed a career around blockbuster, franchise movies, becoming somewhat of a visionary for the idea of theatrical perpetuity and branding.
Back this month with Riddick, the third installment of his science fiction-fantasy series, Diesel independently produced the new film despite pushback from major studios.
It joins the Fast & Furious catalog as another large-scale action narrative championed by Diesel, and made in response to fan requests on social media.
Countering what Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have described as industry “implosion” due to such movies, Diesel stands by his creative direction and says that the people, indeed, have spoken.
“It won’t implode while I’m around,” the 46-year-old actor tells theGrio at a press conference in Los Angeles. “Not on my watch…I promise you that. We should get Lucas and we should get Spielberg and really talk it out, face to face, mano y mano. I love Steven and I’m a huge fan of George Lucas. At the risk of sounding naïve, I don’t see that in the immediate future.”
A blockbuster monstrosity
In June, Spielberg and Lucas caused a stir when they predicted the near death of all other types of films, as big-budget pictures invade theaters, flop at the box office, and “alter the industry forever.”
As a result of the collapse, ticket prices skyrocket, fewer movies get made, and few art house, dramatic features see the light of the projector reel.
Oh, but nonsense, Diesel scoffs; the future is “sunny” and blissful.
“Hollywood is changing,” he says, using his current distributor as prime example. “Universal’s leading the charge. They’re looking at films differently. They’re planning ahead in a way that I’ve never seen a studio do before. They’re believing in a relationship between the fan and film franchise in a new way. They’re more receptive, in part due to social media, to the audience in a way we’ve never before been allowed. In the way Steven never could have imagined.”
The longevity of franchise pictures depends on fan support, explains Diesel; therefore movies exist due to demand.
He calls direct communication between audiences and producers a “luxury” that was unavailable five years ago, and something unfamiliar to those accustomed to the traditional model of industry.
Using this framework, Diesel suggests that as the movie business evolves, it doesn’t generate films like a factory processes canned goods, rather they come made to order.
“When Lucas was doing Star Wars, he didn’t have a 50 million person Facebook just to sift through to try and get an idea for what he was going to do next,” he remarks. “Movies [historically] are that thing where you go and by a ticket, and you never get to talk to the person that made it, and you never get to talk to the creator or the producer of those films. You buy the ticket, shut up and sit down and you can never comment about it. You can never have a relationship with it. You can never say no. I mean if Clark Gable had a Facebook page, there would have been a Gone With the Wind 2.”
Diesel brings Riddick to theaters for fans
Undoubtedly, Diesel speaks from experience.
The second film of the Riddick series, The Chronicles of Riddick, incidentally bombed, costing $105 million to make and grossing only half of that.
As a result, it took 9 years and serious digital campaigning to resurrect the character for the latest edition.
In Riddick, the superhuman warrior returns on his mission to survive, seek vengeance and search for a way home. He appears this time in an unrefined space, as Diesel and director David Twohy opted to create a rated R movie.
Allowing for more creative liberties, Diesel welcomed the more realistic approach.
“Almost luckily for us, there was an outcry from the social media to make this one rated R,” says the actor. “It ruled out all possibilities of a studio backing it. As you know, rated R movies are few and far between nowadays…I went to Europe, to a film market, and presented what this film was going to be. And I got foreign money to start this movie, to be the bulk of the financing for this movie. Then it was up to us to take those somewhat limited means – especially compared to what we were with Chronicles – and tell a story with those limited means.”
Banking on a hit: ‘I would have lost my house’
A lot was on the table.
While Diesel experienced great success with the Fast & Furious brand, he felt more was riding on Riddick to prove fans can drive motion pictures.
“If it didn’t work out, I would have lost my house,” he comments. “Everything I had in my life was leveraged to make this movie. The producer role – the stakes were higher than any producer I know because the skin in the game was real, and I was so committed to answering this growing request from the social media fans to continue this character. The only way I could have pulled it off was by leveraging everything.”
Diesel’s emotions, nevertheless, took priority when it came to timing.
While The Chronicles of Riddick came just four years after the initial film, Pitch Black, the actor put off making the third release due to family obligations. Namely, he was having a child.
Playing such a dark character, he didn’t want his demeanor to affect his fatherly commitments.
“We were initially going to try and make Riddick before I did Fast Five, and then I learned that we were expecting a child,” he recalls. “I didn’t think it would be fair to the child, I didn’t think it would be fair to the fans to go to that dark place while welcoming a life into the world.”
Inhabiting the life of a superhuman bandit requires focus on the evil eccentricities of the world, not something that comes naturally when cradling an infant with a pacifier.
Judging from his technique, Diesel takes both roles very seriously and found no overlap in his attention spans.
“Playing the character [of Riddick] is sometimes a lot more difficult that other characters because it takes so much preparation,” he says. “For this version, where Riddick is now in this movie, his state of mind in this movie, I went to the woods for four months and prepared by basically being a recluse. Preparing the inner core of the character. Specifically, since I was also producing it, it was important for me to get that core character correct so that I could easily tap into it while maintaining some certain point of view about what was going on in the production.”
Diesel’s great challenge
Riddick opens in theaters Sept. 6, a couple of weeks after Diesel received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He tells reporters that knowing people had seen his new movie, one that he’s invested so much in for his fans, was a far better gift than the newfound honor.
“When years and years started to go by, and we weren’t delivering the next chapter, we had to make a very conscious decision to find a way to continue the story,” he recalls. “Part of what I’ve been trying to do with the studio, which has been very successful with the [Fast & Furious] franchise, is to make movies while simultaneously thinking about the succeeding chapters and how they would all interlink, and how each film would speak to one another. That felt like the challenge of our millennium.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia