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Red Faction Origins Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with Brian J. Smith (Jake Mason), Kate Vernon (The Matriarch), Director Michael Nankin, and Writer/Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg on May 31, 2011 about the Original Syfy movie Red Faction Origins.

Brian J. Smith

In the film, twenty-five years have passed since Alec Mason led the Martian Colonies to freedom... and 12 years since vengeful enemies killed his wife, kidnapped his daughter Lyra, and left a broken hero in their wake. Jake Mason, Alec's last surviving son and an officer in the Red Faction Militia, has his world turned inside out when he discovers that now, 12 years after her kidnapping, his sister is still alive. As a powerful new enemy swarms across the planet, Jake goes out to find her, only to learn that his lost sister is one of them... a cold-blooded soldier sworn to destroy the Red Faction. Jake must now battle the relentless regime and somehow reunite a family torn apart by war.

Question:
How familiar were all of you with the Red Faction game before you even started making this film?

Andrew Kreisberg:
I was fairly familiar with the game having played Red Faction Guerrilla. I didn't know much about the first two games in the series. But our movie really encompasses Red Faction Guerrilla and bridges the gap between us and Red Faction Armageddon. So those are the games to really have a strong knowledge of. Brian, did you ever play the game?

Brian J. Smith:
I hadn't and I didn't know that it was a video game until a few days after I read the script actually. But of course, then I found out. I went back and did some research and looked into it and we actually got to play Red Faction Armageddon when we were in Los Angeles and it's a really cool game. It's definitely something I'd play. I'm a big gamer.

Andrew Kreisberg:
What's really cool about the movie is that it's not a direct adaptation of a specific game plot. It really is its own original story set within the world of the Red Faction video game. So, especially for people who are big fans of the game, there will be a lot of touchstones and nods and you'll definitely feel like it's a continuation of the experience of the player but for new fans, it won't be so inside that you won't be able to step in and experience the amazing world that the Red Faction game has created.

Kate Vernon:
As everybody knows, I'm the virgin gamer. I've never played a game in my life. So this is all new. This is all very new and exciting for me.

Question:
What did you find was the biggest challenge in making this film?

Michael Nankin:
I had no awareness of the game before I came on this project. And the material that I went back to, rather then spending hours playing the game, I went back to Red Faction and got all their concept drawings and their design elements. I wanted to go back to the core of what their game was based on because I knew, and this is sort of answering your difficulty question, I knew that we couldn't compete with them with our budget. We couldn't compete with the game on the level of destruction and production.

They have such a larger canvass to paint on because they don't have to build anything. And so I knew that I couldn't create an experience that's like the game. So I went back to the core of what the game was about - family, characters, politics, Mars - and we created a movie based on the same elements that they created the game about. Now there are things that they did that we couldn't do. There are things that we could do that they couldn't do which is the humanity.

Question:
Given the popularity of this whole game series, did you feel any extra pressure when you guys were making this film?

Michael Nankin:
Not from THQ certainly. They were very open to new interpretations. And we knew we had a fan base. I would say we kind of knew that there - not matter what we did there would be people who would embrace the differences. And there would be people who would be mortally offended by what we did.

Andrew Kreisberg:
I actually found it kind of a fun challenge to see how much of the game experience I could keep in the movie everywhere along the way where I could find a weapon that was used in the game or be able to site a location from the game or site a character from the game. It actually made me excited to know that I could help continue that experience that a gamer would have from playing Red Faction Guerrilla, taking it through.

And I think everybody embraced it even on the game side coming to Red Faction Armageddon because Garret David Boyd who plays Adam Hale, the chief villain in Red Faction Origins, voices Adam Hale in the Red Faction Armageddon game. So, it wasn't as much of a challenge. I mean, it was a fun challenge as opposed to a difficult challenge.

Question:
Are Syfy and THQ considering turning this into an ongoing series?

Andrew Kreisberg:
We're certainly hopeful that if the movie performs as well as we hope, that there could either be future movies or a future series. I think all of us feel like there are a lot more stories to tell. Red Faction Origins isn't a specific adaptation of a video game. It's a brand new original story that takes place in the universe of Red Faction and there are plenty more stories to tell. So whether we get to tell them through a further movie or a possible television series that'll all depend on the fan base coming out and hopefully watching the film.

Brian J. Smith:
The way that the film ends really seems to beg some kind of continuance with the storyline. It does a really great job of wrapping up what the film is about but also sort of asks a lot of questions about what could possibly happen next. And, of course, there's still some ground to cover between the way we end the film and Red Faction Armageddon. It would be interesting to see what happens.

Kate Vernon:
We are all in agreement with that.

Michael Nankin:
I also think that not only is the story rich, but the cast is so appealing. You just want to spend time with these people. This is Michael Nankin again.

Kate Vernon:
Maybe that's because the relationships are so rich. There's so much potential and it's like Andrew says, like a Shakespearean drama where everybody's related and, six degrees of separation and the more layers that are unveiled, the more inside you get into these characters. And the more you want. And I think a lot of it is because the people are really likeable. But they're also fighters. They're also warriors. So there's a real mix of action and heart, and humanity..

Brian J. Smith:
I think one of the things I really like about it is exactly that. They're all fighters. There's not a victim in the dramatis personae of this show. Everybody really goes after what they want and they don't give up and they're not going to stop until they get it. And I really, really find that incredibly fun to play, but if I'm going to watch television, those are definitely the kind of characters I would like to spend time with.

Question:
Other then the fact that it's an original story, what kind of challenges do you perceive trying to separate the Red Faction Origins from the stigma that video game movies have in the community?

Andrew Kreisberg:
Because we didn't make a movie based on the video game. We made a movie based on character's relationships in a world that THQ made a video game about. And we took the same characters and relationships, politics, infrastructure and environment and we made a movie about it. We had two variations on the same theme rather then trying to convert a game experience into a film experience which you can't really do.

And a starting point for me as a writer was the relationship between Jake Mason, who's the character that Brian plays and his sister, Lyra, and starting with basically what would you say to someone you thought was long dead if you got the chance to talk to them again? That was the starting point writing the script and breaking out the story for me and starting from that place, it has very little to do with video game stuff and all the strokes of the game, ships, the explosions, the location, the amazing weaponry. That's all added on. That's the sprinkles and the sauce. The core of it was just a basic human story. And I think if you start from that place you don't have to worry about the stigma of a video game.

I think that the video game people at THQ, one of the reasons I think Red Faction lends itself so well for adaptation is I don't think they started from a place of how can we make a really cool video game? They started from a real place and character. I mean, these are very strong characters that we're just taking to the next level and probably taking to a place a little bit more dramatic then you could get to in a video game. But it all starts with them and it starts with the world that they created. And it's a great, fun world. It's a rich world filled with great characters who you can take in just about any direction.

Question:
So would you say that this movie would be just as good if it didn't take place on Mars and this happened on earth in the 1920s or something?

Andrew Kreisberg:
Well it's funny. One of the first conversations I had with Brian was I said to him when we were talking about how to play Jake, I said, "Just substitute the Red Faction militia for the LA police department and play it the exact same way." It really is about a father and a son and parental issues and it's about survivor's guilt. It's about loss and reconnection. I mean all the themes and the problems that people are dealing with, whether it's survivor's guilt or alcoholism, those are the universal themes that play whether it's the 1920s, whether it's the present day or whether it's 300 years in the future on a terra-formed Mars.

Brian J. Smith:
The thing that I always thought about was this is like a Western. This is about as close as I've ever gotten to shooting a Western. And it's funny that we actually talked a lot about the film, The Searchers, while we shot it. So whether it's on Mars or wherever, as long as it's got that humanity in it, it's fantastically awesome to play.

Andrew Kreisberg:
Although it got very annoying when Brian kept asking for a horse.

Kate Vernon:
There are no horses on Mars, dang it.

Andrew Kreisberg:
Over and over, we had to tell him that.

Brian J. Smith:
And all I really wanted was a Snapple.

Question:
Brian and Kate, both of these roles are different for both of you from the past things you've done like in Battlestar and SGU. Could you talk about the approach and was it fun to play different?

Kate Vernon:
Yes, yes, yes. I really enjoyed the challenge of the matriarch. For one, the difference for her is that she was very direct. And Ellen Tye, you never knew what angle Ellen was playing. And that was delicious, prepared well. But with The Matriarch, she was very direct and very straightforward. If this goes to a series, that will be much more revealed in terms of what is really motivating her and how her past circumstances have created a big wound in her and it has to do with her son. It has to do with love basically and the sacrifices she's made to follow her destiny which is to rule.

So the role, it was a little smaller on screen then Brian's. He got to act out a lot more then I did. I got to act it out in my mind more, my imagination. But she's definitely someone I would love to explore and to flesh out because as formidable as she is, and someone with a really tough exterior. Their interior is as tender as their exterior is tough. And I believe that there's a huge story within this woman, this matriarch. And I enjoy playing these characters where there's a lot more then meets the eye. And hopefully we'll be able to write it.

Brian J. Smith:
It's funny what Kate said about the tough exterior and the sort of gentle interior. Always with Scott on SGU, he actually had a pretty tough interior but a really gentle exterior. And it's kind of switched with Jake. I always felt bad for the kid and things seemed to happen to him and he just sort of said, "Yes sir," and just kind of took it.

Jake is not that kind of guy. He's a very active protagonist and he's going to go out there and make stuff happen and sort of a damn the torpedoes sort of character. And that's the way his life situation's brought him to that point. So that was just incredibly exciting for me to play after two years or a lot of crying and a lot of saluting and a lot of saying, "Yes sir." It was great to play someone who just really didn't stop when he hit a wall.

Question:
Were a lot of scenes cut from what the original script called for?

Andrew Kreisberg:
My writing orders from Syfy were to write the movie I wanted to see, not the movie we could afford to make. And a lot of the marauder sequences that were part of the original draft unfortunately for production reasons got lost. But that material was still there. And what was very cool was that Kate got to see it.

So a lot of her performance was informed by more of the story that had been created for the station and the film that didn't actually exist on screen. And it's to our amazing luck and Kate's tremendous talent that for the five or six scenes that's she in, she really singularly portrays this incredibly proud noble fierce beautiful warrior waif and really on her own makes people belief that these are people not to be trifled with.

Question:
For those who really don't know much about the game, can you kind of talk a little bit about the plot?

Michael Nankin:Question:
How did you get involved in the project?

Michael Nankin:
I walked by Tom Lieber's office at Syfy in December and he came running out and said, "Come in here. Do you know anything about Red Faction? I have a script to show you."

Kate Vernon:
I was at Michael Nankin's day after his birthday party because I got the dates wrong and I arrived a day late for his birthday party. And so I just said, "So what are you doing? What are you working on?" And he said, "I'm actually doing a film that shoots in Bulgaria for Syfy." And I was like, "Uh-huh. And is there anything in there for me?" And he said, "Uh-huh," and he smiled. I smiled. And he goes, "I'll get back to you." And so I got a really nice birthday present from Michael on his birthday. So that was very sweet. Yes, that was a very beautiful moment, I have to say Michael.

Andrew Kreisberg:
I was first approached last summer by a Syfy and THQ. I'm a co executive producer of Warehouse 13 and they said to me did I have a play for Faction? Would I be interested in writing the movie? And I said yes to both. So we sat down and crafted the story and I wrote the script fairly quickly. And the whole process was just very smooth. They - Syfy and THQ have a brand new partnership. They're producing Red Faction and Armageddon together. So everybody was heavily vested in making the movie.

And then once the script was in place, Tom Lieber ran out of his office and grabbed Michael Nankin and when we began the process of casting, honestly, one of the first names that came up from Syfy was Brian to play Jake. Brian was working on Stargate Universe and we all saw him and thought instantly that he is a strong leading man.

Brian J. Smith:
I think I owe a lot to the folks at Syfy, who I've been working with through SGU and it was great. They're very, very loyal to their actors who work on their network. It's kind of like you're in the Syfy family and they really do try to find things for everybody to do in other shows in their network. So when this came up I was just kind of blown away with how nice it was a very flattered and boy, I'm so glad I did it because shooting this film was by far the most satisfying experience I've had in a very, very long time.

Question:
You all over time have worked on some popular shows. I was wondering if you could each talk about a favorite moment you had?

Michael Nankin:
Do I have to say that they all involve Kate Vernon? Actually one of my great frustrations about Battlestar Galactica is that Kate and I didn't get to work together nearly enough.

Kate Vernon:
That's true. I agree with you. We worked a lot but not as much as we would've liked.

Michael Nankin:
My favorite moment in Battlestar Galactica was I did a scene with Mary McDonnell, 3-1/2 page exposition scene with Mary McDonnell and Donnelly Rhodes, played Doc Cottle. And it wasn't working and we just kept rehearsing and it wasn't working. And I said, "Try it where nobody says anything," and it was fantastic. And we cut out 3-1/2 pages of dialogue and everyone was okay with that. Not that I have anything against dialogue but it was an illustration of a creative of family on that show that was open to reinterpreting things and making everything work in unconventional ways.

Kate Vernon:
It's so hard to find a favorite moment from that show because it was such a collaboration. The script was the golden rule but then everybody was allowed to express themselves and their feelings and needs or whatever is true for them. And if something needed to be cut they would. If something needed to be added, they'd do that. And I've just loved working with Michael and all the directors.

They were just incredible and nurturing whereas most times on TV sets, you hit your mark, you say your lines, and cut, print, moving on. It just became such a an incredible environment to, not just show up and say your lines, but to really create something with a group of people. It was a very rich environment. And I'm going to kind of not answer your question specifically.

It's too hard to. I loved working with Eddie as the director. Deeply nurturing director. Michael, deeply nurturing. Michael would just come in and throw one word at me or maybe he'd give me a look. And Michael and I work so much now that we'll finish each other's sentences on set or he gives me a look and I give him a nod. I walk away and I know what he intended for me to do without any dialogue.

Brian J. Smith:
I'd say for me working on SGU was just a big adventure. We witnessed some really cool locations and my favorite moment was we shot in Alamogordo White Sands, New Mexico. And they put is in the Chinook helicopter and she dropped us off like miles outside of base camp and just followed us around. We shot the scene with the camera placed in a helicopter. And that, for me, was the high point. That was an amazing experience. I'll always remember that.

Andrew Kreisberg:
My favorite experience from working on Fringe, probably, when I first got there I asked them what the secret of Fringe was and they said, "Parallel universes," and they said scene one was going to end with Olivia in another universe. And I said, "Well, how are you going to know it's another universe?" And they said, "Well, it'll be like a really scary white room." And I said, "You know what would be really cool, is if she's in the World Trade Center." And I was afraid to say something about it because they're going to think Andrew is, like, the sickest, craziest, nuttiest guy ever. And then that actually became the last moment of the season finale.

Brian J. Smith:
Because loving science fiction what's always fun about parallel universes is that they're like our world but not. And there was a lot of discussion about whether or not that was appropriate or not. But it just seemed without any disrespect, that it just seemed like a fun, scary, crazy way, in the way the Fringe does, to go out with a bang on season one. So actually seeing that on television come to fruition I thought the shot itself was just beautifully rendered.

Question:
Brian, considering you have a Syfy experience with Stargate, how does playing Jake on Red Faction compare to Matthew Scott on SGU?

Brian J. Smith:
I think the defining difference is just the amount of fight that they have in them. I think Scott, his storyline arc who's always about someone who goes from being incredibly unempowered and very unsure of himself to someone who becomes very sure of himself and is able to function as a leader.

In a weird way, Jake Mason actually starts off where Scott was headed to and that's really exciting to me because then you really get to look at the stuff that goes on inside and figure out why that person is that way and what he really wants without getting mired in a lot of weakness and a lot of self-doubt. That's interesting but it's just fun to play a guy who deals with his self-doubt and who does something about it.

Question:
Kate and Michael, I want to know from each of you what was it like to reteam on Red Faction after being on BSG together?

Michael Nankin:
What a nightmare, really.

Kate Vernon:
Impossible. He's like my husband. We fight. Well, we've had the pleasure of working on many shows since Battlestar. So I just feel so lucky to continue to be hired by this man. We have a great working relationship. So it just gets better and better.

Michael Nankin:
For me, there was Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg, and then there's Kate Vernon and me.

Kate Vernon:
Am I your muse?

Michael Nankin:
Yes.

Kate Vernon:
Oh. Oh, I love it. You heard him say it. My fist is in the air.

Michael Nankin:
Aside from the fact that it's always a delight to work with close friends. I never have to worry if I can get Kate on the show. I just know that role is going to be brilliant. I know it's taken care of and that my job will be on the level of finesse rather then trying to create something because she always delivers on a very, very high level.

Question:
Andrew, how closely did you work with THQ in developing the film based on the video game franchise?

Andrew Kreisberg:
Fairly closely in the beginning. The original story proposal was developed by Paul Demayo and Danny Bilson who are the creative heads at THQ. They wrote the movie, The Rocketeer, and the Flash television series. So I'd actually been a big fan of them. It was kind of cool to get to sit down with them. You know, and we talked initially just about the world and the characters. Then after that, they really sent me off and really put a great deal of trust in me which I was very grateful for, having expansive franchise in letting me sort of run wild with it.

And then all along the way they would chime in with, "Hey, here's a good idea," our you know, "That didn't quite fit in the game mythology," but it was really a great partnership. They were very supportive, very open to new ideas and yet they have a really keen sense of what makes Red Faction work. And I hope that I've inherited some of that keen sense.

Question:
You all have experience outside the world of science fiction. Does your work differ at all when you work on science fiction versus normal things?

Michael Nankin:
No, not at all. My job is always the same whether I have to spend some time doing green shots of spaceships or not. My job is to find the humanity in every scene. So whether it's cops or bakers or rocket ship captains or Martians. It doesn't matter. All of it is exactly the same.

Kate Vernon:
And I would say the same goes for an actor as well. You want to find the humanity even if you're playing a sociopath. You know, you have to find the heart in that character, whether you're on Mars or New York City. And I think what's interesting is while, depending on whatever the genre is, it's about relationships. What is the relationship you're in? What do you want? You still ask yourself the same questions, yes, you still ask yourself the same questions as an actor whether or not it's the Syfy genre or a Western or a romantic comedy or a sitcom.

Andrew Kreisberg:
When I started this project, when I went in to meet with Syfy about it, my first line to them was, "How do I get my wife to watch a television show set on Mars?" So, I think the best Syfy doesn't start from spaceships or anomalies or lasers, they start from simple stories about people. And then, whether it's set on Mars or set in Los Angeles or New York or wherever over the past, that's all the icing on the cake. But at the end of the day, at the other side, it really is about people and the paces that we put our characters through in Red Faction, whether it is family issues or survivor guilt or alcoholism, those are all universal stories that doesn't matter whether they're being told in a Syfy setting.

Michael Nankin:
I mean, as a matter of fact, if you try to make it different, you're sunk. It's not going to work.

Question:
Were there any funny moments during filming, like bloopers or pranks or anything like that you can talk about?

Andrew Kreisberg:
You have to understand that we were shooting in Bulgaria in the dead of winter. There were actually quite a number of funny things that happened.

Kate Vernon:
It was as cold inside as it was outside.

Andrew Kreisberg:
Yes. There were quite a number of funny things that happened that we weren't aware of because no one could move or smile. We actually had a scene in a bar in Asama where Jake has a glass of water which had to be replaced every two takes because it would ice up. It turned into a glass of solid ice. As a matter of fact, if you watch the movie carefully, there's ice everywhere. I think the scene that we had the most trouble getting because everyone was laughing so hard was a very short scene where Jake enters Lyra's quarters for the first time and she knocks him down and is about to punch him.

And the door opens behind her and there's Adam Hale. And for the first time she claims Jake is her brother. And it's a very short scene. And there was an extra who played one of the guards who looked exactly like our producer. And every time the doors would open and he'd be standing there, we'd all just fall down laughing and we couldn't get through the scene. I think that's a you sort of had to be there story.

Question:
Are there any scenes that got deleted for time or whatever reason you wish they'd kept in or maybe something that, in retrospect you wish they had cut out?

Andrew Kreisberg:
There's very little that's cut out.

Question:
If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what do you think you would be doing?

Kate Vernon:
I think I'd be living in Europe somewhere. I don't know. I see myself living in Europe with family and I see myself as a whole other person. I'm an old woman living in Europe and working in the marketplace. No, I think I'd like to have some life that had absolutely nothing to do with this world and which then opens up your being to in Europe, it's just a different reality. And I would probably be spending all my time painting and filling clay and being very creative and working with people and children and gardening. I'd have a very different slower sensibility of life, very much more connected to old world and nature.

Michael Nankin:
I think I would see myself living in Europe with Kate.

Kate Vernon:
Oh my god. You're hilarious. All right, let's go get that villa. Under the Tuscan sun.

Michael Nankin:
I don't know. I don't know how to do anything else. I don't know what I would do. I could probably be trained to be a barista I think after many years of training.

Andrew Kreisberg:
As a writer, you want to do everything that you're not doing, which is a lot to write about. I'd love to be a lawyer or a cop or an astronaut but since I don't get to do any of those things I get to write about them which is why writing is one of the best jobs that you can have. But if I had to answer the question, probably living in Europe with Kate.

Question:
Andrew and Michael, would you ever be interested in acting? And Kate, would you ever be interested in writing or directing or working behind the scenes?

Michael Nankin:
TI have absolutely no interest in acting, none whatsoever. I've taken acting classes to understand what actors go through and learn, not only what a horrible actor I would be, but to just test the experience.

Kate Vernon:
I wouldn't know what to do if I was told that I was going to direct a scene or let alone an entire movie or TV show. I mean, that's a lot to think about. And I would not want that daunting job. I wouldn't know how to piece it together. What Michael does is just phenomenal. And then to be a writer, I could probably write but then is it any good?

I could write but it's like, how do you put that together? You know, it's like how do you flesh it out? I mean, that's the gift of good writing, is really going in and going in and going in and going in and going in to something and really pulling something out and I don't know if I have the discipline for that or the ability for that or the imagination for that. But that is something I would like to explore. That doesn't scare me as much as the idea of directing.

Michael Nankin:
Yes, if Andrew can do it, anybody can, right?

Kate Vernon:
Michael, you're bad. How about you, Andrew? Would you want to act?

Andrew Kreisberg:
Would I want to act? I think everybody wants to act. I think everybody's job looks a lot easier then it is. And I've been around long enough to know that directing and acting is not easy. I'm always in awe of amazing acting. And especially when you write a scene and you have it in your head to be a certain way and then you see somebody as talented as you come along and read the words completely differently then how you expected and yet you were totally right.

So I don't know. I don't know. It's - you know, I have a friend who's an actor and who can't believe that I let anyone read what I wrote. That's too intimate. And yet I can't imagine standing up there in front of an audience or in front of a camera and just leaving myself exposed like that. It's very strange.

Kate Vernon:
Yes. It's like the same thing, just different.

Andrew Kreisberg:
And directing too. You sit there and you go you watch somebody like Michael at work and I think the thing about directing that people don't understand is we're working with actors. That it's not as simple as that anybody can say, well, "Put the camera here," or, "I want the camera to move this way," but it's those little things like you were talking about earlier when Michael stands up and walks over to you and gives you a look or says something to you or gives you a little suggestion that and then it totally changes the scene or a scene that wasn't working suddenly works now because of that one small little thing that the director said. That's the unquantifiable talent that really separates good directors from people who are just saying, "Action and cut." And I don't think I have that.

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