Chatting to Lorenzo di Bonaventura about G.I Joe

Seminal sci-fi series reboots, giant alien robots, global military forces of the near future. It’s all another day for former studio head turned independent producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, as Drew Turney finds out.

Drew: Three films all within like one or two months of each other, you must be the busiest producer in Hollywood.

Lorenzo: I’m tired as hell, I can tell you that.

Drew: With all the films you’ve had coming out over the last few months, how hands on does that make you?

Lorenzo: Definitely hands on. I was lucky because they weren’t made at the same time, they were actually made almost in sequence so I was able to stay hands on with all three.

Drew: So you’ve literally been on set the whole time?

Lorenzo: I wouldn’t say every day but a producer probably shouldn’t be because other details that have nothing to do with the set need to be attended to.

Drew: So once the shoot’s up and running how close is your job to being over for that film?

Lorenzo: It really depends. Each movie has its own rhythm but to keep the studio engaged during shooting the producer should be having marketing, publicity and strategy meetings and things that have nothing to do with the daily shoot. As a producer I’m always conscious of the days that’ll be risky and I’ll be there when I think there are obstacles to be overcome.

Drew: After Star Trek, Transformers and GI Joe everyone is going to think of you as the ‘big’ movie guy. Are you itching to do a Sundance drama or a romantic comedy or something a bit quieter?

Lorenzo: Well, I was president at Warner Bros and I worked there for a long time so I’ve worked on almost every kind of film. Each one had its fun aspects and its challenges. It’s funny, the little movies are sometimes even harder to make than the big movies.

I’d love to do another film that harkens back to movies I made at Warners like Three Kings, Training Day or Falling Down. That’s a very tough, hard-hitting, entertaining movie. It’s very hard to find and very hard to get people to agree to make but very profitable when you do.

Drew: When it came time to work on GI Joe was it the Hasbro mythology or the cinematic potential that appealed?

Lorenzo: It’s interesting because it depends on your age. It seems if you’re 40 or 45 and older you think, ‘Oh GI Joe, that’s that American army solder thing’. If you’re younger you understand it has nothing to do with that. And I’m older so I knew there’d been a comic book and an animated series but I wasn’t aware it was a fantasy movie of good guys versus bad guys. They had no geo-political military or jingoistic agenda so it was an education I was happy about because if you want to make a big entertaining movie it’s hard to do that trying to make political statements at the same time.

So it’s a very age specific thing and whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate for our movie it’s people under 40 who go to the movies. But GI Joe’s been around for a long time so there’s a great awareness of the title and in a way it’s sort of comforting for people.

Drew: Because the mythology wasn’t as familiar as other properties like Batman or Superman did that present a marketing or a scripting challenge?

Lorenzo: Yes, but it’s almost the same with every movie. I’ve worked on a few of the Batman films and you still have to make that version of that Batman story cool. You almost have the same drill with every kind of movie and the movies that win the day are those where the marketing seems to be able to communicate that when you execute them well.

Drew: What made Stephen Sommers the best director?

Lorenzo: Stephen has a great sense of fun and he likes to spend a lot of time with his characters. In this case, the comic book never really killed off any characters, so there was an incredible intertwining of the stories. Their back stories are staggering, so we had to have somebody who really wanted to juggle that demand but you don’t want to get it bogged down by not being fun. Those two things really made him the right guy.

Drew: Did the strong mythology and such interrelated characters make it tricky?

Lorenzo: It is a bit tricky. Two things happen anytime you take on an established mythology with a strong fan base. One, they feel very strongly about a lot of characters, and no movie can support all the characters that the core fan would probably want it in. I mean, there are 32 Joes in the comic book, and you couldn’t make a movie with 32 characters. So the first challenge is to whittle down the number of characters to where you could do an effective job at portraying them – in my experience that’s somewhere between six and ten. Second, when you choose your characters and the relationships between them are so extensive, you have to really think about the evolution of these relationships through the movie and the plot has to then serve those.

So far audiences really like the fact that we spent a lot of time with all these characters and they’ve given us a good pat on the back for it.

Drew: You mentioned a sense of fun. Were you conscious that you wanted a little more of it than in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Star Trek?

Lorenzo: Each property has to be happy with what it is. I don’t think you can say ‘this one we’re going to do this, this one we’re going to do that’. Each decides for itself. The material has its own mind if you would In GI Joe you’ve got Ninjas, hot female and male characters, people with fiancés on the opposite sides of good and evil, guys that grew up as orphans together on opposite sides of good and evil. If you try to be serious about it you’d get bogged down. Instead you play it for fun and you’re actually allowed to go deeper into the emotionality of it. There are certain movies where that’s just the right thing to do, but it wouldn’t have been right for GI Joe.