When Brad Fischer first picked Dennis Lehaneâ€™s New York Times bestseller ”Shutter Island”, he could never imagined that the existing film rights would fall out of option and in to his lap, and his dream team of legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and Hollywood heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio would sign on.
Producer of ”Shutter Island”, Brad Fischer sat down with Movieholeâ€™s Tim Johnson in New York where he spoke about getting his dream team on board, Oscar contentions and the future of Robocop.
Tim: How early on did you read the novel? Do you all get a copy, sit down and then collaborate?
Brad: No, itâ€™s not nearly that organized, unfortunately.
Tim: Someone just says, â€˜Hey! Iâ€™ve got an idea!â€™?
Brad: Yeah, I picked the book up because the title struck me, and I was in a bookstore and it looked kind of interesting. A friend of mine had told me about it a while ago, and I was immediately gripped by the story and the characters, and the world and the kind of twists and turns that it took, and the ending which completely blew me away. And there was nothing to do with it, because it was set up actually at Sony Pictures at the time. It never got out of my head. And then finally when I learned that the rights lapsed, I spoke to my partner, Mike Medavoy and we talked about it, and he saw how passionate and enthusiastic I was about it, so we went ahead and picked up the option, and hired Laeta Kalogridis to adapt it, and developed the screenplay probably for about a year before we then decided to go to directors, and sent it to Marty (Martin Scorsese, director) and it moved pretty fast from that point.
Tim: And you can take responsibility for it all. Send the accolades your way!
Brad: Well, no I donâ€™t think any one person can take responsibility for any movie, thereâ€™s just hundreds of people involved in putting the whole thing together.
Tim: But you knew it from the beginning, you knew there was something in it.
Brad: Yeah I did, I definitely responded to it.
Tim: And getting Scorsese on board, how did that come about?
Brad: Well once we had the screenplay written, and Laeta did an amazing job it was a really tough adaptation, I sent the script to Chris Donnelly who is Marty’s agent at WME (William Morris Endeavour Entertainment) and I was sitting in his office, we were having lunch together and the script had just come in and Marty was looking for something – he didn’t have his next movie and Chris read it that weekend, called me I think Monday morning and said he sent it to Marty who thought it was brilliant and then Marty’s other reps read it and we sent it to him with the idea of him and DiCaprio together.
Tim: So from the onset, that was the vision you had.
Brad: Yeah, exactly.
Tim: Wow, that’s great! And is there a lot of collaboration between you guys as producers and Marty as director?
Brad: Look, once you have a filmmaker like Scorsese that gets involved in something, and the last movie I did which was Zodiac with David Fincher, you’re kind of passing it off in a lot of ways, and you’re watching the vision that you had, kind of get taken to the next level. Leata and I went to New York and sat with Marty and he had some ideas and changes that he wanted to make to the screenplay and watching him shoot the film and be on set and seeing his inspirations, and he did a lot of screenings while we were prepping for the actors. It was an incredible collaboration. And I learned a lot. I mean, how can you not? The greatest opportunity, ever.
Tim: And why did you have Leonardo DiCarprio in your vision for Teddy?
Brad: I just thought, you know, Leo is one of the greatest actors of his generation to begin with. I though that the character of Teddy Daniels was just something he could bring a lot to, and he hadn’t really done something like that before. I mean it’s a great role because there’s so many levels to it and so many nuances, for any actor and thinking about Marty, you also can’t help but think about Leo, and so it was just like…
Tim: The perfect team.
Brad: You send it, and you don’t really expect to get a yes. Then we got a yes.
Tim: Do you see the similarity between Leonardo and De Niro? Some people have said that he’s today’s De Niro, back in One Flew Over the Cuckooâ€™s Nest days.
Brad: Yeah, talking about Leo as one of the greatest actors of his generation, you could certainly say the same thing about Robert De Niro in that respect, for sure. You understand why Marty chose those two guys and I think watching their evolutions as actors across those films they’ve worked on together, you see how much they bring to it and how much that dynamic is. Yeah I do see similarities in terms of how that unfolded. I mean they are so completely different in so many respects, but the work similar in that it’s great.
Tim: How did you go about research for this film, 1950’s mental asylums? Is there one on which the film is based around in Boston, or is it purely fictional? Did you go and see any?
Brad: I think Dennis (Lehane, author) was inspired by an actual island, called Long Island in Boston harbour that kind of had a chequered past and interesting history. There was a hospital there. I don’t think it was a mental institution. And there was a civil war fort there. Actually a lot of those islands were old civil war forts. In terms of researching old institutions, we did do a lot of research, I mean everything from watching Wisemenâ€™s (Frederick Wiseman, documentary filmmaker) documentary Titicut Follies, which is a behind the curtain peek at terrible conditions of a mental institution for the criminally insane in Massachusetts actually, which was shut down. To reading a lot of old books which were written, exposes. In terms of architecture, there’s some fascinating stories, there’s a guy named Thomas Kirkbride who was a doctor, who was also an architect, and he was responsible for designing a lot of these whole gothic, very scary, imposing mental hospitals in New England, and Danvers (State Hospital, Massachusetts) is one of them. We shot at Medfield State Hospital, which is not a Kirkbride building, although the Kirkbride buildings ended up falling apart and burned down, but you look at them…
Tim: It’s an amazing structure.
Brad: It’s incredible, and I think the grounds, and the way the buildings were designed, Kirkbride felt that there was a therapeutic benefit to the patients, being able to live in this environment that was sort of a calming effect. You look at it from our perspective and it just looks terrifying. Once the sun goes down, get me out of here! So, Iâ€™m not sure how the patients felt, one way or the other, but there was a good deal of research involved.
Tim: Do you go into a film dealing with mental illness like this, thinking that it’s a risky subject matter, or do you put faith in that it’s a good story and that will carry it?
Brad: Look, the novel is a ride. It’s not based on a true story, but sure the subject matter of mental illness is one that’s very prevalent today, and across the history, and this is something that we touch on in the film has been treated very differently. Ben Kingsley (stars in the film as Dr. John Cawley) talks about how mental patients used to be chained in their own filth, and they were dunked in icy cold water and things like lobotomies and these terrifying procedures were done and people didn’t really understand what they were dealing with. And often, people with mental illness were shut away, ‘shuttered’ away. So I do think it sheds light on some of that history and different points of view that were involved in that. Look, of course it’s something that you’re sensitive to and you think about, but at the same time it’s a movie and it’s a thrill ride, and we’re not making a documentary.
Tim: Do you go into a film like this, with the talent that you have behind it, with the idea of an Oscar perhaps down the track?
Brad: It’s not something, and I know people always say this, but it’s truly not something that I think about going into a movie. Also, because who knows? You never know how that process works and how much it really matters. I personally think about the movies that Iâ€™ve loved over the years, and what I think about are the movies, i don’t think about the awards. It’s often hard to remember two years ago, or three years ago what movie won best picture.
Tim: Box office over statues?
Brad: Yeah. For me it’s like, will the film stand the test of time? I produced Zodiac as I mentioned before, and it didn’t get a single nomination, but it been on a hell of a lot of top ten of the decade lists. So, I think that for me it the more fulfilling thing. Are people going to remember the movie, or is it just going to be something that is going to be digested with dinner? You hope that’s not the case because you’ve worked on it for years and years on some of these things. So, you hope the audience is going to like it and people will love it. And then, if people celebrate it at the end of the year, fantastic.
Tim: What can you tell me about the progress of the Robocop remake?
Brad: There’s nothing happening with it right now. As you know MGM is in a situation where it might be sold, and Robocop is an asset, so it’s on hold at the moment.
Tim: Is there talk of, if and when it goes ahead, to produce it in 3-D?
Brad: I think we’ll have to re-approach it when it comes back and we’ll come back to the table and look at it, and decide how we’re going to move forward. I mean, certainly, the spectacle nature of it, the evolution of technology in the medium – it would be crazy.
Tim: Do you think films are headed toward 3-D across the board?
Brad: It’s what everyone is talking about, right? I don’t know about across the board. I’m sure this question was asked of someone when the first movies in color started to come out, and somebody said, do you think movies are all going to be color across the board?
Tim: ‘That won’t take off!’
Brad: And the person on the other side said, there will always be some black and white movies. And there still are. Look, it’s possible, right? What Cameron (James Cameron, director, Avatar) that I think transcends what 3-D has ever been before is the immersive nature, as opposed to the gimmicky nature of it, the throwing stuff at the audience’s face, scare tactic. I remember seeing Jaws 3 in 3-D at the theater in Amityville and that was a wave that ended. It feels like this is different.
Tim: Wait and see?
Brad: Maybe we’ll all be in 3-D!
Tim: Brad, thanks so much.