Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein Interview: The Making of 'Underworld Awakening'
Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein are at the helm of Screen Gems’ highly anticipated next installment of the Underworld franchise, Underworld Awakening, premiering everywhere January 20, 2012 in 3D and IMAX 3D.
The critically acclaimed Swedish directing team has joined the elite ranks of distinguished filmmakers who are ushering in a new era of technology that is redefining today’s cinematic landscape. The duo, having never used 3D technology, utilized the first ever RED EPIC digital cameras in 3D.
“But, with the RED EPIC, this is the first time we can say, ‘Hey, this is pretty damn good!’ So, we like it a lot. It’s also high beam resolution, which is a big help when you do 3D because 3D cuts down the resolution so much in the whole process.”
Having only a three million dollar budget at their disposal for the success of their most notable film Storm, Marlind and Stein created a dark world of parallel universes and time-space warps where the lead character must come to terms with his own personal demons, both metaphorically and literally. They also recently co-directed the thriller Shelter starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
In Underworld Awakening, Kate Beckinsale, star of Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, returns in her role as the vampire warrioress Selene, who escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hi guys, thanks for the time today. Underworld Awakening is the second sequel in the Underworld series, but it’s also called Underworld 4. Please explain and tell me how both of you became involved in the film.
Bjorn Stein: It is the fourth installment. Numbers one and two was one story, three was a prequel and a prehistoric thing about how it all started, and four is back to the original story with Selene which was in one and two.
Mans Marlind: We got it because we were both Underworld fans. By coincidence, our agent was representing the writer, and he slipped it to us even though we weren’t on that little short list of directors. We said, “Hey, Martin, we really want to make this! This is a great movie.” He said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Then we rolled the presentation with pictures and images of films and how we saw our vision for this film. It was presented for the film company called Lakeshore. We flew over from Sweden to Hollywood, and when we landed, I think we pretty much had the job. We had meetings with Screen Gems and two days later, we flew to Vancouver and started scouting locations. It was the fastest thing we’d ever done.
Bjorn Stein: We did a Swedish film called Storm, which caught the attention of Gary Lucchesi and Len Wiseman. Len created the series and directed the first two. I think that Storm had a similar tonality in a way. It’s a dark story as well as Underworld, so I think that’s the one that kind of tipped it over.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Both of you have always primarily been interested in the horror genre?
Mans Marlind: The horror, yeah. Horror films were very simple to make as kids. All you need is a camera, you had a TV, get the catsup, and you can kill your friends. It was very hard to make good drama or comedy when all your friends suck at acting. So, that’s how we started, but we always tend to lean toward the dark even though it’s not all like horror. I’d say that Underworld does have many horror elements in it, but I would much more call it Machiavellian.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about the film and how it differs from the others in the series. Is it darker, scarier, more emotional?
Mans Marlind: It sounds so corny, but there’s much more action in this one than the other one. I think that’s one thing. There is 3D, of course, which makes everything different. One thing that is different now is that we see a different side of Selene. Kate brings out a new nuance in Selene, a more sensitive and emotional part of her, which we haven’t seen before. Also, man is in this one. In the beginning, man finds out about the vampires and Lycans and it’s not all about the eternal war between the vampires and the Lycans.
The film starts with mainly like a genocide of these creatures, a wipeout, and so man is very important in this one, and there are both friends and foes among them. Then, of course, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to add something more to the creature mythology, so we have new creatures (new Lycans).
The funny thing also was that when we were shooting and working with the script, it was like almost nobody was left from the story because everybody’s dead except for Michael. It was a great opportunity to introduce a whole new gallery of characters and players. Of course, many of them end up dead. But, some of them will linger on to new adventures in upcoming movies.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this the first time Selene’s daughter has been introduced as an older girl?
Mans Marlind: Yes, it’s the first time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): India Eisley plays Selene’s daughter in Underworld Awakening. I’ve interviewed her, and she is talented actress. Did she audition for the part or did you have India in mind for the role?
Bjorn Stein: We were thinking this would be an extremely time consuming thing to find the girl. Then, we got the first batch of casting, and there was one girl that really stood out. We were so afraid of getting those quirky, beauty pageant, “Hey, I’m so great,” kind of American girls we’ve seen on so many castings.
When we saw India and hadn’t seen her before, she just blew us away and had all the sensitivities we were looking for. She looks younger than she is, but she acts older than she is. So, India’s kind of an enigma, both in the film and as a person as well. She has a very cool quality to her.
Mans Marlind: I think that after we saw her on tape, we wanted to see her again on a callback. We had ten girls for the callback and she was number three in the room. We played around for about thirty minutes, and I remember that she said some of the lines so perfectly that I had tears in my eyes while she was doing some of the stuff. We looked at Gary, the producer, and said, “Okay, we have her.” The thing is, you never settle for the third girl in the room for an important role, but we did.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this film basically a fight to the death between the humans and the clans?
Mans Marlind: That’s kind of the mystery of the film – where is the fight and who is fighting whom? I think what we like about the Underworld franchise is it keeps changing perspective like reinventing itself. You’re on the vampire’s side, and then suddenly you’re on the lycan side and then in this one … where are you? So, there are different sympathies.
Bjorn Stein: One common thing has always been betrayal. I think that’s one really intriguing part of the storytelling. Who should I trust? Who is friend? Who is foe? That continues in this one, and that’s what we really want to take care of storytelling wise.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think there’s just as much interest in seeing the werewolves and vampires as there is in seeing Kate Beckinsale dressed in leather the entire film?
Mans Marlind: Yes, there is. I think there’s a big interest in both. Kate is a gorgeous woman, and the werewolves are gorgeous, but in another way. They are very intricate and look truly amazing, so there are two different parts of the brain that gets excited there.
Bjorn Stein; Like beauty and the beast.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): This is the first film to use the RED EPIC digital camera in 3D. What is the advantage of using this technology?
Mans Marlind: There are two advantages. Before, you had to develop everything and now what you shoot is what you get. For us, at least up until now, digital has not really held the bar in quality because it’s inferior to film. But, with the RED EPIC, this is the first time we can say, “Hey, this is pretty damn good!” So, we like it a lot. It’s also high beam resolution, which is a big help when you do 3D because 3D cuts down the resolution so much in the whole process.
If you start off with a very high resolution, you end up with something people are kind of used to. When you had the earlier 3D films, they were starting off with high and went down to something that sounds like an old VHS, so it has been very helpful for us in creating a good 3D experience.
Bjorn Stein: Most of the films in theaters today are not shot on 3D. They shoot 2D traditional, and later on they create the 3D effect, and you can’t really compare it at all to shooting 3D. The bad part of shooting 3D is that it’s really difficult, and it takes a great deal of time. It’s a bit like going backwards in time because it’s not as smooth, and you cannot move as fast as one is used to, but the effect when you’re done is quite astonishing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In your opinions, how is the Underworld series of films similar and different from the Twilight Saga?
Mans Marlind: They’re very alike in terms of saying, “Yes, there are vampires and werewolves.” But, that’s where the similarities stop. It is a battle between different classes, but they are quite different in tonality and in so many ways. I have to be honest. I’ve just seen the first Twilight film, so I’m not too sure about the other films. But, from what I hear and from what other people say, they are quite different entities, and that’s the way we like it. Ours is more of a death star version, if you will, on the dark side. I mean, Twilight is not happy go lucky, but it’s more acceptable. Ours is grittier and more merciless, I would say.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): One of you directs one day and the other directs the next day. Tell me how your directing styles are different and how they are similar.
Bjorn Stein: It’s interesting because directing is not only to be on the set to tell the actors and cameramen what to do, but it’s also the pre-production. Hitchcock said that the film is created in pre-production and the rest is just execution. I don’t believe this, but there is some truth in it. We spend an extra amount of time in pre-production because we have to sync up. We are extremely meticulous in the way we do our storyboards and our pre-production because we are two. We can’t have an argument or disagreement on set, so to be able to sync up, we spend much more time in pre-production than a director who’s by himself spends in pre-production.
Mans Marlind: When we direct, we are different because we are different persons, but when we direct, we both have the same tastes, and that’s what it all comes down to. When Bjorn directs, he’s doing it in his style. Bjorn is more gentle and nicer and I’m more of a lover (laughs).
I let Bjorn do his thing because I know he wants to go where I want to go. When he’s kind of close in the scene he’s doing, that is when I come with notes or ideas, but only when he’s almost done with the scene, and it goes the same way the next day when I’m directing. Bjorn is letting me do my stuff, and when I’m ready and think the scene is working very well, that’s when he comes with his stuff.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does having two directors seem to confuse the actors?
Bjorn Stein: They are very confused. This rarely works at all. We’re very happy to be able to fool everybody.
Mans Marlind: Bjorn is kidding (laughs). That’s the first thing everybody asks, especially producers. Are the actors confused? No, actually. We worked with Kate, and the last thing we did was with Julianne Moore and in Sweden, we worked with hundreds of actors. We always tell everyone, “This is how it works. We are a team, and we do it every second day. That’s a rule.” Everybody goes, “Okay. Fine.”
When I’m directing, people don’t speak to Bjorn and when Bjorn is directing, they don’t speak to me. The one thing we do different, though, is that if we shoot a scene that takes longer than one day, a big scene that spans three pages, then the director continues with that scene. That happened several times during Underworld because we have big scenes, and it makes so much more sense.
It is jolting for the actor if a new director comes in when you’re talking about a specific scene. When you’re in the scene, it’s so detailed and so personal that if someone else comes in while you’re doing the scene, it’s weird. So, that’s one difference we make.
Bjorn Stein: Kate said that it’s a pleasure for her because the director is a much more happier guy because he doesn’t get tired. One guy gets to rest a little and lean back in the chair while the other guy is leaning forward. She said that it’s a much more happy entity as compared to when you have just one director on day 47 and he’s pretty damn beat because he’s working 24/7. So, that’s something I think is appreciated by the actors when they discover the upside of working with two guys.
Mans Marlind: I think it’s really important because being a director is a very tough job, and not being tired is important. We really believe that an actor should feel loved and welcomed and should feel energy around them. If an actor comes to a set, and they look at you and you have this black cloud over you because you’re stressed and tired … all actors are emotional people and they feel this. So, I think this creates an opportunity to always embrace the actor with good energy and love.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you two been friends for a long time?
Bjorn Stein: We’ve been friends since we were eight and nine, so we’ve known each other so very long. It’s kind of a brother relationship in that sense. We started working professionally together ten years ago. Before that, we were doing small shorts and before that, Mans was doing something and I was looking at it, so it has been a 30-year relationship kind of thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, you didn’t start out directing together?
Mans Marlind: Well, yes and no. The first film we did was when we were 14 and 15. I am one year older than Bjorn.
Bjorn Stein: This is very important to Mans.
Mans Marlind: I always mention it. I don’t know why. But, at 14 and 15, we did our first short film, so we did start directing together. But, the first time we got paid for it was much later.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you share interests outside of work?
Bjorn: No (laughs). As soon as the camera stops, we just look at each other and have nothing really to say, and then we just leave (laughs). No, we share so much that it’s kind of perverse. Over the years, we had our families and we rented the house together and went to New York together. It’s perverse.
Mans Marlind: We do have separate wives though.
Bjorn Stein: Yes. At one time we were talking about going in for one wife for both of us. It would just be more efficient.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of perverse (laughs). Do you think the co-directing team may be a growing trend in films?
Mans Marlind: I actually think it might be because it is so much more complex now. In this film, we have 800 visual effect shots, which is an enormous amount, and it’s so much to think about. It would make sense to be more than one actually. But, we’ve noticed it all comes down to having the same tastes, and that’s not all that easy.
We have a lot of directing friends that say, “Oh, I wish I had somebody I could really trust and work with.” But, they just haven’t found the right one, so to speak. In that sense, we’re very lucky to have been film freaks since we were 10 years old, and we’ve managed to turn a fun relationship into a working relationship.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any arguments after a long day of shooting?
Bjorn Stein: We often have arguments about other people, but not between us. We’re terribly in sync and have some emotions toward other people sometimes. Our arguments between us are usually in pre-production when we create the film. That’s when we say, “Are you nuts?” We have to work it out, and that’s also a very good thing because everything is spelled out more when you’re working by yourself.
You tend to keep it more in your head, and that’s harder for people around you, but if we have to spell it out for each other, it means we can also spell it out for other people. But, yeah, that’s where we have our battles, in pre-production. There is no time to fight. We are also aware of that because if we start fighting, the film would suffer too much, and we are way too cheap for that. We would rather shoot than fight. It sounds like a cliché … but, there you go.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you guys have any upcoming projects?
Mans Marlind: No, not really. We have a couple of things that we’re looking into that are really interesting, but this one happened in a couple of weeks from reading the script to actually standing on location. Usually it takes a long time for a film project to happen. So, there are things we’ve started to work with, but nothing is set in stone yet.
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