Cape Town, South Africa native David S.F. Wilson makes his feature directorial debut with Bloodshot, the new Vin Diesel action/sci-fi thriller based on the superhero character created by Valiant Comics. After launching a visual effects company in his native country with Sharlto Copley (who has gone on to success as an actor in movies like District 9 and Maleficent), Wilson was recruited by future Deadpool and Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller to come work at his Blur Studio effects and animation house in Venice, California.
After rising to Creative Director there, Wilson has now made the leap to the world of features with Bloodshot. Diesel stars as Ray Garrison, a soldier whose shattered body is resurrected and enhanced by “nanites,” microscopic intelligent machines invented by the head of the secretive Rising Spirit Technologies, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). One of a number of humans shaped by Harting’s creation, Garrison wants revenge for the murder of his wife Gina by a psychopathic terrorist—but soon discovers that his memories of that traumatic event, and his entire life beforehand, may not be what they seem.
Wilson counts himself as a massive fan of the Bloodshot comics, which launched in the mid-90s and have been rebooted a couple of times since. Bloodshot is part of a larger Valiant universe, which includes characters such as the Harbingers, Faith Herbert and the Eternal Warrior, along with major crossover events like the Harbinger Wars. But with the rights split between two studios (Sony, which is behind Bloodshot, and Paramount, which owns the Harbingers), the prospects for Bloodshot leading the way for a Valiant Cinematic Universe remain unclear at the moment.
Whatever happens with Bloodshot as a franchise, this movie nevertheless represents the first big screen appearance of a Valiant character after years of DC and Marvel dominating the market. Wilson spoke with Den of Geek about directing his first feature, why he wanted it to be Bloodshot, working with Vin Diesel and what kind of groundwork for the future the movie lays down.
Den of Geek: This is your first feature, but you’ve had extensive experience with commercials, visual effects and animation. How did all of your previous work lead up to this?
David Wilson: Well, obviously we’ve been doing a lot of short form storytelling at Blur where I was for 15 years prior to this. We’d get hired to do a lot basically long form commercials, like five, 10 minutes, whatever they are and so that was a nice springboard just from a directing standpoint. You’re sort of exercising more of your chops and then as performance capture sort of became a big part of that it was very much very similar to the filmmaking experience.
But the biggest part about that I felt prepares you for a feature is that Blur is a 150 man company and focusing all of that on a single creative goal every day is a difficult thing to do and very much what filmmaking is. I feel like there is no real preparation for the machine at that scale, other than if you do a small film with a few people and then scale up to a 60-minute movie. It can be tricky, but running that place and getting the best out of those artists every day I think was the best prep. And obviously Tim, I watched him go through Deadpool and you sort of always siphon off some nuggets of wisdom on how to do it. So it was a sort of great creative environment to sort of get your feet set under you.
So what made Bloodshot the project for you?
The big reason is that I love the comics, but I love them because they have this big sort of technological grounding to it. I’m a big science fiction nerd, I grew up reading far more science fiction novels than I did comic books. Not that I didn’t read comics, but just a lot more books. And I was in the middle of developing something else when the script arrived and there was this core concept at the heart of it that I loved, but it just wasn’t as fleshed out as I wanted it to be.
So I pitched a sort of significant rewrite of the script, feeling like no one would want to retool the whole thing. But they loved the idea. (Production company) Original Film and Valiant both loved the idea and (co-screenwriter) Eric Heisserer was very into it too. The fact that they were willing to kind of make my version of it got me on board in a heartbeat. I really loved the comics but there’s a wealth of stories that you could pick and you never know if the one that you want to tell is the one that Valiant or Original wants to tell. But we were completely aligned on that and the main idea was this concept of the illusion of choice in a technologically advanced society.
Whether you Google something or Waze tells you where to go, there’s this concept of these boxes of logic deciding upstream what we get to choose from and I love that. I think it’s something we’re all faced with and it’s like there was a way to combine that into an entertaining action film that still has that substance. So once everyone was on board with that, I was like, “Great, let’s do it.”
It seems like two of the themes are technology enhancing human beings, and this idea of free will—when do you stop making your own choices. Those are things that you wanted to develop?
Oh, very much so. I’m a huge dork. Transhumanism, which is basically the boundary between who we are biologically and technology, is just evaporating. What happens to us? What happens to us when the technological advances exceed our biological ones? When you can buy a stronger arm or a chip in your head that makes you more intelligent, what happens when those things require insane amounts of effort and dedication to become faster or stronger? Or the biological birthright of being intelligent, what happens when you just pay for that? What does that do to us as a species in terms of a class system?
That was just very loosely explored, but the concept of free will and being able to choose who we are is very much front and center in the film. I feel like as we allow technology into our lives more and more, we are increasingly susceptible to that and I think it’s important to maintain a sense of agency in our lives and not just, for whatever reason, believe what screens tell us. I think we’re seeing that even in the political climate, so how do we maintain sort of a factual awareness in the face of all that happening? I don’t want to make a TED Talk, but I felt like this was a nice way to personify that dilemma.
Bloodshot has a number of identities in the comics.
So was there a particular run that you kind of drew from?
No, definitely. You sort of take the liberties you need to in order to distill it down into a two hour journey. But there’s a Jeff Lemire run of the books that I adore. It was like 2012 I believe, and it dealt with a lot of him struggling to figure out who he is and what he was and what he’s been doing. So the memory manipulation of it was far more front and center in that version, which is why I gravitated to it. That’s the story I wanted to tell.
There are many incantations of him in different stories. I can never put it all in one film so I spent a lot of time talking to Dinesh (Shamdasani, former CEO of Valiant Comics)… we made a lot of those decisions together about which story, which version. For instance, Chainsaw (a combat unit created by Rising Spirit) exists in the comics, but we sort of created our own version of those characters that would feel like they fit into the world of the film. They’re far more over the top and elaborate and out there in the comics than the version that we put in the movie. But Rising Spirit and all of that, it’s very much all in that 2012 reboot of the universe.
Is Guy’s character, Emil Harting, in the comics?
That is not his name in the comics, but there are a couple of characters that we have sort of bastardized traits from to build him. We had versions where he was interfacing with some of the other characters in the comics, but because we couldn’t spend time with them and they seeded a larger universe, I felt like that would leave the audience unsatisfied, waiting for those other characters to arrive or those threats to manifest. We sort of had to distill it down into one person and that’s what Harting was.
At one point Sony owned all the Valiant rights, but now Paramount has some of them. Is that why you wanted to not necessarily plant some of those seeds or Easter eggs because the characters are owned by different studios?
I actually don’t know who owns them. My goal was always like, “Look, nothing’s going to happen unless this one works.” The only people who control this are the fans and the audience. If they like it, they’ll do more, so fingers crossed. But as far as some of these seeds, there are very subtle seeds that we sowed in the first film that will pay dividends later. I think more appropriately you just don’t want to paint yourself into any corners. So as much as introducing a threat or a villain or another character can often seem like a good thing to do, it can also mean that now you’re stuck with that.
That being said, when I first pitched this, there were many characters that I love and adore and avenues I would like to explore. As to how they manifest into a universe that is sort of segregated or split across studios, I have no idea. I feel like it’s all above my pay grade.
Vin, because he’s built as many franchises as he has, is a big proponent of making sure that there are enough breadcrumbs so that we can explore other avenues and build other characters and find other relationships in there. And it’s usually most about making sure there’s no dead end.
Can you tell me one seed that you planted?
They are very, very subtle. There is a scene where he goes back to Gina’s house and there’s literally one line of dialogue that comes up there. It seems anecdotal, but the ramifications of what it could mean are … There was a whole different relationship that could manifest out of that. That’s all I can say. Just one, it comes from her and it only means that there is the possibility of a relationship that we didn’t even see coming.
And what was the line?
She says to her daughter, “Go and play with your brother.”
I’ll have to look into that. There was talk at one point about this all leading to the Harbinger Wars onscreen.
Yeah. I mean in the comics, that’s what happens. They make Bloodshot as a countermeasure to the Harbinger threat but you have to be mindful of the fact that there’s an unsatisfying aspect if you never deliver on the threat. So it was sort of making sure we were contained enough in one film that it would be satisfying.
What was it like having Vin as a creative partner on your first film?
Amazing. Look, I would say he’s like a brand unto himself. Which is both amazing and daunting all at the same time. He’s very much focused on things beyond the film because he wants to make sure that there are avenues to explore later. So in the morning he’s wearing his producer hat and making sure we’re not boxing ourselves in, and then there’s the actor on set. You need to make sure that it’s like, “Okay, Vin, we’re here. This is the scene, this is what we’re doing.” Because he’s always wanting to sort of expand.
But his awareness of the visibility and marketing of a film is incredible. He’s always thinking, “How do we get this out there?” And the only thing he really cares about is the audience. There isn’t a conversation we have about what I want or you want, it’s like, “What do they want?” Which is great. It’s very respectful of the people who keep us all in business.
I remember having a conversation about the studio at some point. He was like, “I don’t care.” He was just like, “You know who I care about, Dave? That guy in the theater. That’s who.” So there was always a sort of grounding to that. He’s very good about reminding you who we’re making these movies for.
Guy Pearce said something very nice about you. He said, “Some directors are really great with the technical stuff, some are great with the emotional character stuff. David Wilson really had a good handle on both.”
Oh, that’s very nice of him to say.
Was getting in sync with the actors that way the biggest new thing for you to learn?
Sure. Look, the visual effects, it’s funny, even though everyone says, “you’ve come from visual effects,” we work with actors all the time. In fact it’s more difficult. We’re in a white room and they’re in a black leotard and there’s nothing around them and they’re feeling very vulnerable. It’s like theater in the round and you have to sort of fill the world in for them. So when they’re there in wardrobe with other actors on a set and they’re very comfortable, it actually makes my job a lot easier.
What also makes it easier is working with someone like Guy Pearce. He’s just wonderful and generous and collaborative. I think you want to paint the world in for them and then let them do what they do and sort of not restrain them so much that it just feels like they’re stifled and just following exactly what I’m saying. But yes, it’s definitely the most challenging aspect of it, because everyone has what they want to bring to the story and it’s a matter of making sure it’s all one cohesive thread in the narrative.
Guy is a wonderful example. He brings out the best in everyone who is there. He’s very focused and very organized. Even with Vin, there’s such a great mutual respect between the two of them, that’s it’s wonderful that I see them move the scene forward and I can just sort of sit back and pick and choose what I like and they bring a wealth of experience to the process.
Bloodshot is out in theaters this Friday (March 13).