Legendary’s Jon Jashni interview: Pacific Rim, Godzilla, more

In the wake of Pacific Rim and Man Of Steel, we talk to Legendary's president Jon Jashni about filmmakers, movies and marketing...

If you want an illustration of how suddenly situations can change in Hollywood, here’s a recent one: the day after we spoke to Legendary Entertainment’s president Jon Jashni, news broke that the studio had parted company with Warner Bros, its partner for the past five years, and had signed a new deal for Universal.

The timing of the interview meant that, unfortunately, we weren’t able to find out how Legendary’s new partnership will affect its upcoming slate – questions which will, sadly, have to wait for another time. But we were able to talk to Jashni about his studio’s approach to mixing sequels and major properties with original ideas like Pacific Rim, Legendary’s forthcoming films – including Godzilla and its relationship with its filmmakers, both new and established.

You’ve had quite a summer already with the success of The Hangover Part III and Man Of Steel, and then you have Pacific Rim out this week. Does the mixture of familiar names and sequels give you the confidence to back something original like Pacific Rim?

Yes, it does, certainly. But our backing and our interest in filmmakers who want to make things like Pacific Rim is born more out of innate passion than it is trying to reverse-engineer a formula. But we want to be patrons of world-class visionaries, and distinctive, world-class visionaries are few and far between. We love it when we can have repeat business with them, and we also love it when we can blend their unique talents with arresting, fresh glossy ideas – even if they’re not necessarily a brand or featuring a huge movie star. Pacific Rim is certainly an example of that.

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Can you talk a little bit about your parting from Warner, because obviously that’s been in the news a lot lately. Can you elaborate on that, and maybe talk about what your plans are for the future?

Well, we haven’t parted with Warner. We’re still talking with them, as we are talking with others. You know, the company has evolved – as you’d hope, with the ambitions we have – over the past ten years, so it’s always good, at a natural break point, to evaluate the relationship, and optimise certain aspects of that relationship. We’re still talking, but there’s nothing definitive yet. 

So Legendary’s approach to some of its films – original ideas with talented directors – that isn’t necessarily going to change?

It isn’t to say that all of our projects are based on an original idea as Pacific Rim was. We’re developing a Warcraft movie based on Blizzard’s franchise. We’re developing a Mass Effect movie, based on the EA-BioWare franchise. We optioned, with producer Joe Roth, Marcus Sakey’s book Brilliance, which David Koepp is adapting for us right now, which we’ve high hopes for. We’re working on a Hot Wheels film with Mattel. We’re looking for directors on that right now.

The Michael Mann, Chris Hemsworth film [Cyber] we have in production is based on an original idea. There’s a movie set in the catacombs of Paris [called As Above So Below] that the Dowdles brothers are producing and directing with us – that’s an original idea.

It really runs the gamut. We’re source agnostic. And again, as long as the ideas and the projects are enticing to those world-class creators that we want to be in business with, that’s the single best decision we can make in terms of our business: who’s our creator, and, in the case of film, who’s the director?

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And of course, you do court new and interesting directors – like Gareth Edwards, who you have working on Godzilla.

We do. It’s no less small than Pacific Rim, but it’s certainly going to be possessed with as much nutrition, heart, emotion and theme as his Monsters movie was. Just to have enticed these actors that he was able to – Bryan Cranston and Aaron Johnson and Ken Watanabe and Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen – they all responded to the script and Gareth’s vision for it. Which isn’t to say that isn’t going to be inherent in a giant, escapist, transportive event movie experience.

Am I right in thinking the perspective of Godzilla‘s going to be quite different from Pacific Rim, as well? More street-level, perhaps?

I will say this. We clearly wouldn’t be making both movies if one were in any way duplicative of the other. So you can rest assured that they each stand fully on their own. I would say, perhaps, that the palette Gareth is using is distinctive and different from Guillermo’s palette, which is one clear difference.

There’s a certain tonal approach that may be different. Every filmmaker has their signature, and sometimes that signature is adapted to each creative opportunity that they’re working on at that present time. It isn’t to say that the signature is the same in everything they do, except for the level of quality of execution. But, you know, we love both movies, and that’s why we’re making both movies. 

You talked about matching franchises and sequels with original properties. How difficult is it to strike that balance when there are investors involved?

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The biggest gamble is betting on something that’s derivative and quote-unquote a sure thing. No risk, no reward, so we are determined to be bold and prudent, and again, you can mitigate the risk by being with the best and the brightest, but there’s a risk inherent in any creative undertaking, especially in something that is more original.

Although you said you don’t try to reverse-engineer success, do you, as a studio, talk about what might become popular in the future? Right now, comic book adaptations are big, but they may not necessarily always be. Do you have discussions about what might come next?

It’s pretty basic. We make movies that we want to see, so in certain ways, we are our own consumer. Rather than figure out what the recipe is, we simply start talking story with our creatives, and try to build something organically from the inside out. Obviously, when you’re doing that based on an existing franchise, the DNA is there to be gene-spliced, if you will.

We work very closely with our creative partners, especially when we’ve optioned their pre-existing property. Mattel. Toho. Blizzard. EA-BioWare. These are all companies that allow us to create expressions of their universes, but we obviously keep them informed and draw on them when warranted, as do our filmmaking partners – when they want to use them as a sounding board in some way.

You have a circle of globally-known filmmakers now: you’ve got Christopher Nolan, you’ve got Zack Snyder. But how do you go about expanding that circle, and choosing new talent?

Again, it’s about organic evolution. So as the projects coalesce and you need filmmakers to translate them to film, it evolves in the way that Warcraft does. We’ve taken our time. Duncan Jones, it’s his next movie. We saw Monsters with Gareth, and we wanted to work with him. We wanted to offer him the opportunity to be involved with Godzilla, the franchise that he’d long loved – it was an inspiration to him and his career, and you can see some of the roots of it in Monsters in a small way.

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We’re determined to somehow work with Rian Johnson, as soon as is humanly possible. We’ve just hired a filmmaker named Nick Matthew onto a project called Spectral that we’re in pre-production on. We believe he has a huge future in front of him. So it’s a mix of the patronage of the newer, and gratitude for being able to be in business with those who are proven and successful. 

Can you ever be truly filmmaker-friendly, though, when you’re staking, say, $200 or $300 million on a movie?

I’ll tell you this: it all boils down to trust. And if your interests are aligned, and there are no hidden agendas… these visionary filmmakers are not innocents. They run their own businesses. They understand that ‘no’ sometimes means something different than we had all originally hoped would be the way we would go about making something, but in almost every case, it turns out that the alternative seems to be the most inspired solution, and something that you wouldn’t have started seeking had you not hit a road block in production or development.

It isn’t always the case that we always say yes to our filmmaking partners, but it is the case that we have an ongoing, completely candid dialogue with them. They know where we’re coming from and we know where they’re coming from, and because our interests are aligned, and we share the same vision, our job is to support the enabling and rendering of that vision. It is very, very rare, if ever, that we come to some sort of deadlock or logjam with our creators.

When it comes to marketing movies, the summer season’s become very associated with sequels and big properties. How do you approach marketing a movie like Pacific Rim at this time of year?

Well, you do need to stand out, of course. And if you have a fresh, original idea that is the basis of the movie you’re helping to make, you need the marketing to reflect that. We’re very fortunate that our partners at Warner are such incredible marketers. It’s a case of showing aspects of something people might think they understand and know, but are then made to realise that there are more layers and shades to it than they’d thought possible. Hopefully, that’s intriguing enough that they’ll go and buy a ticket to find out how much more surprised they can be in the theatre itself.

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