As the CEO and chairman of Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull has produced some of fans’ favorite films in the last decade. Since his production company partnered with Warner Bros., they have produced The Dark Knight Trilogy, 300, Man of Steel, The Hangover Trilogy, and Pacific Rim amongst others. It would then be fair to say that Tull has had his hand on the pulse of geek culture since at least 2005. And this summer, he is back for another release with WB in this past weekend’s gargantuan hit, Godzilla.
Thus we were ecstatic to get a few minutes to sit down with the producer and executive to discuss the film, as well as Legendary’s future endeavors with Universal Pictures, which includes an upcoming Warcraft movie. This interview does contain some mild Godzilla spoilers…
You started making Godzilla around the same time as Pacific Rim. How did you decide which one to do first?
I think they’re tonally very different for a hundred different reasons. There was no sort of “which one do you do first.” It was we were ready with Guillermo [del Toro] and Pacific Rim when we were ready, and it’s the same thing with Godzilla. We wanted to take our time and make sure we got Godzilla right. And there was no clock on it, so they were both ready when they were ready.
Because some people thought Pacific Rim might have been [another name] for Godzilla.
That’s the greatest thing in the world. We got to do both, but they’re obviously distinct and independent.
Did you face any skepticism or resistance in both Hollywood or at Toho Studios?
Certainly in Hollywood. We not only produced the movie, but financed it. So, the good news is if we’re wrong, at least it’s our problem. But from Hollywood? Certainly. People would say to me, “I’m not sure anybody cares anymore. How do you make this relevant today?” But Toho was great. They from the beginning believed in what we were doing and gave the creative freedom that we needed, and they were really great partners.
Why do you think a monster movie like this might be in fashion now after other recent attempts?
The truth is at Legendary we make movies we want to see. I’m sure one day that won’t work, but I remember our first movie—which is a completely different thing—but our first movie was Batman Begins. And there were a lot of things about Batman back then, and there was this guy named Christopher Nolan, and it seemed to work out okay with him at the helm.
So, I think it is just about the execution. We wanted to make sure from the very first teaser all the way through that fans knew we were also fans. There’s all kind of things that are tough execution. But if you get a great filmmaker like Gareth [hopefully] people will like it.
What about a sequel?
We don’t use the “S-word” until the movie comes out. That’s an ironclad rule, because the “movie gods” will get very offended. (UPDATE: shortly after we conducted this interview, the box-office returns were so encouraging that Warner Bros. announced Godzilla 2).
The scale of this movie is absolutely enormous. How do you decide how much will be done inside of a computer and how much will be done on set?
All those things are decisions that are made very specifically to the situation. What you think you can pull off CGI instead of practical—Gareth is in a way an old-fashioned filmmaker. We shared a passion for Amblin’s movies back in the ‘80s. So, there were things that he wanted to do practical that I think worked great. Hopefully, you couldn’t tell the difference other than Godzilla, probably, that we didn’t do practical. But it’s really looking at each set piece, and each item, and deciding what you can get away with and not have people bump on.
Can you talk about the process of luring Bryan Cranston aboard?
You know, I think this is the first time in over a decade that every first choice actor said yes. And if you think about it that—first of all the call is “it’s a Godzilla movie,” and the second thing is it’s a director doing his second movie. I think Bryan in particular was pretty skeptical going in. Once he understood the tone of what we were trying to pull off, and then more importantly sat down with Gareth, he said yes, as they all ended up saying yes. And you can’t really threaten Heisenberg [Laughs], but he was phenomenal if you saw it.
There are a lot of filmmakers who make a first film and then they make a second film with a lot more money that then goes off the rails. [Could you talk about that]?
We wanted a fresh perspective. We were blown away by Monsters. He literally made it for $400,000 on his laptop, and there was just something in it that grabbed me. Then when we sat down and got to know each other, whatever that fairy dust thing is, he has it. And he’s a fan of Godzilla, and then came up with some things that I thought were incredibly inventive. The Halo Jump scene, for example, was all Gareth.
We watched the 1954 movie together just to geek out about it. Then in the process, we said “Okay, why don’t you do some Previz for us?” And I still have this stuff locked away, but the trestle bridge scene in Hawaii, he did Previz. It’s what you saw. I walked out and I looked at him, and was like “alright, let’s do it.” He was the only director we talked to and offered it to.
There’s a combination of intimacy and scale to this.
I don’t think he’d mind me saying this. When we were sitting around after we watched the ’54 movie—and we sort of hinted at this in the movie, but we didn’t do it the way he described it, but it just hooked me—he was describing to me what he saw in his head, and the soldiers were trying to figure out where Godzilla is, and he roars. One of the guys is counting, and he goes “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three one-thousand,” and he roars again. Somebody says, “What are you doing?” And he says, “Like the thunder where you can find out how close he is. Now he’s only a mile away.” And I thought that’s awesome. I just thought that was really cool. Sometimes, it’s the little things that give you the confidence.
What was the tipping point in getting the Godzilla design just right?
Literally looking at hundreds of different iterations. It made me think that not all that long ago before computer renderings, you would have had someone draw this, which would have been incredible. I mean we did plenty of art, but you could sort of model things and look at them. But it was the proportions that were really, really difficult. Even thinking about the tail, like what’s too long, what’s too short…how big his heart would have to be? How fast he would have to go? We obsessed over things that—I’m sure my wife would be very proud of me—but we just looked at that stuff again and again.
What are you on production of right now?
We’re finishing up Warcraft, which we’re really excited about. Duncan Jones is shooting for us, and it looks really amazing. I just came back from Toronto and I got to see a pretty good chunk of Guillermo del Toro’s next movie for us, Crimson Peak, which is pretty great. And then we have one coming out in August called As Above, So Below that I can’t wait for people to see. It’s our first micro-budgeted film or whatever you want to call it, and I just can’t wait for you to see it.
You mentioned watching the original film with Gareth. Were there any specific things or themes that you felt had to be brought back into this movie?
I think a couple of things: the sense of awe and terror in some ways. That it’s like this force of nature. The second thing is recognizing that in ’54 what Godzilla symbolized for Japan and taking that history seriously, and understanding the DNA. Even though Godzilla has gone through many iterations since then, the original notion of this was the personification of what happened there. So, that was one of the things we talked about a lot, except we wanted to root for Godzilla. So, that’s the only thing that we tweaked slightly.
Is that something Gareth had in mind all along? Or did that develop later?
No, when we first sat down, there were five or six rules that I said to him. We can do anything, but here are the things we feel really strong about. And he agreed to them, and that was one of them. That he wasn’t the bad guy; that he wasn’t just going to fight the army.
Why was that an important distinction? For him to be the hero.
Because Godzilla’s awesome! [Laughs] We just didn’t want it to be—and hopefully if you saw the movie—it’s not on the nose, like there’s not people holding up lighters as he passes by. It’s just sort of—he’s awesome. We didn’t want to hit it over the head, but when he rips that thing’s jaw open, we wanted people to cheer. That’s what we were going for.
I know you don’t like using the “S-word,” but now that Legendary’s affiliated with Universal is there a chance we could someday see a Godzilla vs. King Kong movie?
Wow—look, our saying around are shop is that you can never have too many giant robots or monsters. [Laughs]