Filmmaking in 2013: "Riddick," the third Vin Diesel film to feature that title anti-hero, is an indie feature. That means even Vin Diesel -- who, thanks to the "Fast and Furious" movies, stars in one of the most popular film franchises in existence -- had to independently finance the third "Riddick" movie. How did he get here?
Let's start with "The Chronicles of Riddick," the sequel to "Pitch Black," which was released on June 11, 2004. The film, which cost around $110 million, grossed just $57 million at the North American box office, making it one of that summer's costly misfires. After that result it was understandable that a studio -- in this case, Universal -- was leery about putting more money into the franchise, even at this new film's reported bargain budgetary cost of $38 million.
Maybe, though, that was for the best. In this new installment, we find Riddick (Diesel) left for dead on a desolate planet. After a lengthy recuperation segment, the focus of the film shifts to a group of bounty hunters who are on the planet searching for Riddick. So, Riddick, the character, shifts from our hero to, as "Riddick" director David Twohy calls him, "the bogey man." It's something Twohy, who also directed the previous two installments, says would never have happened had this been a straightforward studio movie.
Did you ever think this third movie would ever happen after "The Chronicles of Riddick" underperformed?
Yeah, I had my doubts after the second one. And we suffered some slings and arrows. According to the studio, we spent way too much money and didn't make enough back. So, that's never a good formula. So, I had my doubts. If you speak with Vin, I'm thinking he would say, "Never a doubt that we were going to do a third movie" -- because that's just the kind of guy he is. He is a big dreamer. I'm more the pragmatist of the duo.
Vin Diesel has had quite the resurgence over the last couple of years.
Look, I've learned never to count Vin Diesel out. Just don't do that. And I guess it's because he is a very smart guy. Smarter than people give him credit for.
I enjoyed that in "Riddick" the stakes are big to the characters, but not compared to all of the big summer movies we just saw. These people basically just need to leave a planet and that's it.
And look, I've been in those meetings, too. Where it's, "We have to up the stakes. We have to give it a ticking clock" ... So, I hope that "Riddick," if nothing else, feels a little more handmade than factory-made. That's what I set out to do and Vin was certainly along for that ride, too.
The first half hour, we're pretty much alone with Riddick. Then the film focuses on the bounty hunters and Riddick becomes almost the bad guy, even though we spent the first part of the movie with him.
That's right. Now, that's something the studio would have fret out about. "Wait a second. You are totally sympathetic with Riddick while he's trying to survive, but then you're using him as the bogey man."
Why did you want to do that?
Because he is both those things. He is a man. He is a survivor -- a survivor with skills. And enough personal code that he can be sympathetic to us, but, at the same time, never let the audience forget that he's a stone cold killer. But, you know I think it works. Because I have to introduce those new characters ... I have like 10 new characters to establish. And I can bolster Riddick's roar -- his legend -- by having them talk about him as they glimpse him.
Do you think the success of the "Fast and Furious" movies helped to get "Riddick" made?
Yes. But, here's the cyclical nature of the business. Because "Pitch Black" did well, that allowed him to be part of the "Fast and Furious" franchise. And guess what? What goes around, comes around. So, on the basis of that, he was dropped into a major part in "The Fast and the Furious." And based on the success of that, yes, that does impact on our ability to launch this third one. Even though Universal didn't want to make it at a certain point. In fact, they didn't make it. Do you know that story?
I do not.
It goes like this. After "Chronicles," they said, "We are out of the Riddick business. It's just a straight business calculation of us. You spent too much money and you didn't make enough back. So, no, we're not going to do anymore." Vin, being the savvy guy he is, said, "Well, give me the rights back." And they didn't want to do that ... I think this was about the time that "Fast 3" had already shot and they were testing it. Maybe it wasn't testing as well as it should have and they decide, "Maybe we need a cameo from Vin" -- because he wasn't in that movie. So, I do believe that in his savviness, Vin said, "Don't pay me for that cameo. Just give me the rights back." So, his company basically controls the rights and because I control all of the sequels and remakes. So, we can't make a movie without each other, nor would we want to. So, that's how he got the rights back and I think that was a great business move.
So, ultimately, we did it as an independent movie. I wrote a spec script. We sold it in Berlin for international. We came back into town looking for a domestic partner. I thought it was going to be Sony or Film District -- they were both eager to have the movie. And then, guess what? Universal raises their hand, "Well, what about us?" And I said, "This doesn't feel right to me" But Vin, he was saying, "That was then, this is now" ... So with the "Fast and Furious" franchise and his relationship with Universal over that and the strength of those, we placed it again at Universal. So, the company that kicked us to the curb [laughs] picked up the movie and will be distributing it in the U.S. and Canada.
So Universal didn't put any money into the film?
They put money into it for their domestic distribution rights.
So Riddick is an indie film?
Here's an example of how it's an indie film. I wrote a spec script, we sold that. We went up to Montreal and I think I did one polish on my original script -- and then we shot that. Then, when it comes to editing, I got to the point when I wanted to show it to 50 people in a room, just to see what they understood: What was clear to them and what was not clear to them. Because of things aren't clear to them, the audience can't enjoy it and I still have time to go to the editing room and clean it up. I didn't have it scored and didn't fill out forms, I just stood in front of them and asked them questions ... I had the studio heads in once, but we were basically locked at that point. So, very pure filmmaking. Very pure.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.