Guerilla Filmmaking with IMAX Cameras: A Conversation with Inhumans Director Roel Reiné
Inhumans debuts in IMAX cinema on the 1st of September and explores the never-before-told epic adventure of the Royal Family of Inhumans, as they readjust to life in Hawaii following a military coup. Their surprising interactions with the lush world and humanity around them may prove to not only save them, but Earth itself.
Marvel’s Inhumans stars Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) as Maximus, Serinda Swan as Medusa, Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon, Isabelle Cornish as Crystal and Ken Leung (Star Wars) as Karnak.
The legendary comic book series will be brought to life in a way that has never been done before – the first two episode which have been shot on IMAX® cameras will get an exclusive run in IMAX cinema’s before airing on TV in its entirety soon after. It is the first time a television show will be shot using IMAX cameras. To take advantage of the scale and scope of the IMAX canvas, the set for the first two episodes reflect the bigger scale offered by IMAX.
“Marvel’s Inhumans” explores the never-before-told epic adventure of the royal family including Black Bolt, the enigmatic, commanding King of the Inhumans, with a voice so powerful that the slightest whisper can destroy a city. After the Royal Family of Inhumans is splintered by a military coup, they barely escape to Hawaii where they are greeted with surprising interactions with the lush world and humanity around them. Now they must find a way to reunite with each other and return to their home before their way of life is destroyed forever.
The first two episodes of Marvel’s Inhumans will premiere exclusively in IMAX cinemas around the world for two weeks starting Sept 1st. The IMAX episodes were shot entirely with the new ALEXA IMAX 65mm cameras. The full 8-episode series will then debut on The ABC Television Network in the US, and television networks and platforms globally later in the autumn.
Roel Reiné was born in the Netherlands, and with his first theatrical feature “The Delivery” he won the Golden Calf (the Dutch equivalent to an Academy Award) for Best Director. His 2015 movie “Admiral,” an epic historical Dutch language movie, had a very successful theatrical release worldwide. In 2015 it was the only Dutch movie in the Netherlands’ top ten box office, right in between “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7.” The movie tells the story of a 17th Century Admiral, Michiel de Ruyter, who protects the Dutch population from a civil war between two political factions while defeating English armadas in massive sea-battles. In 2016 Roel directed his first American television series “Black Sails” for Michael Bay and STARZ.
This is genuinely a kind of world first event where you’ve got the big screen and the small screen meeting in a way that really hasn’t happened before. How exciting was that for you?
Was that sort of the first conversation that you had? That this was going to be something that was going to appear in IMAX, people are going to be out of their homes to watch this and then back into their homes to continue the arc of the show.
Yeah that was from day one, that was kind of the assignment. We’re going to shoot this with IMAX cameras for an IMAX audience on IMAX screens and I was very excited about it because I’m really a movie maker, I make movies.
I’ve also done television, but I think especially living in Los Angeles now for over 12 years is that the movie industry is really defaulting and TV is kind of glorifying, there are much more creative stories being told in television and very much more exciting, but then the opposite of that, they look more cinematic and bigger but people start watching them on iPhones and iPads, it’s like you’ll get stories by looking at it or listening to it but you will never get an emotional involvement because it’s such a small screen.
I’m lucky I have a little movie theatre in my house so when I watch TV in my own little theatre it’s good, but nothing compares to this….
Not the size of your screen at home?
No, I wish (laughs). But what is cool is that I think as TV becomes such a cinematic thing is that, for me if I would see ten episodes of The Crown for example I would prefer to see it here on an IMAX screen and sit ten hours in seeing these characters develop, so I hope that this is kind of the start; bringing really good stories back to the cinema where they belong and it’s very exciting to be part of that and be the first.
Have you heard any sort of rumours about other similar ideas?
No, it’s not a rumour but I know that IMAX… I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell, but IMAX does big blockbusters and big movies in the theatres and they’re like four times a year, that’s what they told me, they’re four times a year where these slots of like two weeks here and two weeks there, where there’s no real content for them to show because the blockbusters run out and there’s nothing new there, so in their search to go somewhere with new content and also their love for television they thought “OK let’s invest in TV and bring the TV pilots to the IMAX screens” so I think this is the first of many others that will follow.
I’m not going to insult you by asking or testing you on your knowledge of Stan Lee and the Jack Kirby’s 1964 debut of the Inhumans, it’s more than 50 years old. You probably read all of them I imagine…
Can you explain one thing though? The Terrigen Mists, it’s not a Terrigen Mist, it’s a Terrigen Mists. Can you just tell us how that fits into the story?
Yeah what it is is you have the old crystals right, that the Kree, the Kree’s kind of like the Gods of the Marvel characters and they have these crystals that when they vaporise there’s this Terrigen Mist, and with this mist there’s a ritual when you are a certain age as an Inhuman where you go in a chamber and you go have this process and it’s kind of a Bar Mitzvah for the Inhumans, so they go through this process and then they turn out what their Inhuman power is, what their superpower is, some of them are very lucky so they get a really good superpower, so they cannot speak the rest of their lives because they’ll destroy worlds with their voice, and the other ones will have a claw and they now have to dig in the mines in Attilan city.
So the result is that there is a class system in the Inhumans world and when you have a good superpower you are on the top, if you have a bad superpower you’re on the lower end and that makes this world really not very good.
You’re overseeing, as you just explained, a very diverse set of superpowers, I just wondered how that translated onto the set, what was the most kind of unusual piece of direction you found yourself giving?
(laughs) Ordering Lockjaw around who was not there. Lockjaw is a really big dog, it’s as big as a Mini car and his superpower is that he’s able to teleport people so it’s sort of “beam me up Scotty” that’s what he kind of does, and it was very interesting to direct him because he’s not there.
He’s a full CG character, which has never been done in television before and it’s Double Negative whose the visual effects house doing it for us, but what it was, I wanted the actors to interact with him, also I wanted to understand what he would do and what space to do with this thing so we were talking about maybe having a puppeteer with some tennis balls as key points walking out on set, but the visual effects guys were like “no no it needs to be empty”, so I then asked the art department to build a really big foam dog, we call him “Stuffy”, it was completely cut out of foam the right size so we could touch it, because when you’re teleported you have to touch it and then you teleport with the dog. But then funnyily enough I asked them to do this and build it with wheels on it so I could put it in the sets and basically it was all for rehearsals and to frame the cameras, and then when it showed on set they had painted it blue and I was like “why did you paint it blue because we’re not going to key in this blue screen dog” it was very funny.
Directing this dog and then what happened was we built these sets and we never realised when, because we have a real bull dog as reference, but when you are making him bigger it not only goes big like this, but it also goes bigger like that, so the set’s where not big enough. So there was this one apartment building where he has to walk through the little corridor and then when we pushed “Stuffy” through, it was knocking down stuff so now we had a special effects guy putting these things on pots and pans so when he walks through the pots and pans are falling off, that was kind of fun.
I’m interested in the practicalities of it, because obviously this is going to be debuting on the IMAX screen on September 1st and then it’s being picked up by different TV networks around the world a few weeks after that.
So this first chapter will obviously be aired in two instalments on TV, so from a film making point of view, how do you sort of go about that, get the rhythm of the narrative to condense and split it in two, is there a sort of cliffhanger in the middle? Was that an obvious and easy thing to accomplish or a challenge?
It was kind of a challenge because it was written as a TV series and a TV series has five acts and in feature films you have three acts, so it was a different kind of structure.
I remember that I said “OK I’ll do two episodes” because I directed the pilot and episode two and I shot them as one thing, but in the editing process I cut two episodes and then in my imagination I would do a reshuffle and make like a movie version with like three acts but that completely did not work.
So now what we did we put two episodes together with some different transitions and also the IMAX version has like bigger scope shots, bigger wider shots and the TV version has more close ups, but I’m a big fan of big close ups as you can see here and especially in IMAX when you see a close up this close it’s bloody cool.
And then the other side of your question is that it was shot with IMAX cameras and I’ve never shot with IMAX cameras before so I thought I was going to use the sort of Chris Nolan kind of big refrigerator cameras and I was scared of it but then they told me it’s going to be on digital IMAX cameras and they’re only like nine of those cameras in the world so we borrowed them from the Avengers set, but I said to IMAX I have a very specific style if you see my movies I’m a little bit of guerrilla filmmaking so I also DP [director of photography] my movies and operate the camera, I throw it around all the time.
So I asked IMAX if I can test the camera out to see how I could go and make this, what kind of story telling could I do so I remember them setting up this hall in LA for me to test and there were all the technicians and Greg Foster the CEO was there and there was this Ari 65 it was like a 250,000 dollar camera on this tripod and everyone is like really standing away from the camera, not touching it. So I came in, I took it of the tripod, put it hand held, went to my car hand held, threw it around and I saw everyone kind of nervous gaspings.
And then when we showed back the test shots that I did they where like “oh wow, you can do this as well with IMAX cameras” So it was a nice experience.
I mean this is the Alexa IMAX digital camera and it’s only about 3 or 4 years old isn’t it and it was used by the Russo Brothers on the big airport scene in Captain America: Civil War, Michael Bay used it…
Yes, the only thing is that they are Ari 65s but there are only 9 that are converted with IMAX, so they have like an IMAX conversion inside.
Clint Eastwood used that I believe in Sully as well, but very few filmmakers have had the chance. Did you get the chance to talk to any other filmmakers who have had any kind of first hand experience?
I begged IMAX if I could speak with Chris Nolan, they promised me I would have a conversation with him and it still didn’t happen to this day. Bastards (audience laughs).
Where does Inhumans sit within the wider MCU? Are there any references that we can see coming into Inhumans or vice versa?
Yeah that’s the big question all the time, and if I knew the answer I could not tell you because they could kill me. Marvel is very secretive, even my phone has been hacked, transformed into a Marvel clone, so secrecy is everything and connection between different properties and movies and TV series is a big deal for them, I remember having meetings about it.
So the answer is maybe, so maybe there are connections, I know for sure your question about the Terrigenesis process and the mist I looked at the S.H.I.E.L.D. episode where they did the same thing so we copied the process of how it visually looked so that’s something I did, but also I put in a lot of Easter eggs in my two episodes because I love this kind of stuff, the Kree is the kind of the Gods of the Marvel characters and the Kree have a very specific language and in the scene you just saw in the throne room you saw the iconography of the Kree language on the walls, these kind of hieroglyphs is what I asked the production designer to put in and so for me there’s a lot of connections and tie ins but they’re very secret.
The idea of a Marvel Inhumans movie was mooted a few years back as part of Phase Three, you where saying there was no kind of script or no kind of DNA that you could use or share with that potential project.
No. Remember they announced it right, they had this big timeline of what they would do for the next four, five years and I remember in 2019 they wanted to do an Inhumans movie, but in this timeline also there was only one Guardians of the Galaxy and only two Avengers and so I think things have changed and I know they never developed a screenplay for a feature film for Inhumans it never really started, and I know that when the Marvel Television division was thinking what property can we use for a TV series they pretty quickly came to Inhumans because the Inhumans characters are so diverse, there’s so much story to tell, because their super power is really a burden for them and Maximus whose the brother of Black Bolt his superpower is nothing, he’s human after his Terrigenesis process he became human which is devastating for him, so he’s the lowest of the lowest in the class system.
So the discussion about the class system, inequality, what is now going on in politics you know in America and the rest of the world, it’s all tied in with these characters and in the TV series that we wanted to do, and therefore doing Inhumans for TV gives you the power to spend ten hours or twenty hours or thirty hours with these characters instead of cramming it into a two hour, visual effects extravaganza, that would be really sad.
Another aspect the IMAX screen really highlighted the locations in Hawaii. Tough gig to spend three months in Hawaii filming…
You where out in the jungle of Hawaii, any advice for a filmmaker who was going to go out and shoot in those conditions?
No, because I changed the conditions a little bit, put big rain towers above it and put all this rain down. Shooting in Hawaii was really a blast, but for me shooting with the IMAX cameras in the format is much higher so normally when I do my movies it’s 235 framing, whereas this one is 1.50 and shoot all this headroom so I remember when I was scouting the locations and I wanted to scout a location that had a lot of head room that I could give the scope of IMAX and even when we were building the sets I spoke with the production designer to build ceilings in everything, a really complicated process because normally you light from the ceiling and we could not do that because of all the low angles, the crews call me “Mr Low Angles” because I like to have the camera really low, and so doing the camera really low in these IMAX lenses made an even bigger scope and I remember when I was doing this IMAX camera test and they gave me all the lenses that where, after the test I told them “guys the lenses are not wide enough” and they where like “what? IMAX not wide enough” so they build a special lens here in London, they rehouse a Canon lens to an IMAX lens for me to be even wider, and those are the shots when you see Maximus walking out of the throne room and the camera is really low and also in the trailer we’re going to show you are some of these shots.
Do you still have the cameras?
No they went back to the Avengers set. I heard that Chris Nolan got a camera as a present from IMAX…
Is that right? (laughs)
MARVEL’S INHUMANS DEBUTS EXCLUSIVELY IN IMAX ON SEPTEMBER 1