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Fall Sneaks

At it tooth and claw

How three scrappy filmmakers put together the vampires-versus-werewolves movie 'Underworld.'

September 07, 2003|Patrick Day | Times Staff Writer

As high-concept scenarios go, a few are so obvious that wise moviemakers avoid them at all costs. The rogue cop out for revenge is one. Teenagers trapped in a remote location with a crazed killer is another.

Vampires versus werewolves might seem yet another. But what started as a werewolf movie worthy of a late-night double feature evolved until the principal creative trio behind "Underworld" went from practically zero interest to unabashed enthusiasm. When Dimension Films first suggested the idea of a modern werewolf story, first-time feature director Len Wiseman, who conceived the movie with his friends, actor and stuntman Kevin Grevioux and actor-stuntman-screenwriter Danny McBride, needed some heavy convincing.

Even throwing vampires into the mix didn't do much for them, at least not at first. It didn't help that the last time the concept had been used was in the obscure 1972 film "The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women."

Whether the public will embrace their concept, the three won't find out until the $22-million film, starring Kate Beckinsale, is released Sept. 19. Early signs are positive: Sony announced that "Underworld" has surpassed "Spider-Man" as the studio's most downloaded trailer online.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 09, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
"Underworld" drawing -- The large color drawing of the set that accompanied an article on "Underworld" in Sunday's Calendar was incorrectly credited to the film's director, Len Wiseman. The drawing was done by the film's concept illustrator, Dean Tschetter.

In separate interviews, Wiseman and company revealed how they took an idea none of them liked and came up with what could become a surprise fall hit.

Len Wiseman: I had a meeting at a studio [Dimension]. They had seen my reel. They gave my agent a call and said, "We really liked the reel and look and everything and we would be interested in doing a werewolf film. We really want to know what he would do if he had the opportunity to come up with a film of his own." That's how it started.

Kevin Grevioux: Len [called and] said, "We want to do a werewolf movie, what do you think?" I said, "Not much." Most werewolf movies stink.

Wiseman: I wasn't too thrilled about a werewolf film in general. It had a bit of a B [movie] sounding quality to it. We didn't want it to be a local sheriff in some forest hunting down mysterious killings and that kind of thing.

Grevioux: We talked on the phone a couple of times to figure out what would be a good direction to go. Finally I hit upon this one idea. I said, "Why don't we combine a 'Blade Runner' thing with 'The Howling'? A guy who goes after werewolves in a city."

Wiseman: It was almost based off a joke. You know, the only opponent for a werewolf would be something like a vampire. It seemed like a ridiculous idea at the beginning.

Grevioux: I said, "What if we do a love story? Romeo and Juliet, but instead of just werewolves, we have werewolves on one side and vampires on the other. Make it like Montagues versus Capulets, and we deal with them on that level." He looked at me like I was crazy.

Wiseman: Again, you think it's going to be so cheesy, but then if you think about it, if they let us do it the way that we want to it would be kind of cool.

Grevioux: I've been reading comic books since I was 12 years old. I could see how a lot of these things that normally would be silly, if you take them seriously, you could have a really good time with it. If we take it seriously, our audience will take it seriously too.

Wiseman: I do everything through my drawings, because I can draw. It's a way of convincing myself. If I look at the drawing and think it's cool, then I can convince myself that it's going to be cool. If I don't like the drawing, I'll second-guess my idea and the concept itself.

Grevioux: I wrote a whole script, but it was a rough script. We needed another writer to come in, to flesh out some ideas.

Danny McBride: Len called me and said, "Hey, could you come and help us?" I said, "I don't want to write this movie." He said, "Let me bring some pictures by the house."

Wiseman: I found later, there were a lot of people responding to the artwork I had put together, which I will always do from now on. I've found it's incredibly helpful, especially with a movie like this.

McBride: When I came aboard, the three of us started from scratch. Instead of werewolves, it would be lichens, because we hated the term "werewolf." It has a cheesy connotation, because so many terrible movies have been made.

Grevioux: Danny said it best: "Underworld" is the culmination of a couple of schmoes getting together in a living room and banging out ideas until a story works and coming out with a script. I remember Danny trying to force me to tell him exactly what ideas I had about where this could go. His deal was, "Let's just get this deal." Because we were all broke.

[By this time Dimension was no longer involved, having assigned its own werewolf movie, "Cursed," to Wes Craven, but the three guys thought they were on to something, so they pitched their idea independently.]

McBride: We had this meeting at Lakeshore [Entertainment]. When Len and I walked into Lakeshore, there were pictures of Julia Roberts on the wall. We had no idea why we were there. They had no experience with this type of movie.

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