Interview with David Hayter

Interview with David Hayter

October 27, 2014 0 By Jeff Fountain

As if voicing a character from a popular video game series (Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid) and writing the screenplays for some big movies (X-Men, X-Men 2, The Watchmen) wasn’t enough, David Hayter decided to try at hand at directing with his first feature film, Wolves.

I sat down with David before the premier of Wolves at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival to discuss his new movie and his career path that has led him to this point.

First I‘d like to say congratulations on your feature directorial debut with Wolves. Was it everything you thought it would be?

And more! [Laughs] Yeah, it was incredible. I was a little concerned as the budget was around fifteen million and I was worried it would be too little and yet when we got on set we had a top notch crew, the cast was great and I really got so lucky across the board because usually a first time director has the most horrific experience but it just wasn’t like that. It was very low stress and very exciting so I was and still am, very happy.

What would you say was your biggest challenge was directing Wolves?

Well, I guess the biggest challenge was the creature effects. That is such a complex process to execute and very, very hard on the actors as well. I mean there is the time factor; they all have to put contacts in so I really have to give a big shout out to Lucas Till, Jason Momoa and really all the actors in the savage pack who had to go through the eyes and the claws, etc. It was also very helpful to have Dave and Lou Elsey, (Academy Award winning creature masters) to help nail down the specific look and ideas I had in mind for the werewolves.

For example, we had a scene where Lucas Till had to transform sort of half way and then had to grab this guy by the shirt who of course was trying to get away and the wolf claws kept coming off. It became a big joke with the crew because each claw cost about sixty dollars so every time they came flying off the scrambled for them to claim the claw ‘bounty’ so to speak so yeah, stuff like that was probably the biggest challenge.

[ RELATED: Wolves Review ]

You traveled quite a bit early in your life. Did that have an effect on where your career has taken you to this point?

Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, for those who don’t know, I went to ten different schools before I graduated high school, lived in many states including overseas in Japan and Hong Kong so that made me highly adaptable; it gave me a broader sense of the world and the differences between are cultures and that helped me tell more complex stories as opposed to those who have spent their lives in just one place. (Which there is nothing wrong with, by the way) My time in Japan led to a lot of Japanese work, like in anime and my first movie Guyver and then of course Snake in Metal Gear Solid.

When you doing the voice work as Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, did you have any sense of how big this game was going to become?

[Laughs] Well, I certainly never imagined it would go on for twelve years and nine more games and this sort of worldwide acclaim that it eventually took on. However, at the time we were recording and they had some original Metal Gear Solid up on the wall and I could see that it was pretty amazing stuff. Soon after that, they played a cut scene for me to show me the game, it was the shooting down of a helicopter, and for its day it was the most spectacular thing I had ever seen.

At this point I knew they were doing something amazing and that it was a huge investment for Konami but there is still no way to anticipate if something like that will be successful or not and certainly not the kind of success that it went on to have.

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When did you first become interested in writing?

I was always interested in writing and I started when I was twelve years old while living in Mississauga. I would write stories instead of my homework in hopes of getting an extra credit, or some sort of credit, which sometimes worked and other times did not.

When I moved to California at the age of twenty, I studied all the screenwriting books but I never really intended to do it for a living. I produced my first film, a little art house film called Burn and did some work on the script as a producer but then on X-Men I just started discussing some the scenes with director Bryan Singer as I had been such a fan of the comics and he said ‘yeah, go write a few of these scenes for me’. Of course, I thought he was kidding as this was an eighty million dollar film but he wasn’t and then he started having me re-write the movie. I made a deal with Fox and spent thirteen months on the movie and just sort of fell into it. Then the movie did well and all of sudden I was a screenwriter.

Writing the screenplays for such huge movies like X-Men and The Watchmen must not have been easy. Was it at all intimidating to have a rabid fan base and a tough critic like Alan Moore waiting to see what you had come up with?

[Laughs] Those were two very different experiences. For the X-Men, I was adapting from thirty five years of comic books and creating an original story whereas Watchmen I wanted to keep as close to the book as I could because it was so brilliant.

You know, I’m not terribly intimidated by anything and when people ask me was I afraid of the fans reaction the answer is no because I write them for myself as I’m a fan and so I figure if I write it in a way that makes me happy there will be a lot of fans, like myself, that appreciate it.

As far as Alan Moore goes, you know Alan has made it very clear he is not a fan of Hollywood and not thrilled about adaptations of his work but I think it’s the machine that he doesn’t like. I spoke to him a number of times while I was writing the film and he could not have been nicer, he could not have been more supportive and told me the book is my story but the movie is yours so any time you have a question just give me a call.

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What do you think of the whole comic explosion both on TV and the big screen?

You know, after we did X-Men, I kind of saw it coming. I felt like the studios didn’t understand, prior to X-Men, that there was fifty or sixty years of stories that weren’t being told plus the technology had just come around to execute these things on a different level so I did see this coming… maybe not to this extent but wow, what a great time to be a comic fan!

To actually get to see the Avengers on screen with this incredible cast in an ultra A-list movie is a pretty amazing thing. I also think what will happen now is what happened in comic books which got big and splashy and over the top then got grittier with more twisted and original stories so I’m hopeful that’s the way it will go.

Going back to Wolves, were there specific actors you had in mind when you cast the movie? People like Stephen McHattie and Jason Momoa seem perfect in their roles.

Yes they do! [Laughs] When I initially wrote the film, I didn’t know Jason existed, really. I mean, I think he was doing Stargate at the time but I hadn’t been watching the show. I originally wrote the part of Connor for Ray Stevenson, who is a friend of mine, but he had started filming Thor 2 when our financing came in so he couldn’t do it.

By that point I had seen Game of Thrones so when his agent phoned and suggested Jason Momoa I said ‘Oh sh*t, that’s pretty good!’ Not only is he monstrously intimidating because he is such a huge guy, but he is a phenomenal actor. He really is so beyond his years in terms of sensitivity and the star power he has is amazing. He is a very unique creature so that decision was very easy to make. [Laughs]

Stephen McHattie, strangely enough, is with my acting agent from twenty years ago in Toronto, Rhonda Cooper. So Rhonda called and said ‘Well, what about Stephen for this part?’ and I said yeah, let’s do that! [Laughs] He is an astounding actor, I can’t even fathom how he does what he does. What I didn’t anticipate was how easily he would stand up to Jason. He is literally half of his size and yet nothing intimidates Stephen. When they went toe to toe you could see Jason almost laughing because he was used to scaring the hell out of people but boy, McHattie does not scare easy.

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Did you allow yourself to enjoy the first time in the director’s chair or were you so busy that time just seemed to fly by?

It did seem to fly by and I was of course very busy but no, I was smelling the metaphorical roses the whole time. I mean I would sit in my director’s chair in front of the monitors and all that stuff and just smile and then those times we would do the sweeping camera shots on the big crane I would get so jazzed, it was just so much fun!

People have described directing as a miserable experience and I can see how it could go that way, but for me it was like I had been waiting all my life for this. I mean, I was one of those kids who used to make super eight movies — my dad had one of those old video cameras and we would try and remake the Shining so yeah, I just had a blast from start to finish.

How important do you think festivals like Toronto After Dark are for the independent filmmakers?

First of all, I’m thrilled to be at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival because it’s bad ass and in my home town but seriously, festivals like this are really the life blood for independent films. It’s where films come together, it’s where they get financed and ideas come together for both inside and outside the studio system.

However, it’s one thing to meet with studio heads and financiers in their offices in Hollywood and a totally different thing to go to a Toronto After Dark late night party and by three am have your movie financed so I think it’s enormously important and so much fun to travel the world and hang with people who lives revolve around film.

So what projects do you have coming up next?

A bunch of things, actually. I’m writing and producing a miniseries for Fox called World War Three. I’m attached to direct another film for Copperheart, the Wolves producers, which we are hoping to do this winter called Winter. There are also a couple of deals I’m negotiating right now that I can’t really share the details on obviously and I’ve got some video games I’m working on including a Canadian game called The Long Dark so yeah, lots of stuff going on.