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We're in the age of cinematic universe envy. After Marvel Studios' success in pulling off three interconnected phases of storytelling, rival studios have been obsessed with recreating that streak with their own IP. The DC Extended Universe, the post-Lucas Star Wars sequels, and even the Godzilla-verse have all tried with varying results.
The latest is Valiant Comics, which is hoping to take its successful comic brands and translate them into movies that will build an ongoing franchise. The opening salvo is Bloodshot, which follows a super-soldier resurrected by nanotechnology, based on the comics of Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin, and Bob Layton.
But in the moviemaking world, there's always the fear of putting the cart before the horse. For director Dave Wilson, the man at the helm of Bloodshot, this was going to be his first at-bat making any theatrical film; he was adamant that he make a story he believed in and let the franchise-building come after, hopefully, the success of the title at hand.
When SYFY WIRE sat down with Wilson over tea at the London Hotel in West Hollywood recently, he cited Marvel Studios' Iron Man as the bedrock bellwether of intention and execution for ambitious franchise-making goals. "It didn't have to do any sort of heavy lifting," he muses. "It was just a great little character story."
In that same vein, Wilson says he wanted to make sure that Ray Garrison (aka Bloodshot), as played by Vin Diesel, was handled the same way: story first. "There was always plans, and still are plans, to build out the world," he explains. "But my job was very much, ‘Look, it's never going to happen unless we can just make one work.'"
A long-time director and creative director at Tim Miller's Blur Studios, Wilson created an array of mind-blowing video game sizzle reels and trailers for wildly popular franchises such as Mass Effect 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Bioshock: Infinite. Transitioning into film directing, like Miller did with Deadpool, became a personal goal but one he knew wasn't going to come easy.
He looked to Miller for guidance when navigating the right path to theatricals, and thought he found his project. But then an early draft for Bloodshot was sent to Wilson. "It was the sort of core concept that I liked, but I wanted to change things. And usually what happens with the first time filmmaker, no one really wants you to change that script," he says with a smile.
"But I was like, 'F*** it. I'm about to go and do this other thing anyway, I'm just going to pitch [them] the version of it that I want to make. No harm, no foul.' So I pitched them my version of it and Original Film and Valiant were like, 'We love it.' And I was like, 'Wait, wait, you guys realize this is a significant change to what it is?'" But both companies were on board with Wilson's new approach and allowed him to present a new draft of the screenplay alongside screenwriter Eric Heisserer to executives.
"I put like a TED Talk together, for what my version of the film was going to be," he says."There was a big thematic agenda at the core that I wanted, what I call the 'illusion of choice,' especially as we're focused with technology."
His revision was centered around U.S. soldier Ray Garrison/Bloodshot getting killed and resurrected by Dr. Emil Harting's secret Rising Spirit Lab, which uses all manner of tech to create machine-augmented, and enhanced, humans. Wilson was interested in that intersection of how humans perceive their choices in a technological world.
"Like Google or Tinder or whatever curating choices for us and then we get to decide," Wilson says of how data frames our "choices" today. "Because there's still two or three choices in front of us, we feel like we are making decisions. When really, the decision was made upstream. I thought the character was very much the personification of that dilemma, but there's still big set pieces and superhero stuff wrapped around it."
Citing the works of author Daniel Suarez as an inspiration for his take on Bloodshot, Wilson says he wanted to lean into the inherent techno-thriller aspects while still grounding the story in the problems that we face today.
"That's why I chose this movie and wanted to put that into it," he explains. "Storytelling, in essence, is like passing on some semblance of information. Like from when the elders first sat around a campfire and didn't want people to eat the berries. They just didn't tell them to eat the berries. So they made it a story about it and like, 'Hey, now we remember not to eat those berries.'"
And as to the macro franchise building of it all, Wilson says he made it clear from the start that it wasn’t his goal, saying, "'Look, I'm just going to do this. And you guys can sit over here and worry about what we do next.'" He admits, though, he was pragmatic enough to know that screwing up his first film would likely mean no more Valiant work for him, or more Valiant movies going forward smoothly.
Wilson says there were drafts where he was asked to make it clear there were other characters outside the story of the movie driving Harding’s decisions at times (per the comics universe), but it became messy. "Trying to explain that to an audience, it pulls you out of the movie because every time Eric and I wrote it, it felt like you were constantly waiting for that threat to emerge, and I couldn't do it," he admits. "I'm like, 'I can't do that yet because it's never going to be satisfying. You're never to get there.'"
"The only thing I wanted to make sure, and Vin was a big part of this, was making sure that we didn't box ourselves in," Wilson continues. Service their story first, then worry about a possible bigger world after. "I didn't want to be left at a point where I'm like, 'Well, you can't go there anymore or that character's useless because of this…' You want to like throw enough little seeds out there that you could explore concepts and characters further if you wanted to, but not enough to the point where it takes you out of the immediacy of the story that you're currently telling. I mean, I've sat in many movies of the comic book nature, and some of them with people who aren't as familiar with the stories as I am, and when you're laying pipe for another movie, I can see it. I get pulled out, and worse, alienated because the audience feels stupid that they don't understand what just happened."
He concludes: "And in many cases I'm like, 'You know what, it doesn't even matter. It's not relevant to this story.' So I wanted to leave enough avenues we could explore later and we have, but it wasn't really like an active day-to-day task to make sure we were introducing characters that would pay dividends later."
Bloodshot is now in theaters.