While it’s not uncommon for an animation director to make the leap into live-action cinema, it’s rather rare that this first to bat is a massive sci-fi blockbuster that doesn’t rely on any pre-existing properties. . This is the opportunity for Chris McKay, who has gone from directing nearly four dozen episodes of “Robot Chicken” and the animated feature “The Lego Batman Movie” to directing “The Tomorrow. War, “a time-traveling alien invasion thriller starring Chris Pratt, JK Simmons, Sam Richardson and Yvonne Strahovski currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“The Tomorrow War,” which was developed and produced by Skydance and co-funded by Paramount Pictures, was originally slated to hit theaters last Christmas, but the pandemic forced the studio to postpone the film to July 2021. In January, with the scenery Theatrical still clouded in doubt, Amazon has landed the exclusive worldwide rights to “The Tomorrow War” for $ 200 million according to rumors. Other studio titles were sold to streamers during the pandemic, including “The Woman in the Window” (from 20th Century to Netflix), “Coming 2 America” (from Paramount to Amazon) and “Happiest Season” (from Sony to Hulu). But nothing quite approached the scale of “The Tomorrow War,” in which Pratt’s high school science teacher is enlisted to help wage a war 30 years from now against the relentless onslaught of known vicious aliens. under the name of Whitespikes.
McKay spoke with Variety about his complicated feelings around selling his movie to Amazon, how he used his animation experience to his advantage, and why he still hopes to make a movie about Batman’s ex-sidekick, “Nightwing,” in which he has been attached since 2017.
You’ve been working in animation for so long. How did you decide that this would be the project you would lead in live-action?
I really want to do something original, as much as is humanly possible. We bring you brands, and some of them are awesome and exciting. But to get something that’s completely an original concept in the sci-fi space, where it has a budget for epic far-reaching with a movie star attached to it, and has family drama at its heart. – being offered that it was like a dream come true for me. This is the thing I want to do. So having it landed on my lap, I was really lucky.
How did you apply your experience in animation to the making of this film?
When you create animation reels, you build them with either animatics, whose storyboards are edited with images and sound effects and music, or you do a layout, which is rudimentary blockage and labor. camera – the exact set you are going to end up using. Layout and live-action preview are basically the same thing. I was able to use it to help us master the action scenes.
When you’re directing actors in an animated movie, sometimes you have two actors playing against each other, but more often than not it’s just an actor standing in front of a lectern and a microphone, and you and this actor creates this world. When you’re on a live-action set for something like this, where there aren’t any white spikes or explosions, you’re using the same kind of imaginative resources that you bring to the table in a booth. Voice off. You happen to be on a street and you’re pointing, “There’s Hummers coming this way, and jets coming this way, and there’s a bunch of these creatures.” You are simply using the actor’s imaginative resources. Everyone participates in this kind of childish imaginative space which is a lot of fun.
It feels like a summer movie on the big screen – how much of a loop were you when Paramount decided to sell the movie to Amazon?
Obviously, people told me what their intentions were. Would it have been December or January or something, so we were almost done with the movie and were talking about release dates. Because of where we are at with COVID, I was familiar with the writing on the wall. We were going to have to consider some options. We had screenings in cinemas from the point of view of a test audience. The last one was probably late September, maybe early October. So I had seen the film play four times in a movie theater with different audiences. We tested it in St. Louis, Kansas City and Phoenix. The test was great. The studio was super happy. I was really excited that we had a movie that worked for people. My dream, of course, would be to have a movie in a movie theater, right? These are the experiences that changed my life.
I guess for me the other thing you want as a filmmaker is to have a dialogue with as many people as humanly possible. So to have a movie released in 240 countries so far, to be able to have that kind of dialogue with the world, it’s really exciting. We mixed the cinema version of the film, then we mixed a home version, sonically. And the HDR image is the closest I can get to ensure people will see what we did with the color correction and visual effects. So these things are exciting.
It is difficult to answer this question. There are things you want, and there are the realities of the world. I just hope people turn up their sound, watch it on the biggest TV they can find, bring your neighbors so that they don’t get mad at you because you are editing the movie and trying to watch it with so much as many people as possible in your home. It is a film that must be lived with people. I was really lucky to see him play with an audience, so I’m always going to have that. It was something special.
I don’t want to spoil anything that happens in the movie, but are you planning any sequels or prequels taking place in this world with the characters or the creatures?
We had such a fun design process. We talked about the world of these creatures, where they came from, how they were created or brought up, and how they were possibly used. I love world-building experiences, especially when you have the potential for some sort of time travel. I think a sequel could go into a lot of fun areas and the ethnographic study of white tips in their world and where they came from, and what their purpose was, and stuff like that. So yeah, I think it could be a lot of fun. And with this casting, too, we’re just getting started.
Speaking of the future, what are the next projects for you?
“Nightwing” is still a movie that I really want to do. I love the character of Dick Grayson as a young adult, becoming his own kind of superhero character. It was going to be a father and son story and also a revenge movie, which really got me excited because there is a lot going on in this script. It was going to be really primitive and clean and like a real red meat movie in the best possible way.
Is it still happening?
I don’t have a firm commitment yet, but I hope it’s something we can still make. It hasn’t been a priority these days; I hope this will become the priority soon. It would be my favorite thing to get out of it all.
And what can you tell me about your latest project, “Renfield”?
“Renfield” is a story about Dracula’s helper set in modern times, and it’s kind of a codependent success story. And it’s a comedy. It’s a horror movie. This is an action movie. These are bad bosses. It’s written by Ryan Ridley, who worked on “Rick and Morty”, and it’s really funny and touching. It will be like a hard-R action movie, insanely violent like an “Evil Dead 2”. It’s gonna be fun.