Tony Giglio

As interviewed by editor Daniel John Johnsson

It's not a game anymore. Tony Giglio, at the forefront of franchises like 'Death Race' and 'Resident Evil', is the writer-director behind 'DOOM: Annihilation'. The second movie based on the iconic video game.

So, I'm gonna get into 'DOOM: Annihilation' and all in about a second, but first I got to ask, how was your time playing G.E. Mallow and fighting Superman on a 'Lois and Clark' episode back in 1995?
– Bizarre, I never had any ambitions to act. I was production assistant on Noah Baumbach's first film, 'Kic-king & Screaming'. During the shoot, Noah decided to give me a couple lines. I still don't know why exactly. I thought I was terrible, but he brought me back a second day, adding me to a scene the character wasn't in before. Funny character, a freshman at college. In the first scene, I'm crying as my parents drop me off at school, the second scene ... later in the school year ... I'm at a party smoking pot, singing 'Buffalo Soldier'.

At the wrap party, the casting director said I was funny. She said she'd keep me in mind for something.

Much to my shock, she called several months later, and offered me the role in 'Lois & Clark'. It wasn't a co-mic part. I go insane, shoot up Metropolis and then die after confronted by Superman.

The part helped me get a healthy respect for acting in front of a large crew and cameras. The pressure to remember your lines, hit marks, stay in character, and so on. I'm always learning.

This was a great lesson early in my career I still carry with me.

So a little acting aside you've worked yourself up from P.A. to now being a prominent director and screenwriter. But staying in those years for a bit, it's interesting that your very first P.A. credit is 'The Quick and the Dead', so your very first job on set was with Sam Raimi and Leonardo DiCaprio?
– A huge fan of 'The Evil Dead', I wrote director Sam Raimi a letter prior to graduating college, seeking employment with him. Much to my surprise, Raimi answered my letter and said "If you decide to relocate to Los Angeles, look me up". I moved to California shortly after graduation, and reconnected with Raimi's office just as Raimi had signed on to direct 'The Quick and the Dead'. I started as an office P.A. but later ser-ved as a Set P.A, Location P.A. and Sam Raimi's P.A. on the production in Arizona.

It was and is still the best experience of my life. Sam Raimi was great. I loved every second. I felt like eve-ry day I was being paid to go to film school. Along with Sam, Gene Hackman, Leo, there was Russell Crowe, Sharon Stone ... off Basic Instinct ... Gary Sinise, and an all-star crew, Patritzia Von Brandenstein, Dante Spinotti, Peitro Scalia. All were generous with their time and all allowed me to ask any question I wanted.

Don't know where I'd be without that experience.

Did you look at production assistant work as a way to writing and directing?
– No, I looked at being a production assistant as a way to learn how to make films. But I never thought it was possible to jump from being a production assistant to director. My only plan was to make films and le-arn how to make movies. I was about three and a half years into my P.A. career when I started to believe ... maybe foolishly ... that I was ready to direct and write. At the time, mid-nineties, there were two ways to get to direct with no experience. Make a short film that wows or write an awesome script and attach your-self. I had no money for a short film. I was living paycheck to paycheck. Back then you needed to shoot on film. No iPhone shorts. So I taught myself screenwriting between production asisstant jobs.

My goal was to write something awesome and get someone to hire me to direct.

So what made you pursue a career as a storyteller to begin with?
– It was either a career in film or take over my dad's liquor store. While that was tempting ... I chose to pu-rsue film. As a kid, I'd spend the day in the multiplex hopping from one theater to the next.

I'd rent five movies at a time and have marathons.

I just wanted to tell stories, I wanted to make movies. That's all I ever wanted to do.

What film did you write and direct first?
– First directing job was 'Soccer Dog: The Movie', a sweet off beat comedy about an orphan who befriends a dog. Some online sites have talked smack about that film, trying to make fun of me or suggest the 'DOOM' director shouldn't have made a family film. But I made that film when I was twentyseven. I'm very proud of it. We had $500,000, kids and dogs and the studio loved it. It made them ... not me ... a fortune. They ma-de a sequel. When I was in a down spot in my career, I got a letter from a woman who ran an orphanage in Georgia. She said a new kid came in. He was same age as lead in the movie. He was devastated and sad at the loss of his family. He wouldn't speak to anyone. All he did was watch 'Soccer Dog' which they had in their video library. After a couple weeks, he came to her and asked if he could try out for youth soccer.

She said he joined a team and his whole demeanor changed. That movie helped him.

So folks can make fun of me about that film all they want.

Was later writing the 'Death Race' films what got you in as second unit director of 'Resident Evil'?
– Yes and no. I was actually up for directing 'Resident Evil: Extinction'. That's where I met Paul W.S. And-erson and Jeremy Bolt. It didn't work out. The studio wanted someone with more VFX experience, but I really got to know those guys and we all got along great. A few years later, Jeremy called me and said Univ-ersal Pictures wanted to make a low budget 'Death Race' prequel. He thought I'd be perfect to write and di-rect. Paul and I worked on the story at his home for a few weeks. We pitched that story to Universal Pict-ures and I was hired to write 'Death Race 2'. I went off to write the script. While working on the story, Pa-ul and I got along great. He mentioned he really would've loved to have had me direct 'Extinction'. It was sweet but unnecessary to say. He was about to start 'Resident Evil: Afterlife'. A couple weeks into me wri-ting 'Death Race 2', Jeremy called me and said Paul wanted me to direct second unit on 'Afterlife'.

It took me out of the running to direct 'Death Race 2', but as Paul said, no one will ever say you don't have enough VFX experience again, because every shot I was doing had VFX. So I was actually writing 'Death Race 2' while on set directing 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' second unit.

When it rains it pours.

What was it like putting your mark on a hundred million dollar franchise? I'm thinking Paul W.S. Anderson must be quite diligent with how things are done, as he's been on it for such a long time?
– Well, first off, it's not a hundred million dollar franchise. The six films have grossed more than 1,2 billion dollars worldwide altogether at the box office alone. So it's more like a billion dollar franchise. Paul is ama-zing to work with. His set is fun. He has such incredible energy. It was different directing and not being the final decision maker, but it was so much fun helping him realize his vision and yes, putting a small ma-rk on a great franchise. I also learned a lot about adapting a movie based on a video game from Paul.

He took such a bold route with 'Resident Evil', introducing a character that wasn't in the games.

And while some gamers might have issues with Paul's take ...

'Resident Evil' is the most successful series based on a video game.

So how come you still haven't directed a 'Death Race' film, as you've written two more?
– I've been very happy writing the 'Death Race' series. It ultimately led to Universal 1440 Entertainment hiring me to write and direct 'DOOM'. If the opportunity ever came up, I'd definitely consider it.

But I'm fortunate enough to have contributed my part to an awesome franchise.

Wouldn't it be cool to get Sylvester Stallone back for one of those? Perhaps even bringing him tog-ether with Jason Statham, Luke Goss, Manu Bennett and all of those newer characters?
– Yes. That would be the ultimate 'Death Race' film. And probably the most expensive to make.

I would see it. But what's it like sitting in the director's chair telling action stars what to do?
– Well, you're rarely sitting as a director ... but seriously, it's humbling. All these great talents putting th-eir faith in you to make them look good. Every actor is different. You quickly learn people's personalities. You learn you can't talk the same way to one as another. Jason Statham always wanted to know how the scene you were working on flowed into the next. He was always thinking big picture. Wesley Snipes simp-ly wanted to know what the shot was. Vinnie Jones just wanted to get through the scene and wrap.

Are there any stories from being on set with Arnold Schwarzenegger on 'Jingle all the Way'?
– No real stories from Arnold on 'Jingle all the Way', but we did talk about 'Total Recall' when we were wo-rking on 'Terminator 2' in 3D. I believe the movie is an implant. All in his head. He says it was real.

I think I’m right.

What about Kurt Russell and 'Escape from L.A.'?
– Working on 'Escape from L.A.' was personally thrilling. I loved Snake Plissken as a kid. I dressed as him for like three straight Halloweens. And Kurt is a sweet man. I asked him about the ending to 'The Thing'. He told me he knew which one was the thing, but he didn't want to tell me because, as he said, 

"You'll hate me after I tell you, Tony, because its that ambiguity that makes it great"

You were also on the set of 'Heat'?
– Yes. I didn't do the entire show, but about 50 of the 100 shooting days. I was brought on as an extra P.A. for big action days ... the shootout downtown, the armored car smash. But I ended up getting more days as we went along. Amazing set to work on. Not only a top cast, but that was the best crew assembled I've ever been apart of. My fondest memory was walking Robert DeNiro to set. We had to go up an elevator to the 20th floor. He was silent the entire time. Just staring at me. I stayed quiet because I didn't know if he was in character, and so on. Part of your job as a P.A. is to know when to be visible and invisble. It's a delicate balance. You always have to be present but never noticeable. I was fairly new. Maybe had done ten days, but never with DeNiro. As we exited the elevator, he asked, "Are you new" and I said, "Yes".

He extended his hand to shake and said, "I'm Bob" and I shook his hand and said, "I'm Tony".

Also, the cinematographer was Dante Spinotti. Dante's a legend. He was the cinematographer from 'The Quick and the Dead', my first film. Dante's this wonderful, very Italian, artist. He uses very few words to communicate with you, not because he doesn't speak English well, he does. He just chooses his words care-fully and he makes sure they all count. On the last day of shooting, I went up to him. Told him how great a pleasure it was to work with him again. And he gave me a hug, then a handshake and he said,

"They say you sometimes meet someone once and then never see them again. But if you meet them twice, you will always see them a third time. So I look forward to when we see each other a third time"

We haven't had that third time yet. But I know it'll happen.

Are there any particular directors that've inspired you and your work?
– The name of my production company is The War Room. I took this from Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strange-love'. In no way can any of my work be compared to his. I think Stanley was a true artist in every sense of the word. For better or worse, he did things his way. No polls or focus groups shaped his films. The guy was the ultimate risk taker. Unafraid of any subject. He made a comedy about nuclear war at the height of the cold war. He made a comedy about pedophilia ... 'Lolita' ... and that was in 1962. His films inspired me. His attention to detail. His passion. Again, I haven't made anything close to what he made ...

But I do try to bring that passion to every production.

I was also fortunate enough to work with some legends when I was a P.A. starting out ... Sam Raimi, James Cameron, Michael Mann, John Carpenter ... to name a few. I think 'Chaos', my bank robbery film, you can see the most direct influence from one of these greats. I wanted 'Chaos' to look and feel like 'Heat' meets
'The Insider'. In 'Timber Falls', I tried to reach the same level of horror-comedy Raimi did in 'Evil Dead 2', but I didn't come close. I like 'Timber Falls' for what it is, but it didn't go far enough in either direction.

'Aliens' was a big inspiration for 'DOOM', in structure. I also saw how effective Cameron used a female le-ad protagonist with Sarah Connor and Ripley, and used that as inspiration for our main character, Joan.

Do you consider yourself an action-director first and foremost?
– I don't look at it like that. I am a storyteller first and foremost. I like all kinds of films and have directed many different genres. What's weird is, that I got an "action" label after 'Chaos'. Which isn't really an acti-on film. It's a mystery thriller that has a few action scenes. But because it had Statham and Snipes, people just assume it's action. Funny story, my executive producer and financier on 'Chaos' was an incompetent idiot. He's currently in jail ... so that tells you the kind of guy I was dealing with. We had so many financi-ng problems on the film we didn't start post immediately after shooting. It took a few months.

Then, we go to hire an editor. I made a list of people. He responded back that none seem to be "big action ed-itors". I replied, "Well, is that important? It's not really an action film" He asked, "This is 'Chaos', right? Wi-th Statham and Snipes? I thought it was an action film" I asked if he ever read the script. He didn't respon-d, but it was clear by his face that he never did. Action is very tough to do and on a low budget it's even ha-rder. It physically wipes you out. I'm very fortunate and thankful I get to do these films.

But they're really hard to do well.

So, 'DOOM: Annihilation' ... were you a fan of the game back in the day?
– I was a huge fan of 'DOOM'. My neighbor back in the nineties introduced me to the game. I was addicted. One night, me, my roommate and my neighbor were all supposed to go out to a club.

We ended up playing 'DOOM' until 4:30am. I loved it. Everything about it was cool.

The film will be out when I publish this, but as we're doing this a bit early, I haven't gotten a chance to see it yet. And I realise there's a lot you can't talk about either. But we've got to see the BFG in tr-ailers and there's obviously the premise of space marines being overrun by demonic creatures threa-ting to create hell, which is very much 'DOOM'. How did you approach the "adapting" of the games?
– My goal was to make a faithful adaptation of 'DOOM'. This is my take on the 'DOOM' story. I was only allowed to use elements from the first three games, the ones Universal 1440 Entertainment owns the righ-ts to. Films based on video games have not had a great track record. And while it was a good sci-fi film, the previous 'DOOM' film was not faithful. No demons, it's not 'DOOM'. So, before any story ideas came, I pu-lled out the things I felt were vital to any 'DOOM' film. First, demons, second, hell, third, the gates.

So I started constructing a story that incorporated these elements.

The most dominating idea I had was that if there were demons, then by logic, there must be angels. If hell, then there must be heaven. Not that we see these elements in the film, but whether intended or not, I felt there was a strong spirituality in 'DOOM'. I also used the backstory of our main Marine from the game. A soldier that was being punished and sent to one of the worst assignments in the universe. I kept thinking of great religious warriors. And Joan of Arc kept coming up. This is where the idea of our lead came from.

I know that 'Doom' game's main character is "Doomguy", but in researching the game's origins, I came acro-ss that the original creators purposely didn't give Doomguy a name because Doomguy represented the pla-yer. So this gave me the confidence to proceed forward with the story.

It wasn't until later games did the creators give Doomguy a backstory.

His importance and stature went up with the 2016 Bethesda game. There's been a ton of chatter on the in-ternet about Amy Manson being the lead and how this is somehow disrespectful to the game. I believe it's very much in the spirit of the original game and I believe I'm being faithful. Doomguy can be anyone play-ing. Every character is Doomguy. All the Marines are players. Secondly, you have to be a movie first.

You just can't reproduce the gameplay. What fun would that be? So, I had to go where the best story was going. And it was saying follow Joan's character. Sci-Fi Action films have a great tradition of female leads like Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton to name a few. Universal 1440 Entertainment and I went to painstaking lengths to make certain we were a faithful adaptation. I consulted with an original creator of the game. Universal 1440 Entertainment employed a focus group of gamers and asked them specifically what they wanted in a 'DOOM' film, and we did all except for two of their thirty suggestions.

Universal 1440 Entertainment approached ID Software and Bethesda to partner with us.

We wanted them to be involved as much as they wanted to. They thanked us for thinking about them, but they were not interested at the time. I hope fans can see the effort we made to be faithful. We have demon-s, four types, we go to hell and any player familiar with 'DOOM' will see dozens of other elements.

Elements that we didn't just stick in the movie, but used in helping us craft the story.

I definitely don't get the feeling that this is a PG13 affair?
– We've been officially rated "R" by the MPAA. For bloody violence and language.

I hope your readers approve.

As you say, films based on video games have not had a great track record, not even for directors like Mike Newell or Justin Kurzel. So where lies the challenge in adapting a game, not least 'DOOM'?
– The main challenge is making a 'DOOM' film on a lower budget. We have to build all the sets, the weapo-ns. We have practical FX, complex VFX, and a ton of action. I was physically and emotionally spent at the end of each day. I also knew that if I messed up, I would have an angry gaming community. They're a very passionate group. And they have been burned so many times by unfaithful adaptations of their favorite games. Also, 'DOOM' is sacred. It's an iconic game with a loyal fanbase. The game inspired so many other games and programmers. I was also battling fan's expectations not based on the early 'DOOM' games, but the new 'DOOM' game. It's an incredible game, but it's very different to the 'DOOM' games I was adapting from. I did not look past this. I had all this in mind. As far as the script goes ... 'DOOM' game had a wonder-ful, yet very simple story. In crafting the screen story, I had a ton of elements from the games to use.

But I wasn't forced into a particular specific storyline from the game. Unlike many modern games that co-me with intricate storylines. New games have eighty plus hours of gameplay and story. A movie's ninety minutes. That would be like taking all eight 'Harry Potter' books and making one film. It's tough.

A big talk around town as 'DOOM' was made into a feature film for the first time back in 2005 was of course the first person shooter-genre point of view that was taken straight out of the games. Were you able to approach the video games in any similar fashion for 'DOOM: Annihilation' as well?
– We have a ton of elements lifted directly from the games. I didn't want to copy the 2005 film's first pers-on perspective. I give a nod to the first person perspective. But I don't overuse it.

I felt that was done to death.

Looking at the cast, Amy Manson is not the only woman cast. She is accompanied by Nina Bergman and Jemma Moore, to name a few. You say we have sci-fi like 'Alien' and 'Terminator' to thank for?
– Yes, 'Alien' and 'Terminator' female leads definitely were an influence, but only after I had locked down my screen story idea as previously mentioned. We didn't go in saying "female lead". I first wrote this treat-ment in 2014. I tried getting this made then, but it didn't come together. I know there are whispers about the female Marines in the film were because of "Me Too". That’s nonsense and insulting. The script was loc-ked prior to the "Me Too" movement. I had been a fan of the game for decades. This story is how I interpre-ted a movie version of the game. Amy Manson plays Joan, a Lieutenant in the UAC Marines. Like the gam-e, she disobeyed an order and punishment for that is a reassignment. When we first started, I assumed the studio would want a "Name" for the lead. But to my surprise, they didn't. It was a bold decision.

'DOOM' is a big name and we were, are going, to be asking a relatively unknown actress to not only carry the film, but carry 'DOOM' with her. We not only needed a great actress. She needed to be able to do all her own stunts and handle the PR ... and demanding fans. Amy Manson stood out from the auditions.

How so?
– She prepared five scenes and they were all pitch perfect. It was crazy. The entire audition was very emo-tional. This is my seventh film I'm directed and this audition was the most powerful of my career. Amy re-ally gave everything to the production. She was a natural leader. She had no fear. She did anything we as-ked. I think the fans are going to respond to her. She definitely brought an extra layer to the film even I didn't see coming. It's an amazing performance under very tough conditions.

What about Nina Bergman and Jemma Moore?
– Nina and Jemma are both terrific actresses who are already on their way to successful careers. Nina's Ca-rley ... a true individual. I remember talking to her for the first time saying, "The character as scripted has blue hair" before I could finish, she asked, "Did you have a shade in mind?" As a director, that's the response you want to hear. Jemma was another absolute easy choice. She's a real force to be reckoned with.

She's talented, can do all her own fights, is funny and gorgeous. She was coming off 'Wonder Woman'.

How was it filming in Sofia, Bulgaria throughout last spring?
– One of the perks of this business is getting to go to places you probably would never go to on your own. And it's not like when you just visit on a vacation. I usually go to a place for three-five months, maybe mo-re. I lived in London for a year on my film 'Chaos'. You really get to experience the country when you're there that long. Every movie is a challenge to make. Making a low budget Action or Sci-Fi film with Creat-ure FX, MUFX, stunts, and complicated VFX only makes an already great challenge even more so.

But audiences don't care about budgets. All they want is a great film. I enjoyed Sofia. The people are great. I have worked in Romania before, but not Bulgaria. The crew really worked hard. I remember at the end of my first week of preproduction, we had a meeting with the first AD, Stunt coordinator, Production desig-ner, UPM, producer and DP. Half way through, they all start yelling at one another in Bulgarian. I had no idea what was going on. I thought I had made everyone mad. I then asked the first A.D., Kremena, why ev-eryone was yelling. She said they weren't yelling. They were just "passionate". I found this to be the case throughout. Victor, our amazing VFX Supervisor, is literally doing things for 'DOOM' ...

Things which I didn't think possible with our budget. Audiences are going to really dig it.

Now, as you said, there's obviously a lot of "passion" surrounding 'DOOM'. I'm also aware that it we-nt a bit crazy there for a while. The gate to hell quite literally opened. But I know there's also a lot of people, with me included, that are just really excited to see the 'DOOM' universe back on film again. So internet-demons aside, why do you think movie goers will have a good time now seeing the film?
– I knew going in that 'DOOM' was a "hot" property. I knew there would be intense scrutiny. I welcomed it. Our cast welcomed it. I know we, me and the studio, did everything right by 'DOOM'. I know every move we made, we considered whether or not it was from or inspired by the games ... the games we were allowed to use from. For this reason, I hope the gamers will give us a shot. It was made with them in mind.

For all the times filmmakers took games and just ignored the game lore, and so on, this one is for them. As for movie fans, I think they're going to love the film. We have a great story, the acting is tremendous ...
especially from the leads. The action scenes are fast and intense.

And I don't think folks will expect the ending.

As I understand it you've both written some that are moving forward and are developing some other interesting things as well. What can you tell us about what lies ahead at this point, what's next?
– I've recently signed on to write an action-horror monster movie for Constantin Film and producer Jere-my Bolt. It's centered around Titanoboa, which is a 50 foot long, 2500 pound prehistoric snake thought to have been long extinct. We're saying it is not! (laughs) I've worked with Constantin and Jeremy before. Both were my bosses on 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' and Jeremy's been one of the producers on all the 'Death Race' films I've written. My ultimate hope would be to make two additional 'DOOM' films.

I have a planned trilogy in mind. There has been talk for a sequel ...

But its just talk for now.

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Interviewed by editor:
Daniel John Johnsson

danieljohn@intervjun.com