Articles Interview: Bob Ducsay

Bob Ducsay, Producer/Editor

Q: How did this project come about?

DUCSAY: Well, I think because Steve is with Universal, and what he's most known for is the Mummy films, it's an obvious extension given that that studio was built on these classic monsters. And I think that's really the origin of the idea.

Q: Who came up with this idea, Stephen or Universal?

DUCSAY: Stephen. I mean, I think what he was really looking for was an organic way to bring these three classic monsters together, and at the same time make the picture in a way that he would make it. Which is to have an adventurous tone and kick-ass protagonist. Van Helsing just seemed like a good idea. Obviously, it's been imagined in a way that is quite different from his origins.

Q: In the book and other movies, he's an older man. But Hugh Jackman isn't old.

DUCSAY: He is not. We really hate the term, but I would use it because it fits: He is re-imagined. Believe me, it's a pathetic term. We really do despise it but it does fit in this particular case.

Q: So is he like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

DUCSAY: I don't think his legs are as good.

Q: I beg to differ. Why are you shooting in Playa Del Rey as opposed to Universal or Prague now?

DUCSAY: We needed a space that was gigantic, because we have very large sets. These stages here represented probably the largest space available in Los Angeles in one place. What we would have to have done is, let's say if we were at Universal, they wouldn't have been able to accommodate everything that we need, so from a logistical standpoint that means you have to move around and now we have to do a lot less moving around. Although we do have larger sets in Downey (California), so we are going to be making a move later this week to go out to those sets. In fact, there's one set that's built to be an exterior and it's actually an interior set. So essentially we're shooting it as if it were night outside. So, there you go. Logistically, it's been a really great place to work. We had to put a lot of money in the infrastructure and to get it up and running to the level we needed, but it really provides a great base of operation.

Q: How long did you shoot in Prague? What were you shooting there?

DUCSAY: We shot for about 10 weeks, maybe 11 weeks, something like that. The second unit continued on there for another three weeks. We shot practical locations there which is the reason we went there, but we also did do stage work there in addition. We probably could have gotten back here a couple of weeks earlier if we didn't do the stage work there but we took advantage of situations where we needed extras.

This is the part of the world where this movie is supposed to take place so it was very appropriate. And the reason we chose Prague was because, again, it offers a lot of things that we wanted, which is cold, gloomy weather for our exterior shooting, it also provides an incredible group of extras which help make the film more genuine and they come into play in many places. And then finally, if you're going to go into that part of the world to work, Prague is a great place because there is an excellent infrastructure there. While I believe we were the largest movie that's ever shot there, they were able to handle it quite well and the craftsmen and crew members are excellent and hard-working and it's just a really good place to makes movies. It was just a really good fit for us. I mean, it worked out great.

Q: Were you affected by the flooding damage?

DUCSAY: Only insomuch as support facilities that were closed. You know, hotels were closed. But mainly, no.

Q: What were the stumbling blocks in creating this rather unorthodox story?

DUCSAY: I think probably the biggest difficulty is in putting these three characters together and being as true as you can be to their mythology, and at the same time making it feel organic. It isn't just a monster rally, where Van Helsing goes and fights every monster you can think of. And in fact, the three mains monsters in the film all have sort of a shocking symbiotic relationship, which works rather well. Steve was, in fact, very clever in putting the story together but it was very challenging. I think the results are rather nice. I won't go into the details, because we certainly don't want to give everything away, but there were some creatures that we had in the movie originally that we took out, because we felt that they weren't as organic to the pictures as these other guys were. They didn't fit the story as well, as much fun as it would have been to have them in the movie.

Q: Any fear of creating a modern version of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or being unintentionally funny?

DUCSAY: Absolutely. There's that, and we're fighting Mel Brooks. Because Mel Brooks has done a lot of screamingly funny stuff with Frankenstein, no doubt. It's one of the things we have to battle. But I don't think we have that problem.

Q: What's the tone of the film?

DUCSAY: I think you could take the Mummy films as a jumping-off point, but this film is notably more serious, the stakes are higher and we take them more seriously. I think that the creatures are treated with great dignity, so while it is a rousing adventure - there is no question - there are great, great horror elements to the movie. There's still a great sense of fun. So I don't want to say it is completely dissimilar to the Mummy films, but it is noticeably different.

Q: How much did you defer to the traditional looks of the creatures?

DUCSAY: I think it varies from creature to creature. The Dracula creature - what we call the Hell Beast - is radically different from anyone's concept of that creature. He's almost like a harpy in design, in that he has arms and wings. Then you take someone like Frankenstein, while there are radical departures in the design of the character, we still wanted to keep the feeling of the original. We have bolts, he has a flattop. So there are similarities, but he doesn't really look like the classic monster. I think it was all a matter of being, you know, somewhat reverential to the original characters, but at the same time I think there's a willingness to do something new, which we've tried to do. Stephen loves these characters a great deal, so he cares about them as much as anyone else does.

Q: What about the Wolf Man?

DUCSAY: Well, I wouldn't say that the design is radical from the things you've seen before but it's certainly radically different from the Universal picture. He's more werewolf than Wolf Man.

Q: Which creatures did you leave out?

DUCSAY: I'd rather not say.

Q: Sequels!

DUCSAY: Exactly.

Q: What is there more of, actors or digital creations?

DUCSAY: It's a total combination of things. I mean, Frankenstein is mainly makeup, rather elaborate makeup. Greg Cannom who, I'm sure you know his work, designed and executed his makeup. But Frankenstein is occasionally a digital character. But that's mainly for logistical reasons more than anything else. Some of the things that have to be done with the creature would be too dangerous or difficult for the actor to do. And there's a couple of occasions where those things are just impossible, so there is digital work but as a character he is mainly makeup.

The Wolf Man is an actor and a CG character, and the transformation goes between actor and CG character.

Dracula and his brides are also actors and CG characters. The brides are probably the most clever of the visual effects, in my opinion anyway. Because the way that they are executed is bodies of the creatures are digital and all of the close work is performed by actresses in makeup and then the two elements are melded in post-production. The tests that we've done are extraordinary and I think that it's going to give us a creature that is - I hate to use the word again, but - very organic.

One of the things we're trying to solve is the problem of having an all CG character. Although, recently there have been a couple of executions of CG characters that have been really excellent. Gollum, and of course Dobby in Harry Potter, which are characters that are very well executed that are all CG. But we wanted to even go a step further, where you get the performance of the actors, and a level of detail and realism that you couldn't otherwise get. So, they're a rather clever methodology that we're using, probably the most interesting and the most complicated are the brides.

Q: What's your official title on Van Helsing?

DUCSAY: I'm the producer of the film, and I am also, oddly enough, the picture editor. Stephen and I have worked together for 15 years, and our relationship started right out of film school. He got a very low-budget movie, which he directed and I cut, and our careers kind of intertwined ever since, and, uh, we've sort of formalized the working relationship.

Q: How does it work, you being the producer and the editor?

DUCSAY: The craft service in editorial is so much better. It's so much better! (laughs) I swear to you, it is the most hilarious thing. When we were in Prague this other crew was there also, working on Hellboy, and they were always amazed, like, 'You guys have a pretty good situation there,' you know.

It is actually very advantageous because the picture editing side on a movie like this is very involved and very important and there's a lot of feedback between production and editorial because of all the visual effects and because of the scope of the movie. What I'm able to do by wearing both of those hats, frankly, is cut through a lot of the bullshit. We're able to execute new ideas faster. If we discover something in editorial that applies to what they're shooting right now, without having to go through a real rigorous approval process, we're able to makes things happen faster, which is very nice. Also, I have a great perspective of everything that's going on because of my role as a producer and I'm able to apply those things in editorial. There's not anything that I don't know about on the movie - except what we're shooting today! (laughs)

Q: How much will you be shooting here?

DUCSAY: The schedule is almost in half. Slightly more of the film was shot in the Czech Republic, but just slightly more. I think we've got another 7 weeks to go.

Q: It's been a long time since Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, or even Dracula, have been scary. How can you possibly update and freshen the characters in these franchises and have them appeal to a modern audience?

DUCSAY: First of all by applying visual effects and modern-day movie techniques to these legendary characters. I think that that is, in the end, what provides the freshness to these characters. But at the same time, I think more importantly, the story that Stephen's written is extremely compelling. I can say, far and away this is the best screenplay that he's written and I think that people will be very interested in these characters and I think they will be very interested in their problems. Steve says this all the time, he says, 'There aren't any monsters in this movie, they're just people with really big problems' and it's true. Each of these characters has a serious problem that they try to overcome and I think it's compelling material. I think it's put together in a way that, in fact, has never been seen.

Q: How did this all come about?

DUCSAY: When Stephen and I finished The Mummy Returns, we sat down and went over a series of ideas that he had for movies. One of them was this sort of vague notion of putting the three monsters together. We decided that that would be the most interesting movie for us to do, because we really love these sorts of films so for us, that's what we wanted to do. Stephen started working on a treatment, we developed the idea a bit, we went in to Universal, we pitched it, they loved it, and before you knew it we had a green-lit movie.

It moved very, very quickly because it's a very solid idea creatively, and it's a very solid idea commercially. That works out very well, because this is a movie we really want to make, and it's a very expensive film, and so we need the faith of the studio that it can recoup their investment . So while it's extremely hard to make movies like this, and we've been pushing this 10,000 lb. gorilla up a hill for about a year now and it's very taxing, at the same time it's actually been rather easy to get this movie made because the script is so solid and because the idea is so solid.

Q: Can you talk about casting Hugh?

DUCSAY: Hugh Jackman, from before there was a screenplay, was the only person that we wanted to play Van Helsing. We worked very hard to get him, because we couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. He has the right combination of great acting skills, charm, and physical prowess that was perfect for the character. I mean, he's the guy. We're maybe two-thirds through production and he's exceeded our wildest expectations. He's a great, great movie star and a great Van Helsing. We couldn't be happier with Hugh.