Interview with Christophe Gans (DVDRAMA)

Date published: 2006.12.25
Translation: La Hire (The Silent Hill Forum)

First Part: Silent Hill, The Movie and the DVD: The Other Side

DVDRAMA: A lot of people didn't understand why the Zone 2 DVD of Silent Hill didn't have much bonuses compared to the Zone 1 version for example.

Christophe Gans: The explanation is, in fact, simple. The movie was ended ten days exactly before the release in the American Theaters which was itself ten days before the French release. The movie contains exactly 756 FX shoots and, like most of movies rich in SFX, it was ended at the very last moment. I wanted to say it, it's not really exceptional. But we wanted to be pleased of the FX, me and my editor Sébastien Prangère and my producteur Andrew Mason. Andrew Mason was not only producer of the Matrix movies, he was also SFX director on The Crow and Dark City, so in new a lot about that. We all had a very precise idea about the quality standard we wanted to reach considering of course the 4 millions dollars kept for the Special Effets budget.

DVDRAMA: 4 millions dollars for the Special Effects??? That was all???

Christophe Gans: It was much better than the 300, 000 Euros for the Botherhood of the Wolves Special Effects! (laughs) We, anyway, worked until the last moment and it was impossible for us to have some time for creating bonuses. Peoples know that Sébastien Prangère – who supervised the extras of every of my DVD- and myself we like to make great collector editions. We love that, we're fond of DVD, we're some « supports fetichists ». But we didn't have the time...Because once the film was released, our work was not over: by contract we had to give the video elements like the « pan and scan » copy for the commercials channels, another one in 1: 77 format for later HD broadcasts, and censored version (who will certainly never be released – its less than 80 minutes long!)... In a more optimistic way, we could increase the quality of several SFX shoots and put them in the master. In the end, it was not four month we had before the American DVD release but only two. And for a movie like Silent Hill we need time: you speak about a movie with a mythological background which is the adaptation of another media... So there was a huge editorial work to give to have the best collector edition possible. It was almost impossible to do that...

Not only the lack of time, my other problem was the bad souvenir I had of the Collector DVD of Botherhood of the Wolves. StudioCanal wanted to release very quickly a Collector Edition I was not truly satisfied with. It was the 3 discs edition with that so called-leather cover which I thought was pathetic. For me the true Collector Edition of the movie was the 4 Discs edition released one year later after the last one was sold out. It was a very pretty packaging – lenticullar cover and solid binding- whoch was made by HK itself by my assistant Paola Boileau ( Nota: She also makes covers and menus for the HK DVD after having taken care of the HK Magazine model). But peoples thought this new edition was some way to make extra money. I understand them: they bought a 3 DVD Edition and suddendly they're told that the true collector was the one containing 4 DVD. I didn't want to do that again so I decided the Zone 2 edition who only have the movie and the bonuses from the Zone 1 DVD. I just allowed myself to optimize the transfer with a new calibration and by spreading the whole content in two discs. And that 's all. The Silent Hill Collector will come one day but not before long. I'm actually preparing my next movie, Onimusha, and I'll take care about that Silent Hill collector when I'm back which means not before half and two year or three year.

DVDRAMA: What about the one hour documentary on the DVD?

Christophe Gans: It was a typical promotional making-of. It was directed by a Sony-Tristar (U.S Distributor) team before the very end of post-production: that's why there's nothing about the optical effects of the movie because they're still not existing! This making-of just show then the effects directed during the shooting of the movie like the creatures, their choregraphies, the decors, the Silent Hill world architecture, etc... It's an interesting documentary for me but without the big part which was the movie characteristic.

DVDRAMA: Do you plan to use the possibilities provided by the new HD Formats? (HD-DVD, Blue-Ray?)

Christophe Gans: It's indeed a third and good reason to postpone the collector's edition. We are in actually in some kind of weird period: we have a feet in the past, the DVD low-definition, and another feet (or let's say three feet fingers) in the future, the HD. (getting nervous) Actually movies are released in a muddled way, mostly gathered into huge packs...I'd add that carefully produced editions have become extremely rares. There are of course some exceptions like King Kong. But it was only because Peter Jackson was there. I need to say the truth: the DVD which are released actually in USA are a lot less pretty than those which were released 3-4 years before. And that, just because editors only think about their catalogues. I recently bought an imported DVD with three movies inside with Randolph Scott, including two pretty DVD from André de Toth: the three movies on the same disc without any subtitle, nothing. And Warner is releasing that?! They have never, until now, released DVD with no subtitles, French or English. Just that I wanted to say that to release a very well produced DVD in that kind of market was useless. You should better wait for the high definition and the way you'll remake your video edition in a « sexier » way and in that case propose the Silent Hill collector, maybe in a DVD-HD-DVD bundle. That would be better than buying a half-made stuff.

DVDRAMA: Did you see the Silent Hill Blu-Ray version?

Christophe Gans: No. And in any case I have no rights to watch at the American DVD which is pathetic from my point of view. I think you've been pretty nice with that Zone 1 edition on DVDrama. The cover is awfull, the way the compression was made is disastrous, and the High Definition master was fiddled with to give in the end some kind of low definition master and bit greyish (Nota: A DVD indeed is always made from a Low Definition Master itself coming from a High Definbition master). It's a common mistake today: we work on the HD master without taking care of what the Low Definition master is going to be on DVD. For the Silent Hill Zone 2 DVD, I wanted to work from a Low Definition master directly. That's why the result is great now! (Laughs!) I worked considering the limits of DVD and optimized the depiction without taking any risks. At the end we spent eight full days on calibration – and that's a lot considering that a DVD is made in only one day to the max! After each sessions, I wanted the result to be masterize and asked to have a « Control-DVD » so that I could watch it on several screens. Only after I could correct the mistakes. Everybody was getting crazy with that... But I swear it's the only way to succed. I always to that for my movies.

DVDRAMA: But do every directors can supervise like you their DVD?

Christophe Gans: No. Fortunately for me, I work in Metropolitan, the Samuel Hadida Company, where I'm totally free. You cannot criticize the poor cineasts as they see their "baby" taken to be changed into a bad DVD: they're not protected like me. I'm very lucky. It's not that I'm more perfectionist than another one. Directors should have that kind of control on their movies. But it's not the case.

DVDRAMA: That's a bit what happened to Pascal Laugier on Saint-Ange with ARP (Note: and producted by Gans).

Christophe Gans: God knows his movie is beautifull! But despite that, Pascal couldn't control its DVD. In the end the Canadian eidition is far better than the French one: it contains the two versions (Note: each scenes were shot in French and English) on two DVD, with several extras which are not on the French edition, like the cut scenes. Which means if peoples want to have the real version of Saint-Ange they must watch at House of Voices- which is the US title. A good proff that the work was not made correctly here...

DVDRAMA: Well it was not really a surprise...

Christophe Gans: Each people has its own conception of video edition. Personally I prefer to watch a movie in a theater but the video is the true life of a movie. The release in theater is just a moment of «prestige . Today a movie exists before all and especially on the plasma screens in our rooms, we all know that. To work hardly on a master is a garantee for me that the movie I'll give will be as I wanted it to be.

DVDRAMA: In comparison how much time did you spend to calibrate Botherhood of the Wolves?

Christophe Gans: About a week like Silent Hill. At the same time it was very different because for Botherhood of the Wolves I completely remade the colors. One must know that I'm responsible of the calibration of my two mivies, for the theaters as for the video. And in both case, Dan Lausten, my lead photographer was not available any more as he was working on another movie. So I have a good knowledge of the chromatic balance of my movies and I like to take care of that by myself...

DVDRAMA: What could we find on the Collector DVD of Silent Hill?

Christophe Gans: What I'd like to explore are, of course, the relationships beetween the game and the movie universes and also everything which lead both, Akira Yamaoka and me, to make our choices for this adaptation. I worked fully hand-in-hand with him. He watched at everything since the script writting. I'd like to talk about that because it's important to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. What I loved personnaly was to put not only the universe but also its video game structure. I was thinking about that for a long time and it was really exciting to do it with, as a support, a so noble and innovative game. But about the artistic part, I only stay in my illustrating role. I tried to put on the screen the textures, the shades, the game visual aspect. When I compare Silent Hill to contemporary art, one must not forget that that was the purpose of the game. It was not me who found about that comparison, it was the idea of Akira Yamaoka and the Silent Team. In fact I'd like to remake the path we both had to build that film.There are a lot of stories. For example it was vital for Yamaoka to make the film as Silent Hill 5 didn't received the agreement to be made. Like everybody know, the game budgets didn't stop to increase and the upcoming movie could convince Konami to give funds for a fith episode. So there's a lot of things to say about not only the Silent Hill mythology but also its commercial viability. The game has a lot of succed in angloponic countries like USA and England but also in Germany. But it was sold to only a few thousands copies in in Japan where Silent Hill had not commercial viability. It's a very esoteric game for a lot of peoples...

DVDRAMA: How was the movie successful around the world, especially in Japan?

Christophe Gans: We've been disappointed by two markets: Germany and Japan for a very simple reason: Silent Hill has been released along with Mission Impossible 3 and Pirates of the Carribean 2. We've been litteraly crushed at because we were aiming the same public, mostly the young ones. But around the world, the movie worked pretty well. It grossed 100 millions dollars which was our purpose, considering the other video game adaptations results and especially the two Resident Evil movies, also co-produced by Samuel Hadida. It's difficult to compare the grossing funds of Silent Hill to Mission Impossible's 3 for example. My movie was sold territory by territory and, to analyse its succes, you must look at the local receipts. The movie really worked well in USA. The movie was acquired for 14 millions dollars by Tristar. And that's all. They didn't add a cent. The movie ended by grossing 50 millions dollars, to which we must add the 30 millions of DVD rents and other 30 millions for the sellings. Considering the price it was bought, it's really good. I'd say that the promotional spendings reached 25 millions. So there will be a Silent Hill 2: it's been officially ordered and it's actually en route. Once he'll have finished his adaptation of the game Driver, Roger Avary will work on it, helped by his pal Neil Gaiman.

DVDRAMA: Was the movie success predicted?

Christophe Gans: No, not at all. I'm really pleased because it's one of the biggest success of the year in horror movie, the third one in fact (considering the money it won) just after Saw 3 and The Omen. I'd add that in most of the case only teen movies, sequels or remakes have such a succes. But Silent Hill is a weird movie, beetween SF, Clive Barker's novels and hardcore horror...I was helped by the indredible trust I was given by, not only the movie producers, but also the peoples from Sony-Tristar.

DVDRAMA: But they asked you to add the scenes with the husband played by Sean Bean...

Christophe Gans: Yes: in the original script the husband only appeared at the begenning and the end. But the executives were really afraid to make a movie without any masculine element. To comfort them, I added the scenes with Sean Bean. Even if I like the scene where his wife and himself are crossing each other in the two differents dimensions, I never found these scenes to be very useful. I knew they could add several informations and explanations which could exploit the pure oneiric film astmosphere. When I watched the final cut, I realised that the scenes created a problem: by the night and day alternation they put, these add-ons where putting upside-down the «subjective» time of the movie. So for the public the actions wasn't happening during a day but three. The movie was written and build by Roger Avary like a Twilight Zone episode, which mean in a concice way. Adding these scene made the movie losing its balance. As Tristar only tested the movie, without showing it to peoples outside the studio, nobody anticipated the problem. It was only after the movie was released what we all realised we should have cut out these scenes and kept them for the DVD.

DVDRAMA: These scenes were writtent before or during the shooting?

Christophe Gans: Before fortunately! Sean Bean has been hired very quickly and came the day before the shooting, just coming from another movie. Everything went quickly and we didn't have the time to think about these scenes. Besides, when I was editing the movie, I continued to rewrite several elements which I found were not great. As Sean only played for five days and owned us three more by contact, I decided to shoot again several shots with him in a faster way. Like that phone call in the car which replace a scene with an archivist. From that, I conclude that a horror movie should not last more than 2h05!! (laughs) That kind of movie only needs 105 minutes and Silent Hill should have had that length.

DVDRAMA: The studio didn't tought about that length problem?

Christophe Gans: No, they don't think like that. Peoples in studios are very kind in most of the case. But the way they see the public is just demographic: young white peoples must be pleased, young black peoples must be pleased, young girls must be pleased, young men must be pleased, etc... Which mean they build a movie by adding the differents kinds of publics and not by refering to a global audience. Just look at The Departed from Scrocese: the movie is 45 minutes longer than the Hong-Kong version which was perfect and why that? In any way because they wanted to give a bigger role to the girl. Without that, the only female characters of the movie would have been whores! Just imagine how bothered were the executives. That's the way it works in USA and you must accept it. But in my case it was not a big sacrifice compared to the liberty I had? They just put a royal peace up to me!

DVDRAMA: I heard that the studio didn't give you any comment about your first cut...

Christophe Gans: I was expecting to receive ten pages full of notes. In the end I just had only one comment about the Irish accent of Sean Bean and the Australian one of Radha Mitchell who were too much noticeable in three scenes. That was all. Samuel and Andrew were astonished: they had never seen that. Samuel had just produced a Tony Scott movie, Domino, and in the hand they received dozens of pages with notes. But with Silent Hill which was apparently a more hard edge product, nothing. Well, honestly I think the studio really liked the movie but they also had a date of release they didn't want to miss in any case. By asking me too much changes, the movie could have not been released in date. And the movie only cost them 14 millions...

DVDRAMA: What about the censorship?

Christophe Gans: Too much good. For me it was almost a disappointment. My producer Samuel Hadida was very afraid about some movie shots, especially the death of Cybil, the cop. I wanted for this scene an unforgetable effect which could show directly somebody been roasted alive on a stake. I wanted to avoid the use of a puppet. So we worked a lot with the technicians from Buf, the French Special Effects studios to recreate on the screen the effect of a chicken turning on its spit. When Samuel watched at the scene, he was terrified: «It'll never pass, we're in the shit...». And there were also the skinning of Anna, the rape of Christabella with the barbed wires... We finally showed the movie to the canadian censorship...and we've been surprised. The violence of the movie was said to be... «acceptable». And this for three reasons: the story doesn't happen in the real world (laughs), that's the incredible story of a woman who tries to save her daughter and there's no gun. Well, there's a gun but it's useless. With these three explanations we were ok to go and we didn't realise that. After what, the movie was described as «Not suitable for peoples under 14» in England considering that in that country everything has a NC-17 rating. France only got a PG-13 and that was the best of the best.

DVDRAMA: So today in a movie, you can roast a woman, rape another one with barbed wires and cut her in two parts as long as it's not happening in reality and there are no guns!

Christophe Gans: That's the proof that censorship is useless, it's totaly absurd. So is the better for us. I think that the movie was cut only in Singapour for questions of religion but that's all. Silent Hill was, let's say, «blessed». Of course it makes you smile when you see the problems Saw 3 is facing.

DVDRAMA: The electoral period help censorship...

Christophe Gans: Exactly. Parliamentaries discussions are already opened about cinema and video games. The more optimistic will tell you that it'll allow to rebuild a true counter-culture. Other peoples will tell you you'll have to hide youself to rent and lend movies and games... In any case, we're facing in France a stregthening of censorship. What happened to Saw 3 is showing it. So make the most of Schizophrenia in 20H30 on Cine Cinema because in a few time it'll be only a souvenir...

DVDRAMA: Do you have cut shots in Silent Hill?

Christophe Gans: In fact there's a missing scene I didn't put in the cut. It's a scene in the church which happened just after the light came back. Christabella came to speak to the two women. That scene was a kind of «clone» of the scene with the organ on the mezzanine of the church. It was the only cut scene.

DVDRAMA: But in the Making-Of of the DVD we can see another scene which is not in the movie: the armless monster attacking in the town.

Christophe Gans: Yes but it wasn’t really a cut scene. It was more complicated...As you know I chose for the Silent Hill monsters to use old technics: the monsters are all played by dancers in costumes, filmed in a reverse way or with different speeds to have some weird movements. It worked very well. We however had some problems with a creature: the trunk-man indeed. Several weeks before shooting the scene where Cybil is killing one on the road, we shoted another meeting with a trunk-man in front of the Silent Hill Hotel. Wounded, the creature started to crawl under a car like an insect with three broken paws to finally disappear in the sewers. That sequence was shot indeed. But as we were short in time for the movie (Note: 60 days to shot it!), I asked the the second team to shot the inserts where the creature crawls underground. Everything was planned by advance by my choregrapher, Roberto Campanella, but that day the Canadian producer decided not to spend money so the poor choregrapher stayed at home! The poor second team had the mission to make the creature crawling by immagining how it would. During half a day, they dragged the trunk-man laying on a skate-board, on a big green plywood and planned to see how to move the legs later. When I saw the rushes I was devastated: it was not at all what I was planning. I asked to shot again the scene. This day the Canadian Producer didn’t like my tone and we almost ended in a fight. Without any extra funds, no more scene.

When I shot later the sequel of that sequence, I rewrote the scene so that the girls could get directly in the hotel, attracted by the screams coming from the inside, without meeting the creature. So the scene we have in the making-of has no place today in the movie. It’s been cut just because it hasn’t been finished. Just because a producer wanted to keep a few hundred of dollars and to sing one’s own praises.

DVDRAMA: Did you have other problems of the same kind during the shooting?

Christophe Gans: Only that. But nothing anormal. That’s how it happens in a shooting where special FX are permanents. A lot of elements and concepts have been deleted or modified. Maybe you’ll see one day the original story-boards of the movie and you’ll see that the end of the movie was totaly modified. At first, Alessa’s revenge was very different. When Christabella stabs Rose, darkness comes out the wound and create a huge black swamp, almost a swimming-pool from which emerge six pyramids Heads, each carrying a different weapon. It looked like an Anime from Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Note: director of Ninja Scroll). The six Pyramids Heads massacred the peoples in the Church in some kind of tribute to Dante’s Inferno. They just skewered them, cut them from head to toe...It was very tasty!

DVDRAMA: Why did not you shot that end?

Christophe Gans: The end of the movie was supposed to be shot at the end of the shooting. After having delayed the plannings, hard days and extra hours I only had half and one day to end the movie. The guys from the insurrance company who were covering the movie were here to be sure the movie would end correctly. Of course they were asking themselves how we could shot the final sequence in time. One day, during a lunch with producers, they asked me if I could finish the final scene in half and one day. I answered I couldn’t. As I only had a Pyramid Head for me I would have to shot him several times with a different weapon to duplicate him in post-production. They said: “It’s very simple, Mr Gans. You have one week to come back with a new end. We don’t even want you to try to shoot that scene”. Of course, the producers who wanted that scene were not happy at all. My story-boarder, Thierry Ségur, was back in France and we were communicating by webcam. I was speaking with him and I got an idea: “ Listen, let’s make it simple. Let’s remake Legend of the Overfield!”. I still remember him laughing to death... Urotsukidoji (the Japanese title) is an ultraviolent Japanese Anime we’re both fond of. In any case, it was a good idea: in half and one day, I just shot very wide shots were fanatics attacked by Alessa were moving in a simple way. I knew the tentacles would ensure the continuity from a shot to another. With my editor Sébastien Prangère, we even used shots from Legend of the Overfield to complete the cut. Besides, there are two inserts which are exact clones scenes from shots of the Anime. In the first OAV of Legend of Overfiend, take the scene where a devilish teacher rape one of her pupils with tentacles and compare! You’ll see! (laughs!)

DVDRAMA: We can see a huge difference with Botherhood of the Wolves: the lack of references. Was it just because Silent Hill, the game, was a good reference?

Christophe Gans: In part yes. But the main reason comes from the fact I’m listening to critics, especially those I had with Botherhood of the Wolves. In some way there’s always something true in the critics, even the badly written ones. Of course the exaggeration of references was the most noticable critic of Botherhood of the Wolves. But that was the project of the movie: to pay a tribute to Italian popular cinema from the 60’s. But once I started Silent Hill I wanted to do with these critics: in Botherhood there were too much references, but also too much slow-motions scenes, too much fade effects, to much fade-to-black effects, etc...Ok, understood! With Sébastien Prang_re, we got rid of all these effects for Silent Hill. There’s only one slow-motion in the movie and it cannot even be seen. There are no fade effects and I tried to erase every cinematographic references to concentrate more on contemporary art. They were already in the game but they allowed me to show another personal interests I have. Of course you could find picturals references in Botherhood of the Wolves, especially the German XIXth century paintings. But I could completely act freely in Silent Hill and pay tribute to Dali, Bellmer, Francis Bacon, Jean Cocteau, Giacometti,...

DVDRAMA: As a former film critic, you accept the role of critics about your movies?

Christophe Gans: Of course. My friends, several being themselves filmakers, really admire my capacity to take critics as they can’t do it themselves. A bad critic and their day is blown. They look down. In someway, this relationship with critics allows me to live my passion in a better way. I read critics to analyse, understand them. And I find true things inside. There always will be critics I’ll reject, like those who say my movies are too much aesthetically pleasing. Sorry but that’s my cinema. I don’t want to do rotten movies with blurry shots, badly cut, because some peoples think my movies are too much aesthetic. But when they say I do too much manierism, there’s too much lacks, too much camera movements, etc I think that’s interresting. And for my next movie, I’ll keep in mind the critics I had with Silent Hill. Just understand me, it’s my only reference... If I only listened to those who, sorry to be so much rude, lick my balls I could not go on. Critics are what make me think I still have to work. I like that.

DVDRAMA: Did you start to make your own critic of Silent Hill?

Christophe Gans: Of course, once the shooting was over. By watching the rushes, you always start to critic yourself. For example I wanted to do a fantastic movie build on the concepts and atmosphere. That why my idea of the “noble fantastic”. Today I think I should have been less demanding. I should have sent several fear effects directly to the spectator face. It was a recuring joke on the stage where the producers came to see me and say : “God Damn it just make the door slaming!”. And me: “No no no! Peoples are not idiots!”. I stayed deep in my own conception of fantastic cinema which is not everyone’s. Horror movie is actually some kind of reactionnary genre: you have a lot of slashers where peoples are attacked, put in pieces before they strike-back. Not very classy, even if I admit to have loved a movie like Hostel! Silent Hill is a reference to another kind of fantastic, the one coming from Clive Barker, Lovecraft novels... More literary references. There are anyway pretty violents scenes in Silent Hill…

Yes of course, beause I can do them, and also because they were necessary for the story. Let’s understand that: I’m a commercial director. Not in a cynical and opportunistic sence. I mean my movies are for people who watch them with their pals saturday at night. So I must give to the public what he’s expecting to see and I pust do my best. So I was a bit disappointed that people thought Silent Hill lacked of starts when I fought with producer to not fall into the the public’s name. There are people paying to have an instant emotion and I disappointed them. I don’t want to forget anyone. I don’t see why I should separate the spectators in different categories with more important people and less important people: I don’t want to have that debate, I just don’t want. I think my responsibility, especially when I’m given 45 millions dollars, is to make the most people possible happy. I don’t want to play the artist. But I’m also happy to hear or to listen that Silent Hill is closer to Orphée from Cocteau than a common slasher...

DVDRAMA: Do you plan to correct that in Silent Hill 2?

Christophe Gans: Yes. Silent Hill was a difficult movie to make, because I had to organize a complex mythology which is not known from the whole public: going from a dimension to another, Alessa’s story, the clone theme... I spent a lot of energy to work on these concepts. But I’ll maybe not be able to take care of Silent Hill 2 because of my planning on Onimusha...

DVDRAMA: Do the Japanese will give the same trust you had to another director for Silent Hill 2?

Christophe Gans: The peoples from Sony already said to Samuel Hadida that they wanted the sequel to be visually as great as the original one. For them it’s important that the spectators of the sequels don’t think they’ve been tricked. In the case I couldn’t take care of Silent Hill 2, the next director will have to keep the style of the first movie...

DVDRAMA: What kind of director could make Silent Hill 2?

Christophe Gans: The Japanese and we agreed on that point: we didn’t want to make an Hollywoodian movie and I’d like the next movie director to be European. In the best case French.

DVDRAMA: You have an idea?

Christophe Gans: I have some. But in any case, I’ll not be very far. With Samuel Hadida, we’re very...”familly”...