Kevin is joined by the powerhouse filmmaking team of producer Kelly McCormick and director David Leitch to discuss, among other things, what makes their successful partnership work on megahits such as Deadpool 2, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Atomic Blonde, and Bullet Train.
Kelly McCormick, Producer
Kelly produced Atomic Blonde and executive produced Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw, among countless other films and television projects prior to establishing the production company 87North with David. Among her previous credits, Kelly served as Executive Vice President of Production and Acquisitions at Sierra Affinity where she packaged and produced Academy Award®-winning and nominated films such as Hell or High Water, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, and Manchester by The Sea.
David Leitch, Producer and Director
David directed the global hits Bullet Train, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Deadpool 2, and Atomic Blonde. He made his directorial debut co-directing John Wick, which he also produced, and subsequently served as executive producer on the sequels. David is also co-owner and co-founder of the award-winning, critically acclaimed stunt design company 87eleven Action Design with Chad Stahelski.
Twists and turns in Atomic Blonde (4:51)
The trio discuss some of the twists in the film Atomic Blonde, and how testing led to the film being changed to ensure that the audience bought in to some of the twists that Atomic Blonde took.
From stuntman to director (14:15)
David talks about how he got his start in the movies, going from a 3rd-grade teacher with a martial arts studio to directing some of the biggest action sequences of all time.
Deadpool 2 and the Bake Off (18:08)
Kevin talks about the screening process of Deadpool 2 with Kelly, who produced the film, and David, who directed it. They talk about how they both became involved with the movie, the mixture of irreverent comedy and heart that makes the Deadpool franchise successful, and the excellent screen test results of the film. They also delve into the “bake-off” concept in audience research where filmmakers can test different things with similar audiences.
Making Bullet Train at the height of the pandemic (25:00)
With Kelly as producer, and David as director, Bullet Train was made during the height of the pandemic. Listen to inside stories of what it was like working with the team to make this $100+ million blockbuster.
Coming Soon (35:25)
What’s next for Kelly and David? Here’s a taste -- action and Santa in the same movie.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Kelly McCormick and David Leitch
Producer: Kari Campano
For more information about Kelly and David’s upcoming projects:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmleitch, https://twitter.com/87northaction
For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoetz360
Linked In @Kevin Goetz
Screen Engine/ASI Website: www.ScreenEngineASI.com
Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Guest: Powerhouse Filmmaking Team Kelly McCormick & David Leitch
There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.
Kevin Goetz (00:24):
So many of you don't know that before I had this podcast, before I embarked on the career that I'm in currently, I was an actor, a singer, and a dancer. I made my living that way for years. And as a dancer, I studied principally ballet and had a great appreciation, and still do, for really extraordinary choreography. Well, now cut to several years later, I'm testing a movie called Atomic Blonde, starring
Charlize Theron. There's a sequence where Charlize and the bad guy are going toe to toe in a fight sequence that I was blown away by. And many of you probably were too if you saw it. And it was like five minutes of screen time, what seemed like five minutes of a single camera shot, which means the actors were really going at it. I left thinking who the heck did this? And I found out that the stunt coordinator was in fact the director, David Leitch.
Kevin Goetz (01:16):
And I remember thinking he has got to be a ballet dancer because it was so beautiful and balletic and just flowed like I'd never seen anything like it before. He not only directed that, he also went on to direct Deadpool 2, and Hobbs and Shaw, and this last summer's Bullet Train, which is on its way to crossing the $100 million mark at the box office. Incidentally, David's cumulative box office total exceeds 2 billion dollars. He produces with his equally talented and brilliant wife, Kelly McCormick. Kelly began her career working at, among other places, Sierra/Affinity, where she led and produced movies like Manchester by the Sea and Whiplash and Hell or High Water, to name just a few before joining with David to produce all those movies that I just mentioned. I'm thrilled to call them my friends, at least I think we're friends <laugh> and please help me welcome David Leitch and Kelly McCormick.
David Leitch (02:26):
Oh, we're excited to be here, Kevin. This is, and we are friends, so that's good.
Kevin Goetz (02:30):
Ah, thank you. So, I want to start with a very quick story. Let's go back to Stockholm, Sweden
David Leitch (02:38):
Kevin Goetz (02:38):
And the Royal Palace, my husband and I took a trip there. So I'm on a private tour. Neil wanted to stay back at the hotel. I think it was the Grand Hotel. And all of a sudden, I hear “Kevin” and it's Kelly and David across the courtyard of the Royal Palace. I'm like, what the F are you guys doing here? And then they tell me what they, oh, well we saw you at breakfast this morning <laugh> at the Grand Hotel. And I'm like, and you didn't say anything at breakfast? Well, you know, you were enjoying your breakfast or something like that. And I was like, you have to be kidding. You were actually mixing Atomic Blonde there. And so you guys were doing the same tour the day I was doing it. And it was just so funny. And so, let's go back to that. I remember so clearly being in that first screening and watching what I thought was maybe the best action choreography that I had ever seen. And I remember, do you remember what I said to you, David, afterward?
David Leitch (03:48):
I mean, it was something about dance.
Kevin Goetz (03:50):
Oh yes, it was. I said you are a ballet dancer, you're a choreographer and Charlize was a prima ballerina. And the way that you choreographed those shots and the length of them, they were artistic masterpieces. I have to tell you, if you haven't seen that and observed that you must see it. And it was just magical and you are so gifted and Kelly afterward, I went to you and I said, this is extraordinary. And your husband is a genius. And then I said, do you remember what I said to you afterward?
Kelly McCormick (04:25):
<laugh> I don't think I do
Kevin Goetz (04:26):
I'll tell you. I said, and he's gorgeous.
David Leitch (04:31):
Kevin Goetz (04:33):
I said he is a stud. And from that, I think we became instant friends. What did you learn from that experience of the test screening process? David, did you remember anything specific about that and making any changes based on audience feedback?
David Leitch (04:51):
Yeah. You know, the thing you get from the audience is that they don't lie. <laugh>, you know, their reactions are genuine. And when you're sitting in that room with them, you can sense this sort of what's working and what's not. I mean, I embrace the testing process, I think, especially after Atomic. I mean, because we did make certain changes in clarity and them understanding the story. We went back to refine the mystery to make sure that everything paid off in a very clear way. So, a movie like that, that is sort of this noir with these twists and turns, you've got to make sure that you're really guiding the audience and this sort of process allows you to know if they're getting it.
Kevin Goetz (05:41):
Do you remember a point of clarity that you particularly changed because the audience said what you thought you were communicating may not have actually been what was communicated?
David Leitch (05:52):
I'm not sure there was a third but go ahead.
Kelly McCormick (05:55):
Yeah, there was one, I mean that had twists obviously, and that actually was a really interesting writing process too because Charlize and Jess Butterworth actually came in and rewrote the script, like really late in the process where we were already in prep. And it was beautiful, the work that was done was beautiful, but it also sort of wasn't like, it was such a detailed sort of noir and twist that there were a couple of pieces that got a little wonky and we worked really hard on those during production to make sure that they were clear and clean. And then, by the end, there was one specific, like the connection between her and John Goodman, in the end, was where to tuck it in and how. And I think that's one of the things that we really learned from the test screening was, did we give them enough clue that they could buy into that twist working? Or was it just kind of like, did it feel tacked on? And we learned a lot and actually changed the movie then to make sure that it felt like if, especially upon rewatch, that you would really understand how that was woven together.
Kevin Goetz (07:03):
David, did you want to add something?
David Leitch (07:05):
No, I think there were so many twists and turns that, and Kelly just sort of capped it, that we worked on during production. And there were a couple that we refined during this process. But what I like about this is it's really, this process is, look, it's another reason why I love post so much. You watch the movie get better and better and better, and it transforms. And I think some young directors are so nervous of this process and they think it's a judgment or an indictment and it's not, it is a…
Kevin Goetz (07:35):
David Leitch (07:36):
It's a validation at times, it's an enlightenment at times, and it allows you a tool to make your storytelling better. And I just embrace it.
Kevin Goetz (07:46):
Well, Sherry Lansing always says that and I concur completely, obviously, because it's what I do. But to me, it actualizes the filmmaker's vision even more so because what you're doing is, it's the art form of our craft, right? Which is you're making something for as many people to enjoy it as possible. And that may be clarity. It may be satisfaction, emotional and intellectual satisfaction, or something, right? That is going to really engage as many people as we can. And that's what our goal is. It's not to torture people or take away the artistic integrity of what you're setting up to do in any way.
David Leitch (08:26):
Yeah. I guess if you want to make films that don't reach people, then don't go through this process.
Kevin Goetz (08:32):
I completely agree. I always say if you're an artist, you know, you don't like your painting, put it in the back of your closet. If you're a writer, you have a novel, if you don't like it, put it in the back of your drawer. But if you're making movies, there's a business component to it, and you've always, both of you have always embraced that. I imagine when you go home at night after a screening, not to get too personal, but I imagine you lying in bed and Kelly has her produceorial hat on, and David, you have your directorial hat on. Do you have a rule, leave it away from the bedroom or do you start debating? <laugh>
David Leitch (09:10):
Maybe from the bedroom, but from the car ride home and then all the way until the bedroom, but it can be very hard as an artist, you know, because you have these little things, little babies in the movie and you don't want to let them go.
Kevin Goetz (09:28):
Do you guys ever fight?
David Leitch (09:30):
We argue, disagree, but not fight fight, but it's like more of we can <laugh> we can definitely disagree from those two perspectives of our job.
Kevin Goetz (09:43):
And how do you work out the resolution, Kel?
Kelly McCormick (09:48):
Well, I mean he wins. <laugh>
David Leitch (09:51):
I don't know if I win. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (09:54):
I don't believe that Kelly McCormick.
David Leitch (09:57):
I'm not sure I win. I think it's that we have respect for each other, and we listen and we take things in and even if it gets a little bit where we disagree, we can try to find what's right for the movie ultimately, and try to let ego go and don't let it get into our relationship.
Kelly McCormick (10:17):
But, well, I think that's one of the reasons it actually works for us maybe is what's best for the movie is sort of more important to us than our opinions about the movie. If that makes sense. Like an opinion about what's best for the movie.
David Leitch (10:34):
It’s still subjective, you know, art is subjective.
Kelly McCormick (10:36):
It is, but it isn't on some level, too. Thanks to the audience, and thanks to the testing. So, if it's something that David's fallen in love with, and it's been in the movie since the director's cut and I've been wanting to get rid of, or quite honestly the studio has been wanting to, and I think it's a good note. Like, you know, that moment in testing is kind of like really the ball don't lie. It's like the black and white of the truth and the truth comes to light and David's really open to listening to that. And that's the only stuff that I'll really maybe win or pick on.
Kevin Goetz (11:17):
Well, also Lauren Schuler Donner worked a lot with Dick Donner, but they also didn't work together a lot because the thought was her job is to always protect the director as the producer. She always felt that was kind of the job of a producer to hold that director's vision, et cetera. But they went on their own a bunch. You guys are basically doing your stuff all together, so it's really cool. You must really have that mutual respect for each other.
David Leitch (11:49):
We do. We do. And, just to clear it up, I mean, Kelly does produce stuff for 87North our company on her own that I don't touch like the movie Kate on Netflix with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. They did really well for them.
Kevin Goetz (12:05):
Did you do Palm?
Kelly McCormick (12:06):
I did do Palms.
Kevin Goetz (12:07):
That was fun now. But David, you weren't involved in that just as a company, right? Right. That was Kelly.
Kelly McCormick (12:13):
That was actually a Sierra holdover. It was, it was not really 87North.
Kevin Goetz (12:16):
Oh, it wasn't okay.
Kelly McCormick (12:18):
But it was a beloved project of mine. Yeah.
David Leitch (12:22):
But, to our relationship, you spoke about Laura and Dick, I think, and that some producers take on that role of I'm just going to protect the director at all costs and whether they did that or not, I'm not sure, but what I think Kelly does is protect me. The protection she has for me is even for myself and as a filmmaker, you want someone that can tell you the hard truth about what they're feeling artistically, and you respect them as an artist as well, so they can call you out and go that’s fucking bullshit, I don't agree with that. That's not funny, right? That story doesn't make sense or whatever. And it isn't about just protecting my ego. Believe me, she doesn't protect my ego, but I appreciate that. Because it's very easy to get in a bubble where people are like, yeah, this is so great. You know, it's great. It's great. It's great. And you're like, you want critics, you want challenges from somebody that you trust creatively.
Kevin Goetz (13:23):
Here's what I find so fascinating about you, David. Where did you have the nerve, <laugh> I was thinking of another word, to say, I'm working as a stunt coordinator. I feel I can direct a production, A, the training and B, the technical aspects, and I'm going to say a C, you have an insanely good sense of actors and the craft of acting like you, you were an actor or are an actor, is that right?
Kelly McCormick (13:54):
I don't represent his acting career, <laugh> but he definitely understands actors in a way that is mind-blowing.
Kevin Goetz (14:03):
It's mind-blowing, but I've just got to say Kelly's right. So where did this confluence come together and give you that confidence to say I'm going to direct and how did you actually make the transition?
David Leitch (14:15):
I think there are probably a lot of things I could say were touchstones in the beginning. I went to a really small school in high school. You had to do everything or all these activities after school, or no one would get to do anything, right? So I was in sports, but I was in theater and I was in music and I was in…you just had to do everything. It's like 40 kids in the class, right? And so having that sort of broad exposure to the arts, whether they were physical or musical or theater, I learned to appreciate them and I followed them throughout college. And my love for movies. Again, my passion was action because I was an athlete first. I don't know. I just, I…
Kelly McCormick (14:59):
He was also a third-grade teacher, which I think has a lot to do with how he understands actors.
David Leitch (15:07):
My degree is in education. I have a master’s.
Kevin Goetz (15:10):
So, you really were a third-grade teacher?
David Leitch (15:12):
<laugh> Yeah, I went to the university of Minnesota. I have a degree in international relations and a master's in education.
Kevin Goetz (15:20):
Kelly, seriously, Where did you find him?
Kelly McCormick (15:22):
I know, much to his parent's dismay, he actually stopped teaching.
David Leitch (15:26):
Because my parents were both…
Kevin Goetz (15:26):
Oh, I know. Yeah. Right now I think the story is different, right?
Kelly McCormick (15:31):
No, they still are like, what are you going to get a regular job? <laugh>
David Leitch (15:35):
<laugh> you can always go back.
Kevin Goetz (15:36):
Oh no. Oh my.
David Leitch (15:39):
Kevin Goetz (15:40):
Isn't that the greatest? That is so great. That is so great parents, you know, I love what Shirley MacLean says, just when you think you've healed your life, you go home.
David Leitch (15:51):
<laugh>. That is exactly it.
Kelly McCormick (15:52):
That's exactly it.
David Leitch (15:53):
Kevin Goetz (15:54):
They know how to push those buttons, you know? So, you were a teacher, and then you had a studio. We, again, we share some…I started my first business when I was 17 years old. A dance and acting studio in New Jersey at 17. I had a hundred students and four teachers. And you started yours at like 18 or 19, right?
David Leitch (16:15):
Yeah. I had a martial arts school and I taught kids martial arts, adult martial arts, and that was always my passion, athletics, and martial arts. So I guess teaching a lot also, you have to understand how people think, how they learn.
Kevin Goetz (16:32):
Kelly got it right. It's like if you can understand a third grader, you
David Leitch (16:36):
Can understand an actor
Kevin Goetz (16:37):
Well, the simplicity and yet the complexity, they're trying to figure out the world and understanding the character. I went to one of the best acting conservatories in the country. That was my background. What it did is it opened up the notion of how to get to the truth, how to peel back the layers of the onion to get to the essence. And that's what I do today. I try to distill and synthesize and get to the heart of the matter. And I earnestly try to do that with every one of my clients. And I've tried to do it on all of your films.
Kelly McCormick (17:15):
Successfully. Very successfully
David Leitch (17:16):
Kevin Goetz (17:17):
Well, thank you guys, and we'll be back in just a moment. I want to talk about Deadpool and why I didn't work on Hobbs and Shaw. And then also, Bullet Train. We'll be back in a minute.
David Leitch (17:32):
Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of, and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book, Audienceology, by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of Audienceology into focus. Audienceology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.
Kevin Goetz (18:08):
Oh gosh. So we're back. Seriously, let's talk about Deadpool 2, you know, Deadpool 1 was such, to me, a revelation. It was such an interesting movie, and you always wonder how can the second one be as good as the first and the fact that it was not only as good but possibly even surpassed it was just, you captured the tonality and that irreverence so brilliantly. How did you get to that picture? How'd you both get on that picture? Number one and number two, how'd you find that brilliant tone?
Kelly McCormick (18:48):
David actually a little bit got snookered into it because he didn't really want to do a sequel. He was talking to Ryan originally about doing X Force. And there was still like, Tim was actually still wonderful too. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and then it sort of worked out where Ryan and David were really hitting it off. And Tim was sort of moving away from Deadpool 2. And Ryan was like, how about you just do Deadpool 2 with me and Ryan, being the charismatic, amazing human being that he is, David decided to go for it.
David Leitch (19:25):
Yeah, I'm going to say no to Ryan?
Kelly McCormick (19:28):
I mean it's impossible to say no to Ryan.
Kevin Goetz (19:30):
And how did you go about trying to match that same, as I said, tonality so beautifully?
David Leitch (19:38):
Well, I'm a fan of Ryan's comedy and his specific brand of that sort of self-referential stuff that he was doing in Deadpool. So, I was already a huge fan of that stuff. And the script had that in spades, you know, and the script…
Kevin Goetz (19:55):
The script was good, huh?
David Leitch (19:56):
The script was good. And Wernick and Reese wrote it. And there had been a lot of drafts that they were trying to get to something. And then he brought Paul and Rhett back in and I was like, this is really fun. And so the thing we really struggled with was like, how do we get to the heart of it? And what's the moral to the story because I think ultimately, you know, Deadpool only works if there's a heart, a real heart in the middle of it because it's so irreverent, you can get detached, right? And collectively, we came up with that idea of someone getting a second chance, you know, sort of that kid, if someone would just show him one act of kindness, he may not turn out to be this sort of Hitler character in the future. And, that got woven into the script and that's where we landed emotionally, and then also the love story was there where he goes back and reconnects with Marina's character.
Kevin Goetz (20:53):
And it's funny, I didn't think that there were very many changes that we made from the screening process in that. I think audiences really fell in love with it.
David Leitch (21:01):
Testing, I’m guessing was like 92, 93, and I'm like, okay, we're done. And then Emma's like, I don't believe this, this can't be possible. We’ve got to test again. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (21:12):
I know we went, remember we were in the Fox little theater.
David Leitch (21:16):
Kevin Goetz (21:16):
Yeah, right, that little theater on the Fox lot.
David Leitch (21:19):
Yes, and we tested it like four times.
Kelly McCormick (21:22):
Yeah. There was the last one was outside of Austin and we baked off an opening.
Kevin Goetz (21:28):
Right, right. Can you explain to our listeners what baked off an opening means?
David Leitch (21:34):
Kevin Goetz (21:36):
It sounds like Betty Crocker, but it's not.
Kelly McCormick (21:40):
I guess it's when you have a difference of opinion about certain things in this movie, or you just want to try a couple of different things, which was the case on this one. And you have them run side by side within 15 minutes of each other usually. And it's two separate audiences, but usually the same theater. And then you kind of just test as usual and see where the numbers lie. Because again, that's really where the truth is.
Kevin Goetz (22:05):
From my point of view, we have to balance the audiences almost identically demographically, because we're trying to really give the absolute most even-keeled response and fair response, right, to you guys. So you go to the left, you go to the right, you go to the left, you go to the right theater, number one, theater, number two theater, number one, theater number two. So that we try to get exactly the same number of males and females, the same number of people under the age of so forth, even, ethnically, racially. Like we're trying to really get the balance correct to audience to audience is apples to apples as much as possible. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it's really important, I think. Was there ever a time when you guys kind of wish you did something later and wish you listened to an audience but didn't? Have you ever had an experience like that? How about the opposite where you wish you'd followed your own instinct and hadn't listened to the audience, anything like that?
Kelly McCormick (23:04):
It was a picture where the audience was confused in the test. I had this idea that we put voice-over throughout. I think that was one lesson that I wish we would've taken from a testing that, you know, would've really helped the film.
Kevin Goetz (23:18):
Yeah. That's great. It’s like the wisdom of the crowds. Like the audience never, never lies. I like to tell people as David said earlier, you know, I always say when people if somebody honks at you, I've said this before on this podcast. If somebody honks at you on the freeway, you know, they're an asshole. But if three people, four people honk at you, you're the asshole. And…
David Leitch (23:39):
Kevin Goetz (23:40):
It's like, you have to listen, you know, you can't be tone deaf to this stuff. And it's important. It doesn't mean you necessarily even have to act on it, but it's a worthy conversation to have certainly. I mean, I can tell you very clearly what I think is your greatest movie, Bullet Train is a terrific movie. It's so good on so many levels.
Kevin Goetz (24:04):
So I think you, and I think you and Brad Pitt have a karma and shared together too, David. You were his stunt double?
David Leitch (24:15):
Kevin Goetz (24:15):
<affirmative> then you got to watch him play a stunt man in Once Upon a Time. What did you think? Did he call you for advice?
David Leitch (24:21):
He didn't, and I'm kind of glad he didn’t. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (24:24):
I was going to say he didn't and look what happened to his performance. <laugh>
David Leitch (24:29):
Thank God. Because then I would've been responsible for that Academy Award.
Kevin Goetz (24:32):
Right, right, right.
David Leitch (24:34):
Yeah. It was a different type of era, and I probably would've distorted it and steered him the wrong way. I think he landed it where it needed to be.
Kevin Goetz (24:41):
Now that's some Midwestern humble pie right there. I mean, that's a really nice thing to say. And then of course you work together on this picture and he is so good in it. So good. I got the feeling like it was a shit-ton of fun.
David Leitch (25:00):
It was, it was so fun. And to make it during the pandemic, it was actually even more special because we were one of those few movies that got started in the middle of the height of the pandemic and Sony let us make it, and we were trying to figure out the protocols. We were sort of one of the first movies trying to figure out the rules and how to keep people safe. And it was great. It got our film family that we call our film family, our DP, our production designer, our AD like they do all the movies together with us. Our costume designer. Like we got our film family working during that time when no one was working.
Kevin Goetz (25:36):
And it looks just beautiful. The movie has a style and look to it. But again, you surprised me, my friend, both of you guys, your sense of comedy. And, irreverence that you probably learned a lot maybe from working, with Ryan on Deadpool 2. But a lot of that was brought into this movie and, it's just a romp and it's a complicated story. So, I'm thinking of remnants of how you talked about Atomic Blonde and how you had to weave the threads together because this story is really complicated and intertwined. So, it's funny how we take what we learn from all these different experiences to get us to where we are. You agree with that?
David Leitch (26:21):
Totally. Absolutely. Totally. I think every film is another learning lesson and every testing is another learning lesson for those films and yeah, I mean, I think Bullet Train is aggregate of, there's a little bit of Wick. There's a little bit of Atomic Blonde, there's a little bit of Deadpool. There's a little bit of Hobbs and Shaw <laugh>, there's a little bit of everything we've done in that movie, although it is its own completely original bonkers.
Kevin Goetz (26:47):
Tell me about Hobbs and Shaw. How did you land that picture? How did you get it and well, how was the experience?
David Leitch (26:55):
It was great actually in a lot of ways. I mean, I think we had our challenges. I mean, there's a lot, again, we walked into Deadpool, it was an established franchise. We were given a lot of a ton of creative freedom. Universal on Hobbs and Shaw gave us a lot of creative freedom, but you had the institutions of Dwayne and Jason and you know, there are people with their brands and they're protecting and the Fast franchise, like you can only go so far. I mean, you can defy physics because it's Fast, nobody cares, but you can only go so far creatively because there is a lore and there's a fan base, but we had fun working within those constraints for sure. It's so much easier when it's just us and we're producing and directing together. And I think there were a lot of other voices in that.
Kelly McCormick (27:40):
Yeah. Well, I mean the hardest part was that we jumped into it right before we released Deadpool 2. And we already had a release date before we started shooting and we barely had a script.
David Leitch (27:51):
We didn't, we didn't, when we started shooting, we had an outline.
Kelly McCormick (27:54):
<laugh> So, that was the real challenge of it. I think it's just kind of the expectations, you know, wanting it to be great, like having the opportunity to convert and you know, pivot from this giant franchise and the weight of that, but pivot into a little bit something different and we ended up choosing to do it because David always wanted to do a buddy comedy.
Kevin Goetz (28:16):
I was just going to ask you without a script, how did you make the decision to say yes to that?
Kelly McCormick (28:22):
Well, the chemistry between Jason and Dwayne, and the franchise, was just undeniable.
David Leitch (28:33):
It was our favorite part of that universe.
Kelly McCormick (28:35):
Just so amazing, you know? And our favorite part of Fast probably, before, up until six or seven or whatever it was, so if they could just bring that energy, David could do one of those old school, eighties buddy action but with the spectacle and the wow of what IP or a franchise would allow you to do.
Kevin Goetz (29:01):
And there were some major, major stunts in that movie. I mean, you know, Renny Harlin in my book, Audienceology talks about a big change he made in Cliffhanger when they crafted this amazing stunt called I think the king's leap. You know the story? Okay. So, they orchestrated this big thing with Stallone leaping across the…and it was done real, it was practical and the audience said no way, no one could ever do that. So Renny ended up cutting it and doing a different sort of thing to get him to the other side if you will. And so, I'm wondering, was there ever a spectacular, I don't know, a stunt that you thought was going to work a certain way and it just didn't work that way?
David Leitch (29:56):
Kevin Goetz (29:57):
David Leitch (29:58):
I don't have an anecdote that pops to mind. I'll say that in Fast, because you said there were so many different spectacle set pieces, we were combining CG and practical effects in a really unique way because you have to get the scale of things that don't really exist <laugh> in reality. There was a lot of experimentation. We would jump a car, for example, Simon Crane directed a little bit of second unit and he actually jumped this car and landed on the back of a semi. And again, that in itself is a feat of special effects, stunt driving, rigging, and yet you see it and everyone's like, this is Fast. So what do we do? We CG over the car, we add this smoke, and we changed the distance. And you're like, it's sad because there are times now, especially in that franchise where you're like, we have to hang three trucks off a helicopter before people even think it's a stunt and the actual big stunts don't maybe look as big in that world.
Kevin Goetz (31:10):
Kelly, how, as a producer, do you approach a movie like that? I was going to say a day when the preparation has got to be extraordinary.
Kelly McCormick (31:25):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean it is. I think we, we are so lucky. First what's amazing, one of the amazing things about David as a director is how much he understands production and every department because coming up as a stunt kind of person and coordinator and second unit director, you have to work with all the departments and really specifically together and sort of be in the trenches together in those ways. And so you have to understand what gives and what takes are required departmentally basically. And so it's a gift for a producer to be able to be in a situation like that, where the director is…You're not having to explain to the director, well, here's how this and this has to happen in order to get your vision.
Kelly McCormick (32:07):
It's like he actually is in there solving the problems with you and figuring it out together with the team. And I think it's one of the reasons he's an incredible leader and his department heads are devotees in a sense that every best idea wins in his mind and they're all together solving all the problems and honestly, he loves prep. And so as much preparation as you can do, the safer those days are, the better those days are, the more successful they are. And you know, that's kind of where we come from. Which is probably the mantra for everybody. But, there is something special about some of the things being giant and spectacle and just bigger, you know?
Kevin Goetz (32:49):
Yeah. David, do you get nervous when you embark?
Kelly McCormick (32:53):
I do. Oh my gosh.
Kevin Goetz (32:54):
What was your most nerve-wracking experience as a director entering what? Entering which picture?
Kelly McCormick (33:00):
Deadpool. No, I mean, sorry. Bullet Train.
David Leitch (33:03):
Kelly McCormick (33:03):
David Leitch (33:04):
Yeah. Oh, I think, yeah, this last one.
Kelly McCormick (33:06):
It's kind of like a golden retriever. He forgets the bad stuff.
Kevin Goetz (33:09):
Sometimes I love watching the two of you. You are just a fabulous couple. Just going, no, this is what you remembered. No, you don't like onions. You don't eat them. <laugh> They give you gas.
David Leitch (33:23):
Remember we had this discussion slash argument. No, I would say I do, at the beginning of every movie, have anxiety. Like, I don't believe in this script, or if you have a script <laugh>, I don't know what this material is. What is the theme of the movie? What is the theme of the movie? You might know this Kevin, when we tested Bullet Train and I'm not going to give anything away, but there were multiple beginnings. And part of it was, I was trying to really guide the audience to the theme of the movie and I wanted to make sure it landed with a sledgehammer and maybe the movie didn't need it. And it was some of the things that testing brought out. It's like, they didn't need it, but…
Kelly McCormick (33:58):
Too much of a sledgehammer.
David Leitch (34:00):
But in the past, I've always felt like some of the work that I do, it's fun and it's commercial, but people don't understand why they like it so much because there's a theme in the middle of it where there's some emotion to it that they're not connecting because of the spectacle. So, the cotton candy is there, but they don't realize that so is the broccoli. But that's why I think those movies have longevity. I think that's the mix, right?
Kevin Goetz (34:24):
That's a very good point, David, and I love the fact that you guys are not freaked out when you hear audience response. It didn't hurt that…let's just say Bullet Train tested extraordinarily well from the beginning, that always is a nice thing. You can listen, you may be able to listen a little bit more, you know, <laugh>, look when I come out and have to deliver the news that your child is not what you thought it was. In this case, it's always nice to come out, look, your child just has a minor little thing and <laugh> here's what I would suggest you do. The audience is saying this or this. And for you to hear that you're such good parents.
Kelly McCormick (35:09):
David Leitch (35:09):
For the movie what's best for the movie
Kevin Goetz (35:10):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Kelly McCormick (35:11):
Well, I mean, and, and we've been lucky that way, I mean more than not, have we had the opportunity, had that response of they want to love this and here are the few things that they want to love.
Kevin Goetz (35:25):
Exactly. Yeah. They want, yeah, they're with it. I mean, you could feel it in the room, right? They're with it, but how could you get them even what they don't know? They don't know what they don't know, but they are telling you by reacting to what they're seeing, what they're feeling at the moment. And it's up to you guys to give them that if you are lucky enough to figure it out, which you seem to always do. What's next for this team?
Kelly McCormick (35:49):
We’re actually in production on a little movie up in Winnipeg, kind of nobody's style. It's with David Harbor, starring as Santa Claus and kicking ass, and it's kicking ass really, really fun. Action Santa.
Kevin Goetz (36:03):
Who are you doing that for? Who's that?
Kelly McCormick (36:05):
That's with Universal again. Our home studio, who we love very much, although I did want to tip off one of the things about Bullet Train that makes it so special is the fact that Sony and Tom wanted and supported an original in a way that like is so rare these days.
Kevin Goetz (36:23):
Sanford has always talked to…
Kelly McCormick (36:25):
Sanford too, for sure.
Kevin Goetz (36:26):
Kelly McCormick (36:28):
Mm-hmm <affirmative> and we feel so lucky to have had that support and protection, especially making it during COVID which comes with a million question marks and concerns and fears and stuff, and then just kind of being so into it and along for the ride, even though it is, in my opinion, an unconventional sort of arc for a protagonist.
Kevin Goetz (36:54):
But so theatrical, nonetheless.
Kelly McCormick (36:56):
It's incredibly theatrical.
Kevin Goetz (36:57):
You know what I mean? And Tom and Sanford really understand that. Maybe two of the most astute today to understand, and you have to give it to Sony. I mean, what a year they had, understanding what still is what we'll call theatrically worthy.
Kelly McCormick (37:16):
Kevin Goetz (37:17):
And that's really something else. I have to say.
Kelly McCormick (37:21):
We love them.
Kevin Goetz (37:21):
I think the feeling is completely mutual and obviously Universal and you guys have an extraordinary, you know…
Kelly McCormick (37:30):
Oh yeah. We feel so much relationship support. And we're anticipating that David's next film will be there and we'll be shooting this summer and fall. So if all goes well.
Kevin Goetz (37:40):
Can you give us a tease? Action, action comedy?
Kelly McCormick (37:44):
Yes, action. Less comedy. A lot of action.
Kevin Goetz (37:48):
I'm just going to throw something out there. And, if your agent is listening or your reps or whoever you work with, I would say that I want to see something that is human-based and actor-based in your repertoire, in the not-too-distant future, because I know you'll knock it out of the park. Both of you will, you both are very sensitive and wonderful filmmakers. And, I know that what I love about what you're saying and what you continue to bring out into the world is that there's heart in all of your work. And so, I know that there's a lot more to come from both of you and I am so excited to see it, and hopefully to help guide you through with audience feedback to realize your dreams. And thank you both so much for doing this podcast. I love you both.
David Leitch (38:45):
Thank you. We love you too, Kevin. Thanks for inviting us. And we look forward to those next screenings. And then, you know…
Kevin Goetz (38:53):
I'm going to quote you on that because the director usually doesn't say those words. I look forward to seeing you at those screenings.
David Leitch (38:59):
I will look forward to the testing because then you go, I can start now. I'm not now it's just not my own bullshit.
Kevin Goetz (39:05):
<laugh> Have a great one, you guys. Thanks so much. To our listeners, I encourage you to check out Bullet Train if you haven't already and to follow them on social media. I hope you enjoyed the interview today. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology, on Amazon or wherever books are sold, or through my website at KevinGoetz360.com. Also, please follow me on social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, we will welcome Roxanne and Deon Taylor, another really impressive producing and directing team. You won't want to miss this one. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the moviemaking process. Your opinions matter. See you soon.
HOST: Kevin Goetz
GUESTS: Kelly McCormick & David Leitch
PRODUCER: Kari Campano