The Dark Tower Director On Appeasing Fans, That Companion TV Show, And More
GameSpot Universe got the chance to catch up with The Dark Tower director Nik Arcel last weekend during San Diego Comic-Con 2017. Click here for some excerpts, or check out the full transcript below. The Dark Tower hits theaters August 4.
Dark Tower fans have been into the series for so long, and we’re in this age where fans rule the world. I think another director in your spot would maybe be afraid of making these fans mad or doing the wrong thing, but it seems like you’re as big a fan as they are. How has that changed your approach?
Oh yeah. So when you say ‘the fans,’ I’m always like ‘You mean me!’ Listen, I’m not saying it wasn’t a daunting task, and I’m not saying I’m not really wanting to please these people, because I’m one of them. Like, I really want the fans to be happy because I feel so much like I’m part of that community. If I hadn’t directed this film I would be on online right now going, ‘Where’s Eddie and Susannah? Who’s that? What the hell’s going on?!’ Like, I would be so nervous, really. So I know exactly how they’re feeling. But that’s why I feel comfortable, in a way, because I know that we are true in our hearts and that we actually did everything we could.
I’m not the only fan [working on the movie]. Like, the head of the financing company is a huge Dark Tower fan. Ron Howard, the producers, everybody who’s involved is somebody who really can talk it out about the Dark Tower lore. We have all these philosophical discussions about like, what does this mean, and this thing that happens in book 5–so I actually feel quite comfortable that at least we did whatever we could to both feel that we were true to the novels, but also invite everybody who hadn’t read the novels into this universe.
I know it’s been through a lot of iterations over the years. As a fan, how did you feel when the decision was made to make it a new story rather than a more straightforward adaptation of the books?
Actually, that was a cool thing. When I got onboard there was already a script, and that script was pretty close to the film that we did. And I thought it was so smart. Because I always felt like you can’t possibly adapt this. You can’t adapt the Dark Tower. It’s too dense, it’s too sprawling, it’s too many different genres. Every book is a different beast.
That’s how you felt as a fan?
That’s how I always felt. But then when I read the script, I was like oh, that’s really smart. It actually is tight, it’s lean, it serves as kind of an introduction to the world, the characters. It’s really a first kind of film. It’s a first film, but it still takes little ideas from some of the other books, and so makes the world feel more rounded in a way. So I felt that that was really smart, and so I thought yes, if we’re ever going to adapt The Dark Tower into a film, this is the way to go. It can’t be a straight up adaptation, but it can certainly become one the further we get into the series for sure. I mean, let’s say we get to make more movies–it can actually be more and more faithful as we go. Because what we had to do on this first one was basically just like: This is the world. These are the characters. This is what this world’s about.
Fans get real worked up about where’s Eddie, where’s Susannah, where’s Oy–but for me my favorite book in the series is the first book, and it didn’t have any of that. It was just Roland and–
Roland walking in the desert, killing some people, basically.
There’s this surrealism and this poetry to that first book, and it’s so simple and so lean, and when I hear you talk about this script and this movie, you use a lot of the words that I would apply to that book.
Exactly. And that’s also a reason, like, the first book was lean and tight and was kind of simple. And the first book was all about Roland, Walter, and Jake. And so is this film: It’s Roland, Walter, and Jake. It’s not about–like, Eddie and Susannah, they come later. Oy comes later. So we’re actually being kind of true to that. But obviously there’s some things in the first book that we couldn’t do. I mean, we couldn’t have Roland pursue the main villain the entire film for them to just sit down and have a little chat at the end, like, ‘Hey, man.’ So that’s why we’ve gotta have them have it out at the end instead of just sitting and talking by a campfire.
People are also concerned about the length of the movie, because we’re used to our fantasy epics and giant superhero films being two and a half hours long. But it goes back to the first book being so lean. If you can tell a good story in 95 minutes–like, there are great movies that are 90 minutes long. Nobody’s mad that they’re too short, because they’re great.
That’s exactly how I feel. And the script was lean, you know? It wasn’t like we cut it down or anything. It’s pretty much the script.
Not looking at the plot elements and characters, but more at the thematic stuff that Stephen King added throughout the series–the number 19, that kind of thing–how have you approached using those elements and have you tried to include some of that stuff?
Yeah, I definitely have. I think that’s just the fanboy in me wanting to include all that stuff, you know, like 19 and some of the world-building elements. But also the whole meta fiction, you know, like, trying to get some of the other–obviously everybody knows that Stephen King used references to his other works, like even characters from his other books.
Because it was his opus.
Yeah, exactly. He even put himself in there at some point, which he doesn’t want us to do in the films.
Can you talk about that a little bit more?
He was just like, ‘Just don’t ever put me in any of the films. No character called Stephen King in there.’
Yeah, so I took that seriously, but I also didn’t want to cram too much of it in there. So there’s a lot for the fans and for me just to have fun with it, like this and that, from this book or this book, but it’s in the details. It’s not like a main part. You don’t suddenly see like, Pennywise as a character or something. There’s references to it. There’s a reference to Cujo and Christine and some of the other novels. But it’s not–it’s in the periphery.
What was it like working with Stephen King?
It was incredible. It’s very hard to talk about because I still can’t quite believe like, when I get an email from ‘Steve’ as he calls himself in emails. It’s like, I don’t understand what I’m reading here. This is like, Stephen King is writing me again. It’s awesome. So there’s two sides to that: There’s the OK, let’s see what he wants, let’s talk about it, let’s figure out–like we would always discuss script things or editing things. But there’s also just like the crazy, happy fanboy [in me] like ‘Stephen King just emailed me again!’ So it’s been surreal in a way, but it’s been quite cool.
He was always like, here’s some ideas, take them or leave them. And usually we would take them, because it’s Stephen King and he’s really smart.
How much input did he have? Was he like signing off on individual things or was it more like giving him an update once in a while?
He was really happy with the script, and so after that, he stayed a little bit off during the shoot. He really liked the dailies. He was watching stuff. He was part of the casting–he had opinions on the cast. And so later, when we got to editing, he would see versions of the film, he would give some really very good, very sharp, on point notes like ‘I think maybe this, or what about this.’ He was a very respectful and gentlemanly kind of collaborator, in a way that–if I was him, I would just be all over this thing. I would be like ‘Do this! Do that!’ But he didn’t do that. He was always like, here’s some ideas, take them or leave them. And usually we would take them, because it’s Stephen King and he’s really smart.
Going back a little bit to the people who are concerned about all the stuff you’re not fitting into this movie, and I feel like it’s forced you to talk about the future maybe more than would normally happen when you’re making a first in a potential franchise. You don’t know if more movies are going to happen. Hopefully they do.
Well, here’s the thing. It’s actually odd that people are stressing out about that. Because it must be obvious to them that we’re not trying to cram everything in. It’s almost like saying in the first Hobbit film, why don’t the eagles come and help them? It’s like no, that’s later. That’s at the end of the saga. Like where’s Sauron? Where’s Smaug? But the thing is, I do actually think most fans know that this is like, this is kind of like the first book. It’s those three characters. The others will eventually come.
How much did you focus on making this its own standalone movie that can stand on its own whether or not future movies happen?
I think there was a lot of focus on that in the sense that I wouldn’t want to ever do a film that ended on some sort of cliffhanger, you know, ‘and here’s what’s going to happen if you go see this one!’ I think it’s very important for any first film in any franchise, or in any kind of saga that you’re trying to tell, is of course it has to work as a standalone film. Because you never know, and you also want to give people a satisfying film, right? There has to be some sort of conclusion to the film. For me it was just a given, and even in the script when I got onboard, it was like, this is an ending. OK great, but it also allows for further installments.
We’re also living in the age of cinematic universes. On the other side of that question, I’m sure you did have to think about that and leave hooks in for future stuff. How much of a challenge was that?
Yeah, absolutely. It wasn’t that much of a challenge. It was more like–as soon as we had thought it out, as soon as I had in my mind what is going to happen in the next film, if we do a next one, then it was fairly easy to say OK, if that is supposed to happen, how do we end this one in a satisfying way, that it can feel like it has a real ending, but it also opens up to continuing with the next idea. It wasn’t that hard, also because it kind of makes sense from the novels.
There are so many controversial opinions on where the series goes, and the fanbase is so splintered because these books came out over so many years, and they’re all so different. For me, when I hear you say the film is more comparable to the first book, and you’ll never include Stephen King as a character, that’s a good thing.
That’s one of the reasons why I think Dark Tower fans are so passionate. Sometimes they don’t even like what Stephen King did. They’re really like, ‘OK, I didn’t like this book, but I loved all these books,’ like you’re saying now. ‘I definitely loved book 1, but I didn’t enjoy the last ones,’ or whatever. There’s a lot of that in the fanbase, so yeah, you’ve got to satisfy a lot of different people.
It’s not like Star Wars, where it’s trickled into every medium in existence, and been adapted and done different ways over and over again. Dark Tower fans only have the books. What about the show? Are you involved with that as well?
Yeah, I have been involved. I mean, I’ve been involved with writing the pilot and the sixth episode, and sort of figuring out what the storyline for the first season was. But they’re getting a showrunner I think and they’re doing all of it. But I’ve definitely been involved. It’s been really fun. But that was a little bit easier in the sense that we could stay more close to the–this is book 4 and parts of book 1, which is about Roland’s youth. And so we could adhere a little closer to the actual chronology of how he wrote it, because it was an easier story to tell. So that was kind of fun to do.
It’s almost like his origin story right?
It’s his origin story, it’s when he was young and trained to be a gunslinger.
Right. I just hesitate to use that phrase when we’re not talking about superheroes.
Yeah, ‘origin story,’ right. We should start using that, like just as human beings. ‘What’s your origin story?’
Thanks Nik! Check out GameSpot Universe on YouTube for more entertainment coverage.
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