‘Mummy’ Director Rob Cohen Talks Movie Weight-Lifting

Last week B-D stringer SpookyDan had the pleasure of chatting with Rob Cohen, director of Universal Pictures’ The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which arrives in theaters on August 1st. Inside you’ll find the meat of the chat, which includes talk of the visual FX, how Cohen worked his way up the movie ladder and what his plans are for the DVD release this Christmas.
To be honest, I was not a fan of the first two Mummy films, and I did not love the third either. Therefore, when I found out that I was going to be talking with the entire cast, producers and director of The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, I was apprehensive. Its not a full on horror film, yet with so many horror elements we absolutely should be covering it. Therefore, off I went to the press junket to chat. As it turns out, everyone I spoke with was great. Brendon Fraser was goofy, funny and just as cool as you would expect him to be. Maria Bello was super MILF-y, and smart. I was in awe of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, two virtual legends sitting right in front of me! Even the producers were both stand up dudes as they candidly spoke about the upcoming projects they are working on (GI JOE, The Wolfman!)

But the real and true surprise was director Rob Cohen. The man is loved and hated by filmgoers, but to me he is a true example of someone who really loves the craft and tries to elevate it. His passionate demeanor toward the film certainly made me realize just how much filmmaking means to him.

Cohen has made a career of making GIANT films. Very few people in this world are capable or have had the experience to do this. He certainly worked his way up the food chain by starting out as producer and second unit director on loads of films (Witches Of Eastwick, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and The Monster Squad). Quickly moving into directing television shows, and inevitably features, Cohen really came into notice when he directed the martial arts drama; Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. But it has been a long journey. We spoke a bit about how you get to be a filmmaker that deals with humungous films.

I like the big canvas, but I have been blessed in that Fast and Furious was Bigger than The Skulls, xXx was bigger than Fast and Furious, and Stealth was bigger than xXx, and now The Mummy is bigger than Stealth. In a way it’s like weight training; you start with the ten pound dumbbells, then you move to the 15 pounds. Making these movies builds up your muscles, as a filmmaker.

With each film Cohen has brought on more and more visual effects, using many different companies such as Illusion Arts, Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues (amongst many others.) The Mummy 3 boasts over 800 VFX shots including bringing an army of stone Terracotta warriors to life.

Shots and sequences that would consume my entire focus on XXX for example; the avalanche was the epitome of the VFX. On The Mummy, the avalanche was just one of the sequences. It’s amazing how that was something I spent nights pacing over — here it was the Yeti. I had 400 VFX artists at all of the different houses. I work very differently than many directors; I work with each individual compositor, myself. I get in their with each artist right at the start. It’s not like I just say `do this’, I get into the process, and give them ways to take a flat lit thing that isn’t working to a way that is working. I kind of don’t use the supervisor as my pipeline. I sit with each compositor at the workstations, I know them by name and I know who to put on what shot. For instance, there is a Japanese girl named Chai-Chi Hu who does a very painterly look, she will take all of the elements from all of the various FX renders and live action elements, and combines them to look like a painting. Like when I put Chai-Chi on a shot of the whole army the first time the foundations army sweeps up, I know it will have spectacle and look very painterly. There are other compers (composite artists) like Joe Farrell, that will give you a much more docu-visual effect, its so real that is scary! I have been doing this a while, I started way back on Dragonheart. Even back then it was very sophisticated triumph. I am glad that I got on board with VFX very early. In fact, I was one of the first to use it after Jurassic Park back in ’94. I love the fact that I have this relationship with a group of artists on a daily basis. I love these people, anyone who can create with their hands and imaginations, I am in awe of. Its great to be in partnership with them. That to me is such an amazing talent!

The Mummy will be released into theaters on August 1st , and then on DVD sometime around Christmas. Cohen told us further about the extras we can expect on the DVD.

On The Mummy, I am just beginning to work with Universal Home Entertainment on the dimensions of that DVD. I want to put more features on this DVD more than any other I have done in the past, especially on the Blu-ray. I will of course do commentary… I want to take advantage of the multi-layed platform and get more commentaries on there. I am trying to get Simon Duggan, my Director of Photography and PJ Voeten my first assistant director to see it from a different point of view, just the extreme logistics that take place on a movie of this scale. My point of view on the commentary is that every creative decision is related to a financial decision and every financial decision is a creative decision. It’s really about choosing the values and refining the vision of the movie through budgetary stress and stress in the budget with creativity. There will be four making of featurettes, and over 20 minutes of deleted scenes.

Yesterday we announced that Luke Ford had signed on to do three Mummy films, we asked Cohen if he was interested in doing more.

I did not sign on for more movies, just this one. I am not Mr. Sequel, but if I were ever to be tempted, it would be this. Brendan, Luke and Maria were so much fun to work and create with. This franchise, if anything, I hope its success will prove that it can travel and grow all over the world. The desire for life after death is a thing you find in all cultures, in the western world even in Christianity you even find it in Jesus. In Buddhist circles it is a cycle of reincarnations.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor opens in theaters this August from Universal Pictures.