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Denis Villeneuve on Making ‘Arrival’, ‘Blade Runner’ Sequel His Way Within Studio System

Canada’s Dennis Villeneuve has been on a roll ever since his Oscar-nominated “Incendies” launched from the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section in 2010. He has since directed “Prisoners” (2013), “Enemy” (also 2013), “Sicario” (2015), and now “Arrival,” his first sci-fi pic, which world-premiered in Venice before segueing to Toronto. While taking a brief break from the Budapest set of his untitled “Blade Runner” sequel, the director spoke to Variety about his back-to-back sci-fi pics, and how he’s managing make them his way despite working within the studio system.

You are on the set of “Blade Runner,” but how do you feel about “Arrival”? Is it just a big blur?

I cannot say how I feel about “Arrival” because I have no distance [from it.] I finished the movie a few months ago, running because I was already in prep on the next one. This is not a process I recommend. It’s painful to do that. I have to be in two places at the same time. It’s very tough. The minute I finished “Arrival” I landed on another set in full prep on another project [untitled Blade Runner sequel]. So I have no distance from the film. I need to digest it.

“Arrival” is your first science fiction film and now you are already doing another one. What are your favorite sci-fiers?

I had been wanting to do sci-fi for a very long time. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a movie that really impressed me as a teenager. And also “Blade Runner.” And “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is also one of my favorites. I’m always looking for sci-fi material, and it’s difficult to find original and strong material that’s not just about weaponry. A longstanding dream of mine is to adapt “Dune,” but it’s a long process to get the rights, and I don’t think I will succeed. Also I would love to write something myself. I have two [sci-fi] projects right now that are in very stages. It’s too early to talk about them.

Is there any connection between “Arrival” and “Blade Runner”?

No, besides the fact that they are both science fiction. That’s why I was able to work on both at the same time. I was able to do that because the two projects have a totally different DNA. They are like a giraffe and an elephant.

Was “Arrival” a collaborative process with Paramount?

The thing is I had total freedom to make the film. What happened is that Paramount really loved “Prisoners” and they were pissed off because they didn’t get “Sicario.” So when they saw [the short story] “Story of Your Life,” they just wrote a big check and said: “you can have final cut,” to which I just said: “Thank you.” But still, when you make a movie, it’s teamwork. The film was done in full freedom, but I think it’s nice that Paramount took it. It’s a strange beast for them, but they embraced it. They loved the movie.

And do you have final cut on the “Blade Runner” sequel?

I agreed to do it because the producers behind “Blade Runner” [Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove] are two friends. I made “Prisoners” with them, and I knew the environment they would create around me would be very secure. I don’t really have final cut on it. The thing I realized about final cut, is it’s the power of the best cut. I didn’t have final cut on “Prisoners,” but what you saw is the best cut. “Sicario” is a directors’ cut, “Arrival” is a directors’ cut. I cannot talk about it, I will see. My relationship with the people I am working with is very strong. At the end of the day what will win is the best movie.

 

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