While at the Zurich Film Festival to receive a life achievement award, prolific director Roland Emmerich stopped by the Variety Lounge presented by Credit Suisse to discuss his upcoming World War II drama, “Midway,” which opens in November, his career milestones and the future of the movie business.
Emmerich, best known for big-budget blockbusters like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” said he first tried to make the Pearl Harbor drama “Midway” over 20 years ago after seeing a documentary about it, but Sony refused to finance the project. John Calley, head of Sony Pictures at the time, had told him he could only green light the movie’s budget for under $100 million, whereas Emmerich wanted to spend $120 million to $140 million. Emmerich, who had a first-look deal with Sony, said execs then took his offer to Sony’s Japanese owners and they ultimately passed.
Years later, however, going the independent route on “Midway” appeared to work in Emmerich’s favor. “The only country where it didn’t get sold was Japan, and when we showed them the finished film, they paid double,” he beamed.
The German director also said working on big-budget movies has helped him tackle smaller, independent projects.
“When you’re used to a bigger budget, you know what makes shooting easy and also know you can shoot faster, and you don’t rely on the weather,” he said.
On “Midway,” which Lionsgate bought and will distribute, Emmerich only had 65 shooting days, but managed to capture a “very complicated, complex movie (within that timeframe) without a second unit.”
Although he would later revisit “Independence Day” for its sequel, “Resurgence,” Emmerich said he now wants to stay away from franchises to focus on original stories. After promoting “Midway,” he plans on shooting the sci-fi epic “Moonfall,” which has over a $150 million budget, sometime next spring. The film’s high-concept is about “the moon falling on Earth, but the moon is not what we think it is,” he teased. “It’s all about where we come from, where was life created … what’s going on out there?”
As for the future of cinema, Emmerich said he’s very pessimistic these days because studios have become risk-averse. “I came to Hollywood 30 years ago, original ideas were asked for and I could provide them, make them a bit cheaper than everybody else. … So for me it’s a bit sad to see the studios don’t want to make original movies anymore, and if they want to make them, a lot of outside money has to come from China from all kinds different revenue streams.”