“Making movies is a labour of passion and if you don't feel that way, you're in the wrong business.” Lorenzo di Bonaventura's tanned features crack into a smile. The energetic producer of alien blaster videogame adap Doom is perched on the patio of his LA home talking Hollywood and Total Film is listening because, quite frankly, the man knows his subject.
Di Bonaventura started out at Warner Bros in 1989 as a production executive and rapidly rose through the ranks to the position of exec VP, Worldwide Motion Pictures in July 1998, responsible for overseeing the marketing of all of Warner’s features. Lorenzo then made a calculated move and in 2002 he got out while riding a wave of success, stunning the Tinseltown suits, he quit to become an indie producer.
With a greatest hits catalogue boasting the likes of The Matrix, Training Day and Ocean's Eleven suffice to say that when it comes to sniffing out a box office smash, di Bonaventura is a bloodhound. So what possessed him to take the risk of making a videogame adaptation?
“It definitely concerns us that people have this impression that a videogame coming into a movie is, by definition not a good movie. We felt pressure from the fans but also from id, the people who created the game, that's where we felt the real pressure.” Lorenzo slips back into a deep chair and relaxes, clearly getting into his groove. “We wanted it to be something that made them feel like they'd been treated fairly so we were in a very simple and focused role which was if we could please creators, then we did our job.”
So why have videogames proved to be such an unmanageable subject matter for movies in the past? It's not as if it’s a massive leap these days. He ponders for a moment, “I'm not sure; I know from our point of view, what we set out to do was very simple and hard all at the same time. Our belief was that you had to look at it as a movie first and a game second. I think that games on a visual level are getting more and more sophisticated and I guess when the next generation of consoles come through then the visuals are really going to narrow the differential.”
There are two elements of Doom the movie that have drawn the drooling fanboys away from the X-Box and out of the basement. One is the first person shoot-em-up scene, that draws direct inspiration from the game. “It's a phenomenal sequence for movie goers and gamers,” Lorenzo says, clearly buzzing with the outcome of his movie’s key scene. “It sums up the doom experience and has given a window to non-gamers on why games are so much fun.”
Reason two is the casting of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as snarling anti-hero Sarge. “We debated a couple of people but Rock was on that original list. Another guy we debated was Ray Winstone, who is such a loveable nut.” After meeting with The Rock, Lorenzo concedes that the competition fell away. “His enthusiasm was amazing and there was no way we could go without him.”
So fast forward a few weeks and swap a sun-drenched LA for a centrally-heated swanky London hotel and Total Film is waiting for The Rock. We've heard he's dropped a little bulk since he left the wrestling ring behind but as he strolls in standing around six feet four, his brown leather jacket creaking under the strain of his colossal arms, you still wouldn't mess. Approachable, friendly and articulate; combine that with his willingness to learn and his growing talent, it’s easy to see why Johnson is making ripples in Hollywood and working with lauded helmers such as Richard Kelly (Southland Tales, out next year).
So what part does he see alien shoot-em up Doom playing in his career? “I am very proud of this movie as part of it’s genre. It’s a genre I hadn't been a part of, the sci-fi/horror genre and it's a popcorn movie.” Johnson avoids Total Film's gaze, carefully selecting his words. “I'd be mistaken if I sat here saying ‘Well, the incredible journey in the arc of my character...’ the fact is, I get to be the big kid I am anyway, transported to Mars, fighting monsters and I get to use the biggest gun in the history of movies! It was awesome.”
Johnson is talking about the BFG, also known as the Big F**king Gun. His co-star Karl Urban dared to suggest that up close and personal, the weapon lacked the presence it possesses onscreen and is indeed “Impotent,” something Dwayne denies, with a flash of pearly whites and a twinkle in his eye. “He's just jealous, don't let him fool you for a second. I don't think there's a guy out there who wouldn't want to hold the BFG, plus, he's probably not strong enough to carry it anyway.” So size officially matters? “Indeed it does my friend.” He laughs.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura commented on his infectious laugh and how the Rock is polar opposite to his confrontational Doom alter-ego Sarge. “He lit up the set,” the producer gushed. Sounds like it was a dream shoot, hanging out with Karl Urban and Rosemund Pike, testosterone and limbs flying about but Johnson is quick to point out that it was work all the way. “We did a boot camp, because if you're playing soldiers it's important to talk like soldiers, and act like you have that training even if you're dealing with monsters.” Johnson rubs his hands, “It's the most physically demanding role I've done and just being away from home is tough. We never saw the sun, shooting on a sound stage in the Czech republic without any windows. Waking up at 5 am and everyday it's monsters, who's chasing who and heads being ripped off so it was pretty demanding. It wasn't exactly Elizabethtown.”
Despite the drawbacks, the ever amiable Johnson is acutely aware that he makes his living in a privileged profession. “I was always reminding myself that I am making a movie, I am lucky for that and people who don't realise how blessed we are to be in this business get on my nerves. It costs nothing to be nice to people but there are those who forget that. I'm sure you've met some of them!” One or two but feel free to name names.
Despite the fact that Doom didn't receive any great critical acclaim in the US, it blasted it's way straight to the top of the box office charts and once again Johnson's reputation as a star in the ascendancy has been added to. So how does it feel when a movie doesn't get a great reception but he still comes out of it with some credit? “I guess it's like Be Cool and that experience for me was fantastic, just fantastic. The movie as a whole got mixed reviews but the reviews I got were pretty damn good so I was like ‘Hey that's all I care about!’” It might be a tough life at times, this movie game but we reckon Dwayne Johnson can take the knocks. If you don't, you can tell him.
Doom is in cinemas from Friday 2 December.