Talking To Michael Nankin About Red Faction: Origins

It’s very easy to take pot shots at Syfy’s home grown movies, but Red Faction: Origins is an exception – in almost every way, writing, production, acting and directing.

Red Faction is based on a video game (THQ) franchise depicting a colonial revolution on the red planet Mars. Spawning a movie from a video game is not usually the best way to go. It’s typically a good way to lose points, stars, thumbs or fingers from any rating system. It doesn’t lose anything in this case, but gives the movie a strong pedigree. Origins fills in the history of a group of Martian freedom fighters between the original story line in Red Faction Guerrilla and THQ’s newest game Red Faction Armageddon.

Red Faction: Origins stars Brian J. Smith (Stargate Universe), Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica), Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors), Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood) and Robert Patrick (that other Terminator star).

Kudos should go to director Michael Nankin, who has proved his worth and perfected his style with Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. See, it can be done. Imagine that!

Michael Nankin talks about the trials and tribulations of making a movie/pilot based on a well-known video game in the cold wilds of Bulgaria.

POP CULTURE ZOO: Obviously video games and scripted dramas are two very different formats. How did you approach marrying those two so that you can satisfy both audiences to a degree? What elements do you need?

MICHAEL NANKIN: What attracted me to the film, aside from the script by Andrew Kreisberg, it wasn’t really a movie about the game. It’s a movie about the core elements, which inspired the game. It’s a family drama about redemption, loyalty, and sacrifice. You know, juicy, archetypal, dramatic, and emotional elements are what the movie is about and also what the game is about. They get to blow up more things than we can because they don’t have to actually build them. Other than that, really both things are about the same, the same core issues. But it’s not really a movie about a game.

PCZ: Where did you shoot it? And how many digital effects are in it?

MN: Well, we shot it in Bulgaria in the winter, which is as close as you can get to Mars. It was very cold. By the time we started shooting, we knew we had to add a line, which you’ll find early in the film, which is “The terraformers made the air breathable, but it didn’t move Mars any closer to the sun.”

We shot in Bulgaria, which gave us not the Mars the Rover gave us, but it gave us the Mars of the story, which has been developed as a mining colony for 200 years. And the evil overlords have been kicked out 20 years before, which is exactly what happened in Bulgaria. We found a Soviet-era steel mill that had been rusting for 20 years. I think it was 25 miles long, and that became Eos. And we found a series of Caves, so the location gave us quite a bit. Then, of course, CGI for spaceships and those kinds of things.

PCZ: You have actors from Battlestar, Stargate and even from Torchwood in this cast. How important was that when you were casting, to bring all of these different universes together? Was that a conscious effort on your part for this movie?

MN: Not initially on my part, although my partners talked to me early on [about this], and although we ultimately cast the best person for the role, in the long, drawn-out casting process that drives everyone insane, we did pay attention to the fan base to bringing people to the movie, people from the sci-fi world. And we certainly reached out, and there were many other people from the sci-fi world we bought in and talked to. That was part of casting the net in the casting process, bringing everyone together and we had people outside the world as well. We had many actors who’d never walked on a sci-fi set. But yes, it was part of bringing everyone together. And then we went for the best person in every role.

PCZ: Are there ways that you tried to authentically tie this part into the rest of the extensive Red Faction universe?

MN: Well, there’s quite a bit in the game that we couldn’t afford to do, you know? And one of the calling cards of the game is the way buildings fall down. There’s a certain sort of mass destruction and epic scale to the game, which they’re able to achieve because it doesn’t exist in real life. We weren’t able to go in that direction, so we sort of crafted a much more emotional story. We really worked a lot from design concept sketches of the game, which we had early on. So as I said before, we were lucky to find in Bulgaria something that we didn’t have to build that supported the idea of the game, even though it wasn’t exactly what’s on the screen in the game. There’s a bar scene early on which is architecturally identical to the game. The ships we took from the game and the guns.

Yeah, we did have to keep it in the same world, although there will be a lot of people, I think, who are very, very loyal to the game are going to spend time like, “Wait, that’s not…that’s not quite right.” But we had to have our own identity as well. We have a different goal than a game. It’s a movie.

We’re telling the story. You’re not participating. You’re not creating our story. We’re creating our story in the movie. So yes, we have an ancestor, and we resemble our ancestor, but we’re our own person.