I had the chance to sit down and talk with Rob Cowan, Producer of ‘The Conjuring’ films and James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’. We spoke about how ‘Aquaman’ was made and the rocky road that they took to get the film green lit, we also discussed the cast, filming of the underwater sequences and his upcoming film ‘Superintelligence’.
DISCUSSINGFILM: How did you first become involved in the Aquaman film as producer?
ROB COWAN: It was really through my relationship with James Wan who direct the movie, we were talking about this the other day, back in 2011, James was coming out of doing Insidious, going back to his roots and doing somewhat independent films and I was at a company doing studio films and we got put together to do the first Conjuring film together. From then, we worked on Conjuring 2 together and whilst we were doing Conjuring 2, the opportunity came up for James to do one of the DC movies, they gave him a choice of 2-3 of the characters and he was most interested in Aquaman as it allowed for a world creation, something for like The Flash which is a great character but you are going to still be in a regular world so James wanted the opportunity to create a world and creatures and anything that came along with the world of Aquaman. It was brewing whilst we were in the shoot for Conjuring 2 and then at the beginning of 2016, the studio were saying they wanted to make the film but it wasn’t really moving forward and then one day they pulled James in and said him “look we really wanna make this, what do we need to do to get it going?”. James then came to me and we dove into it and started with a treatment that he had been working on with Geoff Johns, and then they left us to our own to create a world and figure out what it would cost. In the summer – early November in 2016, we worked on this big presentation for the studio to pitch to them what the world, visuals and storyline would look like for the film, we rounded everyone up in a room one day and we did the full presentation with drawings, videos and James pitched the story to everyone and the studio decided to make the film.
DISCUSSINGFILM: So, as you were entering pre-production on the film, were there any ideas that were not included in the final film?
ROB COWAN: With any movie, we started with a script that continued to develop and expand as they do. We had to make sure how much of the world we could create with the money we had, the movie itself is pretty epic in scale, especially in the CGI world whilst and also with shooting as we had unit shooting in Morocco and main shooting in Australia. There weren’t many big elements of the film we lost as we went along, we had to tighten up some things as the movie would be a huge undertaking to pull off with all the underwater scenes with rigs and things we needed to do for those. So we realised we may not have time to do everything we planned and it would’ve been a longer movie than needed. We would’ve had a few more scenes of the origin story for Arthur and a couple of other smaller scenes with the secondary characters but we realised the more we stay with Jason Momoa’s characters, the better off the film will be. Overall, the movie on the screen is honestly the same movie we pitched in November 2016, not only the story but also the overall look, we deliver what we pitched to the studio.
DISCUSSINGFILM: That’s great to hear, as we can typically hear these stories of how the studio can limit films so it’s great that the film came out exactly as you wanted it too. Moving on to the actual production of ‘Aquaman’, what can you tell about some of your personal favourite moments during the production and the final cut of the film itself?
ROB COWAN: I don’t think there’s necessarily one particular moment; the underwater sequences where we shot on blue screen and you had to imagine what the end product would look like, in one scene they rode these creatures and in the final product we got to see from six or seven blue guys to an actual creature, it was gratifying to see those scenes pulled off. Also we built multiple back sets in Italy for this sequence and we had to create it so it looked like one big location, the VFX team really showed that it looked like one big location. Seeing it all come together, like many films, and you realise that all these little pieces come together, it was really gratifying.
DISCUSSINGFILM: As for the underwater scenes, I imagine they were very difficult to pull off, as a producer how did you feel about the creation of those scenes.
ROB COWAN: It was very tricky because it wasn’t something people had done a lot of before, especially to the extent that we did as it wasn’t just one sequence of someone swimming from A to B. It was whole sequences of dialogue and we couldn’t actually shoot it underwater because people wouldn’t have been able to talk and James didn’t want to be bound by the rigs, it took a lot of R&D for our visual effects and stunt team to make it work, it was definitely a team effort, not one rig could do every job so it took a lot of R&D. It eventually became second nature with the rigs by the end of the film, however for the actors it was quite uncomfortable but it was cool as no one had done it to the extent that we did.
DISCUSSINGFILM: How was it to work with Jason Momoa, Amber Heard and the rest of this star studded cast on the film?
ROB COWAN: It was a good family atmosphere, I think I always feel that the ‘star’ of the film always drives the tone even if you have bigger names in the supporting cast and Jason was helping everyone enjoy themselves, there were no egos and since it was a long shoot, we all had many dinners together and we all hung out a lot. It’s always nervous when shooting a film with these tricky underwater scenes that you never know when a star on the level of Willem Dafoe or Nicole Kidman refuse to do those scenes but they didn’t, both of them were incredible, they gave whatever what was needed from them and they helped create an brilliant team dynamic with everyone there doing their best work.
DISCUSSINGFILM: Looking towards the future, there is said to be an Aquaman sequel in development, is that something you would like to be apart of again and would you like to tackle other projects in the DC Universe?
ROB COWAN: I’d be more than happy to, I like the world a lot, it was fun to play in, the thing with Aquaman is you can be involved in creating this whole universe, even with some of the other characters too. I think they would love to be able to perpetuate another Aquaman movie, just like what they did with Wonder Woman and Superman, thats the whole idea of bringing these things together so that they can continue not just sequels but sort of interconnecting worlds.
DISCUSSINGFILM: To conclude the interview, are there any upcoming projects that you would like to mention to promote to make our audience aware of?
ROB COWAN: Sure there’s a film that I’m going to our first test screening tonight for which is another Melissa McCarthy film that her husband Ben Falcone directed titled ‘Superintelligence’, it’s a cool rom com with a slightly different technological twist. A great cast featuring Bobby Cannavale and James Corden. Tonight is our first preview of the film and it is my third collaboration with Melissa and Ben who are very nice people and are wonderful to work with.