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Slush/UGO Exclusive:
Punisher Movie Conference
By B. Allan Dempsey


Do you remember where were you were on Monday, August 4, 2003 at 11am? Because we do. While you were toiling away at your boring job, Slushfactory.com was at the press conference for Artisan Entertainment's upcoming feature film THE PUNISHER. What a life we lead. But don't despair, because we were there for YOU.

Taking place at the Tampa Convention Center, in attendance to take questions and give answers were co-executive producers Ari Arad & John Starke, Artisan Executive Vice President Andrew Golov, writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and lastly the star himself, Thomas Jane, who will play the mortal badass Frank Castle...The Punisher.

Starting off, Gale Anne Hurd touched on the Florida city the film shoot was calling home, saying that Tampa, Florida will be "absolutely" identifiable as the setting for THE PUNISHER. The script identifies specific regions like Mullet Key, Ybor City, and any other key landmarks that can be worked into the script, according to Jonathan Hensleigh.

"The key word for this film is ‘verisimilitude,'" said Hurd. In addition to being about a comic book hero, THE PUNISHER is also an urban crime drama about real people, she says. The crew will be primarily relying on their practical effects department. Although the Punisher is "as tough as they come," he does not have superpowers. Ari Arad added that what possibly makes the Punisher such an enduring character is that he fits formidably in the Marvel Universe although he has no powers. A heavy effects movie, he says, would not fit in with what they want to do with the character.

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Jonathan Hensleigh told the assembled reporters that he's been a "broken record" about wanting to replicate the tone of 60's and 70's urban action films with THE PUNISHER. He wants the film to feel akin to THE FRENCH CONNECTION, DIRTY HARRY, BULLITT, etc. Growing up on those kinds of films, Hensleigh wants THE PUNISHER to be a bit of a throwback to them.

The villain in THE PUNISHER is laundering money in the Gulf, said Hensleigh. This fact led Hensleigh to choose between a number of possible locations for the story. Since part of the story takes place in Puerto Rico, and Tampa can double for Puerto Rico better than most popular Gulf cities, Hensleigh ultimately chose Tampa as the setting for the film.

Actor Thomas Jane said he has always been an avid comic book fan, and he always wanted to be involved in a film like this. Careful to choose the right film, Jane was sold on THE PUNISHER by Jonathan Hensleigh's devotion to realism and the heart of the character. Although Jane loves the comic book world, he's always felt separated from the fantastic reality of superheroes. He feels that the Punisher bridges the gap between the fantastic and the real.

For the collectors out there, Gale Anne Hurd mentioned that there will be dolls/action figures for the film, but they will be limited edition because of the film's "R" rating.

Jonathan Hensleigh revealed that most of the source material for the film comes from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's WELCOME BACK, FRANK. "Garth Ennis supercharged [THE PUNISHER] in recent years," he said (with Jane nodding in agreement). Marvel sent him the trade paperback of "FRANK," which he read in about forty-five minutes. He called Ari Arad within thirty minutes and committed to the project. Jane added that he and Hensleigh were both influenced by Tim Bradstreet's covers for the series. "Thomas Jane is dead right," said Hensleigh. "There was a visual stamp that Tim Bradstreet put on [the book] that was sort of electrifying." Hensleigh also mentions that he used elements of PUNISHER: YEAR ONE for the film.

Hensleigh said that revenge and redemption stories are an old song. Hollywood releases one every year, and most of them are crap, he said. Hensleigh likes that kind of story, though. Mentioning that "the devil is in the details," he mentioned that finding the right revenge/redemption story is key. He likes the Punisher's source material. Ari Arad added that fans of the Punisher comics will see familiar elements in the film.

Having said all that, Jonathan Hensleigh announced that the plot of the film is his own. Thomas Jane added that a new plot is exciting, because comics fans don't want to see word-for-word film adaptations.

When asked if comic book movies are the new wave in Hollywood, Ari Arad admitted that a lot have come out, and many more are in the works. He added that studios have seen that comics-based films are popular, and they are trying to make their own. However, Arad hopes that "comic book movies" will become more broad a term. Right now studios seem to be making many superhero films, but Arad hopes that more films involving other kinds of comics will be made. Comics are like novels, he said, and there is a wide variety of material that could be adapted. Thomas Jane agreed. "There is a wealth of imaginative material that can be culled from the comic book industry," said Jane. There are many extremely talented writers and artists out there, he added, and screenwriters have always been influenced by comics. As someone who is "addicted to comics," Jane sees a wealth of material available in the medium. He also adds that the technology of film is finally getting to the point where it can match and represent the fantasy of the comic book world.

Jonathan Hensleigh said that THE PUNISHER is an intense urban drama about revenge and redemption. After some prompting by Thomas Jane, Hensleigh said that Frank Castle is left "not a part of society" and "is not a whole man" by the end of the film.

Hensleigh said that his version of the film is not influenced by previous scripts that have been written and rejected.

Continuing, he mentioned that Tampa's stormy weather will be a continual challenge in shooting. Just the day before, the actors had a rehearsal, the cameras and equipment had been set up, Hensleigh was about to say "action," and the sky burst open. However, he said the biggest challenge in making the film will be making a "full blown, huge action picture with all of the Hollywood trappings for probably less money than a picture like this has ever been executed for." He admitted that this is a bold claim, but he thinks it is a goal that has been achieved through immense pre-production and a great crew. Andrew Golov adds that the use of many local Tampa personnel (which he highly compliments) will help keep the film in budget. Joining in, Gale Anne Hurd added that she would match the Tampa crew with any Hollywood crew she's worked with in her twenty-five years in the business.

Being shot in Tampa in August, the film will look and feel "hot," according to Jonathan Hensleigh.

Ari Arad said that the previous PUNISHER film was not taken into consideration when developing the current version. This is a whole new movie with a new intent, he says. Thomas Jane said that this film is much more character-driven. He feels as though he's playing a "real guy," and that's what attracted him to the role. Jane feels as much responsibility to bring Frank Castle to life as he did Mickey Mantle, Andre Stander, or Neal Cassaday, who were all real people. Having great action and incredible stunts, THE PUNISHER is also a story about people, he said. "It's a beautiful story about a guy who is put in a unique position. His family is murdered, and he only has one choice that he sees available to him. [That choice] is to go after the people that killed his family. He can't lose. If he gets them, then he has avenged, in some small part, his family. If they get him, then he is punished for not being there. That's a beautiful story about atonement and punishment. And we'll also be blowing a lot of shit up."

Thomas Jane trained "exhaustively and extensively" with a troop of Navy Seals, who are "the nicest guys you'll ever want to meet," Jane announced. He's done weapons, combat and "Israeli/Japanese" hand-to-hand combat for the film. This training was another thing that attracted him to the role. Jonathan Hensleigh said he has worked with many talented actors, and he's never seen any of them dedicate themselves to a role the way Jane has for THE PUNISHER. Jane feels the responsibility to give his all for the role. Living in the minds of so many people, Frank Castle is a real person, said the actor.

Thomas Jane also mentioned that he is a huge fan of the EC Comics line (TALES FROM THE CRYPT, VAULT OF HORROR, etc.) "I just picked up THOR: VIKINGS by Garth Ennis," he said. He tries to keep up with Garth Ennis' PUNISHER. SANDBOX is an independent comic described by Jane as "great," and ASTRO CITY is "fantastic." A self-proclaimed "nut" and "freak" for comics, Jane added that he owns way too many and "all this acting stuff is cutting into my comic reading."

Thomas Jane wore sunglasses throughout the press conference. When asked if those were the shades for the film, Jane took them off and, with a surprised and ashamed look on his face, apologized for wearing them. Then he put them back on.

Jonathan Hensleigh said that the lighting trick for the teaser trailer (and eventually for the film) was inspired by Tim Bradstreet's PUNISHER covers.

Ari Arad expects to see more PUNISHER films come out after this one.

Thomas Jane's partner was pregnant when Jane agreed to do the film, and they just had a baby girl. He mentioned that this fact was in no small part used as inspiration for Frank Castle. "We all care deeply for our families, and if given the skills and background Castle has, we would react the same way Castle does," said Jane. Gale Anne Hurd is quick to interject "but we're not promoting [that behavior]," followed by the audience's laughter.

Jonathan Hensleigh speaks highly of the film's cinematographer (whose name escaped me). He says their visions for the film are exactly the same.

THE PUNISHER hits theaters in Summer 2004.


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