Like many fans, my first real connection with a Valiant character was with Bloodshot. Somewhere between his unusual appearance with chalky white skin and his you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it ability to regenerate his own body when injured, there lurked an emotional core to the character and to his story that got my attention, and kept it. When Valiant Entertainment re-launched their line, Bloodshot was one of their first big focal points as a character and storyline, so it makes a lot of sense that the nanite-infused supersoldier will be Valiant’s first character to make it to the big screen on February 21st, 2020.
I was really excited to talk to Bloodshot film director Dave Wilson and Hivemind founder and co-President Dinesh Shamdasani about the film at New York Comic Con, and shortly after the official trailer for the film has been released, we’re pleased to share that interview with you below, as well as the trailer.
HMS: A question that works for both Dave and Dinesh would be: Why Bloodshot? When Valiant was relaunching, why was Bloodshot chosen to lead that first wave of comics. And when it came to making Valiant films, why has Bloodshot been the first, rather than any other Valiant character or characters?
Dave Wilson: For me, I love comic books, but science fiction was always my thing. Gibson, Asimov, I loved those books growing up. But there’s always been a category which is more like “science fact,” like Michael Crichton or Daniel Suarez. They are very grounded. They usually take our world and change one thing about it. They create these worlds of “What if?”. I felt like when I read Bloodshot, and a lot of Valiant superheroes, they had found a grounding for these characters, and I loved that. For Bloodshot, it’s technology – that’s my nerd way into the character. And then I set about finding physiological reasons for why he has the attributes he has, visually, and from a technological perspective.
But particularly for Bloodshot, there’s also a big 80’s and 90’s action comic in there, and I loved those films growing up, like Robocop and Total Recall. All of that combined with the fact that I feel like those films never left behind those intimate character stories in lieu of a larger “save the world” agenda. I loved that. Robocop isn’t trying to save the world. He’s trying to figure out what happened to him and maybe get back to his family. All of that is what attracted me to the character of Bloodshot and made me feel that I could create a compelling story about him.
There was one other big piece—the memory manipulation aspect of Bloodshot. Where he is asking “Who am I? What am I?” All of that, at its simplest form, made me feel that I could tell a great story with that character with those ingredients. There was one great story right here, irrespective of the larger [Valiant] Universe. It was almost daunting thinking about anything beyond that, but that’s why we have people like Dinesh [Shamdasani].
HMS: I can imagine it’s very daunting making a choice of which character will be first, and how to present them within a wider universe, but at the same time if you don’t make very solid steps at the beginning, how are you going to do anything further after that? It makes sense to build the first step very, very well.
DW: Yes. And also, the more grounding you have, the more believable the first step is. Borrowing from Marvel for a second, Tony Stark builds a mechanical suit. It’s not a big leap of faith, with superpowers that come from some fantastical realm. He built a suit. It’s the same for me with Bloodshot. We spend time explaining the nanites, and what they are, and what they do, and how they make him stronger. Then we visually show that, and how it affects why he looks the way he looks. If you know the Valiant Universe, there are some really fantastic elements to that, but once you’ve laid the foundation with Bloodshot, we can take another leap, and another leap. For me, the first leap had to be one that did that.
HMS: You were rightly observing that there are some solid sci-fi aspects to Bloodshot’s origins that help people relate, and understand, and think about the character. Are we dealing with “hard science fiction” in the movie? How far into science do we go?
DW: Yes, we do, to the point that I went to the UCLA nanites lab.
HMS: Holy cow! That’s amazing.
Dinesh Shamdasani: Me too! We were looking through electron microscopes.
DW: But the lab will be totally disappointed [laughs] with how unrealistically I’ve depicted things. At the end of the day, the film has to be presented in terms of technology, but also thematically in terms of what I think the film is about. And that is about maintaining agency in the face of the wave of technology reaching us today.
HMS: That’s interesting.
DW: Yes, I feel Bloodshot is the personification of this illusion of choice we are presented with in a technologically advanced society. How we feel like we have agency because we are given choices on a Google search or a swipe left or right on Tinder. But the real illusion is that somehow has curated those choices for us. Someone has defined that menu. But the fact that we are still choosing between three or four options gives that sense of drive and agency in our lives. I have always felt that Bloodshot, as a comic, is a personification of that dilemma.
HMS: Yes, I can definitely see that.
DW: But, talking about nano-science labs and such, I really don’t want to make a 70 million dollar TED talk. I’d really like it if people actually came to the movie theater.
HMS: There are definitely other places people can learn about those things…
DW: I do feel like it’s important to do my homework, but there also must be an energetic, entertaining, and action-oriented way to put all that science to use. That’s the challenge. And that’s why I love Michael Crichton. It’s very science-based, but it’s dinosaurs! And Daniel Suarez, who is my favorite, is almost overly-specific in his science and research, but he finds compelling ways to sell his characters, action sequences, and “what ifs?” They do it in novels, and I wanted to find a way to do it cinematically.
HMS: That’s really cool. I’m a big sci-fi fan. Of course, I’m totally aware of Bloodshot’s sci-fi aspects, but I’m so busy watching all the big action most of the time that I don’t really think about the sci-fi aspect unless it’s brought to my attention.
DW: Yes, when he’s punching his fist through someone’s head, you aren’t really wondering how.
DS: You don’t really get the chance to lean into the science fiction elements too hard in the comic book.
HMS: It comes up more in the longer story and history of Bloodshot, when there are other people who are influenced by the same technology, and how it goes in different directions. Or, for instance, when he wants to get rid of the nanites.
DS: Lemire played with it. He used it to plot a lot with other characters.
HMS: It’s very cool stuff. Regarding what David was saying about agency, it hadn’t really occurred to me to think of Bloodshot as someone deprived of agency. That he’s at the center of a story about agency. I’m more accustomed to seeing that storytelling pattern in Young Adult fiction and comics, and in stories with female central characters, at the moment, if that makes sense.
It’s not that you don’t see it in many diverse iterations of storytelling, but just that YA and female characters are probably the biggest wave right now. I’m actually really interested to hear that there’s a male character at the center of this kind of story to see how that plays out and what that might convey.
Absolutely, now that you mention it, I agree that he’s a character whose agency is completely ripped away from him and he has to reclaim that. His memories are taken. His life is taken. His body and his decision making are co-opted.
DW: That was at the core of my reaction when Dinesh brought me in, and I read Eric’s draft. I said, “That’s the part that I’m fascinated by.” The truth is, I think that’s probably what Vin Diesel found compelling about it, too. If you think about his other characters, they are the antithesis of a character fighting for agency. They are usually the character who is one step ahead of everybody else. I think the aspect of a vulnerable character fighting for who they are in a world that is manipulating them was appealing to him.
I don’t want to give too much away or spoil the movie, but in the first half of the movie, there is a commentary on a false sense of agency and how that’s created for him, and something that drove male protagonists in the 80’s and 90’s, in comics and in feature films. There’s a very meta thread in the film about that.
HMS: This is already a fairly high-brow conversation compared to what it could be, talking about an action film. This is great! This is serious stuff.
DW: And then he pulled out a machine gun…
HMS: I’m not complaining in the least. I have an academic background, so I do my best to over-read everything.
DW: I’ll be honest. At Blur Studio, where I spent 16 years, I was not the comic book guy. But science fiction, that’s my thing. I love it. I was familiar with the comics, absolutely, but it takes a while to find your way into any story. Especially a film, where you might spend two to three years of your life doing something on this scale. So you really need to passionately believe that there’s a reason for you to tell the story.
So, if someone were to wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you, “Why the fuck are you making this movie?” If you can’t answer them, I don’t know why you are making that movie.
That aspect of the technology, and the science, and the agency in our lives—all of that. That is what I really, really believe in. Those are things I was interested in before the script showed up.
And to Dinesh’s credit and Sony’s credit, I pitched them a version of the film that had that aspect at the core and asked if we could expand it. And they were all very excited about that. That’s very rare as a first-time filmmaker that anyone really wants to listen to you. I may just be a very good salesman and a shitty filmmaker! We’ll find out.
HMS: Well, for our readers, your downplaying the aspects of your long and varied career which do, in many ways, suggest you should work on a film like this one. It’s fair to say you’re a total geek….I’ve looked at a list of the films and video games you’ve worked on, and they almost exclusively head into science fiction and fantasy…That’s a specific choice, right?
DW: Yes. My office looks like the bedroom of a 14-year-old. I love it. I had my nine-year-old son and his friend over the other day, and I had the kits built from all the things that I’ve worked on. Whether for commercials, shows I’ve developed, or films I’ve worked on that have never gone anywhere. It’s always those maquettes, rather than the Star Wars ones, which they’ve already seen, which interest them. These other things are fascinating to them. I love that aspect of it. So, yes, I’m a massive nerd. I collect all those things. I would come to these conventions even if I didn’t have any legitimate reason to be here.
HMS: [Laughs] What do you mean? A convention is its own legitimate reason.
DW: Yes, exactly! And we have been to lots of conventions. Jeff Fowler and I, and a few other folks from Blur have been taking the train down to San Diego Comic Con for 16 years. I love all that stuff. That is the best part of making films.
I remember being in South Africa with Dinesh, in pre-production, and we had to make some changes to a scene. We were sitting there, and I’m writing words into a page that in three months’ time, will manifest themselves into reality. And I will be holding those things on set that we built.
DS: It’s amazing.
DW: Yes. Filmmaking is a tough and arduous experience, and I have a newfound respect for anyone who has ever attempted to make a movie, since they are hard to make. And good ones, and great ones, are even harder. But it is still a privileged profession that very few people get to enjoy, especially in my capacity.
I remember coming back from some meeting, and the most exciting part of my day was skyping with WETA Workshops, who built a lot of suits and props for the film.
HMS: Oh wow! That’s awesome. They are so great.
DW: They were showing off how some of these exo-arms were going to work, and I was thinking, “This is the best part of the movie.” That aspect of it means that I really don’t ever have to grow up.
HMS: It’s even better when no one complains about that because they like the product!
DW: It’s really rewarding seeing people respond to stuff, too. Seeing Dinesh respond it great. I want to make stuff with people who want to watch these films. The real answer to any question about why I’m making this movie should be, “Because I want to watch it.” That’s the bottom line.
It’s great making features, or shows, or even commercials, with anyone who is enthusiastic about seeing it come to life.
HMS: That’s what’ll get you through the hard parts of making anything.
DW: The hard parts are usually for all the wrong reasons. When you’re really boiling it down, I think the most important part of decision-making when you’re a Director, is who you’re putting in a room with you, who you listen to. And to at least consider the opinion of those people, since that’s why you’ve put those people in the room. I don’t want my ego to get in the way of making the film the best it can be.
And I want people who are there for the right reasons. Making the movie that we all want to watch. Someone like Dinesh, who so badly wanted to read the comics, that he got the company going, is someone I want with me. I’m sure he wants to watch the movie.
DS: Fuck yeah!
HMS: Dinesh, are your feelings similar to Dave’s about why Bloodshot is a good character to go first in making it to the big screen?
DS: I think there are two big reasons that Bloodshot makes sense to be the first film: One is that he’s very grounded and it’s a grounded entry point into a whole new mythology, which is the Valiant Universe. And the other is that whereas a hundred other universes have struggled to get a foothold with Marvel and DC eating up the room, Valiant has found that foothold. And the reason for that is because it’s more emotional, more character-centric, with a more sophisticated style of storytelling, and a shared universe built from the ground up to be a shared universe. Those are the four things that we felt were best exhibited by Bloodshot also. It allowed us to do all those four things at the same time. It also allowed us to sit inside a film genre that was already a tried and tested genre.
The original Robocop, Total Recall, the first Terminator, films like that. We get to put a superhero in the middle of a modern version of one of those films. And that’s a great way to say to the audience, “Hey, you don’t have to jump in the deep end here with a Visigoth who steals a suit of armor from aliens, the big concept of X-O Manowar, but here’s a soldier, he died in the line of combat, and we used technology to bring him back.” That’s an idea that’s palatable to a wider audience, and the hope was to start to baby step into a wider universe.
It’s very unlikely now, since the current Valiant management has a different idea, a different philosophy. It seems like the shared universe aspect is not for them, hence the moving of Harbinger to Paramount. We heard about that the same as everyone else. It’s unfortunate, since we had an awesome coda at the end of Bloodshot that Eric Heisserer had written, with Harada. But if we’re lucky and we get to do another one, there’s plenty more stuff we can figure out for Bloodshot.
HMS: The comics alone can show us that. There are so many great stories to work with.
DS: Bloodhound! Bloodsquirt!
HMS: Yes! There are good reasons to start with an origin story, but…
DS: How do you know we did an origin story?
HMS: This is a good question! Correct me if I’m wrong. I researched this and found very little information about the plot or content of the film.
DS: I love post-movie conversations, where you sit with friends and argue with them. And I think this movie allows you to argue about whether it’s an origin story or not. It is. But it isn’t. But then it ultimately is…
HMS: Good! I’m excited to hear that. I like it when films challenge expectations.
DS: It’s a subversive movie, if you’ve seen a lot of superhero films. Or even just commercial movies. This is a bit of a subversive movie in its first half.
HMS: Dinesh, from your perspective, Dave was the right guy for this film at least partly because of his FX background? Because this character needs a lot of FX to depict.
DS: No, it’s very simple. Dave’s a great leader. Dave feels like a director and can take ownership. But the reason that Dave was the right choice is because we sat with a lot of directors, and then after only one meeting with Dave, I walked out of the room, and said, “I want to watch that movie”.
A big thank you to Dave Wilson and Dinesh Shamdasani for taking part in this interview, and to Hivemind and Hunter Gorinson for setting this up! Check out the exciting official trailer below!