When asked about the differences between Netflix and traditional Hollywood movie shoots, David Ayer summed it up best at San Diego Comic Con when he said, “I got to make [Bright] in a way and at a level that otherwise I may not have been able to make.”
Producer Eric Newman joked, “Rating probably would have been a different rating for sure.”
After finding so much success with original programming, Netflix continues full-speed ahead with investing in original movies like Bright. Written by Max Landis, directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad), and stuffed full of a star-studded cast, including Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, and more – and releasing December 22, 2017 – this behemoth could just have easily read as another Hollywood blockbuster on paper.
Set in a world similar to our own, it just happens to be filled with mythical creatures like elves and orcs who have to earn a living just like everyone else. Will Smith’s human police officer teams up with Joel Edgerton’s outsider orc officer (say that three times fast) for a fantasy, action, crime drama that only the likes of Netflix could deliver.
The company was supportive of the movie and the process from the start. As Ayer explained, “I got to make a movie I wanted to make. And it’s nice to be a creative person and have a trusting environment. Bright really is a unique film. It’s such a specific voice and it’s such a new thing and yet it’s done at such a large scale. I think people are really going to be surprised to see a film of this magnitude in this format.”
The actors echoed similar sentiments about the environment and the shooting of the film. Will Smith explained it thusly: “Netflix… can make anything for any number that they feel like their fanbase is going to want to see. So as an artist it’s freeing in that way. It’s just a lot of little ways that you get to be creative that gets slightly confined when everybody’s jobs are on the line for the success of the three days.”
Likewise, Noomi Rapace, who plays an elf in the film, found plenty of enjoyment in the freedom afforded by Netflix. “It feels like if Netflix says yes, that is yes. And then you can create in that. You have a space to create and less questions down the road.”
Her elf companion, Edgar Ramirez, felt the differences on set, saying, “It’s a big movie, it’s a big action film, but honestly the way we speak about it, it’s just like we did an indie movie.”
To create the fantastical, gritty, familiar scenery in Bright, Ayer talked lovingly about shooting on location, “I got all the resources I needed, I got to shoot in Los Angeles. We weren’t chasing a rebate, we weren’t shooting Atlanta for Los Angeles. We got the equipment. We were able to shoot practical stunts, ridiculously complex shots. And as a filmmaker to spend more time working on the creative than working on the spreadsheet that supports the film is a true pleasure and I think that changes how you come at the movie and your energy. It also changes how the cast comes with the movie because they feel that freedom.”
Lucy Fry was introduced to Los Angeles through filming and found shooting at night to be exciting. She said, “We did night shoots the whole way through. It would be like all the magical creatures would kind of come out of the alleyways and there would be lizard people going through the garbage bins, these big heads and these sort of cloaks and it kind of turned downtown L.A. into this magical gritty world.”
Noomi Rapace and Will Smith both made mention of the fact that it’s still a setting that is akin to our modern world. It feels very much like Los Angeles, with the added twist of fantasy creatures. Ayer went to great lengths to merge the real world and the fantasy one created with Bright – mostly with night shoots, if the many good-natured mentions from the cast was any indication.
Of course, sticking so closely to the real world, and dealing with the same racial intolerance and bigotry against fantasy races that real races are still facing, the question of state sanctioned violence and police officers came up.
Will Smith was quick to assure that those issues would be addressed, “David isn’t, let’s say he doesn’t find a necessity to be delicate with those issues. This is a film that is about enjoyment and entertainment. And those undercurrents and undertones of the film are specifically for people to be able to think about it. Not to make any judgment about it. It’s like we’re showing it, we’re displaying the look and the feel…”
He went on to tell a specific story of how his human character confronts Edgerton’s orc character, “There’s a great scene where we’re out looking out and the police are coming. Something has happened with an orc and the police are trying to subdue the orc. And my character is sitting specifically with Joel [Edgerton’s] character while the police are subduing the orc and I ask him, ‘Alright,’ I say, ‘I need to know, are you a cop first or an orc first?’ And the backdrop of the scene is the cops taking down this orc, so it’s really rugged and it’s powerful and it was really bizarre for me to be on the other side of that.”
Discussing her own feelings on Bright’s world and how her character fits in, Noomi Rapace revealed, “It feels like David your view on the world is like it’s not so black and white. Like what is good and what is bad, what is evil and what is bright and what is dark… I’m the villain [in the film] and you can say that my actions are very cruel and violent, but in my head and my heart I’m doing something good. I want to create a better space a better world.”
Joel Edgerton teased the character dynamics of the film by explaining, “I’m the first orc that’s been allowed into the LAPD, under a diversity program and I’m really paying for that… The elves are like the one percenters.”
But the elves weren’t Edgerton’s only problem once he became an officer. Will Smith shared how his human partner felt about his new teammate: “It was spectacular for me as an African American playing a police officer, that was racist against the first orc on the force. It’s like the flip of those social concepts. As a black dude you just don’t get a lot of movies where you’re the racist. And it was really great man.”
Edgerton came onboard with a completely different mindset. He joked, “I thought I was going in this direction to play some animalistic version of an animal and instead I looked like an animal and I was desperately trying to be the most conservative human being that I could be and it was a great challenge.”
Smith also spoke about research for the role and doing ride-alongs with the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Office, “As an African-American, it was really a different perspective for me to be in the back of the cars riding around with police officers in Los Angeles in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods and seeing the complexities from the other side of it.”
When asked what was the one thing that the audience needed to know about orcs and elves, the actors all weighed in. Noomi Rapace was quick to clarify that elves are “sexy as fuck,” while Edgerton gave an orc physiology lesson. He said, “Look there are a couple of beautiful things about orcs, like they don’t understand sarcasm or irony or humor and my orc is very honest. Also if you lie, I might not understand it in your inflection but I’ll smell it on you.”
“That’s what makes me qualified to be a cop. I can’t take you into an interrogation room and you’re like, ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it’ and the cop’s like, he’s lying. I smell it on you. But I’m a right lovely, honest person they can trust, even though I don’t look so pretty.”
From his perspective, the elves are the attractive ones. Though Edgar Ramirez was quick to draw attention to his pointy ears as an elf, while Noomi Rapace admitted that, “We couldn’t hear we could see, we had elf ears, contact lenses, teeth, high heels, a suit I couldn’t move.”
With how much fun the movie is already sounding like, is there hope for a larger franchise to be spawned from this?
David Ayer had this to say, “This is a movie and if we do a sequel, we’re going to tell more of the story and then maybe we will tell more of the story after that. That’s what’s so great about this universe Max Landis created, is it lends itself to so much and our discovery with the film and with audiences out there is that they’re very hungry to know more.”
He teased, “What’s the mythology? What’s the history? How do these different races interplay with each other? What’s the history of the orcs? So it’s something that I think is eminently developable and you know I look for the opportunity.”