Creating killer soundtracks for a film appears to be in very high demand nowadays. From Guardians of the Galaxy to Baby Driver, the way that pop culture music is being used makes it feel as though they are a character in the film itself. And that couldn’t be truer for the upcoming action film Atomic Blonde.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Atomic Blonde takes place just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, with Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) assigned to investigate the murder of a fellow MI6 agent, who was in possession of a top secret list, which in the wrong hands could expose every spy and operative. But as she searches for this elusive list, those working closest to her steer her in the wrong direction, in more ways than one. Without anyone to trust but herself, Lorraine finds out that getting that list and out of Berlin, alive, won’t be easy.
So just imagine the Cold War canvas of bright 80s neon lights with contemporary covers of 80s British pop songs and action sequences that could only come from the mind of John Wick co-director David Leitch. We had a chance to talk to the director about his approach to the film, what he pitched to the producers, his use of music, that incredible one-shot action scene, and Deadpool 2. Check out our full interview with him here below.
Geeks Of Doom: What are some of the challenges of taking something from the pages of the comic book to the big screen?
David Leitch: I look at it as challenge/opportunity. Challenge. Opportunity. When I read the original source material, it was this cold noir, which I would expand on. But what I think the challenge was – what the opportunity was – was to make that genre reach a wider audience and can we find a way to mash up the action genre and sort of the 80s cool that we were able to aggregate and adding nostalgic music to what essentially was on the page was noir. Through that we ended up with Atomic Blonde, which I am really proud of.
Geeks of Doom: You talk about bringing music into the film. In it we have a great mix of originals and contemporary covers, so how did you find a balance between the two and make it feel like the music was a character in the film?
David Leitch: I started early on to put sort of what we call the “needle drops” in the movie in terms of the script. I had like specific thoughts and specific moments, and started to block the visuals like a music video. The song would be playing from here to here. We wanted to make sure we had the right set ups and that it will stretch out to this time. As I was going through this process, I was thinking, “It would be interesting if the rest of the score had an 80s vibe to it.” So I reached out to Tyler Bates, who was a composer on John Wick, and I was working with him closely this whole way and I’m like, “Hey, I would like to maybe use some contemporary covers to maybe reach out to a younger audience.” So he started to find younger artists that might be interested, and that’s where the Health cover comes in. The Health cover gets reprised as “Blue Monday,” and sort of score as well. So Tyler helped create the music and then we used it in elements of the movie as part of a bigger score that Tyler created.
Geeks Of Doom: So how did you manage to balance your creative voice while also staying true to the source material?
David Leitch: For me, it’s all about being true to myself, to be honest. The source material, why I was drawn to it, was because it had this graphic sensibility in its composition. I planned to have that as well. But we were infusing it with something different in terms of action and production design and color and music. So in terms of a noir and great composition, and working with Jonathan Sela, again, I think we were really referential to the original material. But in terms of the filmmakers, I really needed to expand and have a lot more fun.
Geeks of Doom: Charlize Theron has an excellent body of work and is one of the most verstile actresses in the industry, but what made her right for this particular project?
David Leitch: Well, she is perfect for it, and she must have had a sense of it because she already had the project before I came.
Geeks Of Doom: Oh.
David Leitch: Yeah, so it was something she and her production company had for a long time, and they were working towards developing and looking for directors with different points of view. I had been given the material from Kelly McCormick, one of the producers on the project, who also happens to be my wife. She’s like, “What do you think of this? Do you have a different spin on this outside of this Cold War noir?” It was that question, and when I read the script I got really interested. So it was me battling for the project.
Geeks Of Doom: So what did you pitch to them that convinced them to give you the job?
David Leitch: The images of the 80s and 89 Berlin. What I was trying to achieve in this world was interesting. I didn’t want to take the conventional approach to it in terms of a typical authentic Cold War historical piece. This was more of a style piece. An impressionistic piece about the 80s. So how could we have fun immersing ourselves in the world of the 80s cool and music and action, and use the backdrop as a metaphor for our characters but not as a historical lesson for our audience?
Geeks of Doom: Now I’ve got to ask about that one-shot stairwell action sequence. What was going through your mind as you were planning that out and was it in the script originally or was that something that you pitched to them?
David Leitch: It wasn’t in the script. As a lot of times when you come on as an action director directing second unit, you kind of approach the script with action placeholders, knowing you are going to embellish them, transform them, and make them your own. That was something that came about like, “How do we step outside ourselves as a small independent movie and grab the audience and slap them around to get them to pay attention?” I think making it a seamless shot and staying with Lorianne’s character at that moment in the movie was the right choice and what people needed to get on board for the third act and really go along with her as she closes out the twists and turns of the film.
Geeks of Doom: So how many camera tricks were in that sequence, because it couldn’t have been done in one take?
David Leitch: There were a lot of old school camera tricks. There are some visual effects and help from every department on the film set to make that happen. We are stitching things not unlike what Children of Men did or Birdman, we are using some of those techniques and inventing some of our own. There’s a bunch of shots that are linked together. But long takes are hard to do regardless.
Geeks of Doom: Okay, I have to ask this. We know the hype of Deadpool 2 is already pretty high, but what can you tell me that would make me even more excited for the film?
Because you guys weren’t at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, so what can you tell us about the sequel?
David Leitch: I know. Everybody wants something. I’ll tell you what is exciting. We are 12 days into production and the chemistry between Ryan [Reynolds] and Josh Brolin is everything you’d expect. It’s such a pleasure to be on set with those two talented guys. People should be excited. We have a great cast and we have a great script.
Geeks of Doom: Sounds fantastic. Thanks.
David Leitch: Thank you.
We’d like to thank David Leitch for his time, and Universal for helping set up this interview.
Atomic Blonde will open in theaters on July 28, 2017.