Posted on Friday, March 10th, 2017 by Peter Sciretta
While talking to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts about his new film Kong: Skull Island, I learned that the filmmaker was hired for the gig only after he rejected the job and script that Legendary initially pitched to him. Below, read part two of my interview to find out how Jordan went from a first-time director of the Sundance film festival movie The Kings of Summer to this mega-blockbuster (but only after you’ve read part one).
Jordan Vogt-Roberts: Hey, what’s up? Good to see you.
Good to see you too.
How are things? Did you watch it?
Good. Everything’s good. Yeah, I liked it a lot.
I love your first film, but seeing that I wouldn’t necessarily be like “Oh, he’s the guy that we need to make the King Kong movie.” And I heard when you went in there they weren’t going to make this film, like it was a different pitch. So how did you go in there and what was your pitch? What happened?
Part of it stems from the reason I [just] wanted to do a big movie after Kings of Summer. Much like you, before we discovered foreign cinema, art house cinema, film history, all of that, the things we had access to were Star Wars and Die Hard and Raiders and these studio movies that were great. And they didn’t talk down to you. Before studio movies had such a negative connotation. So I was very vocal about wanting to do a big studio movie. I did not think it was gonna be a King Kong movie. You know, there were other things, like Metal Gear Solid, that I was chasing. But I never in a million years would I have thought it was a monster movie.
So they brought me a script and they called me on a Sunday. It was the craziest thing. It took me a year to win Metal Gear Solid. And it took me six months to win Kings of Summer, probably. I got a call on a Sunday to say we want you to come and meet on this project tomorrow. I was like okay. It was Skull Island. We’re making a new King Kong movie. My first response was “Awesome.” I love King Kong. My secondary response was “Why?” Why does this movie need to exist? It hasn’t been that long since Peter [Jackson’s] film. Peter’s movie was great. What’s fresh about this for audiences? So I read the script. It took place in 1917. It was an entirely different movie than this. And it was a good script. It just wasn’t for me. So I said, thanks but no thanks. This was like Monday.
You actually went in and said that or…?
Yeah. So I went in and said that. I loved all the ideas they were talking about. And I kicked around ideas of what I thought was interesting and whatever. And they sort of said okay, well what version of the movie would you make? And I thought… I don’t know if there is a version of this film I would make. Like, I don’t know if I’m your guy for this. So I went away that weekend and started thinking about what that was. And I didn’t know if it was gonna be anything. And then suddenly, my brain just started popping the images of Kong as like a black silhouette and like an orange sky and choppers approaching him. And actually, the screen saver of my phone, the background is the very first piece of concept art that we ever generated.
[Jordan shows me his iPhone background wallpaper]
And it’s funny that it looks almost exactly like the final theatrical poster.
Yeah, it’s pretty similar to it. And then the idea of like Hendrix is playing and choppers are flying around and a fist is coming out of the sky and smashing these things down. And then suddenly, I was like, wait a second, I’ve seen plenty of monster movies. I haven’t seen a Vietnam War movie with monsters. And I haven’t seen something that is riffing off of Apocalypse Now with monsters. And that had a bunch of thematic reasons, beyond it being like an incredible genre mash-up of me thinking like I would wanna see this movie. I feel like people would, like you, would wanna see the film.
But then there were these elements of… You look at what was happening in the ’70s and the late ’60s, political riots and racial revolutions and distrust of the government and it’s like a complete mirror of what’s happening right now. And it was like there were so many things where it felt like right now, our entire generation is people with one foot in the old guard and one foot in the new guard, uncertain of how to move forward. As it was then, too. So I love the idea of taking these like disillusioned, confused people and thrusting them into like the unknown and confronting them with gods and myths. So I went to the studio and pitched them that idea. And I thought they were gonna laugh me out of the room. I figured they were gonna say thanks but no thanks. And instead, they said, cool, let’s do that movie. And my response was me sort of blank face, staring saying, “What?”
They actually said that in the room?
They said we would love to do that movie. Let’s think about it. The next day I got a phone call. They said we’re doing this movie. So all said and done, the time that I got my first phone call to when I was doing the movie was a week.
Yeah. And then we were just off to the races. So we we completely reworked the script and kind of went from there.