'Pet Sematary' Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura On Making Big Changes To Stephen King's Book And The Current Status Of 'Snake Eyes,' 'McClane,' And 'Transformers' [Interview]

Between his career as a producer and his time as a Warner Brothers executive, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura has been responsible for many films that movie lovers can describe as formative. And now it's dawned on him too, especially as he reads 20th anniversary articles about The Matrix this week. "It's been interesting to read 20th anniversary of Matrix [articles] because it makes me all of a sudden go, 'Jesus,that was a long time ago, wasn't it?'" Di Bonaventura told /Film. "Wow, time has passed very fast. Obviously I'm super proud of that movie so it's nice to read about it again."

This week, di Bonaventura's adaptation of Pet Sematary opens in theaters after premiering at SXSW to rave reviews, including our own and Stephen King's. Even before SXSW, the trailer revealed a big change in this adaptation. Instead of Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed's (Amy Seimetz) youngest child Gage dying, it's Ellie (Jete Lawrence). Since neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) helped Louis resurrect Ellie's cat Church in the Micmac burial ground behind the "Pet Sematary," Louis still goes down a dark path.

Di Bonaventura spoke with /Film by phone this week about the adaption of Pet Sematary, from directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch and writers Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler. With many franchises under his banner, di Bonaventura also answered questions about McClane, Snake Eyes and sequels to Transformers and The Meg, before finally revisiting The Matrix. Pet Sematary opens Friday, April 5.

I'm glad that you revealed the big change in one of the trailers so I had time to make peace with it.

That was the strategy. We knew fans like yourself would have, not necessarily a negative reaction. We just knew it was going to be a reaction. Give you some time to adjust to that.

And now that I've seen the movie it makes perfect sense, because this one is as much Ellie's story as it is Louis', isn't it?

Absolutely. I'm sure you know the book. Any of the conversations about life and death between the parents of children are really with Ellie because obviously she's the only one who can have that conversation.

Was it important to also give Rachel more of a direct reason to fear that talk, that she actually felt direct guilt and responsibility for Zelda's death?

Yeah, one of the things we were trying to figure out was how to explain Zelda without taking a major detour in time and direction. That conversation allowed us to use Zelda in, I'll say, a simple manner. So that turned around and got us really good quick ground for that. So I think part of the trick in this was that we're trying to give everybody in their story as much as we could. I think that obviously was a big deal for us.

You don't come out and say athetism, but was it natural to explore that a doctor would have some resistance to Rachel's interpretation of the afterlife?

Absolutely. What we saw was that a doctor is a man of science. So for him, he has a very scientific, you could almost say cold perception of what it is. That's why they're so polar opposite. Rachel's had such a visceral reaction from the tragedy that she went through as a child. For me, what became very personal was my first wife and I had a child. I was running Warner Brothers at the time. My assistant came in, I was in a meeting, and said, "There's an emergency." So I run back into my office and I get on the phone. My wife says, "Henry died" who was my son's gerbil. And I said, "You're kidding me that this is an emergency, right?" And she goes, "No, no, no, what do we do? Do we tell him he ran away or do we tell him he died?" My knee jerk reaction was tell him he ran away. Her knee jerk reaction was, "No, no, no, they need to know the process." I eventually agreed with her but my knee jerk reaction was to protect your child from that, from reality. So when that scene came up in our script, it was so real life for me.

It is a very relevant conversation all parents are going to have to face. Does it get extra complicated when you're dealing with a story where they actually have a third option?

Yeah, I know, exactly right. What's interesting is you could look at that third option in a way, you can look at it from a simplistic level of all right, would you do anything you could to save your child? But there's another way to look at it. Aren't you a bad parent if you don't try in every way to save your child? Which is sort of turning it on its side. That's an interesting thing. That's what was one of the fun things about this movie actually was getting into deep, deep questions.

That's why the older I get, the more powerful Pet Sematary becomes.

I agree with that. For me, having a child, I had read it long before I had children. So I had one relationship to the book. Then I had children and I had a completely different relationship with the book. As I was thinking about it also, I was thinking about our society. Our society does everything it can to push death to a backseat. We hide it, sweep it under the rug as much as we can. What's so fascinating about this is every generation probably has a different relationship with death. My parents had a different relationship. Their parents were kind of used to death, whether it was war or death by childbirth. It was a much more frequent occurrence. It was one of the things that got me very excited about the movie because each time you deal with death, it's a different thing. It's a different thing for everybody. I think it's one of the reasons why at the end of the day, taking on the subject matter was interesting to me.

Church sort of becomes the instrument of Ellie's death. Is there an interpretation where Church did that on purpose to punish Louis?

We think so. We definitely think so. There's no doubt that Church in his form is malicious. Also, another way of looking at Church is saying all right, if this malevolence, whatever it is up in the burial ground, why wouldn't that malevolence? One of the things we decided to do is we put Church in so many scenes to drive that point home.

Is the truck driver texting because that's what causes so many accidents now?

Exactly.

Were the neighborhood kids with the masks ever going to be even bigger characters?

No. One of the tricky things is there's so much ground to cover, we never really imagined that that was going to be it. We felt like ritualizing it was a benefit to setting up the mystique and the weirdness of that world. That was really its primary purpose. Plus, we loved the imagery.

I bet we'll see a lot of those masks at Halloween.

[LAUGHS] I think you're right. I hadn't thought about that.

pet sematary final trailer

There was one part where Rachel was asking if the Sematary falls on their property line. Was there ever a tangent where Rachel tries to get rid of the Pet Sematary?

We never did. One of the things we felt very much was we wanted Rachel to go through a transformation. At first, it's something scary. Then it's something a little bit more and something more and something more, so it feels like an escalation. Later on in the story, it's super hard to go back. It becomes distracting to the storytelling.

Did you have any ratings issues with the MPAA for the gore and violence?

No. We knew we were never going to get anything but an R so our expectations were for an R and we got it. I don't think it was ever going to be any less. I don't remember that they asked us to do anything. I think the question was going to be more what was going to be the language. In that respect, we thought they were fair when we saw what they gave us so we were fine with it. The idea of doing anything but an R rated version of this thing would have freaked me out.

No, not that it would be PG-13 but you might have to cut things just to get an R.

We might have but no, they felt that we were an R rated movie and nothing more, thankfully. It would've been a bummer because between our writer and our directors and everybody on the movie came up with some pretty cool, trippy stuff. One of the things I love about some kinds of horror is you can get super surreal. I love that. When we did 1408 it got super surreal. I find that more unsettling when it's not in our world yet it's people going through our world so I dig that part of it.

Right, the door in the woods was really freaky.

Yeah, trippy, right? You're just like what the f*** is going on here? To me, I like that. It's one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to particularly psychological horror because you're playing with somebody's mind. You're not necessarily saying where's the guy with the knife coming? That's not a criticism of that. It's just different. To me, that's what's super interesting, the mind games you can play with the people so they're not just scares. Like you said, you went right to the door. It's weird. What the hell's going on? I dig that a lot.

Was it up for debate whether or not you'd have a cover of the Ramones song?

Yes. I'll say there were two kinds of thought. We always wanted to try it but we also thought given that we're trying new things, what would you do if you didn't know The Ramones was on the movie, what would you do? We tried some different songs. We tried things from The Doors. We tried older, we tried newer and it just kept coming back to The Ramones song. Then it was about Paramount has a really great music guy named Randy Spendlove who turned us on to the band. Then of course as soon as you hear it, you go, "Oh, we should've never even tried anything else."

Both movies go to such a dark place, I think we need that rousing hard rock song.

I think you're right. That's why we tried a lot of different versions of, let's call it, that big kind of beat. Ultimately, I guess it was destiny.

They did a Pet Sematary 2 in 1992, but you're thinking a prequel instead?

Honestly, everybody asks me are we doing a sequel and my answer was we never really thought about it. We were really just trying to make a good movie and we were making a lot of pretty bold decisions, so we were really focusing on just making it. But it would seem to me that if you were going to go down that path, the interesting thing is stay with the source material and go and do a prequel, because there is so much information in the source material prior to it. Do we get to meet young Jud? There's a lot of opportunity I think that we don't have to make up out of whole cloth. As fans of the book, I know for me I've increasingly liked the idea that that's how we would approach it.

There are endless possibilities for period pieces.

Yeah, and one of the things we did try to get in is we tried to get the Micmacs in. At one point we had written an opening scene where you see them flee and you're left with some information but not too much information about the why of it. Less about establishing what it is they're running [from] and more establishing what is the thing that's freaking them out. Again, there's so much you've got to play out with the central four characters, especially the three of them really, but all four of them that too often when we looked at alternatives we kept feeling like we're kind of getting away from the point of the story, so it drove us back.

Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie

Looking ahead, do you have a start date for McClane yet?

I wish, not yet. I don't know what's going to happen there. It's really up to them because obviously now they're owned by Disney. My sense is that we won't know much about it for a while while they debate whatever they're debating. I don't know enough about their plans really to have any point of view. They like our script.

When does Snake Eyes start?

We probably start late summer, early fall.

Are you going to be able to keep him silent as the star of a film?

[LAUGHS] I'm not going to spoil that one. I will say this. Part of the opportunity of going back is to discover who is this guy. For me, I'm most interested in seeing it as an origin story. If you see it as an origin story, you do get to see him speak for X period of time.

For the next Transformers are you looking for new directors or hoping you can still make Michael Bay an offer?

I think Bay has made it really clear that he loved what he did and he's not doing anymore. So I think the answer is we're writing a script. At that point, once we get script we have a strong belief in, then we'll begin to debate that. Michael's made it really clear that he didn't want to do it. I don't blame him. He spent a hell of a lot, a decade of his life, shooting them.

Are you developing a script that picks up where The Last Knight left off?

No.

Is The Meg sequel on a fast track?

I have not read the script that's being worked on, but it is being worked on. Every producer probably thinks their projects should be on the fast track so I'll be the same as everybody else. I hope so. You know what's interesting to me, something I get really mad at about Hollywood is how many times studios do really, I'll say, safe [projects]. What was interesting to me about Meg was from the get go, one of the things I said to Warners was, "I look forward to doing this movie but we have to do it where we never take ourselves too seriously." Because it's a giant shark movie. To a point, it's almost pretentious if you try to take yourself too seriously and they bought into that from the get go. That's not the easiest decision to go along with. What I've liked recently and I'm noticing a creative, I'll say, opening I guess where just as the studio let us make arguably the darkest movie you could make of Pet Sematary. That may not have happened a lot over the last few years. It feels to me, I don't know why, I wish I did, but the good news is it feels like that's what's happening.

Would a Meg sequel be based on any of the other books?

I think a little bit and I'm going to reserve comment because until I read it, I don't want to send people off in the wrong direction.

Were there any new takes on The Matrix that were surprising to you?

I always find it interesting how people view things. It's not even really right or wrong. It's just it goes through their own impressions. One of the things they'll say is, "How did they get it through Warner Brothers?" The answer is we fought for five and a half years to get it made. So the idea that they came up with some magic formula is not nearly accurate but I understand why somebody's looking to try to figure out why it got made.

For me, my entry to The Matrix was the Hong Kong style martial arts which I was already watching in subtitled movies. I was excited to see that in an American movie and then those choreographers got to work in Hollywood for a few years.

It's one of the reasons honestly why I wanted to do Snake Eyes so much was because I love Kung Fu. I love the moviemaking tradition that comes out of that. To me, it's so much fun to try to get into that and then also try to figure out what is the new version of it? I'm a big believer in go do something. Yes, there's a certain expectation of what you want from let's call it a kung fu movie. It's sort of a simple term but the truth is if we give you the version that you can visualize, we've probably given you something that you already know and therefore it's kind of boring. So it becomes that balance. All right, how do you do new and appreciate and validate the old if you would? I find that one of the most interesting things about filmmaking. It's something I learned over time that I think is really essential is really like okay, well, how do you? We could have really blown it with the ballsy choice with Ellie vs. Gage. But we went into it with the philosophy of the audience is very loyal to this. If we're loyal to the spirit of the book and some large elements of the book, they'll come with us. That was the theory. Could've been wrong, so I enjoy that part of it, the big roll of the dice.