Red Notice Producer Hiram Garcia On Giving Notes, Intentionality, And The Future Of Dwayne Johnson's Career [Interview]

As the president of production at Dwayne Johnson's Seven Bucks Productions, Hiram Garcia has quickly become one of the biggest producers in Hollywood — and with projects like "Black Adam," "Jungle Cruise 2," and many, many more in the works, he's showing no signs of slowing down. His latest project is "Red Notice," a heist/adventure/romance thriller that's reportedly Netflix's most expensive original film yet. The globe-trotting movie stars Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot, but that "globe-trotting" component was thrown into question when the production shut down as the pandemic hit in March 2020. Like so many other productions at that time, the "Red Notice" team (including writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber) had to think on their feet and scrambled to rework some scenes in order to finish the movie safely. 

But this interview isn't about that.

Practically every interview Garcia has done in the lead-up to "Red Notice" has delved into the challenges presented by the pandemic, so when I had the chance to catch up with the producer last week, I purposefully avoided that topic and instead peppered him with questions about how he and the Seven Bucks team turn a script into something they deem worthy of the world's biggest movie star. He explained how they go about making tweaks to a script, the intentionality of a real-world parallel making its way into this movie, the broad plan for upcoming Seven Bucks projects, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

"Dwayne's Always Been Extremely Hands On"

You've already spoken a lot about the challenges Covid presented while making "Red Notice," so I won't ask you to repeat any of that. Instead, I want to get a sense of how you guys operated during a couple points in the process of making this movie. So let's go back in time: Rawson has just sent you the script for the first time. Do you read it yourself before it makes its way to Dwayne?

Yeah, it really depends. A lot of times, I'll read it first and get my hands on it. We've all worked together so much — obviously DJ and Dany are extremely busy, so whatever I can do to a lot of times where I can address a lot of notes that I just know from having worked with them and made so many movies with them, that I can get ahead of before he even has to give that note. So a lot of times, I'll jump in there first and then after doing a bit of work on it, then we'll get it to him. I'm able to address some things that I know will be right at the top of his mind.

What about changes or tweaks to the script? How involved are you guys in that? When a filmmaker presents you with a script and you have some tweaks that you want to make, what does that look like?

Obviously as producers of the movie, we're extremely involved in every aspect of the movie. It's our movie. We take great pride in being very hands-on, and it's in that hands-on process where you really start to get that DNA that fans really want from a Dwayne Johnson Seven Bucks movie. Dwayne's always been extremely hands-on. Me and Dany as well. So from the moment we hear the pitch, we're giving notes. [laughs] You hear the pitch, you have thoughts. Then you get the script, you have notes. It's why some projects can take so long, because sometimes it just takes a bit of time and a bit of work to get projects in the right place, but we're always very involved. And especially with it being a Seven Bucks movie, it's one of those things where, right from the beginning, we're in there – and we're in all the way through.

Are there any specific tweaks you can remember on "Red Notice" that came from you and the Seven Bucks team in terms of capturing that fan engagement element you guys are so fond of?

The entire building process is collaborative, so it's almost hard to just call out one thing. Because right from the beginning, you're presented with an idea, and as producers of the film, you start working hand in hand with the writer/director/producer as well in Rawson to hone it. So you're analyzing every scene in the movie and making tweaks to all of the characters. It's like, 'OK, for Gal's character, where would we love to see her that right now, we're not feeling her? [How do we] enhance it?' You're constantly modulating. Same thing with Ryan's character. So it's an ongoing process when you're doing these films. It's not just something that's cooked and you go put a little bit of seasoning on it. We're in there for the whole process. And then obviously when you're dealing with something like a pandemic that comes, it requires everybody to put their heads together to say, "All right, how do we reconfigure some of these scenes to be able to properly pull them off in this new environment that we're shooting in where we don't have as many luxuries as we did before and as much flexibility as you did before in a pre-pandemic situation?"

Content That Makes People Feel Good

So I understand Dwayne had a complicated relationship with his father in real life, and several of the characters in "Red Notice," including his character, talk about the tough upbringings they had. I'm curious about the intentionality of an element like that: did you all have discussions about that father/son relationship in any sort of meta way at any point while making this movie? Or is that just one of those "happy accident" things that happens and then is observed after the fact?

It's a little bit of a hybrid of both. When we went in, there wasn't a collective decision to be like, "You know what? Let's make this about a bunch of characters who are dealing with father issues." But I think inherently, in the script that Rawson had come up with and the concept he had, that was just naturally one of the backstories for the characters. And then, it just happened that due to life experiences and DJ's very real relationship with his father, he was able to pull elements from that in informing that character. But it was never set up in the sense of, "Hey, you know what? This is what we should make it about." It was more like a bit of convenience.

You're one of the busiest producers in Hollywood, so I'm sure you and your team have long-ranging plans for how you want to continue to shape Dwayne's career. Beyond the specific projects that have already been announced, can you tell me more broadly about what type of path you're envisioning for the future?

It's not only even just the DJ projects, but it's our slate in general for Seven Bucks. We have a bunch of projects that don't feature him, because the truth is, he is extremely busy. He's doing a lot of stuff. He's the head of tequila companies and energy drinks, as well as the biggest movie star in the world. For us, always our north star that we're always focused on is making content that makes people feel good, and when you leave the theater or leave your couch, you're feeling better. The idea is basically, no matter what's going on in your life, when you come into the movie, you're going to feel a little bit better and escape from whatever challenges you have. That really guides a lot of the projects we do. We have a natural tendency to tell really big, global stories, and projects that tend to be high-concept. So we love genre. Even though "Red Notice" is much more of a grounded film, we do tend to love science fiction and fantasy, you see what we're doing in the superhero space [with "Black Adam"] and with "Jungle Cruise" and so forth. Anything that creates an urgency and a need to have to see the movie, and especially to have to see it on the big screen, is something we always really love. And that's a space that's going to continue to guide our slate as we move forward.

Does Dwayne Johnson Want to Win An Oscar?

I'm especially curious if you're interested in making a movie which results in DJ winning an Oscar for acting. Is that something that he is interested in, that he's talked to you guys about? Is a goal on a whiteboard somewhere for you guys?

Look, we have a ton of goals on white boards. It's kind of what keeps us so hungry. So anything that garners critical acclaim is always something that's very interesting for us. But what we're always going to lead with, and what's always going to guide us, is just resonance to the material. If the material speaks to us, on whatever level, that's what's going to connect us to it. We're never out just seeking awards material, but if the project is something we really like and we feel like, "Oh, on top of it, we have a shot to maybe take a swing at getting some kind of critical acclaim," then we're always going for it. But it's definitely on our board of things we'd love to do. But the thing that always guides us, first and foremost, is just our natural connection with the project and making sure it's something we really feel passionate about and want to tell. From then, whatever good things come from it is the icing on the cake.

Will He Ever Star in a Smaller Movie Again?

You mentioned DJ being the biggest star in the world. When you're on top of the mountain like that, does that mean the option for him to play a major role in a smaller movie like "Snitch" or "Pain and Gain" is off the table in favor of bigger projects that people might expect from the biggest star in the world? I know he was in "Fighting With My Family," but that feels like a bit of an exception since he played himself and had a more personal connection to that material. But movies on that scale, that are not big-budget blockbusters – are any projects that don't fit within that realm off the table for now?

No, I've gotta be honest: nothing is ever off the table with us. That's not how we approach it. We do like big films, and we do like films that have global themes that cross continents and cross waters that speak to larger audiences. But that's just coming up from a world where we grew up loving all those big films as kids. All the Spielberg stuff and those kinds of movies, inherently, that's our taste. But nothing's ever off the table. If [we respond to the material], we're going to go for it. Something like "Fighting With My Family," that came from DJ. He saw that and realized, "I want to tell this story." Even though on the scale of things, one could consider it a smaller production compared to what we typically do. But he was the driving force behind that movie. He loved that story so much. He wanted to bring it to life. He wanted to be in it. That's the energy and drive behind it. There have been many projects, actually, that have come across that could be considered smaller in nature that have really resonated with us that we have a little deeper on our development slate. We're always [open] to those small projects, because a lot of times, you never know: that small project might end up becoming the biggest one of them all.

Upcoming Seven Bucks Productions

Before we wrap up, I wanted to do a little rapid-fire run through of a few different projects you have in the works and ask if you can give me some info on them. Is "John Henry and the Statesmen" still happening?

"John Henry and the Statesmen" is still totally happening. We just got a new draft in. We've been working on it, just wanting to get that project right because of how special it is to us. But it's definitely happening, and we've got a really good draft that just came in that we're excited about, that we're going to continue to punch up a bit. But it's getting closer and closer, and that one is definitely on the horizon.

What's the status of "The Janson Directive"?

"The Janson Directive" right now, that's in the works. We're actually in the process of trying to find the right home for it. We're in talks right now with another studio to land it, but we are steadily working on that one. We really like that project, and while it doesn't star DJ [Dwayne Johnson], it's still something we have a lot of love for. It's just the complications of finding the perfect home for it. But we're on it, and hoping to have some good news on it, hopefully by some time next year.

And lastly, I'm curious about "Red One," since you cooked up the story for that project. I know you've called it "Hobbs meets Miracle on 34th Street," but can you give me any more details about what we can expect from that one? Is Dwayne literally playing Santa in it?

It's funny, he's not playing Santa. For some reason, everyone thinks he's playing Santa. He's not playing Santa, but he's playing something really awesome. We're really excited about it. It's the movie we're looking to film next year. We're thrilled to have Jake Kasdan to direct it, because he is such a master in that space and the tone we're wanting to do. It is very much "Hobbs and Shaw" meets "Guardians of the Galaxy" meets "Miracle on 34th Street." It's going to take holiday mythology and turn it on its head. Really, it's hard to find another Christmas movie to even compare to it. I don't think there's ever been anything done like this in that space, which is always very appealing to us. We're really excited about it, Amazon's been great with it, and we're in the process – the script's about to be written, and we'll be shooting that next year. Our goal is, knock on wood, we're hoping to have that ready for December 2023.

"Red Notice" hits Netflix on November 12, 2021.