Scott Stewart, who is the writer, director and executive producer of the apocalyptic horror movie Legion began his career as a visual effects artist and technologist working for George Lucas’ company ILM, creating visual effects for numerous blockbuster films, including Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Lost World: Jurassic Park. In 2005 he formed Orphanage Animation Studios which has created visual effects for more than two dozen major movies including Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Day After Tomorrow, Hellboy and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
It seems a natural progression for him now to move on to writing and directing his first movie, Legion, a terrifying vision of the apocalypse. Stranded in a diner in the middle of nowhere a group of diverse characters must face an army of warrior angels bent on destroying the human race. The only hope they have for survival comes from a stranger, with an arsenal of weapons, who turns out to be the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany).
How did you become involved with this project?
I was hired to rewrite a script and I thought it was intriguing but I was interested in re-approaching it so I started over. Same location, there were a lot of elements that I kept, and just grounded the story and reconceived the mythology of it. Took a more Old Testament view of God and recast it as a western horror movie.
What was it before?
Each of the characters portrayed an aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins, and there were no angels; there was just demonic forces outside the diner. They were literally creatures, wild spider characters; they didn’t look anything like people. What was more interesting to me was the idea of taking things that were comforting to us, little old ladies, an ice-cream man, the mall Santa and turning them into things that are scary.
What was it like working with Paul Bettany?
Paul has an incredible stillness that only the greatest actors possess. His work is almost surgical in its exactness and specificity. That helped make Michael a commanding, mysterious figure you immediately trust, even if you don’t fully understand why. He turned out to be the most tremendous partner a filmmaker could have, because he cared a lot about the film and about his character – but he also wanted to shoot a machine gun and have a good time.
The first day that Paul got to shoot a M16 I orchestrated the superhero shot which is a very low angle and we whipped around as he was shooting at the [bad guys]. There’s no way not to look really cool on film when you shoot it like that, and we were all deafened, and at the end Paul stayed in character for a beat, and then went, ‘Wow, what was that?’ He said, ‘I was in the Royal Shakespeare Company, but this is why I wanted to be an actor!’
Are the wings CG or real?
The fight between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel is real, we didn’t CG stunt double them for anything other than the shots where they’re actually fully flying. But we wanted the wings to be really dynamic [so they were CG]. We wanted them to feel like they really could carry you aloft. I didn’t want them to look like the Hawkman from Flash Gordon.
The action sequences do not look like they’re directed by a first time filmmaker. You worked on scenes as an effects’ artist directed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, what did you learn from that experience that you put into your own film?
On those kinds of movies it’s very pipeline oriented, and it’s very process oriented, and there’s a really regimented process that you end up going through to create these dinosaurs in a movie, and that trained me well because it’s all about preparation and pre-visualization, and that is just in my DNA. So when we were doing a fight scene like the one we did in the movie, I don’t like to just wing it, no pun intended. I like fights where it feels violent and real and visceral but you can kind of see what all the moves are, and I’m really proud of that, particularly the two angel fight in Legion. That was meticulously storyboarded, and then we did pre-visualization where a lot of CG elements were incorporated, and then we hit John Medlen, our stunt coordinator, who came in with his video camera and his guys and they made it real.
Do you feel the movie is controversial?
The film pushes buttons and it’s meant to push buttons. I hope it’s somewhat controversial. In the end, it’s meant to be entertaining, but I hope it’s thought provoking as well. That’s what takes it out of the realm of the standard thriller. We are tickled pink over the idea that our rollercoaster ride, supernatural action horror movie is something that one could even have a conversation like this about.