Alex Gartner joined Charles Roven’s company Atlas Entertainment in 2004, and together they produced the comedy Get Smart starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Gartner also produced the movie The Upside of Anger with Kevin Costner and Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon.
In Charles Roven’s distinguished career he has produced some of the most successful Hollywood movies ever made including Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Scooby-Doo and Three Kings.
Roven and Gartner now helm the new supernatural adventure Season of the Witch, starring Nicolas Cage as Behmen, a knight who after fighting a war for many years has returned to what he hopes will be a quiet retirement. Unfortunately he, along with his best friend Felson (Ron Perlman), are apprehended by a local Cardinal’s (Christopher Lee) soldiers and are forced to escort a young woman (Claire Foy) to a distant abbey to stand trial for being a witch.
When you read the script for Season of the Witch did you know immediately you were interested in producing it?
Charles Roven: Once we read it, we couldn’t get it out of our heads. It’s not just a period film. It’s an action adventure that takes place in the period. The writer, Bragi Schut, peopled it with relatable, three-dimensional characters. So beyond its wonderful genre elements, there’s more than enough meat on the bone to keep it interesting.
Alex Gartner: Chuck and I search out scripts with original premises. The combination of elements is what set this story apart for us. Calling it, ‘a supernatural thriller set in the 14th century,’ is saying it all in terms of the genre pitch, but there’s so much more going on. It will terrify audiences, but because it has great characters, it feels completely real. It’s full of great action and [is] downright scary.
Is it realistic to think people of that time would think a witch could bring the Plague to their area?
Charles Roven: Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages at this point. Most of the people lived in abject poverty and ignorance. When this disease came, they couldn’t figure out what was causing it or how, but entire communities were being completely wiped out. As has happened throughout history, when something could be explained, people became very superstitious. The cause of it was your neighbor, the farm girl down the street, the butcher, the innkeeper.
Alex Gartner: It takes place in a time when people believed that supernatural events were commonplace. And yet, it’s filled with relatable elements in terms of what is happening in our world. The characters are questioning things that many people question today. I think it has a lot of contemporary reliability because of the themes of religion, war and ending the plague, and looking for solutions to really impossible problems.
Charles Roven: As a filmmaker, I always want the story to resonate with today’s audience. A lot of things are going on in the world today that have shaken our foundation of beliefs. When we question our beliefs and we don’t have answers for things, we still have a tendency to look for scapegoats.
Alex Gartner: We loved Behmen’s journey so much, and his need to question his actions and not to accept orders based on belief, authority, superstition or most importantly fear, that is definitely something in the movie. It’s not a political statement or religious statement, it’s really a statement of the need as Nic says, to think it through and know what’s in your heart and base your actions on that. The character ends up having great faith and the faith is what ends up getting the character the victory in the end.
What does Nicholas Cage bring to a movie like this?
Alex Gartner: It was exciting to us to get Nic because I don’t think (he’s) ever swung a sword in a movie before. Nic really embraced the concept. He’s fantastic at bringing you into a story. He jumped in with both feet and was a complete joy to work with. He had great script and character ideas, plus he looks fantastic as Behmen. You’ve never seen Nic Cage like this before.
I read the locations in Austria were freezing – how was it shooting there?
Alex Gartner: For some locations, we had to drive five kilometers off the paved roads to the point where cars can go no further, and then hoof it on foot through the Austrian Alps in the dead of winter. I’ve never in my life spent so much time in long underwear and goose down. The actors and the crew were absolutely extraordinary through cold, mud, rain and sudden changes in temperature and weather.
Both Nic and Claire were amazing. We’d be huddled in a tent with a gas blower to stay warm in between takes, and Nic would be sitting in a chair outside the tent enjoying the weather and Claire was in this wagon the whole time, supposedly dressed in rags, without gloves on. They never complained. They both enjoyed being in the elements, so it made it feel real. Because when it’s cold in the movie it was really cold. Everybody got into it even though it got brutal a couple of nights. But the locations in Austria were just spectacular.