At this point, the release date of “The New Mutants” has become as much a punchline as an accepted fact. Filmmaker Josh Boone’s adaptation of an “X-Men” spinoff comic has endured a corporate merger, the collapse of the franchise to which it bears a tangential relationship, and now, a global pandemic. It’s been five years since 20th Century Fox announced the project, three years since Boone shot the film and over two years since the first scheduled release.
But soon, “The New Mutants” will become something else entirely as it moves from the headlines of movie blogs and onto the silver screen, out of Boone’s control and into the hands of fans.
In preparation for the film’s planned August 28 release, we sat down with Boone how he approached making the film like his previous work, what changed in response to Disney and “X-Men” and how he came to fall back in love with the project again over time.
Before “The New Mutants,” your background was in movies about human relationships and conflict like “Stuck in Love” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” Do you see this film as a continuation of what you were exploring there or as a new phase in your directorial career entirely?
I’ve always made movies for young people, and I feel like this movie shares actually a lot more in common with “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Stuck In Love” than you would think that at first glance. It has all the superheroics people want, and it has the kind of ominous, eerie vibe the whole time in some of the horror elements that we drew from. It’s still, at the end of the day, a human relationship story. It is performance-driven and cast-driven, which is what we always try to do – on “The Stand” as well. We cast to the hilt and try to get the very, very best people to come bring it to life. I think we have the best young cast around, truly.
Did any element of bringing a beloved piece of intellectual property like “The Fault in Our Stars” to screen and making changes to something to which fans held a deep attachment help prepare you for how to make something like “The New Mutants?”
I try to not make anything that I’m not already a fan of myself. I’ve tried in a lot of ways to do things that I had deep connections to and/or even childhood connections to because it takes so long to get these things done. I think maybe this took four years in total, I think “The Stand” [Boone’s next project, a series-length Stephen King adaptation for CBS All Access] took five. You know, these things take a long time, so your love for him really has to be true or it gets debilitating. So we were already such big fans of it. I got to write this with my best friend [Knate Lee] who I grew up with in Virginia Beach, Virginia — our moms are best friends. And we grew up in the 1980s just loving Marvel Comics really more than anything else. It was like that, and Stephen King paperbacks that I hid under my bed.
It was our dream our whole lives to do this, and doing this was like getting paid to do what you did for free when you were twelve. The most important thing to us was we just don’t feel like, in general, in movies today in the theaters that teens are represented very well. I think superheroes mostly cast and star adults, and there hasn’t been a John Hughes movie, a ’90s teen horror movie, an ’80s horror movie or anything like that for a long time. So we tried to smuggle that content in to try to get something like that in theaters again that we would want to see.
I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but you’re right that casting older people to play young does change the nature of the performance. You’d play something differently in the thick of adolescence than you would with years of retrospection afterwards.
Right. I dealt with that stuff a lot in “Stuck in Love.” I was certainly closest to Nat Wolff‘s character, [which] was who I was in high school. Nat’s a good friend of mine and has sort of been in most everything I’ve done since, and we’re going to go do another one next. I connect with these people because I remember deeply what it felt like to be young, to feel out of sorts in your own body, to not know who you are, just all those things. I had movies, for me then, that I got to watch that helped me through that. And I don’t feel like there’s many of them now in theaters.
How do you make a personal film within such a large corporate structure?
[Pauses, laughs] I would say that the most difficult projects are the ones with the biggest IPs where you need the most money. Those ones become the ones that have a lot more involvement than anything else. The shooting of this movie, 75% of it really wasn’t much different than “The Fault in Our Stars.” And then the 25% involving special effects was just sort of making movies in slow motion to try to get everything right.
Making it with the studio was an interesting experience. They’re so different from you. Like when you’re the artist in the room, you’re always gonna relate much more to your cast, to your producers and to other creatives. It’s just a different experience. You’re trying to work your dream and vision of this thing through a corporate system. It’s unemotional, and you have a lot of emotion attached to it. They don’t, really! It’s a little bit more of a business for them in that way, but you have to be that passionate to be able to make the film.
For us, it started out as a much bigger idea, and we kind of cut the budget in half to get to the movie that we’re at. It was more elaborate originally and was less contained in one location. We did things, hopefully clever things, like trying to take one of our favorite childhood horror movies, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” and use that idea of kids in a psychiatric institute to do this iconic storyline in the comics that we love so much that’s containable in a movie.
How do you even go about learning to direct action sequences? Given that only a handful of people get to make these movies, I can’t imagine it’s something every director knows.
Storyboard everything. I mean, truly, I storyboarded everything. That’s the only way I would ever even have the confidence to go into a set and try to do it. That’s a big part of my process.
If you look at a lot of movies, there’s just intuitive things that you feel. But I also went and got Peter Deming, who’s one of the greatest DPs on the planet. When I was a kid growing up, I had a file folder where I kept every article about David Lynch, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino. Peter Deming was a legend even then, and I had the American Cinematographer with “Lost Highway” on the front. And I made Knate go see that with me twice in the theater the day it opened, he hated me because of it. I just thought [Peter] would bring a great sensibility to it, and I just told him I really wanted it to feel grounded and real. We wanted to shoot on real locations. We didn’t want it to feel like it was built or virtual sets, all those feelings you get when you see those movies sometimes.
The movie we’re getting reflects the one you set out to make, though I don’t have to tell you that there have obviously been reports of the many different directions some others wanted to pull the film. So often that gets framed as something negative, but I’m curious, is there any upside to having to consider many different avenues and turns for the film? Is “The New Mutants” stronger because you’ve had to iterate so much and really hold firm to a core of what you think works?
It’s funny because there wasn’t a lot of wrestling over cuts. I always use the same editors, they’ve been my editors since my first movie. Our cut of the movie that we made was probably 75% done when the merger happened, but almost none of the visual effects were done. And none of the sound design was done. So when I came back to it, my guys were already cutting “The Stand.” So I went and got an amazing editor [Andrew Buckland] who did “Ford vs. Ferrari” who [was] good friends with my editors. It was a good match, and we did the final 25%.
Getting that year of gap in between seeing it then and seeing it now, the thing that was the most surprising was that I liked it. I was like, if all it takes is not seeing your movie for a year two like it again and actually really believe that it’s good, that’s what you need. Because Knate and I really did fall in love with it again. And we did a little bit of things to try to free it from pre-merger plans that Fox had for the “X-Men” franchise that were cooked into our movie when we shot it. We never got a chance to reshoot or even do pickups, which 95% of movies do. It was just all sort of frozen in limbo.
And everybody went to go work on “Dark Phoenix” because it cost so much, because the cast was so lucrative. Even though our movie tracked better, had way higher [amounts of] people looking at the trailer than ever did “Dark Phoenix,” it was all hands on deck because that movie was supposed to be two movies. And when the merger happened, all those plans sort of went to the wayside. So, everybody had a mess to clean up to some degree or another to make the movies sellable and able to put out in the world. Mine much less than “Dark Phoenix” because we didn’t have to change very much to complete it. We just had to not do a post-credits scene that we had planned and snip out a couple bits of dialogue that sort of expanded into things you would have seen in another movie.
So often with these films that are meant to launch sequels and franchises, we see the first film stumble because it spends too much time trying to set up what comes next. How do you go about making a movie that can satisfy in its own right while also planting the seeds for future installments?
We’re fans, so I didn’t worry about fans because we were trying to please ourselves. We really are fans of the comic, and fans have been really receptive and excited and done so much amazing fan art of the characters in the comics we’ve done. I think we got them right, Anya [Taylor-Joy, who plays Illyana Rasputin] and Maisie [Williams, who plays Rahne Sinclair], they seem very much like my memories of the comics and what I had in my imagination.
I thought about how Christopher Nolan had said in an interview that “Batman Begins” had to be a completely self-contained movie that didn’t have to have a sequel if it didn’t need to. When we sold the movie to Fox, Knate and I made Fox a comic. We had a comic book company when we were kids, and we’d staple them together and Xerox them at his grandma’s house. We made them sort of an adult version of that they utilized all the frames from the comics that we loved and brought that to them. We framed it as three movies that were their own unique kind of standalone movies that we each one build on the other without interfering with the other. All directly drawn from Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on “New Mutants” and all that. So the first one was already self-contained in that way, it just had enough little loose ends to get you excited about the next one. But I’d say much smaller than a typical comic book movie, even when we started.
You speak so affectionately about horror as a genre and what it allows an audience to release or express. Do you think the timing of opening during the sensitivities of a pandemic will raise the stakes for the audience?
I mean, it’s weird that the movie is about kids quarantined in the hospital they can’t get out of. I don’t know, man. I think it’s good for people to go back to the movies. I do think movies are an essential service. Socially distanced with masks and done properly is certainly better than a party with 400 people without masks, or a restaurant or a plane or whatever.
I think it’s a way for people to feel less lonely being cooped up in their houses. I think it’s better for their mental health to get out and go to the movies. If we can provide kids with some entertainment and see somebody a little more like themselves than like Wolverine or Iron Man in terms of the struggles they’re going through life and everything where they’re maybe a little more scared than heroic, I call that a win.
Obviously, every press tour involves speaking about something in the past in present tense. But given that “The New Mutants” is releasing three years after principal photography, does that distance grant you any more introspection or special insight?
When we watched it, we were just so surprised how much we liked it still. It was like, “We don’t hate this, this is great!” Like I said, it ended up in a good place for us, and we’re really happy with the movie. The cast really loved it, we were able to finally share it with them. They were in and out of the editing room the whole time we were shooting and would come see me when we were cutting. So they’d seen bits and pieces of it over the years, but I’m just happy it’s coming out. I’m happy people get to go see it. Was it a long time ago? Does it feel like a long time ago? Yes and no. We’ve done press for it a couple times, so I always continue to see the cast. I put Henry [Zaga, who plays Roberto da Costa] in “The Stand” as Nick Andros. It’s nice to see everybody, we all kind of got along so well while we made it. I know we’re happy to share it with everybody. We hope people like it.
“The New Mutants” opens – finally – in theaters and at drive-ins on Friday, August 28. At least, we’re pretty certain at this point.