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When filmmakers Stephen St. Leger and James Mather met producer Luc Besson, they had already written two features and wanted to direct a wisecracking action movie. The maker of ‘The Fifth Element’ had the perfect project for them: 500 of the world’s most dangerous criminals are locked up in a prison in space and maintained in a state of stasis. “Suddenly, the inmates wake up,” recounts producer Leila Smith.
“Rioting breaks out in the prison and a guy is sent up there to restore order.” The two Irish directors enthusiastically accepted EuropaCorp’s proposal and met regularly with Luc Besson to work on the script. “The two boys met with Luc for 2-3 hours at a time to put together the structure of the movie with the main narrative blocks and the elements of plot that needed to be integrated,” comments producer Marc Libert.
“Back in Ireland, St. Leger and Mather wrote the dialogue, even taking liberties with the structure to express their style. After the first draft, the second took us another four-five months. Luc’s reaction to it was very positive.”
Leila Smith in particular appreciated the close collaboration between EuropaCorp and the two directors, whose willingness to communicate she emphasizes: “There were no great debates between Luc and the guys. Their script meetings functioned a bit like a master class. Luc gave them explanations about various scenes and advised them not to develop others because he sensed they’d be cut in editing.”
Luc Besson’s directorial experience proved crucial. Leila Smith adds, “When the directors disagreed with Luc, he just said to them, ‘Convince me.’ They defended the choices they had made and the coherence of the development of characters they really cared about. Most often, Luc was happy to be convinced.”
While ‘Lockout’ is first and foremost a futuristic thriller, the film has its comic moments. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, as Stephen St. Leger explains, because comedy is a very subjective genre, “Everybody has their own conception of humor. A scene that’s meant to be funny has a good chance of falling flat on its face.
For me, the master is Billy Wilder— deadpan humor that never becomes heavy-handed or a gag for the sake of a gag. You sense that he’s never trying to be funny at all costs. We tried to take a leaf out of his book.” Similarly, the director is happy to accept the movie’s 1980s dimension: I love the ‘Die Hard’ series or ‘Romancing the Stone’ and it shows in the humor in this film.”
For the two directors, the characters were a central preoccupation. They didn’t make things easy for themselves by making the hero so cynical and dispassionate that he can be hard to like at first. But he is very funny with a great line in deadpan humor. “He reminds me of the characters played by William Holden in Billy Wilder’s movies,” agrees Stephen St. Leger.
“A sarcastic guy with a scathing sense of humor. The relationship between Emilie and Snow brings to mind Bogart and Hepburn in ‘African Queen’. In other words, two polar opposites who are forced to get along.”
At first, the character of Emilie seems like a naïve, privileged young woman who may be concerned about other people but has actually had to stand up for them. The directors ensured that she evolved in the course of the movie. “Gradually, she becomes her own woman and shows real strength of character,” comments Stephen St. Leger.
Leila Smith adds, “being around Snow changes her, even physically. Her way of speaking changes, she loses her prejudices and becomes spunkier.” The directors also made sure the character of Snow’s appreciation of her developed. “While Snow thinks that most people are weak and can’t defend themselves,” explains Stephen St. Leger, “he realizes that Emilie is not like them when she fights back and refuses to cut him loose.”