The Hughes Brothers talk about The Book of Eli

Just be sure not to call it a western.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The Hughes Brothers talk about The Book of Eli

Word out of Comic Con was that The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic western. Denzel Washington plays the title character, protecting a book across a wasteland 30 years after some disaster wiped out most of us. The Hughes Brothers, who directed the film, don’t seem too happy with that description so they set the record straight.



Crave Online: Why are they calling this a post-apocalyptic western?

Albert Hughes: I think it was almost like somebody said it once and it caught on. Studios are scared of westerns so they’re like, “Don’t say that.” But at the same times, some of the influences of the Eli character come from The Man With No Name, some of those movies stylistically as far as what we researched but I wouldn’t call it a western. It takes place in the west but this story could very easily take place in the east coast.

Crave Online: It is post-apocalyptic, right?

Albert Hughes: You know, there’s 40 million cop movies come out every year. There’s genres if you want to place genres on a movie but I think the post-apocalyptic part is a third or fourth character in the story. It’s more of a character than anything. It could very easily have been an island with just 100 people.

Crave Online: What was the inspiration then?

Albert Hughes: People are like, “Let’s talk about post-apocalyptic movies.” That last movie we did was about Jack the Ripper so we researched those movies which had come before, and try to get rid of the clichés and make new things that work. Then we go to comic book material, which is kind of ironic for this one because it wasn’t based on a comic book. We use a lot of those artists to help us with the look of the movie. Then the tip of the hat to the western, I think, we’re greatly influenced by Sergio Leone and the simplicity of his filmmaking but also the startling imagery.”

Allen Hughes: Also, I remember, Denzel was involved in this way. We had a stack of books that were from professors who studied in the ‘80s what would happen if there was a nuclear event. There’s like three definitive books on this. The environment, on humanity, on the animal kingdom and studied what the clouds, based on their research, to see what the reality was and if it wasn’t nuclear, if it was one of those 2012 things.

Albert Hughes: Biological.

Allen Hughes: If it was a super volcano. They all, basically, the same thing would happen 30 years after. The atmosphere will look a certain way. There’d be a certain color to the sky. There’d be a certain kind of decomposition of the landscape so we could put that, coupled with what Albert’s talking about.

Albert Hughes: Right now, what’s in the teaser is not [everything]. When the normal trailer comes out, you’ll see more of the world. There’s no vegetation.

Crave Online: My favorite part is always when the survivors have to find supplies. Will we see a lot of that in Book of Eli?

Allen Hughes: Eli says, “We kill people for what we used to throw away.” Which was a beautiful line.

Albert Hughes: And it’s more a peripheral thing to the story. The story’s more about this group of characters, a group of three or four. The world is more peripheral in a way so we’re not focusing on [supplies].

Allen Hughes: You do see all throughout, you see survival.

Albert Hughes: Yeah, you see that.

Allen Hughes: It is about humans, whether it’s Gary, Mila’s character, they all are survivors. They are survivors. I think the bottom line is that’s why the western comes up, because when you take advantage of more primitive times, true character starts to show through. When you put people in that element, you start to see the conflict is there a lot more. It’s a hotbed for drama. Our piece is very dramatic. I mean, there’s action or whatever but we start with character and that conflict. It’s survival.

Crave Online: Was it hard to mount another film after so long since your last?

Allen Hughes: I think it’s hard to find great material, one. Two, the climate has changed a lot. I didn’t realize this. Few people know that the longer a filmmaker stays away from filmmaking, the more the industry, if you’re not bonded, they don’t know. Can we work with them? Are they sane? So each year that goes by gauges where our heads are and we’re being very picky about material. We finally found some material. We shot  a lot of ads. We’ve been working a lot but it’s very tough to find something that’s important to you and important to them at the same time. Then find important actors to make it happen.

Albert Hughes: Yeah, it was a really partially conscious choice. You know, when you get something, you read the first 10 pages and go, “Oh, sh*t.” After you get 10 of those you just almost give up sometimes until somebody says, “Well, there’s a pretty good one right here.” You read that, you’re like, “Oh, damn.” Then there’s a battle to get that made. There’s a battle to get any movie made, you know. Denzel really helped us on this one though.

Crave Online: Did you have to fight to get your vision across on screen?

Albert Hughes: Yeah, you have to fight to get it made and there was one instance in our career when we made our second movie where there was no battle to make the movie. When there’s no battle, there’s no fight, you have nothing to fight for. Sometimes the movie suffers for that but when you have a studio or producer fighting against you, or somebody saying, “We gotta make it for this number or don’t make it at all, or go get that star” or whatever. Then once it’s up and running you’ve still got more battles to take care of but he really helped us with that.