"Alex Cross" Director Hopes to Launch a Film Franchise

Rob Cohen knows his way around launching a sequel-ready movie.

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Oct 19, 2012  |  Updated 3:22 PM PDT
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Tyler Perry stars as D.C. detective Alex Cross, in this adaptation of James Patterson's

Tyler Perry stars as D.C. detective Alex Cross, in this adaptation of James Patterson's "Cross," in which he goes on the hunt for a the madman, played by Matthew Fox, who killed a member of his family. Opens Oct. 19.

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If you’re looking to create a series of film sequels, launching your planned franchise with producer-director Rob Cohen is one of the safer bets you can make.

Best known for launching the continuously sequelized “Fast and the Furious” series, Cohen was also been behind the camera for the first installments of multiple multi-picture properties {“xXx,” “Dragonheart,” “The Skulls”). Now Cohen directs “Alex Cross,” the reboot of the film series starring author James Patterson’s best-selling crime-solver, with Tyler Perry in the title role – and yes, the helmer is already thinking about sequels.

How did you strip the story down to what you thought would be good to launch, or re-launch, what everyone involved hopes will be a franchise?

I wanted the character to go on the longest possible journey we could in a 90-minute film, and I wanted him to go to Washington carrying with him the internal sense of tragedy. Because I think the Alex Cross that Jim [Patterson] has written in book after book is a kind of tragic hero. I mean, so many members of his family get into bad stuff, but I felt like he needed the bottom notes that this story would bring, so that when you’re in Washington, all future romantic involvements, all future friendship, all future crime stuff is all informed by the trauma of this period of his life, and that would make for a much more interesting character.

Did that go hand-in-hand with you having some ideas about where you might take the future films as a director as well?

Yes. Like I said to Jim in the beginning, I want to be truer to your characters than anybody’s ever been, but it doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to be faithful to pots and other things.

Is he on board with some blowback from the movies showing up in future books, as people may come to have expectations from what they see you and Tyler doing?

Yeah – I think he has a lot of respect for his readers and following, and I don’t think he feels they’re going to have any trouble once he’s been clear that he blesses it, which he obviously does. That would’ve concerned me in the beginning, but I talked to him about it and I said ‘Why don’t you novelize this?” And he said, ‘Well, I already wrote a book where the wife was killed.’ I said it to him a few times, and each time he pushed back, so I think he feels that the movies are like a separate animal, that book series goes this way and the movie series is quite capable of going another way, as long as we’re faithful to who Alex Cross was. And I think we’re much closer with Tyler than they were before.

Will you always ask Jim to have a hand in creating the storyline for the films?

I think it’s always good. I like collaboration, not dictation, so as long as we’re in the collaborative mode I’m very happy. He’s a very smart man, with a lot of story sense, and I can learn and I can feel that with the two hands on the Ouija board, the sum is greater than the parts.

Was the film’s lean-and-mean budget good for what you were trying to do? Because you’ve worked with all levels of budgets throughout your career, but this one’s a little tighter than you’ve been used to.

Yeah! [Laughs] Well, I went from $167 million for “The Mummy [Tomb of the Dragon Emperor]” to $23 million for ‘Alex Cross,’ and a lot of that went to the above-the-line cast – it’s a big-name cast – so I had $15 or 16 million to physically make the film.

I thought it was very good for the film, because first of all I think Tyler works better fast: he shoots his own movies in 12 or 15 days – this was 41 days. But there’s an energy that comes around a picture that doesn’t have enough money, because then creativity is actually drawn on. How do you do these things in a way that fits the money you have? And very often throwing money at the problem is the wrong approach. Throwing ideas at a problem, alternates, is much more creative.

Working with Tyler, who has an actor’s eye, a writer’s eye, a director’s eye and a producer’s eye – did you see any of that, or did he truly show up as an actor to follow your direction?

He really showed up as an actor. He was very well prepared. He had a coach. He never got directorial. I think if you look at his task each day, which was as a man who’s done primarily comedy to acting against the veteran actors who are dramatic all-stars: Ed [Burns], Cicely [Tyson], Jean Reno, Matthew Fox – these are people who have made their bread and butter and their reputations doing drama. I think that’s what he kept, rightly, as the focus of his day.

What did Tyler think about your minuscule budget still being several times what he usually makes a movie on?

I think he was fascinated. I think he was going to school on it. I think he hopes it helps him in his own filmmaking and that I’m a veteran, a guy who’s comfortable moving cameras and choreographing and orchestrating larger set pieces. I think Tyler is just a sponge and is too smart a guy to not learn what everything does, and give him new possibilities in his own film work.

If this movie performs in the way everybody involved hopes that it will, how quickly do you plan to mobilize on a second one?

If this works and Tyler’s amenable to doing another one, I would jump on it immediately to get it developed. I’d probably do a movie in between, because I’m sure with his schedule it’s not like he’s not available – he seems to plan his years out. But I would love to do another one.

What’s the secret to your ability to sense projects with franchise potential?

It all comes down to the characters. Context is important: ‘Fast and the Furious’ was part context, part character. Without the cars and glam and the color and the speed and the stuff we did with the action scenes, it’s just be a movie about Dominic Torretto and his sister and his friends and it wouldn’t have done it.

But the idea is that once you find a connection with the audience in the film through the characters, then you know that you can move on with this character, that there’s unfinished business. When you read a film and you go ‘That’s finished. That’s the complete story. I don’t know anything else I don’t need to know anything else. I’m complete with that experience,’ then you know that’s a one-off. And certainly most movies are one-offs. But when you read something and it’s a no-brainer that there’s 12 or 14 or 18 books [as in the Alex Cross series], you say it’ll only happen if they get into Tyler Perry, Cicely Tyson, the children, and we watch them grow and change in Washington DC.

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