Everyone in the film industry knows the coldest, hardest truth of the business: no matter how long or how much you work on a project, it’s never guaranteed to get made. Peter Chernin doesn’t seem to have learned that truism. He has been instrumental in getting multiple high-profile projects to the screen in recent years, such as Hidden Figures, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Heat, and 2017 promises to be no different: the producer’s confirmed projects in the pipeline include Snatched, Red Sparrow, The Greatest Showman, and The Mountain Between Us. Bringing Planet of the Apes back to cinemas, however, is a special triumph for Chernin, whose involvement with the franchise dates back more than two decades. Now with War for the Planet of the Apes, the third installment its most recent iteration, the franchise stands out as a solid critical and financial success. Chernin spoke with Boxoffice Magazine’s Daniel Loria ahead of CinemaCon about the latest entry in the Planet of the Apes saga.
How long have you been involved in bringing Planet of the Apes back to the screen?
I always felt that out of all the classic sci-fi franchises, Apes was the one that lent itself best to an update because its social message remains extremely timely. Ironically, I ran Fox some years back, and it was one of the first films I started to develop at the studio. Ultimately, the version that eventually made it on-screen a number of years later was the one directed by Tim Burton. I came back to the project around 2009, developing a script with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and hired Rupert Wyatt to direct. We finally came out with the first film of the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in 2011 — so I’ve been involved with the franchise for around 25 years now.
Was it a premeditated decision to take such a grounded approach to this science fiction project, or was it something that developed when preparing the first film?
The original impetus for Rick and Amanda’s first script for Rise was to lead the franchise with a more timely conceit: be careful what you do with science. To be fair, there was a lot of emotionality in that first movie — a lot of it came from the fundamental conflict of taking a baby away from its parents and delving into the ethical ramifications of scientific analysis. What we didn’t know, however, was what an extraordinarily moral hero Caesar would turn out to be. A moral hero is more appealing when embarking on this journey over multiple films — a character with compassion, empathy, and leadership. Andy Serkis deserves extraordinary credit for the character that he created; that’s as much of an acting invention as I’ve ever seen in my life.
Matt Reeves came in as director for the second installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. What was it about his take on the material that convinced you to go with him for the last two films?
Rupert decided to move on after the first film and we didn’t yet have a script we had settled on, though we were already moving toward a story that we liked. We had started developing a different movie when Matt Reeves came in. We were big fans of his and had brought him in to talk about the project. He was extraordinarily insightful about what these movies meant to him. I think Rupert did an extraordinary job with Rise, and Matt was able to come in and really move the franchise forward with the second movie. He began to build a world in Dawn, and there was nobody else in the world that we could think of to come in and direct the third movie. I think Matt is among the top filmmakers working today; he is extraordinarily gifted with a great attention to detail. He is great on character, emotion, and depth.
What new aspects did you want to explore in the third entry in the franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes?
We were very interested in challenging Caesar’s morality. We had a character we felt was very admirable and we wanted to put him to the test. We wanted to see how he would react under extreme duress. We wanted to challenge him, and as a result I believe he comes out much more dimensional from this film. The other thing we wanted to do was to significantly expand the story’s arc. The first movie was the origin story in many ways, and the second movie was able to push us forward to where we are now. This movie takes place a number of years later and takes us to completely different locations. We wanted to take the apes on a journey and expand the canvas of the world the audience gets to see on-screen.