A battle-hardened rogue warrior embarks on a perilous quest to save his niece from a murderous pack of vampires in Priest, a post-apocalyptic action horror film from director Scott Stewart.
In this visually stunning, widescreen 3-D homage to iconic adventure films, only one man stands between humanity and its destruction at the hands of a marauding army.
After centuries of brutal warfare, humankind has defeated its most terrifying enemy, the vampire hordes. The few remaining vampires have been relegated to isolated reservations, while most humans have taken refuge in walled cities ruled by the Church. The priests, trained to be deadly combatants during the vampire wars, now do menial labor and live in virtual isolation, marked by distinctive tattoos and shunned by their neighbors.
When a report of a vampire attack and the abduction of an 18-year-old girl living in a remote outpost reaches Priest (Paul Bettany), a veteran of the wars, he asks the ruling monsignors for permission to go after the hostage, his niece. When they refuse, he breaks his sacred vows and defies their orders, setting out to find the girl before the vampires can enslave her. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend Hicks (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills.
But when they reach the desert town of Jericho, Priest, Hicks and Priestess discover a scene of utter devastation that bears the hallmarks of a vampire rampage--and a terrifying new threat.
Based on TokyoPop's popular graphic novel series written by Min-Woo Hyung, Priest is directed by Scott Stewart, co-founder of the acclaimed visual effects studio The Orphanage (Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Sin City). The screenplay is by Cory Goodman.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Writer Cory Goodman's script for Priest is rooted equally in the worlds of contemporary graphic novels and classic genre films. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it combines gothic horror and nuclear devastation with "gun fu" fighting to create a world both instantly familiar and wholly original.
The initial inspiration for the story comes from Korean artist and writer Min-Woo Hyung's critically acclaimed 16-volume manwha series, also titled Priest, published in the United States by leading graphic novel publisher TokyoPop. "Priest is a combination of western and Asian comic style," says Stuart Levy, TokyoPop publisher and one of the film's producers. "Because Min-Woo Hyung is extremely interested in film, his work tends to be very cinematic."
Goodman used the historically-set series as a jumping off point for a new story set in a post-apocalyptic future, says Levy. "He was able to take a lot of what Min-Woo set up in the graphic novel and build on that to create a completely original idea. The film uses the best of both of these extremely talented storytellers: Min-Woo's incredible art style and palette, and Cory's characters and plot. It's a case of one plus one equaling three."
The story of Priest is set in motion by the abduction of a young woman. "Lucy is a small town girl who's been raised in the badlands," says Goodman. "She wants to see more of the world. Then along come the vampires who give her experience, but not necessarily the experience that she had in mind. Her kidnapping brings the film's protagonist, Priest, out of the city to try to bring her back."
Goodman's story of a world ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires caught the attention of producer Mitchell Peck. Like a scene from a Hollywood movie, Peck first heard about the script during a late night poker game. "I asked a typical Hollywood business question," he says. "'Have you read anything good lately?' One of the players told me about a script about vampires in a post-apocalyptic theocracy."
Although by his own admission Peck is no fan of science fiction or horror films, he found Goodman's strange new world irresistible. "Cory wove together some unusual ideas that made the script a real pleasure to read," he says. "The characters were beautifully written and the story was rooted in a place audiences will be familiar with. It had an elegance and complexity to it that I don't often see. Every page kept getting better and better."
Peck quickly optioned the script and worked with Goodman to develop the script's themes. The script eventually reached Sony Pictures-based Michael De Luca, who was intrigued by Goodman's blend of classic action framework and creepy vampire story. "Cory's script has a little bit of everything that I love," he says. "It has the post-apocalyptic setting of The Road Warrior, plus the frontier vibe of High Plains Drifter. And the vampires are their own great genre."
Next, one of Hollywood's leading genre movie companies, Sony's Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment headed by Clint Culpepper, signed on make the film.
Priest is director Scott Stewart's second directorial effort after the 2010 apocalyptic fantasy, Legion, also for Screen Gems. "Coming from special effects, Scott brought an incredible wealth of knowledge about creating the kind of style and look that make the project exciting. But he's also really into story and he has a really good rapport with actors. He is a triple threat," said DeLuca.
As one of the co-founders of the boutique visual effects company The Orphanage, Stewart has more than done his homework when it comes to creating original worlds. "Scott Stewart is a great visionary," says Glenn S. Gainor, senior vice president and head of physical production for Screen Gems, and executive producer of Priest. "He knows the cinematic language that he's going for. To create this world was a phenomenal challenge. Every frame of this film takes place in a parallel universe that began in Scott's head."
Before he ever got involved in the film, Stewart was familiar with the TokyoPop graphic novel and had also read Goodman's script. "I had been a fan of the script for a while," Stewart says. "Cory created a mythology that was really interesting, along with compelling characters. I focused on giving the story a stronger emotional through-line and focusing it thematically."
Stewart began by emphasizing the aspects that resonated most strongly for him. "It occurred to me was that this was a story about sacrifice, and especially about soldiers who go off to fight a war they believe is a noble cause but come back devastated by it," he says. "Society has moved on without them. Instead of coming back as heroes, they are social pariahs. And that's what happened to the priests."
He sees a strong post-Vietnam analogy in this backstory. "The priests turned the tide for humanity. They sacrificed their families and their individuality. They don't even have names anymore. A generation after they've returned, the world doesn't look so wonderful. Is this all they fought for? That sacrifice became a primary focus for me."
Before production began on Priest, the filmmakers asked for the blessing of the graphic novel's creator, Min-Woo Hyung. He traveled from Korea to Hollywood to meet with them and view the concept art. "I was nervous about what his expectations would be," admits Stewart. "The film departs pretty significantly from the graphic novel. For example, this story takes place in the future, whereas his story takes place in all these other time periods in the past."
"We were all anxious to see his first reaction," says Levy. "Min-Woo is a really serious and intense guy. He looked at all the concept art and understood immediately. Knowing Scott was one of the founders of the Orphanage gave him confidence. We all have so much respect for what they've done and I knew someone like Scott would bring extraordinary vision to the project."
In fact, Min-Woo Hyung and TokyoPop were inspired to create a new graphic novel series, Priest Purgatory. "It will show the origins of the world of the film," says Levy. "There will be a lot of backstory. We'll see the vampire wars, as well as Priest and his peers in their younger days. We'll also learn what created the vampire wars. I don't want to give anything away, but for fans of the graphic novels, I will say the key item from the original is the Domas Porada."
THE WORLD OF PRIEST
This is what is known: There has always been man… and there have always been vampires.
For the film Priest, Cory Goodman and Scott Stewart created an elaborate origin story to explain how a world familiar to our own, but utterly foreign, became the site of a struggle between two antithetical races trying to coexist.
"Humans and vampires have been locked in mortal combat throughout history," says producer Mitchell Peck. "Humans have typically had the upper hand, but when resources become scarce, they turn on each other with nuclear weapons and decimate the planet. With humankind in this weakened state, the vampires gain the advantage."
Faced with a terrifying and seemingly supernatural threat, people retreat into walled cities ruled by the Clergy. The theocratic powers-that-be respond to the vampire threat by training a special caste of warriors. Elite, elegant and brutally effective, they are known as priests. "The priests in the film are not like priests in our world," says Stewart. "They are more like Jedi Knights. They're the soldiers for the church. They're trained in the art of killing vampires and they have special abilities. It might seem cool to become a warrior priest, but in fact, you are taken from your family and forbidden to have relationships. You become a kind of monk."
Hand selected by the Clergy as children, the priests dedicate their lives to ridding the world of vampires. Their style of fighting is a lethal combination of real world martial arts skills and an otherworldly ability the filmmakers call "focusing," a skill not so much supernatural as it is hyper-real. "The priests can stretch the boundaries of what human beings are capable of," says actor Paul Bettany, who stars in the title role. "Through prayer, we are able to slow our surroundings down whilst moving at the same speed. Everything appears to be happening incredibly quickly, but in reality, the surrounding world has become slower."
Producer De Luca points out that the idea of focusing pays tribute to earlier movies including Star Wars and The Matrix. "There's a Zen quality to controlling the connection between mind and body that is a genre staple," he says. "In our movie, we call it 'being in touch with the hand of God.' It's a mastery over physical space that allows an individual to do certain things that look supernatural."
The priests did their job with ruthless efficiency and wiped out the vampire threat; the few remaining vampires have been imprisoned in high security "reservations." And then the priests had to be reincorporated back into the society they saved. The war has ended some years before the start of the film, but the destruction has been almost total. Most of the world is a vast wasteland. The majority of the human population still lives in the Clergy's walled cities.
"The cities are a totalitarian dystopia," Goodman explains. "In this world, a priest is what a Green Beret or a black ops operative might be in our world. He's a complete badass, gifted and trained in the art of vampire combat. The priests turned the tide of battle for humanity, but with the war over, they have fallen into the cracks of society."
One of the obstacles standing in the way of their reintegration was formerly a mark of honor for the priests. Each bears an instantly identifiable tattoo of a cross on his or her face. "The cross now represents the sins of the war," says Goodman. "For priest, it's a constant reminder of the wreckage that he has become since it ended. It's a stain that can't be washed off, as well as a point of pride."
In a scene early in film, a boy, too young and naïve to know the history, asks Priest if the tattoo hurt. "That was what made me want to make this movie, more than the action or the effects," says Stewart. "Paul Bettany and I talked a lot about that scene. Priests have incredible talent and ability and spirituality, but now people won't sit next to them on the bus. They have menial jobs. They've lost so much, including all connection with other people. Even children stare at them as curiosities. In that scene, we get the sense of how much Priest longs to connect."
The enemies that the priests battled are as different from their counterparts in conventional fiction as the priests are from their real world corollaries. Producer Michael De Luca says that rather than go with the traditional Gothic or romantic vampire, they wanted to return to idea of the vampire being terrifying. "Our vampires are a sister species that are more bat-like than human," he says.
With dank, transparent white skin, sharp claws, and fangs, they look far more like Max Schreck's portrayal of Nosferatu than Robert Pattinson's Edward Cullen. "They're not something that anyone in their right mind would ever want to kiss," says Goodman.
More creature than human, they lived and bred in enormous semi-subterranean hives before being relegated to the reservations. "I really liked the idea that they existed in these shelters that were insect-like," the writer adds. "They are part of the natural landscape, but at the same time otherworldly. It calls to mind the John Ford landscapes that I love so much, but giving them a beautifully creepy edge."
Designed by acclaimed visual artist and character designer Chet Zar, the vampires are mainly computer-generated, which allowed Stewart to manipulate them in unpredictable ways. "Once we unshackled ourselves from the practical, we could let them do anything we wanted," says Stewart. "The vampires became sun-starved, humanoid creatures that had evolved without eyes. They can move in really unpredictable ways and are much faster than people. You can see all their skeletal structure underneath their skin and it's very different from ours. Their proportions are different than a person. They have extraordinary hearing and smell, to make up for being blind."
The legends behind the monsters were also reinvented for the film. For example, humans who are bitten and not killed do not become vampires themselves. Instead, they are transformed into familiars: pallid, diseased-looking, hairless creatures that do the vampires bidding during the day while the vampires sleep. Priest's great fear is that Lucy will be turned into one of these soulless slaves. There is no cure and he is determined to kill her rather than leave her to that fate.
"There's something so frightening and titillating about vampires," says Paul Bettany. "The idea of everlasting life is quite enthralling. But these vampires are a new thing altogether."
The character of Priest fits an archetype familiar to enthusiasts of classic novels and films. He is a loner, a man of few words called back into action to rectify an injustice. When his niece, Lucy, is kidnapped by vampires, he breaks off all ties with the Church that trained him in order to find her and seek revenge.
Tossed aside by society and haunted the memories of men he left behind, Priest has lost his faith. Stewart says, "There's a part of Priest that is almost glad this has happened. He hasn't really found his place in the world. Facing off against vampires is all he does well." Read more
A WORLD APART: THE POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE
Scott Stewart assembled a group of highly skilled collaborators, including director of photography Don Burgess, production designer Richard Bridgland, visual effects supervisor Jonathan Rothbart and animator Genndy Tartakovsky, to bring his vision of Priest's post-apocalyptic world to the screen.
Stewart enlisted Tartakovsky to create an ominous animated prologue that tells the history of the war between vampires and humans. Tartakovsky, a four-time Emmy® winner whose best-known creations include "Dexter's Laboratory," "Samurai Jack" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars," jumped at the opportunity to bring his work to a more adult audience. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
SCOTT STEWART (Director) is a writer, director, producer and technologist. He most recently wrote and directed the supernatural thriller Legion, starring Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, Tyrese Gibson, Kate Walsh, Lucas Black and Charles Dutton. An accomplished music video and spots director, Stewart directed the music video for Vivian Green's hit single "Emotional Rollercoaster," which received MTV's Viewer's Choice honors upon its debut. Stewart's other music videos and spots include Howie Day's "Ghost" music video, the comedic "Mullet Guy" promo spot for British pop star Robbie Williams and the irreverent "Possibilities" spot for Gordon's Gin and Leo Burnett/London.
An accomplished visual effects artist and technologist, Stewart co-founded the well-regarded visual effects company The Orphanage, which has worked on two dozen major films including such blockbusters as Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Sin City, The Day After Tomorrow and Hellboy.
In 2005, Stewart formed Orphanage Animation Studios with the multiple Emmy® Award-winning animator Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of such hit animated shows as "Star Wars: Clone Wars," "Samurai Jack" and "Dexter's Laboratory." The studio is currently in production on the original animated series "Sym-Bionic Titan" for Cartoon Network.
Previously, Stewart was a visual effects artist at George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, where he created visual effects for numerous blockbuster films including Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace and The Lost World: Jurassic Park II.
Stewart graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1991 with a degree in motion picture production.
CORY GOODMAN (Screenwriter) is a Chicago native who graduated from the University of Illinois with a true passion for horror, fantasy and science fiction film. Not looking back, Goodman headed straight to Los Angeles, learning the ropes while working on a vast array of productions for multiple studios. He has written screenplays for numerous film and television companies, including a remake of David Cronenberg's The Brood for Spyglass and the classic TV series "Kung Fu," for Legendary Films.
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