Marc D. Evans is co-founder of Intrepid Pictures and co-producer of "The Raven," an ambitious pastiche thriller starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. Last Friday he took time off from the intense final weeks of shooting to fill the SUN in on the state of the production.
First off, he said, this is meant to be a sweeping, popular historical suspense film. "It's in the same genre as films like 'Sherlock Holmes' or 'Sleepy Hollow' -– not quite as dark and serious as 'From Hell,' but more commercial, with a little dose of 'Se7en': You follow a killer through a series of crimes, and you're rooting for someone to save the day, save the city…"
The "Sherlock Holmes" analogy fits because the movie rests on Poe's pioneer status as a mystery-writer who composed seminal detective stories before Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes. Evans said, "That's really a great piece of all this. Here is one of the first mystery detective thriller writers and he's basically put into the exact situations that he's written about in all these stories. That's what immediately hooked us. It's been fun to play with that."
Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare wrote the script as a team: "They're kind of playing with factual history. It's set in the last few days of Poe's life, when he was unaccounted for, for some period of time, before he turned up incoherent and died shortly after. Our story takes that and accounts for what happened. It starts with his return to Baltimore in this period. About the same time a series of killings starts, and the killer is using Poe's stories as inspiration. So Poe is first a suspect and must work with a Baltimore police inspector to solve a series of crimes, not just to clear to clear his name, but because his fiancée is kidnapped. We took a little bit of artistic license!"
As for the exotic production sites: "It's a US-Spanish co-production, shooting in Budapest, Hungary, and in Belgrade, Serbia. That's quite a tangled proposition, but it's been great. Parts of both Belgrade and Budapest stand in for Baltimore...Before [co-producer] Aaron Ryder brought the project to us [at Intrepid], he had scouted and done a budget for a Baltimore. At one time he was very interested in shooting there. But given the realities of how we put movies together, it was not affordable. Because of the costs of doing the movie there, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish what we had to do with the money we had. It's often a frustrations for financiers or producers. Obviously, parts of Baltimore would have worked very well. But as with anywhere else, some of the places we would have loved to shoot for Baltimore 1849 don't exist any more."
When co-producer Ryder and director James McTeigue did their location scout in Baltimore, Evans said, "They had two goals: 1. Figure out if we could make the movie there. 2. Get some inspiration for fleshing out the for the story and a feel for some of the places where Poe spent his time in the city." So Baltimore remains a big inspiration for the film, even though, due to financial considerations, it became "a blend of Belgrade and Budapest."
Evans said, "We shot three weeks in Budapest (starting November 9), the rest in Belgrade. We hope to finish here in the next couple of weeks. We used places in both cities that have architecture of the period. We're trying to lend the story a proper feel without trying to replicate the city exactly. We're using visual effects to enhance the locations that we found here to create the waterfront and harbor of the city."
John Cusack plays Poe, and Evans said "It's hard to imagine anyone else playing him. He's everything you can imagine in Poe: brooding, intense, macabre but also wry and funny and all oft those other things you expect from that kind of human being."
Right now "The Raven" is "in Belgrade …it's all of 15 degrees and snowing. We've got a couple of weeks left. We'll spend about five months finishing the film, in post-production, and we'll be finalizing distribution plans and figuring out a good release date for the movie. We consider this a wide-release commercial film. It could play at a festival like South by Southwest or Toronto, but the main thing is getting this out to the widest possible audience."
AP photos of John Cusack as Poe, on location in Budapest, by Bea Kallos