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PRIEST

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 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.”

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. 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.”

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