‘The Wolverine’ director James Mangold embraces technology
FORTUNE — The unrated, extended director’s cut of The Wolverine is now available across all platforms from Fox Home Entertainment, and director James Mangold has unveiled his ultimate vision of the blockbuster film. The $414 million the movie made at the global box office was impressive, but Mangold had his hand in a different blockbuster earlier this year. Mangold directed the commercial for Activision’s (ATVI) Call of Duty: Ghosts, which featured Megan Fox shooting down drones in Las Vegas with a group of gamers. Ghosts made more than $1 billion in its first 24 hours at retail.
“I don’t do ads that often, but I got to work with several crew members who I wanted to reunite with,” said Mangold. “They had a really wonderful concept for how to create a piece about regular gamers, instead of celebrities, that were living inside the game. They had a lot of ambition about the spectacle and the characters they wanted to put on screen for 90 seconds.”
Mangold keeps a close eye on the evolving entertainment landscape, which includes the video game business. He’s also open to exploring new social networking opportunities when it comes to connecting fans with his films, such as using microvideo service Vine to release a six-second trailer for Wolverine, which Mangold said was downloaded 250 million times in the first three days.
“Movie studios are trying to be really progressive about using and utilizing new technology to reach fans, and I think that should be encouraged,” he said. “Movies can’t exist on just the old full-page ads in the papers and on 30-second spots on a couple of hit TV shows. The reality is that there’s a lot of ways to reach people now.”
Fox was able to reach more consumers earlier by releasing The Wolverine on Digital HD across digital stores like iTunes (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Google Play (GOOG), Xbox (MSFT), and Target Ticket (TGT) on November 19, two weeks before the Blu-ray and DVD release. It’s part of a growing trend in the home entertainment industry.
“A lot of people are consuming pictures as digital property, not only as discs, so the adaptation of the business to embrace that — and also to begin including the extras and links to sources with more extra material — is a huge function in adding value,” said Mangold. “The more savvy audience that is on computers is really interested in a lot of the background material that has historically been buried only on discs, so offering that material and offering ways of accessing that material to audiences online is a huge change — and an important one.”
The traditional Blu-ray and DVD discs are still important to the bottom line, and studios like Fox are luring technophiles through new features like augmented reality gaming. The Wolverine 4D Bullet Train Battle experience is part of a free Google Play and iTunes app that connects to any disc-based version of the film, allowing fans to experience a fight scene between Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and the Yakuza first-hand from multiple angles. Users can even snap a selfie at the end (complete with requisite Wolverine claws) and share their pic on Facebook and Twitter.
“There are a lot of great tools for getting people involved in movies and getting movies connected to other things like gaming that people are doing,” said Mangold. “Fox is putting a lot of effort into trying to reach people through movies in ways that we haven’t before. The 4D world that they’re building is really cool. ”
The Wolverine Multi-Touch Experience is another transmedia step for the franchise. The free app in the iTunes iBookstore is a 50-page digital book with links to behind-the-scenes footage, pre-visuals development, and interactive background materials on the movie and comics. Designed for the comic book fanboys that Mangold and Jackman visited with at San Diego Comic Con 2013, this onslaught of technology supports one of the most popular comic book characters in the world today. Wolverine will be featured in the upcoming Marvel Universe Live! show from Feld Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment. And Jackman reprises the role in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the untitled The Wolverine sequel.
“Fans like the antihero aspect of the Wolverine and the fact that he doesn’t embrace his superhero-ness,” said Mangold. “He has a skeptical view of humanity, which is a really magical and wonderful ingredient that has been a part of heroes in films from the Samurai films to Western characters that John Wayne and Clint Eastwood played.”
Mangold directed his first feature, Heavy, back in 1995. That was long before Kickstarter and crowdfunding was an established way to raise money for movies.
“My first feature wasn’t crowdfunded — there was no such thing at the time — but it was a collection of $5,000 and $10,000 investments that allowed us to make Heavy,” said Mangold. “There’s a lot that can happen for young filmmakers when you can find a way to make your film, for a quarter of a million dollars or less and use new financing technology to actually still get a really personal film out there. I just saw that a filmmaker I really admire, Hal Hartley, is raising money for his feature Ned Rifle on Kickstarter.
“I think it’s an awesome way to involve an audience in the production of a very costly medium. Independent films have been struggling to find some balance in the face of — not only the fact that it’s harder to make independent movies because movies seem to exist more and more built around tentpoles now for studios — but in some way it may be a new opportunity for movies to get made completely outside the studio system.”
That traditional studio system is also evolving with the advent of streaming entertainment empires like Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), and YouTube. Mangold said every agency and every director is taking streaming seriously.
“Anyone who held up their nose at some of these platforms in the past has gotten burnt by seeing a good number of them become very serious delivery methods for delivering entertainment and art to a large audience,” he said. “People are exploring every avenue now. I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t admire what’s going on on Netflix or on cable. These are really opportunities that you can’t do in movies, whether it’s the difficulty in marketing to an older crowd who appreciates more sophisticated movies in theatrical release, or it’s also the rating system which can be quite restrictive on independent filmmakers. There are a lot of ways around that stuff now given all these new delivery methods.”
Now at the top of his game, the director is using every possible delivery method to get The Wolverine in front of eyeballs on laptops, TVs, game consoles, and tablets as part of entertainment landscape evolves.