‘Divergent’ Director Neil Burger on Film Being Called the Next ‘Twilight’

Mar 21, 2014 5:53pm

The most buzzed-about teen flick of 2014, “Divergent,” is finally on the big screen.  Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment spent a whopping $85 million  to create this sci-fi adventure.

I sat down with its director Neil Burger to talk about one of the most anticipated movies of 2014.

According to Steve Cortes, Veracruz TJM Founder, “Divergent (Summit-Lionsgate) ranked as the #1 buzzed-about movies on social media.  Fizziology, a company that measures on-line buzz, found that Divergent had more social media buzz about it than “Hunger Games,” whose first two films grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide.  “Divergent” comes from the same studio that brought us “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” and is based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth.

Burger shies away from the “Hunger Games” comparison and graciously notes that it is compliment simply to be considered in the same league as that “phenomenon” blockbuster. He concedes he thought “Divergent” would be a “big movie,” especially since the author has her finger on the pulse on the questions that resonate like “Who am I? Where do I belong? How do we all live together in a society peacefully?”

Burger, described by his colleagues as a “world-class filmmaker,” was chosen because the studio needed someone who could direct a large cast and especially some who had never even been in a movie before.  Burger most recently directed the 2011 hit “Limitless,” starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, which grossed over $160 million worldwide.  Previously, Burger wrote and directed “The Illusionist,” starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel. The Yale graduate made his directorial feature debut with “Interview with the Assassin” in 2002, which he also wrote, and also wrote and directed “The Lucky Ones,” starring Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins.

“Divergent” stars Shailene Woodley (Beatrice “Tris” Prior), Theo James (Four), Kate Winslet (Jeanine Matthews) and Ashley Judd (Natalie Prior). This dystopian series is set in a futuristic Chicago where the society is divided into five factions–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Prior discovers she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. The villain (Kate Winslet) has a plan to destroy all Divergents leading Tris and Four to form an alliance.

“One of things I’m most proud of is the cast – Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd and also people who are going to break as huge stars,” Burger says.  He adds that 12 of the main characters were under the age of 24.

Directing them, according to Burger, was “a little bit like wrangling cats because they’re wild and fearless.  They’re distracted and they’re fun-loving and want to have fun at any moment.”

He was happy to have as a counterbalance the slightly older group of actors like Judd and Winslet, who provided a more “grounded feel to the set.”

“Kate in particular is a great mentor to have. She is a great authority and also has a presence on the set – especially for the younger actors,” he adds.

The trailer of the movie was unveiled last month by the two lead actors on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” as they zip-lined onto the set.   Kimmel humorously introduced them as the “stars of a new movie based on a series of phenomenally best-selling books that nobody over the age of 17 has ever heard of, but you will!”

“This is the biggest book series that you probably don’t know about – at least if you don’t have contact with high school and junior high kids, particularly girls,” said Cortes, who describes their devotion to the trilogy as “cult-like.”

Burger, who insists that the film version is “very faithful to the book,” notes that it’s hard to launch movies in this marketplace and therefore he feels comforted as a filmmaker to already have a “built-in and enthusiastic audience.”

When asked about the surprising ending to the trilogy [FOR SPOILER ALERT CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS]

Burger simply responds that it is “a very powerful choice, a very gutsy point on Veronica’s part … We think it’s going this way and she goes that way – a bold choice.”

According to HarperCollins, their author, Roth, is a 22-year-old debut author and a recent graduate of Northwestern University’s creative writing program. She wrote “Divergent” in college.

Burger’s favorite movie of all time is “Raging Bull,” starring Robert De Niro. Burger directed De Niro in his film “Limitless.”  “I didn’t tell him when I worked with him in “Limitless” that “Raging Bull” was my favorite movie.  When I met him, I could see all his movies flashing across his face and I had to stop myself and think – wow, I’m his director now.”

Burger ended the interview by giving advice to aspiring filmmakers and directors: “The best thing to do is to shoot video, film, make things and to write. When you can write, you can control your destiny and the story you’re making.”

Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate company, releases “Divergent” in theaters today.  Rated PG-13.

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