Filmmaking: Roland Emmerich — <i>Independence Day: Resurgence</i>
Issue: June 1, 2016

Filmmaking: Roland Emmerich — Independence Day: Resurgence

In 1996’s Independence Day, an alien armada descends on Earth, launching a devastating attack and forcing survivors to come together to execute a desperate counter attack. Written by director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, the film went on to lead all other releases that year in terms of box office receipts, and took home the Academy Award for its groundbreaking special effects.

Twenty years later, the aliens have returned, as has Emmerich, who put together a familiar team to take on the challenges of producing and posting Independence Day: Resurgence. Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman were part of the original film, and are now joined by Liam Hemsworth. And Emmerich hasn’t been hiding in a bunker since the last attack. His credits since the 1996 film include The Day After Tomorrow (2004, producer), 10,000 BC (2008, producer), and White House Down (2013, producer), among many others, so he’s witnessed the evolution of production and post first hand.

Returning to work with the director again were a number of frequent collaborators, including film editor Adam Wolfe (White House Down, Stonewall) and co-producer/VFX supervisor Volker Engel, who was a key part of the 1996 visual effects team that took home the Oscar. (Visit us online and in next month’s issue for interviews with VFX supers Volker Engel and Marc Weigert).

Post caught up with Emmerich during the final weeks of post production on Resurgence, and it was a busy time noted the director, with hundreds of shots still coming in for final approval. Here, he reflects on the new film and the evolution he’s witnessed in the 20 years since Independence Day first captured audiences’ imaginations.

A lot has happened since 1996. How does Resurgence compare to the original Independence Day?

“Yes, the times have changed. We had four or five times as many visual effects houses as before. With sound, we have (Dolby) Atmos. Stuff like that. There’s a whole different level, and you have to kind of live up to that with every movie.”

You were able to collaborate with editor Adam Wolfe and VFX supervisor Volker Engel again. Do you have a go-to team that you rely on?

“Exactly. We have a short hand. You know, when you work with people for a long time, they know exactly what you like, what you don’t like, what their strengths are, and it’s more comfortable that way.”

With Independence Day winning the Oscar back in 1996 for its VFX, I’d imagine the bar has been set very high? What is the VFX shot count this time around?

“It’s nearly 2,000. At one point it was 2,100 but we cut maybe 120 out. It’s a little bit under 2,000.”

Does everything go through Dean Devlin’s Electric Post facility?

“No. We had many, many companies working for us. I had 10 big visual effects companies and four or five small ones, because we had very little time. I mean, I have one week left and I still have nearly 500 shots to final! It’s tough. We sometimes used Dean’s facility for color timing sessions for test screenings.”

Who are some of the studios that took on the massive VFX count?

“It’s Weta, ScanlineVFX, MPC, Image Engine, Digital Domain, Cinesite…It’s all the best ones. Only ILM is missing (laughs).”

The film is scheduled for release before the July 4th holiday. What kind of deadline were you dealing with?

“We had a very short post. From the very beginning, I had a short preparation, short shoot and I have even a shorter post. I don’t know how that happens? It just happens! We wanted to come out one week before Independence Day, because Independence Day this year falls on a Monday. So we wanted to come out one week earlier. You cannot just push?! We just learned a week ago the opening day and date in China, meaning we have to get the M&E tracks set for China. It’s crazy! When you know you have that much time, what you do is divide it between a lot of different houses to play it safe. The last week of a big visual effects movie is always crazy. All the shots come in that didn’t work — that companies were hiding (laughs)!”

Where are you doing the review and approval?

“In my editing [space]. We have editing and visual effects together. We also work with Uncharted Territory ( That’s Volker and Marc (Weigert’s) company. I traditionally want to work with them. They are doing like 50 shots for us. And because they are right there, it’s great for us because we can sometimes even give them stuff to fix. That’s in Cahuenga Pass. I kind of rent an office — not a very nice office, I can tell you (laughs). Everyone comes to us and says, ‘That’s where they are making this movie?!’”

What formats were you shooting in ’96, and now?

“This time around I shot digital, but in ’96, I shot film. And the soundtrack was on magnetic tape!”

Do you have a preference when it comes to cameras or do you leave it up to the DP, Markus Foerderer?

“I leave that to my DP because I’m more of somebody who knows the camera is only one part of the story. For example, we use Hawke lenses. Hawke is an anamorphic lens from Germany. I like them very much because they look very much like film. If you use these lenses with the Alexa or the Red, what we get doesn’t really matter, really. Workflow-wise, it was better to go with Red because it has something to do with our workflow.”

You’ve shot digitally in the past?

“I shot the first (Arri) Alexa film ever. Anonymous (2011) was shot on a prototype of the Alexa. It was interesting.
“My DP uses Red, and that’s fine. I love digital because, as a director, it gives you so many advantages, especially when you work on visual effects films. Digital is just a better tool. It gets better results in the film. And as a director, you can see that you get a really sharp image, so it looks pretty much like your film will later look. You can go up to your camera man and say, ‘Make the fill light a little darker or dead black,’ and on top of it, your actors are really in focus. You see every nuance in really good quality. I have a high-resolution, big monitor on my set, especially when I shoot close ups.”

What was the editing set up?

“It’s the normal Avid.”

20th Century Fox brings Independence Day: Resurgence to theaters on June 24th.