A CONVERSATION WITH RALPH WINTER, PRODUCER OF “THE PROMISE”
THE PROMISE, from Open Road Films and Survival Pictures, is a love story set during the days of the Armenian Genocide, one of the greatest and least known catastrophes of the 20th century. Directed and co-written by Terry George, it stars Oscar Isaac Charlotte Le Bon Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez-Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Rade Sherbedgia.
Ralph Winter was one of the executive producers for THE PROMISE. Winter has a prestigious resume: he was producer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and its predecessors, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men 2 and X-Men. He also produced Fantastic Four and 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He began his career on the second Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and continued working as associate producer on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, then executive producer on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. He earned his first full producer credit on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Among Winter’s other producing credits are Planet of the Apes, Inspector Gadget, Hocus Pocus, The Giver and most recently Captive, starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara.
Paula K. Parker recently had an opportunity to talk with Winter about making THE PROMISE and its message of remembering what happened and how it relates to what is happening in the world today.
Paula K. Parker: I LOVED HISTORY WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL AND I NEVER REMEMBER STUDYING THE ARMEMAIN GENOCIDE. HAD YOU HEARD OF THIS?
Ralph Winter: I did, because I live in Glendale, California, which has a very large Armenian community. I’ve marched in some of the parades with my friends and other celebrities and my birthday happens to be April 24th, which is the date the Armenians commemorate this tragedy.
PKP: IS THAT WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS PROJECT?
Ralph Winter: It did. I knew about it but, in reading the screenplay, I did not know the details that were researched. The process of the last couple of years has been to dig into some of that and see some of the original historical record. The more you dig, the more shocking it is. That is why we are telling the story and I was happy to get an opportunity to join the team.
PKP: I imagine that producing a movie of this scope must be like being the mayor of a small town. How do you handle something this big?
Ralph Winter: I’ve done a number of other movies for the studios that are actually bigger. [laughs] It’s sort of like being a field general. It’s all about infrastructure and building a good team and building a plan; that’s sort of the boring management part of what I do. We had an outstanding Spanish cinematographer. We had no lack of landscape and richness there and in Malta and Portugal. We were in locations in Spain that were used for Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Star Wars and many, many movies. Even the little villages, like the village of Siroun, where we went to visit; there were so many things we needed to capture and had the team to do it.
PKP: What are the challenges of re-creating a world that no longer exists?
Ralph Winter: That’s a good question. There are only so many things you can find from a hundred years ago. Some of the swords and some of the guns and artillery you could find. A lot of it had to be recreated. We had to remake the carts, the props, the boxes, all that. We had a huge construction factory to make up that stuff from historical research, because it just didn’t exist. The towns and architecture we could find, but the things we needed to dress the set became problematic to recreate.
The Mesrob’s house—which is a big expensive house in Malta—is owned by a family who has had it for several hundred years. It’s a big, large estate and the family was having trouble keeping it up. They welcomed us because we took over five or six rooms in the mansion. Bringing it up to snuff for the movie helped them out in ways that they couldn’t afford. We did similar things in the town.
My attitude, when we go into these places, is that we try to leave them in a little better shape than we found them. We used a church on one of the X-Men movies; when we were done, we bolted the pews back properly, as they had not been done properly originally. The runner down the center aisle was worn, so I bought a new one to say, “Thank you.”
PKP: I realize the overarching story line was based on fact; were any of the individual characters in the movie real people in history?
Ralph Winter: I don’t think so; they were created for the story. There’s a book, “Forty Days at Musa Dagh,” which we did not read nor did we borrow from it. There’s been a lot of other stories about this time and about these events, about people fighting back and people escaping and not just letting themselves be manipulated. THE PROMISE is based on those stories, but it’s an original.
PKP: What message do you hope audiences will take away with them, especially those who—like me—were not familiar with this incident in history?
Ralph Winter: I hope they come away with just that. “I didn’t know about this.” And hopefully it has an emotional impact, to see the movie and be cognizant that this happened and continues to happen in the world today.
What is happening in Syria today is directly related to what happened one hundred years ago. When we were making the movie, we were creating images that are coming off the newspapers online. We want to draw the direct connection between what this movie is about and what happened, that it’s not new; it’s been happening for a long time. The tag line in the marketing is, “Keep the promise. Tell the story.” In the movie, Ana says, “Our revenge is to survive.”
THE PROMISE is a powerful, impactful story. I think Christians will resonate with it, because it does highlight the persecution of Christians. We have Christians in the movie who pray for God’s justice and mercy and protection.
THE PROMISE opens in theaters Friday, April 21.
Official Film Site: https://www.ThePromise-Film.com
Official Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/ThePromiseFilm
Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ThePromiseFilm
Official Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/OpenRoadFilms
Official Hashtag: #ThePromiseMovie