INT: David R. Ellis
Note: This interview took place during the weekend of the San Diego Comic Con, July 20-23.
David Ellis first got in touch with me just a few short weeks after he signed on to SNAKES ON A PLANE. The PACIFIC AIR rumors were running rampant and he wanted to set the record straight. Basically he wanted to assure me the title would stay, the script was being worked on and the film would, essentially, kick-ass as we had all hoped. That's when I knew that SOAP would be the phenomenon it was today. It's that attention to the fans that got them here (that and snakes on a plane!). It was a pleasure to finally sit and talk with David in person after a number of previous conversations. Here's what he had to say...
Mike Sampson: Dave, nice to finally meet you.
David R. Ellis: Nice to meet you as well.
Is this your first time at Comic-Con?
Did you get to walk the floor at all?
Theyve got an amazing set-up for SNAKES.
Yeah I saw it this morning. Sam and I came here really early this morning before all the people showed up. And we got to see it then. Its really great.
So how did SNAKES come to you, because the script had been around a bit before your involvement.
When I came aboard it was still SNAKES ON A PLANE. It was Ronny Yu who had been the director. What happened was Ronny Yu was on-board and they were having creative differences with him. So he stepped off and they were looking for a director and they called me up and asked if I could do it. I said sure.
What changes did you make to the script when you signed on?
When I came on board, they gave me the script and asked me if Id do it and I said Id do it if I could work on the script. So I spent four months working on the script and made changes trying to improve it. Then Sam came on board and I talked to Sam about what he thought and we took all those notes, put them together with Tanya, my daughter whos also my producing partner, who had notes and thoughts on how to make it great for the demographic that were going after. So we worked on it and we took those changes to Sam and he loved it so we started casting.
What were some of the problems you saw with the existing script that you wanted to change?
I wanted to give more variety with the snake deaths and have more fun with that. Otherwise itd become redundant. At the same time improve the dialogue so it was a little more hipper for the kids. The script at that time was 122 pages. We took 19 pages out of it cause I didnt want a two hour and 15 minute movie, I wanted an hour and thirty minute movie. We worked on all that and got it in good shape and we were ready to do it.
When did you realize that the movie had taken on a life of its own?
When I was shooting I was following what was happening on the internet and as it continued to build and grow and more controversy about whether we were going to change the name, I stayed aware of it. It was really cool cause it gave the unique ability to kinda target the movie to the fans that were actually gonna go and see it. So thats what we did.
You talk about changing the name, was there ever a real chance this wasnt gonna be SNAKES ON A PLANE?
No. It was on casting sheets cause a lot of the actors werent taking it seriously. We were trying to go out with agents and stuff and theyd say, SNAKES ON A PLANE, that sounds dumb. So we changed the name so we could get more interest from people. But we knew were always going back. But the controversy just created more dialogue about it so whether theyre talking good or bad they were talking.
But while the hype can be a good thing, are you afraid at all about overhype? Or peaking too soon before the August release?
Not really cause we have two kinds of buzz for this movie. We have the fans that are excited about seeing Sam Jackson kick ass on the plane. They love the high concept and they cant wait to hear him say, Im tired of these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking plane. Theyre embracing seeing snakes attack people and people getting f*cked up. Theres those fans. And the other fans are people who are interested in the movie but they think its gonna be the best worst movie of the year.
So theres different level of that fever pitch. These guys over here think its gonna suck but its gonna suck but theyre gonna go see it anyway for the novelty and theyll like it even if it does suck. Whats gonna be fun is that were gonna take those people and totally blow their minds. Cause the movie works really, really well. Its really good. Weve shown it to a lot of really powerful people in Hollywood who can judge whether a movies good and are very objective and everyone whos seen it has loved it.
Speaking of screenings, New Line said there will be no advance screenings for the public or press. Do you agree with that decision and if so, why?
That was my decision. What happened was I was aware of what was happening with the internet and I said I dont want to do trailers. If we do that itll be three-to-four minutes of the best stuff from the movie and thats what everybody does. Why would we want to do that and give away all that stuff? So I talked them into doing all the teasers. So we have 30 seconds of just little tidbits of stuff and we keep getting that stuff out there periodically. And today well show 10 minutes of stuff - that nobody has seen ever before - to the fans. Then we had the Cobra Starship video out and other stuff that will be continually leaked until the day of the release.
How much did the marketing change as the hype began to build? Id imagine youd have to throw your original plan in the garbage.
Totally went out the window. They saw that we had to think outside the box. That we had to start doing viral marketing and underground marketing. The studio doesnt traditionally do that. New Line traditionally always test their movies at least 3 times. They always show to the press and the only time they dont show it to the press is if theyre afraid its awful. But thats not the case with this movie. The case with this movie is I thought the fans are part of the reasons that we have the wave behind us and they should see it before anyone else. The critics can see it then as well and they can judge how they want to judge. It really is for the fans.
Youre next movie is ASYLUM? Can you talk a little bit about what that film will be about?
It's a really cool psychological horror film set in a insane asylum that's been converted into a college. These kids go to school - they each have dark secrets, each their own - and they're kinda haunted by this doctor who used to perform these lobotomies on kids. He felt that he was doing a good thing by going in through their eyes right here (points to his tear duct) to perform experiments he thought would improve their mental well-being. But his experiments went awry, he went insane and now he's haunting the campus. It's gonna be really scary.
Great, thanks David. Nice to finally meet you!
Same here Mike. Thanks for all the support.
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