INT: Jerry Bruckheimer
I just got a chance to preview the trailer for the upcoming video game-turned-film PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, starring Jake Gyllenhall and Gemma Aterton. It looks absolutely incredible. I played the games. I was prepared to be critical. But in our group Q&A session with game designer, and writer/executive producer of the film Jordan Mechner, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, we were told that they really tried to stay true to what I consider one of the coolest parkour games ever. From what we saw (and we saw it twice) it certainly looked like they did. Will this be a game port that actually works? I...gosh, I'm afraid to say this and jinx it...but I think it will!
In the trailer, we saw crazy 360 degree shots of Prince Dastan (Gyllenhall) standing on a building, watched him jumping from roof top to roof top, flirting with the lovely Tamina (Aterton), sliding down piles of sand as a building collapses around him and his body filling with electricity as he uses that crazy time-shifting dagger. Bruckheimer and Mechner describe the film as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with supernatural elements.
We were told that the film recently scored as well as PIRATES OF the CARRIBEAN with test audiences. Bruckheimer seemed surprised that the filmdid really well with women. Epic romance in an ancient land...a shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal...yeeeah, I'm shocked too.
Check out our Q&A, and let us know if you're as excited for this one as I am.
Jerry Bruckheimer and Jordan Mechner
One thing I didn't see in the trailer is the scene where he jumps across a ledge, grabs on and has to pull himself back up. Is that going to be in the movie?
Bruckheimer: You didn't see that? We'd better show it a third time. [laughter] You'll have to see the movie.
Those of us that go back to the '89 original, that's what we remember. So how is that a starting point for the wonderful parkour-esque moves we're seeing?
Mechner: I think what he said is exactly right. It was a starting point. And I did the best I could from the side-scrolling Apple 2, to try to capture the excitement with running and jumping. Really, the first ten minutes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK from 1981 was the immediate inspiration for the PRINCE OF PERSIA game. But I think the movie, as you've seen, goes very far beyond that. There's parkour, there's sword fighting. It's pretty extreme.
With a lot of the game adaptations in the past, one of the, I think, big digressions has been the 'throw out everything about the game and retain just a few aesthetic choices'. It looks like, with THE SANDS OF TIME, with the acrobatic moves of the characters, it looks like you've really brought in a lot of the actual gameplay style from the game directly to what you've done narratively in the film...[to Mechner] and obviously you're very involved. Is that something that was important to you? To maintain a lot of what is the character of PRINCE OF PERSIA?
Mechner: Yeah. This movie is based on THE SANDS OF TIME, which is the 2003 game that I did with Ubisoft Montreal. And rather than try to do a literal retelling of the game, and what I pitched to Jerry and Disney in 2004, and what I think the movie very much is, is it's characters and elements...yeah, the coolest elements of the game sort of reconfigured into a story that makes a great movie. And that was what we pretty much set out to do in the beginning.
Bruckheimer: Jordan wrote the first two drafts of the script, so he was heavily involved. The fact that he's here means he likes the movie that he's seen, so that always helps. [laughter] You won't be reading him online saying, 'don't go see it'. It's good.
So if you played the game, you're going to recognize a lot of the characters in the film?
Mechner: Yeah, well, if you played the game, you're not going to know what happens in the movie. It's a different story. But yet you'll recognize characters and situations...in a different form. I think it's very true to the spirit of the game.
The games have sort of evolved...in adapting this, were there any elements from any of the other iterations of PRINCE OF PERSIA that you borrowed or thought would be useful as a wink or a nod to the fans?
Mechner: At the time that I wrote the first draft of the script, you know, those other games hadn't come out yet, so the screenplay is based on THE SANDS OF TIME, but as you probably saw in the trailer, the production design took a lot of inspiration from the other games as well. I mean, Jake's costume, certainly.
As far as we've seen there aren't any creatures from THE SANDS OF TIME, but I remember fighting many, many of them. Did you specifically not want to have any creatures, and have a storyline that focused on just the humans?
Mechner: Yeah, and that's a really good, specific example of what we were talking about before...there are no sand monsters in the movie. For the game, turning everybody in the world, except the two main characters, into sand monsters was really useful because it created an inexhaustible supply of enemies for you as the player to fight. That's a story that's meant to be played with a controller in your hand, and the movie is an experience that is supposed to be a ride to go on that is shared by an audience. So, you know, we didn't want to make a movie about fighting monsters.
You said earlier that when you play the game, you're not going to know what happens in the movie. So where did you come up with the concept for the film?
Mechner: I don't want to tell the story of the movie. You'll have to see the movie.
Bruckheimer:...it's all the family dynamics that happen with his two brothers. Well, not really his brothers by birth. That's the start of the drama. And an uncle who's jealous. And this really cool dagger that can turn back time, which is this great power and also this great temptation. It's what the villain wants to get...
Judging by the trailer, they're on a quest to take this dagger back to a certain temple to get rid of it, I suppose?
Bruckheimer: That's sort of part of the story, to safeguard the dagger from all the people who are trying to get their hands on it.
What had to be developed to create all those visual effects with the sands of time and the sands of the collapsing temple?
Bruckheimer: What you do is you start with storyboards. Of course, it starts in Jordan's mind and the writers, and we give it to our production designer, and he takes it to another step and he takes it to the artists, and they start drawing things. [For] what we draw, we create animatics, you know, visual representations, what Jordan does. How he starts his games. And then we start embellishing. We do tests, embellishing on things we see and like. Create layers. Like the first time we did the dagger. Pushing the dagger into the sand. There was nothing going through his body. We just looked at a rough scene and stayed there. We started using the sand and the electricity going through his body...so you keep layering it. When you see the movie in theaters, it will be more layers than what you've seen just now. Because we just didn't have time...
Can you talk about the casting of Jake and just kind of what you saw in him that made him the right choice?
Bruckheimer: I always thought he was...I still think he is a true movie star...the guy is going to be a huge romantic hero. He's handsome. He's a wonderful actor. I always wanted to work with him. We got very lucky that he liked the material and he wanted to do it. There was no other choice. I mean, he was the guy that we went after.
Can you talk about some of the physical training he had to go through?
Bruckheimer: A lot! He really worked hard He worked for months. Before the movie started. He trained every single day. He rode bikes, he lifted weights, he had a very specific diet. He couldn't eat any fats. It was really a lot of protein, and all during filming he was working out. In one hundred and twenty degree heat. Jordan said he saw him after a long day, at seven at night, taking a jog. Running. So he kept it up through the whole thing. He had a trainer with him. Both here and in Morocco. And when we were filming in London, he wanted to make sure he kept his physical characteristics the way he wanted them to be.
What did you have to do to modern Morocco to make it look like Ancient Persia?
Bruckheimer: It's just sand. [laughter] There's plenty up there. No, what we did was we had a fantastic production designer, who created these amazing sets. And we actually built a lot of what you saw. The only thing we added was some set extensions along the top of the frame. A lot of the things that you see in there is stuff we built or took structures in Morocco and added our own construction to those old actual structures. We found a part of the city that was one of the most ancient parts of the city, that we were able to use for the movie. The city allowed us to shoot there. The government allowed us to work with the residents...
Mecher: It was actually my first week on set and seeing that casbah scene, I literally couldn't tell where the real city ended and the set began. There were people walking through the streets and I couldn't tell if they were extras or if they were people who lived there.
Bruckheimer: It's stopped in time. We were driving up. Some of the sets were in the Atlas Mountains, and as you're driving up there, there's no electricity, the women are the ones who are doing all the work. They're carrying these huge bundles of wood on their backs, they were carrying stuff on their heads, they're carrying their children. It's just unbelievable. It's like you're back in the sixth century.
Mecher: ...it's actually one of the things that was, like, so cool for me, and such a surprise for me, coming from the video game world, where I was kind of used to various ways of trying to make this look real on the screen, to actually be in the desert, where it's really a hundred and twenty-five degrees and there is really a sandstorm, and how many movies have you seen where there is a scene with a desert oasis and it's a set. This was a real desert oasis. And I think that the fact that, besides all the action and the adventure story aspects of it, this is like an epic movie that's shot on location on a scale that really hasn't been done...it's never been seen on the screen in this way ever, so I think that it moves the whole production up to another level. It's not what you would expect from a video game movie.
How much parkour training was there and did you have any experts come in that we might recognize>
Bruckheimer: We brought in the key experts out of France to work with us. In the opening of the movie, there's a young man who portrays Jake as a young boy, and he was a parkour expert. And he's ten years old. It's amazing. Absolutely amazing. They sent us online, like Facebook things of these kids and this kid was extraordinary.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME will be released on May 28th, 2010.