INT: Kerry Conran
Kerry Conran, director of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, is what I expect I'd be like if I were ever to get off my ass and direct a studio movie. Shy, polite, unassuming...OK, who am I kidding, I'd be an insufferable prick, parking my Ferrari in handicapped spaces and throwing cell phones at my assistant. But Conran isn't your typical Hollywood director. He's a movie fan who spent a good four or five years of his life holed up in a little room creating a six-minute short all with a dream of turning that into a full-length film. Kerry Conran's dream came true and I sat down to speak with him recently in New York. Here's what he had to say:What was it like being a first time director? I have no perspective on that. I survived it. I can say that. The thing about this thatís kind of unique is that I had so many years leading up to it so that by the time we actually shot the movie with Jude and Gwyneth, I kind of knew it. So I was pretty prepared going into it. I think that if I had just been thrown out there as a conventional film, I would have been balling like a baby the whole time, which I still do routinely now. Is this the future of filmmaking? I think to some extent, I think that the writing is in the wall for this type of film - films that are ambitious in scope and scale. I think that the cost thatís involved with it and the publicís appetite to see more bigger things necessitate to something like this. Studios will always be OK in that they have the money. But I think itís how it affects independent filmmakers that I think is most significant in that I think for the first time now, itís possible for a little Renaissance period where you may finally see films that are personal in nature but have the scope and palette of something that was really only possible through a studio. That, to me, is the more exciting aspect of it. Thereís a chance for filmmakers, who would never ever have the chance, to really kind of work on a large scale. What is the most cutting edge part of this whole process in your perspective? I think it was just completely extracting the actors from their environment. Films have done that routinely when theyíve needed to place them in an area that couldnít be built conventionally. But also to embrace that, including the most mundane things, like a simple room and create the environment, it allowed us to do things, for instance, to shoot the film in 26 days which for an action film, is not too terribly common.
Itís like a low budget indie film.. Exactly. And it had that kind of mentality going into it. We had Angelina for three days and shot her part. If you accounted for just the different locations and thatís thing that was traversed, itís just impossible to do it any other way. Literally, with the blue screen soundstage, we broke it up into three different areas. In a span of 10 minutes, you could walk from Nepal, to Radio City Music Hall, to underwater. And walk around circles all day long and shoot anywhere in the world. Thatís whatís different about it in that regards, so I think itís somewhat significant. Youíre living the dream in terms of a filmmaker who works on a project on his computer and suddenly, itís a big budget feature. Can you walk us through that process? Iím curious to read about it because I donít even know how it happened. Well I had gotten out of film school and again, learned very quickly that the studio wasnít about to hand me a check for $100 million dollars to make a movie. At the time, this was over 10 years ago, and before ďThe Phantom Menace,Ē and the Matrix, and the ďLord of the RingsĒ movies, the computer had gotten to a point where it was trickling down to not necessarily the consumer space, but certainly to an area where you could afford these things. And I had, for the last three years, had studied a lot about traditional animation as well. And so I used the opportunity to sort of marry those two worlds: traditional cell animation and live action. What I really did was sit down and think that I was going to make a feature film on my computer. Over the course of the next four years, I generated six minutes and realized that I needed help. Thatís when I kind of ventured out and actually showed the product of that many years of work. It was essentially the first six minutes of the movie that you saw. So it was the Zephlyn(sp?) and all these robots on the street. I had shown that to John Avnet on a whim and never looked to market it. I never even wanted to show the movie. Iím a bit horrified itís even being shown now. He saw it and his immortal words were he asked me what I wanted and I just said I wanted to finish my movie he said, ďI think we can do that.Ē Six years later, we did do that. I canít speak to what he saw specifically in that and what inspired him to take that leap of faith. Same with Jude and Gwyneth Ė I canít fathom why they took the risks that they did on this. Itís crazy. Are you surprised that your project attracted this level of actors? Oh yeah. At the time, when John suggested Jude or Gwyneth, it seemed like a cruel joke. Just to even be bringing these people up, and [I] thought ďWeíre wasting time. Letís just dispense with this, get the unknown actors that Iím going to have to use, and move on.Ē Itís just absurd. To this day, itís absurd. So yeah, I am amazed by the whole thing. Was there any time during those four years working on that six minutes that you thought, ďIím wasting my time, I have no lifeĒ? Well I had no life, thatís a fact. I was so determined to do this. Itís all I wanted to do since my earliest memories and I found a way to do it. I was getting results, however long it was taking. It was slow because my computer, at the time, was probably as powerful as a calculator. I knew I could do it if I just stuck it out. But yeah, along the way, there were nights where I was in the fetal position underneath the desk wondering why I had ever started this.
Why did you shoot in high definition? Well I originally, going back to the roots of this thing in an independent mind, was going to shoot this in mini DV. Actually, I wasnít. This was predated to mini DV. I was actually looking at medical imaging cameras and robotic inspection cameras because they were the only cameras at the time that were progressively scanned, which is to say they created frames rather than fields, which is how television works. So I experimented by trying to use something like that which was what I thought translated to film quite well. But Sony did the work for me. They came out with a camera and that all went away, thank God. It more had to do with immediacy of it. Thereís an enormous expense involved in taking film and scanning it into the computer and creating a digital file, whereas when you shoot digitally, itís digital. Itís ready to go. So we were literally able to take it as itís being shot and work with it immediately with no time between. Itís a pretty remarkable tool in that regard. I wouldnít use it if we didnít filter it so heavily because I still think, to this day, it doesnít look like film. We were able to add to it and bring that quality back to it. By doing what? Lots of goofy weird stuff. The whole film was made in black and white and we actually applied color to it afterwards. We tried to mimic the two and three script Technicolor process and we created a separate color department. We came upon a formula of sorts which literally took half a year and a year of experimentation to arrive at. It was our secret sauce in terms of taking the black and white and turning it into this. You couldíve done anything you wanted with it. You couldíve made it much more vibrant if you wanted it to but this was what we did. Will we see the six minute short on the DVD? You sadly will, I think. Itíll be the most disappointing thing youíll ever see in your life. During the four years you were making this, what did you do to sort of pay the bills? Quite literally, as little as I could. I spent all my time making the film. I had gotten all these strange, computer-related freelance jobs and that was the only thing I allowed myself at the time. They ranged from obscure bits of animation toÖI had been contacted by Knight Ridder (?) to setup, and this again predates to the days of desktop publishing or right in the time it was happening, and they wanted me to experiment and setup an aerospace magazine for them using desktop publishing. And so I was able to go in a do a few jobs like this that took relatively little of my time. Frequently, I would actually barter for equipment, so thatís how I kind of cobbled for a system. Iíd do it for a hard drive, or Iíd do it for a monitor, and not take money, and managed to put together a system even as ancient as it was, allowed me to do what I needed to do. What was it like to work with Angelina Jolie? Scary. She was amazing actually. I didnít know what to expect and she wasnít what I expected, whatever that was. About the most professional prepared actor, although I donít have much experience with actors. As a human being, she was so prepared for this thing. She was just finishing up ďTomb Raider 2Ē at the time, I think literally, she was being fitted for her costume on the set of that movie and she raced over here. The first thing she had was she had given me this tape of hours and hours of conversations she had with World War II pilots, which I never even did. I think I read a book on a pilot once. So she had concocted this whole thing with this amount of effort and research into it. So she knew what she was doing when she got there. Just the moment decent and down to earth person you could ever imagine. Just great, and like Jude and Gwyneth embraced the whole technical side of the spirit of the movie. So Iím thrilled with what she came away with on this.
The movie has so many great geek moments and references. Is there going to be anything on the DVD that walks us through it? They keep threatening to have a spastic group of us sit down and talk through the movie so we may do that. That would be the only opportunity to detail some of that. That sort of what happened when we started making the film. When I wrote the script, I wasnít like ďIím going to take this from this.Ē It was really just a story. I sort of modeled the island after Skull Island and obviously Moreauís island and just decided to put the wreckage of the Venture. Why not? Then we just got out of control so inside the gallery, when they walk into before they see Totenkopf, weíve got Excaliburís sword, weíve got Medusa, weíve got The Mummy in there. I think we have the larva form of Mothra (sp?) in the back. Any opportunity we had to make little nods. I donít think weíre distracting for the general public that wonít have any meaning to them but I think for the five people that see some of the things, itís a fun little gesture. Whatís next for you? Iíve been working with Paramount on trying to bring this series of books called ďJohn Carter of MarsĒ which is Edgar Rice Burroughís novels, to life, who created ďTarzan.Ē I think theyíve attempted to make these films for the last 50 years and have failed so far, so naturally of course, Iím the obvious choice to bring it to life somehow. But no, itís thrilling. I think Burroughís the father of the pulse. A lot of what I reference for this movieÖ and the John Carter series, I think even Lucas had mentioned being heavily influenced for Star Wars. Lord of the Rings drew from that I believe. Itís a very fertile landscape to draw from. Are you keeping it the post-Civil War period? I think the idea is to keep it pretty faithful to what it was but play with the notion that heís living a bit longer than he should. Harry Knowles is one of the producers right? I think heís one of the producers. Have you worked with him at all? No. I talked to him certainly. Going to the fact that the movie was shot in black and white, did you do the movie all in post production? The film was shot in color obviously. The HD camera was in color Ďcause we had to extract from the blue screen. The very first thing we did once we keyed the blue out was turn it black and white. It was never color again until the very last stages. All we got from the London shoot was ultimately making the analogy of the cell animation. We had Jude and Gwyneth in clear acetate that we could now place on top of any background.