Set Visit: Predators Interview with director Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez is one of those rare filmmakers that always takes time to give we reporters all the information we need. In fact, at the end of the interview, when he was being called away, he made sure he'd answered all of our questions. Gotta love any guy who can make SPY KIDS and PREDATORS. We got a chance to visit the set of the upcoming film and Rodriguez gave us a ton of time. He answered questions about his original script, picking Nimrod Antal, CGI vs. practical effects and whether or not we'll get to see the Governator. Damn, I can't wait for this film! Check out the preview of what we saw, coming soon!
PREDATORS opens July 7th, 2010.
Can you talk about what you saw in Nim [Antal] and what made you think he would be the best person to bring this to life?
I looked around for writers to come in and rewrite my script because my original script was done in 1994. And looked for directors to- I think it was- I hadn't really produced before so I was looking for someone that felt like a kindred spirit that would bring their own take on it but we'd speak a similar language. And he was just- we just met him and he's a great guy and you could feel that he could be really great with crew and cast and I saw his first movie. I saw ARMORED where he worked with a group of very singular actors and seemed to be able to bring them all together so I knew that was kind of- the kind of person I would need on this based on the script that I had where a lot of different actors and close-knit, with only seven or eight people, that were going to be stuck on this planet. And every scene together so, I knew he had the chops for that. And just personally he had a great vibe to him. You always have a leap of faith when you go into something like that but you could just tell that it wasn't going to go wrong. I felt very comfortable with him. And when we'd come to a stage where we're doing artwork, say different guys putting artwork, different takes on a creature or something, mentally I would look at it and go, 'That's the one I would pick in my mind.' And then I would see him walk and look and he would go, 'I like that one.' So I thought, 'Okay, we're kind of on the same- taste-wise we're very similar.' Yet he does his own thing. I go on the set and I see how he he's shooting something and I go, 'Wow, that's completely different from how I'd do it. I don't think I would have gotten that great shot. That looks much better than my things that I would have done.'
How close is this movie from your original treatment ten years ago?
It was more than that. Yeah, it was… The main thing that it was going to be off-world. It was going to take place on the Predator planet. I wanted it to kind of emulate the first movie and kind of go back to a jungle setting so I put it on a different planet. And that was a different script completely because it had 'Dutch' still in it. Arnold Schwarzenegger's character. So it was just more the idea of these people coming on to a planet where there's a lot of tension within the group. And the title PREDATORS is supposed to have a double meaning where are they the predators or are the creatures the predators? Then even if there were no predator creatures, the idea that these humans would kill each other before the movie was over.
Fifteen years ago, when you had a chance to write a PREDATOR movie and then that they made a different story, does it sting as you see the other movie knowing you had such a good take? How does it feel to have this movie produced now?
Yeah, I'd put it a different way. What happened was I was hired only as a writer back then. So, DESPERADO had some time before it was going to go and I told my agent, 'You know, I have several months off. Could you see if there's any writing assignment or things?' And he goes, 'Oh, Peter Rice over at Fox has an idea to do another PREDATOR movie.' PREDATORS Okay. Call it PREDATORS kind of like Cameron did with ALIEN to ALIENS. And took him this take and he said yes. And I wrote it. But that was it. I didn't have to direct it so knowing I wouldn't have to direct it I wrote all kinds of stuff in there that was impossible to do. It was 1994. A lot of technology didn't even exist so it was like, 'Hey, good luck figuring this out.' Get on another planet with creatures. And of course they couldn't quite go make that movie. And then Arnold wasn't interested in doing another PREDATOR by the time they got around to it so they went a different direction and did the ALIEN VS PREDATOR movies.
And then just late last year or earlier this year probably I think it was, Fox came back and said, 'We wanted to reboot the franchise and such a classic character and we looked up your old script and we thought this is great. This is the way to go. Start new with a fresh approach.' So suddenly that became my problem trying to figure out, 'Oh no, how am I going to do all this?' But the technology, a lot of it, was possible. So it was good that the time had gone and they offered me- they asked if I would direct it. I couldn't. I was directing something else. But I said I would love to produce it here. They came and saw Troublemaker [Studios] and said, 'Well, can you put it through your system with your people and hire writers and a director?' And I thought that was great because I did like a lot of the ideas that were in that script and I'd never written on assignment before so it did feel kind of strange to kind of give the script away. I always did kind of like it. So it was really gratifying to have it kind of come back and get to be a part of it even though I'm not directing it, I still get to walk on to the set and see PREDATOR and go join in the fun and feel like I still get to be a part of the movie rather than just going and being made somewhere else.
As a producer have you ever gone on the set and said, 'We're going to do it this way'? Can you talk about the dynamic for you?
If I ever have any suggestions that I think might help I certainly give them. But I didn't...I'm not there to direct it. And Nimrod- I know what it feels like as a director to have...you're carrying the whole weight of the movie inside of your head so to come in and arbitrarily just say, 'Hm. What about blue instead of red?' That kind of messes up the whole puzzle. You have to kind of rethink it all. So it's better. I kind of know, just having been a director, how to support rather than- that really wouldn't be that helpful- to come in and just say, 'Well, this is how I would do it. Why don't you do it this way?'
I sort of mean, you haven't really produced before, I am curious are you on set every day? Can you talk about your day-to-day involvement and interaction?
No, not there every day. I come in when, depending on what's being shot. I mean if it's very director/actor-driven, Nimrod takes the wheel on that. And if I walk into the back lot and it's shooting- my little back lot, my parking lot- I can walk in on the set and see what they're doing and suggest some things effects-wise. You know, a lot of it is effects-wise because I'm the visual effects supervisor for my company that's doing effects. So some of it will be, I will make suggestions on how to shoot something in order for us to have what we'll need later in post. Because Nimrod hadn't really done anything with effects even though he seems to have caught on really quick. It kind of depends on the day-to-day. Today I was there a lot because –the past couple days I've been there full blown because Laurence [Fishburne] was there, I want to just soak that up. It's amazing to watch. And sometimes being a good director is just being a great audience and so that goes the same with being producing.
There are a lot of practical effects in this movie, a lot of in camera. What CGI are you planning or having to do for this film?
It would be more enhancements and, like for the Predator dogs we do have practical versions and then we have shots where you see it running on all fours that you can only do digital. But it's really great to always have something built practical that you can match to. That you can see what it looks like in lighting so it doesn't have that fake CG feel. And then just the traditional effects. The cloaking and the updating those effects of how the predator looks and moves within the frame.
Had you directed the film would you be doing more CGI?
No. Probably the same. But that was what was so great about seeing the original PREDATOR was that you could tell it was really there on set. I think that's why the character is so endearing too. People could identify with it because it's very humanoid. People want to be the Predator because he walks around with two legs and two arms and feels very human.
Was there any debate about doing this PG-13 versus R?
When they first brought me the script that I had, my original script was very R. So I knew that they were fine with it being R. And part of the reason they give them to me is I can contain the budget in a way that they- I think also something like DISTRICT 9 helped show that R-rated sci-fi movies could be viable business. Before people just kind of shied away from- thinking R might be the kiss of death and lose a lot box office. But not really.
I am curious about the creative freedom you're being offered. How has it been working with the studio? Have they sort of said here's the budget, go have fun with it? Talk about that interaction.
Yeah, they've given us a lot of freedom to do it within the budget. They're very happy with what we've done with it and they are obviously big PREDATOR fans themselves. The executives that I've worked with are just huge PREDATOR fans and that's why they wanted to do this movie. And why we're making it down here just to do our thing as fans. So that's what's kind of fun about coming and doing a reboot is everybody already has a common- it's hard to do the first one because no one quite knows what the movie is. Everybody knows what this movie should be. It should top all those other ones that we had before it and feel fresh. Feel new for a new generation because the character just is totally classic.
Is the first in a series of new PREDATOR movies? Franchises like ALIENS kind of faltered after the second picture. Do you have thoughts or ideas if the 'Predator' franchise is to continue on this new path?
It suggests a lot of world that you could go and explore. The movie just touches on a few ideas where you can already- there's a lot of story value in them- you could already imagine other pictures with different characters. It's very rich in that way what you see are just things like tastes of what the world could be. I don't think it necessarily has to go down after that point. You reboot BATMAN with BATMAN BEGINS and you go to DARK KNIGHT you could just keep going. I think when the world is that rich you can do a lot with it. It kind of depends on who's doing it.
We've heard a lot about Nimrod being a huge fan of PREDATOR. Many times when these franchises from the 80s and 90s get revisited they feel like 'fan' films with good production values. Like Guitar Hero filmmaking where they hit the right beat but they're not adding anything-
How is this going to balance the references to PREDATOR and what's going to be unique about this picture?
Yeah, I had heard somebody saying that that there's people- I was already hearing them overemphasize that there's a lot of throwbacks to the original movie. No, there's not really at all. Because I don't care for those kind of movies where it feels like- I don't want to name any names- where you're watching the movie and they get to the best line in the movie and it's from the old movie. It's like, 'What's that? Is that all you got?' So, it's definitely nothing like that. We don't want it to feel like that because there's so much different about what is in this movie. And his approach to it. He even sold me on how he was going to approach it different from what I had had before. And it was bold. And it's cool. So I liked it. It definitely doesn't feel like, 'Hey, this was great in the first one. Let's just do this exact same thing.' It wasn't that feel and that's what I really appreciated about his vision about it. He was really trying. He was taking it as if it was the first movie. He's doing his own first movie.
How first are the characters in the film to the ones that you originally created?
No, these characters are different. These are completely different characters. There are a couple that were similar. I have to go back an even look. I changed it so many times. No these are all, these were all pretty much different.
What was the idea? Was it basically the same? A group of bad asses from earth taking-
Yeah, but this one has more diversity. The writers that I brought in write like that and I liked this other script that they had written, MEDIEVAL and I think it's called MEDIEVAL and they brought this concept of the different characters coming from different paths on earth and dropped on at the same time. Dropped on the planet.
You've done several 3D films. Did you ever consider doing this in 3D?
We didn't talk about doing this one in 3D. No. It would have to be logistically it would have to be done in post process where they would make the 3D and there wouldn't have been enough time for release because they need some time to do that.
When we look at the production artwork for the dog tracker or the black 'berserker' or the predator hound, how accurate is that to the final film? And the alien stick figure.
It's always different once there are actual people going in- just like any comic book character. Well, not some- it's more accurate than say a comic book character brought to life. You know how you see, these are like real proportions. You see a comic book character and then you see the human counterpart with a costume, it's a little baggy and the portions aren't right. Because the comics they draw the head a little smaller to make the body look a little more majestic. These are pretty accurate.
Are we going to see a shot of the dog tracker and the chain and the dog like that?
Not straight on like that. Much cooler way than that. Yeah. And with more dogs.
How much of the film is horror and suspense and dread?
A lot of that. That's what Nimrod really brought to it was not just making- it doesn't feel like a sequel where you're just going in and you're getting more and you're just getting just sort of numbing stuff happening. It feels like you really fall in love with the characters and you really- you almost should forget that it's a Predator movie and you just want to follow these guys and think, 'They're going to kill each other. Any moment. That's right they're being- there's this other really cool element to this.' And you bring in the Predators and it's just like, 'Oh Geez.' Stakes are really high.
Is there any subtext that's being brought into this movie? Especially since it's more of an international movie and because your idea to now has spanned over two decades?
Right, right. So what was the question?
Is there any kind of- are you using it as an allegory?
I'll let Nimrod answer that question. I don't have a handy answer for that. But I'm sure we have a lot going on in the movie and the international aspect to it was done purposefully.
As the producer, are you reaching out to Arnold?
Can't say. Me and Arnie go way back. I remember one time I was at a restaurant and he came in and he looked- I had to wear these chain wallets- and he's like, 'Hey, what is this? Are you Conan with your Conan chains?' We've talked about doing stuff together before but I can't say anything for this because then it would be disappointing if something was…
Is there a sense of pressure? Sometimes you get a movie like this where a rumor gets out that Schwarzenegger might do a cameo and then everyone's like yeah, that'd be awesome… as that builds up do you feel pressure?
Yeah, well, if you can't make it happen, you can't make it happen. If you can, you certainly- it's not like none of us were thinking about that ever. 'Hey, wait a minute! That is a good idea! Maybe we should contact Arnold.' That was always something since the first script when I wrote it not even knowing if he wanted to do a PREDATOR movie. I wrote that script. They said, 'Hey, write a script for Arnold and then maybe he'll want to do it. We haven't asked him yet.'
So do you feel like you have to do it?
We don't feel like we have to do it. I think it could work and it could also not work.
You're always doing stuff with special effects. Is there any sort of boundary that you have reached with special effects that you feel you are still trying to overcome? Or do you feel you can take on any challenge and work your way through?
I don't remember when it was. Some years back, it was evident that anything you could dream up you could actually go do and if it wasn't available readily you could pretty much figure it out. When I did SIN CITY, to figure out how to do SIN CITY on a budget on that time schedule- how to do SPY KIDS 3 . That was the first 3D movie in twenty years or whatever. And the first one on HD for theatrical release. I had to pay for the glasses. The studios said, 'Why? We don't even want a 3D movie. That was you're idea.' I was like, 'It's going to be cool. I promise.' You had to figure out how that technology was going to work and I had to do it within six months. We started shooting in January it was out by July. So that's when I knew, yeah, if you have an idea you can pretty much figure out how to do anything. So it became less about the technology and 'can you do it' to 'Ok, now what can we do. What's a really good idea?' So now everything is really just more ideas and idea-based and story and character. Because visually you can kind of do anything you come up with. So once you can do anything, you've got to be very responsible on what is it that you actually do.
Seeing that Nimrod's directing the movie, can we expect a ten minute cooking school on the DVD?
Yes. I'm only producing that one. And you'll have to wait and see who actually does the cooking. It's pretty cool.