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INT: John Stockwell

John Stockwell was “the man” when I was growing up. He appeared as an actor in such films as TOP GUN, CHRISTINE, LOSIN’ IT and a few other classic 80’s fare. And if you are starting to remember his face and wonder what happened to him, he has found success behind the camera as the director of such films as BLUE CRUSH, INTO THE BLUE and now the travel friendly TURISTAS. All his films feature a whole lotta water, but his latest also features a bit of blood, sex and surf.

I got the chance to meet up with John at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills . He came in, shook everyone’s hand and had a real honest sensibility; which includes an honest reason for jumping into the horror genre. He was very open about his thoughts on the MPAA, what it’s like to have a studio interfere with a film and about how he loves to travel to not so safe places. He has officially upped his cool status even more, as he is a great guy to hang with.

John Stockwell

So is this like the anti-tourism ad for Brazil ?

I’d hate to think that because I’m a huge fan of Brazil , we had a great time there, it was just… The original movie was set in Guatemala and it was sort of inspired by an incident in which a British woman, a tourist was taking pictures of children in a little village in Guatemala and there had been rumors of children being abducted for their organs, and she was stoned to death.

And so Michael Ross wrote this script, I had just been robbed at gun point in Peru, came back, read it, it resonated with me and we sort of decided on Brazil because – first of all, production… there’s crews there, you know there’s a movie world there. But also because it’s a place that’s so seductive and intoxicating and things can go from good to bad quickly there so… I think the end of the day; you can go to Brazil and come back with all your organs intact. Might get robbed, might get kidnapped, there’s a lot of crime there, I mean, people saw CITY OF GOD, I don’t think we’re the first people to depict Brazil in a not so nice light.

This is as close to a horror film that you’ve gotten since you acted in CHRISTINE…

It’s true, that was my only other real experience in this genre.

So, why now get into the horror genre?

You know, I read it… I guess I’m so bad, I’m always asked in pitch meetings, “Okay, what genre is this?” I never know; I have a really hard time categorizing movies. If you say drama today, meetings over, because no one makes dramas, so I saw it more, maybe this is just my delusion, but I saw it more as a DELIVERANCE movie… maybe that’s a horror movie too, in a different way.

But just taking ordinary people in a place that – you know, it’s not HOSTEL, their not going to Eastern Europe to some dark, dingy, weird place, they’re going to this sort of fantasy land. And I guess it was… two things, these kind of movies are easier to get made today than anything else so you kind of push the other movies uphill and then your like, can’t get it made, can’t get it made, alright, I’ll do this because I can get this made. But I also liked it because I love immersing myself in other cultures, I like working on location, I like working with young… I like working on movies where I don’t have to wait for Brad Pitt to say yes in order to get it made. There were a lot of things that were attractive about it.

Can I just ask you why you chose Melissa George and was that character supposed to be Australian?

No, Melissa came in and read as an American, and read with an American accent and she was great and I said “But you’re Australian right?” and she was not sure whether to speak or not, with her Australian accent and she said yeah. And I said, “Just do it as an Aussie.” Like, why couldn’t there be an Aussie there, Aussie’s travel more than Americans, you’re more likely to run into an Aussie in Brazil than you are an American. She did it and I thought she was so much better, not having to concentrate on the accent and I was also asking her to learn Portuguese and improvise a lot so I just thought it was easier for her to do it.

How did you know of her?

I knew of her from… I’d seen the remake of… whatever that was…

AMITYVILLE HORROR?

Amityville Horror, I’d seen a little bit of ALIAS. I’d seen her in that, DERAILED… a couple of things.

As a director, did you ever go into the ghettos of Brazil and actually experience anything there or talk to the people and kind of get a first hand account of some of the situations there?

Well, Rio, which is where we started, you know, the favelas is sort of a flip side of LA, the favelas are in the hills with the great views and the affluence is in the flats. But there right on top of each other but when I wanted to actually… first when I was looking for locations I was like I wanna go up and scout the favela here, oh, you can’t go in. You know, or if we go in, we have to get the drug dealers to take us, the cops won’t go.

So I finally got my location guy to line me up with a big, bad drug dealer guy and we did go up and scout and, you know, it’s like a regular community, it’s not… it’s working people, the police have barricades at the bottom but they don’t up into the favelas. One day I was driving from one part to the other and I heard what sounded like automatic gunfire and RPG’s and I told the guy, “What is that?”, “Oh that’s automatic gunfire and RPG’s.” And these two favelas were battling each other so there is a lot of crime and a lot of it is just directed amongst them, between warring drug gangs in different favelas.

Did the actors go in there and do research?

Ah, maybe just to score drugs, [Laughter] and like inadvertently end up there, I don’t know that they ended up... We weren’t in Rio that much, and that had, like the favela we shot in… that’s like the sweetest people, it wasn’t a dangerous favela. I was just talking to someone; I was also in Columbia… Columbia right now, the cities are quite safe and the countryside is quite dangerous. Brazil, the cities are very dangerous and the countryside is completely safe. So our experience was mostly in rural areas and we didn’t have any… you could stumble home drunk at five in the morning and you were cool.

What’s your fascination with that part of the world?

Well, I’ve traveled through most of South and some Central America and just partially as a surfer I’ve gone through those places because they have good waves but also I like going to places that either people tell you not to go to or to be weary about going to where there are fewer Americans there. The only plus for me about this movie in any way hindering Americans going to Brazil is there’ll be fewer people when I’m there.

What is it about water sequences that you love to shoot? Between this one, INTO THE BLUE and BLUE CRUSH there are amazing water sequences.

You know, I think my next movie’s going to be all in the snow and no bikinis [Laughing]… seriously, like that is probably what I’m going to do next. I just did BLUE CRUSH and everyone asks you to do what you’ve done before. And I love the water and I think I know how to work in it. Most people are scared of it, like my water DP was just here and he was amazing. What I like most about working in the water is, especially in this movie, we were far, deep inside caves and no one could come get us, producers couldn’t be there, the studio couldn’t be there, no one could look at a monitor, no one was like… you didn’t have that crowd around that you do on back lots, no one second guessing you.

So how many days did that take to shoot?

That went on, kind of, in different places, different locations… it’s so freeform and hard to choreograph the specifics of what’s going on underwater. I was trying to communicate and there was a speaker system and we had Portuguese speaking actors and swimming, they couldn’t understand what I was saying to begin with and there was a big clusterf*ck but thankfully no one died.

How did the actors deal without the luxuries that you have on a normal set?

Melissa didn’t like it. [Laughing] No, I think what happens with actors is when one says, “You know what… this is cool, I’m into this.” Which is what Josh [Duhamel] did, “F*ck, I like this, I wanna get down and dirty.” It was the antithesis of working on LAS VEGAS, you know, which he has a huge eighty foot trailer so once he said, I’m down with this. And the other actors kind of looked at each other and, oh, he’s cool with this I guess we have to be cool with this, so, they were.

There were some moments like, where people were just, I don’t know bugs were really bad and they were sleeping on air mattresses, it was just muddy and gross, there was a little bit of grumbling. But the actors for the most part wanted to feel like, wow, we’re doing it for real, were not play acting, were not operating against a green screen… our stunt doubles aren’t called in every time something hazardous, that they, in some ways enjoy that, up to a point. And I found it in BLUE CRUSH and INTO THE BLUE that the actors start going, whoa, maybe this is a little too real or too dangerous or too strenuous.

Did you have any problems with the studio on content like wanting to push a PG-13 or were they okay with an R?

No, they were okay… but we got an NC-17 for a long time, they weren’t okay with that.

Really, what did you cut?

Weird, little stupid things, like I went back to do the unrated version and I looked at the… my editor had it out and to be honest there’s a lot of… you kind of wear the MPAA down, we went back with it at least eight or nine times and frame cuts, frame cuts… sound is a huge issue. Little things here and there, nothing wholesale. They have a real problem… they have more of a problem with Beau’s [Garrett] breast being shown while there was blood. Like blood and nudity mixed together, the MPAA really has an issue with.

So how do you approach a film like this so it doesn’t feel like the same thing you’ve seen over and over?

You’re hopefully trying to start with a world that feels somewhat believable, and characters that could maybe exist in the real world. With these kinds of movies all you can do… well, not all you can do but you try and add things around the edges that make it feel a little more real, a little more plausible.

Do you know what you are doing next?

I think I’m doing this movie… I’m either doing, I’m writing a movie based on a Rolling Stone article called Kid Cannabis about these pot smugglers in Idaho who brought in a lot of BC bud in. It was an amazing story about these nineteen year-old minimum wage kids who went from making six twenty-five an hour to sixty-five million a year smuggling weed. It’s really funny; I’m doing it for HBO Picture House or I’m doing another movie for these guys called VILLAIN, which is a small two-character piece in the snow in Alaska.

You said you were robbed in Peru?

Yeah.

So was TURISTAS like a therapeutic thing for you?

Maybe, [I don’t now] if it was therapeutic as much as… not only was I robbed, I was shot at and then I went to the police and they said if you give us three-hundred bucks we’ll find these guys and you can kill them. And I thought, that’s an interesting offer but I don’t want to kill them, I just want my shit back and the police got all squirrelly on us and I was… I just wanna leave. But then I read this piece and as much as you wanna say come on, this could never happen; maybe it felt a little more plausible from what I just gone through.

So how long ago was that?

That was literally a month before… it was a year and a half ago maybe.

So that hasn’t put you off going to dangerous places?

No. After that I went to El Salvador which is a squirrelly place. Nicaragua…

Do you ever just go to Paris or Rome? [Laughter]

You know, I’ve been to Paris and Rome but it’s so boring. Too many regular tourists there and it’s expensive… super expensive. And I don’t feel like you really have a complete cultural emersion, a different world… Maybe if you went and lived there you could have it, but to go to Paris for a week and have a real experience, Paris is hard.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

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