Posted on Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by Peter Sciretta
This past August, I had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver set of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is essentially a reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. A lot has changed in the eight months since I visited the Apes set. As you know, the release dates have changed a few times, the title has morphed from Caesar, to “Caesar: Rise of the Apes” (which was the title they were using on set), to Rise of the Apes to the now even more-wordier title “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” After the jump you will find a video blog I recorded with Germain Lussier — who at the time was writing for Collider, but you now know him as one of the members of the /Film writing team. So even that has changed.
In our in-depth video blog, we talk about our experiences on the set of the film, including our tour of the sets from the movie, concept art demonstrations, interviews with the key cast and crew and more. Throughout the next week, I’ll also be posting transcripts of some of the interviews we conducted on set. After the jump you can also find a pretty lengthy conversation with producers Dylan Clark, Thomas Hammel, writer/producer Rick Jaffa and director Rupert Wyatt.
Roundtable interview (director Rupert Wyatt joins us late in the Q&A):
Q What was the rationale in mounting another big budget Planet of the Apes movie, given that the last movie didn’t generate a lot of momentum. And that was ten years ago, in terms of starting a new franchise and stuff like that.
Dylan Clark: Rick’s the one who came up with the idea before we even worked with Rick, so that’s a better question for Rick. I can tell you our perspective on why we thought that what Rick did was great.
Rick Jaffa:So do you want me to answer that now?
Dylan Clark: Yeah, answer that first.
Rick Jaffa:The idea came together from several different sources and bits I’d been working on and staring at for a long time. One of which was the amount of people in our country that are raising chimps and primates in our home. Some as pets, but many as children. I’d done a lot of research for other projects about genetic engineering, and then I had been reading a lot of accounts of people who had been attacked by their own chimpanzees after having raised them. So a lot of those ideas were just sitting there, and they just coalesced one day as an idea for Planet of the Apes. Amanda and I had been working at Fox, and we called them up and said that we’ve got this idea. The thing is, we had assumed that they either were developing it at the moment, or had thought about it and decided not to for the very reason you are asking that question. The idea was just one of those things that came together so strongly and so quickly that we called up and pitched it, and then they talked it over and decided to go through with it.
Q I know that Scott Frank had been working on a project very similar to this. Did any of that make its way here? I know that the idea of Cesear as a genetically modified ape had been in his stuff as well.
Dylan Clark: It was Rick and Amanda’s ideas that Scott Frank got. It originated here, and then Scott was an early version of the studio of thinking that maybe he would direct it.
Q How long has the process of development been?
Rick Jaffa: For years, in all. Matt and I worked on it for about two years or so, and then Scott came on. We worked with Scott, and he was functioning as the director and we were the writers, and we did a few drafts with him. That was over a period of a few months, and then Scott did one draft and then moved on. There was more development, and then we were brought back at some point to bring it back to a version of where we started. So Scott did one draft.
Q I think a lot of us are curious about this film’s connection to the original five films – the inspirations you drew from those films and how the continuity will come into play.
Rick Jaffa: Right. The thing is, I’ll back up and say that when reports of the script and the project got out, it started being labeled a reboot and a prequel and then a remake of Conquest and stuff. That was all suprising to us, because we never really thought of it that way. It was more just, “Wouldn’t it be cool to reimagine what could get us here?” In other words, what were some of the dominoes that could line up in a narrative way, and an actual, functioning way in terms of what is happening in the world right now.
Dylan Clark: From this time frame.
Rick Jaffa: The period we’re living in now. In other words, August 18, 2010. What could be the dominoes that line up in telling the story and someone realizes, “Oh my god, we’re watching Planet of the Apes”
Q How worried are you about fitting in with some of the canon of the five films. One funny thing is that, if you do watch the five films all in a row, there are tremendous inconsistencies.
Rick Jaffa: There are.
Dylan Clark: We’re not worried about that. I’m glad you brought that up. When we started the company, we didn’t think Planet of the Apes anything would be our first movie. I knew that these guys were doing it, Scott Frank’s a very good friend of mine, and I thought the idea was a smart one to do. I felt much like what Batman has done, where you can come in and choose to tell what part of the story you want within the mythology that exists. For us, I know Peter and I never thought, “Oh, we have to do Planet of the Apes!” We felt like, because the idea was so strong, that it was a great one to do because it represented the big temple movie that was also smart. The quality was there.
Rick Jaffa: Let me put it this way. The idea popped. I know the original was one of my favorite films, I had seen it many times. The thing is, when you go back and watch it, you realize different things about it each time you watch it. But the idea came together before I went back and revisited all of the other movies. But I did do that, and Matt and I spent a lot of time with that. The answer to that question is that we tried to be as loyal to the mythology of those movies so that fans would feel like great care was taken in trying to apply some of that to this story to the degree that we could. At some point you just have to make your own movie. So decisions like that were made, and there’s lots of fun stuff for Apes fans specifically that we put in there. I don’t know how much the guys know about the story and so forth, but there is one huge mythological point, if you will.
Q We saw a drawing of Icarus in the art room, if that’s what you’re referring to.
Rick Jaffa: No, that’s not actually.
Q What’s the Icarus?
Rick Jaffa: The thing about the Icarus is that it’s a big nod to the past and for the fans. Quite frankly, it opens up great possibilities for coming back in time into what, hopefully, we’ve set up to bring back some of the other ape narratives and mythologies. It’s interesting. At one point, one of our friends said, “It sounds like you guys are trying to fix the original.” And we weren’t really at all, but we were really aware of a lot of small details that the original had, that maybe we could explain or set that up, so that maybe the fans could go, “Oh my god, I see what they’re doing. They’re setting this up for the future.” But the reality is, ultimately we just had to make it work as a contemporary story. Science Fiction, science fact, in a way.
Q: Who came up with the idea to do performance capture? Can you talk about why you decided to do it this way?
Dylan Clark: I think that was just by… you go out… It’s fact finding. Really, you think you can try it one way. You’re not even sure if you want to do it for various reasons, if you want to try to do it with live animals or if you want to work with guys in suits. But you just go out and you spend some time with chimpanzees and you realize that, one, it’s probably not the right thing to do, and it’s also not the easiest way to make a movie. The suits represent a certain aesthetic to the movie that we’ve seen before and when you have the opportunity to work with a guy like Joe Letteri, who is head and shoulders the best guy in the business, and you start to see conceptual designs and test how that works, it just feels like that was the right road to land on. It just was as easy as that.
Q: What was the timeframe though? Because obviously it was a lot more work to get the movie done on time.
Dylan Clark: If everybody is locked in on a concept and locked in on a plan, then you can do anything in a pretty short amount of time. What happens in making movies a lot of the time, a lot of different opportunities get factored in and more time is needed to finish it. So actually it forced us all from studio to producer to director to actors to say, “O.K., this is what we’re signing up to do. No room for changing.” Which is great because, again, it started with a very solid idea and then we found the right director who could tell the story in the way we wanted to, very seriously, but find the pop moments. And then we found the right people to populate this movie and perform it. So it all kind of came together because we didn’t have… the time frame constricted us. We had to just make decisions.
Q: The movie is being positioned as a summer blockbuster. It comes out this June. But from what we’ve seen, it doesn’t really seem to fit into that mold. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Dylan Clark: Yeah, I mean, we love that date because as you guys know it’s so hard making movies these days. It’s hard writing a movie. It’s hard, the production of it’s miserable. The post-production is terrible. And then the absolute worse part of the movie business is releasing the picture. There’s so much competition and it’s all 3D and it’s crazy, crazy, crazy. This was a date that we just always locked in and liked because it afforded us opportunities, gave us chances. There’s no question the summer audience is the biggest one and we felt like inherently the concept offered up a big idea. You know, Peter Chernin was the head of the studio when they greenlit Titanic, and we look at Titanic as an interesting kind of, somewhat strained [laughs], model for this one. But it’s using visual effects in the real world. That’s not aliens landing, it’s not 3D, it’s actually a boat that does [that] thing, things we know in our life. It was conceptually a little bit akin in that way and we liked the idea of that because it had never been done before. So that alone conceptually felt like a big thing, because as Rick said, apes and attacks and things like that are in the news. You just haven’t seen how to do that in a performance in a movie. So it feels like we have that opportunity. It’s an interesting one and I always feel more comfortable having… I think we have the goods to be in the summer. But when you do go back and look at the other movies, the first Planet of the Apes is very dramatic. There isn’t a lot of action. In fact, I think the chasing around the villages is as big action as you get. The opening scene with the guns on horses is as big as you get. We’re bigger than that and I think we have strategic action from the beginning, a couple of pieces in the first act — we have two semi set pieces. And then we start to escalate from there.
Q: You’d definitely consider this a re-imagining as opposed to a prequel?
Dylan Clark: It’s definitely not a remake and it’s definitely not a prequel. I don’t know. I think Burton called his a re-imagining. I don’t like that word either because it…
Rick Jaffa: He did?
[Fox publicist chimes in that Burton did and she was there.]
Dylan Clark: No knock on Tim Burton, who’s a genius. That last movie he made, Alice, was so good. But it is more — I mean, if he were in here, I would say, “Come on, own it up. It’s a little bit more of a remake.” For some reason they decided to have the humans talking, which was a little crazy.
Question: How did you connect those thoughts, talking about researching… the article, how did you connect that to Planet of the Apes?
Rick Jaffa: I was literally sitting on the floor looking at about 50 different things I’d been working on and researching, and just moving pieces around on the floor. And I swear to you, all that really…I had an article about the guy, St. Pierre. And like I said, genetic research and different things. And I swear, I just said, “Oh my god. This is Planet of the Apes.” I had five different things and I just went, “That, that, that, that.”
Dylan Clark: That’s a genre movie, too. I mean you can do those movies, but those are real specific kinds of movies. And then there’s other movies that go into theme, use of different cultures. From a storytelling point of view, it’s more interesting to dig into those worlds if you can tap into mythology that exists that hasn’t been shown yet. And these are questions just “cart before the horse”, “chicken before the egg”. And we see this a lot of times with studios; they go after certain titles no matter what…You know, “Terminator. Whatever it is, we’re going to do another Terminator.” That’s where it feels like they’re just… sputtering there.
Question: Well fortunately, there are some other prequels…there’s a Thing prequel coming out. There’s an Alien prequel that’s about to get shot.
Dylan Clark: The thing prequel, I got to tell you, I love that story. I personally, I just think it’s so smart because I love Carpenter, and I love the original movie. And I like that Carpenter essentially decided to remake it in a different way. Going into the Norwegian camp and figuring out…and playing it with Norwegian actors, I just thought those guys were really onto something there with that idea. I think that was cool.
Question: I think all the films individually have a potential to be fantastic. But when there’s three happening at once, it’s a little bit like, “Oh my god. Three prequels of great science fiction films…”
Dylan Clark: There’s no question, you know, in the world we live in, having brand awareness helps. At some point in the conversation you have to have a real honest dialogue about it. Does it feel excessive? Does it feel superfluous? Does it feel like we’re going after something that doesn’t have the goods? The audience knows. I think ultimately the audience will reject it if they feel like it’s just… “Oh, they’re just trying to cash in on this thing again.”
Rick Jaffa: The thing is, too, one of the things that helped with it is that…you know, I read a lot of comic books as a kid, and it seemed that, you know, when stories would run stale they’d just start over. You know, like, “What? How old is he?” And so that was one of the things that…I mean I’m very sensitive to that too; extremely sensitive to that issue. But you also have to remember, too, like four years ago wasn’t quite as bad as it is now. When it first came out I was like, “Well…” because things were just starting to be reinvented. And Amanda and I weren’t really aware as much. And so now, you’re right. It feels…
Dylan Clark: It is, but again, I had the opportunity…I worked at a studio that had made a deal with Hasbro; like a big deal with Hasbro to develop and make movies based on board games. For me, that was kind of a last straw. Like, “Ridley Scott is doing Monopoly”. I don’t understand it. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
Question: Clue is one of the greatest board games ever made.
Dylan Clark: But like Candyland. I have three boys. My six year old wouldn’t play Candyland ‘cause it’s for…you know, it’s like little kids Candyland. I’m like, “Candyland the movie? Who’s going to go see that? Six years olds won’t go! They’ll reject it!” But this, again, if you hear an idea and you see the treatment of it, Rick and Amanda took such good care touching…As he said, it was a character story. It wasn’t the big action, dumb-shit apes just rip people’s faces off.
Rick Jaffa: We thought it was a small little character movie when we first went in. To get back to one of your questions about apes, though, we knew it ultimately wouldn’t be up to us, but we never thought in a million years they’d use real apes. Because in many ways, it’s an animal rights story… You’re not going to be able to get around that issue — the treatment of the animals.
Question: We were talking about sort of the brand name of Planet of the Apes. Do you guys think here in 2010 it’s still a strong enough…I mean everyone in this room, obviously, we love it. But does it still have that mainstream recognition.
Rick Jaffa: I do. I do. I guess three years ago…Maybe it was less than that. But we were…Amanda and I were having dinner…our family was having dinner with another family, and they said, “What are you working on?” It was funny. We were so silly with them. “Should we tell them? Should we be secretive?” And I said, “Well, tell you what. Let me just tell you a story,” and I just started telling them the story. So the family…the boy in the family was 14 and the father was 50-ish, but a chair at UCLA in the psychology department. So I’m telling them this story, and about halfway through this story he says, “Wait a minute…”
Question: The boy did?
Rick Jaffa: No, his father did. The chair at UCLA says. Jumps up, says, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute! What’d you say that chimp’s name was?”
Rick Jaffa: And I said, “Caesar”. And he grabs his 14 year old kid and says, “Owen, don’t you realize? It’s Planet of the fucking Apes!”
Dylan Clark: That would be a better story if the 14 year old grabbed his father, “Dad!” The truth is this…
Comment: We’re going to change that story. We’re going to lie and say…
Rick Jaffa: Yeah, we’re going to lie: “Dad! Don’t you see what the story is!”
Rick Jaffa: But the point is, I think yes. I think it’s got a huge appeal. I do. And if we can deliver, it will have…it will reach even other groups. But you never really know.
Dylan Clark: It’s one of those things where it’s so in the fabric of movies and storytelling that I suspect that once this movie gets made and out there, there are a lot of people that will say they’ve seen movies, but they haven’t. They’ll have heard it somewhere down the road…those kinds of things will happen.
Question: It’s always premature to ask about ratings. The first question from Greg was asking about ratings. It was supposed to be PG-13, but when you have all these apes going wild…Are you going to try to go PG-13 and that’s the most important thing?
Dylan Clark: No, I mean it’s something that’s important. Anybody that can…it’s the best rating you can have, because I think PG says it’s too soft and R says…
Rick Jaffa: Eliminates a huge part of your audience.
Question: The fact is, the story, the way it’s written…and none of us in this room are part of the ratings board…but the story the way it’s written is [xx 36:49].
Dylan Clark: We don’t really have to do…Again, what’s great, and Rupert would say this, and Andrea’s shooting it, it’s shot very realistically. So what’s very cool. And the acting is very realistic. It’s smart the way they’re doing it. So it’s an intense PG-13, I think, because of those reasons.
Question: It seems like the action and the violence since its been
Rick Jaffa: Well, there’s…this is going to sound like a strange answer, but it is a character issue in some ways. This ape has a character. I heard you saying…what you were saying, there is a great version of that movie, which is absolutely terrifying, scary…
Dylan Clark: But that is the R rated genre movie.
Question: Well, it’s not so much that I was proposing to make that story… [can’t make out question]
Rick Jaffa: No, I understand…
Question: …but understanding the psychology of apes…
Rick Jaffa: Yeah. But I’m saying, there’s a legitimate argument to make a movie like that. But I don’t…
Dylan Clark: I think what Rick’s saying is…I’ll extrapolate a little bit more on it…is that these eight characters, as Caesar gets more into the fabric of the story, he’s able to effect change in a character way so that it’s not just an ape reacting, it’s somebody a little bit different than an ape.
Question: Is there some room for humor in your story as well?
Rick Jaffa: I hope so.
Dylan Clark: English that guys are just not that funny, as we’ve found out. Andrew’s funny.
Rick Jaffa: Are there English people in your…so sorry.
Dylan Clark: James Franco is a very talented actor with a lot of range. We’ve seen him in Pineapple Express and we’ve seen him in serious films like Milk. We landed on him because he felt like he had range. He could do a lot of different things. John Lithgow, same kind of thing. Brian Cox, you know, can play a mean, good sick bastard.
Rick Jaffa: There are moments that everything’s pretty grounded in reality, and out of that will come some…we don’t write jokes, but I think the delivery of those…
Question: The classic films can out at a time of social change in people. Things were really crazy. And, as a result, I think four out of the five were incredibly cynical about humanity. We’re at the point right now…we’re halfway through the first term with Obama. We don’t know where things are going. We had that moment of hope, then there was the BP spill…
Dylan Clark: We’re cynical, yeah.
Question: Do you guys feel cynical? Does the movie feel cynical…?
Rick Jaffa: I don’t think it does. I don’t think it’s a cynical movie. It is about man’s hubris in a way and it represents areas of that that you would look at, just like the BP oil had and you go, “Jackass”. You know, clearly Jackass guy. But our intention isn’t as…I think when they set out to do that, you know, the original, I think, was written to be more poking. And I think that didn’t seem like an intention. Well yeah, the original with Charlton Heston was an ass. And then by the end he finds his humanity, only to kind of get the shit slapped out of him. But I wouldn’t say ours is like that…
Question: The second one they blow up the earth.
Rick Jaffa: I wouldn’t say there was a level of cynicism. But it is…
Question: There was a question yesterday, because the observed the scene, the relationship between Caesar and Cornelia. You know, because in the lab he saves her.
Dylan Clark: Well, that was something that was always in the script, but Rupert really kinda gravitates to this relationship. And there’s a suspenseful part where you saw the payoff moment. You know, we know what this lab represents. We’ve been here now. And she gets put in that…
Question: He connects with her earlier…
Rick Jaffa: Correct. And he has relationships with different apes. And they’re somewhat technical. But those relationships change through the course of the middle of the movie.
Question: The name connections to the originals, that’s sort of more like a nod than actual…
Rick Jaffa: It’s more of a nod, yeah. Because they’re fun names. I mean we spent a lot of time exploring the different names, and almost all of the names have some obvious, like really obvious, and some extremely obscure that I’d be shocked if anyone…
Dylan Clark: Well all of these guys would get…
Rick Jaffa: Yeah. So anyway, so you might have some fun with it.
Question: The time limit starts with apes and ends with Charlton Heston. How far along does this movie get, roughly, if you had to…
Rick Jaffa: What do you mean, in terms of…the year 3900 or something?
Question: Where the whole planet is taken over by apes.
Dylan Clark: We start now, we basically end…nowish.
Rick Jaffa: Yeah, it starts now and ends…
Dylan Clark: Nowish.
Rick Jaffa: In a few years, maybe.
Dylan Clark: So we’ve got a lot of making up to do…
Rick Jaffa: This is just like how to…again, as I said earlier, where the dominos could start to line up to actually touching, tipping that might lead to apes actually evolving and taking over the world. Like, how could that realistically happen? And so that’s, I guess, to answer your question…We answer that question and then the movie’s over.
Dylan Clark: We do this thing all the time where we’re like, “That wouldn’t happen.” We get these absurd things, like they wouldn’t do it that way, you know.
Question: You say you don’t want to change anything and things like that, but have you sort of thrown out ideas…
Dylan Clark: No, it’s not even that…I mean we’re so busy on this one there’s no time…Yeah, there’s obvious ones, because the movie ends at a certain place and you’ve established characters that are around, so we could. But really, it’s finite right now, like just nailing down this one. There’s no…you know, they haven’t come to us and said, “Ooh, the dailies look amazing…” Yeah, none of that’s happened. I mean not even one conversation. Because again, I think the only thing you can do is set up to make one good movie…I think you could make a good movie…2 and 3 can be done, like Pirates. Again, like Pirates 2 and 3 weren’t as good as one…. We talked about a whole range of things. So these guys are going to come in and completely contradict everything we said. We’re act a tough act to follow.
Q: What kind of a revolutionary is Caesar in this film?
Rick Jaffa: Well, that’s a good question. I think you’ll get a lot of different answers on that one.
Dylan Clark: I think in a good way, it’s a great question. Honestly, that’s a great question I haven’t thought of. I think you can have an interpretation as to he’s not Malcolm X
Jaffa: No, we’ve said Che Guevarra.
Clark: But also more philosophically; his methodology, not just his imagery, but I think (asking Rupert I think) who created that shirt?
Rupert Wyatt: It was a magazine photographer who took a photograph of his early days in Cuba I think and…
Clark: but it fit within the mythology of ??? and it sort of does here, too.
Jaffa: Is that what you meant by the funny hats?
Q: No, but that would work too. (laughter) There are some unusual casting choices in this that you wouldn’t normally associate with summer blockbusters and some that you would, but let’s start with James Franco. Was it a risk at all to give him… he’s a great actor but as a lead a little unknown
Jaffa: I think the way we felt about all… again, they came up with a great idea that felt like it would work in the summer. We wanted to (get) the best possible storytelling director who also knew visually how to tell… we got that, and then it was just about getting the best quality in people who offered range.
Clark: What we talked about earlier was that James… the question was, “Are there opportunities for humor in this, are you guys actually going for jokes?” I don’t know how exactly he said it, but what you get with James is a guy who’s not only been in “Pineapple Express” but he’s also been in “Milk.” He’s somebody who gramatically has a range and I think in our conversations, we looked at actors that could do lots of things.
Rupert Wyatt: Yeah, we’ve always referenced “Close Encounters” as the sort of film that this should be, and if you look at the actors in a film like that, they’re fundamentally character actors, playing leading roles. If you look at Richard Dreyfus, his career is so broad in terms of what he’s done and what he’s achieved but the bedrock of his career is that he’s a terrific character as well as a leading man, and I think that was always our approach …
Clark: There’s also a strong belief that Franco is going to be a huge, huge star, so I don’t know how risky… I know that’s not your question but I don’t know how risky the choice of him in a commercial thing
Jaffa: We were really excited to get him.
Clark: Yeah, we were really excited to get him and I think he’s really going to emerge over the next number of years.
Q: We talked earlier about why they chose you to direct it, and they said becase they had no idea what you’d do with the material.
Clark: We said it nicer than that. (laughter) We said that thematically he knew exactly what to do with this and what was great about the potential in you and that he was going to offer up something potentially great.
Q: But other than your shorts and “The Escapist,” this seems much bigger than anything else you’ve done, so can you talk about that?
Wyatt: Sure, well my agent visited the other day and he was very excited because he looked it up and he said he thinks I’ve made the biggest leap in movie history because of the budget size, so yeah, it’s a huge challenge and it’s a huge privilege and it’s a huge responsibility I think fundamentally, it’s the same thing. You’re working with a crew. I have an Oscar-winning DP, an extraordinary director of photography, I have an amazing crew, I have a terrific cast. I have terrifically experienced and very supportive producers, so at the end of the day, it’s making a film, it’s telling a story, so the scale of it, although daunting initially in the early days of pre-production, is actually not the biggest challenge. It’s the motion capture, it’s the technology, it’s all of the things that we’re doing that are quite groundbreaking I think for me as a director.
Q: Can I ask about the motion capture? Since this is the first film to do it on such a large scale on practical sets, is the data that you’re getting, are you capturing at a high enough quality on the practical sets as opposed to what you’ll get on a ??? set? Do you suspect you’ll have to do some mocap in post?
Wyatt: Well, we always try and get the performance in the location because it obviously works for the performance much better and with our schedule and with the fact we’re looking to turn this film around very quickly, it’s really really vital that we don’t leave a lot to the animation of it. And of course when you have actors like Andy Serkis playing the role, you don’t want to do that anyway. WETA have asked of us and we want to achieve this is to actually get the performance on the day. If we need to tweak things here and there, then we’ll do that, but we’re not leaving very much to the Volume.
Q: Have you been seeing what they’re getting at WETA and have you been getting enough resolution on the practical sets?
Wyatt: Yeah, yeah, I think so. What we’re looking to do as well is the foreground of it is being captured by us and then we’re creating additional characters on the stage. For example, last week we were on the Volume stage and whilst we were shooting, WETA| we working away with our support and input in terms of creating a lot of the ape characters, so for example—it’s something we’ve yet to get to—but the sequence that takes place in the primary facility, we’ve looked to create a whole host of characters. For example, two old men who comment on everything, there’s the chimp equivalent of that, or the (modern mentality? Ordinary talented? 6:25) chimps that join in the fight when Rocket takes on Caesar. So there’s a real arc, not just to our leads but our other supporting characters and they will pay off. For example, when we reach our climax on the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ll see some of those characters again in the background. So there’s many layers to what we’re trying to achieve, the idea being that everything is real world.
Q: It seems like you’re doing plate shots where Andy’s there and then he’s not there. How does that impact the schedule anytime an ape is in the shot?
Wyatt: Yeah, well it adds… (a lot of talking amongst them that’s hard to suss out)
Q: Well, what do you call it?
Wyatt: the “Roger Rabbit Take” I think (laughter) It’s like a poltergeist. You guys were on set yesterday, weren’t you? When you watch it, it’s amazing to watch because it’s a feat of RAD timing everything, the FX guys timing everything and we have to essentially recreate the shot but without any physical performers or at least the digital physical performers.
Q: And the camera movement has to ????
Wyatt: Yeah, yeah, it’s insanely difficult but so far, so good, and it adds about an hour or two max to our day in terms of what we have to achieve. We don’t always have to use that. That can be used as just a reference for WETA in terms of painting stuff back in, but for their workload, it’s a lot easier for them to then recreate the scene within that clean plate, but there are times when I’ve seen that and it hasn’t had quite the same energy as when the actual performance is going on, so we made the demand there to say, “Okay, that’s not going to be used.”
Q: Andy sort of really started this in a lot of ways. How does it feel now to be doing it on such a bigger scale than has been done before.
Terry Notary: I think the key to it is that Andy is performing a role in the film and obviously for anyone that’s involved in animation is that if you have someone like him who is a really seriously gifted actor who is performing a role than you’ve got a chance that the character he’s creating, you’re actually going to be able to relate to him, so he did that on “Rings” but on “Rings” we only did a small amount of actual motion capture and principal photography side-by-side, there were only one or two scenes we did it on, and it was right towards the end of the whole show. Obviously, mo-cap has advanced in leaps and bounds because of “Avatar” and everything else, so on this shoot probably is the first one that’s poured (?) both disciplines together.
Q: Has it been a big adjustment for you?
Notary: Well, you have to… you know, everyone’s always jockeying for space on film sets, so now there’s twice as many people jockeying but the thing you have to understand is that you’re gathering information and data and the different levels of things so there’s times when a lot of mo-cap people who aren’t so experienced with the filmmaking process, you sort of have to remind them all that film crews tend to have a hierarchy on a set that has been created over the years, balanced around the director to service their vision and the cast. They’re principally the most important people on the set, and that’s not like it’s malicious, it’s just that sometimes people are inexperienced and don’t understand standing in an actor’s eye-line, people are just trying to get their job right. So it’s sort of an education on a lot of levels, but it’s an education for the film crew to work with the motion capture. By and by, it’s working out, and as Rupert said, the biggest complication in a way is it just adds time to the schedule that wasn’t really anticipated, so it puts a bit more of a crunch on us.
Q: One thing I noted by seeing the primate shelter is that you were able to build an entire prison this time, which is one connection to “The Escapist” but also that you have Brian Cox playing the warden this time. Can you talk about having the money to build such a big set this time rather than having to do it in sections?
Wyatt: Why we built the whole thing? I don’t know. (laughter)
Dylan Clark: You told me you wanted these shots on this corridor for people to see these things and we needed all of it!
Notary: We weren’t told we couldn’t. Another thing we were surprised at seeing was the lab set, too, as well as in the caged part of the sanctuary, it’s a 360 degree environment really with no dead angles.
Thomas Hammell: I’d like to comment on that, having watched this process as a studio exec but mostly from afar, but most directors and DPs, they often don’t go all the way through the thinking of these things in terms of the build, and these guys were out there in ways where they… because I think the timeline, everything was so quick, they were trying to capture all of these scenes in one… for scope. So they were out there in the design mode with plans that if we built the cages on this angle, we could put the camera here and get all of this in one shot.
Wyatt: We always looked at… the difference I guess in terms of answering your question, the difference between us making a prison movie on a location like “The Escapist” where we had to work according to our location, which was a great location, but we were limited by what we could or couldn’t shoot or how we could shoot it. We could never get up high for example, and we had a huge atrium which we had to cover up, so we could never look up, but the difference with this is that we could actually design the shots according to the location and we could actually create the location around our storytelling. So for example, with the house, we always looked to achieve long sightlines and seeing from one room to another, something that Andrew pointed out early in the process is if you look at a filmmaker like Woody Allen who does that where conversations go on in other rooms and you see people passing from the kitchen to another room and you’re listening to the conversation because you can’t necessarily see the action, and those kinds of things we wanted to do and then the laboratory, which is potentially a very dry, quite staid place because it’s scientific. We didn’t want to get bogged down in the science of it so we wanted to keep it flowing all the time and we looked at “All the President’s Men” and the newsroom of that for lots of moving shots and Claude (Paré) our designer therefore created long corridors and a lot of glass, which is a potential nightmare because of reflections, but we managed to get around that by the way we staged the shots, and sort of covered everything in one, so we kept the story moving basically.
Q: We saw the lab which looked awesome and I love science fiction movies with labs in them… are there any favorite science fiction labs from movies that come to mind?
Wyatt: No, I didn’t reference any labs, I’m sorry. I’m trying to think. No. Just a lot of real world labs actually. That was the intention, to ground it in reality ‘cause it is a science fiction movie obviously, and in terms of where it goes in the mythology and what we’re referencing, but we are looking to create the origin story and actually recreate the mythology I suppose and start it again, so we wanted the audience to watch the film and feel that it was very plausible. Because the beauty of “Planet of the Apes,” the original one, is that it’s high camp, but it’s a classic as a result of that, but in the way that I suppose Batman took it back to the beginning and started in a very different vein and mood, that’s what we wanted to do with this.
Q: Has there ever been a movie where the lead has been a special effect. Obviously, we’ve had supporting characters who are special FX but this is a main emotional character. Can you talk about balancing the technical demands with keeping the humanity in the performances real and present.
Wyatt: Yeah, well Andy Serkis really, that’s the answer. Well, it’s like I suppose… we tried to approach it ‘cause you have a lead character that doesn’t speak, and everything therefore has to be told visually, and Rick and Amanda sort of addressed this with the script that if you have a chimpanzee that can use sign language, that’s a wonderful thing to see, but then, we don’t want to make it a foreign language movie with lots of sub-titles, so we looked to really scale that back as much as possible, and though he continues with Will by way of sign language, it’s a very minimal use of it and everything else, we wanted to convey the story by way of visual storytelling, and I suppose with somebody like Andy Serkis, you can get so much in the cock of an eyebrow or some simple gesture that says everything. Therefore the casting is crucial.
Q: Have there been issues with the other actors performing against him and has there been an adjustment period for those acting against Andy to get into that?
Wyatt: No, I don’t think so. James has experience from Spider-Man. I know that was a different kind of film and different characters and different genre in many ways, but it… Yeah, I haven’t really seen it. It’s interesting for me, because I’ve never worked with anybody in a motion capture suit, and initially, it is a little surreal to have someone in a grey suit with a camera on their face and you’re having to work with them and see them as a chimp, but he’s so easily inhabits that that you don’t even think about it. (A bit of talking over each other.)
Q: Is it fair to say that this movie couldn’t be made this way without Andy Serkis? Is he that pivotal?
Wyatt: Well it would be made differently I think. I think we put a lot on him and he would have pulled it off. With someone else we would have had to have done it in a slightly different way where theonis wouldn’t have been on Caesar(?) Of course James is the human protagonist and Caesar is the (?) protagonist. They are on an equal billing in many respects. Caesar is the one that leads the story to its conclusion. It is great to go out in this film with Andy Serkis as our lead.
Dylan Clark: You just gave away our story point. I think they suspected that Caesar was going to make it.
Q: How realistic are you in terms of facial expressions? Real apes the eyeballs don’t move. Will they move to give Caesar more expression?
Wyatt: Well without giving too much away. He is chimpanzee. He doesn’t proceed on an evolutionary scale. He doesn’t become human.
Dylan Clark: He learns things through his upbringing through the characters. This is where Andy’s interpretation really comes in as great help.
Q: So you are using Andy’s eyeballs?
Dylan Clark: No, not really but he certainly looks away.
Wyatt: It’s really like the last scene we shot. His reaction to something very profound to him in terms of the story was a simple twitch of the nerves. I think a lesser actor would not have done that which is so improvised. It’s a very small thing but it actually makes the scene.
Dylan Clark: He’s also very physical. He uses his whole body to express his emotions so it’s not really about his face.
Q: Less is more right?
Jaffa: Yeah, absolutely
Q:This might be jumping ahead to the marketing of the film. I can sense tremendous respect for Andy on this side of the room, but normally when a character does motion capture you talk less about the person and more about the character. The movie’s called “Caesar” he’s the main star of the film. Is his name going to be on the poster? Will he be in the opening credits? We haven’t really seen that yet?
ALL: yeah we don’t really know.
Jaffa: You know the way it works, it’s something that get’s discussed with the studio.
Dylan Clark: It’s not decided
Rick: I think this is a movie that could break the mold, especially after “Avatar” people are starting to understand that there are actors with polka dots on their face and it’s not just some guy. It’s Andy Serkis who is an artist
Dylan Clark: It’s absolutely a current conversation in what they are going to do.
Q: Can I ask about the way the movie is lit? It seems that the sets are very bright. I envisioned a darker look. Does it fit with your vision of the movie?
Jaffa: It’s not going to be as bright as what it appears. It’s going to be a little more atmospheric. We’re not trying to turn it into a genre it isn’t. It’s a fantastic story set in a setting that everyone understands. We’re trying to keep the story real. It’s not a fantasy. I’ve always seen it as a morality, cautionary tale. Talking about Andy, Andy is one of the cast. We’d go into the process of executing scenes exactly the way in any conventional drama. You bring the cast in, Rupert and the cast would go through it and choreograph it just like if the actors are there or not. The process of visualizing the scene is done as if you were doing a straightforward drama. Andy is playing a role just as James is playing a role. To me, that’s the smartest way to play it. The story is about something and we’re not trying to turn it into something else. It’s a story/performance film.
Wyatt: we’ve been very fortunate with the weather. Something the weather’s given us in keeping with the mythology. It’s a fairytale in many ways. There are elements to it that are concerns as to what happens but it doesn’t remove your stylistic point of views to match it with the lighting and such. It’s been even more interesting to go the other way and to contrast it. I think “Close encounters of The Third Kind” is a really great example of that. You have something that is telling the story that will go genre wise to a dark place but it’s always got that fantastic heightened reality quality. As a result of that, we have gone for the more chiaroscuro, silhouette moody approach.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the scale of the riots? How the apes are threatening in those scenes?
Dylan Clark: BIG
Wyatt: Are you talking about the GGB?
Q: How about the threat of the apes for all of humanity in San Francisco towards the end?
Dylan Clark: We all talked about how we saw this movie as being a character driven story. Caesar is a very specific character and he leads a very specific way. The revolutionary that he is, is through that character. IT doesn’t break out into nuclear war. It’s a summer movie so big things will happen. It’s done a way of how real apes would fight back.
Q: so are you saying he’s planning the siege for bigger revolution?
Wyatt: well it gets bigger and bigger like any kind of mythology story. The baby in the basket you know where does that story go? That’s I think our narrative. It’s a human drama in many ways at the beginning.
Dylan Clark: the things he’s fighting against are tangible and specific to the story and what we’re experiencing with him. I think you asked the question, “Are you going to be rooting for Caesar?” I think you’ll understand Caesar’s situation because these guys have set it in context. We’ve experienced it with him and we don’t like it. I think what he’s fighting back is where the action goes.
Q: can you talk about the postproduction part? You have nine months before the movie comes out. How do you try to get ahead in post before the movie comes out?
Jaffa: Well, we are editing as we are shooting. We are assembling and going through the process of putting it together. It’s the same as any other film in terms of the schedule and the time we have. Yeah, no holidays
Q: Have you guys already started work on the apes?
Jaffa: That’s already started. We hit the ground running in terms of knowing exactly how the apes are going to look. The models being built and all of that. That’s been massively helpful because we can tweak them as we shoot. It’s a duel process.
Q: Rupert, I wanted to ask you, we talked to Dylan earlier The connection with this film to the original five films, the continuity, Easter eggs for the fans that kind of stuff. How important is that to you to focus on that stuff at all for the fans or is it purely about servicing this movie, this story and starting something new?
Wyatt: It’s hard to answer that question. I certainly wouldn’t say that we are looking to reference stylistically from the other films. This is part of the mythology and it should be seen as that. It’s not a continuation of the other films; it’s an original story. It does satisfy the people who enjoy those films. The point of this film is to achieve that and to bring that fan base into this film exactly like “Batman”. I’m sure there will be people who say it wasn’t faithful to anything or faithful to what we wanted but at the same time I think it’s closest in tone in terms of scale or actual result I would say is a conquest and narrative and all that. It’s a total reimagining with regards to certain characters, certain story points and the facts of the original films rick has sewn a lot of really interesting little things. If one watches the film you’ll see. If you walk through fences and look through you’ll see things that sort of thing.
Q: earlier we talked to Rick and Dylan about the social commentary aspect of the original five films. “Conquest” is a movie where you watch those action scenes; they were blueprints from the watts riots. As a director, is social commentary on front for you? Is it something that’s in the material that you are really putting out there? How does that work?
Wyatt: It’s certainly not in the front in the sense that it’s not a social commentary on everything. It’s a story of man against animal. There’s a very important line at the end of the first film “You’ve really gone down” from a dialogue view we come back to in this film. That is our starting point, our springboard for this film. The world around him is very much our world. If one happens to see an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that’s not a coincidence. It’s very much ”where are we going as a civilization?” If our civilization were to end, what would take over? This story is all about setting that up.
Q: Rupert, could I just ask you about the original film? The 60’s film. Is that a film you have a particular affection for?
Wyatt: I always found when watching it was Christmas day. In that way it was always a holiday film. I was never an obsessive in a sense of someone who was a huge fan of the films. I loved it in the same way as everyone did. The script is what attracted me in so many ways. The basic mythology because I think all of those stories come from those types: the seven stories, the seven plots and this one has that. The key part of this story which is, in many other films it’s man vs. machine or the four walls of his prison. In this it’s an animal. I think the Elephant Man is something we’ve always looked to in saying “How would we perceive something that looks a little different from us.
Q: One of the things that’s in this movie is testing: animal testing. Can you talk about adding this topic into the mythology and how people feel about it? Corporations vs. animal lovers?
Dylan Clark: It’s there. I mean this is not a political film by any means.
Wyatt: The section of this is not palatable to anyone but we’ve not looked to whitewash it in any way. There’s a moral dilemma. The research I did was a lot of the scientists that do animal research, one man in particular who I watched being interviewed was asked the question of “How do you feel about the testing of animals?” He said, “I hate it. I don’t sleep at night, but this is what I do.” So you tell me the alternative. I think for our lead that is something that comes up concerning his relationship and also his relationship with Caesar. How that affects their relationship and the realization of what he does. It all kind of interweaves into our story but we’ve not retaken a stand on it because I don’t think that’s the intention
Q: Could I ask you relating back to the homage’s and the nods to the original film in terms of how much is ok and how much is cliché(?)
Dylan Clark: Well, I wanted to put as much shit in there as I could possibly put. These guys were smart enough to keep pulling me back. There’s a line you cross where it will get ridiculous. You have to have a natural rhythm to who your actors are and characters. Once you start seeing the sets, all that stuff starts to help. The goal was to make this one very realistic story. There is a line you could go past where it starts to become silly, but we were aware of it.