Posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 by Blake Harris
No matter how you feel about the films of Brian Taylor — a high-voltage assortment that includes Crank, Gamer, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — they all, at first glance, inspire a shared singular question: how the fuck did this get made?
Seriously. Just look at what these movies are about:
- To avoid dying, a British hitman must keep adrenaline coursing through his body.
- In a future where kids can control humans as if they were video game characters, a wrongly imprisoned death row convict seeks freedom.
- Years after making a deal with the Devil, a hell-on-wheels monster known as “The Ghost Rider” must save a young boy (and, ultimately, the world).
To many, these films are considered “guilty pleasures.” Yet interestingly enough, they come from an unexpectedly honest place: a desire to provide viewers with an alternative to the four-quadrant, check-the-boxes, CGI-everything Hollywood Machine.
This underlying, upend-the-system ethos was just one the many things I learned during my conversation with Taylor. But by no means was it the most interesting. Not compared to hearing about his wild and crazy “maniac” days, the strange legacy of Gamer and what it’s really like to work with the iconic and eccentric enigma that is Nicolas Cage.
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Gamer edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
Below is a transcript of our conversation:
[Note: an audio version of this conversation is also available as a special episode of the How Did This Get Made? podcast]
Brian Taylor: Let’s get into it and see how it goes.
Blake J. Harris: Thanks again.
Brian Taylor: I’m in post right now on a movie that will be a future How Did This Get Made? podcast. Like guaranteed.
Blake J. Harris: [laughs]
Brian Taylor: Like guaranteed.
Blake J. Harris: So what’s that like to go through?
Brian Taylor: I mean, it just is what it is. I seem to find myself in this situation a lot. You know, I think if you’re just going to make the same movies everyone else is making then why even are you …I mean, I guess for a paycheck. But other than that, why are you there, you know? I just tend to constantly be doing these subject matters and concepts that are just kind of off. [laughing] The movie I’m working on now is called Mom and Dad.
Blake J. Harris: Okay.
Brian Taylor: The concept basically is: one day, something happens. A phenomena. We don’t know what it is. You know: why did the zombies go crazy in the first Night of the Living Dead? They never tell you, it just happens.
Blake J. Harris: Right.
Brian Taylor: So what happens one day is all the parents in the world turn on their kids and want to kill their kids.
Blake J. Harris: [cracks up]
Brian Taylor: Not anybody else’s. Not anybody else’s kids. Everybody else’s kids are fine, but it’s only their own.
Blake J. Harris: Yup.
Brian Taylor: This happens one day and the movie basically is 24 hours of a teenage girl and her little brother trying to survive. You know, in the house they grew up in and avoid being killed by Mom and Dad. And so Nicolas Cage is Dad and Selma Blair is Mom. But I mean, this was a movie where I would tell people the concept and it was just, like, a non-starter. [laughs] “You can’t do that. You can’t do a movie that’s kind of like a thriller and kind of funny and stupid about parents killing their own kids. You just can’t do it.”
Blake J. Harris: So how did it get made finally?
Brian Taylor: Well, you know, it was just one of those circuitous routes. You keep looking for ways to do it and different scenarios and finally we found some producers who just didn’t give a fuck and who were cool. They put up the initial equity. And then we got Nicolas on, who loved it. As well as Selma. And we were just able to cobble it together. That’s the way indie movies are made these days, you know? Little bit of equity. Little bit of foreign sales. Couple of stars…and we made it. It’s fucking crazy, but it’s definitely one of those ones where you’ll go like: How did they convince anybody to make it?
Blake J. Harris: [laughs] Well take me back in time a bit. You obviously have a unique…well, you have a unique appetite from other directors in that you want to make those kinds of movies. Growing up and in your formative creative years, what did you like to consume? What were your biggest inspirations film-wise? Comic-book-wise? Whatever. Like what really inspired you?
Brian Taylor: I mean, I was a big Marvel comics guy when I was a kid. You know, my early loves in terms of movies were definitely Spielberg. So pretty traditional, you know? It’s not like when I was a kid I was into super fucked up stuff. You know, I liked Spielberg and Hitchcock. I liked, you know, Ridley Scott.
Blake J. Harris: And at what point in your life did you start to more seriously consider that you wanted to do some form of storytelling for a career? Or specifically be involved with film?
Brian Taylor: Kind of late. I actually started out as a musician. I always kind of knew that I would get into film eventually, but I figured that’s the kind of thing you do when you get old. Because all the directors that I saw were kind of old, you know?
Blake J. Harris: Right, right, especially to a kid.
Brian Taylor: Yeah, exactly. They all seemed like my dad. So I was like: I’ll do that later, when I get old a bit. But in the meantime I’m gonna go try to be a rock star. Which didn’t really work out. But, you know, I did tour around a lot and did music for many, many years. And I finally got out of that when Napster came along. It was just like: wow, this thing I’ve been working on, now everybody can get it for free. So this probably isn’t a good business anymore. At that point I was a dad.
Blake J. Harris: You’re qualified now!
Brian Taylor: Yeah, I guess I’m now the guy. So I just took like a 10-month film program to learn how to shoot. I became a DP for a year, and then said, “you know, I’m smarter than all the directors I’m shooting for so I’m just gonna do that.” And I teamed up with [Mark] Neveldine. We started directing commercials.
Blake J. Harris: How did you guys meet initially?
Brian Taylor: I actually hired him to work on a movie I was DP-ing. Super low budget movie. And he had no idea what he was doing, but he was a really good faker, you know? He was like “Yeah, I’m an AC. I’m a this, I’m a that.” Great! You seem like a cool guy to me, you seem like you got your shit together. So we went and we did this movie together and we realized that we were both kind of, you know, alcoholic maniacs back then. And we bonded and had a great time. And, you know, he used to skate around on set with boxes of lenses and stuff. So we started shooting some stuff like that and then we just kind of figured we could probably use that to kind of fool people into thinking we had some kind of angle they didn’t know about.
Blake J. Harris: Yeah.
Brian Taylor: Anyway, in terms of how do you go from watching pretty mainstream stuff to doing kind of non-mainstream stuff, I just think like: when you don’t have the budgets, ideas are the main thing you have to separate you, you know? So you just have to do something different, you just have to. It’s out of necessity.
Blake J. Harris: Yeah. And what about that transition from working as a DP to… basically, how did you get someone to give you money to make Crank? Or to entrust you at the helm of a movie? Like a legit movie?
Brian Taylor: Well, you know, part of it was…well, the script was pretty cool. The script was different. Crank was sort of like the first script that I wrote. So we just started pushing that out to different places and we kept getting a lot of this like, “Wow, this script is really cool. This is the kind of movie we wish we could be making. [But] of course we can’t really make it because blah blah blah blah blah. You’ve got this scene in Chinatown with…I mean come on? But, but, we love it!”
Blake J. Harris: Right.
Brian Taylor: So it’s like, “What else do you guys got?” Um… [laughing] we don’t have anything else. You know? That’s pretty much our shit.
Blake J. Harris: So at that point, before you were able to prove that was a market for your kind of movies did you…like did you think that movie would ever get made?
Brian Taylor: I guess it’s the same way that I feel about Mom and Dad as I did about Crank. If you come up with an idea that nobody else has done—that’s really singular—that really kind of knows what it is, I just kind of feel like it’s going to find an audience. Movies like that they don’t tend to evaporate into thin air. I mean, it still is a lot of work, I mean you really gotta push. Like Crank took us a long time to push it through. But at the end of the day, I always figured (maybe naively) I always figured if you do something that’s original then it’s going to find a way out, you know? You just need to find the right partner. And in Crank we found Tom Rosenberg and Skip Williamson at Lakeshore. They were the guys that kind of had the balls; and they embraced everything about it that everybody else was afraid of. And kind of looked at it as a fuck-you-movie. And as long as we could make it pretty cheap, you know, then they were all in…
Blake J. Harris: Yeah.
Brian Taylor: That’s what it is with stuff like that. If you’re in the business of trying to do stuff that’s unusual then it really becomes about finding that partner. Because it’s not going to be…you’re not going to get a bidding war for projects like that. It’s more like you’re finding the one guy who’s crazy enough to do it and then you’re in business.
Blake J. Harris: Tell me what the scenario’s like after that. I know what it’s like to meet with people and have them say “I wish we could make that.” Well, you just made a bunch of money on a small budget with Crank, are they now allowed to make some movies like that? Like what kinds of things were you offered and did the tone seem to change when you’d go into meetings?
Brian Taylor: A little bit. But at that point we were never really looking for outside material. We just figured we were going to keep writing everything; keep doing it that way. You know, Lakeshore and Lionsgate, they really liked Crank. So we had the opportunity then to make a couple more movies. One of which was Crank 2. And one of which was Gamer.