Posted on Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Last week, I had an epic conversation with Joe Carnahan. Which is pretty much how all conversations go when you’re talking to Joe Carnahan. The director of The Grey, Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team is one of the most honest and outspoken directors in Hollywood, never shy about telling people what’s what. That’s why he sometimes burns bridges, leaves projects he’s not passionate about, and signs up for films that may never get made. He knows what he likes, and thinks he knows what the audience likes, and won’t compromise on either point.
My interview with Carnahan was so big, in fact, we have to break it into three parts. Each part will work on its own, but also have references back to the others. In this, part one of three, most of the conversation centered on what happened, and is happening, with his latest film Stretch. Carnahan talks about what’s needed to finish the film, how made some uncommercial choices with it and more. He also exclusively admits he’s close to begging to go back to do Death Wish, and talks about his respect for Marvel Studios, working in television, and general disappointment with the Hollywood machine.
Here’s the first part of our interview with Joe Carnahan. Titles are bolded if you’re interested in one thing or another.
/Film: So what is the pilot you’re currently working on?
Joe Carnahan: State of Affairs with Katherine Heigl. And it is sensational. I mean, it really came out great. The opening minute and a half, I’ve never seen anything like it on network television. I think it’s really pretty remarkable and there are a lot of really talented people working on that thing. But Ben Bray who is my dear friend, Second Unit Director, Jason Hellman who put the sequence together, it’s just fantastic. So yeah, I’m really excited. And Katie’s just remarkable too. We have a movie star on a TV show, which is the best scenario you can possibly ask for.
You seem to be the go-to guy now for pilots. You’re just knocking these things out of the park, huh?
Well, you know, I’ll tell you what, Germain, what’s interesting is the film business has become increasingly more disappointing. You reach your point of risk-aversion saturation. Like the problem is a film like Transcendence, which is a really ambitious cerebral film, whatever your thoughts about it, when that film doesn’t work I think just more doors close and lock and will not reopen. You know what I mean?
I’ve had so much fun in television. I had a lot of fun on The Blacklist and I’ve had such a blast doing this. In terms of creativity and being able to do a lot of different things, I just think you just have a greater bandwidth. It’s just a lot of fun. As opposed to, you know, the years I’ve labored and wanted to make films. It’s like as much about the films you didn’t make, you know? Like Pablo or White Jazz or what have you. This has been extremely rewarding for me, this foray into television.
I look at the movies you’ve done and they’re all really good, but then I look at the movies you haven’t done and wonder “How can these never happen?” And sometimes it was your choice. Death Wish, I guess, is the prime example where you probably could have made that movie, but you said “it’s just not the movie I wanted to make any more.”
Well, you know what’s interesting about that? [Death Wish] may be coming back around because that script, to me, is so special and so… that’s one that I’ll pay them to do, you know what I mean?
That’s one I’m really gonna endeavor to get back. If that means groveling and apologizing for past behaviors and so on and making that right, that might be what I have to do. That’s how strong that I feel about that. But yeah, in that incarnation it was not right. And I felt I would have been letting my script down. But again, this is a movie star business and big concept business. You gotta have robots or superheroes or monsters. That’s the way and I get it.
You know, the business to be in right now is Kevin Feige‘s business, man. You should be in the Marvel business because they’re doing it at an extremely high level with very talented people and making great films. I thought Captain America 2 was fantastic, man. But again, it’s also concerning because if that’s all we’re gonna do, at what point are we gonna hit this saturation where we’re just like ‘Okay, we gotta mix it up and do something else’?
[Something] that can be seen by a wide audience. You know, a film like Locke with Tom Hardy. Now are we past ever giving something like that 3000 screens to see what happens? Probably, and I think that’s probably foolish on my part to even say that could happen. It’s just, no matter what, it’s still disappointing. It’s still disheartening to some extent.
And that’s sort of the what happened with Stretch, right? My impression is you made the movie, you liked the movie, then they thought the marketing would be too expensive. Was that how it worked out?
Yeah, but I guess my feeling was — listen, [Stretch] was a five million dollar film. It was 23 days. I love Patrick Wilson. I love Chris Pine. And we made what I consider, and I’m telling you, dude, wait till you see this film. It’s fucking great. The problem right now is it’s like a kid that’s wandering around the house. He’s dirty, he needs a haircut, he needs a new set of clothes. If you just put that on him, scrub him up and you send him out in the world, he can make a living. It’s like I just need to finish this properly. And because of this Blumhouse model, it’s like ‘Well there’s X amount of dollars.’ And, you know, the songs I want, which are so huge and such a part of the film, exceed the bandwidth if the budgetary thing. So there’s that. There’s a lot of things.
But I guess the most disappointing part of that whole thing is that the movie’s so good, and I have final cut, and I guess I was also kind of resistant to whatever notes I was hearing, which didn’t really jibe with what we had in mind. The movie I ultimately wanted to make. Now, in doing so and looking at what you’re marketing, it’s something that’s quirky. I didn’t think it was quirky. But, you know, I also think Ed Helms’ character [major spoiler - highlight to reveal] blowing his head off in his hotel is really funny.
Which not everyone might agree with.
But it may not be shared. You know what I mean? That’s not a mass market kind of moment. And I understand that. But I also thought, ‘Well that’s why you make it for five million bucks.’ But yeah, to hear 25, 40 million dollars [to market it], okay, I guess that makes sense. I don’t know why we’re still marketing films that way. Do you know what I mean?
It seems like that’s the only way.
But like for everything you need, you can’t just be “it’s only this way.” But again, I get it, man. It’s Universal. It’s a studio. They have a way of doing things. I respect that. I appreciate it. And all films aren’t for all people. But, dude, the final summation of that movie will be in the way that I knew…. Dude, no matter how derided or vilified at the time Smokin’ Aces was – people loved it, people hated it - I always knew that that film would have a tremendous repeat appeal. I knew that and to this day, Germain, I swear to God, out of all the residual checks I’ve gotten of stuff, nothing has ever touched Smokin’ Aces. I still get these checks and I go, “What the fuck is, I can’t believe that this is still out?’ But I knew at the time and I’m telling you, dude, I feel that way about Stretch tenfold.
It’s just one of those movies that people will watch and go, ‘I wanna see that again.’ I wanna watch it again ’cause it’s so… Patrick is brilliant in it. He’s funny as hell. Chris Pine, I think I probably didn’t help myself. One of the things I heard on the foreign side was ‘Well it’s not the Chris Pine from Star Trek. He’s got a big beard. He looks like Charles Manson.’ And I get that. You know, dude, I was maybe unconsciously doing these things that were gonna limit how wide or how broad an audience.
But I still think the proof will be in the pudding when when people can finally see it. Which I’m hoping will be very shortly. You know, it’ll all come out in the wash. That much I know. Everything else, whatever, brother, it’s anecdotal. It’s historical. But at the end of the day, all we owe that film is the absolute best shot we can give it, which is finishing it properly and putting it out there in a way that is in line with what I intended. You know what I mean?
And that supersedes even money at this point. It’s like I don’t care if I make a dime. That movie’s gonna go out the way it should go out. Period.
So if you finish it your way, no matter what the reception is, you feel good about it and you think the audience will find it?
Absolutely, brother. One hundred per cent.
Check back soon for the next part of our interview with Joe Carnahan where we talk his Mark Millar comic book adaptation Nemesis.
Special thanks to the Maryland International Film Festival-Hagerstown for the connection.