How Did This Get Made: A Conversation With Brian Taylor, Director Of 'Gamer'

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 f*** 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

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 f*** 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 f***ing 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 f***ed 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 s*** 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.

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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 s***.

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 f***-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.

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Blake J. Harris: And tell me about Gamer. Where did the idea come from? Like what's the earliest kernel of an idea or development aspect with Gamer that you remember?

Brian Taylor: So Mark had an idea of kids controlling people in real-life video games and making them kill each other. It wasn't exactly what you see in the movie but he had something like that. And then I had something that was sort of like The Picture of Dorian Gray, but in cyberspace; like this virtual society where people are interacting, living out all their dark sides, you know? So he said, "What about this thing with video games?" And I said, "Well I've got this other thing. Maybe we can combine them into one movie?" So that's kind of how Gamer came about; it's kind of like two ideas awkwardly shoehorned together. I mean...Gamer to me is a perfect example of one of those movies where it, like, doesn't work [laughs] there's lot of huge problems with it, and we didn't really think through the world of it very well and the rules aren't really established. But there's just a lot of really cool moments and ideas hidden in that movie where you run across them and you're just like: damn! And I see things from Gamer popping up in a lot of other stuff to this day. You know the show Mr. Robot?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Brian Taylor: I love that show. I think Sam [Esmail] is brilliant and the show is really rad and it's really smart. But it was really funny for me to see in Mr. Robot they've got this subversive hacking group—this underground subversive hacking group—that's trying to bring the corporate system down and their headquarters is an abandoned 80s video arcade. Right out of Gamer. They're called fsociety and we have Society in Gamer. But I love stuff like that. I mean, it means that somebody was watching and somebody liked something about it. You know what I mean?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, that's awesome. Well, you mentioned that there were, like, some holes in it... or that the world wasn't fully synthesized. What is that like from your perspective? I guess: how does that happen? How could that be avoided? How could that be avoided in movies in general?

Brian Taylor: [cracks up] That's a great question and something I really just don't have an answer for. Like to give you a perfect example: at the time when we wrote that script, neither one of us were actually gamers. Like neither one of us had actually played online, first-person shooters at all. So it's like: wouldn't you think the first thing you'd do to research a movie like that would be to get really acquainted with the world of it?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Brian Taylor: But no, not at all. Not at all. We were just kind of throwing s*** out there. I just don't really have a good answer [laughing] for why we didn't work s*** out better other than we were kind of just maniacs and we were just making it up as we went. So I guess there's a certain sort of, like, blind confidence in just being able to throw s*** out there and have it be cool. But in retrospect, we look back on that and kind of wish we had figured out the rules of the game a little better and kind of made it a little more coherent. [laughs] But we weren't really about coherent; we were about let's just put as much f***ed up s*** into this movie as we can. And that's gonna be fun.

gamer

Blake J. Harris: To your point, there's a lot to like about it. Just from the cool, aesthetic and, you know, individual moment aspect. What were, and are, some of your favorite aspects to it?

Brian Taylor: Well there's that great dance sequence at the end. That was one of those, the dance sequence at the end, that was one of those sequences, kind of like the Chinatown sequence in Crank where nobody got it on the page. And we really had to fight to shoot it. I mean nobody got that scene. Like the studio didn't get it. Everybody was like: you can't put that scene in, it's not going to make any sense. Gerard Butler didn't want to do it. Michael C. Hall didn't really get it. Nobody got it. But I was like, "Just trust me, it's going to be great, it's going to be great." And when we got in there and started actually choreographing it. Then Michael—Michael C. Hall—who's a really good song and dance guy (I mean, he's doing Bowie in London right now), he started to get into it. He started to be like, "Wait, this is cool." He was the first person to embrace it outside of just us. The DP started to really like it because we had this idea for it to be like those old fight scenes from black and white movies; where guys are fighting in the basement, that single bulb, just swinging around. Well, what if we make a gigantic single bulb and swing it around. What if we did the fight that way? Then the DP was all about it and he got into it. And then once we started choreographing the fight stuff then Gerard got into it and next thing you know everybody was down and we shot the thing. And when we tested the thing, it was everyone's favorite scene in the movie.

Blake J. Harris: That's awesome.

Brian Taylor: It's so often like that. It just seems to be a rule that your favorite scene in the movie, or the scene you think is the key scene in the movie and the dopest scene in the movie, it just always seems that's the first scene they want to cut. It's always like that.

Blake J. Harris: Haha.

Brian Taylor: Actually, Sidney Lumet said that too in his book. He said in every script that he's ever gotten, the scene that made him want to make the movie was the first scene that they cut. It just seems to be a rule. Like they wanted to cut the sex scene in Chinatown in Crank. They wanted to cut that thing in Gamer. It's always like that, it's just always like that. They want to cut the best scene. And I don't think that's random. I think it's a rule. Like there's an algorithm or something that makes that happen. It's probably because, for creative people, the scene that excites you the most is something that you haven't seen before. But for executives, or more the corporate side, the bean-counting side, the money side, however you want to look at it, those are the scenes that scare them, right? Like the Chinatown scene in Crank is the ultimate in unpredictability. You don't know how people are going to take it. Is it gonna play as a rape scene? Is it gonna feel dark? Or is it gonna feel silly and fun? And my contention was always it's going to feel silly and fun. I mean, it's ridiculous! But you gotta let us do it and you'll see....

Blake J. Harris: Right...

Brian Taylor: And to be fair, maybe they're right. It's not like Crank made $100 million. It did well, but if you're doing things that are different, it does limit—or it can limit—the commercial value of those movies. You know, for every Pulp Fiction that blows up, there's a hundred Cranks that are cool and people like them and they make some money but, they don't set the world on fire, you know what I mean?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, and there's also 10,000 non-Cranks that bust.

Brian Taylor: Right! Let alone, so I totally get why the business is what it is. I get why they want every movie to be PG-13. And they want every movie to check all the boxes; you know, I understand it. I sympathize with their plight. Unfortunately, the result is that for a lot of people like us who grew up loving movies and feeling a certain way about movies, it's just hard to get that feeling anymore.

Blake J. Harris: So in Gamer you had to fight for that scene. Were there things that you weren't able to get in that you wanted? Or were there things that you ended up cutting that you had belief in earlier on?

Brian Taylor: Yeah! There were a lot of things we couldn't get in. Amber Valletta's character was supposed to be a drug addict. Big time. But the feeling was, "No, you can't do that. She'll be unlikeable." Why is it that people who have weaknesses are unlikeable? And by the way, so what? Isn't it fine if these characters are unlikeable? I mean, it's funny, when you think of our movies—when you're thinking of Mark and Brian's movies — you're thinking of these kind of ridiculous movies with clichés and stereotypes, sort of embracing stereotypes and having fun with them and all that stuff, but [laughing] we did try to put nuance and complexity into things...but a lot of times within that context it's just hard. Even at our craziest, we were still beholden to certain ideas...they still won't let you do certain things.

Blake J. Harris: Sure.

Brian Taylor: Anyway, so there were things like that. And definitely the sexual content and the violent content could have been even more. Although I remember Gary Lucchesi at Lakeshore, the whole time...Gary's smart. He kept saying, "You've got this movie, where this kid is controlling Gerard Butler in a video game. Why the hell aren't we making this movie PG-13? This seems ridiculous! It seems like our target audience isn't going to be able to see the movie." And you know what: he was absolutely right. That movie could have been like Real Steel, you know what I mean? Like a more twisted, f***ed-up version of Real Steel. That movie had potential to be a huge hit if it hit that demographic, but that was just never going to happen. In a million years we were never going to make that version. You know, we wanted to make this perverse kind of like completely twisted and f***ed up version of the story.

gamer

Blake J. Harris: Well, to that point, that there probably was a commercially more successful movie in there if you had "watered it down." Was the version that came out close enough to the spirit and vision that you were like: yeah, this is pretty much what we wanted. Or because of those compromises did it, like, satisfy no one?

Brian Taylor: I kind of feel like that movie...you know, again, I think there are a lot of cool things about it, but I just don't think it quite works. And actually I think most of the problems...it was a difficult movie to make. You know, we made that movie in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like all of the locations in Breaking Bad, I recognize them because we shot them as like "Future New York." You know, it's a very thin environment to try and make a movie like that and we were constantly struggling to try and elevate what we were seeing. I mean, I think we got away with it pretty well, considering.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Brian Taylor: Also, just to be honest, that was a time in our lives when we were...we were maniacs. Like literally on that movie, and I can say this because I'm in a much better place now, you know? I mean I'm actually...like I'm actually sober when I work. But at the time, to be honest, we were out there in New Mexico and we were just on a mission to hell. I mean, it was...I can't believe we got anything in the can on that movie if you knew the way we were living at that point. It was literally like you wrap, you go to the bar 'til 6 AM, then you're on set at 7:30 AM. And this would go on for week after week after week. You know, it's a miracle we even survived making that movie. So I can't blame the problems with that movie on anybody but ourselves, you know? We were nuts! And I think you can see some of that in the movie. Hopefully in a good way, but also you're seeing it in the movie in a bad way too.

Blake J. Harris: Tell me if you don't feel like sharing this, but what made you change?

Brian Taylor: Because I think it's frustrating to put that much time and resources and good ideas and good work...it's frustrating to spend that big of a chunk of your life making something and then when you see it, it's like: man, that was a really missed opportunity. It could have been a lot better. It could have really been a special movie. I mean, it was ahead of its time in a lot of ways.

Blake J. Harris: Absolutely.

Brian Taylor: And there's some great ideas in that movie. There's an amazing performance by Michael Hall. There's just a lot of cool ideas... you start realizing that life is too short to make bad movies. Like I have to respect what we're doing a little bit more. Those years were fun. And a movie like Crank 2, I think, really benefitted from that kind of insanity. Crank 2 was sort of designed for that: we need to construct an environment where all of our worst impulses actually make the movie better. It takes everything that was f***ed up about us and everything that was good about us at that point in our lives and kind of like...[laughs] uses it to its full advantage. If we'd have made that movie sober, it would have been totally boring. But Gamer, not the case. Gamer, I look at that one and I go: man, there's really cool stuff in that movie. And some of the ideas were great. And some of the ideas were really smart and really ahead of their time. If we'd have been a little more coherent on that one; man, I think it could have been really special.

gamer

Blake J. Harris: That's really...so Six Feet Under is my favorite show. I'm a huge Michael C. Hall fan, he's an incredible actor. So what it is like to be around talent like that and like...he could probably tell that you were at a bar 'til 6 AM. Did that bother the actors? As a director, how do you control the reigns when creatively, maybe, that's the right feeling for the movie—especially for Crank 2—but in terms of a management thing, it's probably harder to do it that way and have that dynamic.

Brian Taylor: Well, it's not like we weren't really high functioning. I mean, I don't think anyone was really aware unless they were with us. Unless they were living it. I got along great with Michael and still do to this day. He's a genius. We've been trying to come up with something to do together for a long time...look, we made all of our days. We didn't go overtime. We hit all the numbers. We got everything in the can. We worked really hard. Look, think about this: the sequence in Gamer, where he [Kable, Gerard Butler's character] escapes from the jail. So he goes underground in the garage. He pees into the gas tank. He has a whole fight scene with Terry Crews, which is all practical stunts.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Brian Taylor: He flies out of there on a truck, getting chased by f***ing snow plows, right? Through the streets of Albuquerque. We crash a snow plow, we flip another one completely...We blew it up and flipped it. Then we have him reverse, go airborne (in a pickup truck), backwards through a wall and flip over and crash and then run down into a subway with a giant explosion behind him, then get thrown in the air and it goes to black. We shot that whole sequence in two days. Everything.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Brian Taylor: That's a sequence that on a normal movie, or like a real movie, it would take two weeks. If you watch that scene back and get it into your head that we shot that in two days, you'll just be like: are you f***ing kidding me? I mean, we were jamming, man. We were jamming. [laughing] Some of the stuff that we pulled off on that movie, in terms of the amount that we shot in the time that we shot and with the amount of money that we had, is kind of crazy. It's pretty f***ing crazy what we did.

Blake J. Harris: For sure.

Brian Taylor: I'm just saying I wish maybe we had worked the logic out a little better, you know? Maybe I'm overselling the idea that we were out of control. We were out of control, but we also really kicked ass. I mean, we didn't have the kind of CG fixes that people have these days. That was all practical stuff, you know?

Blake J. Harris: That's crazy.

Brian Taylor: On the streets of Albuquerque, blowing stuff up.

Gamer poster

Blake J. Harris: Throughout all your movies, it seems like there's a lot of practical stunts. Is that because of the cost or is that because you think it feels more authentic than doing it in post?

Brian Taylor: Both. Our big influence was the Road Warrior stuff. First of all, if it feels dangerous when you're shooting it, it's probably going to look dangerous on film. That was a big theory that we had. And I also I still kind of have the theory that even if you're not particularly film-savvy or tech-savvy — you don't really know much about how movies are made — I just still feel like when you see an action scene unfold and it's done on a computer, I think you know on some level that you're safe. It just feels dull, you know? It's like I'm watching the world blow up...but this was all done on a computer. Like a guy in a room with a computer. It's just...there's just something about that. Then you watch Fury Road or you watch some of the stuff that we've done, you look at it and you go: man, that looks like some camera man almost died doing that.

Blake J. Harris: [laughs] Yup.

Brian Taylor: And Chris Nolan understands that too. There's just something visceral about it. Sure, you can do it on computer. It would probably look quote "better" unquote. You can make it framed better, you can make more dramatic moves, you can do crazier things. It's super entertaining and people love it, but on some level it's just kind of like: eh. Okay...

Blake J. Harris: I think that part of it is, like you said, it's framed "better." It's framed perfectly. But when you actually do a stunt, or stuff like that, it's not perfect. And it's kind of like the rawness and the flaw that sells it to us.

Brian Taylor: We flipped a snowplow. Like a full-sized snowplow. You know how heavy those things are?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah, they are cumbersome.

Brian Taylor: And that was just a random idea: let's have him get chased by snowplows. Why? Because it's gonna be great! Now, if we had done that on CG, you're looking at a snowplow flip, and my feeling, in my gut, is just like: well, why not just flip it 8 times? Why not just flip it 12 times? Why not just have it fly through the building.

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Brian Taylor: Why do I care that it flipped one time when you could have just flipped it eight times. Whereas when you do it in real life, the limits are not arbitrary. The limits are very real: gravity, being one of them. Right? So when you're seeing something like that happen in real life, you're going like: damn. Gravity is a thing!

Blake J. Harris: Haha.

Brian Taylor: It's hard to make the argument when you movies where all of the action is done...like The Avengers. Okay, we're going to have these guys fight 4,000 robots from space and blow up 80 buildings...they're going to destroy a city at the end. And it's hard to make the argument that that's really whack and lame and tired when these movies come out and they all make a half a billion dollars. They keep making the money, they keep going out on 5,000 screens and they make the money so they're just going to keep doing and doing it and doing it again. But I think for guys who love movies...I just think there's just a fatigue that sets in where you're just like...And I really believe that's why film fans, like real film fans, went so completely f***ing bananas and berserk over Fury Road. Because it was just so ballsy. You just looked at it and were like: damn! They had to go make that thing, Awesome! And to give a different kind of example, it's why I really loved The Revenant. It's like: they went out there. They put their balls on the line and went out there. Granted, they did a lot of work on a computer after that movie was captured—re-light and all the blah, blah, blah, blah; we know there was a lot of post on The Revenant—but they had to go to some pretty f***ing crazy places and they had to freeze their asses off. You know, they were flying out to places they were only able to shoot for two hours. It took commitment to make that movie that you just don't see in a movie that's completely done in an office on a hard-drive with a guy drinking coffee. It's just...I don't know. I'm just kind of over that it. Like I'm over that CG s***. I just don't even see them anymore.

neveldine taylor

Blake J. Harris: Well I think a pretty compelling case to me was one of the pieces we did early on – I mean, it's hard to make a counter-argument when The Avengers is making $2 billion, but one of the biggest franchises is the Fast & Furious ones and they basically, after the fourth movie (it was not doing as well), they hired that guy Spiro [Razatos] and they want back to doing practical stunts. That's not the only reason they turned around their fortunes, but I think that's part of it.

Brian Taylor: It's like I know how hard it is to make these movies. So when I see something, you know, when I see a movie where it's obvious the filmmakers really put their balls on the line, that impresses me. I like that. I think it's f***ing awesome that Eli Roth went down to the f***ing amazon and shot Green Inferno with real tribes and s***. The movie is not great, frankly, but I respect it. I respect it, man. It's like: good for you. Because it's easy for a guy like Eli Roth to just sit in an office somewhere with a cup of coffee and just rake in checks, but he's just not about that. He's like: let's go! Let's f***ing do something! Oh, there's another thing about Gamer that's kind of interesting for geeks.

Blake J. Harris: Tell me.

Brian Taylor: Not comic geeks, but film geeks. Gamer was the first real movie (I only say this because Steven Soderbergh shot some kind of Dogme 95 documentary-style movie in Europe first), but it [Gamer] was the first sort of real cinematic movie shot on the RED.

Blake J. Harris: Oh really?

Brian Taylor: Yup. And that came about because I actually met Jim Jannard, the RED guy, at a tech show. We were there demoing out Sony cameras. They were bringing us in to talk to people about shooting on Sony cameras because we had shot Crank on a Sony HD camera, which was also something that nobody had done at the time. But I met Jim Jannard there and everyone was like, "all the promises they're making with this camera can't be real!"

Blake J. Harris: [laughs]

Brian Taylor: And I went in and looked at the footage and talked to Jim and I was just like: dude, this is the way. This is the way. We just became buddies, so we actually helped them beta test those cameras out in the early days. We went down to their warehouse, which was like half-filled with Oakley sunglasses and shoes and stuff...and they had like 15 guys with computers, just like s*** sitting there on the floor, building these cameras. We were helping them beta test them. And the first 16 RED cameras that they produced; they gave Peter Jackson, I think, four of them. They gave Robert Rodriguez some of them. They gave Soderbergh some of them and they gave me and Mark two of them. That was the first 16 cameras they made. Our names are actually engraved on them.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Brian Taylor: And we were the first ones to shoot a movie. To the point where we had to convince the studio. Like we had no believers in that camera. They were so skeptical about shooting on that camera that they made us carry an Arri 435 film camera on the truck. Just in anticipation that this RED thing would f*** up. And I used to have these great arguments with them, where they'd say, "The whole movie is kept on a compact flash card?"

Blake J. Harris: Ha!

Brian Taylor: "That's so fragile. This little card!" I was telling them: fragile? You guys have been shooting movies for the last 100 years on the absolute most fragile, most unpredictable, chemically-based, highly-flammable, piece of s*** that you could possibly shoot on.

Blake J. Harris: Dude, that's hilarious.

Brian Taylor: Like there's nothing more fragile than a roll of film. Like a roll of film is so fragile that if you got a little blink of light on it, you've ruined your whole day. If you get a hair on it, you can over-soak that s*** in chemicals and f*** it up. You have no idea what you even shot until the s*** comes out of the bath. It's incredibly fragile and every time you make a copy of it, you lose a generation.

Blake J. Harris: Yup.

Brian Taylor: I'm telling you, you can have this thing on a compact flash card that I could literally leave in my pocket and put through the wash and pull it out and stick it in and it's still fine. I can make a perfect 1:1 copy of your movie in, like, 30 seconds. It's the most stable format you've ever seen and you guys are telling me that it's fragile. But it took some convincing. We had to shoot on that camera for 3-4 days; we shot some stuff on film too. And then we filmed out the RED and we rented out a studio in Albuquerque and had the guys from the studio come in and then we played them two versions of what we had shot. We said, "Okay, we shot one of these on film and we shot one of these on RED." We showed them both. And they were like: wow, they both look great. I guess this RED thing really does work. And they said, "obviously the one on film looks better, but the one on RED looks really good." And I was like, "Yeah, it's funny you should say that because the one that you thought was on film, that was actually the RED one." And now if you don't want to shoot RED or ALEXA, they think you're crazy.

Blake J. Harris: Right.

Brian Taylor: But Gamer was actually the first, that was the first movie. I mean, they sent techs out. We were calling them from set saying, "Yeah, you gotta take this 'Run' button and you gotta put it in a different place because we keep hitting it." And they modified the camera based on the experience we had on that movie. We had our DP going in and rating the individual cameras; you know, he figured out all the exact ISOs of those cameras, which at that time were different...yeah, it was pretty crazy.

Blake J. Harris: That's huge. That's also just a great story aside from the legacy of that. And what about...you've described several times just appreciating the "balls" that it takes to do certain things and I see you taking risks, like that, and other stuff you've mentioned earlier on. Has there ever been a time you felt like that really backfired?

Brian Taylor: Well, I guess every time you come out with a movie like Crank 2 that you think is awesome and it opens in, like, 8 places, you kind of go like: f***! [laughing] You know? That's not the best feeling. But it just is what it is, you know. It just is what it is. You push for stuff and you don't always hit it. That's just the nature of it. I mean, you learn more by failing than you do by succeeding, but at the end of the day, you push for something—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't work—and you just kind of gotta live with the results.

Blake J. Harris: I have a quote that I took from an interview yesterday that I liked and wrote down: "In order for innovation to happen, you need to have the ability to fail." So that's kind of spot-on...

Brian Taylor: Yeah, well we've got that side of it covered, man. We've got that on lockdown. We learned how to fail more spectacularly than anyone, I would say. So we got that going for us.

Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Blake J. Harris: Let me just ask you one more question. You know that, as I mentioned earlier, Paul loves Nicolas Cage. And I've always been a fan. What is he like to work with? And what is he like as a human dude?

Brian Taylor: I mean, all I can tell you—which I've said this to many other Nic Cage fans because I'm a huge Nic Cage fan too, I always have been—as a guy and a person, he's everything you would hope that he would be. Like if you have the idealized version of how you hope Nic would be in real life, that's what he is...he's a total f***ing weirdo. He's dark. He's funny. He's super smart. He's just one of the most interesting human beings that I have ever met... eccentric as anybody you'll ever meet. But, at the same time, he's the most professional actor I've ever worked with. I've never seen anything like this guy. I mean this guy shows up at a table read off-book. Doing the movie like you wish you were rolling cameras.

Blake J. Harris: Wow.

Brian Taylor: He has other actors just in awe. Just of his technique and his work ethic and what he brings. And man...you put the camera on that guy and you just get happy. You just can't not get happy. It's just like every day working with that guy...when you come to set and Nic is there and he's reading your words, it just feels like a gift from the movie gods.

Blake J. Harris: What was it like the first time you met him? As someone who grew up, like me, a fan of him?

Brian Taylor: The first time we met him, we met him in New Orleans. We were talking to him about Ghost Rider; showing him a bunch of artwork and stuff like that. And we got along really well and it was kind of late at night and he was like, "Hey, you wanna go see my grave?" [long pause] And we're like yeah!

Blake J. Harris: Wait, what?

Brian Taylor: So he has a pyramid in a New Orleans above-ground cemetery, where he's gonna get buried in. Like a white marble pyramid. And so the first night we met him, we drove out there and it was locked for the night. So we actually had to break in and go over the fence to see his pyramid.

Blake J. Harris: That's amazing.

Brian Taylor: That's the kind of s*** you find yourself in when you're with Cage. I mean the Ghost Rider stories are crazy. I mean this guy, he fitted himself...he paid for and showed up with black glass contact lenses so his eyes were completely black. And he would do this kind of Baron Samedi kind of like New Orleans voodoo face makeup. With the black eyes. And he would apply this himself, in his trailer, and come to set like that. Partly to get into it and partly just to intimidate other actors because...because they would be by the Ghost Rider, right?

Blake J. Harris: Yeah.

Brian Taylor: So he would show up like that every day and not talk to anybody. It was the greatest thing ever. He would just sort of whisper...I would come and ask him things and he would just sort of whisper to me. I remember one time, he's just sitting there in the freezing cold, it's late at night. He's wearing all the stuff, he's got the eyes...by the way, one thing we really would like to do—if we could get ahold of the footage, I would love to do it—is we want to put out a black and white edit of the Ghost Rider movie with no CG. Where the whole movie is just him in makeup, you know? Like a zombie film.

Blake J. Harris: Oh my god, oh my god, that would be so good.

Brian Taylor: Yeah, it would be like, way, way better than the real movie. I remember one time he's just sitting there in the cold, motionless, wearing the s*** and Mark goes, "Hey, those things in your eyes; do those hurt?" There's a long pause and he goes [in a gruff, over-the-top voice]: it's personal! Yeah, great.

Blake J. Harris: [cracks up] He really is everything I would hope.

Brian Taylor: He's the best.