Jon Turteltaub Talks Cinematic Inspirations For 'The Meg', How He Helped Taika Waititi, And Possible Sequels [Interview]

A couple of weeks back, I sat down with filmmaker Jon Turteltaub to talk about his new movie, The Meg. In the discussion, we talk about how the filmmaker earned a credit on one of Taika Waititi's early films, his ambitions to make a Marvel or Star Wars movie, transitioning into making a horror movie with jump scares, cinematic inspirations for The Meg, the existence of the real Megladon, the possibility of Meg sequels, where to draw the line between logic and fun in a big blockbuster, the possibility of National Treasure 3, and the It's A Small World movie he's developing.

Jon Turteltaub Interview for The Meg

Thor Ragnarok BTS - Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth

Hi, Jon, nice to see you again.  

How are you?

Good. I wanted to start off with something different.  I came across a credit on IMDb that you were thanked in Taika Waititi's one of his first films, Eagle Vs. Shark.

Yeah.

How did that come about?

I met Taika at Sundance Directors Lab.  He was the young director coming up, workshopping Eagle Vs. Shark.  And we just spent a lot of time together.  And I was shocked he thanked me.  It was so nice.  But Taika is the guy I still wanna be.  And I hate that somebody younger than me is that awesome.  He's just too damn good looking.  Too charming.  Too funny and too talented.  And he, and then when Wilderpeople came out, it was just the whole world finally saw how great he was.

I'm surprised it took him that long 'cause there was a bunch of films in there that were incredible.  

I know.  And then a dip 'cause Eagle Vs. Shark didn't do so great.  And then of course with Ragnarok which was a, I mean, the most brilliant hire for Marvel ever.  Brilliant.  And he killed it.  So he's done, he's set.  

Marvel Phase 4

Have you ever wanted to do a Marvel movie?

Yeah.  Don't make me start crying.  

I mean, you just brought it up, so just wondering.

Of course.  I would, yes, that's the thing.  You wanna do Marvel movies and I wanna do a Star Wars movie and we're running out of both.  

I don't know.  I think those are gonna continue on forever.  

You think?  All right. Good.  

The Meg Reviews

[The Meg] is a much different film than I think you're used to making.  You're used to making like these character-centric kind of comedies and adventure films.  

Yeah.

This is much more of a horror movie than I thought it was gonna be.

It needed more horror than I've done.  I did a one TV show that had a bunch of like scary, suspenseful horror in it.  But this was big, scary, monster horror stuff.  But leave it to me to make sure there was plenty of fun and character and humor and emotion in it, because that's somehow what I gravitate to.  So but the reason to do it is because you wanna do big, scary monsters.

Did you grow up on like those kind of jump scares of horror movies?

Yeah.  Of course.  The movies that scared the hell out of us growing up turned out not to be so scary anymore.  We've progressed.  People were terrified of seeing something creepy on screen.  It didn't even have to jump out.  It just had to be there.  I was the right age for all the Japanese monster movies and we knew about Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla and Mothra and Gamera and Rodan, but I don't know how, make sure it's spelled correctly.  

Yeah.

What was my favorite was War of the Gargantuas.  And what they do for you as a kid is make you feel you're not sitting home anymore in your living room or in a theater.  You're seeing a whole new world.  And that's what you're supposed to do when you go to the movies.  And that's what I want this to do.  

Mondo Jaws Screen Prints

What movies did you take inspiration for The Meg.  'Cause it's unlike any other kind of like... I mean, it's not Sharknado.  It's not...

It's definitely not Sharknado.  I mean, that was inspiration to not do Sharknado.  Right, because that [was] silly.  Right?  That was doing that.  And I wanted to make a legit shark movie.  The problem with using Jaws as inspiration is that it's so iconic and so perfect.  You have to learn from it, but not copy it.  'Cause everyone's gonna know you're copying it.  You have to–

I love that film but I'm not even sure the pacing would work these days.

It absolutely would not.  And look at, you hand Spielberg today's CG, he would make a completely different movie with Jaws.  And it would extraordinary and awesome, just different.

Are you saying it's because of the constraints?

I think the constraints...he'll always tell you that those constraints helped because it made for a movie that was more of a suspense thriller than a monster movie.  And look, the suggestion is always better than the reveal in every walk of life.  Right.  Men tend not to know that as well as women do.  Men show up and go, I love you.  Here's some pictures.  Women are a little smarter.  Yet audiences now wanna see bigger, quicker.  And so we gave them bigger and quicker.  

You don't show the Meg [for some time]. I wasn't counting the minutes, but you don't see it until far–

It takes a while.  You get a, you get suggestions and then you get a glimpse and then you get a big bite.  And you finally see a big reveal of it.  And you wanna lead up to that big reveal.  That's a big moment in a movie.  You're introducing your lead character in some ways.  Certainly the title character.  

the meg

So going back to the inspirations for this film, if it's not Sharknado, it's not Jaws, what is it?  What did you like watch or show the crew that like...?

The goal was often what to avoid.  Believe it or not.  Our inspirations were really more about pitfalls and landmines.  Where oddly enough the concept can quote unquote jump the shark here.  Right? And there are things where you've just gone too far.  And step one is to stay in the realm of what sharks would really do, not what a movie shark can do.  CG allows you to do anything.  So you have to restrain yourself.  And keep the shark acting like a shark.  Right?  So it's not gonna jump on land, put on a top hat and a cane and start singing.  It's gotta stay sharky.  The problem with that is all you have to do is stay out of the water.  So the trick is to get people in the water and why are they out there?  Right?

There's a lot of people in that water.

And there's people in the water.  And you gotta find those beaches where it is.  And I, before shooting, I was just researching stuff and looking at images online of Chinese beaches in China.  And images just popped up that you wouldn't believe of thousands of people crammed together.  And I just thought oh please let me send a shark through there.  

That place is like the Hawaii of China, right?

Yes.  It's kind of Hawaii and the French Riviera and every other beach you know combined.  It's just packed.  Now, not in front of the really nice hotels.  They have a way of not packing it in.  But the public beach is packed.  And I mean packed.  

You talked a little bit about science and obviously, the Megalodon existed.  But–

You know, I don't think that gets said enough.  I did all the TV stuff.  And I talked about other movies, other monster movies and stuff.  Unlike King Kong or Godzilla, this is a real thing.  This isn't a movie fabrication, what if there was a super, duper big shark.  There was a super, duper big shark.  The only question we ask is what if it were still alive today?  And came to say hi.  This is a real animal that was really badass.  And most, there aren't a ton of Megalodon experts because very little is known.  They just know they existed.  And they can't think of anything that could have killed it.  So whatever killed it was not another shark.  

the meg book series

So, I mean, the movie doesn't end with a Marvel-style tease for more, but I imagine this movie's gonna be big and internationally it's gonna do big, is there ideas for...?

Well, fortunately, we have a whole series of books with a whole series of ideas.  So there's all kinds of stuff in there to do.  Jaws again becomes a template of things to do and not do, right?  The sequels to Jaws very quickly became real stretches to try to find another way to do this movie.  Part of it is in your first movie, there's the mystery of what it is.  And by the time you get to your second movie, you don't have that.  And you can very quickly go too big, too fast.  

Unless you have something bigger.  

And then you need something big and next thing you know there's a movie called Super Megalodon Versus Super Duper Megalodon.  And no one wants to see that.  

Avengers Infinity War Blu-Ray - Thanos

I just thought...did Thanos wipe out half of the sea life as well?

Yes.  Actually, I think Kevin Feige said that all of, all animals on Earth. 

Wow.  That is phenomenal.  Thanos is awesome.  I love him.

Can you talk a little bit about this as a fun blockbuster movie?  And I love those but they sometimes forego logic for the fun. Like where do you draw that line?

The line should...  We may never fully succeed, we're still going, yeah.  We may never fully succeed, but the line should always be only do what's possible.  Only do what's, you know, plausible. You can question what's plausible.  It may not be what's plausible, I mean, but what's possible?  What let the shark always behave like a shark.  And hopefully let people always behave like people.  However, we need to expand our ideas of how people behave.  It's one of the things Marvel has done very well, but we, my thought was and I would say to the actors, don't forget, you've seen shark movies before.  Right?  Jason's character probably saw Jaws.  Right?

Yeah.

So you don't have to act like this is like you don't get the joke.  Like you don't get the cliché.  The people in the movie get the movie cliché they're in.  And you see, we, my thing was the best way to avoid a cliché if it comes up is to lean into it.  Right?  

Yeah.  Acknowledge it.

Acknowledge it.  And in fact, point it out.  

 Yeah.  And you do that a couple times.

And so we do that and I think it helps the film and it helps the audience relax a little bit.  And not feel they have to be movie policemen.  

Every time I see you, I have to ask about National Treasure 3.

I know.  

It's my job.  I'm sorry.  

I need you, I really do, I need you to make a lot of money in the stock market so you can go finance this film.  I would make it tomorrow.  Finding the right script is hard.  It was brutal for the first two.  It's still gonna be brutal for the third.  But I don't think Disney wants to make it.  And I think they have other things they wanna make more.  But I'm telling you if we did another one–

Well, now they have a streaming platform.  So they need content.

Well, the fact is it'll probably be made as a streaming film.  Which is great for some people and not great for others.  

They'll reboot it.  Yeah, they'll reboot Three Ninjas [Turteltaub's 1992 family film].  

They'd be fools not to.  

It's A Small World movie

One last question for you.  I know you were attached to a movie with Disney called It's a Small World.

Still am.

It's still going? 

I took my daughter on the ride this weekend actually.  Last weekend.  We're still...  Anyone who says making a movie based on the Small World ride is ridiculous is completely right.  Which is why it's really tricky to figure it out.  Because there is a way where it's not ridiculous.  Where in fact it's pretty clever and delightful.  We're working on the clever and delightful version and that's gonna take more time than the really ridiculous, bad version.

What is the logline or you can't share or...?

I think we know it's very emotional because it is a world of laughter and a world of tears.

Okay, well thank you very much, Jon.  Appreciate it.

Thank you.

As a Disneyland Annual passholder, don't eff it up.

[laughs] I'll try not to screw it up for you.