Matt's Blog

Blog

Interview - Writer-Director Ed Zwick Brings Us 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back reunites director Ed Zwick with star Tom Cruise.  They worked together in 2003 on The Last Samurai.  I recently spoke over the phone with Ed to ask him about his latest movie…

Matt:  How’s it going?

Ed:  Very well thanks.  We’re in Beijing right now.

Matt:  The Chinese market is so huge and has a big impact on a film’s international box-office… 

Ed:  It is.  Tom and I have both found great success here in China and so we said we definitely wanted to visit as part of the promotion for the film.

Matt:  I realise that you’ve worked with Tom Cruise before on The Last Samurai back in 2003.  How did you get involved in this project?  Did Tom help get you in?

Ed:  That’s right.  The phone rang and I saw it was Tom and said to myself “I’ll take that call.” (laughs)  I had never done this kind of movie before but he knew I liked this genre and he asked if I would be keen to jump in.  I read the book and realised there was a lot that could be fun to do.  We got together and talked about what we could accomplish and then went from there.

Matt:  The previous film was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie and I notice he’s one of the producers here.  Did he provide a lot of input or were you left to your own devices here?

Ed:  I’ve known Chris for a long time and he’s actually worked for me before.  There were a couple of moments where I talked things out with him and he was very helpful.  He also understands that a writer-director wants to make his own movie and he was respectful of that.

Matt:  You’ve made some great films in your career like Glory, Legends of the Fall, and Blood Diamond, but I notice this is the first time you’ve come on board for a sequel.  Is that right?

Ed:  Yeah.  It’s also my first franchise too.  I was wary but the fact that Tom and I had worked together before was a help.  We also knew we were trying to do something a little bit different from the first movie.  If I felt I was doing a mere repeat of the original then I think I would have shied away.  I think this movie is more a reflection of what interests me as opposed to what interests Chris.

Matt:  Over your career, you’ve had the chance to direct some of Hollywood’s biggest stars – Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Morgan Freeman.  Is there something special about them that justifies the price tag?  Or are they just like working with any other actor?

Ed:  It’s funny.  I like to think that they’ve made their money on the back of being a great actor.  Obviously they have something unique that captures an audience’s imagination but I have always thought about casting movie stars as actors and treating them as actors.  The best ones want to be treated as actors and I would definitely include Tom in that list.  He’s known from a young age what a director can do to bring out a great performance and it’s why he’s worked with so many great directors. 

I can think of a couple of people I wouldn’t work with again because they didn’t have a humility, joy and gratitude that you want as part of a team.  Those names that you mentioned are all a privilege to work with.  They have an understanding of not just what they can do but also what a movie is.  Tom’s career has been about more than a great smile and physicality.

Matt:  Do you stay in touch with all these actors you’ve worked with multiple times?  Are you always looking for opportunities to work together again?

Ed:  We actually all live very different lives.  I happened to see Denzel two weeks ago because I was at Paramount and he was in the cutting room working on Fences.  I knocked on the door, chatted for an hour and then had lunch together.  I don’t think I’d seen him for at least a year.  The fondness and the experiences from working on a movie are often quite intense and profound.  You don’t forget them.

Matt:  Well tell me a little about Cobie Smulders.  I was reading she broke her leg before the shoot.  Is that right?

Ed:  The first time we met, she came into my office with a cane and her leg in a brace.  I said “what the fuck is this?” and she said she’d just broken it and that it was going to be fine.  I was a bit sceptical because this was to be a very physical movie.  She told me that she’d been an athlete in college and that she wouldn’t put herself in a situation unless she thought she could handle it.  The doctors then looked her over, agreed with that assessment, an she ended up doing an extraordinary job.

Matt:  People will be familiar with Tom Cruise and to a lesser extent Cobie Smulders because of her roles in the Marvel films but aside from those two, most of the cast will be relatively unknown to filmgoers.  Was it a deliberate decision to go with some lesser known actors?

Ed:  One of the great pleasures of having a big name movie star already on the film is that you don’t have to fill the remaining roles with names to satisfy a foreign investor who believes it will add value.  It’s just about casting great actors.  The kid who plays Prudhomme, Austin Hébert, just graduated from Southern Methodist University and is a really great actor.  I saw Aldis Hodge in Straight Outta Compton and it was fun to work with him too.

Matt:  How did you approach the action scenes?  Given that action movies are a staple of the Hollywood diet, is there something you’re trying to do to make these particular scenes stand out?

Ed:  I believe that they’re most interesting if they can advance the story and the relationships between the characters.  If they’re just there for the sake of action then I don’t think they add much.  I can point to a couple of scenes in this movie that I think help us follow the story and it feels more organic to the piece itself.

Matt:  Do you have precise angles in mind when you’re shooting the action scenes or have you got a hundred cameras going at once and you leave it up to the editor to piece it together?

Ed:  An editor can show you things you never imagined but no, I’m pretty specific with how I shoot these scenes.  As we choreographed these scenes and worked with the stunt people and actors, I’m often shooting the scenes on tape to get a sense of what’s going to be the best angle.  You have to be pretty specific as these scenes are dangerous, you don’t want anyone to get hurt, and you don’t want to have to shoot them too many times because that adds to the risk.

Matt:  I have to finish up by asking a couple of non-Jack Reacher questions.  I’m a big Oscars buff and you won an Academy Award for producing Shakespeare in Love which was one of the big upsets in Oscars history.  Did you see it that way?  Was it a huge shock to you when they opened the envelope?

Ed:  You never really think about it in terms of a bet.  I’ll tell you that the following year, we were convinced that we were going to win for Traffic and the found it was Gladiator who took the top prize.  It’s weird that you’ve made a movie that you think is the best thing you’ve ever done… and then you go along to an awards show and suddenly think of yourself as a loser.  It’s really screwed up and typical of Hollywood to make you feel bad about something that you should feel good about.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  What projects will see from your next?

Ed:  Not sure yet.  There’s something we’re starting to write and I hope it turns out as I wish but you never know. 

Interview - Speaking With The Cast Of 'Spin Out'

Spin Out

Spin Out is the latest Australian film to hit cinemas and I recently spoke to stars Xavier Samuel, Morgan Griffin, Travis Jeffrey and Lincoln Lewis to talk about the project…

Matt:  I’ve spoken to other Australian filmmakers who have shot films in rural areas and they always tell me how excited the communities get that their town is going to be immortalised in a movie for all to see.  Where precisely was Spin Out shot?  How involved was the town in the production?

Travis:  We shot in Shepparton and it was exactly like what you’ve heard.  They got behind it and were loving it.  Some people were volunteering as extras for 10 hours a day.

Morgan:  They volunteered their time, brought along their utes, and were really lovely.

Xavier:  They helped “make” the film by giving it an authentic atmosphere.  The film is about community and we certainly felt that when working out there.  Many of them were extras in the B&S ball scene and some of them steal the show. 

Matt:  Most films have a target audience and I see this having appeal in regional Australia because it taps into a part of their culture with B&S balls and ute musters.  Have you had the chance to show the film to any regional audiences yet and what sort of response have you received?  Is it different from screenings in capital cities?

Lincoln:  The coolest thing is that it’s been received in a similar way in every location.  It’s been surprising.

Xavier:  We had a screening in Sydney and there was a great response that didn’t feel any different from the country.  It was nice to see that the story transcends.

Travis:  We even took it to Shepparton a couple of weeks ago.  I was worried that they might think we’d made fun of them but that’s not what we wanted to do.  Thankfully they loved it as well.

Matt:  It was an eye-opener for me though.  I know of B&S balls but a ute muster is a completely new term to me.  Did you guys know about this side of Australia before making the film?

Morgan:  I knew what they were but it was still foreign to me.

Xavier:  It’s one thing to hear all the stories but it’s another to experience these things.  We went to an actual ute muster and some of that footage appears at the end of the film in the closing credits.  You have to experience it firsthand.

Matt:  Xavier & Morgan, was it easy to make those driving scenes look convincing? 

Morgan:  There’s a definitely a technique you have to master to be able to drift and do continuous donuts but we had really good stunt coordinators to help us out.  I’d never actually driven a manual car before so we spent a bit of time in pre-production getting used to that.  We also went to a stunt driving school is Shepparton.

Xavier:  It’s very full on.  We rocked up on our first day and there was a 90-something-year-old guy burning around in a ute telling us he was going to teach us.  It was intimidating at first but the more we did it, the more we enjoyed it. 

Morgan:  It was terrifying to do in front of the locals though as they regularly compete in ute musters.  One of my stunt drivers gave me a funny backhanded compliment – “you could drive better than me… when I was 7 year’s old.”

Matt:  Comedy is the hardest genre to perfect because there are so many different styles and everyone has a different sense of humour.  As an example, this is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum compared to Love & Friendship which is the last film we saw you in Xavier.  How were the jokes developed for this film?  Was it all left in the hands of the writers (Edwina Exton and Tim Ferguson) or was there a lot of ad-libbing and experimentation on set?

Xavier:  It’s interesting because both Love & Friendship and Spin Out celebrate language but in a different way.  Whit Stillman, who directed Love & Friendship, is very dialogue driven.  Tim Ferguson, who wrote and directed Spin Out, has created something different with “colourful” language where the jokes come thick and fast.  You can’t sit back with this kind of material.  You have to embrace it.

Morgan:  We had room to try different things but the tone was always there and we always knew what type of comedy this was going to be.  It was fun to delve into.

Matt:  You are working here under the guidance of Tim Ferguson who has a long history in comedy and on television.  This marks his directorial debut and I’m curious to know about his approach and what he was like to work with?

Travis:  He’s a comedian behind the camera as well (laughs). 

Xavier:  His enthusiasm is contagious.  He wasn’t precious about his screenplay and he did allow us to improvise a lot. 

Lincoln:  He’s very relatable as a director and easy to talk to.  He was always clear with the messages he was trying to get across.  For a simpleton such as myself, it was great (laughs).

Matt:  If I took the average age of this huge cast, I think it’d have to be one of the youngest in an Australian film this year.  How did the casting process work?  Are all the people we see on screen professional actors?  What was the vibe with such a young crowd?

Travis:  It was so much fun.  They put us all in the same complex and we were hanging out together off the set for 5 weeks.  The film is about community and being in each other’s pockets all day, every day helps translate that onto the screen. 

Morgan:  We’d have a pub meal most nights and relax and play some pool.  Everyone got along and it was what you’d hope an ideal film set would be like.

Lincoln:  On the weekends we’d do BBQs and people would sit around on their guitars singing songs.  It was wicked and had a real family vibe.

Matt:  Trying to connect Australian audiences with Australian movies is always a challenge.  In cinemas at the moment we have Bridget Jones’s Baby, Pete’s Dragon and Suicide Squad.  I know a lot of work goes into making the film but how busy have you guys been over the past couple of weeks trying to promote this and get the message out there?  What’s the hook?  How can we get people to see this?

Travis:  Just do it (laughs).

Lincoln:  Without sounding too clichéd, this is a feel good movie.  It doesn’t have one specific target audience.  It’s an accessible romantic comedy.

Xavier:  We’ve watched it a dozen times now and we just have fun watching it.  It’s a big party.

Morgan:  Even though it’s set in the country, it’s not just for country people.  People are experiencing very real emotions in the film despite the frivolity that goes on around them.

Travis:  The themes are universal like love, commitment, growing up and fear of change.

Matt:  Have you been surprised by the way audiences have reacted to certain scenes?  Are there moments where there big laughs when you didn’t quite expect it during the filming process?

Lincoln:  There are some moments that get a huge laugh at every screening. 

Travis:  I’ve learned that the audience can help change the film.

Xavier:  Yeah, sometimes you need someone in the audience like your mum to kick the laughter off (laughs).

Travis:  That’s why we’re going to try to see every screening of the film now that it’s been released.

Lincoln:  Having a big cast really helps with that (laughs).

Matt:  And Lincoln, I run into you at film previews here in Brisbane every so often because you’re with Mitch who works for Nova.  He’s family but he’s also a film critic.  Has he given you his honest appraisal of the film yet? 

Lincoln:  He has actually.  We were having a chat last night and he said that what he loved most about the film was the language.  It’s not trying to cater to an international audience and say “hey, we’re Australian!”  It’s just the way we talk to each other and insult each other here in this country.  Mitch was stoked with how that came across.

Matt:  What are you guys all working on at the moment?  When are we going to see you on screen next?

Xavier:  Morgan and I did a film a couple of months ago that’s going to be coming out sometime next year.

Travis:  I did a bit in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and that’s coming out mid next year also.

Lincoln:  I’m heading back to the audition circuit and I’ll maybe head over to the U.S. for pilot season.  In the meantime, our fingers are crossed and hopefully Spin Out does really well.

  

Interview - Jack Huston On A Reminagined 'Ben-Hur'

Jack Huston

It’s an interesting choice for a remake and I recently spoke to actor Jack Huston about his starring role in the new Ben-Hur…

Matt:  The 1959 Ben-Hur was an epic in all sense of the word – in terms of its length, and box-office, and Oscars haul.  We’ve even coined the phrase “bigger than Ben Hur”.  A lot of people might be sceptical of a remake.  What was your first reaction when you heard about another film being made of Lew Wallace's novel?

Jack:  I’m a big lover of the 1959 version and I loved what Charlton Heston did with it but it was a very different time of making movies.  Performances were very theatrical and operatic back then.  I terms of this film, we were very conscious that we wanted this to be a very humanised story that people can relate to.  It’s set 2000 years ago but we quickly realised it’s a current story in the sense that we still have wars that are driven by religion and politics.  While the 1959 film was very much about revenge, this more about hope, forgiveness, redemption, kindness and love.

Matt:  An interesting theme for me was the way in which the spectacle of competitive sport is a powerful tool for getting people to put aside differences and come together.  Morgan Freeman’s character talks about the way you can dent a society’s pride by beating them in the sporting arena.  Is that something you found interesting in the script?

Jack:  It’s very interesting.  There’s a scene late in the film after the race and looks around and starts to worry if he’s done the wrong thing.  Judah is seeking revenge and when he gets it, he realises that he’s never felt lower.  There’s a moment where my character drops a rock and symbolises the release of the anger and hated that’s built up inside of him.  When you look at politics today, it’s how the world is controlled – by instilling a sense of fear in everybody.

Matt:  Given Charlton Heston’s Oscar-winning performance is so iconic, how did you go about reinvigorating the character for this new version?  I’m guess there’s a lot of pressure from particularly the older generation that will be comparing you to Heston?

Jack:  They might but it’s funny because when I read the script, I realised this wasn’t a remake of the 1959 version.  It’s a completely reimagined story of Lew Wallace’s novel that was written 130 years ago.  It’s been adapted quite a few times for the stage, cinema and television.  The reason is because it’s a great story.  Film is an interpretive art form.

When I read the script, I saw my Judah Ben-Hur as very different to what Charlton Heston did and it was a big reason why I wanted to do the role.  Heston was very much a “man’s man” but my character is more of a “lost child” who has a deep love for his brother and struggling to find his own way.  He’s at a crossroads and is struggling to make a decision.  By staying neutral, he’s not committing to anything and it’s through the betrayal that he goes on this journey or redemption.

Matt:  You get the chance here to work alongside the great Morgan Freeman who must have cinema’s most iconic voices.  What was it like?  You’ve been in the business a little while now but is there a lot you can learn from someone with his vast experience?

Jack:  Every day I learned from him.  He’s a humble man with an amazing presence.  He’s funny as hell though.  He instantly puts you at ease and he’s wonderful to work with.

Matt:  It’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate these days between what’s real and what’s visual effects.  Can you tell me how Timur Bek-mam-be-tov was able bring those to life?  Are you actually riding a chariot?

Jack:  Every time you see us on a horse with the chariots, that’s actually us doing it.  We trained tirelessly for months.  We didn’t use any CGI except for when we had an accident such as a horse being injured.  When you see me standing on a chariot and smashing into things, all of that was real.

Matt:  All actors love to do their own stunts but do you actually fear for your life when you’re dong that stuff?  It looks so intense on screen.

Jack:  This is about as dangerous as it gets.  Everyone was very open about that.  For modern audiences to experience this and believe in the story, we knew we had to be on those chariots.  Timur put GoPro cameras all over the place and we shot 6 weeks on the first unit and 5 weeks on the second unit just for the chariot race sequence.    

Matt:  Are there actually scenes shot on a GoPro camera that ended up in the finished product?

Jack:  Absolutely.  We wanted the audience to feel like they were on those chariots.  It’s utterly immersive.

Matt:  Was the chariot ring a giant set?

Jack:  They actually built the circus to scale.  There were times when we had 32 horses going around that arena at one time.

Matt:  I’m guessing you’re a fit guy anyway but was there a lot of additional preparation required to get into shape for this character?

Jack:  I actually had to lose 30 pounds before shooting because Judah spends 5 years working in the galley of a slave ship and if you wouldn’t exactly be ripping with muscle.  I was incredibly strong because I was in the gym but I had a very specific diet to keep my weight down.  It was tough trying to do.

Matt:  When you have a film that’s set 2,000 years ago, there’s really nothing to refer back to in terms of the way people spoke back then.  How do you therefore settle on an accent, a way of speaking for your character?

Jack:  The movie has a very diverse cast which I think Timur was smart about.  He wanted it to be a multicultural film.  We spoke in a way that would make the film accessible to audiences.  Times change but human interaction doesn’t.  We love, we hate, we fear.

Matt:  Hollywood feels like it’s becoming more and more risk averse with its reliance on comic book movies and animated sequels.  What’s the hook with this remake?  What type of audience are you trying to attract and what are you hoping they’ll take away from it?

Jack:  I think we might be getting a bit of superhero fatigue.  People might want to call this a remake but it’s not in any way.  This is a completely reimagined version of a beautiful story.  It’s the reason we make cinema.  You have to experience this on the big screen and as a movie lover, I feel honoured because this is part of the reason I got into movies and now I’m a part of them.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking what you’re working on at the moment.  What are we going to see you in next?

Jack:  I’ve got a movie called The Yellow Birds, Their Finest and Above Suspicion all coming out soon.  I’m just trying to keep it all going by playing some fun, diverse roles.

Interview - Writer-Director Abe Forsythe On 'Down Under'

Abe Forsythe

Down Under marks the second feature film of writer-director Abe Forsythe and is a dark comedy set against the backdrop of the 2005 Cronulla riots.  I recently caught up with Abe and he provided some great insight into his film. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  There are so many parts to Australia’s history and culture.  Where did the inspiration come from to make a dark comedy centred on the Cronulla riots?

Abe:  It was when I found out I was going to be a father back in 2010.  I realised that I didn’t have much time left to write a script before I was going to be busy with a child.  It also left me questioning what kind of world that I wanted my child to be brought into and the theme of masculinity since I knew I was having a son.  That led me to the Cronulla riots themselves.  I’d been experimenting with short films that dealt with social issues in a comedic way and everything kind of poured out of me after that.

Matt:  The Coen Brothers always set the benchmark for me when it comes to making a dark comedy.  How tough was it to write this script?  To find a film that highlights a darker side of Australia while also doing so in a humorous manner?

Abe:  The Coen Brothers are filmmakers I respect above and beyond almost all others.  A movie like Fargo is a perfect example.  They can be very funny but very dark and ultimately very poignant.  That’s what I was aiming for tonally.  There are some big comic moments and performances in this film but it was important for me that we treated the subject with the care and seriousness that it deserved.  I’ve seen from screenings so far that audiences have been surprised.

Matt:  What kind of research can do you to create characters for a film like this?  How easy was it to get an understanding of the sheer stupidity of some of these people while also trying to get an appreciation of why they have developed such a warped sense of right and wrong?

Abe:  These characters are stereotypes in a way.  They’re big, broad, comic performances.  However, the actors who play the roles also know how to play different levels.  It’s not just comedy with nothing else going on.  Each of these actors is able to convey what it is behind their exterior that is causing them to act in that way.  It’s important for audiences to see that it’s a complicated situation and people act in this way for many, many different reasons.  Racist behaviour is often an outlet for getting frustration out on other things that they don’t have working in their lives.  

Matt:  What sort of reactions did you get when trying to source funding for the film?  Similar to Snowtown, this is a dark chapter in Australian history that needs to be spoken out but there’s often a reluctance to do so, particularly on the big screen.

Abe:  We didn’t encounter too much difficulty.  When people read the script, they understood the tone and what the film ultimately says.  In terms of the comparison to Snowtown, even though this film starts at the riots, it’s a fictional tale with character that represent people there but not one person in particular.  That was important to me.

Matt:  Watching the early parts of this film, I was wondering it might be bit goofy and stereotypical like Housos Vs. Authority but the ending certainly got me.  It really does pack an emotional punch.  So I want to ask what is the end goal with a film like this?  What are you hoping people will take away it and do you think it has the ability to sway public view?

Abe:  I’m not ignorant enough to think that one single movie can change ingrained behaviour.  What a movie can do is put you in a space where you sit down in a cinema, have a shared experience with an audience, and maybe think about something in a different way.  That’s part of the reason we use comedy in the movie.  We want people to laugh but then make sure they don’t get let off the hook at the end.  It would have been irresponsible of me if I didn’t end the film the way that I did.  We wanted to give audiences something to discuss and carry around with them.

Matt:  I heard you speak at the Brisbane premiere that you’ve been getting some nasty comments on social media since the film’s premiere in Sydney.  What sort of stuff have people been saying?  Is that tough to deal with?

Abe:  It’s been eye opening.  People have been reacting to some articles where I’ve made comments about racism, ignorance and ingrained behaviour.  I’ve been saying that we all need to take a step back and start listening to each other.  For the first time in my life as a white Australian male, I’ve been on the receiving end of a level of abuse and hatred that some people encounter every day.  I learned so much making the movie and talking to people that have experienced prejudice in all sorts of ways.  It’s been a learning experience for me.

Matt:  The film has quite a big cast.  How easy was it to find the right actors you wanted for the roles?  There’s a broad mix of ethnicities and personalities.

Abe:  I’m not going to lie – it was daunting to begin with.  We have 8 main characters and lots of other significant roles.  One miscast role could have brought everything down around it.  I was lucky in that I didn’t have to recruit a big Hollywood star or an Australian household name to get the money.  I was able to go with exactly who was right for each role.  We saw a lot of people during the audition process.  Once selected, it was then a matter of getting everyone working together and making sure the chemistry was there.  For such a dark subject matter, I couldn’t have asked for a better cast to be surrounded by.

Matt:  The story is set in 2005 which isn’t quite the current day but it’s not far off either.  I often wonder whether that throws up some challenges when picking locations and attire because you don’t want it to look too new.

Abe:  It’s interesting.  With 2005, you think it’ll be easy but you’re surprised by how many things trip you up.  There’s a scene set in a video store and back then you had both VHS tapes and DVDs.  Trying to find those VHS tapes to put on a shelf was really hard.

Matt:  There are some interesting choices in the soundtrack but the one that stood out was the song from The Neverending Story.  Was there any inspiration behind that?

Abe:  We have quite an ecclectic group of songs.  I was looking for songs known internationally so that it could play for a very broad audience.  We were lucky with that particular track because it wasn’t too expensive to get the rights.  At the same time, that song beautifully summed up the absurdity of this situation.  The song makes you think of your childhood and makes you remember a time when the majority of us were unaware of the intricacies and dangers of the world.  They sing along to the song and it’s a sweet moment of innocence in the film before the impending finale.

Matt:  Your first feature film was Ned and in this film, one of the characters is covered in Ned Kelly tattoos.  Is that just a coincidence or was there something more to it?

Abe:  It is just a coincidence.  There was one moment where I asked myself “am I going to do this?” but I realised that it necessary to pull off an important joke in the film.

Matt:  Any plans to take the film overseas and possibly to any international film festivals?

Abe:  Yes.  I can’t announce one of the film festivals just yet but the film will be at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas for its North American premiere.  I’ve always wanted to go there as a punter so I can’t wait to immerse myself in film for a week.  With Down Under, part of the audiences will be able to remove themselves from the story because they’re unfamiliar with the Cronulla riots but at the same time, there are frightening parallels with other events that are currently going on overseas.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by what working on next?

Abe:  I’ve spent 6 years working on Down Under and trying to get it out there.  I love this movie and I’m so proud of it but I can’t wait have a break from it.