You should, dear listener, go away and read this article (SUNK) . . . before listening to this interview – simply for ‘those who came in late’ kinda reasons….
Films like Lost in La Mancha, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Lost Soul, and The Death of Superman Lives have ostensibly created a new documentary genre that I simply have been devouring … the ‘unmaking of’ movies … great movies that were stillborn, or that died slow miserable deaths on the path to cinematic folklore. And we’ve all heard the film fiasco war stories . . . but not like this. This is the most intriguing because it is still, for the most part…shrouded in a heavy belt of foggy mystery….
The, or one of the embattled figures at the center of this mesmerizing cyclone is a man I’ve longed to chat with since reading the aforementioned article, Mr. Jonathan Lawrence. Now, to get the winter of our discontent outta the way up front, I was certain – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that talking about the ‘FISH’ movie, (as Jonathan enlightened me, or as fate would have it as the movie’s surrogate title) was the last thing he would want to do . . . . AGAIN!
So, while I was certainly keen to devote only a small portion of the conversation to my simmering curiosity (namely EMPIRES OF THE DEEP) – I was more interested to hear the story of the man who was a part of its ill-fated inception….
In singularly one my most engrossing conversations I’ve ever had with a filmmaker – I have really wanted talk to ever since I read about a Chinese billionaire who woke up one day and decided he wanted to make a movie – with the whole story so feverishly well documented in the article back there at the beginning. . . and, Jonathan tells me he has been interviewed extensively for a possible documentary on the subject ……. fingers crossed!!! But, this conversation is not about that ‘FISH’ movie – instead it’s about the man behind it, also a candidate for one of the best lines I’ve heard …. “I know how to be dangerous, and get by.”
In the early days of writing for PTS, I did a little piece on Superman Returns (which you’ll find here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/31/a-nice-day-for-supermans-return-by-kent-hill/). It was, if you like, a hymn of praise to a glorious afternoon, when the exaltation of the moment, combined with the wave of nostalgia – and the fact it was my birthday – all blended together on the day of the premiere of the first Superman movie in a really long time.
Of course, as is the case with a lot of films, a second viewing broke the spell. What I was left with was something of a mixed bag of emotions that I still ponder to this day. How did it all go wrong? What happened to the Bryan Singer who had recently made X2 (which was great)? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the whole thing a multi-million dollar rush job? Should they have rolled the dice and made Superman Lives? (Hell, YES!!!)
Today I was sent another great behind the scenes glimpse from my friend, filmmaker and co-screenwriter Sean Ellis, who edited the footage (see here:https://vimeo.com/262035539/ea3164da85). There is even a moment when you can see Robert going about his stock-in-trade in documenting the making of the picture.
There has been more of Superman on the big screen since then. Admirable attempts, but, far from that iconic and wondrous unification of elements which saw the 1978 film explode onto screens, and into our hearts and minds for evermore. Now, I like Cavill in the role, and with the climax of Justice League there appeared a glimmer of hope. That maybe they buried the moody/brooding Superman, and with his resurrection would also be born a welcome return to form?
Only time will tell whether DC cinematic universe can recapture, in part, its days of honor. Lighting, as I once said, has already struck (circa 1978 with Donner’s film), now all we are left with is the thunder and its echoes. Do I hate Superman Returns? No. It was, in this man’s opinion, a valiant attempt to resurrect the Man of Steel after a long slumber – yet for all its magic, it didn’t cast a spell of significant longevity – though it wasn’t as silly as Superman’s CG shave in his most recent big screen outing.
I have a dream, as it was once uttered, that one day the grey clouds will part, the blue yonder shall emerge in all its heavenly brilliance and, there in the stillness, a figure traveling faster than a speeding bullet will rip across the vast firmament and we’ll look up in the sky – and maybe, just maybe, another magical retelling of the adventures of the most romantic of the superhero cast will descend – there we’ll find another great Superman movie?
It’s always a fascinating experience to sit down with Richard. The man is such a natural storyteller, with a unique perspective relating not only to cinema, but also to the world around him.
We caught up this time in the midst of bad weather, a troubled connection and, last but not least, a turbulent time in Richard’s beloved Montsegur. While our conversation touched upon this, along with the whys and wherefores of the situation, we eventually turned to movies. At this time it had been documented that Richard was again a part of an attempt to bring Moreau back to the screen – as a TV series. Having been hired by the same people that fired him during the doomed journey of his initial attempt, there seems to be, thanks to David Gregory’s documentary, a renewed interest in Richard’s take on his long-suffering passion project.
I did also bring up The Otherworld, which I had finally seen at the time. Stanley’s absorbing documentary-slash-ghost-story, and the myths and misconceptions surrounding it and ‘The Zone’ which forms the backdrop. Richard is steeped in the history of Montsegur and, flavored with his supernatural encounters, it is indeed a tale of great intrigue.
Also to we touched on, and I must say I highly anticipate, the writing of Richard’s autobiography. A project that was going smoothly until it was insisted, and initially resisted by its author, that a chapter be included on the subject of the collapse of Richard’s vision of Moreau. As thrilling a read as it will be – like I said Richard is a fascinating character – it will be equally riveting to finally have a recounting of the story from the embattled man at the center of the controversy.
Still, the future is full of possibilities, and I for one wait with inordinate eagerness for any and all of Richard’s creative endeavors to finally emerge . . . in whatever form they shall take.
They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.
Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.
For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.
I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.
Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.
He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.
But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.
Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.
It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…
I don’t think there’s a film out there with a more volcanically troubled production history than John Frankenheimer’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau. It wasn’t even supposed to be helmed by him, rather an upstart named Richard Stanley, who’s control on the creative reigns was violently yanked away by the studio and given to notoriously fiery Frankenheimer, who, lets face it, could never really get his genetically altered ducks in a line when he took over. Between Val Kilmer acting like a lunatic and very nearly being replaced, Marlon Brando being an even bigger lunatic because he knew no one would ever replace him (the big guy had an ego to match his girth) and raging budget problems as a result of the antics, the making of this film was, in short, a fucking disaster. So now I’ve said my piece on the most talked about aspect of this film, I want to shift gears into an area that just doesn’t get covered a lot in discussion: the final film itself. Because of the maelstrom of bad PR circling the film like the storm that maroons our heroes on Moreau’s isle, many people just assume it’s a shit movie, which is not the case. I happen to love it, and if anything the level of obvious behind the scene chaos seeping through just gives it an organic unpredictability free from shackles of a script that I imagine was fairly generic in the conception phase. This is a bonkers film, no denial from me there, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every certifiable, furry prosthetic adorned, opulent, disorganized minute of it. David Thewlis took over from Kilmer as the lead, when Val had behavioural issues, but they’re both present and accounted for as the wreckage of a ship meets Moreau’s isle, a twisted Eden where human animal hybrids live under the delirious monarchy of the good Doctor, played with reliably laconic mania by Brando. He’s been playing god, the old codger, and his island is now home to a host of varied zoological wonders, and no narrative would be complete without it all going tits up in a giant mutiny later on. The practical effects are delightfully excessive and elaborate, packed onto specifically chosen actors who already have an ethereal, animalistic aura on their own. Ron Perlman is the sagely Sayer Of The Law, Marc Dacoscas the leopardly Lo Mai, Temuerra Morrison the lion like Azazello and wild eyed Fairuza Balk is feline goddess Aissa, who happens to be Moreau’s daughter. ‘She’s a pussy’ Kilmer quips in one of many candid slips of the tongue on his part. The inmates eventually run the asylum, or whichever clever parable you want to apply, and it hurtles towards a third act full of flying fur and fangs that releases the floodgates on Frankenheimer’s lack of cohesion, the mad scientist workshop of Stan Winston’s special effects, Brando’s bug eyed dementia and Kilmer’s ADHD riddled performance, in one scene going so off far off the rails that Thewlis has to literally break character and tell him to ‘quit fuckin around’, an unintentional laugh riot. Brando has a midget Mini Me, too, which is never fully explained but always good for a nervous laugh, as the thing looks like a fetus that vaulted out of the womb a few month too early, although I suppose that’s the point. Look, it’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful one, a kaleidoscopic parade of grotesque costumes and cartoonish performances wrapped up in a story so overblown and off the map it almost takes on a pulse of it’s own. For insight on what went down behind the scenes you can read Ron Perlman’s autobiography, watch the recent documentary on the film or simply check out IMDb trivia, but whatever went down for real, it ended up branding one of the most bizarre and wonderful creature features of the 90’s, and I love every feral, freaky minute of it.
Everyone was waiting. Leonard Maltin was waiting, Roger Durling was waiting, Scott Cooper was waiting, the press was waiting, and the giant mob of screaming fans were waiting. Johnny Depp was running late, and nobody cared. Depp arrived thirty minutes late. He was set to receive the Leonard Maltin Modern Master Award from BLACK MASS director, Scott Cooper as well as participating in a much anticipated Q&A with Leonard Maltin.
He arrived in a black Cadillac SUV and once he exited he instantly disobeyed his handlers and went directly to the vast mob of his fans. He took his time signing autographs, taking photographs, and shaking each hand he could. Depp then moved to the red carpet, timidly keeping away from the press yet posing for a gracious amount of time for photos against the sleek SBIFF backdrop. He posed with Scott Cooper and then he quickly was moved to the end of the press line, but I caught his attention:
“Mr. Depp, one quick question: DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, and SWEENEY TODD. Which is your favorite role?”
He put his hand up to his mouth, held his chin, stared right at me through his blue Michael Mann tinted glasses and said,
“I don’t know. That’s difficult, man.”
Depp was quickly moved into the Arlington Theatre and the floodgates opened and everyone rushed in. Once the gorgeous Arlington Theatre settled down, the dapper Roger Durling took the stage and he spoke graciously, thanking everyone for being there and thanked Johnny Depp for coming.
Maltin then took the stage and he introduced Depp and an excellently edited highlight reel played. Watching a brief highlight of Depp’s career doesn’t do it justice, yet you can’t help feeling overwhelmed by his truly epic career.
Depp walked out, and the theatre erupted with applause and screaming. Depp shyly smiled. To this day, Johnny Depp is the epitome of cool. He was wearing socks with hemp leaf patterns and for about the first hour and a half of the Q&A, he meticulously hand rolled a perfect cigarillo. He then lit it and took the rest of the Q&A slowly smoking it. In California, and pretty much anywhere else, it is illegal to smoke in a public venue, but who is going to tell Johnny Depp to stop smoking?
Depp is a very sweet guy, he’s incredibly humbled. Whenever Maltin would bring up a film, whether it was one of Depp’s blockbusters or a seminal undercard performance, the audience would clap and Depp would smile and thank the audience.
The Q&A with Leonard Maltin was almost three hours long and it was wonderful. I was able to ask Leonard Maltin two quick question on the red carpet, I asked him to pick between DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and SWEENEY TODD. Maltin paused for a moment and said DONNIE BRASCO. I then asked him what his favorite underrated performance of Depp’s was and he said, without hesitation, DON JUAN DEMARCO.
It took about an hour for Depp to warm up and get comfortable. He was incredibly candid about his career. He spoke frankly about how he’s a musician, who happened to become an actor to pay the rent. He spoke in depth about what a horror he was, and sometimes still is, on film sets. Maltin asked him about his relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE. Johnny Depp just started laughing.
“You know, I respect Leo a lot. He did so much work and research and preparation for that role,” and a sly smile arose on his face, “and I tortured him.”
The audience started laughing, and Depp stopped, and looked at the audience,
“No, really, I did. He liked video games. No Leo, I won’t give you a drag of my cigarette while you hide from your Mom.”
Depp briefly spoke about his work with John Waters, saying how Waters was the only filmmaker he knew who made a film based on a title. He said Waters came up with the idea of PECKER, solely for the fact that when it would be advertised it would be: John Waters’ PECKER Coming Soon.
When Depp was asked about his casting in EDWARD SCISSOR HANDS and his long and awesome collaboration with Tim Burton, Depp started laughing. He spoke about how he didn’t want to even meet with Burton, he knew he wouldn’t get the part, but his agent Tiffany talked him into it. Depp recalled walking into a diner to meet Burton. He had no idea what he looked like. He scanned the diner and saw a guy “whose hair looked like a hardware store exploded, and I knew I had to talk to him. Even if he wasn’t Tim, I still had to talk to him.” The man with the exploded hair was Tim Burton, and that was the beginning of one of the greatest collaborations in cinema history.
Leonard Maltin beamed as he showed a clip of DON JUAN DEMARCO and then asked him about that film, and working with Marlon Brando. Depp settled back in his chair and smiled, and spoke about his abundant love and admiration for Brando. He said he was a father, mentor, brother, essentially a gigantic blanket that meant the world to Depp. When Maltin asked Depp to describe what he learned from Brando, he paused looked down, and then back up at Maltin and said: justice.
Maltin asked Depp about the only film he directed, THE BRAVE that premiered at Cannes in 1997 and featured Marlon Brando in a prominent role. Maltin asked when we could see it. Depp asked the audience who wanted to buy it. He then went on to speak about the reason he shelved the film was because he didn’t want to play the distribution game, and he wanted to retain control over it.
In 2004, when Brando died, Depp was devastated and he was receiving offers about releasing THE BRAVE. He was told it was a prime time to release the film, it was an unseen Brando performance, and now was the time to release it. That’s the moment when Depp decided to put the film under lock and key. He was returning justice back to Marlon Brando. Maltin then said that releasing it now wouldn’t be an exploiting Brando’s death. Depp then said he would show THE BRAVE at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival next year, and shook Maltin’s hand on it.
So in theory, next year, Johnny Depp will be premiering his unicorn of a film, THE BRAVE, at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival. That remains to be seen, but seeing Depp speak, in depth, for three hours about his remarkable career was amazing. After the Q&A was over, Depp went back outside to all his screaming fans and took more photographs and signed as many autographs as he could. Johnny Depp is not only one of cinema’s best actors, but he’s truly a class act.