Harry spends the day with Sylvester Stallone, Ricardo Montalban, a really cool 3D Camera & Robert Rodriguez on SPY KIDS
Hey folks, Harry here… Ya know, every now and again I find myself in a situation that is going way, way waaaaay too good. Where you can’t believe that you’re talking to the person you’re talking to, seeing the things you’re seeing and well… that I wasn’t just making a drooling fanboy ass out of myself.
When I first arrived at TROUBLEMAKER STUDIOS, I noticed that it no longer looks like an airplane hanger, it now looks like a studio. It’s finished out inside, decorated, trophies from films past. I wasn’t really here to write about SPY KIDS 3, because… well that’s a Robert film and I don’t write reviews or analysis of his work anymore because of our friendship… However, I was going for three very simple reasons.
1) I was finally going to get to meet Sylvester Stallone.
2) I would be watching Ricardo Montalban on a very dramatic day.
3) I would get to check out, not only James Cameron’s new Digital 3D toy in action, but I would also get to see a film shoot entirely on a rear projection 3D HD system, created SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS FILM and will one day be a technology that could be in our homes.
First thing I noticed as I was entering the Emerald Studio… aka The Green Screen Stage was the sound of Ricardo’s voice. Next, I find myself sitting watching that huge dual projection synced 3D High Def system as though I’d be insane to turn away.
I have been on a lot of sets in the past 7 years and seen an awful lot of innovation first hand. However, the technology that is going on Rodriguez’s SPY KIDS 3D GAME OVER really turned the tech-fetishist inside me on in a way I was not expecting. The 3D High Def Camera Rig that was invented for Cameron’s GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS is simply the bestest coolest damn thing I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does do is this. A filmmaker shooting with this camera, all at once is making a film that can be shown in IMAX 3D, be used in Theme Park Attractions, be shown in 3D in theaters, be shown in regular Flat projection. When Cameron was working on having the camera invented, what he was shooting for was a “Holy Grail” camera that could, all at once, shoot everything you could ever need or want. Is that what they have? I don’t know, but I do know that the results are absolutely amazing to watch.
Right now, all the footage that Robert is shooting is the GREEN SCREEN stuff, because he has to get this stuff shot, so that the effects can be being delivered while he shoots the rest of the movie, the parts that don’t require visual effects. So while I was watching 3D being shot, I was mainly seeing just the human elements being captured with bare minimum sets in place.
Watching Daryl Sabara and Ricardo Montalban acting in 3D… well let me explain. When James Cameron was shooting on GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, he was having to look at a low-res computer image of the 3D results, till he got the tapes up for dual projection. That was the same situation at the beginning of SPY KIDS 3D till they invented a new way of displaying the images which is… well one day there will be a very expensive High Definition Home Version, but for now, all there is is this prototype.
When you watch VIDEO PLAYBACK on most sets, you are watching a rough idea of what you’ll see in dailies. Last year when I visited Robert’s SPY KIDS 2 set, he was watching his playback on an HD Monitor which looked EXACTLY like what the finished product would look like. Perfect images to analyze. No longer did a director need to look at dailies, his dailies were the real time images he was looking at while directing. Basically what this enabled Robert to do was to make his decisions about which take was THE TAKE as he’s shooting, instead of the next day in “Dailies”. Just something that makes the process a bit faster.
Well, in the history of 3D filmmaking, the filmmaker has never had playback to observe the performances, or how the 3D is working. Thus when you watch a lot of 3D films, you’ll find ghost images all over the place which give you a headache. This is a problem because the convergence of the dual images being captured is not being monitored or observed live while shooting. Essentially, this is like having a blind Focus Puller operating the focal points on your film. As a result, the “sweet spot” that you have for “best 3D” is generally a slide-rule estimation and calculation, as opposed to visual reality.
Well, on SPY KIDS 3D – they have a live 4ft by 3ft Dual High Def 3D Projection Screen that you watch everything on with Polarized glasses on. Hypnotic does not even begin to communicate how striking this is. I mean… WOW. Ok, we’ve all seen some form of 3D being delivered, but imagine the crystal clarity of a High Def monitor in 3D. That was what every second that the camera was on, was relating to the screen I was watching. So, watching Daryl Sabara and Ricardo Montalban performing was just great… but even better, when Hair and Make-Up and grips and other folks entered the shot between takes… suddenly the depth perception and focus and clarity was optimized. It was a constant wonder to behold. Whatever you may think of SPY KIDS, whether or not it is too juvenile for you… that was irrelevant. What was paramount, was this technology and how amazing it was to watch.
For the first time a filmmaker shooting a 3D movie can see what he’s doing, when moving the camera through a shot, he can adjust the “Sweet Spot” through a control, much like the Focus Pulling control, that controls the distance between the two cameras to alter the point of convergence to create a constant and flowing “Sweet Spot”. BTW – I wondered out loud if this created a new position called CONVERGENCE PULLER, but in actuality the FOCUS PULLER does his regular job in the right hand, but now his left hand controls Convergence.
As for the scene I was watching, it was basically Juni (Daryl) and Grandpa (Ricardo) coming out of the ‘game’ and talking to an off camera Donnagan (Mike Judge) about what is happening. There’s a very funny line that Ricardo has here, that I will not spoil as it will delight everyone that’s a fan of Ricardo’s career. However, this wasn’t a key scene. After wrapping that, it was a break for lunch, where I joined Robert in his newly created office which is decorated with Inserts for ROCK ALL NIGHT, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BLADE RUNNER, ROAD WARRIOR and a few others I can’t remember. Out one window was the construction of a set, to the other side was a High Def monitor showing what was being prepared on the other set. This way, Robert can always be monitoring what is happening on set, even during breaks. Meanwhile, he was on his Titanium Powerbook getting e-mail via an airport somewhere, that had early effects being delivered from around the world and upstairs.
Robert showed me several animatics regarding Giant Robots, very intense Road Warrior-esque destruction at impossible speeds and some insanity with lava that was just very intense. He also showed me some tests of Ricardo Montalban running, leaping and being a superhero in the film, within the context of the game that was just… really cool. Ricardo is confined to a wheelchair and is constantly in intense pain while working, because of a pair of spinal operations he’s gone under in the past two years. But, I’ll go more into that later.
Rodriguez also showed me the poster for ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (the O is a silhouette of a scorpion) in which Johnny Depp looks absolutely killer… and Salma and Antonio don’t look to shabby either. Then there was the trailer that’ll be hitting this summer on SONY films. I’ll let you folks judge the trailer when you see it. I expect JoBlo will give it 5 out of 5, and it will cause much droolage in the land of geeks.
Then Robert and I broke for lunch and to meet Stallone.
When I walked out into the lobby of the TROUBLEMAKER STUDIOS, I saw Sylvester Stallone. Frankly I was stunned and shy to start with. To me, born in 1971… I remember watching ROCKY in 1976 at the FOX Theater on Airport Blvd and being blown away by the story of a man that just wanted to go the distance. Hearing Bill Conti’s music for the first time. It is one of those films that captured my imagination. I am a ROCKY nut. I used to walk every day to the FOX theater, over a mile from my house, to see ROCKY 3 for over a month. Until I discovered BLADE RUNNER at that same theater, watching Balboa getting his face destroyed by Mr T… well it did it for me. And here he was. Stallone.
He was talking to Rodriguez about his costume. The costume. Frankly, I’m not good enough a writer to describe this thing, but… Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie would’ve given eyeteeth to possess it. A psychedelic combination of snake/alligator patterns with the textural undercurrent of crushed velvet with an Edwardian stylings of baroque gold lamet ruffles from the cuffs and an undervest… The coat snapped at the top of the chest, with a John Wayne button arrangement… He looked like a friggin superbeing. AB King would’ve died. This was the finest outfit that I’ve ever seen Stallone in. Cool did not cover it. Robert was asking about “The Ring” – Stallone wanted the ring in the part as a power symbol, then to demonstrate he took a step back, posed like Hal Jordan and said:
“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, let those that worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s Light!”
Ok, right there. It was at that exact moment that I realized how fucking amazingly cool this day was going to be. I just watched Sylvester Stallone use a ring of power and quote Hal Jordan in full superhero pose. I don’t know if you have a clue how cool that was to see. But it was so cool… so impossibly awesome that I just could not believe what I was seeing. That’s when he saw me and said, “I recognize this guy," and started to walk towards me. Instantly my brain began to do a bit of that flutter panic thing. Shook his hand, looking at this HUMONGOUS ring he had on. When he backed up to explain to Robert and everyone that he got this ring from Shaq, it was the Laker’s Championship Ring, which Shaq gave Stallone, if Stallone promised to put Shaq in one of his movies and fight him. Stallone felt it was a good deal and took the ring.
Robert was discussing Sly’s look… at this point I walked over to the table and put my hands on the back of one of the chairs. I was having a momentary panic attack. I had frozen a bit upon meeting Stallone, I was the same way with Mr T and Carl Weathers when I met them. I could not be this way here. I was acting like I was looking at a bunch of props on a table, when Robert says, “Harry, you missed it, last night I was drilling Stallone on Rocky stories and he was just spilling them left and right, you would’ve loved it!”
I figured this was a good time to say, “Well, damn… That must’ve been cool.” Stallone then starts going into a story about ROCKY II and how the producers threw the script at him and how nobody would touch it so they let him direct it thinking it would be the end of the series. At this point, I ask Sly if he’d sign my ROCKY 2 poster which Father Geek happened to be holding along with a 1955 lobby card set we were going to talk with Ricardo about later. At this point Robert “OK”ed the look, but said Stallone’s hair needed to be more white and that the ring was cool. Then left, and Stallone autographed the poster. He then went into ROCKY 6.
It seems that Stallone has taken inspiration from George Foreman with ROCKY 6. George after getting whupped by Spinks just sort of walked away from boxing and gained weight, took up charity work, but then one day discovered that the money had run out for the charity and himself, and nobody would give him a loan, his friends told him that the ships had sailed. And he just didn’t have anything anymore. He was an overweight, out of shape, middle aged man of questionable diminished fame. George decided to go back to boxing, mainly small club fights, tiny venues, people calling him a joke, but he was winning, and around that 16th fight, people started to take notice, things began to turn around. Well Stallone wants to basically tell that story, the has-been giving it a run story, but he also has in ROCKY 6 a character that he’s heading towards fighting, a new champ, which represents the modern black athlete which is very different from the Apollo Creeds or Alis of yesteryear. That new generation of Athlete with their posses and hanger ons. And what he wants is a DMX or a LL COOL J type to have in there, that has his own reasons for fighting, his own motivations. Not just some icon of evil that he has to defeat, but someone with their own demons and their own reasons to step into that ring.
By the time he was done, I was ready to see ROCKY 6, it definitely sounded more up my alley than ROCKY 5. Hair and make up took Stallone away, and I headed back to set. Dad and I were really stunned by how open Stallone was, and couldn’t wait to get talking to him when he returned to set.
There was a bit of shooting with Ricardo solo, nothing particularly big. Just tiny pieces to place in here and there. It was a lot of shooting that wasn’t particularly captivating, with lots of stops between shootings, to move the camera, Ricardo, lights, etc. So there was a lot of time here.
I killed it by talking with Vince Pace… Vince was the Director of Photography on GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS and an associate of James Cameron’s since ABYSS. He’s typically known as an Underwater Expert on shooting, designing camera rigs that work on the bottom of the ocean floor… that type of thing. When Cameron wanted to invent the Holy Grail of Cameras, using Lucas’ “Holy Grail” digital camera, he called in Vince Pace, who found the task very interesting. I gave y’all a lot of the information I gathered from this talk up above, but while talking to him, I discovered that James Cameron is very much motivated to use this new technology for his next film. On a fishing expedition, I floated BATTLE ANGEL out there as having the possibilities of being astonishing in 3D, to which Vince smiled. Then deftly side-stepped to say that the problem is this. Jim isn’t entirely happy with the projection situation yet. You see, currently they can CAPTURE the images, but the nation’s projection capabilities are still in the stone age by comparison.
Most theaters can’t do the over and under projection necessary… or the silver screens for best effect. Which means that the next stage is with Digital projection. There’s currently one digital projector in existence, I believe he called it a Mirage, though that may be wrong. It is an experimental unit that has a refresh rate fast enough to handle the dual image stream necessary for the perfect clarity. But it isn’t ready for distribution yet, and is prohibitively expensive from mass distribution. What Robert is doing with SPY KIDS 3D: GAME OVER will be a Red and Cyan lens process that due to Digital Cinema, he’ll have the ability to create a far better product than has ever been seen in that format. The theaters that can handle the polarization lenses may be getting that as well. Robert showed me tests with the Red and Cyan lenses and it looked fantastic, and I didn’t have that headache thing happen, so that was good.
In talking to Vince, I found out that Robert is designing the environments inside the “game” that Juni and Grandpa go into to be the stars of 3D. That way it isn’t Juni and the other characters stabbing their fingers into the camera and throwing stuff at the camera, but an image with depth and a foreground. The 3D animatics demonstrated this to quite a dramatic effect. The “Road Warrior” cycle sequence demonstrated motion and depth, the result was really really cool.
Vince really communicated that this isn’t reinventing the wheel, but adding an extra layer of cool for those fetishists that love cool technology. To which I agreed greatly. Vince’s goal is to be the owner of the first High Def 3D Television system, and as we turned and watched Ricardo dramatically demonstrate this by wheeling from a distance towards us… well, I couldn’t help but smile.
I also talked with Sebastian Vega. He’s the Focus Puller on SPY KIDS 3D as he was on SPY KIDS 2. However, this time Sebastian and the camera operator, Jimmy “Rack” Lindsey, flew out to Vince Pace’s shop back in November for a week of training with the equipment. Sebastian demonstrated his extra duties… i.e.… using the left hand as well as the right. I asked him if it would be better to have two different people working it. One on focus and one on convergence. He told me that it takes a bit of getting used to, but that he has a pretty good hold on it now. There have been a couple of places in shooting where he thinks dividing up the duties might’ve been superior. But he’s been able to handle it through zooms, pans, tilts, tracking shots… the whole gamut of filming.
That’s when Stallone arrived on set having come out of hair and make-up… I was just delighted. His final look was cool. He reminded me of Lee Marvin somehow. Stallone’s face has aged quite a bit, but he has a new look that just instantly cries to be used in very dramatic fashions. There’s a very intense performance waiting to come out of him, something brutal, something Peckinpah-ish. Whoever does it first is going to really reinvent Stallone on camera. I can see it there.
Over the course of the next 6 hours or so, Stallone went from performing with Ricardo Montalban in their SHOWDOWN scene inside the skull of a giant Robot, to talking with me. In all, I spent around 5 hours chatting with Stallone. We weren’t doing the interview thing, it was more or less just talking about films, his, others and what not. Politics, personalities, fandom, crazed obsessives, careers, cheesecakes, hotdogs, footsie (ya know that sport of PELE’s), crazed world of modern boxing, golfing, raising kids, personal responsibility, Green Lantern, Peter Jackson being robbed, Song of the South, every film he’s ever made, Charlie Chaplin, Johnny Weismuller, Sgt Fury, Sgt Rock, Nick Fury, Judge Dredd, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Ziggy Stardust, being the slave of pre-teen girls you’re raising, John Huston, Rocky, Rambo, The Punisher, Farewell My Lovely, McCarthyism and its modern relevance, having your face on underwear, Butt-Numb-A-Thon and on and on and on.
I was shocked how easily the conversation would just keep going, one thing leading to the next. First off, Stallone is very much in tune with where he is right now. He’s reached a point in his life and career where he can see the mistakes he’s made. He knows he’s made a ton of bad movies and has worked with a lot of bad directors and directors that weren’t at their best. At this point in his career, he wants to focus on playing character roles and finding not only great material, but making sure that he’s working with people who can make that material great on screen. First time and inexperienced directors are seeming to be getting on Sly’s nerves because the results of those pairings have not been the best. And he is certainly at a point in his life, where he has 3 very young daughters and doesn’t need to be constantly working, he’d rather pick and choose his projects.
Right now, the Arnold/Sly pairing is still nowhere in sight. RAMBO 4 is currently in development hell as CAROLCO wants it, Miramax has it and wants to co-make the film with Carolco, but Carolco doesn’t want Miramax’s involvement and Bob and Harvey don’t want to just let go of the property. So all this stuff about Luc Besson, Renny Harlin and yadda yadda yadda, is yadda yadda yadda.
ROCKY 6 will end up happening at MGM, but other than that Stallone has written a script for Robert Downey Jr regarding Edgar Allan Poe that he’s trying to get set up and he’s enjoying life. He’s doing SPY KIDS 3 because he wants to work with Robert and because his daughters will finally think he’s cool, because they are addicted to the first two. In fact, while I was there, Stallone made a 3D DVD greeting to his kids with Carmen and Juni in their POWER SUITS from the set of SPY KIDS 3. It was done in one quick take, made on an IMAC and Fed Ex’ed in matter of about 40 minutes. Stallone was utterly delighted. Running around showing people the instant glossy 8x10 that Alexa and Daryl autographed to his daughters with him in the middle. Yes, he was being a great geek about it. He knows this will delight his kids to no end!
You see, to Sly’s kids, he just plays golf. They’re all too young to really get Rocky and Rambo and all of that. They have the ROCKY video game, but Stallone apparently sucks at it and can’t even beat Spiderico, and apparently breaks his kids’ hearts, but he just can’t make Rocky swing right. I suggested that he buy a cheater’s guide and practice. Can’t you just picture Stallone with one of those code books, learning all the tricks and button combinations, practicing for hours, all set to Conti’s score only to be unleashed in front of his kids as he beats the tar out of Apollo, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, Thunderlips and on and on. It’d be killer! Great lil short film.
As for Stallone’s character of the TOY MAKER – it is a schizophrenic character with multiple personalities each of which has a different visual look. Stallone will be playing each of these characters in different costumes, makeup, personalities and voices. It will definitely not be like anything we’ve seen from Stallone before. In fact today was his first day in character to perform in SPY KIDS 3 at all. The single personification of himself is very intimidating. None of the other villains in the SPY KIDS series have been particularly threatening… But seeing Sly in this costume hitting super-villain stances as he faces down Ricardo Montalban’s Grandpa in a wheelchair… You can’t help but be threatened. Particularly with these 3D low angle shots of him. He’s always being shot up to, while Grandpa is angled down at. The result is intimidating at best.
I will be returning to watch Stallone play some of the other personalities and to pick up my conversations with Stallone.
Today was really Ricardo’s day to perform. The dialogue that Ricardo has as he faces down Stallone is more about the personal sacrifices that Ricardo has had to endure due to being placed in a wheelchair for the past 30 years due to Stallone’s Toymaker’s mistake. Robert was allowing Ricardo to mine his own frustrations and pain in these scenes. Using the truth about his being in constant pain, being stuck in a wheelchair… that anger, that frustration in this showdown. I look forward to seeing the final product when their surroundings are brought in, when the world is falling apart and the music is swelling. It should be a very nice showdown.
Basically that was the day. Discovering with delight this new technology, staring slack jawed at the screen, meeting Stallone and finding out what a great normal guy he can be and watching Ricardo fighting off pain to deliver one helluva performance. A very cool day indeed.