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Quint and Peter Jackson talk video games, Mr. Harvey, deleted scenes and Temeraire!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a chat I had with Peter Jackson regarding his newest: THE LOVELY BONES. You may remember I ran an excerpt from this a month ago regarding the status of his Temeraire project and I promised to run the full interview shortly. Well, I had the interview ready, but I was asked to hold it until this week, when the film goes wide. I can see why. Jackson did this huge press tour and people were running all their coverage almost a month before the film went wider than the big cities. I was able to run the actual breaking news part with the Temeraire article, so I didn’t mind. Now here’s the full chat. At the time the man was fresh off of a multi-country premiere and press tour for the movie. Even over the phone I could tell Jackson was a bit tired and, as you can see, he starts off the interview wanting to talk anything but Lovely Bones, so we start with some bullshitting about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I’m X-Box Live buddies with Bill Jackson, Peter’s son, who is ungodly good at Call of Duty. We discuss that in the beginning, so I wanted to make sure there’s no confusion. Anyway, on to the chat! I hope you guys enjoy the interview!

Peter Jackson: Hello.

Quint: Hey, how’s it going man? How are you holding up?

Peter Jackson: Good, good, good. We can spend all of the time talking about MODERN WARFARE 2. (laughs)

Quint: I’ve been noticing that Bill hasn’t been on lately, which is kind of good, because I always feel like such a shitty player when I play with him.

Peter Jackson: He went through the whole game I think about twice and I am almost through two player co-op, though I haven’t quite reached the last level, but then we had to hit the road traveling, so we’ve had a break.

Quint: That co-op stuff, the spec-op missions, are really difficult.

Peter Jackson: It is hard, I know, and to get to that final level, which is what? Echo is it? Bill and I have still got to crack through a lot of things to open up that one level, but it’s a great game. I’m enjoying these games more than I am enjoying films at the moment.

Quint: Yeah and they are also taking risks and that’s what is really interesting to me, that they are not afraid to kill off all of these fan favorite characters. They pretty much kill everybody in MODERN WARFARE 2.

Peter Jackson: And they are using a lot of the film techniques now, especially the cinematic areas or those little movie things. They are starting to really blend them in and you get the feeling that you are watching substantial bits of prerecorded animation which is still great, though, because they are dynamic and done well. They didn’t used to be done very well in the old days, but there are people that actually know what they are doing.

Quint: You guys are still doing video games, right? You are still planning on a Wingnut Games, right?

Peter Jackson: Yeah. At the moment I am kind of involved with a TINTIN game and obviously the beginning of THE HOBBIT game, so those two in terms of the gaming at the moment with all of the other scripts we are working on at the moment, those are the gaming things we are focusing on.

Quint: I remember when you announced it that that was exactly what you were just saying about MODERN WARFARE 2. You were saying with Wingnut Games you really wanted to find that perfect mixture of gaming and cinematics.

Peter Jackson: Yeah and I do have a few ideas that could go one-way or the other. I’ve got ideas that could be a movie or they could be a game and I think that they should rather than just make a movie and then do a spin-off game, I think some of the ideas I’ve got I’d rather do them as a stand alone game, because that world is getting more and more interesting.

Quint: I hope that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing you doing some more original films.

Peter Jackson: No. I think we can do more than one thing at a time.

Quint: You can juggle them both.

Peter Jackson: Yeah.

Quint: Well I think the studio might be a little upset if all we do is talk about how awesome MODERN WARFARE is, so I think I have to at least throw out a few LOVELY BONES questions at you.

Peter Jackson: I think we are going to have to, otherwise we will all get told off.

Quint: The thing that I really want to talk about the most is Stanley Tucci, because he totally kills it in the movie. He absolutely nails Mr. Harvey. As dark as that character gets I was just wondering how difficult it was to convince Stanley to come in and have to live in that head space for a while.

Peter Jackson: It was difficult and I was pretty convinced once or twice that he wasn’t going to do it. We didn’t meet with him, because we were in New Zealand and he was in New York and I hadn’t met with him before, but he was always on our list of actors that we wanted to work with one day. We contacted him and talked to him over iChat, which was actually quite a good way, better than a phone conversation, because it’s good to see somebody and he was chatting away to us. The first call was really just to introduce ourselves and get to know him a bit and talk about the project, then we sent him the screenplay, which he agreed to read and then the next call was his reaction to the script and the character and I could see that he was really… He had also read the book at that stage as well… and I could see that he was very nervous about playing the role, nervous in the sense that he’s a father of three kids and he just finds the guy to be utterly repulsive and to actually go into the skin of that character isn’t an easy thing. Then we got another message a few days later saying “Stanley would just like one more call” and I thought that was a bad sign, because I thought that this was probably him politely saying “Look, thanks for thinking of me, but here’s the reasons why I can’t do it.” Maybe he was heading in that direction, but we did do some pretty fast talking and we started to talk about the physicality of the character and what he’d look like; the wig and the teeth and the mustache and how he had blend into this middle class white Pennsylvanian neighborhood and change his appearance. I think when he started to imagine Mr. Harvey as not being a version of himself, but being another character that looked completely different, I could see that it was starting to help him. He agreed to do it and I don’t really know the reasons why, but we certainly talked to him about the fact that we had no intention of showing the murder and we were shooting for a PG-13, not an R rating, and all of these things do matter when you are an actor and are thinking about what this is directly going to do. “What am I signing up for?” “How’s this guy going to shoot this?” “Am I going to be embarrassed by being in this film?” It was a lot about us telling Stanley what our thoughts about the film were, too, but he was just great and I’ll tell you the reason I enjoyed working a lot with Stanley is that he has directed movies. He’s directed two or three films. I think it was the first time I had ever worked with an actor who had directed feature films before and that was interesting, because that means that I suddenly didn’t just have conversations with an actor on set. I was talking to a fellow filmmaker and I really used that a lot. I would sit down with Stan and block through a scene and I would talk to him about the coverage and the shots and the angles and get ideas from him and I would always encourage him to say “Put your filmmaker hat on and give me some thoughts and ideas” and I was shooting a lot of his stuff with his sort of lipstick camera and just the camera alone and playing around with it when we got it gave me these ideas for how I could shoot Harvey. He was basically a normal looking guy who blends in with the neighborhood. I even wanted him to be normal when he’s alone in his house. He doesn’t do weird things when he’s by himself, he just takes himself literally and glues pictures into his scrapbook and he sits in his bed sketching ideas for how he’s going to kill people and he is relatively mundane and so the little camera gave me ideas for how I could film.

Quint: Yeah, I noticed an aesthetic different, like when he’s showing the cop the dollhouse.

Peter Jackson: Yeah, and there are a lot of shots in there, there are about thirty or forty shots with this little camera and I’m glad it worked out so well, because I also shot 35mm safety shot, too, because I didn’t know whether the Iconix would cut with the 35mm footage. I was worried it would look like video, so I had to shoot alternative coverage for safety, just with a normal camera, which was nowhere near as interesting, because the camera was so big I couldn’t get it in the same places, but as it was at Park Road Post we managed to do a lot of manipulation to the Iconix digital image to make it match almost exactly with the 35mm. We put film grain on it and fiddled with dynamic range to match. There was one scene with Harvey… we had him race up the stairs because he hears Lindsey in his bedroom, it’s the scene where she’s sneaking around. He runs up the stairs and I wanted to have a shot which was a close up of his face as he was racing up these stairs with such ferocity, because he’s a character that moves slowly in the film and then I wanted to suddenly have this animal energy unleashed and one of the shots I had in mind was this close up of his face as he’s just racing up the stairs, but we couldn’t figure out how Stanley, who could run up these stairs very quickly, how we could get a camera traveling in front of him at the same speed with this crew and this big camera, this steady-cam, and all of this stuff… it was like he could always run faster and we wouldn’t have the energy, so I got the Iconix camera and I actually got Stanley to film himself, so Stanley is holding the camera up about six inches in front of his face with a wide angle lens. I had him run up the stairs two or three times actually pointing the camera at himself and so he’s operating his own camera holding it in his hand and there’s no one else around, he’s just running up the stairs filming himself and those shots are in the movie. It was fun.

Quint: That’s great.

Peter Jackson: All that side of the filmmaking is enjoyable.

Quint: Now Rachel [Weisz] has said that a lot of what was shot was cut out of the movie. Was it difficult in the edit finding the right cut with so many emotional threads to keep track of?

Peter Jackson: Not really. We didn’t shoot that much that was cut out. All of the actors had little scenes here and there that were cut. Saoirse (Ronan) actually had the most stuff that was shot that we didn’t use. We shot a little bit of the character that Rachel played, Abigail, having an affair with the detective, Michael Imperioli, but one of the things that we came to realize, especially when you are looking at the various cuts of the movie, is that you end up… the film is an adaptation of at book, which in itself would take five or six hours to really do properly or to do everything that’s in the book and even then there’s no such thing as a perfect adaptation. The perfect LOVELY BONES is Alice Sebold’s novel. That’s the perfect version of the story and anything else an interpretation, but just to include the events and the characters that she described and wrote about and the relationships between them all would be five or six hours. What we did is we tried to pay lip service to several characters. We did a couple of brief scenes where Abigail is having this relationship with the detective. We did a brief sequence where Jack, her father, is talking to the mother of Ray, the boy who Susie was going to have a date with. We did scenes between Holly and Susie, Ruth and Susie, so we did these other little scenes that didn’t end up in the movie, but you come to realize that because you are panicking about the length and in the script we are just wanting short little beats, because we worried about the length of the film, that these subplots are not really that satisfying, because when you see them they don’t do the job properly. To me it was just a case of us ending up trying to include too much of the novel with too little of time and we were touching on these other subplots, but we weren’t doing them properly, because we weren’t giving them enough time. You realize to tell this story you would have to have five or six scenes and you would really have to get into it and it would take a lot more time, so when we came to it with the movie it was Susie’s story. It was about her experience and the in-between, this weird subconscious state that wasn’t a practical location, since she’s in the world of dreams. We were inside her mind and that’s the story and we are touching on the people that she leaves behind and we really focused on her and trying to figure out what happens to her, because she doesn’t even know that she’s been murdered. Initially she flees. When you are really making that decision about what to put in the film, you end up just sticking with the story that you’ve got the most material and everything serves that story and it’s the subplots that you only have a fleeting sort of gesture to that just don’t really work, because there’s not enough of them in there.

[A representative notifies that the next question will have to be the last.]

Quint: If we only have one more question we should talk about what's next? I'm particularly interested in where you guys are at with the Temeraire series and if you are going to be moving on that any time soon.

Peter Jackson: It's certainly a project that this next year... I've always looked on 2010 as being the year where I kind of get to the next level on a few projects because 2009 has been really the year of Lovely Bones and District 9 and getting TinTin motion captured and also getting most of The Hobbit script written. Certainly by the end of 2009 The Hobbit screenplays will be finished. So, that's that year taken care of and then 2010 is an opportunity to move on with several projects. What I'm thinking of with Temeraire, and I'm certainly happy to share it with you... it's only really my very initial, early stages... but Naomi (Novik, author of the Temeraire books) came out to New Zealand to visit us with her husband... she's absolutely terrific...

Quint: Yeah, they're good people. Her and Charles (Ardai, Naomi's husband and a gifted writer in his own right) both.

Peter Jackson: Yes. She's now starting to whisper to me that she's going to be writing as many as 9 books in the Temeraire series. I can't see any degree of common sense in trying to mount them one at a time as feature films. To me the stories, having read the first ones, already work as this continuing, on-going saga, so I'm thinking "Is there a marketplace out there yet for a large budget mini-series?" I guess you'd think of things like HBO and you'd think of Band of Brothers and that sort of thing, but it'd be different than that. The market's changing so much, TV networks are changing, so I'm thinking is there actually a market out there that'd give us the budget to do this properly and allow us to shoot this as a 6, 7 or 8 part series where we have freedom, we have great production values and are able to tackle it as the epic saga that it deserves. I just can't see doing one expensive movie and if that's successful you get to do another one, but if the second one isn't quite as good maybe there'll never be a third one... I just don't see that fitting with the property at all.

Quint: Yeah. While I wouldn't say every book ends on a cliffhanger the war is still ongoing now a good 5 books into the series. The main story thread is still unresolved. You don't want a set up that doesn't pay off... like The Golden Compass.

Peter Jackson: Yeah. So my thinking is... and I'm talking to you here having absolutely no plans in place, no deal in place... and I wouldn't. What I would do is I'd start developing the treatment, I'd start to break the storylines down to see if we can structure it in that way. I've already started to do designs. I've had Weta Workshop do a lot of work on designing the characters... the dragons... I've been working with Gus Hunter on the designs. We're well underway creating the visual look. In 2010 one of the things I'll be doing is looking at starting the scripting process and structuring and using it to see if we can't set the project up in that way because I think that'd be the best to serve the story.

Hope you enjoyed the interview. I’ve interviewed Jackson many times now and he’s always proven a good talker, forthright with information and just easy to converse with. The flick opens wide this weekend! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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