Capone sets his sights on PREDATORS director Nimrod Antal!!!
Published at: July 5, 2010, 11:05 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Director Nimrod Antal has made a small handful of great films that very few people have seen, and that's a shame. I feel confident that's about to change with the release this Friday of the Robert Rodriguez-produced PREDATORS, a film Rodriguez considers the true and proper sequel to the 1987 PREDATOR (in other words, you can forget PREDATOR 2 and the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies. I'm guessing most of you will do so gladly.
Antal was born in Los Angeles, but spent many of his formative years in his parents native Hungary, where he went to film school and made his first movie KONTROL, which I have a vivid memory of seeing at the Chicago Film Festival in 2003, where it won the top prize Golden Hugo. His first American film was the suitably creepy VACANCY, followed by two years later by ARMORED, a film that mistakingly held from critical eyes before its release--a shame since I would have heaped a great deal of praise upon it if they'd shown it to us. But thankfully PREDATORS is previewing for critics (although as of this writing, I haven't seen it yet).
I sat down with Antal last March at the SXSW Film Festival to discuss PREDATORS, clips of which had been shown to select attendees the night before at a special opening night event. Antal had a really terrible chest cold for his time at the festival, but he carried on like a trooper. Hey, if the guys in his latest movie can take on a planet filled with Predator creatures, Antal can risk getting bronchitis or pneumonia. He's an absolutely great guy and a full-fledged, long-time film geek who has a deep affection for John McTiernan's original work. His work ethic on PREDATORS seems to bet that if he could do any effect shot practically, he would. You have to love that. Please enjoy Nimrod Antal, and look for my exclusive sit down with Rodriguez (conducted the following day) very soon.
Capone: The first script that you saw for this was Robert [Rodriguez]’s original script? He said last night you worked very closely with the other writers [Alex Litvak & Michael Finch]. Tell me what you liked about Robert's script, and what about it you thought, “Well, I have another idea for that.”
Nimrod Antal: Yeah. He immediately established a lot of great key points that we kept, and we stayed faithful too and his script had introduced this wonderful concept of this safari planet, which I thought immediately was intriguing, introducing the other set of tribes--another set of predators--was again something very special. And then the whole MOST DANGEROUS GAME tone that was in place of hunters being hunted by something, by a hunter, that again was something that was very appealing, so those were all elements that were the core of what we started to work off of, and I think my job at that point was really just to streamline the script.
The script he had written was written 15 years earlier, if not more, so a lot of the elements and a lot of the beats had been done since or incorporated in a similar fashion or familiar things have been done since, you know. So we wanted to make sure it was still fresh and again it was finding a balance of appeasing the original fans with respect to what had worked in the original, but at the same time interjecting something new that would expand the mythology even further.
Capone: On a project like this, you are “under the geek microscope” as it were. They are really paying attention, and I think for the most part--maybe because of Robert’s involvement--there doesn’t seem to be as much pushback as some reboots or sequels. Are you aware of that? Are you acutely aware? Look at how many people show up to an event just to show a trailer and one scene.
NA: Yes, I’m very aware of them, because I am one of them. I was one of the kids in my school who would ditch school to go see the BACK TO THE FUTURE marathon, you know, so I am completely aware and I am one of them. So I think I put more pressure on myself than any online forum good put on me.
Capone: If there was ever a question of which direction to go, did you just trust that teenager in your head?
NA: I did, and it’s interesting that you should say that, because it was that teenager who responded to the original film and it was the teenager in me that would keep on reminding me, “No. That ain’t going to work.”
Capone: Tell me, I love that idea that you guys were talking about last night about this new tribe of predators and how maybe more so than the predator we know, the look of each new creature is a representation of the ability and the skill set. Can you talk a little bit about what you came up with? Maybe give me an example, without giving too much away, of how you did that?
NA: Well, if I could approach it from a different angle…
NA: A lot of the trophies and a lot of the things they wore on themselves even in the original film was just taken to another level, just expanded where now it’s almost being implemented into their armor. As far as the actual styles, I’m a little bit apprehensive to do so, because I’m worried that I’m revealing too much you know. I’m sorry if I…I’m not trying to be elusive in anyway.
Capone: Just go ahead. I'm sure Robert wouldn’t care!
NA: I think Fox would, though. [Laughs] Everything about their look, there was a streamline look to the new predators, but at the same time it was about finding that balance, and it was this balance that we struggled with and were conscious of from the get go, and that is if you take it too far, it’s no longer a predator. If you don’t take it far enough, then you haven’t improved upon it in any way, you know? There was definitely that struggle of trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t, but, for instance, one of the predators has a singular long blade and that is implemented in the film for a specific reason, and as they are trying to train themselves to be better killers, they implement things that they see from us. There’s a great sword moment in the film that is just absolutely mind-blowing.
Capone: I also like the idea that it’s not just humans that have been brought to the safari planet. I don’t remember hearing that before yesterday.
NA: Yes, there are multiple species, because it ain’t just the predators and us, there’s a whole universe of other weirdness out there.
Capone: But you have actually added all of this extra design work on those poor guys with such a tight window. It basically took you all a year to do this entire movie. Did you think that actually helped in a lot of ways, that pressure?
NA: It did and it’s very intuitive of you to say that, because that madness of trying to prepare this film in the time that we were given--it could have been done; it was just a question of doing it elegantly and doing it well.That frenetic energy, that madness, definitely translates to the film, and it’s intangible. It’s not something you could put your finger on, but you can feel it you know and it’s there, so the process in this case certainly did influence the actual final product in a very odd way, but in a way that I think is going to be really cool.
Capone: Let me take it another level, you have basically made a film based on instinct; you didn’t have time to second guess a lot of the first choices that you make. The idea of just going and going and relying on your instinct, that seems very much like what we are dealing with in the film's story too--all of these trained people who have these instinctive ways of tracking and killing.
NA: You are very perceptive, brother, and like you said, it does translate. Someone asked us "What made the first film great?", and you know, you would bottle that if you knew what made it great, but I think in part it is what translates on the set, those intangible energies.
Capone: I love that you’ve now got "your guy" already--you have Lawrence Fishburne believing in you enough to make two films with you. He’s like your good luck charm. It seems like every director’s wish to have this one actor that will always want to work with them--that guy that is going to make the film better, and now you’ve got that.
NA: When Laurence and I finished the last movie [ARMORED]…. I generally gather the crew together to give them a farewell and to express my gratitude, and Lawrence has been the only actor who has turned that around on me. I gathered everybody together and I was about to say “Ladies and gentlemen, to work with someone of his caliber and to be such a fan of his is one thing, but…” All of a sudden, he turned it around on me and he started to speak to the crew about me and I was like “Wait wait wait, no no no.” At the end of that day he wrote me a beautifully letter, a little note, and he said, “I can’t wait until we play again.”
Capone: You said that when he came on the set for PREDATORS that he referenced that note.
NA: He said, “We are playing again!” It was so bitchin’. And being a young guy starting out and just trying to make a name for myself and having someone of his caliber believe in me and be willing to come again and again to play with me is a huge boost of confidence for someone like me, because I am--much like any other artist you are ever going to meet--self-conscious and worried. And you’re level of confidence isn’t always where it has to be or should be, so it’s great.
Capone: I love that more and more genre films are getting what you called “real actors.” It’s not about filling a demographic, it’s just about getting the most capable actor, and it really does elevate the material. And if there are places in the script that don’t quite work, they will fill in those gaps.
NA: It’s funny. It’s so angering. It really angers me when executives are basing casting decisions on “imdb Star Meter.” [Both laugh] You laugh, but it’s true. For some of them, it’s that simple, and to dismiss talent as the most important quality for an actor is absurd. As a filmmaker, you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and I'm sure I could take any reality show start, who I’m sure has an imdb Star Meter right now that’s over the moon. Will they be able to do what Adrien Brody does? Never. So yeah, you really want to be able to surround yourself with actors of that caliber and I was lucky in this regard that so far almost everything I’ve done, I’ve had these really wonderful actors to work with.
Capone: Well, ARMORED has a B-movie plot with these terrific actors in it. And forgive me for not remembering his name, but the main actor…
NA: Columbus Short.
Capone: Yes. I think he actually came to Chicago and I wasn’t in town to interview him, but he is fantastic and I don’t remember seeing him before that film, but I thought he was terrific.
NA: He’s going to be huge. He’s very grounded and very smart and very humble, so I think its guys like that you want to work with.
Capone: Yeah, you mentioned the one predator's sword, which I assume will be used in some sort of elaborate kill sequence. How much time did you spend coming up with these unbelievable kills and unbelievable ways to die?
NA: It’s interesting, some of them we had going into it. When we were writing the script, we had some pretty great ones. We have a nod or two as well, but there was one moment I remember where I turned to the team upstairs at Troublemaker, and I said “Guys, we have a bout two more kills left and we are running out of ideas here. We have got to come up with something that’s going to work and be interesting.” Chris Olivier, one of our designers at Troublemaker, came up with this really fantastic idea. It’s probably going to be one of the most original kills in the film. I can’t give you what it is, because it’s going to ruin it.
Capone: Those designs that we saw--and I understand those were from early in the design process--but there were images of eviscerated bodies just ripped, pulled, and hung upside down or pinned up for display. It looks pretty gruesome.
NA: It is, and there are some gnarly ones. There are some really gnarly ones in it.
Capone: I also like the idea that you've taken the idea from the original--that it’s a group of guys that all have been trained the same way and they all know each other--to this new group and none of them know each other, and they either have to work together or they will be knocked off very quickly.
NA: That was one, a challenge initially, and it was also kind of a gift. The challenge of it was when they are referencing films like the original PREDATOR or when they are referencing films like ALIENS, you have a well-oiled machine going into these situations together in all of these films, and there’s a familiarity where these characters are familiar with one another; there’s a short hand. And we didn’t have that luxury with this. We had these strangers thrown into a mix, strangers who would probably kill each other quicker than they would look at each other. So that was an immediate challenge, but it was also I think something fun and interesting and different, because you haven’t really seen this dynamic before. You've generally seen a group that is in tune, whereas this is not a well-oiled machine on any level. Some of them are trying to kill each other upon meeting each other, so it’s interesting.
Capone: You told a really funny story about meeting Robert for the first time and how it was completely terrifying. The whole way that he seems very determined to turn the experience of each new film into a film school scenario, I love that approach. And he always seems to want to connect with up-and-coming filmmakers on a certain level. Tell me about meeting him for the first time and what that was like for you.
NA: It was intimidating, clearly being a fan of SIN CITY and being a fan of DESPERADO, being a fan of EL MARIACHI, and recognizing what he has achieved as a filmmaker. Having your own studio, your own production, your own soundstages, that’s incredible. That is truly incredible. So that was nerve-racking. Of course, the process gets started and you get to work and you have to take care of business and it was a blessing, because I think being a filmmaker himself, he immediately understood a lot of the nuances that some producers will never understand. A filmmaker need a little freedom. A filmmaker needs to be able to be able to make the material his own. A filmmaker needs room to dance, you know, and he gave me that, and I’m very grateful, because he could have been overbearing. He could have jumped on me and been controlling, and it could have been a suffocating experience, but it wasn’t that. It was quite the opposite. It was very warm. Any time I ran into trouble, I also had the luxury of turning to a master filmmaker if I had any concerns with something, so it was a wonderful dynamic and a great opportunity for me.
Capone: Guillermo Del Toro told me about his style of producing. He said, “A good producer is never there when you don’t need them, and always there when you need him.” It’s important, too, for the crew to know who is in charge of the film.
NA: Surely and even in our initial conversations, we would talk about that, and I certainly didn’t want to be a figure head; I wanted to do the job that I was hired to do and I wanted to be able to be proud at the end of the day that I directed this film, and he gave me all of that. So I’m grateful to him, and by the way, I wouldn’t be here if wasn’t for him, so I’m very grateful.
Capone: Thank you so much. It was great to meet you.
NA: Thank you, sir.
Capone: Hope we get to talk again.
NA: Keep killing it man, I love you guys.
Follow Me On Twitter