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Quint visits the ZATHURA set, chats with Favs and brings back pics of giant robots!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little peek at what Jon Favreau and Co. have up their sleeves with ZATHURA, his family Sci-Fi flick.

I met Favs and his producer Peter Billingsley (yes, THAT Peter Billingsley) when Harry had them and Vince Vaughn out to premiere MADE a few years back. It was the first of a handful of incidents where I got recognized by someone who I'm a fan of. I had a Quint T-shirt back then that was the old Quint illustration (the one that looked more like Robert Shaw) printed on it. I was wearing it that night at the afterparty when I went up to congratulate Favs on the movie while he was entertaining a group of admirers. He scanned my shirt, looked up at me and said, "Is that you?"

I didn't really know what to say besides "Yup." We talked a bit there, but we didn't really start talking until I set up an interview with him for MADE. We kept in sparse contact after that, but when his new project was announced both Favs and Billingsley clammed up on me.

You may remember that AICN premiered some preproduction art of this film from a spy deep within Sony's inner-workings.

Not long after I posted that above pic I got a call from Billingsley. He was too nice of a guy to get angry about it, but he was bewildered that I was able to worm a piece of art through their security. As producer it was his duty to grill me for info on the spy, but I think he knew from the beginning he wasn't going to get much.

Then this one was posted:

And I got another call from Billingsley, but this one more of a congratulatory phoning. He asked if I would be around LA during the shoot (which is still going on!) and I told him I was stopping off in LA for a day in mid-September before jetting off to New Zealand for a month and could stop by the day of my flight as it didn't leave until the evening.

So, I had a standing invitation to come out and explore Sony's studios in Culver City. I figured it'd be a good way to keep myself busy the day before that 12 hour monster of a flight. It's always fun seeing Favs and I love hanging out on sets, so it was easy to accept the invitation.

For starters, they were shooting on what I believe is Sony's biggest stage, Stage 30. This stage has a lot of history. Everything from POLTERGEIST to MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY to SPIDER-MAN to SPACEBALLS was shot on this stage. Ironically, so was KING KONG, but you'll hear more about that one in a week or two. I think it was also used as Doc Ock's lair in SPIDEY 2 because it's the Sony stage that has a pit for water built into it (this particular pit made famous by Esther Williams in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID). This place is massive.

They had the whole ground level of the two story house, which is the main location of this film, built on one half of the stage and a nearly fullsize replica of the house built on a giant gimbal on the other half. My friends and I were taken into the stage not on a gimbal to sit around the monitors with Jon and watch the shooting.

Before going much further, I'm going to pause and plop in an interview I did with Favs about this flick. He goes over the visual style, the plot and the cast. I'll meet you on the other end!

QUINT: So, after the success of ELF, what kind of projects were you being offered? More family stuff? Was there a temptation to break away from the family film?

Favs: After Elf I was definitely considered a comedy director.  I had a lot of comedy scripts sent to me.  By doing a family film, it allowed me to explore a genre I would never have had the opportunity to try. Zathura is a sci-fi action film with a definite comedic bend.

QUINT: What stood out about ZATHURA for you?

Favs: It struck me as an opportunity to make a movie in the spirit of the early Amblin/Spielberg films that I grew up watching.  The book and the script had classic sci-fi elements to them and I instantly had a take on the material.

QUINT: I know there's been some worry about ZATHURA being looked at as JUMANJI 2. I noticed a definite difference in style (ie the tin game and cool-ass robots). What else are you doing as a director to set your film apart from JUMANJI?

Favs: The film has been confused with another project at Sony called Jumanji 2 but Zathura is based on an entirely different work by Chris Van Allsburg.  The project shares no characters nor is it a sequel in any respect.  It does however share the common device of a magical game that motivates the action in the script.  In the case of Zathura it is a 1950's tin toy that channels elements of early sci-fi cinema. Calling Zathura a sequel to Jumanji would be like calling The Fantastic Four a sequel to Spiderman.

QUINT: Tell me a little about the film and the cast. What's it about and who's in it?

Favs: Tim Robbins plays a divorced dad who is trying to divide his time between his busy career and his 3 children.  The kids are played by Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson and the daughter is played by Kristen Stewart (from Panic Room, another Koepp script). When the dad leaves to go to work, the kids discover the game Zathura in their basement and when they begin to play, it sends their house into outer space where they face robots, asteroids, astronauts, and space pirates among other things.  What I found really cool is that everything they encounter is drawn from the era of the game.

QUINT: How's it working with Guillermo Navarro? He giving you a hard time?

Favs: Guillermo is a very exciting man to work with.  I enjoyed his collaborations with Guillermo Del Toro, especially The Devil’s Backbone and his work on Jackie Brown was magnificent.  He also has tremendous facility when it comes to special effects.

QUINT: What's been your favorite toy to play with on this flick?

Favs: The robot and creatures designed by Stan Winston were definitely the most fun for me to play with. We also got to blow a lot of shit up, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do much in independent films.

QUINT: What have decided to keep from the set? What's going to end up in your living room? (PS Remember the Quinter when deciding who gets one of the robots, eh?)

Favs: I decided to use miniatures instead of CGI for the spaceships, so I’ll have a seven foot Zorgon ship hanging in my entry way. I’ve always liked the look of the mo-co miniature work of the original Star Wars more than the CGI stuff everyone now uses.

QUINT: How famous do I have to be before I get a sit-in on Dinner For Five? Does semi-famous internet quasi-celebrity make the cut-off?

Favs: Maybe when AICN goes public and you’re worth 20 million.

QUINT: How's the show going? Still chuggin'?

Favs: Season 4 and still going. We just broke format and did a one on one with Scorsese that I’m pretty happy with. It airs on IFC on Friday, December 10th.

QUINT: What's next? What do ya' got in the works as a follow-up? More family fare or are you thinking of going back to MADE/SWINGERS material?

Favs: I’ll be doing a smaller film soon geared towards people my age. It’s not prudent to tackle that kind of material at this budget level. Vince and I want to work together, but we’re both coming off hits and you gotta do the big stuff when you get the opportunity. It makes it a lot easier to work for peanuts for a year and a half on a personal project.

Now that you know where Favs is coming from, let's continue shall we? When I got to the set, Favs was like a kid in a candy store, blowing off his directorial duties to show me around the sets and introduce me to crew members. OK, so he didn't really blow off his directorial duties, but he did play hooky during set-ups! One of the first people I met was Guillermo Navarro, a truly cool cat and Director of Photography/Cinematographer to the stars! As mentioned above, he shoots Guillermo del Toro's movies (because everyone named Guillermo who works in show business is by law required to work together), and he shot Robert Rodriguez's FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and SPY KIDS before Robert became his own DP, of course.

We talked a little bit about El Gordo (del Toro) and about Weta's amazing Santi DEVIL'S BACKBONE statue (limited edition that sold out in a millisecond) which he didn't even know existed. He had met Harry on one of Robert's pre-HD movies and asked about El Gordo Mejor (I would have thought it'd be El Gordo Rojo, but Navarro thought differently) and gave me his best to send to Knowles. Feeling left out, I asked if I could get a nickname, too and was bestowed upon me my own Spanish name... I am El Gordo Blanco! Fear the Fat White power!!!

I met a whole bunch of other crew members, a few prop people who work for Stan Winston (who I apologize profusely to for forgetting their names... my memory for names sucks and being the genius I am I didn't take many detailed notes) who knew the site and very kindly let me get hands on with their solid metal Robot... Oh, this is the what the Robot looks like:

Pretty nifty, eh? This sucker was huge, taller than me at 6' and some change and solid metal. Apparently when playing ZATHURA the kids land on a particular segment that unleashes a small toy robot. Of course the toy robot doesn't stay toy sized for long and soon grows to a mega-size and he ain't friendly. This sucker comes complete with saw-hands, rocket-propulsion and a bad attitude. And yes, I did get to play with the toy version and yes I want it.

One of the interesting things about the robot is how they're shooting it. As you can see, they have a real version onset, but the main shooting version is only the top half (torso and up) and the feet. What they're doing is CGIing the hips, which is actually a big gyroscope and looks really neat, and legs. The idea behind keeping the feet in is so you'll see it kick up dust and have actual physical contact with the ground to keep the realism of the robot intact. They showed me an effects test of this being done and it looked fantastic. You can't really tell where the practical effect begins or ends, but your brain tells you that what you see can't be a practical effect. It moves too freely. You can get a look at one of the stationary full body Robot here to see what his gyroscope hip-action looks like, plus you get a glimpse of Favs and Guillermo Navarro:

The scene they were shooting happens after the kids unleash the robot and it attacks the older boy (Josh Hutcherson), who sidesteps and causes the robot to embed his hands into the fireplace. With the robot stuck, Hutcherson is trying to get his brother, a kid with the awesome name of Jonah Bobo, to take his turn and quick. But to be able to play the game one must have a key.

In the commotion, the key was knocked out of the game and the kids quickly search through the brick and wood rubble on the ground to find it. And there's plenty of rubble. The house got caught in a meteor shower earlier on and got pretty messed up. As they're searching, the Robot gets one hand free and starts sawing at the bricks and wood to free the other one. Watching the robot trying to jerk out of the fireplace is pretty funny, actually. Just in the way they moved him it looks like he's getting pissed of the more he struggles.

They actually shot the stuck Robot stuff the day before, but that worked out well for me because I got to sit in on the dailies of that day and watch the sparks fly. The only robot stuff they did while I was there was having a stuntie, with complete robot upper torso and feet, run after the older brother when he finally gets free of the fireplace, leaving the younger brother on the ground with the game.

Most of the dialogue was stuff like, "Danny, take your turn! Danny. Take your... turn." Favs would yell some direction ("More hurried!") and then, "Dannytakeyourturn!" Another fun bit during the shooting of this scene was the reaction shot of the kids watching the robot pulling itself free. Of course they had already shot that stuff, so it was up to Favs to give them the right inspiration. To make them start (or jump, if you will) he'd call action, then wait... wait... SCREAM! and watch them jump.

Sundown September 15th 2004 began the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, so some of the crew and cast had to be done with before sundown or they'd be angering their god, so Favs made sure to wrap out those needing to leave. That was about the end of what I saw with the actors. Although he did tell me that Dax Shephard would be coming in to play an astronaut and how funny he was in person. He certainly looks the part of the All-American Astronaut!

In some of his downtime, Favs showed me the gimbal set in action. At the touch of a button, this sucker (a good dozen or two off the ground) could tilt in any direction to an absurd degree. Just watching this massive structure tip over and right itself again made my stomach turn. Looked like fun! One of the stuntie's kids, a stuntie himself, was there testing out the harness for a scene when the house is getting sucked into a black hole.

His dad brought his mini-DV Cam and showed it to Jon and then to me. From his fixed position (tied down to the floor) when the house tilts, the kid just seems to lift off the ground. He's got a handhold on a shelf or doorframe, so with the locked camera position it looks like he's holding on for dear life, trying to not get sucked out of the house. They did something similar in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the scene when Tina is getting murdered by Freddy and she's crawling along the ceiling while her boyfriend is strapped to the floor watching it happen. All the furniture is glued or nailed down to hide the trick.

Other than that, I found out that Favs had HALO in his trailer, so I challenged him to some multiplayer action during some of the later set-ups. And yes, I beat him down.

It wasn't long after the last HALO smackdown that I had to leave for the airport and jet across the Pacific ocean to a little bit of paradise on Earth. I bid farewell to everybody on set and headed out.

I like what I saw, mostly because it seems Favs is focusing on the Sci-Fi, not the kid's movie aspect. If he can strike a balance similar to what he did with ELF (A family Christmas movie that was funny to more than just kids and their parents), then I think he can have a helluva fun flick on his hands. Plus, the Zorgon (lizard-like baddies) were damn scary lookin'. Also, I'm totally gaga for that beautiful teaser image over at the newly launched official site.

Be sure to check the official site for that poster artwork and future updates on the flick! Check it out here!!!

And now you know what I saw one day in September. Hope you enjoyed it, squirts! I'm currently hard at work to reveal what I saw some other days in September and even some days in October. 'Til then, keep yer eye on the site, squirts!


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