Do you think of the film as an epic?
I would say it starts off in a very personal way, and then grows from there. It becomes bigger and bigger.
The film seems to be shot in a very slick and realistic way. Is that how you approached the style of it?
I think when you’re making a movie of this budgetary scale; there are certain demands that you have to fulfill. Like, you can’t take a skeleton crew out on the streets of San Francisco and shoot from the hip, which is the way of filmmaking I was used to and loved. You just can’t do that on a film of this scale; it’s not feasible. I always said whenever possible — and this is definitely shown in the trailer and is in the film — I’d try to give it a real world look as much as possible.
Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer, and I discussed very early on the feel and lighting of this film. Sometimes we were dealing with quite dark scenes and certain aspects of Caesar’s evolution, and that would usually be shot in a very dark way, but we looked to avoid that. We were very fortunate when shooting that it was a terrific summer in Vancouver. While certain story points may play out that are darker in tone, the lighting and the feel is a really nice counterpoint. In many ways, I think that’s what lends to the film feeling very much like a fairy-tale or a bible story.
In terms of production size, you made a pretty big leap from The Escapist to this film. What’s something you learned through that shift?
That it’s not that different [Laughs]. I mean, there are certain responsibilities and requirements that you have to fulfill when you’re making a studio film, but you perhaps have more freedom making an independent film. At the end of the day, I still had a huge responsibility to my budget. I mean, there were long and hard arguments when I was making The Escapist. I think people always assume when you’re making a low-budget indie that you have final cut, but you still have to earn it. I didn’t have final cut on The Escapist and there were many battles that I had to fight.
It taught me well for this. I came onto this film quite late in the day with a script that was already pretty evolved. My background as a filmmaker was always to generate my own work and write my own scripts, so this has been very different for me. I’m a director for hire, and that’s this feel unto itself. I think there are some really good positives to that. You’re able to tap into other people’s minds instead of just your own. You also have to learn that skill of taking something, but making it your own. I feel like this film has taught me that.
So the collaboration on this film hasn’t been radically different than your experience on The Escapist?
Well, there are more people. That’s the big difference, I’d say. I’m fortunate on this film of having to outstanding producers, Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark, who have been incredibly strong from day one. There’s an irony in that Peter Chernin used to actually run 20th Century Fox. To have a producer such as him, who has been very closely involved with every aspect of production, we were quite fortunate. I like to think one of the reasons why he employed me, instead of a far bigger name director, was because we saw very eye-to-eye early on with how we wanted to make this film.
There are deadlines, there are requirements, and there are compromises you have to make, but it’s just like anything. When you’re inside it looking out, you really start to understand… I’m a lot less critical of other people’s films now because I’ve made a film like this. You start to really realize how difficult it is. Having made this, I’d say I’m a far better filmmaker than I was when I made The Escapist.
With the ending, how much discussion has gone into the tone of it? You could call it very bleak, and I’d imagine there must have been a lot of talk about how it was going to be handled.
At its heart, it’s a very hopeful film. There’s some redemption to it, and for that reason, I think it’s a very un-cynical film. The cynical version of this would be to really echo Charlton Heston‘s words on the beach with seeing mankind’s demise for all of its worst traits. That would have been a darker tone. With this, it’s kind of a more human story about certain personable decisions.
As far as the studio, the producers, the writers and myself, we’ve always looked to tell the story of how this new civilization has begun. It’s a real origin story, and in the truest sense of the world. We’ve been real faithful to that. When it comes to the studio, there has never really been any wavering about that.
I think we’re ending with certain questions, which is quite exciting. To me, I can think of all sorts of sequels to this film, but this is just the beginning. This is laying the foundation for what it to become. We’re fortunate enough to have 3,000 years of evolution before we get to the original Planet of the Apes [Laughs].
How much of the effects were completed in the trailer?
It’s all constantly evolving. With the more time we have, the more we can integrate, define, and texture stuff. We’re working on this right up until the film is coming out, and that’s very sensible. The good thing is that quite often teaser trailers are pushed out with unfinished shots, and we were fortunate enough that everyone decided that shouldn’t happen with this. We’re going to live or die by how people see the apes. The more time we have to get every shot right, which is a huge task, in terms of getting that texture. It helps having one of the greatest companies behind it [WETA], but that’s still a mammoth task.
The Green Lantern teaser did the opposite of that, and it’s had bad buzz for awhile because of those unfinished effects.
It’s why we’ve taken so long to release any material. I think people, probably you included [Laughs], and we’re not so much discounting us, but were quite understandably having questions with, “What’s this all about? Are they just cashing in on the franchise?” I think we’ve always hoped to just put our best foot forward and make the right choice when to do that. It’s been great with the marketing team. So far the reaction has been pretty good.
Fur is always discussed as one of the most difficult visual-effects to do. How did WETA approaching that hurdle?
You’d have to ask them to get a really complete answer, but you’re absolutely right. I think hair and water are always the two parts of CGI that are the most difficult to realistically create. They’ve come off King Kong and The Lord of the Rings, which have involved hair, but this is light-years ahead of what they achieved with that. They’ve always said the from the beginning that 2005 is the stone age compared to where we are now.
I think they got somebody down from San Francisco, who’s a specialist in digitally recreating individual strands of hair, and they’ve used him as sort of their think tank. They do digitally grow every strand of hair that you see, and it’s amazing the amount of work that goes into it, especially baring in mind there’s hundreds of apes in our film. That’s a big job.
How far along in post-production are you?
We are quite progressed. I don’t know, actually. I think we wrapped in September, so we’ve been at it since then. The really demanding thing is, besides the traditional aspects of post-production, is that we are essentially making this movie three or four times over. Every shot that is motion-captured is then replicated and echoed. There’s the transition from human performance to digital performance. There are a lot of nuances that you really have to keep an eye on to ensure that certain micro muscle movements in the faces are not lost. Everyday is a conversation with having a two-hour call with WETA in New Zealand where we go over every single aspect of each shot.
We’ve got enough time, that’s all I know [Laughs]. There’s that saying, “Nothing is ever completed, but just abandoned,” and you could spend forever on any movie just constantly re-tweaking it. I would say the building blocks that we have now are all very firm and much in place. Now it’s just about crafting, detailing, and the more typical aspects of post-production are now fully underway with music and sound-design. It’s just about keeping an eye on everything and making sure it’s as good as it possibly can be.
Do you already have a Director’s Cut?
We’re way beyond that. We’re locked, basically. Again, that’s quite unusual for a studio movie. I think I heard the other day, much to my horror, because of the Justin Bieber movie and how everything is now released digitally, they can actually take a film back after its initial release and re-cut the film according to what people say about it. I think that’s the end of cinema as far as I’m concerned.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens in theaters on August 5th, 2011.