As most of you know, we are running a fantastic contest and giving away some delightful loaded DVD packages of the new Avatar release. It looks to be quite a package for fans of the movie (of which I am) and I had a chance to have a little chat with the producer of the film, Mr. Jon Landau.
Nick Nunziata: Good Afternoon, how you doin’?
Jon Landau: Good. I just wanna be clear. I am
not going to give you a lot of flack regarding Avatar.
Nick Nunziata: I would hope not.
Jon Landau: No, Because you wrote that. You
said that you get a lot of flack from a lot of people.
Nick Nunziata: I get a shitload of flack.
Jon Landau: (laughter) So I just want to let
you know I’m not going to be one of those. So thank you for loving
Nick Nunziata: Well, no, thank you for making a
movie that actually remembered what making event movies was about.
John Landau: Well good. It’s nice to find
somebody on CHUD who believes that.
Nick Nunziata: Um… well…
Jon Landau: Don’t worry about it. You know,
to me it’s always all good. Honestly, I believe that.
Nick Nunziata: Well, the best films polarize.
Jon Landau: Exactly! Exactly. I don’t care
what they’re saying about me as long as they’re talking about me.
Nick Nunziata: Yeah, that’s true. And maybe this
Blu-ray and DVD release will finally let some people see this tiny
little movie, and maybe make some money for a change.
Jon Landau: (laughter) We’ll keep our fingers
Nick Nunziata: Well, I know that this is
initially about the special features, but I do want to ask you a
couple of questions about the film since I am a fan. I’m a fledgeling
producer myself, and one of my mentors is a guy named Guillermo del Toro, so
I had to endure that man telling me how great Avatar was for a year
and a half before the movie came out. And of course I was skeptical.
I mean, how could you not be? It was this big X-factor.
Jon Landau: Sure, yeah.
Nick Nunziata: I kinda want to get a vibe from
your perspective. What was the gestation process for this when you
were developing it, and when did it finally start to really feel like
the delivery of that incredible vision?
Jon Landau: Well, I had first read Avatar
fifteen years ago. And at the time, we identified it as something
that could not be made with the technology that currently existed. So
we put it on the back burner. And then in April of 2005, we looked at
the landscape of what was out there, some tests we had done for other
movies, and we show that in the DVD. We show a test we did for
another movie called Brother Termite where we did facial performance
Nick Nunziata: Was that with Sayles?
Jon Landau: It was based on his script, yes.
Nick Nunziata: Because I remember I was waiting
for that movie to come out for a long time. I read the book, I loved the book, and
that was another one that was on the shelf for a long time.
Jon Landau: Yeah, because that was one that
we couldn’t make happen at that time, but we did learn something from
it. So then in 2005, we said, we can do this and we asked Fox to
support us for a year to see if we could. And we believed we could.
And you asked, when did we know that it was working? We were three
years into the process before we got the first shot back from Weta
Digital. And when we got that first shot back in Weta Digital, Jim
and I watched it, and I remember him thinking to himself, wow, this
could work. And then, a moment of terror came over us because we had
just looked at eleven shots, and we had two thousand more to go.
Nick Nunziata: Yeah, and to some extent you were
creating the whole process for this style of film making.
Jon Landau: We were! It did not exist.
Nick Nunziata: And that’s the thing. A lot of
skeptics talk about how the medium is going to a place where there is
no creativity and where it’s just rehashing old ideas and you kind of
shot that idea completely out of the water. Is there anything now
that’s unfilmable really?
Jon Landau: No, and I was talking to someone
earlier this week. They said, what do you hope comes from Avatar? And
I said what I hope comes from Avatar is that it unlocks a door where
filmmakers can now make movies that couldn’t be made before because
now anything is truly possible. You are only limited by your
imagination and your will to realize that imagination.
Nick Nunziata: Tying into the Blu-ray release,
it’s kind of interesting to see in what has typically been a
filmmaker’s medium and then a consumer’s medium, that there is this
interesting bridge between them that allows you to communicate with
your audience in a way that’s not happened before. You seem to be
pushing the envelope as well with the home video stuff.
Jon Landau: I hope so. In some ways, also,
you try to make it a little more interactive where it’s not just a
passive experience. We have what we call these scene breakdowns where
it shows sixty minutes of scenes and you can go into the individual
scenes on three different levels. One, being the performance capture
where we’re actually just photographing the actors from reference
cameras. Next is what we call the template, which is what we turned
over to Weta Digital, which is a 1990’s video game looking thing. And
then a third level, which is the final level that has a
picture-in-picture. Well the viewer can run these scenes, and with a
click of their Blu-ray remote, seamlessly transition from one level
to a different level to see how it’s all working–again, thereby
making it an interactive experience.
Nick Nunziata: When you guys were making the
movie, did the home video aspect of this compute in a way you could
take advantage of while you were making the film? Or is it something
that is typically approached by you and Cameron as something that is
done in post or after the film is done?
Jon Landau: No, we were very conscious of it
going through. We had our EPK Crew, not to do interviews with the
cast for use pre-release of the movie for the publicity, but in the
context of knowing we’d want to create an hour and a half long
documentary about the making of, having somebody there at initial
meetings with Weta Digital and making sure we archived our casting
session with our talent and all those things to make them available.
We were definitely aware of it.
Nick Nunziata: Things have changed recently.
People would buy discs based on special features, and I think they
got burned a few too many times and are a little bit more wary when
they’re buying. They’re not as much collectors as they used to be.
Your first release that came out was a beautiful, beautiful Blu-ray
that was completely focused on the presentation of the film. How do
you take into consideration the dangers of a double-dipping situation
and ensure that people could buy this disc and be content for a good
stretch of time?
Jon Landau: Well number one, we were up front
before we did the initial release of the home entertainment. We told
people, we’re doing a release in the Fall. It’s gonna have added
value material. We didn’t hide that from people. I think that’s
critical. The only reason that we did the two releases and didn’t put
all of the content in one release was because the fans wanted
something before we could be ready with the added-value content. It
took Weta all the way through the end of the summer to
finish those sixteen minutes of scenes that we wanted to put back in.
So, number one, we were up front about it. Number two, we wanted to
use material that is accessible to the masses that wasn’t at such
high techno-speak that the general public wouldn’t find it
interesting. That’s why we have this documentary that is really a
filmmaker’s odyssey of going through the process. And then for the
people that do want the more technically detailed, we have seventeen
featurettes that they can delve into: just music, or just art design,
or just performance capture, or any of these things.
Nick Nunziata: Looking at your filmography, it
doesn’t seem like you like making it easy on yourself. Avatar?
Difficult movie. A lot of odds stacked against it. Solaris. Difficult
movie. A lot of odds stacked against it. Titanic… Dick Tracy… Are
you a glutton? What’s going on?
Jon Landau: You know, what I like to do is
make movies that create worlds. I think people go to entertainment to
escape the world that we live in. And to me the idea of that act of
creation, even all the way back to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids… I love
having people come visit that set and being able to share that with
them and show them that. To me, that’s what’s so exciting about what
Nick Nunziata: I’m very proud to say that as a
film projectionist in 1989, I almost ruined a print of your movie,
but then came through overnight and fixed it. So I saved everyone a
shitload of trouble. And let me just go on record to say that Solaris is one of
those movies that I’m championing. It’s another polarizing movie, but
the fact that you got that thing made and that it’s out there is a
Jon Landau: And by the way, for us, we look
at all those movies and we try and first say, this is their
potential. And to make a movie within their potential? We knew
that Solaris was never going to be Avatar. That’s what people forget.
Why can’t this be our version of No
Country For Old Men, or whatever it is, where it’s a movie that we’re
very proud of?
Nick Nunziata: I know that the business of it
expects instant gratification with movies like this, but the fact
that you’re making films that are going to stand the test of time and
that are going to make people’s “best of” lists twenty
years from now, puts things in a whole different perspective. And
Solaris and Avatar, and go down the list… these are all films that
work in 2010, but they’re also going to work in 2020.
Jon Landau: Well, it makes me very proud to
hear you say that.
Nick Nunziata: Well, it’s a creator’s medium. So
when you’re working with James Cameron, it’s a good problem. Is
Avatar 2 next for you? Or what do you have cooking otherwise?
Jon Landau: Avatar 2 is definitely next.
We’ve made that commitment and that’s what we’re focused on.
Photo by Jeff Vespa
© WireImage.com – Image courtesy WireImage.com
Avatar‘s fancy new DVD/Blu-ray extended edition (buy it from us) arrives on shelves tomorrow.