Towards the end of my hour long one on one with Brett Ratner on the set of Zak Penn’s imrov poker comedy The Grand, Dave Davis came over. He had been wondering where I had gotten off to, and was amazed to see that I was still talking to Ratner. Mostly, it seems, he was amazed I was alive. “I thought you would have strangled him by now,” Dave said to Ratner. I have to admit I was a little worried myself – when I introduced myself to Ratner as a writer for CHUD.com he told me he knew the site. If that was true, he would also know that I had written some less than flattering stuff about him while X3 was in production – stuff that was unflattering enough to piss Fox off quite a bit.
Q: Before X3 a lot of the internet – including CHUD.com – did not have much faith. Do you feel like you showed ‘em?
Ratner: I love the movie, I’m proud of the movie. Bryan Singer gave me the best advice when I took the job: ‘Don’t read the internet. They’re all going to talk shit about you.’ They did the same thing to him.
That’s why I stayed true to the first two movies, because I was a big fan of the first two movies. I didn’t try to reinvent it, I didn’t try to make a movie that was better than the first two. I made a movie that became a part of the first two. That was my goal. I jumped in with a short prep and my goal was to make a good movie.
Q: Why do you think it’s the biggest one?
Ratner: I think a few reasons. The fanbase is tremendous because of the DVD. These are characters the audience loves.
Is it better? Look, I’m too close to it. Is it more emotional? I think it is. Is it definitely the last in the trilogy? It feels like it is. Maybe that’s part of it, that it feels like the end.
Q: Is it the movie you wanted? I know there was some studio stuff going on –
Ratner: Oh definitely. Every fight I had – they weren’t big fights, but everything I went for the studio totally backed me. I know they’re not famous for it. The original script had that Golden Gate Bridge sequence right in the middle of the movie. Alcatraz was a prison and they used the bridge to get the prisoners off – instead we changed it to the caravan. I didn’t know how to make that work in the movie – it was the biggest set piece I have shot in my life. It felt like a climax.
The other thing is the third act took place in Washington, DC, and I was like, every fucking one of these movies ends in Washington, DC. Every fucking one of them. Planet of the Apes, X-Men, it’s ridiculous. I don’t want a fight in the Mall. And I needed it to be contained, because we were in Canada. I created a fishbowl on that island and it was contained, and it could be realistic. You’re shooting on the Mall in Canada… it’s not my idea of fun.
I’m very happy with every frame, and there’s not a frame I look at where I cringe. When people see the DVD and they see my hour long making of, they’re going to see how much I brought to it.
Q: Was there stuff that was cut? Stuff that we’ll see on the DVD?
Ratner: Yeah, there’s some cut stuff. Some stuff that didn’t work. Maybe not a lot, but some stuff. But I’m a filmmaker who had a point of view and I had Zak and Simon there to keep me honest to the comic book fans, because they’re the major comic book fans, and I focused on telling a story that was character driven and emotional and felt like it was the third part of the series.
Q: A couple of weeks ago I spent some time talking to James Toback, who I know you’re friends with –
Ratner: My favorite guy in the world.
Q: You’re in The Outsider, the documentary about him. He’s your favorite director, but you’re very different directors – you’re a big, mainstream director and he’s got a very different, smaller thing going on. Do you see yourself going that way, heading in a Tobackian direction?
Ratner: [laughs] No. Look, I do my little projects, I do my little photo books, but I’m storyteller. And my sensibilities are more mainstream, more commercial. But the fact that I have relationship with Toback – that people who get to know me not on a superficial level, not by my work, but get to know me for who I am – shows that I’m not just the hack or the commercial sell out. I have respect from Toback and Polanski and all these guys because I’m a real filmmaker. Whether or not you like the genre I’m in, you can’t deny I know what I’m doing. I’m not leaving it up to the actors. There’s some point of view. And you’ll see it in the making of – I was watching it the other day, and you see me coming up with this idea, that idea, I piece it together and how I make it work.
I realized when I got a call from Polanski after I did Rush Hour that directors aren’t snobs. Maybe some are. But mostly directors appreciate a well made film, and it doesn’t matter what kind of a film it is.
Q: The snobiness feels very modern. You look back at the old great films and they’re usually very mainstream genres. John Ford was making mainstream movies.
Ratner: And the directors of fifty years ago were going from comedy to drama to western to war. A filmmaker’s job is to be a storyteller.
Q: Why is that different now? Why is that when you do the Rush Hour films you get pegged as just an action director?
Ratner: If you really look at my work I’m one of the only guys who – well, of course Spielberg and Zemeckis jump genres – but there’s no other guy who has done action comedy then romantic fantasy then Red Dragon, which is a psychological thriller, and then X-Men. I’m not saying I’m better than other directors, what I’m saying is that my approach is that I’m a filmmaker and I should be able to tell any story.
Q: But why is it that today there is so much pigeonholing?
Ratner: I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s just the way the system works. Back in the day the system worked differently. It was an assembly line. Directors didn’t even edit their own movies. It’s a different world now, but Billy Wilder and these other directors made so many kinds of pictures.
Look, I think there’s a blurred line between my public persona and my work. It just happened. I think eventually people are going to look back and go, Wow. I’m not going to be in the tabloids anymore, I’m not going to be in US Magazine, and they’re going to be able to look at the film and how it holds up as a film on its own. It won’t be about ‘Brett Ratner speaks in the third person, so he’s an asshole.’ And I don’t speak in the third person, but that’s what they say.
Q: I can go on the record as saying you are not currently speaking in the third person.
Ratner: I’ve never spoke in the third person. But I did just say ‘Brett Ratner speaks in the third person,’ so now you can say I did talk in the third person.
Q: Where does that come from?
Ratner: People have always hated me.
Q: It’s a jealousy thing?
Ratner: That’s what my mom tells me, but that’s my mom. I don’t know.
Q: Is it funny to open up the tabloids and see stuff about you in there or is it annoying?
Ratner: It’s not annoying at all. The meanest group is Defamer and Harry Knowles. I don’t take myself that seriously. It’s like, come on. I totally laugh at it. If I did take it seriously, it would probably be worse than what it is.
I love what I do. I love filmmakers. Werner Herzog is here – how cool is that? The biggest star could be in the room and I care about the filmmakers – the directors and cinematographers and the producers. These are the people that I admire. And I love movies. I drove up from LA and the whole ride we played The Movie Game. We did movies with animals as the star. I went on and on and on and I was like, ‘Woah, I have seen a lot of movies!’
At the end of the day I want to leave a mark somehow. If one of my films holds up 100 years from now I’ll be happy wherever I’m watching from.
What’s amazing about sitting down with Ratner for any amount of time (and Davis and I ended up hanging out with him for longer than the time that’s represented here) is watching him do what may be his real life’s work: hitting on girls. The guy is relentless, saying “Hey sweetie,” or trading flirty banter with every single female that walks by. At one point he brought Woody Harrelson over to this attractive extra he had been hitting on, introducing her as his next girlfriend. He half-jokingly tried to talk a crew member out of her engagement.
“Always find something you have in common,” he tutored me. Ratner talks glowingly of the book The Game as a great guide on how to score with women. I wondered if this was something that came to Ratner once he became a famous director, but in the last week I’ve talked to a lot of people who have known him for some time, and this, they tell me, is who Brett is. The guy’s charming, even when he’s operating on three hours of sleep and dressed as a whiny Jewish poker player. Hell, he charmed me completely. I don’t know if I can ethically review his next movie at this point.
Q: So Rush Hour 3 is actually happening?
Ratner: Yeah. I’m shooting in 8 weeks.
Q: What’s going to make this one different from the last two?
Ratner: It’s a buddy comedy but it’s got elements of fish out of water comedy. It mixes genres. Jackie Chan in the first one came to LA and was a fish out of water. Chris Tucker in the second one went to Hong Kong. Now they’re both going to Paris, where they don’t speak the language. If you really, really know films and you watch my films you’ll know my inspirations. It’s like if you watch Boogie Nights, although his are a little more obvious. I am Cuba or Putney Swope. My movies are a little more Enter the Dragon, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop.
Q: The movies we grew up on.
Ratner: Yeah, but movies that don’t have a style, per se. Paul Thomas Anderson’s inspirations are very stylized.
But every scene in [my] movie comes from another film. I don’t want to give everything away but this dream scene I want to do is inspired by when Kareem Abdul-Jabar fought Bruce Lee. I want to have the reverse – I want Chris Tucker to fight Yao Ming. As a child I saw Bruce Lee fighting this giant, and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ Every scene comes from another movie. I’m not saying it’s straight out of another movie, I’m saying it’s inspired by. The shot in Rush Hour overlooking Hong Kong Harbor of course was right out of Enter the Dragon. I got the idea for the composer because of Enter the Dragon – Lalo Schifrin did Rush Hour, and he did Enter the Dragon and he was incredible. I had the idea for Rush Hour because of Lalo’s music, Lalo mixing urban funky grooves with Chinese instrumentation. I was like, ‘Wow,’ that was so cool and hip to me.
Q: Is this the last Rush Hour? It seems like Chris Tucker is tougher to get back every time.
Ratner: He’s been doing other things. I want him to work with other directors – maybe he’ll appreciate me more! But I’m flattered that he only wants to work with me. I couldn’t wait to shoot Rush Hour – I can’t wait to get to the set. We’re there with Jackie, who’s the greatest guy in the world, Chris, who’s a good friend. It’s just so much fun. And there’s loads of pressure but somehow there’s more pressure because we look at each other and go, ‘We’ve done this before. This is ridiculous.’
Q: How do you keep it fresh?
Ratner: It’s just about challenging each other. Funnier, smarter, better. Just keep challenging ourselves. And I think that’s the key. Yeah, we’re getting paid a lot of money but we’re not doing this for the check. We’re not going to walk through it. We want to win. We want to make a better film than the last. Hollywood is unfortunately built on the sequels right now – it’s all about the sequels and the remakes, and that’s a challenge. There’s not as much ingenuity in the 60s and 70s when filmmakers were like inventing genres, creating stuff you never seen before. Italy, France – all over the world. They never would have thought of remaking a movie. Well, Scarface was a remake of an old movie or an adaptation. But before that there wasn’t any – well, Heaven Can Wait.
That’s what’s so brilliant about the first X-Men; Bryan did such a brilliant job of interpreting the comic book into its own world. The choices he made was that everything was grounded in reality. I never would have been able to do the first movie – or I could have done it, but not as well as Bryan. Bryan related to the subject material and the characters. He was able to make Magneto outfit believable.
Q: Whether or not it was on purpose or not, there was a sense of competition with you taking on X3, Bryan taking on Superman and the two films coming out in the same general time frame. X3 is one of the biggest hits of the year, but Superman isn’t doing as well as they hoped. What happened? What went wrong?
Ratner: I think good luck comes from good ideas. X3 is a good fucking idea. Superman – and I started to feel this a little bit when I was in the process of making it – seems like less and less of a good idea. Contemporizing that, and the fact that there were five – I would get from a lot of people, ‘Oh, are you making Superman 7?’ From a lot of people. The studio probably thought that would benefit, but the fact that is that you have to revitalize a franchise. It’s almost like what happened with Red Dragon. Hannibal was a huge hit, but it burned a lot of the women because it was so violent. More violent than Silence of the Lambs. It burned a lot of people from the franchise. A lot of people didn’t turn out for that – even though it was a huge hit. I’m not complaining about it, but it wasn’t as big as Hannibal.
Because of the poor performances of the bad Supermans there was a stigma on it. That was the problem – how do you take that and contemporize it? It’s very difficult, and I think JJ [Abrams] had a brilliant interpretation of that story. I don’t know if you read that script?
Q: I didn’t.
Ratner: I thought it was brilliant because it showed something that could have happened previous to the mythology that people knew. It said that Superman’s father had this brother and they were the two leaders of Krypton and there was this civil war on the planet. 40 minutes of the movie took place on Krypton. We were going to build a fucking planet! That makes it worthwhile to make a Superman movie! People would have been like, ‘Holy shit, this is mindblowing!’ Unfortunately it was too expensive – my version going in was 260 to 280 million dollars. And if you go in there you know you’re going to end up over 300.
Q: Can Hollywood keep sustaining these bigger budgets? Pirates is doing amazing business, but so many movies have huge budgets and are not going to be able to make back what was spent on them, let alone turn a profit in theaters. The money Superman’s made now would have been a blockbuster years ago.
Ratner: I think what’s going to happen is that they’re going to keep getting bigger and bigger and a lot of people are going to get burned. Companies will go out of business. It’s cyclical. There’s going to be our version of – what’s that movie Cimino did? The movie that buried -
Q: Heaven’s Gate.
Ratner: Heaven’s Gate! There’s going to be our version of that.
Q: Which is a good movie. It gets a bum rap.
Ratner: Right! So many great movies don’t perform. When I saw them I thought they were hits – I went opening night, it was a packed theater, I didn’t watch the fucking box office back then, I was just a kid. Movies like Quiz Show – I thought that made a hundred million dollars but it only made 20 million dollars at the box office. I look back and see it on the list of all the grossing pictures and it’s number 3000 and I’m like ‘What?’ I love that movie!
So many great pictures didn’t perform. You can’t base… there’s Hollywood reality and then there’s reality then there’s internet reality. And it’s all different. Everyone has a point of view and nobody’s wrong. Look, a hit to me is a movie that when it plays in a theater, everywhere I wanted people to laugh they laugh. There’s no greater experience than sitting in a theater – well, Cannes was pretty exceptional, but they’re all snobs – going opening night [of X3] and seeing Bryan Singer there at Mann’s Chinese and having the seats vibrating, the walls vibrating. After the Sunset underperformed, but that movie was a crowd pleaser. If I had brought that in for 20 million –
Q: After the Sunset is a movie that seems like it should have performed. What happened?
Ratner: I don’t know. You can blame marketing, you can blame Pierce and Salma [note: Brett Ratner wrote in to clarify this point: "It sounds like I’m blaming them for the movie not performing. I didn’t mean it like that. I loved the movie and I wouldn’t change a thing if I could do it again." Sorry for any confusion on this point in the transcript]. Take the same movie with Brad and Angelina and it’s a 200 million dollar movie. That’s what I’m saying – I should have made that my little indy, grunge heist picture, the same way Ridley did that movie with Nic Cage.
Q: Matchstick Men.
Ratner: Yeah. That should have been my Matchstick Men.
Q: Do you have a smaller movie waiting?
Ratner: A small movie. Not as small as this [The Grand]! I have a movie. I would like to remake The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
Q: That’s very ballsy. Remaking Cassavetes.
Ratner: Ballsy? Come on, Paul Thomas Anderson said he’ll personally put a bullet in my head. It’s the greatest movie ever made to him. The problem is that nobody’s seen it except for cinephiles. It never got a release in the United States – I think it played for one day and Cassavetes pulled it because it got bad reviews. It only came out in France. It’s a cult film and it’s a flawed movie. I think it’s a brilliant movie, tonally it’s brilliant, but I’m not remaking Psycho. Come on.
Q: What people don’t take into account when a remake happens is that you’re not going to their house, taking their DVD copy of the original and burning it. That movie still exists. I never understood the deep anger about that stuff.
Ratner: Look, to remake Network –
Q: Clooney’s doing it for TV.
Ratner: It’s a mistake. That movie’s just brilliant. But everyone’s going to have their opinion on what shouldn’t be remade. To remake The Godfather is sacrilege… but why? There are so many channels and formats there could be an audience that wants to see The Godfather as a four hour fucking miniseries. I don’t know, let people express themselves.
Brett’s assistant is also named Brett, and he has a rather intimate connection with CHUD.com. He had been looking for a job when he read an interview with Ratner on this site where the director said that his last assistant had gone on to make his own feature film. Assistant Brett knew what his next job would have to be.
It was interesting to watch the two Bretts in action. Assistant Brett would have two or three cell phones on him at all times, and he would be working with Ratner on returning calls to people like Steve Wynn or Christina Milian. The big names and planning of a party at Ratner’s suite at the Wynn are part of what you expect from the guy, but Assistant Brett kept telling us that there was more to Ratner than what you read about.
Later we saw that – Ratner’s adorable old grandparents surprised him by driving up from LA, where they live in his guest house. While Ratner was filming his scene, Assistant Brett would sit with the couple (who, like Dave Davis, got a cameo in the film). What a shift in gears – from calling Milian to hanging out with a couple of retirees. Towards the end of the night Assistant Brett would talk about how it can be tough working for Ratner, how your personal life disappears. But you know, when your day goes from corralling hotties for parties to corralling old people, who needs a personal life anyway?
Q: Talk about who you’re playing in The Grand.
Ratner: I’m playing a guy by the name of… I have to ask.
Q: You have a fantastic yarmulke. [The yarmulke has a print of playing cards on it]
Ratner: Yeah, I’m a Jewish guy whose strategy – and by the way, a lot of poker players have come up to me and said they know guys like this – and it’s a strategy but it really is who he is, he talks about the tragedy in his life during the game. It’s supposed to throw the other guys off. He says, ‘Look, I gotta express myself. I have no choice but to express myself.’ But it’s really a tactic to fuck up the other players. Bobby Brillstein, something like that. He’s obsessed with poker and wants to win The Grand Championship. He talks about the tragedy and the pain of his life at the table.
I’ve had guys come up to me and intellectualize, ‘You know, I can’t take money from a guy in a wheelchair. I can’t do it.’ And the guy doesn’t sit there and say ‘Hit me.’ He says, ‘Hit me please.’ He plays up the fucking handicap. Two or three poker players told me about this and I literally got it. We were doing these interviews – you know how there are these interviews [interviews the actors do in character] – and I discovered in the last diatribe we gave where Zak told me to interrupt the interview because I get a call. I picked up the phone and said, ‘Ma, I can’t talk right now. I’m sorry the chemotherapy hurts. I can’t – Ma, it hurts me too. It hurts me too. Look, I’ll bring you some gifelte fish later.’
Q: You did some improv with Toback.
Ratner: I did. That was the first movie and the only movie I ever said I would do. But I had to come do this for Zak. That was Black and White.
Q: Does the improv come easy to you?
Ratner: The improv is easy – the hardest thing is listening. But in real life it’s hard for me to listen! I have so much more respect for actors because when I wasn’t talking I became so much more aware of the cameras [in Black and White]. I became Brett Ratner. I mean, I was playing Brett Ratner but I got terrified. When I was speaking I could riff for fucking hours. The minute I wasn’t speaking and other people were talking – I got Brooke Shields there – I was like, ‘Oh my God, what the fuck is going on!’ I had to keep the camera on me, I kept looking in the lens almost. I got completely freaked out. I was so self-conscious.
Q: You were just looking in the lens now in the “Burka-vision” scene. Are you finding yourself almost cracking up acting against David Cross? [Cross, for reasons we’ll discuss in the set visit report, plays a round wearing a burka. There is a shot from his POV which was filmed that day]
Ratner: If I have a dialogue scene I’ll probably crack up. I mean, a guy in a fucking burka. It’s fucking hysterical. I wanted to say, ‘Look, I’m not playing with a Muslim. I refuse.’
Q: So Rush Hour 3 is filming in 8 weeks and hitting next summer?
Ratner: Competing with Pirates. I don’t know if it’s direct competition. Pirates is 4th of July?
Q: No, it’s Memorial Day.
Ratner: We’re end of the summer.
Q: Everybody’s talking about how Pirates means the slump is over. Did you think there was a real slump in the first place?
Ratner: I think in the DVD market there’s going to be a slump. I don’t know about the… kids want to watch movies on their iPods and their phones. The future is here right now. You’re going to have a phone downloading digital quality video of your movie and just plug it into the fucking TV. DVD is going to be obsolete in the next few years. But there’s no experience like sitting in a movie theater. A kid seeing the first Star Wars today is never going to have the same experience when I was six years old and sat in that theater and I waited in line for fucking days. And I would get to the booth and ‘Sorry, next show sold out.’ And I would wait there and ‘Sorry, next show sold out.’ I would have to come back the next day or the next weekend, and the anticipation would build. And the fact that there was just one screen – now you walk in and there are eight fucking theaters.
Q: You can walk in at any random time and catch a show.
Ratner: Any random fucking time. But there’s nothing like the anticipation of waiting in line to see the biggest spectacle in the world. And what was going on in the world at that time, because there were only three channels on TV and you never saw anything like that ever. That’s why now Psycho doesn’t work. A guy getting stabbed in the shower – you’ve seen people’s heads getting cut off now because of what’s going on in the world. The interesting this is that I could show a kid the exact same movie I saw when I was six or seven and it’s not going to have the same meaning. That’s why filmmakers have different inspirations, because of what they saw as a kid. I appreciate Peeping Tom, by Michael Powell, and I appreciate Spielberg and Scorsese’s Kurosawa inspirations, but they don’t mean the same thing to me. Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours mean more to me. And that’s because that’s what I grew up on. That was the age when I discovered the dream of being a director – I was 8 – and those were the popular movies of the time. I’m a product of my generation.
Q: Do you feel like you have to apologize for that?
Ratner: I say it because when Polanski called me [about Rush Hour] I said, ‘I made Beverly Hills Cop,’ meaning I made a version of Beverly Hills Cop, he said, ‘Brett, you made a movie with pace that was funny and it’s hard to make a movie that works.’ I apologize for my movies, but it’s a product of who I am. I’m not apologizing for 48 Hours or Beverly Hills Cop, because those are incredible movies. I’m apologizing because my movies are contemporary versions of those movies just like Spielberg made contemporary versions of the movies he watched as a kid.
Q: So you’re saying your whole career is based on Eddie Murphy! Without Eddie Murphy, there would be no Brett Ratner.
Ratner: Well no, but my success comes from Rush Hour, but I have other eclectic tastes and inspirations.
Q: What are you watching these days?
Ratner: Chaos. It’s amazing. I just watched Year of the Dragon. I’ve been watching a lot of Asian, a lot of Korean and Japanese movies.
Q: Is that to get into the mindset for Rush Hour 3?
Ratner: I’m getting into the mode. I’m watching the new stuff; I already know the old stuff. I watch a movie every day. Every day I watch a movie. And if I don’t watch a movie, I watch a scene from a movie. I’m watching a lot of movies that take place in France: Bob Le Flambeur, The Red Circle.
Q: Which John Woo is remaking.
Ratner. I know. I’m producing it. I bought the rights. There’s probably going to be a litigation about it. It’ll get resolved and everything.
But I handed it over to John Woo.
Q: Do you think that John Woo going back to Hong Kong is the best decision?
Ratner: I think he’s going to shoot in Shanghai.
Q: I mean he seems to have had a couple of rough years in Hollywood.
Ratner: The reason I let go of Red Circle – it was my idea to buy it – was because I wasn’t as passionate about it as John Woo. That was John Woo’s favorite movie of all time. If it was… I don’t know, I can’t think of another franchise – well, if it was Killing of a Chinese Bookie and he bought the rights because he thought it was a cool movie and I was like, ‘I’m obsessed with Killing of a Chinese Bookie…’
Oceans 11 I wanted to redo, it was my idea to remake that movie. I couldn’t do it because I had to do Rush Hour 2, but I wanted to do it just to protect it almost. I met with Clooney to star in it, actually.
Ratner: Before Family Man. Before Soderbergh was on. He said, ‘That’s sacrilegious.’ Are you kidding me? They did one take and shot it in 23 days! It was a bunch of guys getting together.
My version was going to be much different. My version was going to be the scumbag version. It was going to be Nic Cage, Charlie Sheen, Chris Penn, Sean Penn. All the fucking – Christian Slater. All the guys who really smoke cigarettes.
Q: Set it down here, in the crappier Vegas.
Ratner: Mine was like the grungy… Don Rickles and stuff. I even have the original script I got from Ted Griffin, because I had Ted Griffin write the first draft. Next to every character I put all the names of who would play the characters.
Q: Is that how you do it? Do the actors come right to mind for characters and you tailor the part for them?
Ratner: It depends. Hopefully Polanski’s going to act in Rush Hour 3, so I created a part for him. I was just having lunch with him, and I said, ‘Oh my God, you have to be in Rush Hour!’ We’re shooting in Paris, so it’s perfect.
Q: How intimidating would that be, to be directing one of the great directors of all time?
Ratner: He treats me as an equal, he loves my movies, he’s a fan. If I was directing Harry Knowles from Aint It Cool News I wouldn’t feel very comfortable – he would be looking at me sideways the whole time. But Polanksi gives me respect and admiration and love, so I’m fearless. He gave me a lot of secrets and stuff. Not secrets but points of view.
Q: Little tricks.
Ratner: Little things to keep in mind every time I approach a scene. So I feel very confident. I’m using Yvan Attel, who directed My Wife is an Actress, which is a fucking brilliant French movie that Spielberg has the remake rights to. He was in Munich too. I haven’t told anybody who’s in the movie yet – there’s another brilliant French actress who I can’t say yet, but I’m going after her. It’s going to be a great cast.
But I mean, you meet people. Zhang Ziyi, [her part] wasn’t even written for a female. I saw Crouching Tiger when I was in Hong Kong before the movie came out and one of the producers showed me the movie. I said, ‘Oh my God, who is this girl, I have to meet her.’ Flew to Beijing from Hong Kong, sat down with her, thought I was going to find a girlfriend and instead I found a star. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be in my movie.’ And she doesn’t speak English, this is with the interpreter there. I said, ‘You got to be in my movie, I’ll create a part for you.’ She didn’t have one line and I just kept adding scenes.
Sometimes that’s just the way it works. Rush Hour works like that, X-Men is different.
Q: Was X-Men too rushed? I know Fox pushed very hard to get it out.
Ratner: I shot as many days as I would have shot – I shot 120 something days?
Q: How was your post, though?
Ratner: You have to understand that I was prepping [the FX for] the Bridge before the first day of shooting. I only had 8 weeks prep, but I was prepping that sequence in my pre-production phase. Remember, all these people had already made two of these movies. I got the company who did Mystique’s [effects]…
Q: And you had actors in place who knew their characters.
Ratner: Right. And I’m a decisive director. If it would have been the first X-Men, the first Harry Potter, it would have been a whole different story. But on the third…
Q: The world’s created. The tone is there.
Ratner: Right! It’s not that I’m saying my job is easy, I’m saying I was decisive. There was a universe, and there were rules in that universe. I wasn’t going to do something so far out. We knew the way that Magneto’s powers worked. I wasn’t reinventing it. I knew the way that Mystique changed, so I got the company that did that. I tried some new things like de-aging them. The hardest part was the new characters. The scene I’m most proud of, because these are two actors and characters who had never been in an X-Men movie before but they felt like they had, was when Beast goes to see the little boy. Those characters were not in X-Men 1 or 2, but they still felt like they belonged in an X-men movie. I was very proud of those scenes, of getting those actors to fit into the trilogy.
Q: You said that Polanski gave you some tips and tricks. Did you give Zak any tips and tricks?
Ratner: Oh yeah. He stole a lot from me. He was standing right next to me when we were shooting X-Men. That’s why every scene from that movie is from a comic book or a reference to a comic book. There’s nothing that we’re inventing; we wanted to stay very true to the comics.
But Zak mentioned he had made this movie Loch Ness and he gave it to me. He asked a lot of questions. He was a little bit surprised – ‘Wow, you really know the lenses!’ Well, yeah, this is my 7th film! I know the focal length. That’s what I did. I didn’t learn a lot in terms of technical stuff in film school. I focused on being the director and I thought, ‘I’ll let them take care of the camera, I’ll let them take care of the lights.’ But you’re supposed to do every job in film school. Then when I went videos it was another opportunity for me to learn, to make money when learning. When we got the budget I would get a crane. What does a LumaCrane do? Why would I use this to help tell my story? Why would I use a practical SteadiCam instead of a dolly? What’s the difference?
I really learned what the tools of my craft did, so that by the time I started doing movies I knew what every fucking lens did. I knew every piece of equipment. I worked with Dante Spinotti, you know? I’m not working with fucking jokers! It’s so crazy! People act like I’m some fucking… I don’t know. How can I be a hack if I work with the greatest crew in the world?
Q: I had an interesting conversation today about how people don’t understand what a cinematographer does, or how a director works with a cinematographer. As a result you see people making critiques based on stuff they don’t really understand.
Ratner: There are movies you can go see and not know who the director is. I think people can look at my movies and go, ‘That’s a Brett film.’ It’s not because I have a shot like Spike Lee floating down the street. I have a point of view. Whether you like it or not, and whether you like my choices or not, that’s OK. But you look at my movies and you can’t deny the shots are composed. They cut together. They flow. There’s a pace. There’s an energy. There aren’t wasted shots. I could have had a two hour and twenty minute version of X-Men, but there would have been a lot of stale shit going on.
Q: X-Men is so packed. There’s so much that goes on in X-men. You weren’t tempted to go longer?
Ratner: I found all the emotion. I slowed down for the moments where you need to slow down and I amped up the moments where you needed to keep it going. It’s just a thing I think I’m very good at is pace. If you watch my movies, they don’t drag. There’s nothing worse than a long fucking movie in my opinion. ‘We want more! We want more!’ I wanted Casino to be longer, I understand. I was obsessed with every fucking frame of that movie. But how much –
Q: There’s something to be said for leaving people wanting more.
Ratner: That’s right! Don’t give it all away. That’s why there’s the DVD. That’s where the movie’s really going to exist; who’s going to have a print of X-Men 50 years from now? You’re going to have a DVD or the digital version of the movie.
Q: How does that affect you as a filmmaker? Once upon a time the film released in theaters was the only version anyone ever saw, and if they didn’t see it in theaters they might never see it, unless they happened to catch it on TV.
Ratner: It’s so much better. Look at how big the audience is. Look at how many fucking people are going to see my movie, in every corner of the world.
Q: But when you’re making the movie are you saying to yourself, ‘I love this, but I’ll save it for the DVD’?
Ratner: Yeah. For outtakes, maybe gags. But where it really helps me is when I’m struggling over losing something in the edit. But you know what? If it’s not pushing the story, lose it. Don’t every fall in love. I’m not a guy where every fucking frame is whatever. It’s whatever tells the story. My job is to tell the story in the least amount of shots.
I’m the guy who used to be in class and used to have to listen to the teacher and take notes and read my notes three times to get an A. The kid next to me didn’t even have to take notes and he got an A too. I got the same A, I just had to work harder. I forgot where I was going with this.
Sitting around with Brett Ratner in a hallway in the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is an essentially surreal thing all on its own. But later, after the tape recorder was off and we were just bullshitting, things got even more surreal. Werner Herzog, who appears in the movie as the deadly The German, came over and started hanging out. Woody Harrelson, in a wig and fake muttonchop sideburns, also sat down with us. Brett got Werner to tell the story behind Wings of Hope – while filming Aguirre, Herzog was bumped from an overbooked airplane in Peru. The plane disintegrated in mid-air, leaving only one survivor, who worked with Herzog to make a film about the incident. Later, Herzog talked about the times he had been shot at (he had to think a second to remember if Kinski had ever shot at him) as well as his adventures in Africa, which included being tortured in jail and having his teeth knocked out.
Zak Penn had told me that amazing things always happen to Ratner. Every day he has another story about another incredible thing that happened to him. Sitting in that group I realized I was experiencing one of the lesser amazing things, hearing a legend joke around and tell his unbelievable stories. I knew that if Davis and I managed to get an invite to Ratner’s suite party that night we would probably be privy to something much more amazing.
We didn’t get the invite. Maybe next time.
Q: What’s the goal? What’s the long view?
Ratner: I’ve been to all these lifetime achievement award dinners, I’ve envisioned myself up there. But I think at the end of the day… it’s about learning. I don’t have a strategy. Baz Luhrmann’s going to do three musicals and then he’s going to do two epics. I’m just doing what I love and I don’t look back. I do my best. I give 200%. I don’t pay attention to what’s around me, the internet’s fucking put a hit out on me or whatever, I just do the best job I can do.
But I’ll tell you what, and I swear to God I don’t know any other filmmaker of who this is true – there is not one frame of any movie I’ve done that I go, ‘Ugh.’
Q: Really? You always hear directors saying, ‘I love that movie except…’
Ratner: Even Michael Mann will say, ‘I’ll look at it but there are things I would change.’ The point is that when I see my editor’s assembly – and there is not another director, and I want you to ask every director you talk to, say, ‘How do you feel when you watch your editor’s assembly?’ I guarantee to you that 99.99% of them will say, ‘I feel like hanging myself. I want to die. I couldn’t live with what I saw. It was painful.’ When I walk out of the room after my editor’s cut? ‘My God! I made a movie! I made a movie that works!’ It’s not that I can’t believe it, it’s just that I’m so fucking psyched.
Q: Harry Knowles has come up a couple of times. Have you met him?
Ratner: I might have my facts a little bit off, but I think this is true. You can post this and see if he responds – he probably won’t, because he’s too busy with whatever he’s doing.
I think Harry Knowles is a complete hypocrite. That’s my personal opinion of him, because he’s become a different guy. I met him over the internet in 1996 or 7, when they first started. Somebody told me there was this cool guy doing reviews and I went to check him out. Nobody in Hollywood knew about him. What I’m saying, if my facts are straight, is that Quentin Tarantino was the person who knew and maybe Quentin told me about him.
I don’t remember how I got introduced to Harry. But I started emailing the guy, because I love movies. That’s all I know! I know shit. I started talking to him – ‘Did you see this one,’ ‘Yeah, tell me what you think!’ When I would see a movie I would write in, but he never printed my reviews because I’m a filmmaker.
Q: Did you have anything out yet?
Ratner: This was before Money Talks! I wasn’t even a fucking feature director. I was a film student basically, doing music videos. I would do these fucking emails back and forth with the guy and then we would start talking on the phone. And we would talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. For hours and hours and hours. This was before he had any influence, so I had no reason… this guy was my friend. I