Here’s a way to make someone feel important: ignore not one but two phone calls from Michael Bay while talking to him.
My one on one with Andrew Form and Brad Fuller – two thirds of Platinum Dunes, the other third being Bay – came at the end of the day at the junket for The Hitcher in Los Angeles two weekends ago. With nothing else on their schedule, what had been a twenty minute interview stretched to an hour, and we covered a lot of ground – not just about The Hitcher, but about their future projects, their thoughts on remakes, and the future of the horror genre.
Towards the end of the interview, Fuller’s phone began ringing. It was Bay. There was a moment where he looked at the caller ID, and then silenced the buzzing of the phone, going back to the interview. A couple of minutes later, the phone buzzed again. Again it was Bay. Again the phone was silenced, but you could tell that this time it took a little more consideration.
Form and Fuller are no bullshit guys. Form has long Jesus hair and beard, and he showed up at the pre-screening party the night before with Jordana Brewster, his fiancée. Fuller looks more like your usual handsome, young Hollywood player, dressed casually but nicely. They had a strong rapport, often finishing each other’s sentences. And they didn’t give me a lot of spin. You may not like all their answers, but they’re being upfront and every reply felt very honest.
The Hitcher is the latest remake from Platinum Dunes. This time they’ve reached back to the 80s cult classic and updated it for today. Sean Bean plays the creepy and seemingly unstoppable hitchhiker who gets mixed up in the road trip of Jim (newcomer Zachary Knighton) and Grace (hottie Sophia Bush). The dynamics in this version are changed – in the original hitchhiker Rutger Hauer was obsessed with C Thomas Howell, whose girlfriend Jennifer Jason Leigh receives some legendarily bad treatment. This time around the lead is the girl, with the boy finding himself feeling torn.
This interview contains complete and total spoilers for The Hitcher. If you’ve seen the original, you should be in good shape, since the new version sticks pretty close to that. I had originally intended to break this interview up into two parts, and maybe keep the parts that spoiled scenes from the movie for next week, but in the end I decided that the conversational flow was worth preserving. I will not be blacking out spoilers, so continue at your own risk.
I’m interested in the philosophy of how Platinum Dunes approaches remakes. This is a pretty faithful remake –
Form: As we learned when [writer of the original] Eric Red got credit [from the WGA]! We weren’t expecting that.
What is the philosophy, though? Do you come looking to keep most of the film or are you looking to make big changes?
Fuller: The movies that we’ve remade are all movies that we authentically had a tremendous amount of affection for. Out of the movies we’ve remade, The Hitcher is the one that we all had the same level of passion for.
Form: It’s the only one I saw in the theaters. I wasn’t old enough to see Chainsaw, and I didn’t see Amityville in theaters.
Fuller: The concept of remaking it kind of came from the fact with Michael Bay talking about this film. Drew looked it up on his computer and I said, ‘How much did this make at the box office?’ It made 6 million dollars. I said, ‘This is a travesty. Why didn’t anybody see this film?’ That’s what started us.
There are things in the original you have to do. If you’re remaking this film, you have to pull a character apart. Are you going to pull apart the girl, are you going to pull apart the guy? Our marketing campaign says it right there – you know who’s getting pulled apart; there’s no mystique about who’s getting it. So rather than hide that, we played into it. When he walked out of that shower, you know he’s going to get pulled apart.
At the screening last night, when they came over the hill and saw the truck stop, someone applauded the truck stop, knowing what was coming next.
Fuller: Right. So when you’re remaking a movie you know there are things the audience is expecting, and there are places you need to be really clever. On this movie we felt that they know what’s going to happen, and we’ll let them in on it, and we’ll all have fun with it. But what we tried to do was take key elements, like the pull-apart, when he pulls up in the station wagon, and what we try to do is add something they couldn’t do twenty years ago. The whole car [chase] sequence – that was pretty hard for us to shoot. In the pull-apart, they didn’t show the body come apart. When we shot it, we didn’t know how explicit it was going to be, but we knew we could do a pull-apart that would look real. The battle between the two of them at the end – you have these two people, Rutger and C Tommy Howell, and he shoots him on the side of the road – I said to Drew, ‘How can we make that more interesting?’ You try to build on it and be true to the spirit of the original.
Form: The original is a good movie, and there’s a lot of action in that movie also. We thought, ‘What a great movie to remake, this movie that no one has seen.’ We wanted to get these characters out there.
The movie people keep asking about, and you got asked about it today, is the Friday the 13th remake. That’s been a tortured process. Can you talk about what happened?
Form: First we brought on Jonathan Liebsman to direct the movie.
Fuller: We had just worked with him on Chainsaw and loved him.
Form: We would love to work with him on everything. We were at New Line, we had two movies for them, and Friday the 13th came up.
Fuller: They gave us a call.
Form: I said, ‘I love Jason Voorhees.’ Those are movies I lived on when I was younger. We got down with Liebsman, and what we learned is that Paramount owns the original Friday the 13th.
They own the title as well, right?
Form: Yes. New Line owns all the sequels. So we were put in a box – we couldn’t use anything from the first one. So we started going down the road of making a Friday the 13th movie that didn’t include anything from part one.
Fuller: So we had to create our own backstory.
Form: And then Paramount came around and said, ‘Why don’t we do this together?’ And then MTV came around and said they wanted in. So now I think we’re at a place where Paramount, MTV, New Line and Platinum Dunes have come together and the box is completely open – we can use 1, 2 or 3. The title will be Friday the 13th. So we’re now going to bring in a new writer, Liebsman is going to direct, and we’re going to pull from the first three movies.
It’s interesting that you said you couldn’t pull from the first movie – when people think of Friday the 13th, they don’t think of the first one, because Jason’s not in that movie.
Fuller: That’s right. You know that and we know that, but most people don’t know that. Most people think Jason is a guy with a hockey mask and that’s the way it’s been since the first movie.
Form: They don’t know that Part III is when the hockey mask comes out. I think there are moments we want to address, like how does the hockey mask happen. It’ll happen differently in our movie than in the third one. Where is Jason from, why do these killings happen, and what is Crystal Lake?
Fuller: And how does Tommy Jarvis fit in?
You’re going to have Tommy Jarvis!
Fuller: [laughs] You got all excited.
Form: We’re talking about how do you put all these elements into one [film]. We haven’t decided, but we’re excited. We’re talking with new writers, and once we get that down, the movie goes right away. It’s a movie we’re excited about.
Again, you want the movie to feel real. When the killing gets over the top, it can feel campy, and we don’t want that. And with a machete and the way Jason kills, there’s a fine line. We want it to feel real, and he is a brutal killer. We’re dancing with that; we’ll put all of these elements together. It’s a movie we can’t wait to make.
Are you guys going to tackle the biggest continuity question for any Friday fan – how did Jason drown in the lake as a kid but come back as a zombie that ages?
Fuller: We don’t know. We talk about that for hours on end. How do you do that and not make it seem cheesy? If you don’t do that well, they’re not along for the ride of the movie. In some ways, you’re better off not addressing it – which I don’t think we’re going to do – or you come up with a writer and a group of people who sit in a room and come up with an idea so brilliant that it works, and that’s what we’re striving to do. Every discussion about this movie – you talk about the kills, you talk about the hot chicks, you talk about the nudity, you talk about Crystal Lake – but at the end of the day, the question is, ‘Is there a supernatural element to this movie?’ Is Jason a demon? I think you can’t figure out any of the other things until you figure that out.
It’s interesting that you bring up nudity – there hasn’t really been any in your films so far. You’re in the genre where that’s considered part and parcel of what you expect.
Form: I don’t think any of the movies we’ve done have called for it. We haven’t had that scene with the two kids in the corner having sex before the killer –
Well, you have the shower scene in this one, which is shot very tastefully so as to not show anything.
Form: Again, I think with some of the actors we’re working with…
Fuller: We don’t have a problem with nudity. I feel like an actress saying this, but if it’s not part of the story and it doesn’t make sense and we’re just throwing it in there because we don’t know how to tell the story, that’s not how we work. We love nudity as much as everybody else, and to me Friday the 13th lends itself to it more than Chainsaw. In The Hitcher, we gave a little up. We gave a little bit of it.
Considering how nudity was once part of the expected package, do you think that the expected package has changed since we were going to horror movies as kids?
Fuller: I don’t have a specific answer to that, but hopefully this will help you get an answer to that. When we came to horror movies, one thing we talked about was that we wanted to have a better level of actor in all the main roles. Today a lot of the young actresses don’t want to do nudity. Biehl doesn’t do nudity, Alba doesn’t do nudity, Jordana Brewster doesn’t do it.
Form: I think they’ll do it in what they think is the right movie, but not if they’re being chased by a chainsaw.
Fuller: That’s the trade-off. You can have a better actress to actually act the role, or you can have someone who takes off her clothes and it doesn’t feel as authentic, and we err on the side of authenticity.
Is part of it also that horror films now are lobbed down the middle of the gender road more often? Horror films in the 80s were aimed squarely at guys – these are date movies now.
Fuller: I was surprised no one asked us about it, but this is our fourth movie with a female protagonist. We have never had a male protagonist. But in Friday the 13th you have a lot of meat flying around –
Form: Lotta victims!
Fuller: So you don’t need your main actor… in that movie I think we’ll have more leeway.
Female protagonists have sort of been the thing since Halloween. Do you think it’s time to break the mold on that?
Fuller: Can I tell you what I was honestly thinking last night? I was thinking with that whole thing in the shower – we should have had Zach get out of the shower, go to the store, come back and she’s tied behind the truck and gets pulled apart and he lives. Turn it around! In the next movie we do I want to have the character say ‘I’ll be back in 15 minutes’ –
Form: And he comes back!
Fuller: You want to have fun with it. There are things that are in the language of the genre, so that when he says, ‘I’m coming back in 15 minutes,’ there’s not a person in the audience who thinks he’s coming back. You know he’s going to die! So you either have fun with it, which what we tried to do here, or you can do the total opposite and turn it on its ear. So in the next movie, when someone says they’re coming back in 15 minutes, the other person will die!
I thought it was fun that you guys had a clip from The Birds in the film. Is that the new thing? Will you announce every remake this way?
Form: You know what? We had a cartoon in there, and the cartoon didn’t clear, believe it or not. Because Rogue is Universal, they gave us the Universal catalog. Universal was fine with it, because we’re doing the movie for them, then we went to Tippi Hendren and Rod Taylor, and they both signed off on it.
Fuller: Some people will get it, and other people won’t know what it is.
Form: But we put that last shot in there, which I love, the car driving away.
Fuller: These movies should be fun. I like to see movies that are rides. I go and see Children of Men, which is an amazing movie, and you’re blown away by what cinema is capable of. That’s not what we do. What we do is, you go in for an hour and a half and hopefully you have a good time. You jump a little, laugh a little.
Form: The audience claps a few times, they enjoy the experience, and you talk about it a few minutes on the way out.
What is Alone?
Fuller: Alone is an original script that Rogue brought to us. The closest thing I can compare it to is Misery. It’s a story about a young woman, who is about 25 years old, and her mother dies. They’ve been estranged for years, and when she gets the call that her mother died, she goes to her mother’s apartment for the first time and goes through her things.
Form: It appears that the mother committed suicide, jumped off a ledge. The girl can’t believe it. We’ve witnessed the mother jump off the ledge… or so we think.
The girl goes to the funeral with her fiancé, and the superintendent is there. He says he wants to pay his respects, he’s a nice guy, he gives her the keys to the apartment to clean it out. She goes there and all these photo albums, her whole childhood is in that apartment. She starts hanging around and doesn’t want to leave, and [the superintendent] befriends her. He starts telling stories about the mother. Then you learn throughout the movie that the mother was kept there, and when the girl wants to leave he’s fallen for her and won’t let her leave. It takes place in an abandoned apartment building that doesn’t seem abandoned at all, and when she starts searching the building – it’s got lots of fun horror elements to it, lots of action. People show up and don’t make it out.
It’s an original piece for us, and that’s exciting. We love Misery so much that when we read this we were like, ‘Wow!’ It’s not Misery – it’s not a remake of Misery! But I think that could be next, after Horsemen, which is shooting in three weeks.
Horror was out of favor for a while, but now it’s back and it’s money. It’s guaranteed box office –
Fuller: There’s never guaranteed box office.
Well, it’s not guaranteed, but it’s a good bet.
Fuller: For the price, if you do it right.
And they’ve changed the way movies are released. January was never a release month, and now you put The Hitcher out in January and you think you could have a good weekend. But can the horror thing last, or will it burn out?
Fuller: We wrestle with it. We felt we were on the front end of a great trend, but now we feel like we’re changing what we’re doing. We’re not interested in and nor do we think we can compete with Hostel or Saw. That’s not the kind of material we respond to, so we’re trying to find another place to do it. To us The Hitcher – and this is blasphemy – is not so much a horror film as a thriller. For us as producers, it was about us testing ourselves and seeing if we could take it out of one guy cutting people up. Could we take it out onto the highway, roll cars, do things we never did before and do it in a way that doesn’t feel totally gratuitous and is loyal to an interesting story and still have the horror elements.
We still have the big stings in there, but – I’ll give you an example. When [Sophia Bush] comes out of the interrogation room, and there’s that cop dead on the ground and his throat has been slit – in Chainsaw we would have stung that in a big way. We didn’t sting that in The Hitcher.
Form: In Chainsaw we would have showed him get killed.
Fuller: We kind of just let that hang there. When the other cop is dead on the ground, we used to have a scene where a dog is licking his brains out. We didn’t cut it because we shy away from that stuff – we love it and have done it – we just strove to make more of a thriller than a straight-ahead horror movie, because we wanted more people to see the movie. With Chainsaw: The Beginning, we felt that movie got too intense for all audiences.
Form: That movie definitely does not play for everyone.
One of the most effective scenes in this film is when Sean Bean first gets in the car – it’s not a horror sequence, but it builds from being just sort of creepy to crossing the line with the question about fucking the girlfriend to breaking the cell phone. And none of that is stung –
Fuller: That’s by design. It’s interesting you bring up that scene, because in our temp score there was a huge sting when he says, ‘How long you been fucking her?’ There was a huge sting, and we’ve been pulling back from that.
Form: We pulled music out sometimes when there would usually be a horror score. We let some scenes be naked. We didn’t want the movie to be wall-to-wall music, which I think a lot of horror films do. We’ve done that. When we were mixing the movie, we tried to find places to let it breathe. For example, when she comes out of the interrogation room, on the temp track that was always always scored. Now it’s quiet – all you hear is the [police band] radio. There’s no music at all. The music starts when you see the dead body. We let it breathe a little bit.
Fuller: We wanted this to feel more broad.
Did it test broad?
Fuller: We didn’t test it.
Form: We didn’t have time. We finished it three days ago.
Fuller: We bought that song [Nine Inch Nail’s Closer, which plays over a car chase] on Friday. We were mixing on New Year’s Eve up until 8 o’clock that night.
Form: The movie was supposed to come out in April, but Zodiac moved and they said they liked January 19th.
How does the Michael Bay part of Platinum Dunes work?
Fuller: He is there all the time. He’s not physically there, but he’s like having a professor. We’ll call him up and ask what he thinks.
Form: He says in every interview that he doesn’t like going on the set.
Fuller: He can’t. He used to do it but doesn’t anymore. He wants to be the director.
Form: He’s on the set and he’s a director. The first time he came to one of our sets and someone said, ‘What do you think, what lens?’ But we call him every day at the end of the day, and he sees dailies. If he thinks we’re missing something, we’ll pick it up. He’s very involved in the casting. Wardrobe. Editing, of course.
Fuller: We have an office together. We see each other all the time.
So you’ve seen a lot of Transformers footage?
Fuller: We’ve seen a lot of it. It’s huge.
Form: What did you think of the trailer?
It’s great. It has a Spielberg touch to it. I loved the trailer.
Fuller: I think he’s gonna nail it. What we’ve seen is amazing.
Form: The movie’s really good. We haven’t seen the whole thing, but the transformations are incredible.
You have a lot on your plate. What does the next year realistically look like for you guys?
Form: Horsemen starts in three weeks.
Fuller: I just want to say right off the bat, that Horsemen feels like nothing we’ve done. All of our films, hopefully people view them as commercial, Horsemen to me feels commercial, but it’s brutal and it’s intellectual. It’s a totally different type of movie for us. Our expectations are different for it. And when you step away from straight down the middle horror and do something with more character, the cast we’ve gotten for this movie is unbelievable. Dennis Quaid, Zhang Ziyi, Peter Stormare, Clifton Collins Jr. These kind of actors – for us, it’s a real treat.
Form: It’s in the genre of Seven.
Do you feel like maybe you guys have reached the level of success where you can make a picture without worrying about what it will make?
Fuller: No. We don’t feel like that at all. We are very cost conscious. Our first movie was very successful, our second movie was very successful, our third movie made all of it’s money back, so that’s good. But our budget level, since the second movie, has not moved. It doesn’t go up. I think on some level every time we come to bat we’re scared shitless we’re going to strike out and we’ll be back on the streets. There’s no comfort.
Form: In two weeks there’s five movies coming out. How do you compete? Movies get hurt. There’s no way around it. Five movies can’t open.
Fuller: We have our weekend all to ourselves.
Form: I don’t know how it happened, because the weekend after us there’s five movies. We’re excited. But when the prequel came out, we opened against The Departed. Best movie of the year, people are saying.
But is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel really hitting the same audience as The Departed does in its first week?
Fuller: As a producer, any time your movie doesn’t do the numbers you wanted it to do – we thought that movie would open over 20 million dollars. It’s not the same audience, but at the end of the day, you have to justify it somehow!
Form: The pie is only so big. If one movie takes a chunk of it… it’s rare when there’s two movies on a weekend that’s not in the summer or in the holidays that make over 20 million apiece. I think Employee of the Month took some of our audience.
You guys have this interesting target audience in that your audience is the one that’s most likely to be downloading movies off the internet, that feels comfortable waiting for the DVD, but you’re making these pictures that are theatrical experiences, that should be seen in a big crowd that jumps and screams together.
Form: It’s hard, because you hear people say they would rather stay home. They have amazing TVs, they wait for DVD and they invite their friends over. I think you nailed it – we like to make movies that are theater experiences. Yeah, some movies people watch them at home and have the same experience they had at the theater. But horror films or action thrillers, like you said, when you have the energy in the theater, it’s a different experience. If everyone’s jumping or laughing or screaming, the energy is amazing.
Fuller: At the end of the day we don’t fool ourselves, but we do believe that if we create compelling content, we’ll still have a job. But my kids don’t feel the same urge to go there and eat popcorn.
Form: I still feel it.
Fuller: I do too. But they’re used to watching things on their computers and iPods.
Right now whatever suit is running the studio grew up on the theatrical experience, so he gets why it’s important. But when your kids grow up and run a studio, will they care about keeping the theatrical aspect?
Fuller: The theatrical aspect itself will probably have to change. Either there will be an advance in technology that gets people out there to see movies, or the moviegoing experience as we know it won’t exist in its current form. But at the end of the day there will always be a need for content. You can’t make these movies for YouTube and put them up there and hope. The level of expertise won’t be the same.
Form: I think you’ll always find 17, 18, 19 year old kids who want to go on a date. They won’t want to go over the girl’s house. They have to get out of the house, and what’s better than dinner and a movie. I can’t imagine that going away.
Fuller: It won’t go away, but I used to go every single weekend when I was 12 years old. It isn’t like that. There are a lot of options now.
Your pictures are the kind that do very well on DVD. How do you approach that aspect – how much of an eye on the home video market when you’re making the movie?
Form: We definitely think about it. We like to shoot behind the scenes, and we like to document a lot of stuff, give the people those special features on the DVD. We shoot it all, because I love seeing that stuff, how they did it.
Fuller: But as a producer the challenge is that you don’t know what your DVD content is going to be when you’re shooting. We didn’t know that the original Chainsaw would be a two disc set.
Form: But you just shoot it all and you hope.
Fuller: We keep all our auditions.
Form: It’s great to see Jessice Biehl come in to read.
You talked about keeping the budgets of these films low. It seems likely that prints and advertising on The Hitcher will exceed the budget –
Form: It will.
Is that a model that makes sense?
Form: The risk is much less. We make these movies for what we think we can make them for. Any movie could be made for 100 or 20, depending on what you need. We feel comfortable in this range.
But when your low budget movie stops being low budget because they just doubled the cost on prints and advertising.
Fuller: It scares the shit out of me. We want these studios to make money off of us, that way we keep working. But I don’t know how else to get a movie out there. We’re dealing with it right now with The Hitcher – we have our own weekend, but the market is so crowded with the Golden Globes and the SAG awards –
Form: And all the Christmas movies that still play. Night at the Museum.
Fuller: How do you distinguish yourself in that environment without money? How do you vie for attention? I think this studio’s doing a great job – I drive around and see it everywhere, the commercials are airing. Within the confines of a movie that wasn’t ready until two days ago, they’re doing a great job. But they have to spend to get the public’s interest. I don’t know how else to do it. We don’t have the option of having a second great weekend, because the next weekend is so crowded.
Form: We have Primeval the week before us, we have Blood and Chocolate the week after. There are genre movies all lined up.
Fuller: They need to make sure the kids know that the movie is opening on the 19th and you have to see it then – because their attention will be somewhere else the next weekend.
Do you ever have the luxury of a second weekend anymore? The industry seems to be all about Friday.
Form: I don’t think you do. But The Ring a great example of a movie that didn’t open – 15 the first weekend and it went on to 125. I think their second weekend might have beat the first weekend. Once in a while you get a movie like that just hits.
How does knowing that Friday is your only day, how does that affect the way you approach a picture?
Fuller: At the end of the day you hope that the audience responds like they did last night – when [Bush] blew [Bean] away they cheered. That’s the feeling you leave the theater with.
Form: And the great song comes on as you’re walking out. She got her revenge.
Fuller: That feeling is hopefully what they tell their friends – it was fun, a good ride. And that’s the lesson we learned with Chainsaw [The Beginning], when we rip her apart at the end of the movie the audiences came out… there was no cheering when that movie ended.
Form: A lot of heads down.
Fuller: That was a downer. You walk to car like, ‘Jesus, I was scared but that’s depressing.’ So we consciously made the end of this movie heroic.
Form: Like the end of the first Chainsaw when Biehl kills the sheriff and the audience goes crazy. Everybody left the theater clapping and felt really good walking to the car. On the prequel, when you kill the lead… yes, no one expected it, but you sure don’t clap.
What’s funny is that I feel like in the old days Leatherface would have been the lead. Sure, the bad guy always got his at the end, but that was always the least interesting bit of the film.
Fuller: Let me ask you this: who do you think was the lead of The Hitcher?
Sean Bean. For sure.
Fuller: Right. That’s why we wanted to have that song [Closer] – when he’s in the Trans Am and that song’s on, no matter how you feel about him, at that moment he’s The Terminator and you want him to kill everyone. When he shoots the sheriff, you’re rooting for him. We made a semi-conscious decision midway through that, if you’re not loving Sean Bean by the time he gets to Trans Am, you’ll love him after.
But it kind of worked because last night, the gunshot was so loud when she blows his head off – and we had a talk about should we make it a tiny sound or should she blow the back of his head out, and it’s amazing how a tiny decision…. I believe the ending wouldn’t have had half of its impact if you didn’t see his head explode. And that gunshot is so much louder than any other. And that’s your hero. We’ve killed our hero.
Are you approaching Friday the 13th as Survivor Girl is the hero or Tommy Jarvis or whoever – or is Jason going to be the hero of the piece? Jason is sort of the hand of God who is punishing kids who are screwing or smoking dope or whatever.
Fuller: Let me ask you a question. If Jason is the lead, the first act is how he became Jason, the second act is what pissed him off so much and the third act is the massacre. If you’re truly rooting for him, that’s the only way you can have the movie. That to us feels like the Chainsaw prequel, which is not the movie we want to have here. It seems to us more like The Hitcher, where you’re rooting for some kids and there are some things they do that are dumb – and there’s a killer and you’re rooting for him also. But at the end of the day, you’re right – you’re rooting for Jason.
Form: But you should be rooting for some of the kids to live, also, otherwise I feel like we haven’t done our job properly, if you’re just waiting for the kills.