Ghost Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor get Cage-y
For the high-energy directors, Nicolas Cage was the perfect match made in hell.
To anybody that's ever enjoyed the Crank movies, the notion that directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have been allowed anywhere near a mainstream comic-book franchise is as stunning as it is crazy-awesome. Especially when paired with an actor like Nicolas Cage, who, for all we know, probably does have to keep his heart rate amped to the max in order to stay alive. The result, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, shot in 3D using Neveldine and Taylor's often dangerous-looking methods (like going over a cliff holding a camera) debuts in theaters today. We were anxious to talk to them about it, but suspect they may be slightly messing with us in some of their answers...
Nerdist News: We're big fans of all your movies, including Pathology...
Mark Neveldine: We dig that movie. I'm glad you brought it up.
Brian Taylor: You've now been placed on a CIA watch list, by the way, for saying that.
NN: As fans, we figured the combination of the two of you with Nicolas Cage would be a match made in heaven. Were you guys equally interested in working with him before, or was it just a happy coincidence?
BT: Oh, it was a match made in hell.
MN: And the thing is, we wanted Nic for Crank 1. He's our hero, since we were kids, and we've always wanted to work with him, so given the opportunity, we flipped over it.
NN: Is it true he painted his face for the scenes where he was Ghost Rider?
BT: Yeah, that was one of the things he did to both motivate and get himself into the Ghost Rider zone, but it also had the effect of intimidating the hell out of the other actors he was working across from.
MN: Yeah, then on crew birthdays, he dressed up like a clown, which was really nice.
NN: So what was his facepaint like, just a skull?
BT: It was kinda like a Santeria voodoo zombie makeup. The performance he gave with the makeup is so amazing that we're actually including some of it on the Blu-ray so people can see what it was like before the CG got on him.
MN: He had these black, black contact lenses. He didn't want to show up to set and just be Nic playing the Ghost Rider and then throw a CG head on after; he really wanted to intimidate the actor standing across from him. It was a big thing to him.
NN: Did he need the contacts for the CG?
MN: No, he literally chose that himself
NN: You've worked with Nicolas Cage, Jason Statham and Bai Ling. Who was the most no-holds-barred actor you've ever worked with?
MN and BT [both, simultaneously]: Bai Ling
MN: She hopped in a car during a take, hopped a production vehicle in the shot, drove the car down a street that wasn't closed, took off in the car and she knocked over a fire hydrant. So I think she takes the cake.
BT: Bai Ling makes Nic Cage look like Bill Pullman. Wait, is that right?
NN: Dunno - have you guys worked with Bill Pullman?
MN: No, but I love Independence Day.
NN: Was it hard to restrain yourselves to a PG-13 rating, or was that never an issue?
MN: We knew it was PG-13 going in, so we just said hey, let's make this as PG-17 as we can. And we found out that you can obliterate as many people as you want by burning them to death and decaying them - about 200 people in our movie - but as long as you don't show blood, they're not gonna rate it R. You can even drop the f-bomb, and as long as it's not used in the context of a sexual act...
BT: I think you know what we're saying. Our original design for the Ghost Rider also had assless black leather pants, and we had to fill that in. They wouldn't let us do it.
NN: What about the urinating fire bit in the trailer? Was that ever an issue with the studio?
MN: An issue with the studio? That was [producer] Avi Arad's idea.
BT: We had an issue with it. He had to talk us into it.
MN: No. But we always say, "Feel free to bring up suggestions, just know that if we like 'em, they're gonna end up in the film, one way or another."
BT: Be careful what you say.
NN: This movie looks a lot more conventionally edited than your usual hyperkinetic style. Was that a challenge, or something you enjoyed more?
BT: Well, it was a little bigger canvas in terms of the location and whatnot. We just shot the movie in the style that it seemed to merit. A Crank movie is a Crank movie. Ghost Rider is not Crank.
MN: But I think there's a lot of places in the movie where, if we have a trademark style, I think you'll see it. Certainly the action is really fast-paced, we move the camera a lot, we broke every rule that supposedly was written about 3D and what you can and can't do.
NN: Aside from having Nic Cage in the lead, did you feel any obligation to continue any of the threads from the first movie, or was that not an issue?
BT: We looked at the movie as a reboot in every way except for Nic, so it's kind of a "re-quel." It owes a little bit to the first movie in that the things that happened in that movie, I guess they happened in this one, sort of, in a different way, at some point in the past which is undefined. It's the same guy, but we're picking up his story much later and basically starting all fresh.
MN: It's really good news for people who didn't like the first one. And for those many, many people who did like the first movie - basically we didn't change anything. It's the same thing, only totally different. The latest installment
NN: Did you come up with his new look - the more charred appearance?
MN: Yeah, that was the aesthetic we brought to it.
BT: That was the first thing we brought to Sony, to say, look, we're really excited about the chance to do a movie like this and work with Nic, but there's a lot of things that have to change to make it our kinda movie, and the first thing is the way the guy looks. We had problems with the whole design of the character, the wardrobe, everything. It just seemed a little Disney and a little corny to us. We looked at the Ghost Rider as a more of a horror character than a superhero. He's a much darker force, and we wanted the look to reflect that.
NN: Were you guys fans of the comics?
BT: The comics have been around for over 30 years. There's so many different versions and some of them are kinda corny, and others are super-cool. We love the character, and there are a lot of Ghost Rider books that are amazing. but we couldn't pull directly from the books - we kinda had to start fresh and do our own take on what the cool version of the character was.
NN: How did you get on board this project - did you pitch it, did Sony want you guys right away?
MN: We pitched another movie to an executive at Sony, and she said, "Yeah, this is okay, this pitch, but you know we've got a greenlit movie with Nic Cage that you might be interested in. We'd love to have you come in and tell us what you think about it, and what you'd do with it." And that's kinda how it happened. I think they were looking to do something different. Obviously, when you hire us, you're hiring madmen, and you're hiring a complete style and a look. They wanted to get away from the original movie, so it was cool. It was exciting for us.
BT: Our first meetings at Sony were kinda like first dates, where they're trying to feel us out, and we're trying to feel them up, and see if it's gonna be a good union. Now that we've had the whole movie, it's kinda like the morning after the big event, and they're waiting for the pregnancy test results, and we're waiting for the STD test, and we'll tell you after this weekend how it all went.
NN: Coming off of Jonah Hex, were you more cautious about trying to do another comic-book hero movie?
MN: Not really, because our involvement in Jonah Hex was very brief and very early. And we were actually out of the picture long before that movie went into pre-production, so we didn't really have an experience. We didn't make it past the first date on that movie.
BT: No, that was more just like online dating.
NN: If you had done that movie, what's one thing you would have done really differently?
BT: Well, the script that we wrote for that movie was a very hard R script; it was pretty extreme.
MN: The one thing we would have done - the first thing we would have done - is we would have used our script.
NN: We figure everyone always asks this, but is there gonna be a third Crank movie?
BT: Yes, and we're shooting it in 4D.
NN: There was a rumor that Jason Statham might not be back. Would you do it without him?
BT: If there's no Statham, there's no Crank.
MN: Jason calls us all the time about it. It's his passion. He really wants to do it.
NN: One of the supposed rules of 3D is that a shot has to be held a certain length in order to be perceived in 3D. Is that one of the rules you guys broke in Ghost Rider, and/or would break in a 3D Crank sequel?
MN: Yeah, we didn't find any of the so-called rules of 3D were actually real rules. Through a process of testing and trying out different things and finding workarounds, we pretty much found we could shoot exactly the kind of thing we like to shoot, and it works great for 3D. We haven't had any complaints of people getting headaches from 3D, or puking. We expect to get that on Crank 3, but not because of the 3D
BT: Yeah, but we have more lens flares in our movie than most 2D movies have, so we're happy with it.
NN: Aside from Ghost Rider, are there any other comic-book characters you'd like to tackle?
MN: Yeah, we've got a script now of Wonder Woman versus She-Hulk. It's kind of a Marvel versus DC jam session. We're trying to get it off the ground.
NN: What is the next project for you guys?
BT: As soon as Ghost Rider comes out, we'll tell you. [Note: subsequent to this interview, it was announced that Taylor will fly solo in directing an adaptation of the video game Twisted Metal for Sony.]
NN: If it does well, would you do a Ghost Rider sequel?
MN: If they want us back, to do another movie with Nic would be an absolute pleasure. We'd do it in a second.
NN: When Gamer came out, a lot of the reviewers liked the world you created for it but wanted to explore other areas of that world. Would you ever revisit it, or did it not do well enough?
BT: We needed about 40 million more dollars to explore that world, so I don't know if we'll go back, but it was fun. We got a lot out of that movie. It was a good time, we have some fans from that movie, but...y'know.
NN: It seems like when the Crank movies came out, they didn't get much critical respect, but nowadays more people are on board. Have you noticed that sort of delayed positive reaction?
MN: Yep. Absolutely.
BT: I think we'll only fully be appreciated after we're dead.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opens in theaters today.