It’s safe to say that for film fans of the non-“team-Edward” or “team-Jacob” variety, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is the most accessible. It was choc full of action and included considerably less navel gazing than the previous installments. I’m biased of course, as I’ve known director David Slade since the days when I was in TV commercial production and he was primarily a commercial director.
His first feature “Hard Candy” was a stunning psychological thriller about a teenaged girl who takes revenge on a suspected pedophile by kidnapping him in his own apartment. Slade’s second film was “30 Days of Night,” a hard “R” horror movie about vampires that take advantage of the sunless winters in northernmost Alaska to have a “sunless spring break” of sorts, and go blood crazy on a small town.
So, when Summit Entertainment Googled “Director” “teenaged girl” and “vampire” his name popped up and he was instantly hired for “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” (Ok, it might have been more complicated than that, let me re-check my facts and get back to you.)
Long story short, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is being released on Blu-Ray this weekend and Mr. Slade was kind enough to have me over and talk about the “Eclipse” DVD and more.
I apologize in advance, as our natural direction of conversation leans towards the technical and we tend to veer off here and there. We talk about the challenges that “Eclipse” fight sequences presented, the complexities of shooting a movie in 3D (which he hasn’t done yet) and how he goes about choosing his next project.
Not since “Hard Candy” have you done a director’s commentary. What are the reasons behind that?
Slade: Well, I find that commentaries tend to become just these anecdotal, you know, it’s somewhat pointless from my point of view anecdotal just…circular, elliptical observations about stuff. I like people to watch a movie and not have a little voice chippering all over it. I’m just not a huge fan of the form. I think it can be fascinating every now and again you get a great one, you know. But it’s just not for me. And I also…more important than that, when I finish a film I don’t want to watch it again. Like the last time I saw “Hard Candy” was whenever the last screening was at whatever festival it was. And I like to move on. I like to learn everything I learned and then I like to move on.
Some actors don’t go back and watch their movies… I can kind of see the point of sometimes
Slade: Actors, I think, view films very differently to directors. Not in a good or bad just in a different way. And they’re looking at all of their craft. They’re looking at ”Did I pause?” and, “How long did I? Does that feel true?” And they’re not looking at the shot, the structure of the story. As a director I watch a film like a director watches a film. Actors look at things that they do. I think there’s a validity in saying well, “I was in the moment. And the director didn’t even choose that take, but it seems to work. You know what? I’d rather be in the moment because I’m an actor and want to move on.” I think there’s definitely a thing about the struggle of making a film and every film is a struggle. It’s not just the difficult, expensive ones. Even the little ones, the small ones there are struggles. Any director will tell you this, if they’re telling the truth, that they’re always really hard.
On that subject, when you watch other director’s movies, are you most impressed by what things that appeal to your tastes or by whether or not they’ve accomplished something that you feel that you could do? See what I’m saying?
Slade: No, no. First of all when I go to the movies; it’s to go to the movies. It’s not to evaluate. The last film I saw was “The Kings Speech” which I loved. And I was just lost in these amazing characters and I didn’t once think of “What’s that shot?” If a film is really brilliantly working, that stuff is just peripheral. And it’s an obvious answer but as a director you’re probably a tier-up in terms of how hard it becomes to suspend your disbelief. But every now and again you find these wonderful gems that excite you as a director because you’re just like, “My God look at that!” I remember “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” had me dancing around. I remember “Fight Club”, ”Sexy Beast”, you know? Films where I [liked the] performances or the way it was directed just made me excited for the possibility of, you know, what could be done.
Those are rare.
Slade: Those are rare! They’re rare but like in life things like that, you know, life affirming things are rare. When they come along, you cherish them.
George Lucas has gone back and re-done and re-done the Star Wars movies, re-done the special effects because he could. You’re not of that school?
Slade: Not so much. I’d like to re-do "30 Days of Night." There was definitely a point in the editorial process that everybody acknowledges we departed from the structure. It was the first hard R-rated horror that Sony had put out and there was a lot of trepidation. And I do believe there’s another film, I’d like to call it a "better film", there’s certainly another film in that material that we shot. That’s the instance where I would go back not to kind of remaster and just polish but to actually do a director’s cut and make the film what I set out to see. Now, of the three films I’ve made it’s the only one where that happened. And I think I put a lot of that down to personal lack of experience within the studio system. But “Hard Candy” is the director’s cut and actually pretty much “Eclipse” is pretty much exactly the film I wanted to make. So, once you make the film you wanted to make, I don’t really like the idea of going back and visiting it. I prefer to spend the years I have in my life moving onwards to something else.
Now, “Eclipse” is the biggest you’ve done in terms of size and budget?
Slade: Yeah, I guess technically speaking, but I would say this: you do commercials and you get a million dollars to make a commercial. If you add that up per day, it’s a bigger budget than doing a $100 million movie. I think at the end of the day the figures that are involved in movies don’t really add up to much. At the end of the day, the question is not how “much it cost?” but “is it any good?” It’s the same when you hear people say “oh this was a troubled production” or any kind of gossip. None of that lasts. At the end of the day, is the film any good or not? Technically speaking though I mean yes, it was the biggest budget not just films I’ve done, but actually I think it was the biggest budget “Twilight” movie of all of them. It was an epic huge thing with battles and you know massive huge sets and all kinds of special effects work and a very short schedule. Usually what happens when there’s not much time there has to be more money.
Right: the “impossible triangle?”
Slade: It’s an old cliché but it’s a true…as many clichés are: It’s time, money, quality. Pick two.
In production you learn you are only allowed two of those three things, the third is always sacrificed. So if you want something done quickly (time) and cheaply(money) you will sacrifice quality, if you want something done well (quality) and fast (time) it’s not going to be cheap (money.) and so on -AD
Was the largest set piece the vampire vs. wolves war scene?
Slade: I think the mountain top battle between Victoria, Edward, Riley, Sethwolf valor battle was probably the biggest most complex set piece. [I had to] make room in our schedule for me to go back and direct the key elements of that fight scene because the fight scene was like a three-act structure story. It’s not just, you know, a fight. It has a beginning, it has a middle, it has an end. It has various character traits that make things happen if they’re good. So, that fight sequence was one where the tree going over was a big part of the plot but was also part of the story because the story enveloped the character. The character of Victoria was that she was an escape artist. She always ran. And she was going to jump. She was going to get somewhere safe. She was always safe. So, a character is feeding into your fight. There’s no description in the book that she jumps into a tree. It was just like, “Well let’s make her jump into a tree because...” and you work that way. You work out the ideas through -- she’s going to run away and she’s just to live another day but he’s going to have to find a way to bring her back with words. Still the character -- even though it’s a fight, you know? - And then at a certain point he’s got to use words to goad her into the proximity it’s going to take to fight, you know? It’s a very, very structured thing. We didn’t shoot it for days on end but it was certainly one of the most complex things to engineer. The actors went into training for it all and it was one of those things where I was solely kind of every day hammering away at until we shot it. And I think because there is a point where all of these things I’m talking about just randomly appear. They happen.
Slade: You know, in the end it was great in the first screening to hear everyone scream and cheer when Victoria dies. That worked.
That’s what you were working for.
Slade: Yeah, yeah. You got to the point when actually you’d taken a character who had been largely been brooding, internalized character and you turn it into a marauding beast for just a few moments. And this was such a great exciting thing to see and then she’s dead and it happens just like—bang! There’s nothing slow and deliberate about it. It just happens and yeah, that was a rewarding end and really really hard work.
I just read today that they’re shooting “The Hobbit” with the double Red cameras in 3-D. I think that often times the animated 3-D films tend to be more successful 3-D-wise because the animators are working with 3-D tools. They’re thinking about their movie in 3-D
Slade: Well, also because they’re animated and because essentially the process of telling the story in animation first and foremost is about, you know, the shot. If you look at cartoons going back to “Tom and Jerry” and back, the element of cinema that the wide lens and so forth aren’t things that were introduced into animation until we started working with 3-D. “Ratatouille” being one of the first 3-D animated things that really felt quite cinematic because the director was using very cinematic tools to actually tell his story. Also, my editor for most of my career, Art Jones, said it was edited very cinematically too. Animated films are the distilled, simplest, best way of telling a story. There’s so much effort that goes into animation and art direction and all the rest of it, so it’s just the idea of putting an object out of focus and putting it in a bizarre place is not something that until very recently was thought of. And so you generally tend to be shooting the very classical way, which lends itself to, you know, putting the 2nd camera and re-rendering the same scene. Once you start moving the depth of field around a pseudo three-dimensional space, you start messing around with the brain in way that it doesn’t like and you start breaking the illusion. 3-D’s never gone away, you know for theme parks and IMAX, but these films have this one thing in common. They always put their focus on the horizon. So you have a deep focus all the way through—all the way through. Now, if you’re doing a thriller and you want to bring the focus to a person, you guide the viewer’s eye with that fulfilled sight. It confuses you in 3-D because suddenly the scale of everything changes because you’re looking at great big things. A close-up in 3-D is a great “big” thing.
What you’re doing is you’re challenging the preconditioning of 100 years of cinema and 700 years of Euclidean mathematics, to say, "Well, I’m going to tell a story within those two paradigms because the human brain has been conditioned over generation to generation to accept and know what those things are and what they do." That’ll change over time. But if you’re going to shoot something in 3-D, you need to kind of observe those two fundamentals that you know you’re going to be telling a story through a composition, you’re going to be abandoning things which will disrupt the senses.
Right. So do you want to do that?
Slade: I think with the right story. I think it’s always dangerous to reject something in principle. I think essentially it’s whether the tool is right for the job. And our job as film-makers is storytellers, so you know if I was doing an animated film for instance, it might be fascinating to do that. If I was doing a film where, you know, composition was actually more important than tension, it might be cool to do that but for the time being I’m kind of curious and educating myself thoroughly on 3D and staying on the periphery and watching it and seeing what happens to it.
Slade: That’s a hard one. We can talk about what’s happened since. It’s more interesting than what happens next.
Slade: What happened since I got married, which was wonderful. I did a bunch of commercials and I have spent a lot of time reading trying to find the right thing to do next and I’m not precious about what the next thing is. Things aren’t as simple as choosing and opening the door and walking through it. You know, there are torturous meetings, there are friendly meetings, there are meetings that you get to the point where you’re about to start out work on something and then everything shifts and the world falls from beneath your feet. The process of getting a feature film, getting [it] green-lit unless you’re one of the very, very, very, very, very, select few people is actually very complicated. Takes a lot of your time.
Slade: I must have read or been at least offered 40+ projects. I’ve gone after two. And therefore for reasons that are completely valid, those things didn’t happen. “The Wolverine” was like that, I had a great meeting with Hugh Jackman. We were all ready to go and then Darren Aronofsky, who has a great relationship with Hugh, showed up. You kind of feel like: “well, the girlfriend’s come back. I can either put up a fight here or I can just let nature take its course.”
Slade: There are lots of things that are interesting but to me there is a head space you go into when you’re going after making a film. I have that head space for three films right now. One is small. It’s very interesting. It’s an amazing writer. One is large. It’s very interesting. It’s one of those kind of genre defining films that comes along every now and again. I’d be lucky to be doing it. And then one is just a really gritty, angry film which would be great for me to do as well. So, with the process of getting one of those three films, you know, has so many steps on it that I couldn’t give you…I don’t even have a clue which one I’m going to do. All I know is I love those three projects and I’m going after them with all of my heart. I don’t commit to or announce films unless I’m going to make them, which is why I don’t have…you know [the next four years of] releases on IMBD. I generally don’t announce it. That’s not to say I’m not constantly engaging. I am. I always say “Get the best script and the best actors possible and then the best crew to make the best film, so that it can be as successful as possible.”
You can’t ask for much more than that.
Slade: No. I can tell you that I was conspiring with Guillermo del Toro, who I love. And he’s someone I’d love to work with. Also his producer Mark Johnson. I’ve been working with recently to try and find things. There are a number of people that I like but this doesn’t mean that we’re going to make a film at this point.
Slade: I can tell you about a project I’m developing with…just on my own.. I don’t even know if it’s a film yet, it might be just a short story with a writer called Larry C. Connolly. Larry wrote a short story called “Traumatic Descent” which I optioned many, many years ago. And we tried to make a film called “This Way to Egress”. This film never got made and it’s a complicated story, you know we met recently and we started talking. We both started talking about things we liked and I brought up an idea that I always wanted to explore. All I can say is that it’s a contemporary film and it involves time-travel. And it’s a film and we’re working on it right now. We’ve got an outline and some stuff. Oh I’m also looking at an animated film which might be in 3-D.
Oh, wow. That’s exciting.
Slade: Yeah. That’s the future.
"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Saturday.