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Writer-Producer Harald Kloser of New-to-DVD "2012"

The world ends not with a whimper but a bang in Roland Emmerich's new-on-DVD 2012, an apocalyptic apotheosis from the director who destroyed world landmarks in Independence Day and froze much of the world in The Day After Tomorrow. His quite literally earthshaking epic, gives us the end of the world that doomsayers predict will coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar, and that sane people say will go by like Y2K.

Whatever the case, such dire spectacles are an ever-popular prospect in fiction and non-fiction alike. Already this year we've seen the planet destroyed in Knowing and witnessed the aftermath of civilization's end in the History Channel series Life After People, a spin-off of the 2008 special. Some moviegoers remember seeing the Earth destroyed in the appropriately titled The Late, Great Planet Earth (1979), based on the speculative nonfiction book; The Rapture (1991), which played it solemnly; and the 2002 series finale of TV's Lexx, which played it as anything but.

This one plays it as destructo-porn. Pre-release, it was heavily marketed with a trailer and a nearly six-minute clip released online (after a portion was shown Oct. 1 in a "roadblock campaign" across 450 North American broadcast outlets and 89 cable channels, in both English and Spanish, in the same 10-minute window) that lovingly spotlighted the CGI destruction of Los Angeles. Limo driver/science-fiction writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) races to get his ex-wife (Amanda Peet), their two kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily) and the ex's fledgling-pilot boyfriend (Tom McCarthy) to a plane and ostensible safety. Still, insists 2012 co-writer/co-producer/composer Harald Kloser, "the disaster is primarily the background for strong emotional stories of regular people. You know, we have John Cusack, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover — actors with higher standards than 'Run! Go! Watch out! Duck.' All those brilliant actors have accepted to be in our movie because the characters in the story were appealing to them. At least," he adds, chuckling, "that's what they told me!"

Kloser, a composer by training and trade, wrote the music for The Day After Tomorrow and says that when he suggested some story changes in order to enhance the score, Emmerich was impressed. He invited Kloser to co-script 10,000 BC with him, as well co-compose that film's score (with Thomas Wander, with whom he reteams on 2012), and serve as an executive producer. And while Kloser concedes that visual-effects-heavy clips are a way of selling the film as a big-budget thriller, he keeps returning to the humanistic themes that, to him, are more important.

"People see explosions and buildings collapsing and earthquakes, but that's only the stage," he maintains, "the canvas for very intimate and very private stories and very deep characters, which is what Roland and I — I can speak for him here — are most proud of." As for the audience appeal of glimpsing the end of the world, Kloser couches it as an environmental allegory.

"I think seeing the world destroyed makes us aware of what we are actually destroying every day with our reckless behavior on this planet," he says. "I think that is the appeal, at least in our movie — to see this as a wake-up call, and for audiences to leave the theatre and see everything safe and normal and to be aware there's still time to save things."

Kloser understands that the tectonic, mega-earthquake devastation in his film is a natural cataclysm and not the result of bad human caretaking, but the end, whether quick or slow, is the end the world.

"Do I believe in the apocalypse?" he muses. "Yeah, I do. If we don't stop what we're doing, you don't have to be a scientist to know the world's going to end" sooner than in some billion-year future when our sun goes nova. "If we keep doubling the population, fishing every living being out of the ocean and destroying our atmosphere, maybe it won't be in 2012, but how long can we keep on using up the Earth?"

The film's many and myriad building collapses do uncomfortably recall 9/11, and the fall of New York City's Twin Towers. Kloser is cognizant of the troubling memories this type imagery can stir. "I wouldn't want to see a movie just about big buildings collapsing," he says, "and I'm the first one who doesn't want to bring back all those horrible, horrible memories. Buildings crumbling are part of a natural disaster in our film —they come and go in a second or two and are part of the big painting in the background as our heroes have to escape. We're not exploiting things," he insists. "We're not zooming in, we're just flying [or driving quickly] by these things that happen. If you want to realistically show a 10 or higher magnitude earthquake, that's probably what would be happening."

The end-of-days date of December 20, 2012, is part of a widely discredited claim by pseudo-scholars based on the Maya "Long Count" calendar, which tracks 5,125 years in a series of b'ak'tun — cycles of 144,000 days, or roughly 400 years. The current 13th b'ak'tun ends on the Maya calendar date, corresponding to either Dec. 21 or Dec. 23 GMT, depending on the conversion formula used. The Long Count calendar was discontinued following the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, but as E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute, told the Tulane magazine New Wave, "There will be another cycle. We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this."

Regardless, the idea that 2012 marks the end of Earth or, conversely, the beginning of a new age of great spirituality and enlightenment has led to a slew of books like Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, Lawrence Joseph's Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization's End and Andrew Smith's The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 1, The Preparation. It all makes about as much sense as The Da Vinci Code — and look how that did! Indeed, Kloser and Emmerich are already working with Sony Pictures and ABC on a planned TV series, 2013, "which deals with whatever happens after the movie ends. The ending bears some hope and the possibility of a new beginning."

That comes courtesy of what appear to be giant spaceships that the U.S. government has prepared under a Noah's Ark principle (which bears no relationship with German native Emmerich's first feature, 1984's The Noah's Ark Principle, which does have a space station but has nothing to do with preserving samples of life to start anew after world destruction).  In 2012, President Thomas Wilson (Glover) has kept the imminent cataclysm secret in order to preserve the old trope of "preventing panic" (which begs a question, whether the movie asks it or not, of which is more humane — letting people know so they can make spiritual peace and choose their own ends, or keeping it from them so they can waste their remaining days going to work and winding up in a collapsing skyscraper). Science adviser Adrian Helmsley (Ejiofor) and chief of staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) are on opposite sides of how to respond, but it looks like only a chosen few will get to ride out both the real and the metaphoric flood (the former of which shows John F. Kennedy returning to the White House — in the form of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy).

"We have a situation where the government knows that a disaster of such magnitude is going to happen that it doesn't make sense to warn people," says Kloser, "because there'd be only chaos and that wouldn't help. But they can save a few hundred thousand people — the legacy, the culture — and plants, seeds and animals, which they choose to do. If you can save 400,000 or 500,000 people, who are you going to save? Even worse, who is going make those decisions? In the face of such a cataclysmic event, should we just die together and not bother? Or if we could actually build these giant vessels, is it unethical to try and preserve mankind and what we've achieved all these millions of years? If you say yes to that, then come the big philosophical questions, probably as big as you can think of."

Kloser, an immigrant born in Hard, Austria ("The name means 'a little outpost'"), says that the two children in the film were inspired his own 14-year-old son, Lennon, named after John Lennon, and 12-year-old daughter Luka, christened after the 1987 Suzanne Vega song. And like Cusack's character, Kloser also has an ex-wife he's close to — his kids' mother, Désirée Nosbusch, a Luxembourg-born actress. "She's my best friend," Kloser says of the since-remarried star of German TV. "We live ten minutes from each other" in Los Angeles.

So he sounds earnest, at least, when he talks about 2012 as a human story and not a disaster movie. "There's huge CGI and huge sets, but there's also, in that exact same scene eyes full of fears, close-ups of people talking and feeling. That's what I'm proud of, that Roland [doesn’t] have the huge, amazing visual effects detract from the feelings, the dialogue, the problems, the dilemmas, the decisions. As huge as it is, it's as intimate as it gets."


Whitaker & Law Go for Your Gut in "Repo Men"

Based on a one hell of a gonzo idea with decidedly political implications, Repo Men doesn't just bleed on the screen, it smears it in your face.

For veteran actors Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, this demented buddy movie pulls on both their inner action heroes and tragic Shakespearean personae. As veterans of some meaningless conflict set in the future, the two come home, still pals, and try to find their place. Eventually that place turns out to be the Union, the company that has cornered the market on mechanical body parts ("artiforgs") to replace the many that are lost to the ills of this future world.

As repo men, Jake Freivald (Whitaker) and Remy (Law) are assigned to recover the artificial organs that are sold on an egregiously inflated installment plan that only the most financially secure can pay off. If you default on your loan, the repo men can come and cut out your body part after three months.

So Jake and Remy become master repossessors, bloodily slashing their way to corporate success. But Remy's wife wants him to quit — it's either she or the job — and Jake can't imagine life without his buddy at his side. When an accident occurs, Remy has his heart replaced, making the collector potentially collectable.

Placing such consummate actors as Whitaker and Law into roles where they are pitted against each other makes the gory action all the more delicious (and decidely different from Repo! The Genetic Opera — a rock musical with similar themes). And with a support cast that includes Alice Braga, Liev Schreiber and Carice van Houten, you easily overlook the film's over-the-top premise.

The two leads sat down in a mini-press conference, livers intact, to rewind their experience on this sci-fi action-thriller based on Eric Garcia's 2009 paperback novel The Repossession Mambo and directed by Miguel Sapochnick.


Q: In creating your characters' back stories, how much did you collaborate on developing your interactions?

FW: Jude worked on the script for a while with Miguel at the beginning of the film. I came on towards the end, and there was just little discussions about these markers: what scenes we were going to shoot, what scenes we weren’t going to shoot and what was necessary to make sure we told the simple backstory of our characters to bond us, to complete the world and to create this weird universe that we were going to live in.

Once we realized the bonds they had since they were children, and when they went into the army, and how these things would affect them in being able to be members of society…that was really important to the movement of our characters, and to the human part of the movie. [It's] about their friendship and separation, and about people who were growing in different directions. It was all a part of it in some way. We didn’t have a long, hour-long discussion…

JL: No, it's funny, we really didn't… [but] it's thrilling when people watch your performances and can say what worked and what didn’t. It's not something you sit around and create or orchestrate, because that’s like dissecting a friendship, which seems unhelpful or unhealthy. But a lot of it was on paper. We did both have our filmmaker hats on to fight for certain scenes, in flashbacks, but an awful lot did get cut in the end.

Jude Law  and Forest Whitaker Star In Repo MenLittle bits like coming back and little bits that we knew were worth fighting for, rather than talking about — let’s see a little of those moments. We particularly thought it was important to see them in combat together. Another theme in this film is very much how to do with we have all these governments around the world who train men to kill, and then when they come home, that's not there anymore…

FW: …And where do they go?

JL: We have more war vets than ever before, and what’s interesting in this film is they’re given a place to go use their skills. And when that breaks down, what are they going to do? Go be normal citizens?

FW: You look at life a certain way — this is "right," this is "correct" — and then all of a sudden, this character looks at it a different way. Where do I fit in? What I’m doing every morning can’t be right; that's not me anymore — that’s something that’s explored.

Q: The violence in this film is so over the top it's almost balletic...

JL: The script was very descriptive in the violence, and we knew when we read it that it was going to be extreme. For my part, I constantly thought, how much are we going to be able to get away with? But again that's a question really more for Miguel because he really fought for it. I hope I answered the question directly but I’m going to be more sort of impressionistic about it.

The idea of these two men in a society that’s desensitized to violence, it was important to the theme of violence, that the graphic nature of the violence be very real. And then the rest of the film, the journey of the film broadens, especially towards the end, when it becomes almost unreal. This level of violence, this grotesque use of the body or dissemination of the body, you suddenly start to realize, you’ve been so brought into the world that you continue to believe in it.

We also hoped…I hoped, that it was a film that would make you close your eyes. Especially young people when they're watching that sort of stuff, it doesn't do anything to them. And I hope this one does, that’s it's shocking, because it should be. Violence is shocking.

FW: It’s part of the dilemma for your character, too. What he faces is the construction of violence and what it means, and it’s personal.

JL: How far do we go for it to be shocking? For us to wake up?

Q: Did you have to hide your director's hat to work on this?

FW: The whole thing was to create a universe, a world. Every great movie is its own universe, its own world, with its own rules and stuff. I can't say that I would do it that way, but what [Miguel] did was create a universe that allows you to fall into it, and believe and trust in what we’re doing. And we were committed to those motives. We would do anything, as far as we needed to, to get inside the truth of what this universe was.

JL: One of the scenes I found the most important was when Beth [Remy's fellow artiforg fugitive and ex played by Alice Braga] and Remy repossess each other. To get that far there had to be a sort of embrace of the violence in a way — two people coming together physically like that, it could almost be lovemaking, a sharing of something, a sharing of agony rather than sharing pleasure.

FW: It was a bit bleak to do things that broadly, to go so far out, like A Clockwork Orange-y or Monty Python-y, because you have the chance to fall on your face.

JL: A Clockwork Orange was a big influence on Miguel.

Q: Did you do any research on the proper way to do the removal of organs?

JL: I worked with a surgeon in London. I bought a half side of a pig, because pig flesh is very like human flesh, and he taught me how to cut through that with scalpels, and then we worked with a guy in Toronto.

FW: A surgeon. For my character, though, my character is not a neat kind of guy. He just is into retrieval, so I watched that and discarded that and went with the knife and fork concept.

Q: Both you had training, so whose kung fu is stronger?

JL: We never really had it out.

FW: No. (makes a funny kung fu noise)

JL: The truth of the matter is we didn't do a lot of the fight sequences. The producers don't want you to pull a muscle or be injured, so they do these trainings to get you in good shape, so you don't call in and go, "Oh, I've wrenched my thigh yesterday kicking that guy down." But we had a quite bit of training and there was an awful lot of choreography.

FW: For my kung fu grip.

JL: I had to catch up with you.

Q: Did you know anyone who had to deal with an actual repossession?

FW: Oh, yeah, I've had friends who’ve had cars repossessed, I've known people who've had their homes taken.

JL: You said something really interesting earlier. To take it further, to lose your home, you should say it, to lose your home, people can lose belongings. You lose your car. You lose your job. You lose your home. But this idea of taking it further: I am myself, I own myself — the idea that they own you too, and they're coming to take it.

FW: They have emotional questions too. When you lose everything, when someone takes everything, your house, your home and then a part of yourself, you feel a loss. The emotional loss is so powerful.

Q: What was cut about your characters?

JL: There wasn’t a whole lot…

FW: There were scenes with the repos…

JL: They cut my favorite scene…. (laughs at the irony of the comment)

FW: It was Christmas…

JL: There was a Christmas scene we were filming in Toronto. The script kept changing. We had done a lot of stuff in the middle, which was trimmed down, the army stuff, to just us in the tank. But there was one scene in a bar, and we’re saying, "What are we going to do with ourselves?" Then we see a poster that says, "Be trained by the Repo Men;" and it had just snowed in Toronto, and there was this little house that was covered in lovely Santa lights, and we decided, we just covered each other in blood. And we come out of the house just laughing, having just done our first repo, and we walk down the street. It was my favorite scene. Anyway, little bits that just show the bond, layers and layers of brotherhood.

Q: Could there be a series in this for you guys, doing a prequel or sequel?

JL: Is there any saving Remy? He's there, but he’s not all there.

FW: He was always… well, we could get some more body parts.

JL: But at what cost?

Q: Do you think Jake is finally happy with brain-dead Remy?

JL: What, me in the corner?

FW: I always thought he was just happy with him. He’s not gone. And caring for him could be part of that relationship, and he’d be with him. I think there’s something a little twisted in that part of Jake, because that defined his life, his world, and now he can’t say he’s going to go away.

JL: That’s a very contemporary theme, too — the questions asked, keep the lie up, don’t question the lie, and you can pretend that everything’s alright. I was the one asking the questions, and Carol [Remy's wife, played by Carice van Houten].

Q: Did you make any notes on the script?

JL: You'll have to ask them. Oh, yeah, I remember one note: I wanted people to like Carol. Carol was just a bitch, and I was thinking, "It wasn't fair; it should be a balanced relationship." It’s more touching when see a relationship with two healthy, wholesome people — well, not wholesome — but two rounded people falling apart, then someone leaving someone because they’re a pain in the ass, you know?

I was just really taken by the characters and with the heart of the film, so going through it and working on it, I can't remember what I contributed. To be really honest, I think it became very much a part of what we then filmed and that process is very fluid. I should keep notes so I can claim ideas for myself.

Q: Since this movie touches on the health care debate, what's your perspective on it?

JL: I don’t talk politics. (Long pause, then laughs) First of all, let's talk about the film. What’s always interesting about dystopian films, or rather, good dystopian films, [is that they] only reference current themes. They don’t hit you over the head with them; they don’t make it the source of the story. Don’t forget, [when] we made this film, [it was] filmed this two and a half years ago. So it was an issue, but it wasn’t as current as it is now. It's just very fortuitous that the world is as messed up as it is and played right into the hands of our movie.

With what's going on here, I think everyone would agree that it's a side, an element of your society that needs addressing. The problem is that it’s a Gordian knot, in that everyone approaches it with a very different need, a very different design, a very different background. And everyone has a right to have their voice heard in that argument, but equally, one can’t hear all arguments and please all people all the time to reach a consent.

As far as how it references England, I think the more interesting theme in the film is how … there can be corporations who can sell you stuff and it’s bad for you because they know they’re the company that’s going to sell you stuff that’s good for you. That there’s a sort of umbrella holding it all together. That they can, they’ll cut off your nose with one hand and sell you a nose with another.

Q: So did you read the book?

JL: I did. This is like a cousin of the book. First cousin. Very close cousins.

Q: What do you enjoy about making genre films — sci-fi, fantasy, horror — and do you take them as seriously as drama, or is it a matter of real acting vs getting a paycheck?

FW: I didn't see [working on this film] as that …  I saw it as an interesting character, a well-written script, the chance to work with someone who was really talented, a good director, something new. I’m always trying to challenge myself to do something new, to try to do something great, whether it’s sci-ii or comedy or whatever.

JL: There’s still a serious theme to it. It still required a lot of work and attention, even the physical side. I know the physical side of films, the action, the violence is considered thrill-seeking or what have you, but to make that kind of stuff, especially when you have something grounded in reality, it's not just gratuitous. It required a hell of a lot of work. I think we both, what Forest said, it’s fun to try new things.

Q: Will you be doing a Sherlock Holmes sequel?

JL: We had such a blast making that film, and it was another very happy experience. I know you probably always sit in front of actors who say, "I had the best time." I haven't always had the best time but I did on these two films.

We were very aware that we had a lot more material to use. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote so many books and there’s so much to take from. And because of our enthusiasm for the project, once we knew it was doing well financially, we all started throwing in our ideas of where it should go and what should happen next. And of course mine involves Sherlock Holmes being locked in a box and Doctor Watson… I don't know for sure, but I think we probably are going to make another one.

Q: You'll have to grow the mustache again.

JL: So that's fine but it's not like next week. I think it's sometime next year.

Q: Is there more theater or independent films underway for you?

JL: Maybe later this year.

FW: I’m going to go very shortly to Shanghai to do this movie, Little Treasure, about adoption. My character, his friend and his wife go to adopt a child, and they start to question her sense of cultural identity. They start to question her sense of being able to raise a child, and issues like that. That’s the next film I'll do.

JL: I don't know actually what I'm going to do next. Hit a bump with a hammer? It's quite hard to read scripts after you've done Hamlet. So I'm not really sure, I don't know. I may be doing another Sherlock Holmes, but that's not certain.

I'm working with a wonderful writer/director team in London. They're going to do a play in summer or winter of next year, they're writing that now. And Contagion [directed by Steven Soderbergh] is not until the end of the year. I'm one of a large number of people in a big ensemble, so I'll be doing my 10 days in San Francisco.

The subject matter’s really very interesting, and again, very current. It's about a contagious disease spreading across the world and how it affects the public, the medical services, politicians, and I play an online blogger who is a fear-monger. I just liked the part. I really like the part.


For more by Brad Balfour:


Roland Emmerich's "2012": On DVD in 2010!

Judging by our conversation with him, producer-director Roland Emmerich doesn't seem megalomaniacal. In fact, he seems so down-home and unassuming, that you just want to grab him, a beer — being the good German that he is  — and sit in rapt attention as he tells how he's destroyed the world ... again.

Emmerich, of course, is the great manipulator who has ravaged cities and continents thanks to the wonders of cinema. He destroyed New York via his remake of Godzilla (1998) and had the world's capitals blasted through an alien invasion in Independence Day (1996). The 54-year-old former painter and sculptor has ravaged this planet in other ways; he even had it frozen under sheets of ice when he produced and directed The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

But now he's gone all out shuffling all the continents into the oceans; in 2012, newly out on DVD, it's not just the cites or mankind he attacks — he entirely redesigns the configuration of the planet. Based on the myth of the Mayan calendar's 2012 prediction, the Teutonic-accented Emmerich came to New York to tell a bunch of journalists how much fun it is to destroy us all. Well, not quite all of us; stars John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Amanda Peet survived on screen and the off-camera experience as well.

Q: Had you studied the Mayan calendar prior to doing this film?

RE: I've had a project about a gentleman named Gonzalo Guerro, one of the first Spaniards who set foot in the Yucatan and encountered the Mayas after being shipwrecked. But he went native. He was the only guy who went native and fought his people.

Because of that, I had studied Mayan culture so I was very aware of it. When Harald [Kloster, the co-writer and co-producer of the film with Emmerich, and its composer]and I had an idea to do this movie, Harald said, "We have to incorporate the Mayan calendar into this a little bit." it was Harald's idea to call the movie 2012.

Q: Do you give any credence to the Mayan calendar?

RE: The Mayans were very exact people. They had a calendar, and had created these cycles. There are only five cycles, and the last one ends on a very exact date: the 21st of December in 2012 [A.D.]. It's the only culture in the world which has a prophecy like that.

This is the only culture that gave an exact date and even set a time of day. [It's] like a miracle. But it's [one] day, and with the rise of this day, time ends. They don't even say "destroy" [but] obviously, it does [mean] the earth gets destroyed.

Q: What do you believe?

RE: I think if you look at disasters, what is really important for people? Their first thought is the people they love. Sometimes we get so carried away with silly things, like my car, the house, clothes. We should actually live each day like it's the last.

Q: So was it a little slap to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to have him die in the destruction of California?

RE: I don't know where these ideas come from. We felt that every politician should be in the ark. The Pope too — I dare to kill my own people. [Emmerich is Catholic.] But the Arnold moment, or why Arnold [didn't get on the ark], I cannot tell you anymore. It's too long ago.

Most of the time, Harald and I talk — Harald is Austrian [like Schwarzenegger], you know — we talk about things and ideas, and most of the time we laugh a lot. We have terrible fun in what we do. It's hard, showbiz, [so] we have fun with it.

I know certain things that I can explain to you exactly where they come from. For example, the Sistine Chapel came from the discussion that certain art can be taken off the wall and put on the ark. They cannot put the whole ceiling away. So I said, "This looks so great. We can have [the portion where] God creates Adam and have a crack [between the fingers]. It pretty much tells the people that God will not help you."

Q: Was that the first thing you thought of?

RE: Yeah. One of the first images I came up with — and I was really excited when I told Harald about it — I said, "I see water coming over the Himalayas, over the roof of the world." That was, for me, what this movie should be.

Q: What kind of budget did you have and did you ever go over budget?

RE: Nope. We stayed in budget. I learned from [fellow 2012 producer] Larry Franco, our money guy, that we pretty much came in on budget, which is rare. But the budget was already big. It was $200 million.

I always stay in budget, or as close as I can. There's always one or two million [left over].

Q: How did you decide to pick off your characters? Why were those people picked for death and others weren't?

RE: Well, most of the time, it's the economy of the story. Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) didn't have anywhere to go because she lost Sasha (Johann Urb). But whatever she was as a character, at the end, she would have been unfinished, in a way. And you have to kill some people, otherwise it's not serious anymore.

Gordon (Tom McCarthy) is not a bad guy, and he saved their ass because he flew all these planes. But he could not be anywhere on this boat. And then Yuri (Zlatko Buric), the Russian guy — OK, he's a terrible guy, but it's also not good to make him totally terrible, so he sacrifices himself for the twins. A lot of people said to me, "Why didn't the twins die?" I said, "They are children."

Q: You have rules. No kids?

RE: Yeah.

Q: What are the other rules?

RE: Animals. You have to be [kind to animals]. It was mainly a nice little thing, because this girl's best friend was this dog. To be really cruel, you have to have the twins go away with the dog, because it's actually their dog. And then [she] reunited with the dog, which worked well with the story. And then she gave Yuri the finger. In movies, it has to work like that.

Q: The cliffhanger with the Rusian twins — where will they go?

RE: You know you cannot ask. Maybe one line, "You're one of us" kind of thing. But it would have been awfully cheesy.

Q: What about Woody Harrelson's character [radio doomsayer Charlie Frost]? What were you trying to say?

RE: It's great. We realized through the Internet that there's a lot of crazy people [who] believe in a lot of crazy things about 2012. So we thought, we have to have a character like that.

And then on the other hand, at one point, we said, we have to explain what the theory is. Earth crust displacement — how do you describe this in scientific terms? Then all of a sudden, I said, "We can have him tell the audience how this whole thing [works]." And we came up with a little YouTube film he made. And that was such a clever way to do that, I think, because normally the scientists explain it to you and it's a little bit boring. But here, the people have fun with it, because it's a sarcastic way to do it. It's science and movies, it's always a little bit forced.

Q: He talks about the religious [aspect].

RE: He also explains to us why politicians will not tell us, because they say, "What will happen?" And he was right. The stock market crashed, pandemonium in the street, people will kill each other. And he thinks there are spaceships anyway, which I think is funny because they're not. They're just regular ships.

Q: How much free will did you give Woody to do his stuff? I know he improvised quite a bit here.

RE: Yeah, but it's good. John Cusack and everybody in this movie improvised. You want to have your actors contribute because it makes it come alive. And that's why as a writer, especially, you want to have good actors.

Q: You like to show presidents and scientists. Why are you so fascinated with them?

RE: I make movies [set] in America and when something really, really big happens, the president naturally has to be involved. I lately saw a movie from Fox, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), and they so avoid the president, it's kind of comical. It just doesn't work.

Q: You've gotten pretty good at destroying the earth. What are the rules?

RE: Well, I always like saying the pictures have to be super-impossible. Only when it's impossible [am] I interested in doing it. And that's always hard to explain.

One of the first things I saw in my mind when we were talking about the earthquake scene is [that] the ground needs to open up. And I just realized what that means. It's a little bit of when the bottom falls out under your feet.

I'm terribly afraid of heights. I'm always trying to put my fear in these movies. And the other thing I've talked about, is water coming over the roof of the world. And then, have a monk witness that and strike his bell one last time. These images come to Harald and me and we get terribly excited, because we feel these movie scenes.

Q: Any other rules?

RE: Well, the characters help you a lot — people from all walks of life. These movies are so expensive that they have to work for pretty much everybody. Every audience member has different people he likes in the movie and follows them. For young people, for men and women, everybody finds some sort of access.

Old people will like [President Wilson, played by Danny Glover] or Harry Helmsley [Blu Mankuma] and Tony [Delgatto, played by George Segal], as these two jazz musicians. Young people get relatable [characters as well]. Kids get wrapped up in our two kids. You create all the characters so everybody has some sort of figure to identify with.

I'm always saying that I'm a person who doesn't like superhero movies. I like some of them, but I can't really relate to superhero. I have trouble with fantasy stories. And then famous books aren't an option for me. I write my own stuff.

There's very little left in the big movie genre of what you can do. So it's science fiction or disaster movies. You know yourself, look at what is the most successful movie of all time: Titanic. And the great thing is also, with a disaster movie there's no sequel. I hate sequels.

Q: Well, speaking of sequels, the word is that you're interested in making a TV show called 2013.

RE: Well, that's different because that's something like Lost, which has a totally different feel to it. It's more a little bit of [the 2009 film] District 9. These ships show up in Africa, there are some survivors and they're not happy people because they were left behind. Now how do you start off a new society? That has nearly no visual effects. It's all about characters and what will the future bring, hold for us.

Q: 2013 is going to happen pretty soon after this movie comes out. Do you have any actors or places in mind?

RE: No. We just made a deal with ABC, and we're very happy about that. I'm already discussing with the people who write it, and tried to help them with what this could be.

The original idea is from Harald, me and [2012 executive producer] Mark Gordon. Mark is big on TV. Harald and I had an idea that everyone should do a TV show, because there were a lot of things that we couldn't incorporate into 2012 and it was so interesting.

What happens after all of this? We couldn't be riding the script. We had to end it at one point. We left at where they just discovered Africa is still existing and has risen a couple thousand feet, but that's it. And we ended on a really, really small note about a little girl who overcame her fear in a way. It's a very small way, which is very important and ends in something very personal.

I think a sequel is silly. There are certain sequels that work for me. But to make a sequel for a disaster movie, the people would expect a certain kind of visual effects. But [for 2013] there would actually be only what's happening between people, and that you can do a TV show week after week.

Q: What would you like to see happen in 2013?

RE: It's not the bright happy future everybody was envisioning. It's the same old problems.

Q: What do you expect people to walk away with after seeing this film?

RE: First of all, I am very conservative in that way, because I said they should have fun. A movie of this kind, I want people to enjoy it and have fun watching it.

And then, the great thing that I learned lately — I tried it first in The Day After Tomorrow, that in these big movies, you can pack some sort of message that you believe in. And that's what they should take away from all this.

Q: When you planned this particular apocalypse — as opposed to your other apocalypses — you've destroyed certain buildings several times in your movies. Did you say, "I'm not going to destroy the White House [again]," or can I find a different way to destroy the White House?

RE: When we had the idea, I said, "Harald, I'm not going to do it. I cannot destroy the White House again. I don't want to repeat myself."

Then Harald rightly said, "Look, Roland, this is such a good idea. We heard inklings that other people were working with something similar, even also with the title '2012,' [and] we said, somebody else will do it. Do you really want to not be the person to do it? Look at your movies. You're perfect for this. Just come up with something new. Make this your crowning achievement."

I personally know how most visual effects came along. I know that I don't have to use any models anymore. I can do whatever I want. So out of that, what other images? It has to be very original, otherwise you don't do it.

I remembered that as a kid, after we visited the White House, we drove in the Chesapeake Bay somewhere, where they have all the warships. They had just inaugurated the JFK Aircraft Carrier [USS John F. Kennedy (C67)], and I was terribly impressed with how big it is.

I don't know how that clicked, [but] we knew there had to be a wave. I said, "I can have this [aircraft carrier] crashing into the White House." Because we knew, in one of the first waves, we had to put objects in which are gigantic, to show how big the waves are — maybe tankers or warships. This is how you think.

I was doing a lot of reading then on the Kennedys, so I said, "Oh, let's [do] something ironic." And then we came up with this image that JFK returns to the White House [literally].

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Director Spike Jonze Goes "Where the Wild Things Are"

Even if you missed seeing the the Morgan Library exhibit of Maurice Sendak's drawings and text from his classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, or director Spike Jonze's cinematic interpretation, released in theaters last year, you can now see it on the newly issued DVD. The Wild Things, one might say, have come home to roost

Whether it be his few features or his music videos, Jonze has never done things quite as expected. This is the guy, after all, who created Being John Malkovich (1999), a film about someone discovering a portal that gains access to the inside of the quirky actor's head. Jonze also directed the award-winning film Adaptation (2002), which is ostensibly about a screenwriter struggling to adapt a book to film but it is much more quirky than that.

Now Jonze has taken one of the finest example of children's fiction as art — with about as many words and pages as would make a 10-minute short — and transformed its premise, about a disobedient young boy's retreat into his fantasy world where strange, benignly monstrous talking creatures exist, into a full-length feature. Using the book as a platform, Jonze and co-scriptwriter Dave Eggers delved into a 9-year old boy's lonely, disaffected brain and came up with a surreal look into how such fantasizing helps a child work through problems.

When Jonze came to the Apple store in Soho to preview Where the Wild Things Are, the event was worth attending considering simply for the fact that Jonze approaches doing a live interview as uniquely as he does making a film. In this case, rather than sit with one interviewer and be grilled as to the what and wherefores of his movie, he brought cast and crew members on stage to discuss the filmmaking process before a small audience and expose everyone to the special dynamic that made this picture. The following Q&A is pulled together from that event and my own questions.

Q: What motivated you to make this movie?

SJ: I always loved the book, but I also didn't know how to do it. I didn't know what I'd bring to it. But there was a point where I started to think about the wild things and wild emotions, who the characters of the wild things were. I started writing them as really complicated characters with very complex performances, and then fleshing out who [the child protagonist] Max was. That was the key to it — being really open, and I could go anywhere with that.

Q: What was it like to collaborate with its creator Maurice Sendak?

SJ: It was amazing. At first I was not really excited about it but then I was also nervous, because his book means so much to everybody and I could only make what the book was to me.

Basically at the beginning, Maurice early on said, "You can't worry about any of that. Don't worry about what I think. Don't be overly reverential to the book. You have to take this and make it your own and make something personal."

His only rule was not to pander to children, and make something honest. He really pushed us and has always been so supportive of us, and it's been an amazing friendship. He's a producer, but he's so much more than that —  he's our mentor and our friend.

Q: You said that this was six years in the making. How did it come to you, and what those six years were like?

SJ: I guess the first couple was [spent in] writing the script. I had moved to San Francisco to [write] with [noted author] Dave Eggers, and then after that it was probably about six months or something of trying to get it made or get it financed. We were at one studio and going into another one, and then it was about a year of making the costumes and going and shooting in Australia, and then about a year and a half of editing and then a year of visual effects to do all the faces. So there are a lot of different sets, and each one probably took twice as long as we thought it was going to be.

Q: How did you and Dave get together on this?

SJ: I've known Dave for awhile, and I loved his writing and I've loved him as a person. It seemed like he was my first choice.

Q: What do you do to start out a day?

SJ: Normally, we'd get to a set, clear it and then it would just be the actors and we'd rehearse it and then block it out. And then Lance [Acord, the director of photography] would come and be watching and we'd start to figure out where to put the camera.

This was a whole different film. It was such a complicated thing [that] it couldn't be that loose, but we somehow tried to keep it loose. We were most of the time at really distant locations, where we'd have to go in and set up a little village of tents. There'd be huge anxiety when I'd show up in the morning and see about 40 trucks and I'd be like, "Oh, this movie's too big."  

And the art department was really big, too. It was basically K.K.'s [Barrett, the production designer's] idea at the beginning [that] we were going to art-direct nature — we were going to go into nature and use it as a canvas. So he would go into a forest that had been burned out, and put in ground cover and put in saplings for color.

Then in places where we wanted it to look like the forest came right into a desert, K.K. would build for us on that location so the camera would be able to move through the trees into the forest.

Q: What kind of feeling were you going for?

SJ: One of the things early on that Thomas [Tull, the executive producer] mentioned to us as he was scheduling it was that he was afraid we would run out of cover sets. A cover set is where you go when it rains, and since there's so much of the movie shot outside, we ran out of cover sets early on.

When Lance and K.K. and I talked about it, we [decided] if it rains that day, or if there's a storm or whatever, we would embrace that and use that weather as part of the texture of the film to add to the wildness of the island and the location.

Q: What were challenges in making this film and finishing it with the studio?

SJ: We brought the movie to Warner Brothers, and they were very encouraging and very excited. They sent us off to Australia, but it was during editing when they started to see what the film actually looked like and felt like. I think they were surprised by the texture of it and the emotional intensity of it.

I think the movie is what it is and we all love it and are proud of it. The studio was like, they had expected a boy and then I gave birth to a girl, and maybe she was a wild child of some sort. But they've learned to love the baby, and we share the duties and I'm not stuck with always breast feeding at home by myself, and it's nice.

Q: Casting the character of Max must have been a real process.

SJ: Lance Bangs found Max [Records] for us in Portland, Oregon. We'd been looking everywhere and it was getting down to the wire, so we started [calling] friends that live in different cities. We started looking in smaller cities or smaller areas.

We were thinking of looking more at artistic cities, like Austin [, Texas] —  we had a friend in Austin  — or a friend in Athens, Georgia; Amherst, Massachusetts;  Lance in Portland. Lance started putting kids on tape there.

We thought [Max] was really beautiful, but we didn't know what his acting ability was because he'd never acted before. [Catherine Keener, who played Max-the-protagonist's mother] was shooting Into the Wild in Oregon. So she went and met with Max on a day off.

The great thing about him and his family is they're not stage parents in any way. They were nervous about this whole thing. Max's dad [Sean] came down to LA and we did the final audition, and we cast Max. When Sean got the call, I think he was sleepless for three nights wondering, "What are we doing?"  

I think that in the end they did it more as a family experience. All four of them moved to Australia and said let's do this as a family experience, as opposed to some career move for a 9-year-old. I think that because they're so levelheaded, their son is really levelheaded.

Even though he's 9 years old, in the middle of 150 crew members all paying all this attention focused on him, he really looked at it like he was there to do his job, just as the lighting person was there to his job or [costumer] Casey [Storm] was here to do his job. He had amazing humility, and I think he's a real soulful kid, which is partially why he's so great in the film.

Q: Did Max have a passion for film and drama?

SJ: He is a very deep, thoughtful kid, and also he saw everything that was going on. He had a front row view to everything.

I think it's a testament to kids — you think, oh, they don't see that, or they don't understand this — but they see everything and understand everything.

Me and Lance were like mom and dad fighting. I think he even said that, like, "Mom and dad are fighting."  He was watching us all and seeing the adults stressing out trying to make this thing.

The way we worked with Max was [that] we took him really seriously. Obviously we were protective of him, but we also demanded of him what we demand of any actor:  to be real, to be present, focused, and take it seriously. Max did take it seriously. Whenever the time was tight or whatever [we] needed, I said, "Max, we gotta focus here," and he would go from being a kid and playing and running around to being focused and listening.

We couldn't always stage what was happening behind camera. There'd be something like a Wild Thing throwing another Wild Thing, or something that we needed the camera to be close on Max and we need his reaction to that. But we couldn't always stage these things, so we'd come up with something else.

We had a little kit [for] whenever we'd have an idea to say, "Thomas, we need some fire extinguishers," and Thomas just kept collecting this kit. It was like what you'd put on a play with in your garage. So we'd be doing these little plays behind camera with light sabers.

One day we had Natalie [Farrey], who runs our office, sitting in a chair crying, and Max came into the set and then the light faded upon her. It wasn't hard for her to cry, because we were down there in Australia and it was a really hard shoot on everybody and she probably cried once a week anyway.

Q: Even though it was a long and hard shoot, did the process bring out the inner kid in you?  

SJ: I don't know... did it? The inner kid was what the script came out of, but I don't know. We all moved to Australia together and everyone brought their families.

Basically, the philosophy was: if there are lots of kids around, they can go anywhere. They can go in any of the trucks — go make something in the art department truck, or go put the wolf suits on, or get fake blood from the makeup trailer, or go into one of the sets and make a movie. The idea was like summer camp — this is your set.

But also, [it was for] Max and all the kids on the set to have this group to play with and hang out with. The idea was [that] the set was open for the kids to come whenever they want. Max was there every day with some other photo doubles that played Max in the movie. So there [were] always at least four or five kids, and then on a good day there were probably 15 kids, when everyone's kids would come.

Q: When the picture wrapped, how did everyone feel on that last day of shooting; did you feel you really made something amazing or were you just excited to start editing?

SJ: The big one was in Australia where all the kids [were there], so it was pretty amazing. We let the kids direct the last shot.

Q: Were there any scenes in the film that you had to take out for running time? Was that hard for you?

SJ: Oh, that was hard, yeah. It's all hard to take out because you're so attached to it.

Eric [Zumbrunnen] and I are slow editors and we take a long time. Our first movie took nine months to lock picture, and then Adaptation took 13 months to lock picture. This one took 20 months to lock picture.

Every time we'd finish a movie, we're like, next time we're going to work a lot faster. We're going to be looser and we're going to let go of stuff more. I haven't been able to do that yet. But next time I will, Eric.

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