The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back!
The Source Magazine had the opportunity to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” director Jonathan Liebesman, Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller exclusively about the reboot out this Friday, August 8.
So this is a question for all of you, how did you become interested in this film? How did it come about?
Brad and Andrew: We have an overall deal at Paramount and you know, Michael Bay directs the “Transformers” movies and we had heard Viacom had bought the rights to “Ninja Turtles” and Nickelodeon, the network, which launched the cartoon. We went after the movie, we thought it was an unbelievable title and was perfect to bring back so we fought hard to get on this movie. There were no producers on it and we went into the studio and said, “Will you just please let us do this movie.” and we fought hard for it. But we’re fans, I’ve seen the movies in the theater, I remember the comics in the 80’s, and you know, we wanted this movie badly.
Jonathan: I also was a big fan as a kid in South Africa seeing the movies and cartoons and Brad and Andrew pitched the movie to me when I was in town doing something in LA and the guys showed me some ideas they had and a very early version of the slow sequence and it was extremely exciting, and I had the benefit of seeing Michael Bay in pre-production on “Transformers” one and I saw how he took a property from the 80’s and reinvented it and I remember seeing previews that he had for some of his sequences and I was completely blown away. I knew when the guys were showing me stuff from TMNT, I just could see that there was a way to do something I loved on a scale that a Michael Bay movie sort of provides you with and that was duly exciting.
How was “Ninja Turtles” different than the genre of movies that you’re used to doing? Especially for Brad and Andrew since you’re known for films like “The Purge” and “Texas Chainsaw.”
Brad and Andrew: Well you know, obviously it was different, we weren’t butchering any bodies but it’s similar in that a lot of it is about timing and build up to the joke or the death (as it used to be). But the timing of those things has to work and I think one of the greatest things about this movie is how fun it is, but it’s about the ways of good and ways of right so in that way it’s very similar.
Yeah, and a lot of people say that horror and comedy are very close, you know the set up and the same goes with jokes, sometimes you don’t even know until when you’re in theater and you’re in front of an audience if your joke or your scare works. We worked a lot in the horror genre before this, but taking what we’ve learned, we can really translate it into the comedy of this movie. It was definitely a different experience for us, a much bigger scale this movie, but it was very exciting. It’s great to laugh all day though, it makes the process a lot more interesting.
Was there any pressure to kind of live up to the fandom of the “Ninja Turtles”? Any worries about disappointing or any feelings of anxiety?
Jonathan: Well a whole lot. I think there’s always anxiety, but I have to say, the guys here in this room are such fans of “Ninja Turtles.” By the way, I think Michael Bay has a hell of a lot of respect for fans and all their franchises and they don’t get enough credit for that, because I’ve never seen guys actually go through a talk back and use it in constructive ways in a movie. There is a hell of a lot of respect for fans, like I said, we’re all big fans to start off with, there is a lot of anxiety, but ultimately I think it’s a great team of people who over two years painstakingly made sure that the fans were the very first people who would be satisfied with the movie.
I noticed in the film the sense of brotherhood was emphasized, you know ” you live, you die … but remember nothing is as strong as family”, can you talk about that?
Jonathan: Yeah, I think one of the huge themes of the original comics and movies and cartoons is of family and I think that’s what ultimately makes the Ninja Turtles relatable to everybody; we all obviously have families and the movie is essentially about a family that has to come together to save the world except that they’re turtles and their father’s a rat and that’s what makes it ridiculous, but it’s ultimately relatable. So these guys being a family, having day to day family situations like sneaking in and sneaking out and punishment and by sort of advertising those – the turtles and the rat kind of pioneered the movie.
How did the casting come about?
Why did you choose Megan fox to be the female lead? Was it because of her relationship to Michael Bay?
Brad and Andrew: Well, she’s done two movies with Michael so she was in the family and we had also found out that Megan’s a die hard Ninja Turtles fan and we approached her up front. We were looking for April O’Neil and for us, Megan Fox was a no-brainer.
Jonathan: When I met her, she was such a passionate Ninja Turtles fan it was incredible. When she read the script, she was not only giving notes on her character but on what Mikey would be saying, it was really cool to have someone who as passionate about Ninja Turtles as we were and that was awesome. She was so excited, whenever she saw a trailer for the movie, she was so genuinely excited like a way a fan would be. It’s really awesome.
Brad and Andrew: By the way, her background working on the “Transformers” movies helped so much, that she had done those two films. In those movies, when there are robots on set, it’s a tennis ball on a stand or a cut-out of Bumblebee or Optimus Prime 30 feet in the air and that’s who they’re acting with. Megan had been through that and we did have guys on set that she could act with. It was much easier, she did not have to be educated at all about this process, she was such a pro. So you do these scenes were Jonathan directs her with the four turtles, and then the turtles leaves the scene and Megan has to do the scene by herself. Well Megan’s done that in two huge movies, and then Jonathan again is just directing a movie, and then Megan knows how to hear her marks and run around pretending she’s holding hands with a turtle or whatever it needed to be, so it definitely made shooting so much easier.
And what about Will Arnett as Vernon? What made you cast him?
Brad and Andrew: We felt we needed a different type of energy, someone comedic who could always deliver the jokes and Will’s just a great guy to have on set, I mean he’s a fantastic guy. That was actually an idea that Adam Goodman brought to all of us. He’s just a great comedian, when you watch the movie – I find that he’s really funny. We’re going out there, trying to figure out who this cameraman should be who can play off April and just the comic relief that Will brings, you know, and we’re just so lucky that Will was available to do this movie.
Talk about the shooting process, what was it like? How long did it take to make the movie after it was in the works?
Jonathan: Well the movie for me started two and half years ago, and we were already doing animatics and previews two and a half years ago so that’s almost where things begin and shooting in this movie was just another part of that process because you’re almost as intense in pre-production as when you shoot on this movie. And after it’s another year of post-production to sort of complete the shots that need visual effects and motion capture, so you’re almost going full on for two and half years on a movie like this. I’m kind of blown away by a guy like Michael, who’s done four of these in a row.
How did you manage to make the interaction between the actors and turtles so realistic? What efforts did you have to make in order to make it look seamless?
Jonathan: Well it’s not just me. It’s obviously the massive team of people. Firstly, you have Michael Bay who’s done movies like “Transformers” where the realism bar has been set really high, we have producers like Brad and Andrew who are always there just in case I’m missing something or give ideas when I don’t have anything and then you have Pablo Helman, our special effects supervisor and industrial lights manager who were very instrumental in the designs and textures you’re putting on those turtles – are the ones that will render the most realistically. Fortunately, it’s not just the directing, you’ve got 200-300 people helping you on every scene and a great editor who puts the scene together and watches the scene, everyone kind of comments on the scene, and you hone the scene. On a movie like this, it’s never one person and what I think is cool about it is you get to stand on the shoulders of other people or rely on the ideas of other people. It’s a huge team effort and that’s what is so awesome about the movie and that’s something the movie is about too.
Brad and Andrew: The beauty of it is we were able to surround Jonathan with what we feel are the film’s technicians, so he can focus on what his vision of the movie was and just worry about that. And then hire people like Pablo to take care of what they were doing or the cinematographer to take care what he’s doing so we can allow Jonathan to just make his vision and surround him with the best technicians, that’s what it’s all about for us. And when you’re out of ideas or need some input you get to call people like Michael Bay, who’s probably the biggest action movie director in the world.
Can you talk about any other struggles and challenges pertaining to the production of this movie?
Brad and Andrew: One challenge we had was working was working with motion capture, when we were shooting the turtles on the rooftop, we noticed that the eyeline might be wrong so the actors playing the turtles were not as tall as the turtles. So when Megan’s acting with them, she’s looking at them in their eyes but they were actually five to nine inches shorter than the turtles so what we did was went to the prop department and with the guys wearing helmets with cameras on it and took little pieces of metal and put ping pong balls on the top that were align with the skyline, so when Megan’s acting with the turtles, she’s actually looking at the ping pong balls that are five to nine inches above their helmets. If not, when we put the movie together, Megan’s going to be staring at chins or necks instead of at their eyes when they’re talking. That was one thing I remember that we learned on the day.
So I know this is the first installment of a sequel for the “Ninja Turtles” franchise, can you speak about what to expect from the upcoming films you’re directing?
Jonathan: We couldn’t. I mean literally we finished the movie ten days ago; we haven’t even thought about it. We just finished the movie, went to Mexico City for the world premiere we just got back and now it’s all about getting the movie into theaters, but we hope we’re able to talk about doing another one, but we gotta get this one out first.