Jon Turteltaub Interview, National Treasure 2

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with director Jon Turteltaub at the Los Angeles press day to talk about his new film, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets” In this follow up to the box-office hit "National Treasure," treasure hunter Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) once again sets out on an exhilarating, action-packed new global quest to unearth hidden history and treasures. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Turteltaub, the story reunites the original cast including Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha and Academy Award winner Jon Voight, joined this time by four-time Academy Award nominee Ed Harris, Academy Award-nominee Harvey Keitel, and 2006 Academy Award winner Helen Mirren.

Once again, Bruckheimer partnered with director Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker who brings a rare gift to contemporary filmmaking: a genuinely charming, unpretentious, light touch, in which he seamlessly weaves action and adventure with romance and humor in ways which deftly recall such early elegant ’60s entertainments as "Charade” and "Topkapi,” albeit laced with 21st-century technology and sensibilities. "What we want to stress in the ‘National Treasure’ movies is that it’s fun and, in ways that sneak up on you, educational as well,” notes Bruckheimer. "Jon is very smart about keeping action very suspenseful, yet having the humor undercut the suspense. He’s a master of walking that line.”

Turteltaub returns as director on "National Treasure: Book of Secrets” upon the success of the first film, which grossed an unexpected $350 million in box-office receipts worldwide. Always with an eye towards story, character and humor, Turteltaub has directed all eight of his studio feature films for The Walt Disney Company, including the 2000 hit "The Kid” starring Bruce Willis, 1999’s "Instinct” starring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Donald Sutherland and Maura Tierney. Prior to that, Turteltaub directed John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Forest Whitaker and Kyra Sedgwick in the blockbuster hit "Phenomenon,” which ranked as one of the highest-grossing films of 1996. In 1993, he directed the surprise-hit comedy "Cool Runnings,” which was Disney’s highest grossing live-action film for the year. Two years later, he directed "While You Were Sleeping,” the breakout romantic comedy that helped launch Sandra Bullock to stardom. His first film for Disney was 1992’s "3 Ninjas,” which, shockingly, was the studio’s most profitable film of the year. Based on these credits, it’s clear that "surprise hit” is the trademark of Turteltaub’s career.

On the small screen, Turteltaub made his television-series producing and directing debut with the highly acclaimed CBS drama "Jericho,” which stars Skeet Ulrich. The primetime show centers around a nuclear explosion that plunges the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they are the only Americans left alive. "Jericho” will return for a second season in 2008. Recently, Turteltaub and his production company, Junction Entertainment, entered into a multi-year overall arrangement with CBS Paramount Network TV to create, develop and produce drama, comedy and reality series for the studio.

In 1998, Turteltaub made an essential contribution to one of the most significant and critically acclaimed television mini-series in history, "From the Earth to the Moon.” The 10-part HBO dramatic series featured different stories surrounding the American expeditions to the moon. Turteltaub directed the seventh episode of the miniseries, entitled "That’s All There Is,” which portrayed the camaraderie of the crew of Apollo 12. Turteltaub was nominated by the DGA for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television for his efforts, and the series received 10 Emmy Awards and the Golden Globe Award for Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.

As one of the most talented directors in Hollywood, Jon Turteltaub has captured audiences’ attention with his warm, funny, and emotional films. He enters our room with his trademark sense of humor telling us we’re friendlier than his last room. Everyone laughs as he continues, "And it’s a far more attractive group than across the hall.” 

Here’s what he had to tell us about his new movie, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets”:

JON TURTELTAUB: Let me tell you something, no matter what I do, the reviewers are not going to like this movie. That’s the way it goes. Some of you are reviewers, right? There you go.

MoviesOnline: Why do you say that?

JON TURTELTAUB: They didn’t like the first one, and so if they didn’t like the first one, they have to pretend they did to like this one, because this one really isn’t that different than the first one.

MoviesOnline: Actually, I think I can prove you wrong because I probably wrote some not nice things about the first one, and I liked this one a lot more.

JON TURTELTAUB: Why is that?

MoviesOnline: I guess we can talk about it later. I think it’s more fun, I think it’s sharper.

JON TURTELTAUB: But maybe it’s more fun and sharper because now you get the joke, but you were a little slow to get it the first time. [laughter]

MoviesOnline: I wrote last night, ‘maybe I’m smarter than I was three years ago.’

JON TURTELTAUB: I love that, I love that. What was odd too was that a lot of the reviews the first time said this movie is really stupid, and I thought, ‘Really?’ That was the one thing I didn’t think people would say about the first one, because –

MoviesOnline: What would they say about this one?

JON TURTELTAUB: Oh, this one’s very stupid. I think people think we made up most of it, but we didn’t and we got attacked for history not making sense. We didn’t make this stuff up, those are the glasses Ben Franklin designed, those are the buildings where the stuff happened, we didn’t make up Silan’s (??) do good letters (??), this is all real stuff. And none of us had even heard of The Da Vinci Code when we wrote the script, none of us had read it, because we’d been told it’s similar, so none of us read it when we made the movie and then we got accused of stealing from it. And then when that movie came out all those critics had to like that movie more, because they’d already told us ours wasn’t as good as that. It got confusing.

MoviesOnline: I think the thing that may have hurt the first one more than the Da Vinci Code parallels was that about the same time you came out, PBS’ Nova did a story about the ultra protection of the Declaration of Independence, and how it was locked up.

JON TURTELTAUB: But what was interesting is that that story wasn’t really right, because I saw that Nova when it came out. I’d been to the archives, and I got a tour of how the Declaration was kept, and what was amazing is honestly it was kept in a safe that you’d have in your house, and they had a halon gas thing so that if there was a fire, the fire would go out, but basically Ernie the janitor could have gone in and shown it to you. After 9/11 they went, ‘Ah, it’s safe,’ and spirited it away and redid the security system. But they had already given us all the plans of the new security system, which we had, so we just did what they told us, it goes down that tube and down the thing into the room and it goes across the hall when they’re working on it, into that other room. It was art (?) and then we got told oh we made up a fake system, that’s what happens, just like that. Don’t blame me, blame –

MoviesOnline: Given all the bad reviews the first one got, were you apprehensive to come back to make the second one?

JON TURTELTAUB: No, because [to the first row] don’t listen, don’t listen, don’t listen, the people we know who have families in Texas and aunt and uncles in Minnesota matter a lot more to us than the critics. One of the problems all of us have is we all see too many movies and so we just don’t watch movies right, we can’t help it, we know what’s coming, we can’t help but know where this is going, we’ve seen that actor in too many movies that year, and at too many lunches that year, so if you listen and you really talk to people and you go into someone’s house and you see the movie on the shelf, and you see it’s been watched, they’re watching that movie and you know that there’s something that crept into the, sorry, but the zeitgeist on it. I read references – you know on line, on the YouTube thing it says, there was something about a fire and someone said, ‘It looked really like National Treasure,’ that’s a sign to me that it’s out there. And then we said, you know what, it made money but not all in its opening weekend, it built, so there was word of mouth that made the success of the first movie. And the DVD life was so strong.
That’s all about just people telling each other to watch the movie. And you look and you go, okay, we did better [in the] red States than blue States, and there’s probably more of you working in blue States than red States, so what does that mean to a movie, and by better, not world’s better, but there’s things. And we said, well, let’s do a sequel, but let’s start by coming up with ideas and a script. We don’t green light a movie until we know we’ve got a movie to make. And if there’s a sequel to this one it’ll be because not it opens well, but because it has some shelf life, you can smell whether audiences liked it or [says not so enthusiastically] liked it. And if the new story we come up with works, and we feel confident, then we’ll do our best to get all the exact same people together again and do it again.

MoviesOnline: Have you written yourself into a corner with this page 47?

JON TURTELTAUB: You know what? We can always tell people that’s the fourth movie. That doesn’t work. I’ve actually seen movies that seem like they’re setting up for the sequel and that wasn’t the sequel.

MoviesOnline: Last night in the lobby of the theater, people asked Bruce Greenwood what was on page 47 and he told them ‘That’s the next movie.’

JON TURTELTAUB: I’ll tell you, what is on page 47 is I think the single greatest secret in America today which is the plot of Star Trek. [everyone laughs]

MoviesOnline: That secret is actually out.

JON TURTELTAUB: Oh really? You got it already?

MoviesOnline: What happened with the Lincoln Memorial scene? Why was it cut?

JON TURTELTAUB: [his phone goes off] I think my ass is ringing, hang on one second. Here’s what happened, it’s funny you’re the first person to ask, because I’ve been asked a ton about the Lincoln Memorial and you’re the first person to mention, wait a minute, it’s not in the movie. In fact, what is so great is, I’ve been watching all these TV commercials and most of the commercials – the problem is, commercials always give the movie away, well in this case it didn’t because nothing in the commercials made it into the final movie. [everyone laughs] And we keep looking at the commercials going, ‘That’s good, why did we cut that?’ But they make the commercials based on dailies and your first four hour cut; they don’t know what’s going on.

MoviesOnline: What was the scene?

JON TURTELTAUB: Here’s what happened in that scene. That was going to go somewhere between when Nic goes and talks to Harvey Keitel and finds out this book is real and there’s no way to get it, and telling everyone he’s going to kidnap the President to get it, not that he does that in the movie, he had to deal with whether it was worthy – is this worth it and what is the risk he’s personally taking? It was part of a little sequence, and he goes at sunrise basically to the Lincoln Memorial and he’s standing there in front of Lincoln, and it’s sort of a dialogue between their expressions and faces, and he notices the Gettysburg Address and reads the Gettysburg Address which includes the line which does come up later, ‘the last full measure of devotion’ is mentioned in the Gettysburg Address. And in understanding what people give, because there are issues greater in life than your own safety, he realizes this is something he needs to do, whether for his great grandfather, his current father, or even his friend Riley who said, ‘Trust me on this book thing,’ but it became a little too mushy, sappy and meaningful maybe to some Americans, but you make movies now for the population of the whole planet, and it just sat there as –

MoviesOnline: Too rah rah?

JON TURTELTAUB: Too rah rah, and too yucky.

MoviesOnline: Will you put that on the DVD?

JON TURTELTAUB: Yeah, probably. The photography’s too nice, so you’ve got to show it somewhere.

MoviesOnline: Wasn’t it tough to get permission to go inside the Lincoln Memorial?

JON TURTELTAUB: It’s very tough. A lot of restrictions went with it. They’ll often give permission for documentaries because the crews are very small. Surprisingly what’s tough about shooting in these places is not security, they’re okay with – they know you’re not blowing the place up, their biggest concern is that you’re going to ruin the vacation of a family from Iowa who spent a lot of money to go see the Lincoln Memorial, and what’s great about America is that the Walt Disney Company is not more important than that family on vacation. So we needed to promise them that we wouldn’t upset access, that we wouldn’t ruin someone’s trip, we could only send six people in, and you add to it that the Lincoln Memorial is a little special, it somehow has a spiritual quality to it, and I’m telling you it sounds dumb and hokey, but you’ll feel it if you go, there’s something very –

MoviesOnline: Spiritual?

JON TURTELTAUB: Sacred. I was going to try it, I didn’t have my Thesaurus. But there is a hallowed ground aspect to it, and you’ll hear people lower their voice when they go in because he was killed and because of the awkwardness and humble visage of Lincoln, and you read those words that are inscribed on the walls, it’s really very special and they don’t want to destroy that quality by having a circus inside there.

MoviesOnline: What about shooting in Buckingham Palace and in Paris and all of that?

JON TURTELTAUB: Screw them! [Laughter] Same really. The same. Shooting on the streets of London, you know, a car chase in London is almost impossible but we bite it off in little pieces. We would shoot only on weekends. They would close pieces of streets. There’s no street in London that’s more than two blocks long anyway. So you find that little thing. There’s no way. To go around you got to go to Ireland. And what we would do is we would set up from 3 in the morning until 6 am ‘til the sun came up, shoot ‘til 9 and be gone.

MoviesOnline: How long?

JON TURTELTAUB: Nine weeks of weekends to do that. It’s not cheap.

MoviesOnline: What about Buckingham Palace? Did you actually get inside?

JON TURTELTAUB: No. We kind of had the inside scoop on palaces that look like Buckingham Palace from Helen Mirren. She’s like, ‘You want good Queen stuff, I got the Queen stuff.’ Experts. We created, recreated some stuff. There’s an extraordinary palace literally across the square from Buckingham Palace we used. Again every single person who shot needed to have their names in a week in advance for background checks and security and all that stuff. But if you have the production… You ask why do movies cost so much. This is one of the reasons they cost so much. You need that amount of bureaucracy on your end to organize all of that and be that prepared to get all that done. That cost us $72 million just to do that.

MoviesOnline: Do you think this writer’s strike might be a benefit to Jericho because it will end up being the only new program?

JON TURTELTAUB: And CBS will probably put it on against "American Idol.” [Laughs] That’s probably how that’s going to go. Yeah, maybe. The problem is if it’s a hit, then what? There’s seven episodes. We have seven episodes waiting to be aired but if they’re great, there’s no eighth episode. So who knows? Who knows?

MoviesOnline: Have they given you an air date yet?

JON TURTELTAUB: No, but the rumblings are maybe February. They’re looking sometime in February. I think that’s when they’ve kind of exhausted what they have. I think it’s changed, you know, the notion of canceling shows went out the window because they have nothing to replace shows with so they might as well show what they’ve paid for and see where it takes them. The strike is bad for everybody.

MoviesOnline: How hard will it be to mount up after seven? Is everyone all split up again?

JON TURTELTAUB: Oh no. We can get going. You just got to do it and if the strike’s not over, it’s a problem. There’s no scripts.

MoviesOnline: I mean you can get picked up for September after the strike.

JON TURTELTAUB: That’s true. If we get picked up for September, great. But see this is what they know they made the mistake with the first time was when we went off the air for 13 weeks, the momentum of the Fall season went away and when we came back after the 11 weeks off, we had lost the flow. Look, the same thing happened to Heroes. Heroes had 30% of its viewers lost from the beginning of the season until the end of the season and that was considered a big hit.

MoviesOnline: Was that because they intentionally chopped it in the middle and wait? What is the theory behind this?

JON TURTELTAUB: People aren’t really watching TV during Christmas time, in January, and we want the season to go longer and so…

MoviesOnline: Do you want to pay for extra actors?

JON TURTELTAUB: Well more than that, the belief is that on serials like Jericho and Heroes that reruns don’t play as well. So let’s not have reruns. So instead of showing two, rerunning one, show three, rerun one, let’s wait and show 11 in a row. So that was the theory there.

MoviesOnline: We heard that you just finished the film a few days ago.

JON TURTELTAUB: Yeah, basically.

MoviesOnline: How much pressure was there to deliver the film? How many scenes and how many minutes were cut out and might end up on the DVD?

JON TURTELTAUB: Nothing gets cut out because you don’t have time to make the movie unfortunately. I would have loved for them to say ‘You only have six more weeks. Don’t bother with this.’ They go, ‘You only got six more weeks. You’d better hurry.’ The movie comes first so you just have to … I’m not kidding. It’s 7 days a week, sometimes 24-hour days for 5 straight days. That’s another reason why movies cost a lot of money. You’re working as hard as you can and then one day you’re driving down the street and you see your poster with a date on it. Okay? The movie’s coming out that day so you’re put in the position of how good is your movie going to be and I can stay here and not see my kid or I can just say that’s the best I can do. It’s a tough position to put people in but what are you going to do?

MoviesOnline: What’s the running time.

JON TURTELTAUB: It’s 2 hours.

MoviesOnline: Do you have 20 or 30 minutes you think is going to end up on the DVD?

JON TURTELTAUB: There’s two answers to that. The first cut was 3 hours and 55 minutes long. Okay? So there’s about an hour and 50 minutes cut. That’s a movie. That’s an actual version 3 done. I want $11 million please. The fact of the matter is…alright here’s a little inside scoop. Everybody believes in the financial world that "Pirates of the Caribbean 3” would have made another $50 to $100 million had it been 45 minutes shorter. Okay? The filmmakers will say you’re wrong. It made this money because it worked at this length. The studio says it would have worked at 45 minutes shorter and more people could’ve seen the damned movie and people can go more than once and all of that. So the studio was really concerned about the length. That’s coupled with I’m always concerned about the length. I don’t like really long movies and I know when a movie feels too long. Now it’s dumb to cut things out just for the length but I’ll tell you a scene can be boring if there’s 2 hours of movie in front of it and not boring if there’s 1 hour of movie in front of it. So the film itself can benefit from being shorter.
That said, just ‘cause scenes get cut out doesn’t mean they were bad and doesn’t mean they were boring. Sometimes they’re terrific scenes that were just not necessary when you look at the whole thing to the movie. Some scenes get cut out because they don’t quite work and for me, why would I still want to show that on a DVD? It’s like, you know, ‘Look what a shitty job we did.’ It’s crazy putting these deleted scenes on some of these DVDs and I know film buffs and people like it but they never play great because they’re always out of context. So you’re sitting there not really watching a scene in the movie. You’re sort of watching other things and it’s just dumb. But ‘Oh, it sells DVDs and [the audience] loves it.’ ‘Really? It does? Will I get more money?’ ‘Yes. Here.’ [Laughs] So the good deleted scenes will be on there.

MoviesOnline: Are you anticipating any flack for having Mayan culture underneath the mountains in South Dakota?

JON TURTELTAUB: No. And in fact our philosophy, our deal was that it’s not necessarily Mayan, it’s Native American…

[Justin Bartha joins the press conference]

Justin Bartha: Stop talking!

JON TURTELTAUB: …and we’ve undersold and underpaid attention to the art and architecture and culture of the Native American world that had a lot of contact with the North American Native Americans and that’s why I’m leaving.

MoviesOnline: Thank you.

JON TURTELTAUB: Thanks guys.

"National Treasure: Book of Secrets” opens in theaters on December 21st.


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