McG Interview, Terminator Salvation

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

McG talks Terminator 4 with us and spills the beans on the film, its rating and making an epic Terminator film! The Comic Con mayhem continues as we settle back from our trip to San Diego and start to deliver on the many interviews we did in San Diego. We already gave you a taste of McG but now we have the complete interview for your enjoyment. McG has had some controvery from fans about his appointment as director of Terminator 4 but without question he is passionate about the film and the films before it and is determined to please us fans.

Obviously Terminator has an existing franchise, so where are you able to add elements to make this your own?

MCG: Truthfully, I think any filmmaker tries to go on a film by film basis, and do what's right for what's in front of them. I'm very pleased with the Charlie's Angels pictures, and what I was trying to do with those movies is just break down the glass ceiling ,and say, you can make a successful female action picture. But that was a long time ago, and I'm a different filmmaker now, and I made a movie after that about a plane crash.

I've been afraid of flying for a long time. I needed to sort of face that catharsis, that Joseph Campbell moment of facing what you're most afraid of. That was the impetus for making We Are Marshall. And now I wanted to make a movie that was about posing ethical questions to the audience, and suggesting that the film won't be easy. It's going to be a little elliptical in the way you ride along the picture.

As far as the look and what we wanted to do with this, I wanted to create a new film language. We talked to Kodak about creating a new stock that had never been photographed before. I told you about how we're adding three times as much silver to a color stock than has ever been added, and that gives it an ethereal sort of quality that suggests something's off. Something is wrong with the world that we're living in. I just wanted to create a very, very gritty language. I'm tremendously influenced by Children of Men. Hats off to that picture, I think it's fantastic, and I hope more people get a chance to see it.

But by the same token this isn't designed to be an art picture. This is designed to be a picture shared the world over. So you’ve got to find that balance between that artistic take and that artistic look and what's right for a film designed to be seen by a great many people around the world. I must say we're very, very pleased with the way the film looks and feels. You guys be the judge. You just saw it. I'm hoping it has that grit that I speak of.

Can you talk about the involvement of Jonah Nolan in the script? And also can you tell us does the film end on a cliffhanger?

MCG: The film does indeed end on a cliffhanger. Jonah Nolan is an extraordinarily cerebral guy. So when you got Jonah Nolan on your left, and Christian Bale on your right, and Sam Worthington kicking you in the head right in front of you, it’ll definitely keep you on your toes. I would have to characterize Jonah as the lead writer of the film. I don't know how the WGA rules work. I'm looking at Sam from Sony, you probably know better. But honest to goodness we did the heaviest lifting with Jonah, and that's where we all got together and talked about what we were up to. He's just a very, very cerebral guy. You know, and he and Chris behind Memento and The Prestige, and certainly the Batman pictures, they are deep, deep thinkers.

Can you talk about how it was like meeting James Cameron?

MCG: Well it was a double dip. I was going down to see Sam, down at the Marina Del Rey space there by LAX, and it was a complete motion cap environment. Sam's in his data suit and everybody's running around with little balls hanging off their leotards, and I got to play with the cameras and talk to Jim at length. We'd had several phone calls, and he knows that I respect him a great deal. And like I said, I did not want to move forward on this picture if Jim Cameron were like, “Fuck you. What are you doing? You have no business moving forward on this.” Very simply I would have acquiesced and said, “You're right. You're the creator of what it is, and I respect that.” And he was very encouraging, and we talked at length about the story, we talked about Sam. Most particularly, we talked about his experience on Aliens, and the idea of, you can't live in fear, you've got to move forward.

I remember when I was on Superman and people were kicking the shit out of me, and saying, “What kind of guy calls himself McG?” It's the privilege of the public to just do that not knowing that McG is short for McGinty and I've been called that since the day I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There's nothing Hollywood about it. It's a function of being poor and having three Joes in one household, so they didn't call me Joe. They called me McG, short for McGinty, my mother's maiden name. But of course, as I say, we live in a shorthand society and people do what they’ve got to do. I've talked extensively to Bryce about [how] you've got to be on Happy Days before you can become the great Ron Howard. Maybe you’ve got to be Spicoli before you can be Sean Penn, and maybe you’ve got to do some time on 21 Jump Street before you can grow into the boots of Johnny Depp. There's nothing wrong with paying your dues and I'm certainly willing to pay mine.

Can you talk about working with Christian Bale over the last few weeks as he came onto the film?

MCG: I'm delighted to speak about Christian because I think everybody up here can talk about it. He's the most professional, passionate actor you're ever going to find. I mean it's just that simple. You're looking at some professional actors sitting here now, and Bale is just all about the work. He loves his wife, he loves his child, he loves being an actor. He's not interested in materialistic things. He wants to come to work prepared. I can't go, “Okay, Christian, you go off camera left.” Christian is going to talk to me, “What went into the decision to go off camera left?” which is wonderful. It's the elegant opposition you want.

You don't want people just going, “Yeah, whatever, tell me what to do and we'll do it.” Everybody up here challenges all the time. She (Moon Bloodgood) got shot in the leg. She wanted to know the degree to which her limp should take place. She (Bryce Dallas Howard) plays a doctor in the film, so we've got doctors all over the place trying to tell us how to perform properly so it's credible to the medical community. Look at Common, the gun training these guys had to go through, so these guys that work for, what is it, Blackwater, in all these secret spots, come in and tell us how to take down a house and carry a gun properly and when you swing through your own people you break the axis of the rifle. Just such focused acting to honor the story we're telling and make it look credible, and Christian sets an excellent example in that way. Just for the record, he's a big hearted, good guy. And I've worked with a lot of people and that's just simply who he is.

Can you talk about the rating? You've been shooting stuff that’s not necessarily PG-13?

MCG: Like I said, Rubinoff is here today. Jeff Rubinoff runs Warner Bros., he just walked out of the room. A guy named Jeff Blake's here today, he just went over to Judd Apatow's panel. He and Amy Pascal actually run Sony. Both of them are perfectly comfortable with the rating of our picture. We don't aim. I mean, Sam, Anton, Moon, Bryce, Common, we shoot the picture. Sam's still got blood on his hands and the makeup from what we went through yesterday and all the physical needs of that scene, and we just shoot, shoot, shoot. And that's not to say, “And therefore it's going to be NC-17.” You know what I mean?

You and I discussed this. I have no problem with a PG13 picture. I just saw The Dark Knight and I thought it was a work of art. I thought it was immaculate. I thought it was made compromise-free. I don't think Chris had to go, “Ah, damn it, if I could just do what I want to do, and get that R that I want, the picture would be better.” So I am saying I'm not afraid of a PG13 rating at all, but we are not rooting for anything, and I'm not going to let the fan base down trying to target a rating.

The only people that would give us a hard time about that would indeed be the studios, which you have to respect because they put a lot of money behind the making of the film. And like I said, Jeff Blake, I'll literally grab him, and Rubinoff, who was sitting in the front row, they don't care. So if they say, “Deliver an R-rated picture,” I mean that's really freeing. It allows us to do what we want to do with the film, so the film will rule the day, we'll all be looking at rough cuts together and we'll make those decisions.

And if it just comes down to, whoops, there's too much blood on the head of the Marcus character, and that's what pops you into an R, I don't think that makes the film infinitely more valuable. So I get back to a PG13. If they want to get rid of, “Oops, you can't have T600s carrying mini-guns,” well then no, it's an R, because there are certain things that are part of the iconographic nature of the film. You know, we talked about all this when we were on the set together. Like I said, we just are really making the film in a vacuum, so we're just doing what we think is right creatively, day in and day out.

The continuity in the Terminator films was always a little flexible and no one really minds because they’re such wonderful stories. T2 is 10 years later and John looks like he’s 13. What's your take on the timeline when this starts?

MCG: Well there's no doubt that at the beginning of T3, for example, begins with a bit of a punt as to what happened at the end of T2, and there's some rejuggling of the timelines. We're largely treating it as though the bombs have gone off. I'm not going to share with you what the date is when the bombs go off, and we come into the picture in 2018.

We’ve done the best we can to honor the timelines that have been put into place and I think it ultimately feels very satisfying. If we've done our job properly, then this will be regarded as the statement of the time and the place and the where and the when and the why and the how. And it comes from a place of doing a lot of research with, you know, futurists, with scientists who talk about how long it would take the atmosphere to clear itself out so you could actually go back outside and do your thing.

We're trying to just sort of amalgamate the three pictures and amalgamate the intention, and then answer that to the best of our ability. Again, there are certain things that are in stone. The T800 comes in 2029, you know. We're building towards that place. Therefore, if hardware should show up in 2018 that was supposed to be around in 2029, that's a problem for John Connor.

What do you remember about seeing the first Terminator film? What resonated with you and sticks with you now as you make Terminator Salvation?

MCG: I've always regarded the first picture as a horror picture. It's a chase picture. It's Halloween. What's the difference between Schwarzenegger in the first picture and Michael Myers in Halloween? Which is wonderful, I'm complimenting the picture. And then the second picture, I thought brought a level of complexity that you can't hope to achieve on a sequel. Sequels are tough. I made an inadequate sequel. I made it with this woman back here, Kim Greene. We made a good first picture and the second picture was a lesser picture. I blame you. You did the makeup! How many sequels are better than the original? Arguably, the second Godfather. Arguably. Arguably, Jim's Aliens. Dark Knight? Arguably, Empire. But it's a short list, we all agree. You know what I mean? Far more often than not we go to the sequel and go, “What!?” You know? And we all feel very…Which one?

Meatballs?

MCG: Meatballs 2 was shit. Let's be honest.

So what does that mean for you in terms of continuing on?

MCG: Well, the easy thing for us is we happen after the bombs. Just put most simply, every other picture has been present day. This is after it happened, so therefore it's a totally new beginning. It's a totally new beginning. Are the lights on? [holds up robotic head to demonstrate] That's so graphic and so wonderful. This is where it all happens. Inside this, the CPU that will represent the rise of the machines to a place of complete dominance. We're heading towards that place very rapidly, day in, day out. I'm looking at all the open laptops. I'm looking at the digital cameras. All these things are brand new and just getting faster and more intelligent and more intuitive all the time.

How does the TV series relate to this?

MCG: I'm a buddy with Josh Friedman who runs the show. We had a meeting early on and we want to honor that at all times, but we can't… I know about episodic television, with The OC and Chuck and Supernatural, what it takes to generate stories hour in, hour out every week. We just put most fairly, and Josh was the first to jump on and say so, we can't chase their story threads, you know? We honor it. We're all using the same language, but this is this and that is that, and I say that as a huge fan of the series. Where's Jean? Jean and I talk about it all the time, she watches every minute of it and comes back and we report on it and do the whole thing. But at some point you've got to create some freedom and tell the story that you regard as most compelling.

Is the rapid advancement of technologies scary to you or do you embrace it?

MCG: I think it's a scary thing and it needs to be... Who here would suggest that humanity is in great shape? Think about it. We're melting the oceans. We have a true population problem. I always talk about it, if I type A and N in my Blackberry, it types the D. That's artificial intelligence. It's no longer George Orwell. It's here. I meant what I said about don't work on getting happy, just manipulate the chemicals of your brain. How far can we go with that? And where does humanity begin and the machine world end? We can deconstruct the human genome so if your dad had high blood pressure, your kid doesn't have to. It's kind of scary and amazing, and therefore that whole idea of Pandora's box. This is just an illustration of here we go, and it's likely to happen. Think about how much more quickly a computer can make a decision than our human mind can. And should that computer become aware, who knows?

Can you talk about that as a filmmaker. I know you’ve gone very practical with this versus using CGI? What about technology in filmmaking?

MCG: Here's the thing: All the machines you see in his film are physics based. It would be no different than if you and I went out to Skunk Works and said, “What have you guys got on the CAD Systems?” Wings articulating and engines doing what they do, and G suits that create, you know, blood flow back to the head so you don't to pass out and creating impossible turns. What you're going to see is not built that I'm aware of, but based in physical reality. It's not just like Hovercraft and simple dopey things. All day long we're out there with Ospreys out in New Mexico. Ospreys are those aircraft that take off vertically like helicopters, then mid-flight rotate and move to fly like a fixed-wing aircraft. You just watch that, that's influencing us all day, every day and it's just, here we go. What are the limits? Who knows?

Imagine how you felt the first time you saw a stealth fighter? Honest to goodness. I remember seeing that son-of-a-bitch and I could not believe that was real. I could not believe that was real, and here's the funny thing, how long ago did we roll out those stealth bombers and the stealth fighters? 10, 15 years ago even? ‘89? Okay, a long time [ago]. So think about when that was on the books. ‘75? Imagine what some whiz kid at MIT or in the black ops operation of Langley. Think about what they're up to. That's the stuff that just sort of says enough is enough and it's a question. Rutger Hauer posed it. I, Robot got into it. It's everything Asimov. It's everything in Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?

All I care about is how does the film look and feel because we’re in the business of doing a lot of listening. We are halfway through the movie. My process is to look and go “Hey, Worthington, did you see what happened at Comic-Con? We should do a late Common. You know, Bryce, let’s do it this way.” I’m still making this movie. I’ve told everybody that ours is a transparent style. I have what I intend to do, but the movie belongs to you guys. It’s not bullshit. I will make my little $10 million Merchant Ivory movies in the future. This is Terminator. I want us to collectively get excited about the movie.

Thanks to Warner Brothers for setting this up and of course look for more indepth Terminator 4 coverage all year long! You can checkout the trailer for Terminator 4 below.

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