Interview: National Treasure 2 director Jon Turteltaub
Tue, 20 May 2008 12:18:27
Nicolas Cage Videos
There's an art to making a sequel. A filmmaker can't just rehash the same storyline, but he also can't completely abandon what made the original special. That's the balance that National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub aimed to strike while making the film's sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. He definitely succeeded, as the flick preserves its predecessor’s characters and tone, but takes viewers down a completely different plot path filled with political and historical intrigue. Jon sat down with ARTISTdirect to discuss the process and why it's sometimes not fun, but can nevertheless be almost as rewarding as a "City of Gold."
Would you say that National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is a natural evolution from the first film?
I hope so. It's an interesting word that you just used, because a sequel, in some ways, does have to be an evolution and not just a repeat of the exact same thing. There's a difference between an evolution and a clone. You have to take the characters somewhere that they haven't been yet. You have to develop the characters and relationships further, and I hope we did that.
The continuity between the two films is very clear, and with many sequels, that's not the case.
Since the beginning, we believed that the first movie was successful because audiences liked the characters, their relationships, and what they stood for. So that was the most important part to capture and develop in the second film for us. You're working a little bit in the dark on a sequel, because you're guessing. It's like when you go on a date with someone and it goes really well. Then you just want to have the exact same date again, because you obviously did something right that the girl liked. So you're going to try and do it again. However, you're still guessing if she liked your hair, your shoes, your sense of humor, or the fact that your voice sounds nice. Who knows? So if you go back and use the same decision-making process that you used the first time, you'll probably make good decisions the second.
Does that come from a technical aspect, such as the actual filmmaking, or is it the script?
It's a combination of far more than just those two. It starts with getting the cast back. We wanted to have as many people from the first movie as we could get in the second, because we liked all of those people. We feel the chemistry of all of them combined made a good movie. I'm sure there are people who we could make a movie without, but it doesn't feel that way to us. So that's the primary element. The next thing is that the production group has to be the same, i.e. Jerry Bruckheimer, myself, the writers, and the other producers. We all have a huge creative part. After that, once you have all of those elements in place, you're really just trying to recapture mood and tone more than anything else. That's what audiences respond to. They want to be in the world of that movie more than they want to see the exact same story again.
Viewers want to enter into the world and experience "real characters." Having such a rich back story is paramount to the film's success. It's important to feel that sense of history.
That's where it gets real tricky with the writing, because you need to make these stories have a personal connection to the characters. That's where you're desperately making shit up [laughs]. We draw the historical stuff completely from fact. The way it pertains to these characters is the fictionalized connection to the history and to each other. That's where the difficult creative work comes in.
It's got to be fun, because you face those different challenges in making a sequel.
[Laughs] I don't know if anyone says this in interviews, but the fact is, it's not really all that much fun. As far as jobs go, making movies is a lot of fun. As far as fun goes, it's not that much fun at all. If I wanted to do something fun, I would probably not go make a movie. I'd stay home and play with my kid. I'd go to Disneyland. I'd go to Africa. The fact is, it's painful. When you're not shooting, it's a lot of people sitting in a room arguing. You're feeling awful, because you can't think of something great. Or, you're feeling awful because you have thought of something great, and someone else disagrees. Basically, that's how you spend your day. When you're shooting, you're doing all of the same things, except it's three in the morning. The only really fun parts of making a movie are the friends you make and the success it has. If the film isn't successful, then it's really no fun. Am I shattering illusions? [Laughs] Am I supposed to say, "It's like a family! We just love going to work everyday." It is like a family, you're arguing all the time.
However, do you develop some really great friendships with the people you do connect with on set?
No question, and this was a very unique experience, because this was the first sequel I've done. It's the first sequel most of us had done other than Jerry and his group. Nicolas Cage had never done a sequel before. Now that I think about, no one in the cast had done a sequel before. So it was new to all of us. The most surprising thing was how easy day one was. Usually day one is pretty terrifying, because everyone is struggling to get to know each other. Just like everyone else, we spend the whole first week wondering if anyone likes us and if we're loved. Here, we all knew we liked each other. We got along really well on the first one, so on day one, we were already making fun of one another. It didn't take us that long. Usually you're really nice at the beginning, and then halfway through, you start being mean to each other. We were comfortable being mean on the first day [laughs].
Was the idea for the sequel in place already when the first movie was written or was it a result of the first film's success?
The thought to do a sequel was in my head before we even did the first movie. When we first developed the National Treasure idea, the notion was that this was the kind of recurring character you could make a string of movies with. Then you throw that all out and just focus on making the one movie. It wasn't until the first one was successful that the studio turned to us and said, "Okay, where's the next one?" A lot of things have to go into making a sequel. Most of all, the filmmakers have to believe that they can still make a good movie. You also need an audience that's young enough to be in the same state of mind when they go see your sequel. If you take 10 years between sequels, the 21-year-olds are suddenly 31-year-olds, and they're at a different place in their lives, and they may not be as interested.
Movies have a much longer life on DVD too.
They most definitely do. DVDs have had a huge effect on films. The success of the DVD has a lot to do with determining if a sequel gets made. If the DVD is a huge success, then it means there's interest in the film after the film is gone from theaters. People are still talking about your film, and they're still interested in that world. Before, you only based it on a pure box office number. Now, there are movies that are huge successes, but if the DVD is not that big of a hit, it's clear that the audience is done with it. They liked it, but they're done. It could only live on that big screen for them for that moment in time.
How do you choose extras and bonus materials for DVDs?
It's a combination of stuff we throw in, but mostly, it's the work of people whose full-time job it is to make compelling DVDs. They conceive stylistic ideas of bonus materials and featurettes, and they go out and produce them like you would a documentary. It's pretty amazing what gets done now. Whole documentary movies are made and they appear on DVD. Technology has a lot to do with it. When one DVD could only handle two hours of material, you just got a low quality version of the movie. Technology expanding gives the opportunity to do so much more. I think the DVD departments of studios have become so amazing.
Do you think all of that bonus material brings fans of a movie closer to the characters or do you think it dispels some of the film's mystique? Personally, I've always been torn between those two sentiments.
Me too. I don't know that it matters. I still believe that people go and buy a DVD because they want to see and own that movie, unless there's some kind of extraordinary, well known and well talked about feature on the DVD. It's a good question. Clearly, you and I are wrong, because the people who choose to spend the money to make the DVD are putting all of these extra things on there. The answer always lies in the money. So if they're spending the money, it must make a difference. Logically, I'd have to say yeah. A lot of people buy DVDs or choose to buy one DVD over another because of the bonus material. There's something new or different. Audiences love deleted scenes and bloopers, but they also like seeing something more than they might have. What's also a conundrum for me is understanding the audience for a DVD, because some movies are clearly just for kids, and the DVD is just for kids. Some movies are clearly for adults, and the DVD is just for adults. A movie like National Treasure has a broad audience so if we're putting on a special feature about the sonic history or the conspiracies of John Wilkes Booth, that's not exactly going to light up the eyes of a six-year-old. At the same time, a bunch of fun, goofy games on there is not the reason that my parents are going to buy a DVD. So it gets a little tricky, actually.
Are you planning another National Treasure now?
We are planning it. Whether we make it or not is tricky. We will make it if we feel we're not going to embarrass ourselves by making it, which means we think we've come up with a great story and somewhere for the characters to go. Other than that, movies succeed 95 percent of the time because they're good. So if you set out to make a not-so-good movie, you're probably going to fail.