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Eight Below - Frank Marshall interview

Eight Below, Frank Marshall

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FRANK Marshall, producer of the Indiana Jones trilogy, and director of Arachnaphobia and now Eight Below, talks about the challenges of filming his latest project, as well as some of the fun he had on the set…

Q. You were filming in Smithers, north of Vancouver. How were the conditions?
A. It was pretty rugged and yet very civilized. It was much different to when I did Alive, where we had to helicopter in every day with the crew and equipment. We had a luxury ride up the mountain in the morning and then we got in our snow mobiles and snow cats. Incredibly, we had found this place that sort of served as a kind of Antarctic back lot, where we had six locations within five or ten minutes of each other on top of the mountain that has no trees. Any direction we looked it was flat and there were snow-covered mountains around. So it was fabulous for us to be able to move should the weather change. Something I learned on Alive is that you have to anticipate what’s going to happen, so when it would start to go from sun to a white out or a blizzard we were ready to move. I would prepare with the actors every morning three different scenes depending on what the weather was like. We used it as a positive aspect even though it was freezing and changing all the time. I wanted the movie to feel realistic, especially as I don’t do well in the office or on a sound stage. It was nice to be up in the elements.

Q. How important was it that Paul Walker bonded with the dogs?
A. As a director, it was important that the dogs were always in the same scene with the characters and that we weren’t cheating by cutting to close-ups of the dogs doing something. What that required was for Paul to have a relationship with them, otherwise they’d be looking out for their trainer and throwing their eyeline in the wrong direction. Paul was always able to get them focused. I also knew that this was going to be a challenge to direct the dogs, so we actually shot for four weeks with just the dogs before we brought the actors in so I could figure out a learning curve for the crew and myself. I needed to know where we could put the trainers and how we could walk the scenes to feel like they were real. I wanted the scenes with the dogs to feel like they were scenes with the human characters.

Q. Was Jason Biggs comfortable with the fact that he was going to have so many affectionate moments with the animals?
A. [Laughs] Jason was a real trooper. He didn’t like the baby food that we had to smear on but he was up for anything. I think one of the nice things that happened is that the relationship in the movie between Jason’s character and Paul’s became the same one that Paul and Jason had. They hadn’t met each other until they came on the mountain and they’re real buddies now.
I also didn’t know that he had a broken ankle. Luckily, he had big boots, so he would take out the inside of the boot, put this cast in there and was running around. It was amazing.

Q. Do you find it more exciting to work on a big adventure film like this, rather than producing something like The Bourne Ultimatum?
A. It’s two questions, really. I do prefer directing. As a producer I’m in support and in service to the vision of the director but in this case, I found this story was something I could be really passionate about and so I wanted to be the storyteller. I love working in these big canvasses and in an environment that’s really unusual. I love showing people a place that they could never go to themselves and having these adventure stories take place. This one really had everything. It was a challenge to make.
I think Bourne is in another genre and category. That’s also been very satisfying and rewarding in that it’s kind of a new franchise. With all due respect, it’s sort of the new James Bond. I love James Bond but Bourne operates in the real world, he doesn’t have gadgets and fun things to get him out of tough situations.
But for me being the director, being out there and being in charge was great. I had a fantastic time.

Q. How many dogs did you audition for this?
A. It was interesting. I knew that because it was a dog ensemble movie that they had to be pretty distinct. You had to be able to pick them out. They also needed a personality of their own, particularly in the case of Mya and Max, the lead dogs. So I looked at about 50 or 60 dogs that also had to have some semblance of training. You couldn’t just pick one off the website that looked right – they had to do a lot of things that required being trained from when they were pups.
Mya had this wonderful, motherly, noble face. So it sort of fell into place once I narrowed it down. The one poor choice I made, which turned out to be Paul’s favourite dog, was Shorty, the all-white dog. When we were first putting the group together, I thought the easiest thing to do was have the white dog as the leader. But I’d just met these trainers and Mike Alexander, the head guy, took me to one side and said: “You don’t want to do that.” He was right because this dog became my nemesis. He would never do what we wanted him to do. Once he got on the sled he was fine, but otherwise his role in the film was quite diminished because he wouldn’t behave.

Q. Were there days when you got quite frustrated because the dogs wouldn’t do what you wanted?
A. We had two funny things happen. The first was the scene where the dogs come over the hill and are looking out at the birds. The trainers had them all set and we rolled but they all had the urge at the same time and they were all suddenly off doing their business, peeing everywhere. We had to call in the yellow team.
Then, the hardest thing for the dogs to do was to look tired, be hungry and walk slowly. So there was a scene at the end of the movie where I wanted to do this wide shot with them all walking along in the frame which was difficult because you had to have 12 trainers around – six either side. They had to be far enough away so they weren’t in the shot. But the further they were away, the less control they had over what was happening. Every single take, we had it all set and Shorty would come bounding through and we’d have to cut. Finally, I just took him out because he was supposed to be starving and he’d be wagging his tale and acting friendly.

Q. Do the dogs actually sleep in the snow, as the film shows?
A. Yeah. They’re the only ones that like to be out in it. They stay warm by getting buried in the snow. They dig a hole and they all sleep outside.

Q. How many times did you make Jason and Paul run from the sauna into the cold in their underwear?
A. [Laughs] I think it was eight times.

Q. And what was the temperature?
A. I’d say it was probably minus 10.

Q. Why did the film change its name from Antarctica to Eight Below?
A. It was actually pretty basic. We didn’t have the rights to the title Antarctica. In a funny way, I also thought it was a little bit too National Geographic. I liked Eight Below because it refers to several different things – below the Equator, below zero and the eight dogs. And, of course, the eight takes it took Paul and Jason to do the sauna scene.

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