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Flight of the Phoenix - John Moore Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. What's this curious obsession with planes?
A.
It's funny people refer to it as a curious obsession but did you know that aviation magazines outsell porn in the world? They sell more magazines than porn, so I think there are a lot more plane enthusiasts out there than.... [laughs]
No, I just love airplanes. I love to photograph them, I love the way they look, I think they are fascinating things and I think the only thing more fascinating than flying them is crashing them, so that makes for a good, easy, scary thing to do in the movie.

Q. It was a great plane crash in the film, so did you get a lot of pleasure from that?
A.
It was a mix of pleasure and pain. We used a lot of miniatures, which doesn't get done much nowadays - it's another lost art. I don't think since Independence Day there's been a big miniature-based movie, even Day After Tomorrow where you see the flood hit New York, all the buildings are CG, everything. There were no models at all used. So I was quite determined to use miniatures, because I'd had a little bit of a bad experience with CG airplanes on Behind Enemy Lines; there were one or two shots that worked, and there were one or two that were just horrendous and we ran out of money. Whereas with miniatures, if you build it and it looks great all you have to do is photograph them, your kind of halfway home if you've got the scale right and things like that. So we built a big miniature of the C119, which was like a quarter of a million dollars worth of miniature, and then we used the highly skilled and complicated technique of lifting it into the air and dropping it into the ground to film the crash. So it was pleasure and pain.

Q. I believe Dennis Quaid has an actual pilot's licence?
A.
Yeah, he's multi-rated, he flies jets and everything.

Q. So was that influential in you casting him?
A.
I knew he was a pilot and an aviation buff, so I knew that the film would have caught his eye. It turned out it was his father's favourite movie, so I think that also was a bit of a giggle for him to be able to do that.

Q. But he didn't get to fly a plane in the film?
A.
No, he wanted to; the aeroplane we used, which is the C119, which is the cargo plane that they turn into the Phoenix, he was due to fly that but unfortunately we had an accident on set that grounded the airplane that prevented him from flying it on the last day, so he was pretty bumed out.

Q. Can we take it that everything they do is feasible?
A.
Yeah it is. I mean there's a touch of movie nonense in there. But there are no sets in the movie, everything you see are parts of airplanes; there's nothing pre-fabbed or made lighter. Obviously, there's hidden wires and what have you but everything is very practical. Myself and the production designer sat with a couple of guys who used to work at Lockheed Martin, where they built a fair amount of stuff, and kind of had them bullshit test what we were doing. And they were sort of like, 'yeah, it's doable', if you know what I mean? Obviously, it's a little far-fetched, but it's very practical and sort of realistic.

Q. So how did you come to choose the desert?
A.
Well, we went around the world. The movie's set in The Gobi Desert and we went to Morocco and the places aren't that good in Morocco - they're shooting at each other over the Algerian border, so we couldn' go there. We went to Beijing and sat in a hotel for seven days, cos every time we'd go down to the lobby to go to Mongolia, they'd go 'your papers haven't come through', so that was a fucking waste of time. And then we went to Namibia on the way back and it was, like, 'well how the hell did we miss this first time around?' It's just amazing.
The only sort of very well-known film that had shot there previously was The Cell, but that was a much smaller unit. We were bringing the whole sort of circus in, so it was quite a big deal for them.
And it was just perfect, I mean we flew around and knew this was the place.
You know, in America there are some deserts, and some Southern Iraqi looking stuff, but the minute you get airborn you start seeing parallel lines and roads and things like that, so I was very determined to make this stuff as realistic as possible.

Q. How long were you actually based there?
A.
I was there, all told, for about seven and a half months.

Q. Did you have a love-hate relationship with the dunes?
A.
It's physically very demanding on the crew. It's alright for me, I could sit in a box and say 'action' and 'cut' but they've got to hump all the gear in and stuff gets broken all the time because the silicate in the sand conducts electricity, so it gets into the camera and it will shut it down. So yeah, it was trying for the crew when the sand gets everywhere.
And it keeps moving. Over a period of four months one of the major dunes that was sort of featured in 30% of the shots reduced in height by something like 120ft. So, I mean the production designer spent most of his days in a bulldozer trying to put back what nature had decided we didn't need any more overnight.
It literally is so fluid - more like an ocean than desert.

Q. And did you have a runner with a rake?
A.
We had 222 of them, they were called dune-groomers and we had shirts made with that written on it. A whole team of them were hired and I think a lot of them were ex-military because they would form themselves into squad sections and run with their rakes. The set was so big that we did honestly have over 200 dune-groomers because one stray footprint and your fucked. A cup would like blow away and it'd be 'don't go after it'! And you'd get some over-eager PA chasing after the cup!

Q. Are you filming The Last Mission in the Philippines?
A.
That's not set but it would the first place I would go to, certainly, to get the feel for it. And if it was feasible I would film it there.
I mean I'm very simplistic - if something's set in the desert, I'll shoot it in the desert. If something's set in the Philippines, the first place I'll look is there, because it really helps the cast when you are where you say you are, rather than green screen nonsese and crap like that.

Q. But the flipside of that is that, as much as it helped the cast to be in a desert environment, was there a Four Seasons hotel nearby?
A.
No. Absolutely not. If you look at a map of Namibia, there's a small town on the western seaboard called Swakopmund, and that's where we were based. It's a very small sort of German tourist town, because they have a lot of holiday homes there, they go in two weeks a year and let the desert take over for the rest of it. So no there were genuinely no Starbucks, Sushis or Four Seasons and that suited me fine because people concentrate more when there's not all that stuff.

Q. But after seven months of you, surely you must have changed that economy?
A.
We put a lot of money in there and hired a lot of local people but we didn't.... our thing looked more like a military operation because we had to build and create everything that we had, so it was all very rudimentary; our base camp was made out of 40ft containers, like sea-going containers, so that's where all the equipment was stored, and that's where people worked and ate. So if you needed to get somewhere, you had to build a road and then put it back.
They're very smart in Namibia, the government is very co-operative but you have to recover the area. In fact, we just finished recovering; we spent the year with a very small local crew recovering everything that we touched.
The local location guy is very sensitive. He's not in it for a quick buck. He's a bit of a hippie, actually. He'll play ball but you have to recover things. I'm sorry, I don't mean to disparage him, he's a concerned environmentalist and he won't let you fuck with his desert.

Q. Was filming in those conditions any great hardship for the cast?
A.
At the start, some more than others were a little moany. I mean we had one cast member who wanted to leave the day he got there. He just freaked out when he realised he was going to be there for four months. And there's no easy escape - even if you freak out, you can't hop on a plane to anywhere. You're three flights away from most places that high maintenance actors would want to be. So he just really freaked and wanted to leave and so had to be talked off the ledge two days before we started shooting.

Q. Can you give us his initials?
A.
[laughs] It's not DQ.

Q. Was the scene with the shovel and the rotating sign genuine?
A.
That was Hugh Laurie's improv. He literally came up with that scene just by the by. And, you know, you're not going to turn down a comic tip from Hugh Laurie. So we just shot it, plain and simple, in five minutes.

Q. There must be a small sense in which the group adopts a natural leader, perhaps?
A.
Absolutely and especially in that sort of environment, in the situation we put ourselves in, there was a carry over. People started to be who they were playinhg and playing who they were, you know? Definitely there was an osmosis that occurred. And hats off to Dennis because he's a real morale-upper; he's a lot of fun to work with. He had a sort of grouchy reputation, but I don't know where he got that. I think he just winds people up for fun, shouts at them, but half the time he's just laughing at himself, and he was very good when people started to get down. He'd be like, 'oh come on, shut the fuck up, you're getting paid aren't you?'

Q. Did he miss his music for three to four months?
A.
He had his guitar with him, so he'd sit on the edge of his trailer and jam away. And Hugh's a great guitarist as well, a jazz guitarist, so there were occasional, spontaneous jams.

Q. And Miranda being the only girl, was that tough?
A.
You know, I never talked to her about it but she handled herself without a problem. Miranda's a very beautiful woman but she's not, like, stupid, dumb, Hollywood beautiful, and it was essential, when casting for that part, that they weren't all going to be tits and arse! You know what I mean? Believe me, there was a certain pressure to cast that type of actress for a bit of 'T&A' in the movie but we weren't going to do that and we didn't go for any dumb-arse love story, or anything like that. And she's great, she's very authentic, I believe in her in the part, and I think the minute you see her on-screen you think 'yeah, she could be there'.

Q. And being an Australian as well?
A.
Yeah, again, I didn't want anyone to put on an accent. Tony Curran played his natural Glaswegian accent, she played her Australian accent because, you know, oil rigs, that's the sort of disparate kind of losers you get [laughs].

Q. Tell us a little bit about Phoenix Diaries, your documentary?
A.
Oh yeah, Steven French, he's a documentarian, was hired to follow us. Because what you get on movies is the usual fluff piece in three days when the camera crew turns up and watches the explosions and everyody doing high-fives and all that fucking crap, so we hired Steven. The sort of deal with Fox was that we were going to pay him nothing but we've no editorial control over what he does.
So, he's really good at what he does, and he hung around for like four or five months that we were there filming everything and got very intimate with the cast and crew, and so got some fantastically embarrassing stuff. We immediately regretted not paying him!

Q. Is this where we find out who the moany actor is then?
A.
You might do. Yeah, it's going to be, I believe, on the European two-disc set.

Q. Do you yearn to make a big film in Ireland?
A.
I'd love to.

Q. And with your background and accent, has anyone ever tried to tie you up with Colin Farrell?
A.
Ironically enough, I met Colin for Behind Enemy Lines, for the Owen Wilson part. He'd just kind of hit Hollywood and I met him for a pint.

Q. Who swears more, you or him?
A.
Dead heat! But it just didn't work out. There was a genuine moment where we were going to try and hook that up. I don't know whether people think, I'm Irish, he's Irish, get them together, but who knows it might happen? I don't get asked to read scripts that could be set in Ireland because I know there's a sensibility, well-earned, for good Irish movies. They tend to be passion-based projects that aren't uber-commercial. For that reason, we don't do action movies in Ireland. You know, they tend to be better, story-based movies.

Q. And presumably your seen as an action-based director?
A
. Yeah, I guess.

Q. Are you still based in Dublin?
A.
I have a house there but on time spent there, I would have to say no.

Q. Giovanni Ribisi is really interesting casting, so how did that come about and the look?
A.
Let's get one thing straight. Ribisi, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest actors in the world, full stop. And he's going to become part of the folklore of 21st Century American acting, a la Marlon Brando. He's going to be that. He's the sort of actor that absolutely gets thrilled when people go 'oh, you're the guy from, don't tell me, wait a minute, wait a minute...' They know they know him from films, but he starts from scratch with every role. And he's been so careful about the stuff he picks, that allows him to start from scratch, because I would say a good 60 or 70% of Hollywood actors aren't really acting. You're going 'oh look, there's Rene Russo being someone'. You know what I mean? Whereas Ribisi it's genuine; he hits the screen and a few people tingle, like 'oh is that the guy from', but he's way ahead of the game in terms of being the character and I that's a part of his particular genius. He's a real method actor. I still have no idea what it means; I know what it's meant to mean, but I think he's the real version of it.
In terms of being hijacked by actors who are all 'look at me, look at me', being difficult and everything's so hard, whereas Ribisi does the fucking work quietly in the corner and then brings it to work, and isn't the pain the fucking arse.
Films are like practical exercises, you know, you miss a day and you fall behind and it's not fucking funny; people aren't laughing, so this whole method thing, or the idea where one actor is so disruptive on a set because it's all about their process, really isn't that much fun. So if you want to enjoy the process of making the movie, then you're better off hiring guys like Ribisi.

Q. But again, in the group ethic that we talked about, what was his status?
A
. Weirdo. Hey weirdo. No, he didn't stay fully in character, but Ribisi is also smart enough to have a great sense of humour, so that he'd stay in character to weird people out. But, you know, not to be a pain in the arse. But what happens is, some of the less experienced actors - and we had two crossover artists, Sticky Fingaz/Kirk Jones and Tyrese - who were doing pretty much their biggest sort of roles to date and they just looked at Ribisi, cos they started to get it with him; you know, actually this is work and here's how you do it.
So I think somewhere between weirdo and demi-God was where he fitted.

Q. And the hair and the glasses? He looks the dead spit of Hardy Kruger in the original?
A.
Yeah, no one's going to believe me, but fuck it! I'd only sketchy recollections, I hadn't watched the original because I didn't think there was any point in seeing it because I was only going to scare myself, or something. There was always going to be a day on set where we'd go 'oh fuck, we just fucked that up, do you remember when they did that in the original?' There was no upside in watching the original.
But anyway, it turns out that Kruger obviously has blonde hair. But I called Giovanni from Namibia during prep and said, 'look, I have an idea, would you dye your hair blonde'; maybe he knew that Hardy Kruger had blonde hair and that's why he was so co-operative. But he turned up in his own wardrobe. We had a whole look picked out for him and Giovanni turned up with the glasses and the tunic he's wearing, which he found in LA, and turned up and said 'wouldn't this look good'? And we were like 'yeah'.

Q. And was Dennis amused about going from the snowy wastes of The Day After Tomorrow to the red hot blazing desert?
A.
[Laughs] Well the irony was that in Day After Tomorrow, they were on a sound stage and they were just baking with heat, whereas where we shot, in Namibia, it was just fucking freezing in the morning. In the morning it was absolutely freezing before the sun would break. So many an ironic wry grin was cast at the situation.

Q. Did you ever have any reservations about doing a remake?
A.
You know it didn't occur to me until after the fact that I should have reservations. Look, it was inevitable and I'm stupid for not, perhaps, paying more attention to the fact that the first thing that people are going to understand about the film - certainly from a reviewers point of view, or a critic's point of view or for anyone who wants to give the time to research the thing - that it's a remake. In America, people can barely find that Continent on the map without three gos, so they're not going to be overly concerned. Certainly, the audience that the studio would chase to go see the movie would be younger, because unfortunately, you know, you go to a test screening of this movie and over-25s fucking love it and four out of ten people say they remember the original. But those sorts of people don't spend money and don't go to movies - it's alright if you invite them for a free movie! - so the younger audiences isn't really going to have an issue with it being a remake. And I didn't really, I just thought it was a good story, and it's my tirade against reality television.
I don't know if you've noticed, but we seem to be hell-bent on destroying ourselves with reality television. And I don't just mean that every programme is a reality programme - which it's not because why is it real? I mean, do you see any cameras here? But every show is about the idea of annihilation, you know, lets put 10 people in a room and see who kills each other and fucks each other up and connives at the other guy, and fucks him up and kicks him off! So Flight of the Phoenix is meant to be the reverse, a bunch of people who if they don't stop fucking with each they're going to stay there.

Q. Admiring which filmmakers made you the director you are?
A.
Tony Scott, probably, to be honest. I just love his movies. But I think he is probably the world's most under-rated director. The technique that he uses - they might get it in 20 or 30 years, when they study it. Sir Ridley is far more conventional. But the technique that Tony's tried over the years wouldn't exist but for him. And everyone rips him off; I rip him off. Every fucking director on the planet rips off Tony Scott. He really did invent that whole thing. It's not old enough to be revered yet, but I think his contribution is a little under-estimated.

Q. But he was cursed from an early stage by box office success and that negates anyone's idea of him being good?
A.
Yeah. Talk to Oliver, you know what I mean.

Q. Are you an OutKast fan, or was that part of the demographic to get young audiences involved?
A.
You know I don't blame you for saying it. Here's what the trade off was. I curse the fucking film right then, that day when I put it in there. Because I made the film - five years from now, people are going to say, 'what the?' And it's going to be time-stamped. However, the trade off was that given the misery that these people are going through, this was like the most effective and cheap joke that we could do that felt immediately real. So the audience every time that they see the film and that track comes on, there's this universal feeling of 'yeah, I'd do that, I'd bop around', because you get so sick of the misery and the heat and all that. So it was a kind of a trade off. We wrote the scene with that track specifically, because it just had that sort of instant joy. Like some football anthem does, occasionally.

 

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