As the directors of Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Gamer, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Neveldine/Taylor) have definitely shown a crazy sensibility and an offbeat sense of humor. So when they were announced as the directors of the Ghost Rider sequel, Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance, some fans might have wondered about the choice, but I was extremely enthusiastic. After all, no matter what the story was about or who was going to get cast, I knew the movie would look and feel like an original creation, and not some cookie cutter Hollywood product. And if you’ve seen the trailer for GR2, you know what I’m talking about, as one scene features Ghost Rider pissing fire. Need I say more?
Anyway, last year I got to visit the set of the Ghost Rider sequel when the production was filming outside Bucharest, Romania. While on set I got to participate in a group interview with director Brian Taylor and he talked about why they were filming in Eastern Europe, the interesting and unique locations they scouted, how they weren’t going to change their style for 3D, working with Nicolas Cage to create an all new Ghost Rider, how Cage’s character is a dual role, and a lot more. Hit the jump for more.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the new trailer, I’d watch that first. Here’s the synopsis:
Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance. In the successor to Ghost Rider, Johnny – still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter – is hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe when he is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciaran Hinds). At first, Johnny is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider, but it is the only way to protect the boy – and possibly rid himself of his curse forever. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance opens February 17.
Question: How’s the shoot been going for you so far?
Taylor: It’s a total disaster. (laughter) No, it’s incredible. Do you guys know Brandon [Trost]? [He was the] DP on Crank 2 and some of us specialize in sequels.
Brandon Trost: This is the fifth sequel I’ve done.
Taylor: No, it’s been going unbelievably well. This troop of actors, I mean this cast we have on this move is unbelievable, so every day, there are performances that make you walk away super-funked up about what you’re doing. The locations I mean are just unbelievable. Churches, God, Wow!
The way you guys have been talking about it, I want to plan a trip now.
Taylor: You have to go. I had no idea. This place Cappadocia in Turkey, it’s like the desert planet on Star Wars in real life. It’s crazy. I can’t believe nobody’s shot 50 movies there. It’s the first thing I’ve seen. We’ve got that. We’re shooting in these 6,000 year old ruins and just tromping all over them like it’s a backlot, it’s nothing. “Here you go, shoot it, it’s history” There’ll be like a thousand of year old statue and grips are like standing on the head when they’re setting lights and stuff, so everybody’s just soaking it all up.
Taylor: Well, I mean, it’s all tough, everything’s tough, it’s all relative. We had a harder time finding the mall they’d go through in Crank than finding a 6,000 year old temple to shoot in.
You worked on the script so is much of the script influenced by knowing where you’re going to shoot or did you write the script then find locations based on that?
Taylor: We wrote the script then found the locations based on that. A lot of it is when Kevin [Phipps, the production designer] came in, just based on the script. We knew we were going to be in Eastern Europe, knew we were going to take the thing South. A lot of it was based on weather. We just wanted to get out of the freezing cold this time of year and get someplace where it wasn’t going to snow and we could shoot these outdoor scenes ‘cause we wanted to transition into daytime for the end. The most convenient thing South was Turkey so what do they have in Turkey? Kevin started finding us stuff down there. It was so serendipitous, like incredibly fortunate that it just happened to be geographically the perfect place for us to be, the exact perfect thing for this… I dunno. There’s a lot of weird stuff happening on this shoot.
Taylor: It changes somewhat but the scale of the movie, we don’t have a budget of Transformers so a lot of the scale of the movie is set by shooting in these exotic places and these amazing things and soaking it all in, shooting in real places, not a lot of sets. Sets like these are inspired by what we saw down there and it’s a continuation of that feeling, but yeah, originally we thought. The first one was shot in Australia it was all sets, so what we do is we always try to shoot as much in the real world as possible. We like real places even if they’re repurposed locations. We wanted to shoot in as many practical locations as possible.
We were fortunate [because] Kevin has a lot of a background in Romania, so he knew a lot of places where we could do this stuff or had ideas of novel places that we could repurpose and use, so we could shoot in real places as much as possible, and then Turkey was just like a gift, like a lucky accident, to have all that stuff right down there. And we didn’t even know because we were expecting it was going to be Apocalypse Now when we got down there. It was a very strange experience shooting there, but some of the things we shot were from another planet, it was amazing.
Taylor: It’s just you haven’t seen anything like it visually. The geography of it, just everything about it felt alien. It’s not what we’re used to. The shapes of the mountains are different, the trees are different, everything’s different. It just feels very bizarre, almost dream-like. There’s these landscapes out there with those black curly trees, it looks like a Dali landscape. People just live inside mountains; they just carve their houses out of the rock of mountains. You can see 10,000 people living inside these rock caves, really elaborate, up to the ‘50s. Like in the ‘50s, they had electricity wired in there and they lived there and there are still people living in caves.
This movie is going to be released in 3D and you’re shooting in 2D. Can you talk about knowing that you’re going to release this in 3D and how that affects how you guys are shooting the movie?
Taylor: It does somewhat, but this is really going to push the envelope of what people think can be converted, cause there’s like a set of rules, there’s a rulebook of things you can’t do if you’re shooting 2D to go to 3D, you can’t do… I mean, there’s a lot of things. You can’t have fast cuts. Of course, that doesn’t work for us, we gotta have fast cuts.
Why can’t you have fast cuts?
Taylor: Because it’s disorienting, and it will make people throw up. (laughter) It is valid if it’s true but we don’t think it’s true because there’s ways around that, there’s ways we can finesse the transitions between the 3D and sort of modulate the depth of it to completely get rid of that. But other things, you can’t have lens flares, you can’t have soft foreground… things that we’re used to as part of the film language. You can’t have something soft in the foreground and sharp in the background. That’s the movie language, so sometimes that’s shot 2D for conversion can end up looking really stiff.
They don’t want to have a lot of handheld or a lot of motion or movement. “Could you just slow everything down so we can track it and convert it and make it look beautiful in 2D?” But the guys we’re working with and sort of the theory we have going into this, we’re throwing all of that away. We’re throwing the whole rulebook away and this is going to be a movie that doesn’t feel like other 3D movies, really. It’s going to be very kinetic and very fast moving and very much the language of film that we love. It’ll just be in 3D.
Can you compare it stylistically to any of the films you’ve done before, what would it be?
Taylor: It’s not. It’s a totally new thing. I can’t.
Taylor: Uh, well, yeah, I don’t know if there’s one thing. It’s just that we wanted to really humanize it, and well, I think the main decision coming in that we wanted to differentiate this movie and make it alive and fresh is that the title character is a CG guy and in the last movie, it was played by stunt guys, so the big thing we wanted coming in before anything else was the Ghost Rider needs to be played by Nicolas Cage, always, all the time. When he’s fighting, all the time, so 95% of the stuntwork, all the action, everything that is the “GR” is Nic and he’s playing it as a dual role, because the Ghost Rider is possessed by the spirit of Zarathos, it’s a different person, it’s not Johnny Blaze.
So he’s playing it as a dual role and a lot of the planning that went into the movie and preparation for his role is finding that character. What’s the language of this demon? What’s the language of this ancient god or whatever he is? We’ll found out what he is but that’s inhabiting this body. How does he move differently? And we nailed it and that’s what makes it so awesome, because in those scenes, they’re alive and every single frame you’re watching Ghost Rider, it’s gonna be the flaming skull, but you’re going to feel an actor, you’re going to feel a performance and you’re going to feel a character in all of those moments. So it brings the raw energy of the dialogue and all of that stuff into the action scenes, too.
How beholden are you either to the comics or the first movie in terms of the look or story? The new motorcycle is very different and it’s not a big chopper like the comics, which is pretty outrageous.
Taylor: Well there’s been a million Ghost Rider comics. There’s been a lot of different versions of it and they’re all totally different. For me, it’s the full range of styles. The only books that we really were inspired by in the Ghost Rider canon were the Garth Ennis/Clayton Crain series, which is a much darker version of the character.
So you’re almost creating your own version of it?
Taylor: Yeah, and we like the first movie for what it is. It’s cool. It’s a Walt Disney movie. (laughter) Really and that’s what Nic [Cage] said about it, too, which is that it’s a great take on the movie. It’s like a Walt Disney version of the Faust story and it’s lit that way, and it feels like a Disney ride and we like that. This isn’t that at all, so we wanted to just completely depart and make it a whole thing. We’re picking up this character, whatever, five or six years later, and he’s in a much different place. He’s a much different guy. He’s in Europe, it’s a different bike. The physical transformation that happens to him has progressed where he doesn’t look the same, the skull looks different, everything looks different. It’s changed and progressed. Think of it like an illness and it’s progressed and this is in the final stages of that illness. It’s gonna feel a lot different from the first movie.
Taylor: In this movie? There’s a lot. Well this exorcism scene is going to be excellent. We shot half of it this morning and we shoot half of it at the end, but we’re really welcoming… you know there’s like two different versions of Nicolas Cage. There’s sort of mainstream Cage and there’s balls-to-the-wall Cage, and we’re definitely welcoming the demon. The performance we’re getting from Cage, it’s going to be one of those epic Nic Cage performances that people talk about.
Is that mainly as the Ghost Rider?
Taylor: As both. Oh, yeah.
What rating are you shooting for?
Taylor: It’s going to be PG-13. PG-16 actually, it’s a new rating that we’re inventing.
For more on Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance: