Director Brad Silberling On Set Interview – LAND OF THE LOST

     April 28, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Last June I was invited by Universal Studios, along with a few other online journalists, to visit the set of their “Land of the Lost” movie while it was still in production. As I wrote in my set report, I was able to see the soundstage they were working on that day, as well as interview almost everyone involved in the production. The interview you’re about to read is with director Brad Silberling (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”).

During our pretty long interview with Brad, he talked about the challenges of making a big summer movie, working with the cast, CGI versus practical effects, and a lot more. If you’re curious about the behind the scenes of making “Land of the Lost”, you’ll love this interview. As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio of the interview by clicking here.

Finally, for those that didn’t grow up with “Land of the Lost” or aren’t familiar with the world, here’s the synopsis and trailer to get you ready for the interview:

The film is based on the original classic television series created by Sid & Marty Krofft. The remake stars Will Ferrell as Dr. Rick Marshall, Danny McBride as a redneck survivalist, Anna Friel as a crack-smart research assistant, and Jorma Taccone as Chaka! Here’s the synopsis and trailer in case you missed it:

Will Ferrell stars as has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall, sucked into one and spat back through time. Way back. Now, Marshall has no weapons, few skills and questionable smarts to survive in an alternate universe full of marauding dinosaurs and fantastic creatures from beyond our world—a place of spectacular sights and super-scaled comedy known as the Land of the Lost.

Sucked alongside him for the adventure are crack-smart research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and a redneck survivalist (Danny McBride) named Will. Chased by T. rex and stalked by painfully slow reptiles known as Sleestaks, Marshall, Will and Holly must rely on their only ally—a primate called Chaka (Jorma Taccone)—to navigate out of the hybrid dimension. Escape from this routine expedition gone awry and they’re heroes. Get stuck, and they’ll be permanent refugees in the Land of the Lost.

Question: The unwritten rule is that the bigger and more expensive the comedy is, the less funny it is. How do you, sort of, avoid that?

Well it’s interesting, sounds crazy, but I think there’s….beneath that there is a truth that if you just throw money at something it will have to be better, and I think that’s actually true for even not a comedy, but especially comedies of this scale. The way you beat that is making sure that actually you’re only pulling in the resources you need to make, to really make the movie that you need, but not using the dollars as a crutch. So the crazy truth is, this thing could have been vastly more expensive, and at so many turns could it have been more expensive. And I was coming off of this…I had the most pleasurable experience a year and a half ago, when I finished Lemony Snicket I went off and did a picture of this little, little script that I’d written I did with Morgan Freeman which cost 2 million dollars. We did it in 15 days, and it was the biggest pleasure, ever. And so oddly, that really bleed into the beginning processes of this. So again at corners where we could have said “okay, let’s just completely blow it out, get into all CG environments” and do this and that, I wasn’t interested, and if anything I kind of created…everyone kept teasing me about the Al Gore lock box. But I kinda created a lock box, a box in which I knew I wanted all of my physical construction and effects to fit in, and I really wanted the film to be as tactile as possible and as hand made as possible, and so we were going to rely for the most part…

That’s why I went to Bo Welch, we just from the beginning said if you’re carrying something, you’re not going to literally carry those sets that said Sid and Marty had because they were 20×20 and now they look cliché because they were sort of a tropical, you know, everything you’ve seen. But the idea of it still being a kind of Hollywood stage bound for the most part. I think I was really excited about that and I thought that was part of the ethos of the series. So I came up with a number, and it was like, guess what, it’s all going to fit within this, and we’re going to figure out if there is a portion that’s digital and we knew that the dinosaurs were going to be, but that was going to be the one key element. It’s all gotta fit here. I’ve done three movies with ILM and I’m working for the first time with Rhythm and Hues, and I love that family at ILM. But, in the end, it came down, honestly, there was a 2 million dollar difference in overhead and everything else, which in the grand scheme of things might not be…But I was like, “nope, I want that in the movie.” So I think that big answer is you try to even get it to the bone and make sure that if you’re spending the money it’s for the right reasons. And I’m very happy about the fact that when we built, what we built, what my hope was for Will and the other actors, that again having an actual environment that’s tangible, to bounce off of, would actually only help the comedy, because it’s like your in a certain degree of scale, I really wanted scale to come into play in the film, and not just have imagined scale that they were going to have to guess. And it has worked, that’s exactly what’s great, cause then they’re freed up to play against things and to throw away things, that they know the environment is right there and it’s working for them.

Q: Was there ever a thought that you guys were thinking that we might go CGI on this?

I wasn’t interested in it. I knew though, from the get go, in terms of dinosaurs there were only two ways to go really; one was, okay you truly do go back to stop motion and live in the Land of the Lost of the 70s, and Will and I both said to each other that would be a fantastic sketch for about 6-7 minutes, and you would love it, bad chroma-key, bad. . . but you can’t do an entire film that way because you have to still believe we’re in this environment. But beyond that, that discussion came up about the Sleestak, it certainly came up about a number of environments. I actually believe that we could still ultimately do it equally, if not more cost effectively, if we went ahead and smartly built. And I knew, like with the Sleestak, I knew I wanted that….I wanted to feel suit performance, I wanted to feel actual performers in those suits, because I certainly responded to that when I was a kid, and if go back now and look at what they were doing, and it’s hysterical, but I still somehow responded to that. As opposed to just…I mean a difficult thing that you have with fully CG, for example, I was late in seeing I Am Legend, and I know they went ahead and made that switch, and I would love to see what the original performers did, because all I saw was the CG rendered, the sort of quasi-…

Q: It was such a weird choice in that film where they are essentially people anyway.

Right, right, they were actually just supposed to be mutated humans. And that knocked me right out of the movie, so I’m always reminded of that. So the temptation was easy to resist right up front. You know, for the studio though, and this is a studio that, you know, they had Evan Almighty, the Bruce Almighty series, and that thing was incredibly expensive, and we knew walking in that we would be walking in to a studio living with that on their shoulders, and so the idea was to say “no, here’s what it’s actually going to cost, here is what it doesn’t need to cost, but here’s where we’re going to put out emphasis, and that’s how we really want to make the movie.” And they’ve been pretty amazing.

Q: Looking at the scene you guys are shooting today, comparing it to something like Jurassic Park where a lot of the close-ups you had to stand in some animatronic T-Rex. Was there ever a though for actually bringing in an animatronic T-Rex?


Q: Or does it come to the point now where you can do close ups as good?

You can, and here’s what happens, because it’s very funny, Michael Lantieri is my onset special effects guy and he did Jurassic and Jurassic 2 and 3, and you know the story that when they started Jurassic they thought Stan was going to have to carry the bulk of the movie, and at that point Phil Tippit, his go motion stuff was going to be….they really didn’t know if the CG component was going to work, and then Steven Spielberg started seeing shots from Dennis Muren during production and that’s when they went “oh my god.” And in the end what can happen is, even though if you just have an animatronic foot coming down, it’s two things. One is it’s time and schedule, which is sometimes the actual manipulation of the animatronic piece can be such that getting even just time, it can end up driving the rest of the animation in a bad way, if there is limitations, suddenly it can only come in at this pace, it can only come in at this angle. The number of things that were animatronic were actually replaced, CG wise, they actually paint them out and put in a…so you come from place in 93-94 that now even for close up work you can use, if you do it smartly, you go ahead and do that. And on, again, a cost level, you go on and bring on Stan or any of those houses, and spend the money just for a few key cutting pieces, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense anymore. So that for me was….and in commercial work I’ve done some stuff with animatronic stuff. I’m always frustrated by it, it’s really funny. We have a certain component in this movie too, we have Enik, who is sort of the intelligent Sleestak – he’s from a different time, Enik is another suit performer, but we created an animatronic head because I wanted him to have actual lip-sync in a way that they never did in the original show. So that’s great puppeteer and servos, and our Sleestak have a little more detailed extras that the original never did, and some of that is animatronic. That’s sort of the threshold of my level, beyond that it starts to get really frustrating.

Q; What’s going on with the set that we just looked at there seems to be a circular thing of skulls? What is all that?

Yes, that is…

Q: With the pit in the middle?

That’s a lift, though it’s a stylistic difference, it’s a lift from the original show. They had what they called the Library of Skulls, and it was in one of the Pylons, and the Library of Skulls was sort of an oracle, it was basically like a star chamber of the intelligence. Sleestaks are really, their race is all Altrusians, the deep science of Land of the Lost, and Altrusia is sort of this parallel version of Earth essentially, and so that’s the Library of Skulls, and these are old deceased skull heads that are basically the star chamber, they sit in judgment, making sure the culture’s preserved, and who’s to live or die. And that pit, again from the original show, is what they call….is the pit of the Sleestak god, so there is sort of, you can’t tell his color, there is the sense that there is actually a being that is occasionally made sacrifice to, and you’ll hear this sort of being from below, and it was the source of about two or three episodes in the original show. So I really wanted that to come into play, because we’ve taken a character from the original series, again without too many spoilers, we’ve taken a character in Enik and basically he has sort of, other intensions that he used to have, and so there’s a great scene where Enik, who is living and breathing, squares off with all of the Sleestak heads in the Library of Skulls, and you realize they are his old peers, and he’s had something to do with their demise. So there is a whole story there. That came into play because earlier last week, third act, Holly, Anna Friel’s character, trying to go off on basically her own mission to find something that will help prove Rick Marshall’s….to vindicate Rick Marshall when they get back home, get’s abducted. So she’s there poised to be sacrificed, and our heroes have to come and save her, and that’s where they have an important standoff moment with Enik.

Q: Well the scene we saw being shot just now was more of a dramatic scene where she’s confronting…

That’s, in a way, one of the key dramatic moments in the entire movie, because what’s happening, and again I can’t tell you exactly what’s….

Q: You can, we’ll just edit it out. We figured it out

Yeah? Well sure! What happens is it’s our own version of “Do you know who just ate?” She….There’s this amazing moment where basically Rick Marshall makes a really major mistake when he arrives in the Land of the Lost, as soon as they arrive they find themselves caught in this sort of feeding station, unbeknownst to them where they are, and they confront this T-Rex, who is Grumpy from the original show, for the first time. And Marshall, who is this noted, sort of, celebrity paleontologist, but can miss the joke sometimes, makes the mistake of completely offending Grumpy’s intelligence, and is very happy to tell everybody that they don’t have an issue, it’s got the brain the size of a walnut, and a walnut size brain makes him inadequate in many ways, horrible depth perception, totally trashes on the thing. And this is when the T-Rex is actually retreating, and you just seem him stop in the distance listening to this, and he turns and looks. And if begins this relationship through the whole thing, it’s Moby Dick, he is constantly coming after Rick Marshall in the movie. Doesn’t care about the others, he wants to take Marshall out. And in this third act sequence finally Marshall realizes at this key moment that he has to square off with Grumpy. They’ve had a couple of really big near scrapes, there is a major sequence which is just very funny. And the picture where it says “giant jump” it’s Grumpy chasing, it’s Grumpy after him. So he has to square off with him, and so over the course of this fight he gets into a situation where he needs to….you’ll have to see it.

Q: I think Will might have already told us about a punch.

Oh, more then a punch, well this is. . . . You actually have to tell me what the guys at this…

publicist: well their embargo is for way down the road.

Okay because obviously today is a day, given the nature of your seeing, yeah, that’s a major piece of information.

publicist: We can tell them what happens, but they won’t print it.

Q: We won’t be running this till about two-three months before. . .

publicist: No, no, but this plot point, I wouldn’t run it, but it’s funny.

Well, no it’s actually critical, this is just again, to be honest, to even be revealing the fact that of what the scene is today is to reveal the plot point, so that’s the hard part. But it’s kind of….What happens is Marshall, ends up in a circumstance where he kinda trying to go through every possible.

Q: Wait a second, we’re not going to hear….(helicopter flies by)

And that’s why it was amazing! I never repeat a story. No. Basically Marshall, they sort of manage to do away with all the Sleestaks, who are up there protecting the Library of Skulls, a couple of them have these very, sort of, ceremonial staves. When Marshall has to go down to try to tackle Grumpy along, you know he’s not exactly a martial artist, he’s not in anything, so anyway he gets stuck with this staff that he tries to do some horrible bad moves, he gets knocked away, he gets cornered, and he literally in a desperate moment harkens back to an inspirational poster that we see at the beginning of the movie back in his office at the La Brea Tar Pits, that everybody thinks is ridiculous, but he lives by it. And it’s this image of a pole-vaulter, and it says “If You Don’t Make It It’s Your Own Damn Fault.” It’s a poster about risking. And so he has this incredible desperate moment where he’s actually fucking stuck in a corner and he has this staff, and the only way he’s going to get out of here is to actually to try to pole-vault Grumpy, and he does…(from this point on Brad started to say a LOT of spoilers. I have removed them)

Q: Well, speaking of Danny McBride. Did Will bring Danny to you, how did Danny get involved in this?

Yeah, I not seen Foot Fist Way, so last summer when Will and I where talking about the movie, he said to me, “All I want to do …you tell me who your thinking of, can I send you” he and Jimmy Miller both said “can we send you this film.” Because he and his company were already certain, that was the advantage of trying to put it together. And while I was on vacation he sent me a DVD of the film, and I just frightened, he was so. . . It’s such a great movie because it’s such an, at times, unwatchable movie, because he’s just so unrepentant at what he is, and yet your kinda moved by the guy, but your horrified by him, and I was dumbfounded, cause he just shows like a genuine article. And that’s what we really wanted to do, is not recreate a family structure, but really do create something new, and I had a real specific idea for Holly, and for Will we just wanted him to be a guy…the character basically has this really wrong roadside attraction out in Palmdale, that’s what he is, it just happens unfortunately that that’s where they believe that there is this spot that’s a time door, and they have to go deal with him. And McBride just seemed perfect, it was kinda one stop shopping.

Q: How was the studio? I mean, when you have Will Ferrell does that mean you can kinda cast other people who maybe aren’t as big? Was the studio on board, I mean, how did that go?

I would say…Is it always that way? No. In this case, for them, without a doubt they knew on a marketing level they would place most of it on Will’s shoulders. I mean, the first time I sat down with them, which was a year ago to say, because that was when Will and Jimmy asked me to do the movie, I came back and said “here’s what I think we need to do in terms of story.” And I marched in the studio just to kinda tell them what I thought it needed to be, what stages to reserve and all that kinda stuff. And it was really funny, I was pitching away about story, and these turns that needed to be happening. Dona Langly is a very smart woman who runs production, was like, looking at me, looking at me, she has this look in her eyes, and about half way through I said, “This is what your hearing right now, Mmhmmm, mmhmmm, Will Ferrell, Dinosaurs, Will Ferrell, Dinosuars.” And she stopped and she looked at me and said, “okay, it’s kinda true.” I said, “I know, what I’m saying to you is you don’t really give a shit about.” But it was really funny, she . . . what it did. . . There is no question that what they got, you know, what they’re interested in, the investment was going to be about sort of taking Will’s brand of comedy, a sort of sensibility, and then placing it . . . So, it wouldn’t have been just a slam dunk, they just were smart enough, they . . . cause Danny, even though Danny’s just got movies coming out, he’s now been, for the last year, between Tropic Thunder and Heartbreak Kid, and he’s got a couple other things, word was heard upon the street that he was definitely a comer, and they saw his material and they thought he was great, so that wasn’t a huge arm twist. And likewise for Anna’s character, I think Anna’s genius, and it’s not like you’re going to cast Angelia Jolie in terms of notoriety, and they thought that actually trying . . . Because to me, I thought that her role is kinda vitally key in the film, and that is that Rick Marshall is. . . . There’s a certain degree of eccentricity to the character, and if somebody that . . . We have to respect as an audience somebody who respects him, and that was my whole thing. I wanted her character to be British, partly because American’s have such an inferiority complex and likes to think all Brits are really smart with the accent. So I said I actually want a British woman to come over, and I wanted it to be that the premise is that she probably got booted from Cambridge because she was the one person who followed this guy’s theories and believed in him and as a result had her own career potentially side-knocked. If she’s a smart actor and if she’s a smart character, and she believes him, somehow we will go there too. And that was sort of my argument for casting someone who’s British and for casting Anna, and they all went for it.

Q: What’s been the feedback when fans of the original heard that Will Ferrell is going to be in the remake? Have you listened to a lot of feedback from the fans? Has it been positive, negative?

I haven’t listened to a lot. I saw some anecdotal stuff, I saw some great stuff, I saw one thing, like “comedy, are they out of their minds?” And I saw a great response to it, because I think it was all off the internet, my favorite response to that was “have you seen the original show?” Which I thought was kinda genius, and, you know, god knows, the great thing with zealots in terms of any property is you’re going to have people who can’t imagine it any other way. I would simply say to them that the good news is certainly people can go and Rhino’s got this incredible DVD collection out, you’re not going to go out and just . . .

Q: You have to ignore it right? I mean really, you do, if just to make the film you want to make.

You kinda always do, otherwise you would just be…I think some of the worst adaptations or remakes are made when people try to make the book on tape version. It’s like, why, why would you do it. And in this case, in a way, unless you want to do a sketch, to go off and do a deeply sincere family story, cause actually it was Saturday morning and there was an educational content. I mean, Sid and Marty have already talked about story lines and what was necessary, and it’s like, “Well Holly, we don’t treat friends like that, and those are real moments in Land of the Lost, because it was Saturday mornings, and that’s what it was. So to go off and try to make a feature version of just that, I don’t know who would need it, or why you’d need another reason for being, and I think in this case, you’re taking a group of characters who are much more impaired, and it’s like the wrong people who should be trying to save earth, and that’s what’s funny to me, it’s like you take a guy, who, even if he’s incredibly smart, life’s circumstances have made him deeply insecure and very polite, that he’s the guy that now has to go and he has to actually believe in himself enough and the other people around him that they make their way through this and actually sort of save the planet.

Q: You guys built, like, a huge set, like a log flume, right?

Yeah we actually built; it was the interior of premises that McBride’s character, has this thing called “The Devil’s Canyon Mystery Cave.” And clearly when you see if from the outside it looks sort of like it was probably once like a carnival ride, I mean it’s in the middle of a bunch of high energy power lines at Lancaster, Palmdale, so it’s nowhere near and geological structures, but it’s sort of this kinda cave, you know you go there, you go to the gift shop and you pay, whatever, 5 bulks to go take a . . . So it’s McBride’s, it’s his character Will . . . it’s the mystery cave ride, it’s like a bad Pirates of the Caribbean, I mean it’s like you go in there and he’s got some tiki-torches up, and it’s just awful. And he’s the tour guide, and it’s this cheesy little roadside attraction, well it just so turns out that that is where, with Marshall’s equipment, that’s where this event is triggered, so we built that here on 29. That was an actual piece of moving water and all the interior that we built here, yeah.

Q: I want to go back to the social value thing of Saturday morning episodes. Do you have any throw away gags in the film, where you just do a sort of social value to the audience.

Well, more tonal the social value, we have some, but we just lifted whole lines that were fantastic in the pilot of Land of the Lost which is where they meet Chaka, Chaka’s leg has been hurt, and the Rick Marshall character who you never really know, the series never tells you who is he, what did you do, you didn’t know his job, unless you read the writer’s bible, you never really knew. But Rick Marshall, they stumble upon Chaka, his foot has been hurt, and Rick Marshall comes up to him and basically says “Chaka, let me take a look at that leg, now mind you, I’m not a licensed physician.” I swear to god it was the most genius moment ever. So we, that’s right in the movie, they meet Chaka, and what we did was really amplified it, because we wanted it to be that Chaka, I personally, and I told Sid and Marty this when I met them, Chaka disturbed the hell out of me as a kid, and it was the combination of the make-up on that young boy, Phil Paley. I just didn’t like Chaka, I was not the president of the Chaka fanclub, and I don’t think I was alone. So what we did was we sort of took that and made it into a situation where Marshall has a major hate on for Chaka, and he thinks he’s a Con man, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that when they first meet him they see him about to be executed, two other Pakuni have taken him to what looks like this sort of sacrificial spot and he’s about to get killed. And they interrupt that moment, that’s how Chaka’s sort of saved. But Marshall, like the first night they are going to go sleep in the cave is like “I do not want him sleeping in the cave, he was about to get executed, there is probably a reason.” And Chaka’s whole story is just that no really that was just a political coup, he’s really the prince of a major tribe, but at any given turn in the film, when they get in trouble, Chaka bails on them constantly. Constantly! It’s like a dinosaur comes, boom, he’s gone. And at times he’s even, like, trying to get in their way, so that he tries to save his own ass. It’s the greatest character, he’s so self serving. So Marshall kind of thinks “what is he about.” Anyway, so when they first meet Chaka we had that very moment where Chaka’s about to have been executed on this sort of sacrificial table, the other guys get scared off, they come over and literally Will Ferrell can do it, saying like “Chaka, I’m Dr. Rick Marshall, yes Doctor Rick Marshall, let’s have a look at that leg, now I’m not a licensed physician.” And it’s the best thing ever. And of course he goes to touch his leg and Chaka lashes out at him. Anyway, so I would say yeah, less sort of poking fun at the sort of nutritious content. But we do, sort of, have little moments. Chaka’s whole defense in the movie is whenever he does something sort of crappy he says “friend, friend!” And so Marshall’s constantly going “You are really pushing the limits with that term, that is not how friends treat each other.” So we kinda work it a little bit.

Q: Really quick, just with the comedy and the action, let’s talk about juggling the tonal aspect, keeping the adventure real while keeping the comedy.

I think as long as you’re committing to stakes it’s not even an effort as long as. . . if you make a real circumstance. . . . if you commit to a real circumstance the comedy can come right out of it just depending on people actions in that circumstance. If Marshall is saying something absurdly rude to a Dinosaur and the Dinosaur acts like a real veracious Dinosaur, and wants to come and kill him, the proportions of that scene get incredibly funny. It’s not because the Dinosaur is like padding it’s feet or it’s tail and it’s cute, these Dinosaurs in the movie are not cute, at all, they are acting like one hopes and believes. So that’s where I think the comedy comes right out it in a great way, it’s just amplified by not soft peddling the circumstance. We, like, totally go for it, so you can do both. And that was. . . Bo Welch was starting to watch dailies he told to me “I have never seen comedy and peril go together.” In a way, because that’s kinda what it is, we have genuine weird crazy shit that happens in the movie that will make people jump, but it’s earned, and yet you’re laughing the next moment because of how these character’s respond. So I think that’s just it, if the character’s stay true and you commit to the stakes of the scenes you’re doing and then execute them, hopefully, vigorously . . . it’s great, I mean, the biggest chase sequence in the movie, what I didn’t want it to be was an incredibly manicured, I wanted it to feel like fucking chaos, and it goes on and on, because Marshall, because Grumpy wants him, Marshall has to go through this entire, sorta crazy obstacle course of things to try to evade him. And it’s really, it was great fun to shoot because we didn’t know, by the way it’s going to be so hard for Rhythm and Hues, because it’s not manicured at all, it’s literally like assassination footage. It’s like being back in that, I kept referencing that footage, I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember it, that day when they tried to shoot Reagan, the whole thing feels like that, so you’re in and out of the ship with him, and the camera’s flying and I shot it all with a little Arri 235, you know the zoom was working in and out. So it’s really verity style for this whole sequence, the T-Rex is trying to take it out of this guy. So that to be was actually kind of the balancing act, its was like, no this is actually really going down and I want the audience to feel like “oh I’m just witnessing this.” And the characters just acting in a funky way. So that’s the hope anyway.

“Land of the Lost” invades theaters June 5th. And I’m on the ever growing world of Twitter.

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