Frosty Interviews John Stockwell – the Director of ‘Turistas’

     November 27, 2006

I always love it when you sit down for an interview. It’s in those twenty or so minutes that you learn a lot about your subject. Sometimes they impress you with their almost encyclopedic knowledge of film, and other times you realize there is nothing but air between those ears. Since I want to be invited again to future interviews, I am not going to say who might have nothing upstairs…

But John Stockwell was a really refreshing roundtable after two straight weeks of daily interviews. Not only was he really honest about making Turistas, but he spoke about everything with such refreshing candor that I was almost unprepared. Almost every interviewee has a publicist or two sitting in the back, making sure their client doesn’t get into any trouble or feel uncomfortable during the sit-down. John came in alone and willing to talk. If you read or listen to the interview, you’ll see what I mean.

Some highlights are – he talks about the safety of Sacha Baron Cohen while filming, about Kate Bosworth and all the controversy of her weight (remember he directed her in Blue Crush), about how he loved The Departed but didn’t feel the same about Babel, and my favorite part of the interview – how he explains that all these unrated DVDs are nothing more than a marketing scam. Of course he covers the making of Turistas and what we can expect on the DVD, I just figured you might want to know some of the other things…

This interview was done about a week ago and with about six or seven people in the room. If you want to listen to the interview you can click here to download the audio, otherwise the full transcript is below.

I’m really going to try and provide the transcripts as well as the audio for future interviews. While it is not always going to be the case, I’m promising now to make more of an effort to get it done.

I hope you enjoy this interview, and over the next few days I will be posting interviews with Josh Duhamel, Olivia Wilde and Beau Garrett. Josh talks a bit about Transformers, and Beau talks about Fantastic Four 2.

Question: This was a long day for you?

John: Not for me. I took a break. I watched the football game.

Question: What was the final score?

John: 42-39, three points. It was a pretty good game. Michigan kind of blew it, I think.

How was the jungle experience for you? Before you left you must have had an idea of how it was going to go and how did it actually go?

Probably, I think making the decision to go to Brazil filled a lot of people with a bit of dread and fear, especially the financiers. I guess Brazil in people’s consciousness you’re going to go down there and get kidnapped, you’re going to get robbed, you’re going to get raped. And given that is kind of the set-up everything went pretty darn well. When we first got to Brazil, our first scout we were five minutes outside the airport and we look over and rush hour traffic and there is a guy robbing a woman in a car at gunpoint so, okay, this place is pretty… what’s next if that happened in the first five minutes? But, for the most part, we were treated really well. The jungle was… you know what I loved about working there? We had a largely Brazilian crew. They operated in such an efficient way. If you needed to get equipment a mile and a half up a jungle trail they hired local kids to get it up. If you needed a kid to jump off the waterfall you hired a local kid to do it. You don’t bring in an American stunt guy. It was a kind of more expedient, guerrilla, by any means necessary style of filmmaking, which I liked.

Are you going to be the king of the water films now?

My next movie I think is going to be in the snow. Honestly, its like, I’m doing another movie I think for… it’s either going to be in the snow or it’s going to be with pot smugglers in Vancouver. I love the water and I love working in it because for me it’s really peaceful and it removes a certain kind of crew or collection of people around monitors and in your ear. We were in some caves in the water, way deep, a mile in. No one could get in, so it was just me and the DP, and the actors, I felt very free.

So when you are looking at scripts, do you just at the ones that are set in awesome places to travel to?

You know what, I have never turned anything down because it wasn’t set there. Let me think, that is an interesting question. I did a movie, I did Cheaters in Toronto, that’s not that exotic. Crazy/Beautiful was LA… that’s not that interesting. Blue Crush, Hawaii, not bad. Into the Blue, the Bahamas. Now Brazil… I have never had a better, I don’t think there has been a movie where, even in the Bahamas the actors by the end of it were like, “Get me the fuck out of here, I can’t wait to leave.” Hawaii even, people were like, “It’s okay, but I want to go home.” Brazil, I think people would have stayed. They loved it. They were so seduced by the country and the people, the culture, the food, the whole experience, that I never got a single person going, “Okay, I’m done. I want to go home.”

Olivia was saying that in Brazil, compared to the United States, everyone was the same except for the director, that you are the top and everyone else was the same.


Did you kind of feel that and did you see that happen?

Yeah, there is a reverence for the director that’s a little unsettling in some ways. They really put you up on a thrown. They were very weirded out by the fact that I socialized with them and I went out to clubs and to parties with them. That’s not the norm I guess. It’s not a producer driven culture, or even an actor driven culture. ‘Cause in America, you know, it’s the actors, basically, who drive that train. Not in Brazil. It’s definitely the director.

Could you talk a little bit about the casting process?

The casting process… Josh we cast first. One of our producers, Scott Steindorf, who produces Las Vegas, brought me there to the set, met him, he was such a… I was looking for a guy who was centered, and solid, American in a classic sense of the word. He was from North Dakota and going to dental school or something before he decided to be an actor. There was something completely… he felt to me like a guy who could go to Brazil and order a coke. I asked him if he had been anywhere and he said he had been to Cancun. In a good way. Then we brought in other actors and we did huge big mix and matches and we kind of paired up girls and guys in a room and see who worked together and who felt right together, who liked each other and who didn’t like each other. It was a big kind of free for all. I would do a lot of improvisation and sort of see how people handled that. You could kind of tell who liked each other and who didn’t like each other. I had all the girls come in and tell me, “Oh, there is this girl here, and she does the movie we’re not doing it.” I was like, all right. I almost wanted to cast her… (laughter in room) just to see. I’m a provocateur. I’ve done it before, on Blue Crush and Crazy/Beautiful. I’ve done a lot of that. I’ve thankfully had movies where I haven’t had to get Matt Damon or Brad Pitt to get it made. And this is one of those cases where they were like, we don’t need to find a star to make it. Blue Crush the same way. Into the Blue was a little weird because it wasn’t supposed to be a Paul Walker movie and all of a sudden it was a Paul Walker movie.

Is that a liberating thing to not have a major star on set, like a Brad Pitt or a Matt Damon… to not have those demands that might go with them?

Well, it’s liberating to not have to necessarily to get one in order to get the movie made, because most movies are stalled. You hear that story with Darren Aronofsky and The Fountain and just go, uh, if that happened to me I don’t know if I could survive. I mean, he barely survived. You’ve got Brad Pitt and you’re making the movie and you’re building the sets and all of a sudden, and Brad’s like all of a sudden. You know, I don’t want to do it. It’s not like I don’t want to do it. I’ve experienced it a little bit now and I’m going and doing the dance with an actor and you’re like, do I like you, do you like me… it’s a little bit of a seduction process. I’m glad that I haven’t had to do it, but it would be interesting to go through it. I don’t know, I have never really experienced it. I’ve never had a primadonna, anyway.

How excited are you to see Kate Bosworth become a superstar?

I love Kate. All anyone ever asks me about is her weight now. I’m like, I don’t know. I guess she is thin. Like, what can I say? She was thin when she came in and read for me first and I was like, you’re never going to be a surfer. Like, you’re way too, you don’t look like, and she was like, “Don’t worry. I’m going to bulk up. I’m going to train.” And I was like, go out and train for a couple of weeks and let me see you. And she came back and she had put on ten pounds. I think she is naturally thin. She’s probably, for whatever reason, thinner than she normally is. But it must be so painful to pickup US Magazine and hear them talking about how anorexic and terrible you look.

But she is the female lead in Superman.

Yeah. She can do better than that. I didn’t really like her in that. I liked her, but I was like, I don’t know… I think, first of all, she’s a really smart girl. Got into Princeton and differed. She kept saying, “Oh, I’m going to go back to college.” I was like, uh-huh, uh-huh, sure Kate. Never. Never did, probably never will. But she is such a smart girl and I think, everyone as actors are, they can only do what can be done with the opportunities that are presented to them. I hope she gets many more really interesting acting opportunities. And she is smart. She did a really small role in Rules of Engagement… and what else did she do? That Johnny Holmes movie. What was that Val Kilmer movie?


Wonderland. Yeah. I think that’s really smart. I think that would be a really smart thing for that Superman dude to do… Brandon Routh… to go off and do some weird small role in a fringe movie. Otherwise, he’s always going to be Superman.

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Well, he is trying to sell his short film on iTunes.

He is? Brandon is?


Something that he directed?

He’s in it, something that his girlfriend directed. I don’t know if that’s the same one, but just the other night he was telling my readers look for the short film on iTunes.

Can anyone post a film on iTunes? Well, how do you get on iTunes?

Everything winds up on iTunes.

On YouTube or iTunes?

iTunes is separate.

I know iTunes is separate.

Anyone can post on YouTube.

I know anyone can post on YouTube. But you also can’t get any revenue on YouTube. But that’s interesting to think that somebody can put a short film on iTunes. I’ve never seen a short film on iTunes.

I’m going to move in a different direction. You’ve been in the industry for about twenty-five years.


I know, it’s a tough number. Have you seen the industry change at all?

You know, I was so unaware of the industry when I was an actor. It seems really… maybe because I came out and sort of stumbled into it, it didn’t seem that hard. Oh yeah, you get this part and there were all these teen movies being made. It seemed like there was this proliferation of them. I was in My Science Project, Losin’ It, Top Gun. It seemed like there were so many of these movies and I was working with the same people over and over again, and there was the Brat pack. Now there are fewer of those kinds of those movies being made although the new genre, horror thriller, is sort of picking up the slack of what used to be the teen comedy, John Hughes types of movies. It has certainly got more corporate and there’s certainly more of an emphasis on box office numbers. I mean, everyone knows them. I leave town when I have a movie coming out. I go someplace that has no internet, no phone, ‘cause it’s just too stressful. Unless you know that you have Spiderman 3 and you’re going to have a huge hit… like, fuck that, who wants to stick around and endure? People go around in Limousines to movies. I can’t even imagine that. What if you saw someone leaving? Or what if you went to the bathroom and someone was trashing your movie? That’s just too… well, it’s too hard for me to handle. I can’t stand the NRG screenings because they’re so stressful and you see one person get up to go to the bathroom and you’re sure that everyone is going to leave. And those screenings now, so much of how… whether a film even gets released, the marketing budget, the number of screens, is all based upon that screening that you have in Woodland Hills and the number. That person who comes in with the number… you’re shaking, like, it’s that high stakes now. And I don’t remember any of that. But I wasn’t really exposed to that as an actor. I think they had those kinds of test audiences, but now everything is so test driven that between that and internet chatter you’re fate is basically determined before your movie even comes out.

You put yourself in this movie right at the end. Was that just for fun or are you going to do that in every movie now?

No. I looked at it and was like… ufff. That was kind of a goof because it was really expensive to fly American actors. The girl was Max’s real girlfriend who happened to be there so we didn’t have to pay her. And I was there, so I didn’t have to pay myself to fly down. It was expensive to fly.

So those two characters were in the script and when he says, “Don’t take the bus,” that was in the script already?

Yes, that was in the script, but casting it was kind of a money saving thing.

What’s going to be on the DVD?

In terms of extras do you mean?


We did an unrated which has some kind of semi-crazy on it. There is a pretty cool making of. We had a guy who was there the whole time, and mostly got the partying in Brazil and some of the insanity that went on off set, which I think in many ways is more interesting than what was happening on the set. There’s a whole kind of underwater making of, a special effects thing, how certain things were done. I haven’t seen it. It’s all kind of being done right now.

Is that unrated thing kind of… they go to you and say, “We’ll sell more DVDs if you do two different cuts”?

It’s certainly a marketing thing. I actually asked the same question because I had never done it before. Our producer did the unrated version of American Psycho and he said the difference between the unrated and rated was two thrusts. He was fucking some girl and the MPAA made them cut out one thrust. They put in the extra thrust and released it as an unrated and that’s the only difference. And they sold so many more of the unrated. In our case we actually did have to do some somewhat drastic cuts for the MPAA and then I had some extra kind of pervy stuff that I put back in.

Are you talking about Gore?

No, sex. There is a more explicit scene with the guy and the prostitute. It’s a little crazier. There is more stuff with Bo. But yeah, it’s definitely a marketing thing. Everyone falls for it, though. I was like, doesn’t it have to be longer? And they go, “No, usually they’re like three seconds longer.” Unless they’re a directors cut, which I didn’t do. I did just the unrated version.

How did Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner come aboard or were they aboard from the beginning?

It started with a guy named Bo Zenga, who is involved in the whole lawsuit with Pelacano… so, he’s an interesting character. Then it went to a guy named Scott Steindorf, who’s a great guy. Then it came to Todd and Mark, and they financed and made it. They paid for the whole thing. So they were involved, but they came in through some other parties. And Mark, I think the NBA season was underway, so you really don’t see much of Mark when the Mavericks are playing. But Todd was around.

With people like that who are definitely very… I don’t want to say controlling, but they know what they want or something like that, did they kind of say yes/no or did they let you go?

Absolute total freedom from Todd. Now, he has people who work with him and under him. Mark Butan, who definitely has an opinion, he’s on the set and Kent. There are people there. It was a pretty free experience, though. Mark Cuban has way too much shit to worry about. Todd, again, is good at delegating. He came to Brazil a couple of times. He flew in on a private plane, had bodyguards. Smart guy, though… knows what he wants, but doesn’t try to micromanage.

Have they seen the final cut?


And they’re pleased?

Yeah. Todd gave notes and we did his notes. They were smart notes. I don’t think I would know if they weren’t pleased. Who the fuck knows? Like with any of these things, you don’t really… that’s why as much as people say they don’t read critics, I think in some ways it’s the only truly unvarnished response. Whether you agree or disagree. Well, there’s no agreeing or disagreeing, if you‘re at a movie premiere everyone could have fucking hated it, but everyone comes up to you like it is the best movie ever made. Even at these junkets, you can kind of read between the lines, but you don’t really know. Then you go on Rottentomatoes and you’re like, uhhhh… really? Or it’s nice, like I can’t help myself, on Thursday night… refresh rotten… and this guy from wherever hates it. Look, a movie like this you don’t make to necessarily get great critical response. But still, at the same time you hope a person will say for this type of movie it’s okay. You want that little bit of affirmation. What was your question? I don’t remember?

Are they pleased?

I guess I was saying who knows. They tell me they are. They asked me to do another movie. I think they are pleased.

So what are you going to be doing?

It’s called Villain. It all takes place in the snow and in Alaska. No bikinis.

Are you one of those collaborative directors or are you like I’ve got my vision so keep doing it till you get it my way?

I used to be more like that, but I think I’m learning to be more collaborative. I guess I just was so insecure, worried about… there’s a difference between being collaborative in the post process. You’ve got more time and you’ve got the Avid, so you can take it apart and put it back together. I’ve really learned that’s the place where you can bring people into. On the set it’s a little dangerous to start appearing like… what do you think, what do you think? All of a sudden there’s a vacuum that everyone wants to fill and all of a sudden you never finish your days. In a way, for better or worse, you have to say you may be right, but this is the way we’re doing it and we can’t do it five different ways ‘cause we don’t have the time or the money. So, that’s what I’ve learned.

What about that bus scene in the opening of the movie… it seems like it was a one and done thing. It doesn’t seem like you can keep setting it up.

When that bus went over, it was done. We almost went over with it because we were shooting inside and there was this whole rig and it has the thing shaking and then one of the cables snapped and my DP and I was like, “Holy shit!” This was like Brazil filmmaking for you. Thankfully they had a safety cable, so we didn’t go over.

So there was no CG bus going down that hill?

No. In fact, there were some houses, typical third world filmmaking. There were some houses over on the side and we almost flipped over the house. So yeah, there was no CG in that.

How would you describe this film? Just in general..?

I don’t know. Everyone puts it in category and types it. I sort of saw it as a… I always loved Deliverance. Not that this is it, but I loved the idea of people going into a situation which they think is going to be one thing and then having their lives be forever changed for having undergone it. But it took place in a world that may or may not be real… sort of feels like you could have stumbled upon it if you went down the wrong road. That’s the movie I reference, not Hostel.

Not torture with a purpose.

A socialist, yeah, mindset. Deliverance had a kind of quazi political message underlying it, and that’s what this one does a little bit.

We’re coming up on the end of the year… who would you call the entertainer of the year?

Besides Josh Duhamel? (laughter) Entertainer of the year? I don’t know. I mean, I loved The Departed. I think Scorsese is going to win Best Director and that’s going to win Best Picture, I hope. I didn’t love Babel, like I didn’t love it the way people… I know it’s going to get nominated, but I hope The Departed wins. What do you think? Who is..?

Frontrunners have been Sacha Baron Cohen. We’re not talking about Oscars We’re talking about entertainers.

Oh, of course… Sacha Baron Cohen.

Or Daniel Craig is making a splash.

John – I haven’t seen it, but yeah, Sacha Cohen, he’s cool. I know Isla Fisher a little bit, and he’s really worried about him and his safety. She was like, “I don’t want him to do this anymore because he’s been in so many harrowing situations and he doesn’t really have security.” He’s gonna get shot. Like some of these situations he puts himself in… he’s going to get shot or badly beat up, I think.

People take it too seriously.

Well, they don’t get it, especially if he’s doing Bruno. If he starts doing that in places and they just can’t handle it. Alright, thank you guys…


Turistas opens this Friday at theaters.

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