Nicholas Cage, Idris Elba and Violante Placido are walking into a very large cave. As they get further inside, I notice the walls and huge metal shelving units are filled with hundreds of semi-automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, and boxes of ammo. The cave even has old-school weapons like swords and armor decorating the walls. It’s easily the biggest arms cache I’ve ever seen, and I can only imagine what they’ll be used for. As I take in the extremely cool surroundings, I hear director Brian Taylor say cut. I guess now would be a good time to mention I’m standing on a soundstage about forty minutes outside Bucharest, Romania.
Let me back up a second.
It’s Sunday, February 20, 2011 and I’m sitting on a plane flying back from Europe. A few days ago I got to visit the set of the Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance with a few other online reporters and we were treated to a really great day filled with awesome interviews and I learned a tremendous amount about the movie. While I have serious issues with the first Ghost Rider, everything I learned on set tells me they have a much better story and a much better team of filmmakers and actors trying to bring Spirit of Vengeance to life. For a full recap, hit the jump.
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.
Video Blog Recap
As most of you know, I often record video blogs when I do a set visit. Since some of you prefer watching me talk about a set visit, and some of you prefer to read about it, for GR2 (Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance) I’m offering both. Now here’s the best part. While my video blogs are usually me and someone else talking about what we saw and learned on set, for GR2, I recorded the video with three fellow online reporters including Jenna Busch (Zap2it, AMC and Blastr), Ed Douglas from ComingSoon, and Don Kaye (staff writer, Parallel Universe). What you’re about to watch is a pretty lively discussion and it was recorded both before and after our set visit. For my written report, scroll a bit further down the page. Here’s a time index of what we talked about:
- 0:30 – Talk about our feelings on the first Ghost Rider on the way to the set visit.
- 2:00 – Background on the production, focusing on what Neveldine/Taylor will bring to the sequel.
- 6:00 – Returning from the visit to the set with a brief overall recap and first impressions.
- 9:00 – What we learned from talking to Cage.
- 12:30 – Talk about the cool motorcyles we saw on set.
- 14:30 – Describing the plot.
- 16:30 – Discussing the planned 3D post-conversion (they had a stereographer on set).
- 19:00 – Wondering how much the character Ghost Rider will appear in the film.
- 21:30 – Don steps in to give his overall impressions.
- 23:30 – Talk the giant sets they built including a wine cellar, an armory, and the “exorcism room.” We were impressed with the scope and attention to detail.
- 29:30 – How the international locations will serve the story.
- 31:00 – Tease about the character Blackout.
- 32:00 – Final thoughts on the impressive set visit, which left us optimistic.
The Set Visit
So about the set visit: if you’ve ever read any of my other reports, you know every set visit is different. Sometimes you arrive on set and you’re waiting around for hours, and other times you arrive and almost immediately you’re sitting in front of an actor doing an interview. What was different about the GR2 set visit was that we started the day with interviews at the hotel we were staying at.
It ended up that both Ciaran Hinds and Fergus Riordan weren’t filming on the day we were going to set, so the unit publicist set up interviews at our hotel before we left. Both told us about how filming had been progressing, how they landed the part, what they thought about Neveldine/Taylor and the way they shoot their movies, and a lot more. Links to both interviews are at the bottom of this story. After an hour or so, we boarded two buses and headed for the long drive to set.
When we first got there, we met up with car coordinator Alex King and he showed us the different bikes that were going to be used in the film. While the comics and the previous film had Cage riding a bike with huge handlebars, his new bike is the Yamaha VMAX and the one word to describe it is “badass”. Unlike previous bikes associated with the character, the VMAX looks modern, sleek, and cool. In addition, the version of the bike when he’s Ghost Rider looked burnt and melted. Even without any CGI added, the bike looked fantastic. I can only imagine what it’ll look like when it’s finished. The versions we saw had red stickers in certain areas so the animators would have marks to work with.
King went on to tell us that the bikes cost 20,000 Euros each and instead of trying to get them using product placement, the production just bought them. He explained that when you use product placement, you have to provide the company with the script and make sure they’re cool having the character associated with the item. You have to give up a lot of control. But when you purchase whatever you want to use, you have complete freedom. Personally, if I were Yamaha, I’d have given them the bikes as I think they’re going to look awesome on screen and it’ll be great free publicity.
Jumping ahead a bit, when we spoke to Cage later in the day, he told us he was much happier with the VMAX’s than the bikes they used in the first film. He said that the VMAX was easier to control and they were able to get the shots exactly the way he wanted them. When you read the interview you can read his exact quotes.
After checking out Cage’s bikes, we walked to the other side of the room and got to see the bike that Idris Elba’s character Moreau uses and it features prominently into the beginning of the movie. In the film, Elba’s character is a religious but alcoholic monk and he gets around using a customized 2010 Ural Solo that costs about 7,000 Euros. King explained to us that they customized the bike by swapping out the seat, adding a blanket, a canteen, and a pouch to store things. Looking at the bike up close, it definitely looked like something you could travel with.
After checking out the bikes, we ended up in the costume department and spoke to Bojana Nikitovic. She told us that her goal was to make everything look worn out and said she wanted the audience to think everyone had been wearing their clothes for awhile. Nikitovic went on to say that the goal was to make everything look realistic and not too stylized.
As we spoke in her trailer, she pulled out all the different costumes and we got to see the many outfits of the film. Compared to the many sets I’ve visited, this was a rather small costume department. However, it was still cool to see the suits that Ciaran Hinds wears and she explained that unlike other films that might feature the devil in an all black wardrobe, he’ll be wearing grey and dark blue suits. She also showed us Idris Elba’s clothes, which came from a second hand store.
While talking to her, we learned a lot about Hinds character and how the reason he’s chasing the boy (Fergus Riordan) is because he literally needs his body. As the movie goes on, we see how Hinds’ body is failing him and he starts wearing more and more prosthetics to show how his decaying physique. Later in the day we visited the makeup department and got to see some extremely cool pictures of his face in the makeup.
The next stop on the set visit was the soundstage where filming was taking place. This was also the stop that made me really excited about the movie as we conducted some great interviews and the huge practical set blew me away.
When we first walked in, we noticed a huge structure built with foam and wooden beams that was enormous and it looked like old school Hollywood. We were told this was the interior of Idris Elba’s sanctuary. The structure they built was different heights and sizes and we were told that we were looking at the fake interior of a real location. It ends up the production filmed at a very famous location in Turkey that featured these amazing geological caves that actually have people living in them. We were told when we see it on screen, everyone will think they built the caves. However, the exterior shots are all real. Where the Hollywood magic comes in is the interior shots. Saying that, the stuff they built on the soundstage was jaw dropping as it absolutely looked real.
The reason why it looked so realistic was the lighting.
For those who don’t know, the temperature of light determines color and they had it set to look like sunlight. As we walked through the skinny tunnels that were supposed to be the interiors of the caves, they had areas where light was shining in from the outside, and it looked like real sunlight streaming through.
Imagine a massive room that looks like the inside of a cave. In the middle are beams that have been carved so it looks like people have lived there for years. Now, as you look at the walls, it looks like each one has been turned into a shelving unit and there are thousands of wine bottles and each one has dusty and dirty. It’s like they’ve been left alone for decades. In addition, this huge room had smaller rooms in each corner that were open without doorways. I was very impressed.
The other location that awed me was how I started this set report: the weapons armory. When filming took their lunch, we walked inside and got to see hundreds of weapons neatly arranged in storage units and a table in the middle of the room. Also, as we walked in, the sides of the walls had older weapons like swords and shields that were real and borrowed from a private collector.
Due to the room being so full with props and weapons, we watched filming from just outside the location on a small monitor that was broadcasting what the camera looked at. We also had headsets which allowed us to hear the rehearsals and director Brian Taylor giving the actors some notes. Some set visits shut off the sound between takes, but not this one. As a big fan of Nic Cage, it was cool to hear him talk to Brian Taylor about how to play the scene. But it was even cooler to watch him change the way he delivered his lines in every take.
Since I don’t want to spoil what transpired in the scene, all you need to know is as the three of them enter the weapons room, Cage is very impressed with the collection. As we watched a few hours of filming, we saw the production film the scene in a master shot, then get the close-ups of every character saying their lines. We also saw Taylor and Violante Placido try and figure out the best way for her to say her line and also how she should pick up a huge gun. Some of the shots had her say her line as she raised the weapon, and others she said the line before picking it up. While you might think everything on set is figured out before shooting begins, more often than not, directors and actors make adjustments along the way.
Besides watching filming we did interviews with the cast and the filmmakers throughout the afternoon. All were really positive and enthusiastic. It was here we learned that production was only days from being wrapped.
Here’s some of the highlights from the interviews:
Nicolas Cage (click here for the full interview)
- Cage is playing both Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider. Which means we should be getting a huge cup of awesome
- Stressed the difference between the Ghost Rider character from the first movie and Spirit of Vengeance
- Always gravitated toward heroic monsters in comics (ie Hulk, Ghost Rider).
- Promises “freaky” moments that will “mess with your mind”
- Commented on Neveldine/Taylor’s high-adrenaline style which is prevalent in the film
- Reaffirmed his love of mythology as well as sci-fi, particularly Jules Verne; would love to play Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- Convinced that Yamaha makes the best bikes in the world
Director Brian Taylor (click here for the full interview)
- Compared shooting location in Turkey to desert planet of Tatooine from Star Wars
- Shot on location of 6,000 year old ruins
- Preferred location shoots over studio shoots for budgetary reasons and originality of landscape
- Throwing out the rulebook for a movie shot in 2D and post-converted to 3D. Will have a frenetic, fast-paced picture that works in 3D
- Stylistically unlike anything Neveldine/Taylor have done before
- 95% of Ghost Rider’s screen time was performed by Nic Cage, both as Johnny Blaze and as Ghost Rider himself
- This is a unique version of Ghost Rider based loosely on only Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain’s series; a darker take on the character
- Taylor promises this to be one of those “balls-to-the-wall…epic Nic Cage performances that people talk about”
Idris Elba (click here for the full interview)
- Plays Moreau, a wholly original character that is a religious but alcoholic monk with a flavor of “the most interesting man in the world”
- Elba is a fan of motorcycles, but took a nasty spill on one in his younger days; he gets to ride one in the movie
- Director Mark Neveldine hitched behind Elba on his motorcycle going 30mph for a shot down a Romanian trail
- Moreau’s character protects Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido)
Ciaran Hinds (click here for the full interview)
- Plays a dapper version of the devil whose vessel is falling apart, shown by a deteriorating face
- Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is Hinds’ first time working with Neveldine/Taylor, but trusts them to handle any film regardless of genre
- Was playing the role of a priest teaching about exorcism when he was offered the role of the Devil/Mephistopheles in Ghost Rider
- On an evil scale of 1-10, Hinds says his Devil is a 3.5
- Hinds wore five different stages of prosthetics for the film, the most involved of which took over two hours to apply; his only previous experience with prosthetics was in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- No connection between his character and Peter Fonda’s Mephistopheles from the first movie
- Does not perform any differently for a film being shot for a 3D release
Violante Placido (click here for the full interview)
- Plays Nadya, a street-smart character of Romanian descent who is the mother of Danny (Fergus Riordan)
- Nadya is familiar with weapons and wields a very large gun
- Says Nicolas Cage brought his usual “wild stuff” to the role
- Nadya has a past with Carrigan/Blackout (Johnny Whitworth)
Fergus Riordan (click here for the full interview)
- Character Danny has demonic powers as the son of the devil
- Danny is the vessel that the devil is trying to possess throughout the film
- Could contractually be able to return for two more films
- Said that most characters have two sides to them, such as Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider or Carrigan and Blackout
- Carrigan is blessed by the devil to become Blackout
- Blackout has the power of decay and that is reflected in the deteriorating state of his body
- Whitworth, who plays Carrigan, underwent 4 hours of makeup to complete the transformation
- Blackout’s character is only loosely based on the one from the comics
- Christopher Lambert may play a priest, as he is covered in tattoos and the priests are known to have a lot of tattoos (provided by Tinsley Studios)
- Ciaran Hinds’ fifth stage of make-up has a face with a stroke-like appearance and a burst blood-vessel in his eye, which took about 2.5 hours to apply
- Because of the way Neveldine/Taylor shoot, the decision was to do post-conversion into 3D as long as there was time built into post-production to allow it to be done properly
- VFX crew scans each set with a special camera to create 3D models
- VFX will animate more depth on Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance than many post-conversions do because there is time built in to allow it
- VFX crew sees 3D more as a tool than a gag and sees a bright future for it if it’s applied that way
- While Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will have some 3D moments of invading theater space, most of it will be depth cues to give different dynamics
- RealTime 3D conversion can be started even before post-production, making the process more efficient
- To adjust for the darker appearance of 3D shooting, the VFX crew of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance employs two color corrections (one in 2D and one in 3D) instead of the usual one, though many theaters still don’t adhere to their standards which negates this adjustment
- Fire effects are much more advanced than on the previous film and will be used to enhance Nicolas Cage’s performance to show emotion, along with the expressions of the skull itself
- Neveldine/Taylor’s use of a 45 degree “skinny shutter” reduces motion blur during their high-octane filming, which helps with 3D conversion
While many are probably wondering if a second Ghost Rider movie was necessary, after talking to everyone on set and getting to watch some filming, I’m genuinely excited to see what directors Neveldine/Taylor are going to do with this franchise. I also love that the production filmed on location in Eastern Europe and these real locations are part of the movie. In addition, instead of casting Nicolas Cage and then some random second stringers, Sony landed great actors like Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds to play significant roles. Another thing that I’m excited about is how the film is going for a gritty natural realism and not trying to make the look hyper stylized.
But as excited as I am as I write this report, we all know it comes down to the finished product. I’ve been fooled before when visiting a movie set. However, based on what I saw and heard while in Romania, I really think Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance is going to be cool. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of another great franchise.
Finally, a huge thank you to Sony for inviting me to Romania and to everyone on set for being so cool. Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance hits theaters on February 17th.
For more on Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance: