Producer Lorenzo De Bonaventura On Set Interview G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA

     July 30, 2009

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In May of 2008, when “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” was still being filmed, I went to Downey, California to see where Paramount was bringing the movie to life. While there, I got to interview some of the cast, see a lot of the ships and vehicles, and I was also able to walk around with producer Lorenzo De Bonaventura as he explained each area of production and what was going to happen in each location. If you’re looking forward to “G.I. Joe” and have been curious how and why certain decisions were made, this is a great interview.

But if you want to be spoiler free, I advise you not to read this till after you have seen the movie as Lorenzo reveals a lot of things that happen. While the plot of “G.I. Joe” isn’t the same as say a “Batman” movie, I always think the less you know the better. However, if you’re dying to learn as much as you can right now, after the jump you can read a very long transcript featuring Lorenzo talking about a number of the scenes. Take a look:

G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra Baroness character banner movie poster.jpgSo here’s what you need to know:

I went to the set of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” with a small group of online journalists. We were taken from set to set by producer Lorenzo De Bonaventura and he explained what we were looking at and what happened in each location/scene. To try and make it easy to follow, I’ve broken up what we did by location and listed where we were. I also try and explain the set.

One of the great sets we went to is the “doctor’s office”. This is where the experiments take place on both possible soldiers and other people. It’s where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character creates the vipers. The set was almost 360 degrees – meaning the camera could be placed almost anywhere and have a great shot. Here’s what Lorenzo said about the location:

Doctor’s office – where the seat was where the doctor did his experiments

Lorenzo De Bonaventura: There are needles that come out of them and the subject lies here and gets injected from both sides of the table.

So what are they trying to do to the subject?  Experimenting?

Lorenzo: Yeah, they’re doing these experiments about how to make somebody not afraid, how to make somebody have endurance, how to make somebody take orders, so it’s sort of a …

Super subject?

Lorenzo: Yeah, yeah, I mean they’re not super in that way, they’re enhanced, I guess. Enhanced soldiers is how we would say.  They’re not…

Is this Doctor Mindbender?

Lorenzo: No, this is the doctor. This is not doctor Mindbender.

Who plays the doctor?

Lorenzo: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  And he’s a wild character and I think the fans…it’s a new character to the series and I think the fans are going to really, really take to the characters.  It’s really in the spirit of the comic book.

So Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays multiple characters?  Is that what you’re saying?

Lorenzo: Yeah.  Everybody has a background.  Everybody has a past.  Not everybody’s the same person all the way through. There’s a lot to this movie. And what happens here is an obviously thing and this set is being taken down right now or getting ready to blow up one more time.

And the doctor works for Destro?

Lorenzo: The doctor works for McCullen, yes.

How significant is this operating chair in the movie?

Lorenzo: It’s a big moment in here.

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While the G.I. Joe submarine is barely used in the movie, you’d never know it by the set they built. For a few moments I thought I was on the stage of “Crimson Tide 2″ as the set looked so good and was so detailed. In total they had 10 chairs all around the sub for the different crew members and each location had different info on the computer screen. Trust me, this set could be reused on some future movie and be the entire focus of the movie it looked so good.

Interior of G.I. Joe submarine

Lorenzo: …again one of the differentiating factors just so you quickly realize utilize who’s  vehicle, who’s side, whatever it is visually should be fairly instantaneous. (he’s talking about the color of the sub)

What’s the name of the sub?

Lorenzo: We’re actually being asked to change it so I don’t have a name for the sub right now. Our name didn’t originally clear so we have actually have to come up with a new name.

Cleared by Hasbro?

Lorenzo: Whatever the process you do in terms of clearing names for…they may have already had a toy sub with the same name.

This wasn’t one of the original toys, right?  I mean, there wasn’t a sub.  I don’t remember one.

Lorenzo: No. Not to my knowledge.

So this is green.  So, basically, I think you were just saying that the G.I. Joe stuff, the good guys are…

Lorenzo: Sort of a green/brown, you know whereas you tend to have blue as the dominant color at the MARS Headquarters-a little bit of red thrown in.

How much of the movie takes place in the G.I. Joe sub?

g.i._joe_rise_of_cobra_movie_image.jpgLorenzo: Just a couple scenes in this. Two or three scenes.

Pretty nice set for 2 or 3 scenes.

Lorenzo: Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty important moment in the movie so they’re…yeah.

Who’s the captain of the sub?

Lorenzo: We don’t name him.  We’re really looking at this scene as really through the eyes of the Joe’s.  What they’re preparing to do, where they’re trying to discover McCullen’s lab where it’s located and they use the sub to get there.

Which Joe’s are on board the sub?

Lorenzo: Scarlett, Snake, Breaker, Heavy Duty.  I may be missing one.

Do the Joe’s have their own equipment so this would be their sub, or do they work in tandem with, you know, military.

Lorenzo: We play it that they have their own equipment.  You know, they have their own resources and it’s its own stand-alone unit.

Did you have any military advisors, as far as you know, for interiors?

Lorenzo: Yeah, yeah.  As much as we could.  It’s less about that but it’s more about getting the protocols right and doing those sorts of things so you don’t represent-…there’s some scenes in here…there’s a special forces scene that has nothing to do with the Joe’s. You know you want to get those things right.

…you want to show that they have military experience.

Lorenzo: You want to show that it feels military precision and has that sort of quality to it, yes.

Who do the Joe’s respond to?

Lorenzo: General Hawk. Hawk.  Hawk is his own stand-alone unit. The way we play it is you’re not exactly sure where he’s gotten the authority but he has total authority.

Now, here’s the important question.  How many times do they say “Yo, Joe” throughout the movie?

GI JOE The Rise of Cobra movie poster.jpgLorenzo: Ah, at least…there’s probably no way…at least 3 or 4 times.

Screaming it as they go into battle?

Lorenzo: They do that.  Well, there’s sort of…there’s moments where they’re about to go do something where that’s an appropriate thing, yeah.

Are you guys already thinking as you’re filming of doing anything for the DVD?  Are you doing like a “making of” doc as you’re shooting?

Lorenzo: Yeah, we have somebody on board who’s been doing it since the beginning of the movie.  Shooting everything.  So we should have hours and hours and hours and hours of footage.

Is there any example you have of like a toy or a character that you look at and then you just go “that’s completely unrealistic. That would not work in real life. We just need to change it”?

Lorenzo: Well, look, the idea of “Snake Eyes” is not really all that realistic, I mean the idea of the guy that goes through life, doesn’t say a word and wears this sort of battle armor-that’s what we call it sort of battle armor, you know?  It’s a fairly uncomfortable way of going about life. I don’t think this is about realism per say.  The whole series has some really extraordinary aspects to these characters, so I wouldn’t say this is real.

Would you say it’s about the same level as “Transformers” like about the same level of realism vs. fantasy or more so or less so?

Lorenzo: Maybe a little bit more…well that’s a hard question to answer because what’s different about this than “Transformers” is “Transformers” has all these robots, okay, and so that’s the fantasy if you would. But we have all these characters-humans-but they’re not really real in that sense. Some of them have real attitudes, they have real relationships and real…but, like I said, you’ve got Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes that run around wanting to kill each other-a lifelong-I mean how realistic is that?

Right.

Lorenzo: I love it but and I think the fans will love it but I think the people who don’t know it…its been very interesting because we had-hopefully this is a harbinger of good things for us-we’ve had more requests for people’s kids to come to the set than any movie I’ve ever worked on.  I mean, it’s staggering how many kids wanted to come here and I can’t quite figure it out because they didn’t grow up with the TV series and the comic book.  It’s not there, but what we found out was a lot of dads have really handed down the toys and stuff to their kids, so these kids that come in-6, 7 years old-they know it better than we know it. They know it inside and out and they’re constantly analyzing, “is Storm Shadow going to fight Snake Eyes? How many times?”  “Who wins?”  It’s like they are really into it, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign, but literally I’ve never had so many requests for people to bring their kids down or crew members bringing their kids down.  It’s constantly been a flow of children coming through here, which I think is probably a great sign for us.

GI Joe The Rise of Cobra movie poster - Ripcord.jpgAre you constantly fielding questions about is Firefly in it? Is Dusty and Serpentor in it?

Lorenzo: We’re asked a lot of those questions, you know, at some point dramatically it’s very hard to handle the number of characters that we’ve already handled.  If you go much further than that you don’t really get to know anybody, so we’ve really sort of said, “you know what? We can deal with this many in this movie” and we made the same decision in “Transformers”.  X-number of Decepticons, X-number of Autobots. If we tried to tell more than that, you won’t get to know them.

But you do make it…you kind of know there’s a bigger world of Joe’s right?  We know there is a bigger group of Joe’s or is it that this group of Joe’s is only 10 people big?

Lorenzo: No, no, no.  When you see….I’ll show you the Urban Combat Level momentarily, which is only one level of the pit, there’s no doubt in your mind that it’s a gigantic organization, so you have….we don’t spend any time in the movie saying, “okay there’s these guys off doing another mission” or that kind of stuff.  We just sort of treat it as inherently obvious.  It’s a big organization. There’s a lot people in it,. You wouldn’t build it…you’ll see this one level it’s a little bit beat up because we had an attack on the pit and its gotten…taken some serious damage, but you get a sense on the scale of it there’s 7 floors of the pit.

So in the movie…I don’t want to know now…but in the movie they’ll reveal where the pit is located?

Lorenzo: You will know relatively speaking where the pit is located.  You won’t know exactly. You’ll see it found and you’ll enter it.  Yeah.

I have to ask.  There were some pictures….

Lorenzo: The pit, as you know, is moved around a bit in the comic book so we’ve taken advantage of that a little bit too.

Now there were some pictures that were leaked recently and they showed Storm Shadow without a mask.  Is that something we’re going to explore? We’re going to see both a masked and unmasked Storm Shadow?

Lorenzo: Yup.

Mask and un-mask Snake Eyes?

channing_tatum_duke_g.i._joe_rise_of_cobra.jpgLorenzo: Nope. Nope.  You know what… we asked Larry that question actually and it’s clear that Snake Eyes can’t ever been seen but it’s not from the comic book that Storm Shadow can’t be.  He’s like “no you can see him”.  So we’re like, “Okay, great.” So you’ll see both.

Did he have a gun strapped inside?

Lorenzo: He has a gun, he has 2 swords.

Like Snake Eyes.

Lorenzo: Snake Eyes has a sword.

A sword.  Snake Eyes uses guns too, right? Doesn’t he?

Lorenzo: Yeah. Yeah.

I just remember that giant backpack he had with all that…

Lorenzo: What’s a Ninja without a gun?  I mean….

You have to have a Ninja and a gun.

Lorenzo: Yeah, you gotta have that.

Absolutely.  I agree.

Lorenzo: I mean that’s the reality.  You wouldn’t run out with just a sword.  You’d have a gun and a sword.

I agree, fully agree.

Lorenzo: There you go.  You can just strap it on your back.

<—————– MUCH more on Page 2

There is a scene in “G.I. Joe” where Snake Eyes has to get across a room by walking on his fingers so he doesn’t get detected by the alarm system. It’s a crazy scene. This is where they filmed it.

In the hallway that Snake Eyes has to get across on his fingers.

GI Joe The Rise of Cobra movie poster - DUKE.jpgLorenzo: …so he gets up on his fingers and he goes across this thing.

This is the entranceway to the what?

Lorenzo: To the diving bell.

The diving bell.

Lorenzo: It’s sort of like we call it the gateway to the MARS headquarters.

Is Ray using a stunt double or is he doing most of or all of the stunts?

Lorenzo: He’s doing most of it.  I mean, there’s so much of it that he couldn’t do it all, in part because we have the 2nd unit going, so we have a double. But Ray’s awesome.

It must be nice that he’s in costume the whole time so it’s easy to…

Lorenzo: It’s easy but Ray’s really…he wants to do every single thing himself. So normally you could have 3 or 4 Snake Eyes if you wanted to do it.  It would be no problem, but Ray wants to do every single thing himself, so he does almost everything.  There’s a couple times where we have no choice where we have 2 units going so we need a double going on another unit, but by and large he does 95%.  I don’t know.

The size of The Pit is crazy even in person. On screen it’s even bigger as they add CG to enhance the visuals, but even on the Downey soundstage we were all impressed by how large the setup was. According to Lorenzo, The Pit was seven stories high and the level of detail was great.

Inside the Pit

Lorenzo: …and it’s blown up in the middle of it and actually there’s a great beat where Sienna-the Baroness-is standing right there and this thing gets destroyed and then they’re under attack so she slides down this thing firing away. It’s a pretty cool little moment for her character.  And as you can see, these buildings are sort of non-descript.  It’s where it got the name is that they’ve been practicing urban combat in here.

That’s straight out of like Issue 1 right?  They descend into the pit and there’s all kinds of people practicing their moves and stuff.

Lorenzo: You know you may be right about Issue 1.  I’m not sure; it’s in several of the Issues actually but in the end you’re probably right.

All of us are walking to a new section of The Pit

Lorenzo: See this is what’s happened.  It’s like it’s gotten all blown up.  This actually you see is a really large carpool in the actual movie.  It’s a visual effect here that gives you a sense of how big it is and how big the organization is.  I can’t remember whose question that was, but you’ll see a vehicle pool of…I don’t know…50 vehicles…I’m making it up but you’ll see a lot, so you’ll have a sense of a really big space between this and this. (he points to a section of The Pit we already visited) And that’s just one floor of a 7 floor… we have an underwater level, we have an administrative level, so you’ll see 3 or 4 of them.  Some of them you’ll go past in the elevator.

These vehicles will be like Jeeps or actual vehicles that we’ll remember from playing with when we were kids?

Lorenzo: They’ll be a combination of things.  Will you remember them from kids?  No, they’re more present day I would say.

GI Joe The Rise of Cobra movie poster - Snake eyes.jpgLike we’ll see a helicopter or will be see like Wild Bull’s Dragonfly?

Lorenzo: You’ll see-you might see a jet pack in here. You’ll see a lot of Jeeps.  You’ll see a lot of Hummers.  You’ll see…you might see some helicopters and things like that.

So do we have a time frame when this is happening?  Is it 2012, 2020 when?

Lorenzo: In the near future. You know, 10-15 years from now.  And one of the things we’ve tried to do is every bit of technology we use is, if not existent today, plausible sort of extensions to where we’re going.

I have to ask, this is a shot in the dark.  In the comics we’ve seen Transformers and GI Joe crossover.  Any chance that would ever happen?

Lorenzo: I don’t know.  I find when those kinds of things happen for me, I get confused.  I like to keep the mythology separate, but if that ever happened, and I doubt it would, but if that ever happened it would be way down the road.

Now you said Destro’s in the movie throughout and Cobra Commander comes on strong towards the end but where does Zartan fit in?

Lorenzo: Zartan is one of the characters-one of the group of the bad guys.

So he’s here from the beginning?  He’s part of this whole attack?

Lorenzo: Yes.  You do see him in the attack.

And any Drednocks?

Lorenzo: No.

And how are you going to do the whole Zartan face change kind of thing?  Is it CGI type of stuff?

Lorenzo: You’ll see.  You’ll see.

What are those right there?  Is that like a giant exhaust?

Lorenzo: Yes, it’s just a giant exhaust. Most of The Pit is in the ground so you need to ventilate the air.

The next place we went to was the legitimate part of the M.A.R.S. operation. That’s the place where McCullen creates and builds his weapons and like all the rest of the “G.I. Joe” soundstage, the location was huge. We saw trucks and tons of boxes that were supposed to hold weapons. Again, great location.

Inside the legitimate part of the MARS operation. Inside the hangar where the trucks were and the missiles etc…

GI Joe The Rise of Cobra movie poster - Storm Shadow.jpgSo this is the legitimate M.A.R.S.

Lorenzo: This is M.A.R.S. industries, if you would, this is the legitimate thing.  This is at the beginning of the movie.  Duke and Ripcord are not part of the Joe’s at the beginning of the movie and they’re assigned to move something from here to another place and that’s when they encounter the Baroness and some of the Viper’s and the Joe’s.

So there’s regular soldiers or whatever at that point.

Lorenzo: Special Forces.

Okay.

Lorenzo: So that’s actually one of the storylines in the movie is they’re not Joe’s.  Can you become a Joe?  Do you want to be a Joe?  And do they fit into that world?

Do they even know what the Joe’s are or is like this secret thing that comes to them?

Lorenzo: No, it’s secret.  It’s secret.  So in a way they’re out point of view into the Joe’s. So for the audience member who doesn’t know the comic book or the series, Duke and Ripcord are their way into that world. I mean, really you can’t make a movie like this just for the fans because there’s not enough to make it profitable, so we have to make…the balancing act of this kind of thing is you must be true to the…in my opinion…you must be true to the original aspects of the story or you’re going to alienate, I’ll call it your core fan base, but your core fan base represents–I don’t know–10% of your audience ultimately?  5%?  15%?  It’s hard to measure it but I’m guessing between 5 and 15% of your audience, so you better get that 85 or 95% to understand what the movie is about, relate to the characters, etc.  So, Joe-the Joe organization you meet them through Duke and Ripcord and then you have a completely…they ask the questions who are you guys?  What do you do? Blah, blah, blah. How do you join, etc. so you can really follow along from that.

Lorenzo, what is that piece?

Lorenzo: That is a dismantled laser array. We can go take a look at that.  It’s sort of beat up but…

Before we go there, what kind of vehicle is this?

Lorenzo: These are all Cougars right here. These three.

The final location was where Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have their big battle. I won’t spoil what happens, but suffice it to say, it’s a solid showdown between these two great characters.

(we walk to Laser Array where the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow battle takes place)

G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra new movie image (1).jpgLorenzo: …Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes.  This is the…the base has a really big laser powered weapon on the exterior that the subs are put under great pressure from. Sort of like the “Guns of Navarrone” or something.  So, Snake Eyes comes up here to turn this thing off and Storm Shadow anticipates him and they have a battle royale here.

You’ve been wanting to make a movie about Ninja’s for awhile…

Lorenzo: I love Ninjas. I do love Ninjas.

Does this kind of whet your appetite for maybe a…

Lorenzo: It sure does.  I’d love to do a pure Ninja movie though.

Snake has the stuff.  Let’s do it.

Lorenzo: Well, we’ve got to make sure this first one works, but if it works maybe we’ll get there.  Ninja’s are fun. Who doesn’t want to be a Ninja? I think Ninja’s are wild.  They’re fantastic.  When I did “Last Samurai” it was one of the reasons why I got interested in “Last Samurai” was because of that Ninja scene.

I screamed like a little girl when I saw the Ninjas in that.

Lorenzo: That was awesome.  That scene was awesome, wasn’t it?

Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow they have these tattoos on them.  Are we going to see those?

Lorenzo: You will see some tattoos for sure.  Actually, we took that idea and put it on…I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of the Snake Eyes suit?  It’s essentially on the exterior of the suit now.

So when you guys film a movie like this and there’s always the possibility of doing a sequel, do you save the sets?  Are they in like long-term storage?

Lorenzo: Unfortunately it’s so expensive to store them that you never really do that and in our case we destroyed both of the bases pretty significantly so you can’t really go back.

So what happens to like the cruisers…they’re called the….

Lorenzo: Cougars.  I’m guessing that we will… I actually don’t know, but usually we’ll auction them off or they just get destroyed.

And don’t think this is it for my “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” coverage as I have my full set report coming and more interviews with the cast. Make sure to check back for that.

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