Barry Sonnenfeld Talks MEN IN BLACK 3, Cameos, and Runtime; Updates on DOMINION: DINOSAURS VERSUS ALIENS and More

     April 17, 2012


As we look towards the next few months, we’ve got plenty of sequels and popcorn fare ahead of us. One of the biggest properties arriving this summer is the third film in the Men in Black franchise. Barry Sonnenfeld returns as director and the story finds Will Smith’s Agent J travelling back in time to save Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K. In addition to Bill Hader as Andy Warhol, we get Josh Brolin playing a younger version of Jones’ character for much of the film. Judging by the trailer, he’s done a remarkable job.  Men in Black 3 also stars Jemaine Clement, Alice Eve, Emma Thompson, and Johnny Knoxville. In addition, make-up effects artist Rick Baker returns to the franchise and you can see some of his creature work here.

The other night I landed an exclusive interview with Barry Sonnenfeld.  While most interviews take place during the day at a hotel, we spoke by phone close to midnight.  With his busy post-production schedule, it was the one time he could fit in the interview.  During our wide ranging conversation we talked about the way he shot the 3D, how the project came together, whether he prefers film or digital and why, what his cameo in the film entails (he plays a man who jumped off a building during the stock market crash of 1929), Easter eggs, if he misses being a cinematographer, why he doesn’t shoot his own movies, what parts of the film changed on set, casting Josh Brolin, IMAX, deleted scenes, the running time (it’s currently 97 minutes without titles), his favorite movie, director and actor, and so much more.  In addition, he gave me updates on his future projects like Dominion: Dinosaurs Versus Aliens and The How-To Guide for Saving the Planet.  Hit the jump for a few new images of Sonnenfeld on set and the interview.

Collider: First of all, thank you for giving me you’re time at 10:45 at night.

barry-sonnenfeld-men in black 3Barry Sonnenfeld: You’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. The Avengers.

Yeah. I haven’t seen your film yet, but I am anxiously awaiting.

Sonnenfeld: Cool.

So jumping into, I guess the first is: So how’s it been going for you recently? I know you must be completely under the gun trying to finish your movie.

Sonnenfeld: It always happens at the end that you’re always under the gun because of various schedules and all that. But this one’s different; this one’s actually more fun because I’m having a lot of fun doing the 3D conversions.

Obviously when you have a schedule, your release date’s in a month or six weeks, how are you in terms of the schedule of where you thought you’d be versus. . . you know what I mean?

Sonnenfeld: You’re always exactly were you think you’re going to be because you always are working up to a release date. So we’ve already recorded the score and done the final mix and we have a 2D answer print. So right now…in eight days we’ll have the movie finished, and that gives the studio a month to . . . oh, we have every visual effect finished. So it actually . . . it seems about where it’s always been on these kinds of movies. Which is: you know when you start to finish and then you finish.

I’m definitely curious about the 3D aspect. Some filmmakers I speak with love pushing the screen forward and coming at the audience and some filmmakers love adding the depth. For you on Men in Black 3, what kind of 3D can audiences be looking forward to?

men-in-black-3-image-will-smithSonnenfeld: I’m always surprised how many 3D movies put the convergence at the screen and the depth behind the screen. Of course I think, strangely, I feel it makes it feel less like 3D. For me, what’s been fun is, I put the convergence at the screen and a lot of the 3D is in front of the screen. Now that doesn’t mean we are throwing spears at the audience and stuff. But even in two-shots and close-ups, because of the nature of the lenses I used, which are wide-angle lenses, I really felt that by using wide-angle lenses you invite the audience into the scene, and somehow the audience feels, unconsciously, that the camera and the audience is in the room with the actors. As opposed to other directors that see things in a different way, and I’m not saying that it’s better or worse, but if you look at Michael Bay or Michael Mann or the Scott brothers, they tend to use longer lenses and have the camera further away from the actors. I use wide lenses and keep the camera close to the actors. So for me, 3D is like a perfect medium for the way I see. And if you look at the stuff I’ve done either as a cameraman, like from Throw Momma from the Train or Raising Arizona, or as a director let’s say Addams Family or the Men in Black movies, I always use these wider lenses and invite the audience into the foreground with us. So, to me, it’s a very natural step forward and I’ve really enjoyed the process of making this movie in 3D and in fact I think that’s it’s going to be just a fantastic looking movie in 3D.

I’m going to ask a film nerd question for all the film nerds out there: I’m curious what camera you decided to go with on Men in Black 3 and how you feel as a former cinematographer (actually you’re obviously still a cinematographer, but you know what I mean, you used to shoot a lot more of the movies) what your thoughts are on what’s going on with digital now.

men-in-black-3-movie-image-josh-brolin-will-smithSonnenfeld: Well I think I prefer film to digital, and I think one of the reasons I decided to shoot in 2D and convert is because if you shoot in native 3D you have to shoot digitally, and if you shoot in 2D and convert you can still use film. And we took . . . We shot many tests on every 3D rig and 2D film and converted it. And through an answer print when you include Rick Baker’s alien makeup and all that, the film does still look better. We used . . . Bill Pope was the cinematographer, he shot the 3 Matrix movies, he shot the 2nd and 3rd Spider-Man movies, so once we decided to shoot film it was Bill’s decision what camera to use and he went Arriflex Film camera. I think it’s called the 435, but I’m not sure because I’ve really gotten out of the camera business. I still shot list and storyboard and design shots, but I really stay out of the process of lighting and that kind of stuff. So, they were Arriflex cameras but they were film cameras.

Do you see yourself going digital in the future or are you still in love with film?

Sonnenfeld: I still think film looks better. We did shoot . . . we had one night shoot that Bill and I decided to try to see what the Arriflex Alexa looked like, and it looks really good. I think the Alexa looks really good, and I think, although I haven’t shot with it, I’ve seen tests with the new Sony 65, and that looks good. But I’m still a film guy. The problem when you shoot digital is you usually have a DIT tent and other technicians, and you read about digital being faster, but I think it’s slower. You’ll read in magazines how you don’t have to change film every 11 minutes, but changing a roll of film takes about a minute and a half. But losing you director of photography to the DIT tent instead of being right there on the set, I’m not sure . . . I don’t want to sound like I’m 90 years old but I’m still not quite ready to commit to digital.

barry sonnenfeld will smith tommy lee jones men in black 3Jumping into the most important question of the night: In Men in Black you played an alien on the TV monitors, in Men in Black 2 you were the Neuralizer father. What role are you in Men in Black 3?

Sonnenfeld: This will sound ironic, but I play a man who’s jumped off a building during the stock market crash of 1929.

I like it.

Sonnenfeld: Thank you. So you will see me committing suicide jumping off the building in 1929. Will Smith has to go back in time to 1969 to save his partner, Agent K, played in the present by Tommy Lee Jones and in 1969 by Josh Brolin, and the way Will jumps back in time is, he has this time device and he has to jump off the Chrysler Building to get to a certain velocity. Then while going back in time he passes me in 1929.

Now the key thing is, do you have a wink at Back to the Future by saying he has to hit 88 miles an hour.

Sonnenfeld: No, we have no wink at Back to the Future except to say that we probably watched Back to the Future, oh, 15-20 times. Because it is, I think, and we’ve all felt . . . Will Smith and I felt, was the single best rules of time travel movie, that they really set up the rules, they set up the joy of the rules, and they pay them off. That was like our gold standard of what we had to achieve so that people didn’t call foul.

men-in-black-3-image-josh-brolinI’m definitely curious about Easter Eggs. One of the things that people love about Men in Black and Men in Black 2 is you have a lot of cameos, you have a lot of little winks about celebrities and also little Easter Egg things. How conscious were you to make sure you had these little Easter Eggs in Men in Black 3, or little nods that would get that laugh from the crowd?

Sonnenfeld: Well, we’ve always had in Men in Black headquarters, alien surveillance, so one of the joys is deciding who you would put up on the board, who you would tell the world are aliens. And A) the challenge is you have to get permission from these celebrities and B) you don’t want to go with people that are either a flash in the pan, or political, or people that then in 10 years no one will know who you’re talking about. In fact, in Addams Family Values, which I directed, there is a joke about Amy Fisher, and if you watch it today you’ll go, “I don’t know why that’s funny.” But when we shot the movie, she was the girlfriend of [Joey] Buttafuoco and shot his wife and it was a big moment in the news back then that no longer seems particularly funny or relevant. So the challenge is getting celebrities that are famous, will give you permission and won’t be like, “Who’s that guy?” in ten years. So that’s one thing, the alien surveillance board that we’ve had in all three movies. The first movie I know we had [Steven] Spielberg, Danny DeVito, George Lucas, [Sylvester] Stallone, Isaac Mizrahi, my baby daughter. I can’t remember who we had in the second one, but in this one there are a few people that you’ll see up on the surveillance board including Lady Gaga, Tim Burton, who probably knows more about aliens then I do, and let’s see who else . . . Justin Bieber . . . oh, I think in the second one we had Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson.

Definitely Michael Jackson.

men-in-black-3-image-will-smithSonnenfeld: Michael Jackson was actually an agent, not an alien.

I was going to say, does it get any easier though to get people to give permission when it’s the third, and also you have the ultimate weapon of Will Smith you can just casually call people up and say, “Hey?”

Sonnenfeld: You know we don’t like to use that weapon too often. The hard part is really figuring out the combination of who won’t be “who’s that person” in 10 years. But so far we’ve been pretty luck and people have been kind and interested. I am surprised that Lady Gaga said yes.

Yeah, I think she’ll get a good laugh in the theater.

Sonnenfeld: Yes, and by the way, probably could be an alien.

Barry-Sonnenfeld-MIB-3-Men-in-Black-3Exactly. Taking a step back for a second, I’ve been a fan of your work for a very long time, and I was especially a fan of the time when you were a director of photography, like on Misery and When Harry Met Sally and Raising Arizona.  Do you ever miss stepping behind the camera for the Coens or anybody and just that aspect of it or is it like “that was one time in my life and now I’m doing this.”

Sonnenfeld: That was one time in my life and now I’m doing this. I enjoyed being a cinematographer a lot and I was lucky enough to work with the Coens for three movies, Rob Reiner for two. I shot Big. I worked with Danny DeVito in Throw Mamma [from the Train]. I worked with Phil Joanou on a movie that was called Three O’Clock High and it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it, but there is something about being a director where, for me personally, I get to . . . it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being able to be a stand up. And to use my particular sense of humor, and hear people laughing, without me having to stand up in front of an audience and tell jokes.

Was there ever any temptation though for you to direct and also be your own director of photography; did you ever try that and say “this is just too much?”

Barry-Sonnenfeld-MIB-3-Men-in-Black-3Sonnenfeld: I have no interest in doing both. I know that Steven Soderbergh does both. But for me, when I move from being a cameraman to being a director I looked at a lot of other cameramen who tried to make the move. There was Gordon Willis, one of the greatest cinematographers ever, directed a movie called Windows and Bill Fraker, another brilliant cinematographer, directed a movie called Legend of the Lone Ranger. John Alonzo who shot Chinatown directed a movie called FM. And in each case they moved up their camera operator to be the DP, which really meant they didn’t want to give up being the DP, and really wanted to do both. And my feeling was if I was going to succeed as a director, I had to just be a director and give up the safety net of being a cameraman. So I made sure on the first movie I directed, which was Addams Family, that I found a cinematographer that was so brilliant that I wouldn’t be standing there going, “You know you should put the 10k in the corner and that light’s too high.” So I hired Owen Roizman who shot French Connection and a bunch of other just amazing movies. True Lies . . . not True Lies. True Confessions, the De Niro movie. You’ll have to look it up. But anyway, so I hired Own Roizman to shoot Addams Family to make sure that I was forced to work with actors instead of standing around in my comfort zone of lighting the set. So I never wanted to do both. Either job is hard enough; why take on two really hard jobs?

Barry-Sonnenfeld-MIB-3-Men-in-Black-3When Sony came at you for Men in Black 3…How the genesis of how the third film was made. Was this one of these things that you’ve been talking about for a long time with Will, or Will with Sony been talking…Could you talk about how it all came together to get the green light.

Sonnenfeld: Well, it’s funny because when we were shooting Men in Black 2, Will came up with the idea for Men in Black 3. And Will said to me one night, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if for Men in Black 3, Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Agent K, disappears in the present and I have to go back to the past to save him, and in doing so discover things I never knew.” That’s what he said. And it sounded like a great idea. We all did Men in Black 2, we went off, we did other things, and then over the ensuing six or seven years, Walter Parkes the producer and Sony hired a writer named Etan Cohen, who wrote Tropic Thunder, who’s really talented, and a first draft was written.  But I had nothing to do with it. And I then read it and thought it was pretty great and got involved in additional scripts and then directing the movie. But the initial concept was an idea that Will came up with while we were on the set of Men in Black 2.

Often when you have a script and then get to set, a lot of things change, things get adjusted, and then during production, things change and get adjusted. I’ve obviously read a lot of interviews with you . . . read a lot about the making of Men in Black 3, where, let’s just say there was a lot of adjusting on the set, if you will. From where you started to where you’re actually at now, how much of it is what you expected? How much shifted? How much changed? Could you talk about the process of making this particular film?

men-in-black-3-posterSonnenfeld: Yeah, actually almost nothing changed on the set. Once we’re on the set we’re shooting the scene that we decided to shoot. There was a lot of writing in pre-production, there was a lot of writing before we made the movie, there was a lot of writing when we took some time off to finish the second and third acts, that were in good shape but not quite ready to be shot. But there’s not a lot of adlibbing on the sets that I direct, and there’s not a lot of changing that goes on, on the set.

The script was always pretty much the same plot, and the characters were always the same, and the time travel nature was always the same, and what needed to be worked out before we shot were the specifics of, as you were asking about, the specifics of the individual scenes, sometimes the locations, sometimes we changed scenes before we shot for budgetary reasons, or because of . . . I’m thinking what else, budgetary reasons or just the flow of the plot. But the nature of the way that I direct is not ad-lib or discovery on the day of shooting; it’s all very much pre-planned and worked out.

I’m definitely curious: you obviously had the time travel aspect so you’re going to go to a young Agent K. I’ve seen the trailed, and I’ve seen a little bit of the thing, Josh Brolin looks absolutely amazing in the role. When did you know he would be so perfect in that part, and did you ever think about other people or was it always Josh Brolin?

Sonnenfeld: For me it was always Josh Brolin. As soon as I read the script and really knew that there was going to be a young Agent K, the only person I thought would be right for the role was Brolin. I thought he was brilliant in W and also both Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones have really large heads for their bodies. So they even look similar in terms of facial structure and head size. And I met Josh a few times because of knowing Joel and Ethan Coen and being at various events where Josh was for No Country for Old Men. So I knew Josh a little bit, I’d met him, I got a sense of him, and his role in W made me think that, truly, Josh was the guy. Because for me, one of the many things that makes Men in Black 3 really good is that the audience doesn’t feel that there’s Young K and Old K, they just feel like it’s K. And sometimes it’s played by Tommy Lee Jones and sometimes it’s played by Josh Brolin, but you forget about it and weirdly think you’re just watching this character. As opposed to, “Oh, now I’m watching another actor playing that role,” you literally feel, whether it’s 2012 or 1969, you’re just watching Agent K. Sometimes it’s Young Agent K, sometimes it’s Old Agent K, but it’s just Agent K. And the fact that Josh was able to pull that off, and that Tommy, who truly created the character in the first place, was able to create such a specific character, is for me one of the big successes of Men in Black 3. You don’t go, “who’s  . . . oh, that’s Josh Brolin.”

men-in-black-3-josh-brolin-alice-eveCould you talk about that first moment on set where the crew and the rest of the cast are experiencing Josh as Young Agent K for the first time, was there that moment where everyone’s realizing, holy s- this guy really nailed it?

Sonnenfeld: Yeah, the first day we were shooting with Josh, which was about three or four weeks into the shoot we were in Men in Black Headquarters 1969. Now by this point Will Smith and I knew it was going to work because we had rehearsed with Josh, and done hair and make up tests with Josh, and hung out with Josh. But to the crew it was just a very exciting moment ‘cause they had already worked with Tommy Lee Jones for three to four weeks and were totally immersed in that Will-and-Tommy relationship and Agent K-and-J relationship, so it’s like really exciting for them to see that it was continuing with Josh.

If you don’t mind, I want to go back to a previous question I had, which was about the green light on the movie. Obviously when you have such a successful franchise I’m sure the studio is clamoring to get the third film. Can you talk about that though, was it waiting on Will, was it waiting on the studio, was it waiting on the script that finally got the green light? Or was there a green light always going and it was just on Will?

men-in-black-3-image-jemaine-clementSonnenfeld: I can’t answer that question. Not because I don’t want to but because I don’t know. It’s been…when this movie comes out it will have been 10 years since the previous one, and probably seven years since the start of writing the script. I don’t know…I went off, I did other things, I directed other movies, I did other television shows, so I was not involved in that process and I can’t guess. Either why it took seven…the first one took five years between the first and second one, and I think that . . . I suspect, that Sony didn’t want to do a Men in Black 3 unless it could be unique, different, and not another…and not a third installment where there’s a new villain, or a new threat to earth without additional creative ideas like time travel, which I think really allowed everyone to feel that this would be fresh and inventive.

I believe that you are releasing this in IMAX, could you talk a little bit about . . . Chris Nolan has shot with IMAX for the Dark Knight movies and Brad Bird did some IMAX stuff for Mission: Impossible 4. Was there ever a thought for shooting any sequence in IMAX? Are you a big fan of the format?

men in black 3 imaxSonnenfeld: I’m a big fan of the format because I think that the IMAX Corporation takes really great care, technically, in terms of sound, projection, focus, execution, and presentation. Having said that, although we are releasing in IMAX 3D, we did not shoot any footage using the IMAX cameras. In part, not to sound overly technical, but I very much like shooting with a 21mm lens and 35mm film negative. If I went to a larger film negative I’d have to go to a different focal length lens and it would not be the same energy that the 21mm gives me in terms of moving the camera, in terms of being close to an actor and leaning in towards the lens. Suddenly you’re on 40, 50, 60mm lenses, and it has a different feeling then a 21mm lens on a 35mm camera. So, I love projecting in the format, I love watching stuff in the format; I don’t think I would necessarily want to shoot in native IMAX because of the lens selection.

I always ask this of directors: I’m always curious about running time, and first cuts, and editing.  How long was your first cut when you brought the film in and how much did you learn from test screenings and showing it to friends and family?

barry sonnenfeld get shortySonnenfeld: I’m an unusual director in that my cut is usually shorter then the final released film. I like short films. This film, not including titles, is 97 minutes. The longest film I ever directed was Get Shorty, which was 100 minutes, but that included the titles, so this and Get Shorty are about the same length. The first cut I do is usually between five and 10 minutes shorter then the cut that we release. Anything I think isn’t working or might not work, I don’t even put it in the director’s cut. And usually it’s the studio suggesting I put stuff back in, as opposed to studios saying, “You got to lose 40 minutes,” they are always saying, “You’ve got to gain five minutes.” When you’re done shooting, the movie that you’re going to release when you’re done shooting is as bad as it will ever be. And then through editing, and finishing the effects and adding music, you get to make the movie better again. So I’m really hard on myself and on the movie. I don’t believe in leaving a scene in because it was really hard to shoot, or because it’s the reason you took the movie, or because you always wanted to work with an actor . . . If it’s not making the movie work, get rid of it. In fact, the single, funniest, best scene for pure comedy in Get Shorty is not in the movie and it’s a scene with Gene Hackman, John Travolta, and Ben Stiller. Ben Stiller plays a recent NYU graduate who’s directing a 10-Day-Wonder for Gene Hackman. It’s a really funny scene, but it didn’t work within the context of the pace of the movie in that section, and I had to get rid of it. So I’m always the opposite. You won’t see a 2 hour and 30 minute first cut of a movie I direct.

Did you end up having a bunch of deleted scenes in Men in Black 3? Are you someone who likes the DVD/home Blu-Ray process where you might put on deleted scenes?

men-in-black-3-poster will smithSonnenfeld: I don’t believe in doing that. I believe that perhaps showing deleted scenes or the scenes that didn’t get in the movie in the value added section is fine, perhaps. But I think there should be one version of the movie. And I don’t think there should be special edition versions. In fact, the scene I was just talking about in Get Shorty, when we went to DVD, I only put it there in this additional bonus section, but I didn’t put it back into the movie. In fact, the perfect role model is Joel and Ethan Coen, which is when they released the DVD of Blood Simple, they actually made it shorter then the theatrical version. But for me, I think there should just be one version of the movie, so I’ll never put scenes back into the movie for the release. We may or may not put stuff back in, but a) there weren’t that many scenes that we deleted; there are sections of scenes, there’s dialogue that we took out that might or might not have been funny, but the scene was just running too long, and also because so many of the shots are visual effects shots, it’d be weird to just show some stuff against blue screen. There may or may not be additional bonus material, but I don’t think it will ever be put back into the body of the movie.

Some filmmakers, like Clint Eastwood do the 2 take method, and some filmmakers, like David Fincher, 50 takes or 60 takes.

Sonnenfeld: Right.

How are you in terms of the amount of takes that you like to do and what do you think is the most that you’ve ever done?

Sonnenfeld: I would guess that I’m probably between two and seven, two and eight. I’m not the one or two take guy, but I’m not the 20, 30, 50, 70 take guy either. If I do a bunch of takes, like more than five or six, it’s usually for some technical reasons. If I do a master shot, sometimes I’ll only do one take, of course I know I’ll only be in it at the beginning or end of a scene and I’ll never cut to the master in the middle. If I do a lot of takes, it would be because I’m only going to shot a master with no coverage, like if I’m doing a walk and talk down a hallway, and I know I don’t want to cut into any close-ups or coverage, I’ll be forced to do as many takes as I feel I can make sure that I never have to go to the coverage. So sometimes I’ll do as many as 15 or 16 takes, but only if I don’t intend to do any other coverage of the scene.

men in black 3 will smith tommy lee jones

Can you compare the making of all three Men in Black films, what’s the thing that you…What’s the think about the first one, what do you take away from that one? When you think about the second one, same thing. And with the third one, same thing. If you don’t mind answering.

Sonnenfeld: I don’t mind answering. The first one was unique because it was the first one in the series and we got to create this world. What we realized in the second movie is that we thought the first movie was a comedy, and we realized that it was funny, but not a comedy. And the second one was too, “funny” or “joke-y,” and we were trying for comic-beats as apposed to telling a great story. And the third Men in Black, we went back to the roots and it’s much more like the first Men in Black, which is that it’s really about emotion, character, and relationships. And if it’s funny, it’s funny because of those things, but we’re not cutting to singing dogs.

Certain filmmakers always have an audience that they always . . . like the friends or family, or select members that they trust of the industry, who they show their films to first. Do you have that group of people? Or who is your group of people that you always show your movies to first?

Sonnenfeld: It’s pretty much me and my wife, Sweetie. I remember on the first Men in Black, showing it to Ethan Coen and every suggestion he made I ignored, thank god. Like he suggested losing the scene where Will takes the test to become a Man in Black, and those “egg” chairs. So at the end of the day you have to trust yourself or trust your wife.

barry-sonnenfeld men in black 3So basically she’s given you very good advice.

Sonnenfeld: Always.

Do you have a favorite movie, a favorite director, and a favorite actor?

Sonnenfeld: Yes, and it’s going to be very narrow. You ready?


Sonnenfeld: Favorite movie: Dr. Strangelove by far. Favorite director: Stanley Kubrick who directed two of my favorite films, although very different, which are Strangelove and 2001: Space Odyssey. And one of my favorite actors is Peter Sellers, both in Strangelove and in Being There. He’s really amazing at being able to allow the audience to find the funny, as opposed to telling the audience, “This is funny.” For me, the biggest challenge and the biggest success is when the audience thinks they discovered what’s funny, even though Barry as a director didn’t realize it, even though I really did. So for me, I love watching Peter Sellers’ work, because it’s incredibly funny but he’s never playing comedy. The other guy who is unbelievably funny, but never plays into the funny is Cary Grant. And I think for me, what I most enjoy about the comedy of Men in Black is that I find Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones really funny, but they don’t play comedy, they play reality. The situation is funny, but they don’t play funny.

I’ve interviewed Tommy Lee Jones a few times, and he always is serious. What I’ve found about him is if you ask intelligent questions he gives you great answers and he’s engaged, and if you are not prepared or if you ask dumb things, he will tear you up. What is he like on set? Has he mellowed at all? Is he the exact same person you started working with many years ago?

men in black 3 poster tommy lee jonesSonnenfeld: Will and I love working with Tommy. Will and I find Tommy incredibly funny. And Tommy, I think, really enjoys working with Will and myself, and the three of us have a great time on the set. And what makes Tommy so great is [that] he’s really smart and he never plays into the funny. But, George Burns is really funny, and he is as flat as Tommy Lee Jones, but what makes him funny is that Gracie Allen is as energetic and is clueless in the same way that Will Smith gets to be in Men in Black. And what’s great is you have those two combinations. Gracie Allen isn’t funny without George Burns, George Burns isn’t funny without Gracie Allen. Same with Laurel and Hardy, but you put them together, and both of them are really funny. And what is really rewarding to me is when an audience laughs at a reaction shot. For me, the reaction is funnier then the action. So as you mentioned, as a cinematographer on When Harry Met Sally and there is the famous fake orgasm scene in Katz’s Delicatessen, and I was at many screenings of that movie, and as hilarious as Meg Ryan is, and you’re hearing laughter at 90 decibels, you cut to Billy Crystal doing nothing but reacting, and it goes to 93 decibels. And it was joyful, for me, to watch Tommy experience the joy of being funny without being funny when he watched the movie with audiences.

I would imagine he got a great kick out of that.

Sonnenfeld: Yeah, he did.

A lot of directors attach themselves to eight, 10, 12 different projects, but with you I don’t get that . . . or we don’t write a lot of stories about you getting attached to eight different things. But I am curious about the always accurate IMDB has a few things going, like Dominion: Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens, Enchanted 2, Pig Scrolls, Gil’s All Fright Diner, stuff like this. The How-To Guide for Saving the World, could you let me know, slash fans, slash everybody, what’s going on with some of these other projects and what are you thinking about for the future?

dominion dinosaurs versus aliens barry sonnenfeldSonnenfeld:  I came up with the idea of Dominion: Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens, I thought it would be really cool movie and isn’t like anything I’ve done before because it obviously isn’t a comedy, but I do believe that everything we believe is what Tommy Lee Jones says to Will Smith on that park bench in the first movie, “You know what? 1,000 years ago, the world knew the Earth was flat; 500 years ago, they knew that the Earth was the center of the universe; imagine what you’ll [know] tomorrow.” So my feeling is everything we believe may be true or may not be true, so I wanted to tell the “real story” of how the dinosaurs got extinct 65 million years ago, and it’s dinosaurs vs. aliens, and that would be a photorealistic CG movie in 3D.

The How-To Guide for Saving the Planet is a romantic comedy that also involves, strangely, aliens, and that’s where I’m at. I really like hanging out with my wife and my kid and reading, so I don’t like to develop a lot of stuff. I look forward to figuring out what I’ll do next. It’s probably none of the above, ‘cause you never know when you’ll get an interesting phone call. But for me, those are a couple of the things I’m developing, but what’s the most interesting thing on my plate right now probably is seeing if we can set up Dominion: Dinosaurs Versus Aliens.

Are you trying to pitch that at Sony, or is it just for whoever wants to do it?

Sonnenfeld: Right now we are finishing the pre-viz and the graphic novel which is written by Grant Morrison, who is really talented, and the script will all be finished in the next few weeks, and then we’ll pitch it to various studios and we’ll see who’s interested.

And with that, my conversation with Sonnenfeld ended.  A huge thank you to everyone who made this interview happen.  Again, Men in Black 3 opens May 25.  Here’s the new images Sony provided us for the interview.




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