I’m sitting in a Chinese restaurant outside the press theater at Sundance as I write these words. Why am I doing this? Because they have free wi-fi and mediocre Chinese food. Clearly this is the place I want to be updating Collider from….
Anyway. Arriving this Friday is a crazy action ride and it’s called Smokin’ Aces. It’s the first film from Joe Carnahan in almost five years and it’s a welcome departure from all the Oscar fare and award bullshit going on right now. Smokin’ Aces is pure and simple a roller coaster of action and entertainment.
The premise is pretty simple. Jeremy Piven plays Buddy ‘Aces’
What Joe Carnahan does differently and what will either make you love or hate this film is have the movie take on the personality of who is on screen while you are watching their character. When you have a someone serious on screen the film acts like a typical movie, but when you have some of the crazy hit men racing around, the film takes on their personality. He accomplishes this by altering the camera work and editing to reflect their personalities. For me it works, but I’ll admit it was a bit jarring at times.
If you want to see a fun action flick I suggest checking out Smokin’ Aces. Solid performances and a hell of a cast will keep you entertained and amused. Also it has one of the funniest bit parts I’ve seen in a long time, you’ll know it when you see it….
Now for that interview…
Most of the studios do roundtables, but Universal is famous for their press conferences. What that means is instead of eight or so people asking questions we have twenty or thirty trying to get their voice heard. And each person usually has an agenda. That’s why when you read a transcript of a press conference the questions can be extremely varied. Thankfully with Mr. Carnahan they gave us a lot of time so everyone was able to get at least a question in.
He talks about all the important stuff – like how he was attached to MI3 for awhile and how that went, how his brother is now an up and coming screenwriter, how he put this crazy cast together, what he’s doing next, all the usual stuff.
You can either read the interview/press conference or you can listen to it by clicking here. The file is an MP3 so it will be easy to put on your iPod or portable player.
And before reading or listening to this interview please know that spoilers are discussed.
Joe Carnahan: Gees, I feel like I’m at the Watergate hearings. Yes, I was one of the original five! Do I do anything?
No, you’re all set.
Joe Carnahan: Okay, all right man.
It’s good to see you again.
Joe Carnahan: Good to see you too man.
Almost more interesting than this project are all the ones that almost happened [along the way].
Joe Carnahan: That didn’t happen? Ha ha! What are you talking about? I don’t know—
Just tell us about why it’s been so hard for you to connect with something and what came together for this?
Joe Carnahan: Well, people in this town don’t like me. That’s one—no I’m kidding there! No, that’s going to go on, somebody’s going to take that literally and be like, “This asshole actually said no one likes him.” No, you know what? It was, you know, I had the fifteen months on
It won’t be another five years.
Joe Carnahan: It won’t be another five years, I promise you. In fact, I’m doing—if things go well, I’m going to do something almost immediately with Reese Witherspoon, which will be a lot of fun. And then I do White Jazz at the end of next year with George Clooney, which is again, my brother adapted it, I got to work with him on it. So, no, if this business will have me, I will continue to make films and not wait so long in between them. So, it’s a long-ass answer. That was really long, I’m sorry guys.
Joe, when you were writing the script, did you have the editing in mind? And then after—or while you were directing, was there something in the editing process that you saw?
Joe Carnahan: Yeah, I mean, Rob Frazen who cut Smoking Aces had come off of Nicole Holofcener, who I love, who, you know, like he had cut Lovely and Amazing and Friends With Money, so Rob is like a behavioralist, which is what I love, because I’m not. So I knew, you know, a lot of sequences were designed—they had to be because we shot that film in forty days. So if you go in there, and kind of go, “Ah, I’m not sure—put a camera up there in the corner,” you’re dead. So I was really—I had a real strong sense of what I wanted to do, because necessity kind of makes you. I’m by nature, kind of lazy. I mean, you know, I’ll sit around for a long time if I can. So, I’m going right back to this question over here, but no, I really did approach it with kind of knowing the way I was going to put it together. And also, which is what makes the movie either good or bad, or interesting or not interesting, I was really going for shooting characters and editing sequences according to the persona of those particular characters. You know, you look at the Tremor brothers, those guys watched The Matrix fifty times. So when I shot them—and they watched [Sir Guillioni] movies. So when I shot them I made them like this kind of like slow motion, and kind of overwrought, and you know, they want to shoot guys who are on fire. It’s this cartoonish—but you’re going from that back to Ryan Reynolds trying to resuscitate [Ray] and Taraji Henson in this tearful kind of—so it was a conscious decision knowing that it was going to require an audience to go from first gear to fifth gear without necessarily feeling this big speed change, you know. But at the same time it’s like, well, I’d rather do that than like go right down the middle and play it safe and say, “Well, you know, I’m worried because people may not connect.” So there was a lot of those decisions made. And certainly that fell into—I knew how I was going to cut it, you know, that some stuff that I would hold on because of the character, and other things I wouldn’t. Good sir?
So let’s talk about how did you go about assembling this incredible ensemble of actors? And can you follow up telling us what you’re doing with Reese?
Joe Carnahan: You know, the actors—I mean, listen, you know, this is the other thing I learned really, from
Joe, you grew up, or lived a lot around Tahoe.
Joe Carnahan: Yeah.
You chose that on purpose. I wondered, you scared some hotel patrons with “The windows are going to blow out,” in the memo. Did you have to deal with any locals that you grew up with on this movie? And could you just talk a little bit about shooting it up there where you [were familiar with it].
Joe Carnahan: Yeah, I mean, listen, like I say—it’s funny, I’ve always—I love Tahoe, but when someone asks me, like, describe Tahoe, I say, well, you know, the south shore there it’s like, you know, if the gaming industry took a dump in god’s country, that’s that section of Tahoe! It is a unbelievably, majestically, beautiful piece of real estate. And against it you have this array of kind of gawdy glass towers and high rises and stuff. But I thought it was such a uniquely—it hadn’t been filmed in a way that I think is, you know. It’s like, and it’s funny because for being a place that’s so you know, exquisitely beautiful, it’s like, considered the last stop in an entertainer’s career. You know what I mean? Like if you wind up in Tahoe, man, it’s over. You know what I mean? That means
Joe, working with Ben Affleck, was that character originally conceived as sort of a Janet Leigh in Psycho? And where was he in this comeback trial that he’d been on while he was making the film.
Joe Carnahan: You know what? He was—Ben, just having spent time with him, he’s you know, one of the funniest, brightest, he really is. Just got this incredibly, kind of acerbic wit. And he understood like, the importance of dying, you know, for lack of a better word. He knew that it would be like—that it would be a shock and that people would actually almost kind of get off on this idea that we’re constructing the kind of the haggard, beleaguered bail bondsman who you think you’re going to ride the movie with. But what I wanted to do, you know, for you guys, or for the viewers is really put you on incredibly uneven footing. So you think, man, if he can go out, nobody’s safe, you know what I mean? So, yeah, it was absolutely constructed. And then I remember talking to Ben, and thinking, god, what a great—that would be—and he completely responded to it. He just got it. He got that, you know, that he was going to be counted on to kind of narrate it, and you’re thinking, oh man, okay, whatever your feelings are about Ben, see, I love Ben, and I think he acquits himself so beautifully because there is that world weary thing to him. And you know, this idea of like, the comeback. You know, for me, you know, I wasn’t aware that he was ever—beyond being disparaged at different turns and who isn’t, you know, that he was on, that he needed to come back, because I think the guy is as vital and as viable now as an actor as he ever was. In fact I think even more so because he’s now a father and a husband and just, you know, wrote and shot his own directorial debut. So I think that if anything, he’s even more kind of energized, I think. And I think that, you know, getting the nod in
Joe Carnahan: Hey, it’s come back around!
We’ve seen so much gun violence on film, how did you conceive of different ways to portray that?
Joe Carnahan: You know, it’s funny, because I never want to, like I was saying earlier, this idea of the, you know, the characters kind of influencing the way that the film was shot and the way the violence that you depict and that. You know, I think that it has been done so much, so I think doing it in a way that was appropriate for each section. You know, it’s like, listen, to me it’s like having a thesis statement, you know. And I don’t pretend—I can be a pretty dim bulb, man. I mean, I’m not the smartest person walking the earth. So if I don’t have a clear kind of mandate, or I don’t create something for myself, to like, let me kind of guide the film by, then it gets very confusing and muddled. So when I went out I thought, well, you know, for Alicia and Taraji it’s very much a—that is a very real situation as it is for Ryan. So you know, when that guy gets hit with that 50 caliber, you know, that’s essentially what’s going to happen. I mean, you actually fly apart. But I just couldn’t, you know, it was such a—I wanted it to be really raw and nasty and have the sense of just absolute chaos, kind of exploding. And in the same way that there’s a suddenness and a very violent, kind of vicious thing between Ray and Nestor Carbonell in the elevator, and then you know, you get the Tremor Brothers and that kind of you know, spectacle in the hallway with them and the security guys. And then you have the Tremor Brothers early in the film with Ben and those guys, and again, there’s that, you know, of the handful—I’ve been lucky in my live that I haven’t really been involved in a tremendous amount of violence. I mean, I can count the fistfights I’ve been in on one hand. You know. So I’ll never pretend it’s like some kind of hardass, you know, that went into bars looking for fights. But of those moments—and so you know, there’s been two of them that have been pretty extreme. You know, violence for me has this suddenness, and this immediacy, and then it’s gone. You know, very rarely is it something you linger on, or whatever. So, I just wanted the depiction of it to be that way. And it’s not, in a lot of ways it’s not dissimilar from the stuff in Narc, this very sudden kind of, you know, eruptions of that. You know. And this is the first time I think I’ve actually consciously stylized a gunfight, or gun, you know, which I normally wouldn’t do because I just think it’s—there’s part of it that I think is you know, it can border on irresponsibility, you know, because we do, you know, we have such a love affair with firearms, you know, and I think it, you know, it can lead to bad things if it’s done, you know, with this overly kind of glamorous—you know. But you know, well, you say that, you say that you’re immediately a hypocrite. Well, I’m fully aware of that, you know. So. That’s a hell of a way to end a question. I’m a hypocrite. Next question!
Can you talk about how the concept of the ADD crazy karate kid came about?
Joe Carnahan: It’s funny my brother is a screenwriter now. He’s actually becoming very successful. He wrote this film called ‘The Kingdom” in which Jamie Fox just did for Universal and wrote called “Lions for Lambs” which oddly enough Tom Cruise is going to be in. My younger brother. That was really based on a kid that we grew up with. I’m not going to name him for fear that I’ll get sued. But, no a kid that I grew up with and then my brother. My brother was an admitted freak when he was a kid. Listen, did he get an erection throwing punches at people, no. Was he on Riddlin? No. It was my need to kind of insert some desperate kind of comic relief in there. Also I was like what if this kid is throwing punches and he literally became aroused. That would be either really disturbing or really funny or both. When he’s walking away from Martin Henderson at the end doing that robot s**t, that was my brother when we were kids. That’s the kind of annoying stuff he would do when we were kids. I knew people would either go with it or really think it was funny as hell or it would bother the hell out of them and completely polarize people. That’s where that came from. When she calls him Boogie, that was actually the nickname of this kid that we grew up with that we knew was just a freak. I just remember him being a kid and always having nunchucks and his mother was nuts. I remember her running out one time, I’ll never forget, running out when we were playing street football and she yells to him to come inside and watch his brother because she’s playing Burger
This is the first movie for Alicia Keys and Common. How did you get them to take the part and were they fast learners?
Joe Carnahan: They were really fast learners and really, really available and open to the process. I was a fan of Alicia’s obviously musically and I went to see her in
The cinematography was great. Were the card tricks your idea?
Joe Carnahan: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s also the kind of the idea that when they’re in that bathroom, Common and Jeremy, when those characters are in that bathroom having that kind of heart to heart. It’s the idea of this illusion and slide of hand and of what’s real. I always wanted to create this kind of impression that maybe what Jeremy’s character, what Buddy
You had James Ellroy at the screening the other night. Did he give you a reaction to the film?
Joe Carnahan: I’m always dreading what Ellroy is going to say. He’s such a nut. I have not spoken to him. It’s funny because James can’t bear to sit still. I think I got him in his outside limit of where he’s actually willing to sit in one place. I think my brother had to coral him a couple of times because they were sitting next to each to other. Like I was saying the other night, no one has had a bigger impact on me creatively, certainly writing wise as Ellroy. So to be able to participate in something like ‘White Jazz’ is extraordinary knowing that something is very dear and near to James. It obvious has legions of fans to those books and trying to honor that and at the same time knowing there are certain things you need to contemporize and certain things that are not sacred. I have not solicited his opinion. My brother said he really dug it and was mumbling something as he left so I’m sure I’m going to hit him up later for his definitive kind of opinion.
Can you talk about your approach to White Jazz?
Joe Carnahan: The great thing about it is that the script really deposits a complete antihero. George’s [Clooney] decision to play a guy who murders an innocent man kind of wontedly and with a great kind of violence 10 minutes into the movie. To have a guy that’s that much of a gamer as Clooney is. My approach to it is not going to be like ‘
Can you talk about your process for writing a script? Are you a 9-5 guy?
Joe Carnahan: Oh brother no. You know what it is, I have to get into a real rhythmic. I went to work on this “