Jon Turteltaub Interview – NATIONAL TREASURE Book of Secrets

     December 19, 2007

Opening this Friday is “National Treasure Book of Secrets,” the sequel to the huge hit “National Treasure.” So to help promote the film, I recently attended a press day where I got to interview most of the cast and the filmmakers who made it.

But before getting to the interview…a few words. While I’ve seen a ton of movies these past few weeks, films that are sure to be nominated for Oscars and movies that will be remembered for years… the one film everyone asks me about is “National Treasure.” Seriously. If my friends and family are any barometer for the success of a movie…Disney is about to have a HUGE hit on their hands. Even my dad, who rarely goes to the movies, wants to see this film.

And for those wondering…here are my two cents on the sequel. Did you like the first film? Then you’ll like the sequel, as it’s more of the same. But I do want to emphasize not thinking too hard about the plausibility of what you’re watching, because if you try and think about it… you’ll just ruin the ride and not have any fun. Simply put, ”National Treasure Book of Secrets” is a great popcorn movie and audiences are going to eat it up. Now about this interview…

Posted below is the mini press conference with Jon Turteltaub – the director of “National Treasure.”

During our time Jon talked about how a lot of what we see in these movies is actually based on real things, and he was quite honest about what he expects the critics to do to the movie. But what I really took away from the interview was just how funny he is. Seriously, if you’re going to listen to any of the “National Treasure” interviews listen to this one. He constantly says funny stuff and it’s all worth listening to. And for all you “Jericho” fans… he does drop some info on the series.

As usual, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you want to watch some clips from the movie, you can do so here.

“National Treasure Book of Secrets” opens this Friday at theaters everywhere.

Jon Turteltaub: Let me tell you something, no matter what I do the reviewers are not going to like this movie. That’s the way it goes. Some of you are reviewers, right? There you go.

Question: Why do you say that?

Jon: They didn’t like the first one, and so if they didn’t like the first one they have to pretend they did to like this one, because this one really isn’t that different than the first one.

Q: Actually, I think I can prove you wrong because I probably wrote some not nice things about the first one, and I liked this one a lot more.

Jon: Why is that?

Q: I guess we can talk about it later. I think it’s more fun, I think it’s sharper.

Jon: But maybe it’s more fun and sharper because now you get the joke, but you were a little slow to get it the first time. [laughter]

Q: I wrote last night, ‘maybe I’m smarter than I was three years ago.’

Jon: I love that, I love that. What was odd too was that a lot of the reviews the first time said this movie is really stupid, and I thought, ‘Really?’ That was the one thing I didn’t think people would say about the first one, because –

Q: What would they say about this one?

Jon: Oh, this one’s very stupid. I think people think we made up most of it, but we didn’t and we got attacked for history not making sense. We didn’t make this stuff up, those are the glasses Ben Franklin designed, those are the buildings where the stuff happened, we didn’t make up the letters, this is all real stuff. And none of us had even heard of The Da Vinci Code when we wrote the script, none of us had read it, because we’d been told it’s similar, so none of us read it when we made the movie and then we got accused of stealing from it. And then when that movie came out all those critics had to like that movie more, because they’d already told us ours wasn’t as good as that. It got confusing.

Q: I think the thing that may have hurt the first one more than the Da Vinci Code parallels was that about the same time you came out, PBS’ Nova did a story about the ultra protection of the Declaration of Independence, and how it was locked up.

Jon: But what was interesting is that that story wasn’t really right, because I saw that Nova when it came out. I’d been to the archives, and I got a tour of how the Declaration was kept, and what was amazing is honestly it was kept like in a safe that you’d have in your house, and they had a halon gas thing so that if there was a fire, the fire would go out, but basically Ernie the janitor could have gone in and shown it to you. After 9/11 they went, ‘Ah, it’s safe,’ and spirited it away and redid the security system. But they had already given us all the plans of the new security system, which we had, so we just did what they told us, it goes down that tube and down the thing into the room and it goes across the hall when they’re working on it, into that other room. It was art and then we got told oh we made up a fake system, that’s what happens, just like that. Don’t blame me, blame –

Q: Given all the bad reviews the first one got, were you apprehensive to come back to make the second one?

Jon: No, because [to the first row] don’t listen, don’t listen, don’t listen, the people we know who have families in Texas and aunt and uncles in Minnesota matter a lot more to us than the critics. One of the problems all of us have is we all see too many movies and so we just don’t watch movies right, we can’t help it, we know what’s coming, we can’t help but know where this is going, we’ve seen that actor in too many movies that year, and at too many lunches that year, so if you listen and you really talk to people and you go into someone’s house and you see the movie on the shelf, and you see it’s been watched, they’re watching that movie and you know that there’s something that crept into the, sorry, but the zeitgeist on it. I read references – you know on line, on the YouTube thing it says, there was something about a fire and someone said, ‘It looked really like National Treasure,’ that’s a sign to me that it’s out there. And then we said, you know what, it made money but not all in its opening weekend, it built, so there was word of mouth that made the success of the first movie. And the DVD life was so strong. That’s all about just people telling each other to watch the movie. And you look and you go, okay, we did better [in the] red States than blue States, and there’s probably more of you working in blue States than red States, so what does that mean to a movie, and by better, not world’s better, but there’s things. And we said, well, let’s do a sequel, but let’s start by coming up with ideas and a script. We don’t green light a movie until we know we’ve got a movie to make. And if there’s a sequel to this one it’ll be because not it opens well, but because it has some shelf life, you can smell whether audiences liked it or liked it. And if the new story we come up with works, and we feel confident, then we’ll do our best to get all the exact same people together again and do it again.

Q: Have you written yourself into a corner with this page 47?

Jon: You know what? We can always tell people that’s the fourth movie. That doesn’t work. I’ve actually seen movies that seem like they’re setting up for the sequel and that wasn’t the sequel.

Q: Bruce was telling people in the lobby of the theatre last night, they were asking him what was on page 47, and he was saying, ‘That’s the next movie.’

Jon: I’ll tell you, what is on page 47 is I think the single greatest secret in America today which is the plot of Star Trek. [everyone laughs]

Q: What happened with the Lincoln Memorial scene, why was it cut –

Jon: [his phone goes off] I think my ass is ringing, hang on one second. Here’s what happened, it’s funny you’re the first person to ask, because I’ve been asked a ton about the Lincoln Memorial and you’re the first person to mention, wait a minute, it’s not in the movie. In fact, what is so great is, I’ve been watching all these TV commercials and most of the commercials – the problem is, commercials always give the movie away, well in this case it didn’t because nothing in the commercials made it into the final movie. [everyone laughs] And we keep looking at the commercials going, ‘That’s good, why did we cut that?’ But they make the commercials based on dailies and your first four hour cut; they don’t know what’s going on.

Q: What was the scene?

Jon: Here’s what happened in that scene. That was going to go somewhere between when Nic goes and talks to Harvey Keitel and finds out this book is real and there’s no way to get it, and telling everyone he’s going to kidnap the President to get it, not that he does that in the movie, he had to deal with whether it was worthy – is this worth it and what is the risk he’s personally taking? It was part of a little sequence, and he goes at sunrise basically to the Lincoln Memorial and he’s standing there in front of Lincoln, and it’s sort of a dialogue between their expressions and faces, and he notices the Gettysburg Address and reads the Gettysburg Address which includes the line which does come up later, ‘the last full measure of devotion’ is mentioned in the Gettysburg Address. And in understanding what people give, because there are issues greater in life than your own safety, he realizes this is something he needs to do, whether for his great grandfather, his current father, or even his friend Riley who said, ‘Trust me on this book thing,’ But it became a little too mushy, sappy and meaningful maybe to some Americans, but you make movies now for the population of the whole planet, and it just sat there as –

Q: Too rah rah?

Jon: Too rah rah, and too yucky.

Q: Will you put that on the DVD?

Jon: Yeah, probably. The photography’s too nice, so you’ve got to show it somewhere.

continued on page 2 ———->


Q: Wasn’t it tough to get permission to go inside the Lincoln Memorial?

Jon: It’s very tough. A lot of restrictions went with it. They’ll often give permission for documentaries because the crews are very small. Surprisingly what’s tough about shooting in these places is not security, they’re okay with – they know you’re not blowing the place up, their biggest concern is that you’re going to ruin the vacation of a family from Iowa who spent a lot of money to go see the Lincoln Memorial, and what’s great about America is that the Walt Disney Company is not more important than that family on vacation. So we needed to promise them that we wouldn’t upset access, that we wouldn’t ruin someone’s trip, we could only send six people in, and you add to it that the Lincoln Memorial is a little special, it somehow has a spiritual quality to it, and I’m telling you it sounds dumb and hokey, but you’ll feel it if you go, there’s something very –

Q: Spiritual?

Jon: Sacred. I was going to try it, I didn’t have my Thesaurus. But there is a hallowed ground aspect to it, and you’ll hear people lower their voice when they go in because he was killed and because of the awkwardness and humble visage of Lincoln, and you read those words that are inscribed on the walls, it’s really very special and they don’t want to destroy that quality by having a circus inside there.

Q: What about shooting in Buckingham Palace and in Paris and all of that?

Jon: Screw them! Same really. The same. Shooting on the streets of London, you know, a car chase in London is almost impossible but we bite it off in little pieces. We would shoot only on weekends. They would close pieces of streets. There’s no street in London that’s more than two blocks long anyway. So you find that little thing. There’s no way. To go around you got to go to Ireland. And what we would do is we would set up from 3 in the morning until 6am ‘til the sun came up, shoot ‘til 9 and be gone.

Q: How long?

Jon: Nine weeks of weekends to do that. It’s not cheap.

Q: What about Buckingham Palace? Did you actually get inside?

Jon: No. We kind of had the inside scoop on palaces that look like Buckingham Palance from Helen Mirren. She’s like, ‘You want good Queen stuff, I got the Queen stuff.’ Experts. We created, recreated some stuff. There’s an extraordinary palace literally across the square from Buckingham Palace we used. Again every single person who shot needed to have their names in a week in advance for background checks and security and all that stuff. But if you have the production… You ask why do movies cost so much. This is one of the reasons they cost so much. You need that amount of bureaucracy on your end to organize all of that and be that prepared to get all that done. That cost us $72 million just to do that.

Q: John, I want to ask about Jericho. Do you think this writer’s strike might be a benefit to Jericho because it will end up being the only new program?

Jon: And CBS will probably put it on against “American Idol.” [Laughs] That’s probably how that’s going to go. Yeah, maybe. The problem is if it’s a hit, then what? There’s seven episodes. We have seven episodes waiting to be aired but if they’re great, there’s no eighth episode. So who knows? Who knows?

Q: Have they given you an air date yet?

Jon: No, but the rumblings are maybe February. They’re looking sometime in February. I think that’s when they’ve kind of exhausted what they have. I think it’s changed, you know, the notion of canceling shows went out the window because they have nothing to replace shows with so they might as well show what they’ve paid for and see where it takes them. The strike is bad for everybody.

Q: How hard will it be to mount up after seven? Is everyone all split up again?

Jon: Oh no. We can get going. You just got to do it and if the strike’s not over, it’s a problem. There’s no scripts.

Q: I mean you can get picked up for after the strike?

Jon: That’s true. If we get picked up for September, great. But see this is what they know they made the mistake with the first time was when we went off the air for 13 weeks, the momentum of the Fall season went away and when we came back after the 11 weeks off, we had lost the flow. Look, the same thing happened to Heroes. Heroes had 30% of its viewers lost from the beginning of the season until the end of the season and that was considered a big hit.

Q: Was that because they intentionally chopped it in the middle and wait? What is the theory behind this?

Jon: People aren’t really watching TV during Christmas time, in January, and we want the season to go longer and so…

Q: Do you want to pay for extra actors?

Jon: Well more than that, the belief is that on serials like Jericho and Heroes that reruns don’t play as well. So let’s not have reruns. So instead of showing two, rerunning one, show three, rerun one, let’s wait and show 11 in a row. So that was the theory there.

Q: We heard that you just finished the film just a few days ago.

Jon: Yeah, basically.

Q: How challenging was it? How much pressure was there to deliver the film? I’m curious how many scenes and how many minutes might have been cut out and might be on the DVD?

Jon: Nothing gets cut out because you don’t have time to make the movie unfortunately. I would have loved for them to say ‘You only have six more weeks. Don’t bother with this.’ They go, ‘You only got six more weeks. You’d better hurry.’ The movie comes first so you just have to … I’m not kidding. It’s 7 days a week, sometimes 24-hour days for 5 straight days. That’s another reason why movies cost a lot of money. You’re working as hard as you can and then one day you’re driving down the street and you see your poster with a date on it. Okay? The movie’s coming out that day so you’re put in the position of how good is your movie going to be and I can stay here and not see my kid or I can just say that’s the best I can do. It’s a tough position to put people in but what are you going to do.

Q: I was just going to ask about the DVD. Do you have 20 or 30 minutes you think is going to end up on the DVD?

Jon: There’s two answers to that. The first cut was 3 hours and 55 minutes long. Okay? So there’s about an hour and 50 minutes cut. That’s a movie. That’s an actual version 3 done. I want $11 million please. The fact of the matter is…alright here’s a little inside scoop. Everybody believes in the financial world that “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” would have made another $50 to $100 million had it been 45 minutes shorter. Okay? The filmmakers will say you’re wrong. It made this money because it worked at this length. The studio says it would have worked at 45 minutes shorter and more people could’ve seen the damned movie and people can go more than once and all of that. So the studio was really concerned about the length. That’s coupled with I’m always concerned about the length. I don’t like really long movies and I know when a movie feels too long. Now it’s dumb to cut things out just for the length but I’ll tell you a scene can be boring if there’s 2 hours of movie in front of it and not boring if there’s 1 hour of movie in front of it. So the film itself can benefit from being shorter. That said, just ‘cause scenes get cut out doesn’t mean they were bad and doesn’t mean they were boring. Sometimes they’re terrific scenes that were just not necessary when you look at the whole thing to the movie. Some scenes get cut out because they don’t quite work and for me, why would I still want to show that on a DVD? It’s like, you know, ‘Look what a shitty job we did.’ It’s crazy putting these deleted scenes on some of these DVDs and I know film buffs and people like it but they never play great because they’re always out of context. So you’re sitting there not really watching a scene in the movie. You’re sort of watching other things and it’s just dumb. But ‘Oh, it sells DVDs and the audience loves it.’ ‘Really? It does? Will I get more money?’ ‘Yes. Here.’ [Laughs] So the good deleted scenes will be on there.

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