VFX Supervisor Paul Linden Talks Turning Vancouver Into North Korea on the Set of THE INTERVIEW

     November 4, 2014


Last year when directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were filming The Interview (their directorial follow up to This is The End) in Vancouver, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters.  As most of you know from the extremely funny red and green band trailers, James Franco plays a vapid talk show host who, along with his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen), lands an interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park).  But their attempt at hard news gets upended when the CIA asks the duo to assassinate the North Korean leader.

During a break in filming, I participated in a group interview with VFX Supervisor Paul Linden.  He talked about turning Vancouver into North Korea, creating Kim Jong-un’s compound, how the film has a “helicopter tank battle that’s pretty massive,” and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.  The Interview is in theaters December 25th.

the-interview-posterQuestion: I would imagine you’re creating North Korea.


Question: Talk a little bit about what they said to you when you got hired, what your job would entail.

LINDEN: Well, I did This Is The End with Seth and Evan, and we hit it off.  We started talking about this at the end of that movie and a big part of it was, typically on a movie, what I’ll do is sort of become a compulsive researcher to the subject we’re getting into.  Sadly and usually I don’t really know what we’re heading into so I just started pulling any and every image I could from North Korea.  In some ways, you’re looking at, well how am I gonna build this world?  Another part of it is sort of getting fascinated with the design aesthetic.  It’s kind of like if you had to build your kingdom from Home Depot, what would you do?  And it’s just the most cracked design sensibility I’ve ever seen and I started to fall in love with it in a way where I got really weird about it, like, you know, wanting to be the production designer.  I’m just like, ‘This is the most beautiful shit I’ve ever seen.’  I’m sorry, I swore.  This is crazy, you know?  Who could come up with this?  And that’s what’s so amazing about working with Jon Billington is just seeing his refined sensibility take on that work.

But for us, typically with movies, I’m sure you guys hear this from every single VFX dude, but we facilitate kind of covering the scenes of the world.  Some days you’re kind of like a janitor for the movie.  Other days you’re helping build something really amazing and magnificent and I kind of like both sides of it, but with this, it was sort of like, well what does Vancouver have that could look that sad and desperate?  It’s basically just sad cement.  Like, that is their entire world.  So we spent a lot of time driving around looking at stuff, being like, ‘Huh, you know, can we do that,’ or, ‘Will this work?’

And another side of it in the film is that the compound is in this beautiful remote area so we went up to Squamish and shot a lot of stuff, but, you know, there’s a lot of action in this movie and just like all of them, everything you plan to do will not ever work.  Like every single thing and it’s amazing because everybody steps forward with the best intentions and the beauty of it actually is that it won’t work.  And everyone laughs.  But the coolest part of my job is just kind of being symbiotic to all those different relationships and kind of keeping people cool because I don’t have to have stuff camera ready, so I have it easy.  Like, you can just stand there going, ‘No problem!’  It’s a fire drill and we’re hiding all this shit.  I watch how hard it is to have stuff ready for camera and it’s really incredible to me that anything can get done.  It’s like a squib won’t go off or something won’t blow up or something will blow up too soon, you know?  So a lot of it is just reassuring everyone that we can keep going because it’s just so expensive and crazy.  When the machine of this is running, you always have to just be like, ‘We got it.’

randall-park-the-interviewSo a lot of it is that, but with – I’m giving you the three-dollar answer – but with Pyongyang and North Korea, a lot of it was looking at footage to figure out how to build it.  And we’re still doing it, so this may or may not be the solution we end up with, but we set up a licensing deal with Vice because they shot a bunch of stuff in North Korea for their series for HBO and we’re licensing their B-roll to be able to manufacture our matte paintings and our driving comps.  And a lot of it, it’s a little crazy, like it’s a guy hanging out the window of a bus in North Korea and we have to go back in and re-stabilize it and then make it part of our driving footage for the guys, so it’s really fun in that regard to build that.  And then another big part of it is just taking literally any area where, I gotta say this right because there is like an oppressed and weirdly depressed aesthetic that sometimes you’ll find the corner of someone’s best architectural intentions that kind of fell on its ass, so we take that and shoot there and then glom our matte paintings and stuff onto that.  So the scouting for that was funny because we’d be looking at some huge vista and I’d be like, ‘Well, that little corner might work.’ And a lot of it was just per Jon, Seth and Evan sort of defining what they wanted, along with Brandon, the DP.  It’s just fun every day.  When I did This Is The End, I was like this is the most fun I ever had on a movie and they just topped it, you know?  They’re as good at this as I’ve ever seen and it’s amazing.

Question: Is there comedy that comes out of that depressing aesthetic?

LINDEN: Oh, totally!  You know, I think a lot of it is, I grew up in Northern Michigan, which is like Siberia without the conversation.  [Laughs] You’re either in a mental institution or you’re laughing your ass off, and I think it’s kind of that.  I would imagine that some of the funniest people on the planet live in North Korea because that’s gotta suck.  And, you know, you just assume that’s how it probably goes.  The things you read from oppressed people is you get these insanely funny stories that come out of it.  I don’t know, I mean, they make it look so easy to be funny.  And it’s not.  And it’s incredible to watch them work because it’s so fast and they’re like these Olympians of improv, you know?  And a lot of it is like, from a producorial side – we actually have a VFX producer on this movie for the first time in my life – but usually I have to do both jobs and you’re kind of like, ‘Jesus, we’re in an improv scene and I gotta cover backgrounds for this.’  It could be scary, but a huge part of that is that a lot of it is a leap of faith.  They’re just so adept.  They’re just really adaptive.  You get into post and it’s sort of like, I gotta figure out these scenes and figure out how to how to cover all this work.

the-interview-image-seth-rogen-james-francoQuestion: What’s a tactile example of one of those really cool sets that you had to … 

LINDEN: Oh, for us?

Question: For this movie.

LINDEN: Well, part of the compound, Kim’s compound – I’m assuming they covered the gist of the story with you guys.  So part of his compound is these big sort of totalitarian buildings.  We found this little area next to an ice rink downtown.  We’re shooting this whole kind of heartbreaking scene at the reflecting pool and you look over your shoulder, you got all these little kids ice-skating right behind you and they’re literally skating around our set.  [Laughs] So a lot of the extension is usually – this is about as thrilling as watching paint dry, but a lot of what we do is look at what is going to be a close-up and a medium shot.  And this is me being a cheap ass in some regards.  I’ll say, ‘Can we find an area that’s physically there that we can make that work?’  And then, ‘Can we back up from there and show the wider world?’  First and foremost they want to build the world, so they find a way to do that, and then we just try and make it as practical and real as possible both creatively and, sadly, at the end financially.  That’s just part of how you manage this whole deal.

Question: So you eliminated the little kids?

LINDEN: What’s that?

Question: You eliminated the little kids.

LINDEN: Oh, erased them?  [Laughs] I was like, I’m not eliminating kids!

Question: What are the locations you shot in?

LINDEN: For the film, so far, I think we’re gonna shoot LA for some stuff, but everything’s been here.  In the good old days you’d get on a plane and go to these awesome ports of call and sadly I’m like the Antichrist of travel.  We’ve ruined all these movies that would go and shoot in these places.  You’re like, ‘Well, now we can just comp it in.’  And it makes me sad when I say it.  I’m like, ‘Jesus. I wanna go see that!’  So a lot of it we’re playing Vancouver for China, Vancouver for, there’s a travel montage in the movie and so we’re trying to kind of build in backgrounds of how we can sort of sell that world within this one. 

the-interview-james-franco-lizzy-caplan-seth-rogenQuestion: So it’s pretty much Vancouver and LA?

LINDEN: Yeah, completely.  So far.  I’ve had a lot of ideas where I’m like, ‘Let’s get on planes and go to China!’  So I’m always pitching the wrong idea. I’m always pitching that idea.  ‘Let’s go to Russia to shoot this!  Come on, guys!’  They’re like, ‘Yeah.’  But yeah, everything’s here and it’s been incredibly versatile.  I would say, if anything, this place is so lovely.  It’s been really hard to find the sort of miserable side of things to sell it.

Question: Seth said that growing up here, he knew different places to shoot at.  When he took you to those places, what type of stories did he tell?

LINDEN: It’s funny because, yeah, they grew up here, so they’ll just start talking about where they used to buy music or where all the good restaurants are.  He and Evan have been friends since they were kids, so it’s awesome just to kind of hang out with them and watch them go on and on.  There was one, I don’t even remember the name of it, but there was some kind of weird commune village that was supposed to be this kind of ruddy run over village in China and somebody had said that they’d been there as a kid and that it wasn’t half as frightening as it is now.  But it’s cool to see them – I know they’ve always wanted to come here and make movies, you know?  To see them get to do it, it’s a really nice thing as a friend of theirs to see them that happy and at ease with their world.  I think they tend to kind of like, wherever it is, they just glom into it.  I had the time of my life in New Orleans with them and I’m having an equally fun time here in Vancouver, so it’s kind of like I really only wanna do their movies.  [Laughs]

Question: So it sounds like there are a lot of set extensions.  Are there other effect-heavy sequences?

LINDEN: Yeah, we have a helicopter tank battle that’s pretty massive.  I don’t know how public that is within – it’s pretty substantial, so we have to do a lot of CG vehicles, CG damage and extending . We’re ruining the world around them so a lot of that with what I do, we’ll make sure we’re covered on the set for anything that we shot.   And then we’ll end up building all that stuff back because typically you can’t do that kind of damage or there’s no time for it.  What was kind of neat about this was we actually did get to blow shit up and make messes of things.  [Laughs] It’s just like heaven, you know?  And it’s really one of those things like, when I was a kid, I was like, I don’t know what I can do in the adult world to make money.  I would just stand there on the ice in sad Michigan and be like, ‘What on Earth?  I’m gonna wander the wasteland looking for water.’  [Laughs] ‘That’s gonna be my job.  I’m screwed!’  And so to actually get to do this cool, beautiful work, you know, you’re standing there on the side of a mountain blowing up a tank or blowing up a jeep.  We got to squash a bunch of dummies full of blood and it’s just like, ‘F*ck.’  This is the most fun adults could have at work.  It’s just a trip.

the-interview-james-franco-seth-rogenQuestion: How did you get on this road, for every kid in Michigan who’s sitting there going, I’ve got no future?’

LINDEN: I have no idea!  I draw and I went to art school and all my friends were – I liked shooting film and I spent more time doing that than I did in the painting studio.  All my friends would be like, ‘Oh, you know, we just took a bunch of acid.  We’re gonna go shoot a movie.’  And I was like, ‘Don’t do that.  I’ll shoot it.’  Sort of as a lifeguard I started doing that just for fun and I just liked it.  And I liked hanging around with those people because it was just like a group effort.  It’s the sum total of such insanely gifted professionals.  You stand on the set and everyone there is so good at what they do.  I joke that the greensman thinks that he’s the center of the movie and he is.  You know, I’ll think it in my own dumb way and for a nanosecond, maybe I am.  It’s the best.  And you know this because you talk to all those goofs all day long.  It’s the best work.

Question: This is my own personal weird question.  You mentioned blowing up dummies full of blood.  You get to blow up dummies full of blood and not clean it up.  What is that like? 

LINDEN: [Laughs] What?  To walk away from it?  Yeah, it’s kind of like having a tantrum in a Burger King and then running out the door.  Shit everywhere, you know?  And it’s like, I mean, there’s definitely that sad eye contact with the kids.  You just try and support them as best you can.  I was trying to help, you know?  Sometimes it’s like a union thing where you can’t get in, but other times, yeah, you should help.

Question: Isn’t it a tricky union thing because usually there’s a dispute about whether blood is props or set decoration?

LINDEN: Honestly, it can be.  Sometimes you’ve gotta check with folks and be like ‘Hey, can I help?’  And they’re like, ‘No, you can’t lift that up,’ and rightfully so because it’s probably dangerous.  And you know, they don’t want me near sharp objects because I’m just too inept.  Look, I’ll shut up now, but working with them has been probably just the sweetest part of my entire career.  I don’t ever want it to stop.  I love them.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.  And I’d be here for free.  I knew it day two of This Is The End.  They don’t make people like them. It’s like I’ve been drinking the punch, but they really are that good. I can’t speak highly enough of them and what they do.  They’re the bravest artists I know. They’re f*cking awesome.

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