Director Jonathan Liebesman and Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller Talk TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, the Tone, What They Had to Fight to Include

     August 8, 2014


In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, based on the endlessly popular characters created by comic book writers Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, four Ninja Turtles – known as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello – must leave their home in the storm sewers of Manhattan and battle evil with the help of their sensei, Master Splinter.  As Shredder and his evil Foot Clan commit crimes and spread fear through the streets of New York, the Ninja Turtles team up with fearless reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her wise-cracking cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), in order to thwart Shredder’s diabolical plans for domination.

While at the film’s press day, director Jonathan Liebesman and Platinum Dunes producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why they decided not to overly sexualize the film, what they were dead-set on including, deciding what they could hold back on, how long it took before they saw the first Turtle brought to life with the first line of dialogue, how hard they had to work to earn everything with the film, possible behind-the-scenes footage for the Blu-ray, and finding the right balance in the tone.  Form and Fuller also talked about what Platinum Dunes has coming out next, film wise, the status of The Monster Squad remake, and working on the script for Friday the 13th, due out in November 2015.  Check out our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles interview after the jump.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-megan-foxQUESTION:  Did you intentionally decide not to overly sexualize this film? 

JONATHAN LIEBESMAN:  I just don’t find that interesting.  I do, it just doesn’t seem like it’s interesting in this movie.  You’re not here to see that.  There’s one shot of [Megan Fox’s] butt, which is funny.

ANDREW FORM:  That’s for comedy.  It’s a big joke.

BRAD FULLER: And karmically the truck hits a big snow bank after that.  You should keep your eyes on the road.  That’s the lesson.

LIEBESMAN: It’s very good, moral movie moment.

Were there things that you were dead-set on including in this, and were there things that you were against including?

FORM:  Pizza and “Cowabunga!” were definitely going to be in this movie, no matter what.  We didn’t know where, but those were definitely two things from the early stages.

LIEBESMAN:  And the fact that they were mutants.

FORM:  We knew that the four guys were going to be in the movie, and early on, we knew that it was going to be April O’Neil.  We danced with a lot of other characters, but early on, we knew that April was going to be in it.  And there was nothing that definitely said was not going to be in.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-interviewLIEBESMAN:  It wasn’t about avoiding things, as much as what are the most important things that we want in, and what can we leave for later.

FORM:  We knew we couldn’t put everything in it.  That’s impossible.  There are too many characters.

LIEBESMAN:  We embraced the campy, fun nature.  There wasn’t a lot, if you look at the cartoons and the movies, in terms of tone and characters, that was left out.  Of course, there was Casey Jones and Bebop and Rocksteady.  But the thing was that was just wanted to embrace the most important touchstones for us as fans, which was the characters, their natures, the fun that they have, the fact that they’re a close family, pizza, cowabunga and mutants.

FULLER:  And we always knew that Splinter was going to be in the movie, for sure.

LIEBESMAN:  Listen, The Avengers does it brilliantly.  Superhero movies, sometimes, pack too many characters in and you don’t get to know them well enough.  The Avengers is successful because they have a lot of movies to tell the story.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-shredderWhen you decided to go the motion capture route with the Turtles, was there a moment when you realized that it was working?

LIEBESMAN:  Last night [at the screening].

FULLER:  When we were shooting it, the guys were in suits.

FORM:  We’re not at a point yet where you could actually see a Turtle when you’re on set.  There’s no monitor where you see what the Turtle is gonna look like.  That is many, many months down the road, before you ever know if that works.  You know that you have performances.

LIEBESMAN:  I think we saw the first Turtle talking in November or December.

FORM:  And that was one line of dialogue.

FULLER:  I remember seeing Leonardo leap off and come down on the brick wall, and we all looked at each other and said, “Oh, my god, that’s really cool!”

LIEBESMAN:  ‘Cause that was a place.

FULLER:  When you saw that happen and saw how agile these huge things looked and how cool it looked, it was like, “Wow!”

FORM:  We watched a version of this movie that was the four guys in their motion capture suits, for as long as I can remember.  April was with the four guys with the dots and the cameras.  We didn’t get the first line of dialogue until four or five months after we wrapped.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-interview-jonathan-liebesmanLIEBESMAN:  And it is a crazy gamble, if you think about it.  What we were going off of were movies like Avatar and Planet of the Apes.  We thought, “Wow, if we could do that with Ninja Turtles, that would be so fucking cool!”  If you look at it from the outside, that’s a big risk.  But Pablo Helman, the visual effects supervisor at ILM, did such a great job.  We just had one line of dialogue.  It was Donatello saying, “Allow me to be the bad-ass for once,” but we would watch it over and over.

FORM:  It wasn’t even a rendered shot.  It was so early.

FULLER:  Drew and I have made a lot of movies together, but when we watch our movies, there’s always this fatigue that you get when you watch your movies, over and over.  But with this movie, there was never that fatigue.  For me, every time that I saw the movie, there was one shot that I hadn’t seen the last time and it comes alive a little bit more.  It was a great experience to keep seeing the movie and see it come together.

FORM:  It was always exciting when we had something new.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-image-donatelloOnce you realized that you could see the personalities through the characters, you must have breathed a sigh of relief.

FORM:  Yeah.  We had the performances.  We knew how good our guys were.  They were great.

LIEBESMAN:  That scene when Vern gets into the van and Raph scares him, when you see that big Raph close-up of the talking Turtle, you’re like, “Wow, that’s awesome!”  The level of detail that they’ve achieved in the muscles in the Turtles’ face, that move when they talk, is just amazing.

Was there anything that you thought would be easy that turned out to be incredibly difficult? 

FULLER:  There was nothing easy.

LIEBESMAN:  Nothing was easy on the movie.  We’ve had to earn it.  I think that comes from the fact that, when you get such rich characters and an amazing mythology, you didn’t invent it, so you’re gonna have to earn it.  You have to earn being a part of it.  From the fans being vocal online to a difficult process of making it as great as it can be, we really had to earn this, every step of the way.  Maybe that’s what it took to make the movie that it is, which is a really fun movie.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-raphaelWhen you do something like this that’s so and where so much goes into it, did you think about doing any behind-the-scenes stuff or special features that you could put on the Blu-ray? 

LIEBESMAN:  I never, ever, ever think of that.

FORM:  We didn’t think about that, at all.  We had behind-the-scenes crews shoot while we were working, but we just finished the movie seven days ago.  We were never thinking about what could be our extras.  We were just trying to get it done.  Of course, there’s lots of stuff.  If you go to ILM, you can see how everything was created.  I’m sure they have all that stuff.  But, we didn’t set anything aside or shoot anything.  We haven’t even talked about it with home video.  I bet there’s amazing stuff that we haven’t seen yet.

LIEBESMAN:  I hope we have enough time to focus on that DVD.

FORM:  We have pre-vis that you can take, and then see the finished scene.  Some of those big action scenes were all pre-vis, before they were turned into a movie.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-interviewThere’s a great balance in this film between the grittier, edgier feel and the childlike fun.  Was that something that you really though about, throughout the production? 

LIEBESMAN:  Firstly, it takes a whole team of people, including Brad [Fuller], Drew [Form], Michael [Bay], myself, the editor, the writers and everybody, and it went all the way through post-production to nail the tone.  And then, I watched it in front of an audience, there were a couple things that we could do, here and there.  That balance is such a team effort.  Everyone worked so hard to find this tone.

FULLER:  But, that’s the whole movie.  If the tone is off, the movie is off.  If you get the tone right, I think it’s something that’s relatable to anyone who’s interested in the subject matter.

FORM:  It’s a tough one, but I’m glad that you think we found it.

FULLER:  We’re not gloating about it.

LIEBESMAN:  It was a process to find it.  Seeing it in front of an audience you feel like you’ve found it, but it’s so hard to know.  All we know is that we just worked 24 hours a day for two and a half years.

FULLER:  My hair was brown when we started.  I swear to you, it was.

project-almanac-platinum-dunesAndrew and Brad, what does Platinum Dunes have next, film wise? 

FORM:  We have a movie coming out in January, called Project Almanac, that Dean Israelite directed, and he’s Jonathan’s cousin.

LIEBESMAN:  It’s a brilliant movie.

FORM:  The movie is unbelievable.

LIEBESMAN:  It’s like Back to the Future meets Primer.

FORM:  With a little Chronicle.  And we have Ouija coming out this Halloween, on October 24th.  That’s it for features for us, right now.

FULLER:  Well, it’s called the annual Purge for a reason, so it should stand to reason.

FORM:  We’re not working on a third one yet.  But, we have Friday the 13th for next year.  We’re developing the script.

friday-the-13th-platinum-dunesWhat’s the status of your remake of The Monster Squad, and where are you at with Friday the 13th

FORM:  The Monster Squad, we’re not developing anymore.

FULLER:  That’s dead.

FORM:  But, we are working on Friday the 13th for November 13th of next year.

What made you decide to return to Friday the 13th again, when the last one came out in 2009?

FORM:  We love Friday the 13th.  We had the best time making that movie.  An opportunity to bring Jason back again, for us, we jump at it.  We just have to tell the right story.  It’s truly about, what is this version?  We’re working hard on that.  We have a great director, David Bruckner, and we’re trying to figure it out.  We have to crack that.

FULLER:  We haven’t cracked the tone of that movie.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now playing in theaters.  Check out more coverage of the film:


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