I Am Number Four Interview: DJ Caruso

DJ300I Am Number Four hits cinema screens this week and we had a quick chat with director DJ Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia) about working with Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay, collaborating with Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and why 3D conversions suck.

Can you tell us a little about the movie?

I think I Am Number Four is a real fun science fiction romp with a real strong character, Number Four who’s….the reason I did the movie is because I really love the character. He’s this disenfranchised alien trying to figure out who he is and ultimately as he works his way through life he find a place which he thinks could be a place he’d like to stay and he realises that his destiny has a far greater calling than that and when he falls in love in this little town, all these legacies and all these emotions puberty kick up inside of him.

A story you can relate to then, as a disenfranchised alien yourself?

[Laughs] Yeah and it all kicks in from there.

How was the London screening last night?

I think it went well, I got there an introduced it. I only finished the movie last Friday night, so I can’t watch it anymore . I’ve seen it so many times and we did IMAX too so we’re doing the IMAX thing in Toronto too, so I’m so desensitized to it. I was there for about 10 minutes and it looked like it was going pretty well [Laughs]

Steven Spielberg asked you to direct Disturbia and he’s producing this. Do you have quite a close working relationship with him?

We do, I’m really lucky, I have a good relationship with him. It goes back a long time to when I was doing a TV show that he created called High Incident. It took us a while to hook up again but we have a good working relationship. Yeah, it’s one of those things where he’s a director, a producer and the head of the company but at the same time, he respects directors so much that he really gives you the freedom to do what you want to do.

So did [producer] Michael Bay have much input?

Well Michael was doing Transformers 3 when we were shooting but was really helpful in post-production because this is the most CG visual effects I’ve ever had.

Well he’s the man to speak to.

He is definitely the man do speak to, man does he know that. So he was really incredibly helpful in helping me communicate to the visual effects companies what would help make the shot better.

Can I just ask about cinematography Guillermo Navarro who worked very closely with Guillermo Del Toro on Pan’s Labyrinth (earning an Oscar for Best Cinematography). What was it like working with him?

Oh wow, that was so great. What it was, was that I got so lucky because I was struggling to find the DP that I was really excited about and then what happened was, my producer said, “You know you were asking me about Guillermo Navarro and The Hobbit? Push to get him!”, so I said, ok let’s call and let’s see if we can get him because the Hobbit kept pushing and pushing and pushing and we all know what happened. [Guillermo Del Toro pulled out due to the delays and problems with MGM who were going through bankruptcy at the time].

And I’ve been such a big fan of his, particularly Pan’s Labyrinth and all the Del Toro work just blew me away and we had a meeting and he really responded to the script. And then we got to work together and he’s just a wonderful artist, have you ever met him? Just this passionate, passionate guy, he gets into each frame. And I always lay out the colour palettes of my movies and so I do it with pictures, like I’ll just put it around my office, like Florida’s going to be poppy and colourful and then it’s going to get dark and grey and he really liked the way I worked, he was like “so this is your movie in colour and where do I sign up”. But he’s so clever and on the set, he’s probably our biggest personality; he’s always singing and dancing, he’s a really passionate guy.

What was the most fun you had on the set? There’s a lot of high-action stuff.

Yeah, I think that was probably the most fun, towards the end with the cable and combining all that stuff.

The stadium scene?

Yeah, the stadium scene. It’s the kind of film where everything is building up towards the end and you finally get to go and release all the mayhem, it’s kinda fun.

Did you shoot in order then?

We didn’t shoot fully in continuity but we did shoot the stadium at the end because believe it or not the original action wasn’t laid out that way and then I thought, “God, we have this big, wide-open football field” and the way that was laid out, I said to my stunt coordinator, “you know what this doesn’t really make sense to have this wide-open space and not use it”, so we came up with that action sequence about half-way through the movie and those guys get pulled on wires and there’s a lot of rehearsals you have to do for that.

You blew up a lot of stuff. Do you get to shoot that kind of thing more than once?

[Laughs] When you’re blowing stuff up behind your actor, hopefully you only have to do it once, so we did pretty good, we did pretty good.

I just wanted to talk about casting. Alex [Pettyfer] is a Brit – was he your first choice?

He was my first choice but it was after a long casting process. He came on quite late because he wasn’t in the States. Yeah, he was British but it didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to find the right person.

I thought the accent was pretty good actually.

[Laughs] Well the great thing about this character is that you can cover it because he’s been all over, so you end up thinking “Which part of America is this guy from?” but he did good, he was fun.

DJ Caruso is keen to work on an adaptation of hit horror/sci-fi game Dead Space)
Cool guys (or girls) don't look at explosions

The cast is quite fresh-faced; what was it like working with them?

I did actually like it. Because so many times, I’ve been working on something and studio will say, “If you get Brad Pitt, we’ll make your movie”, so this was one of those movies where they say, “Ok, go ahead and let’s find some people” so when you get to do that, that’s liberating. And what I like about directing younger casts is, they haven’t really developed those methods that they think work for them, you know?

They’re easier to direct?

They lose focus a little bit, like any kid would, but they’re a little easier to direct because you’re helping in a way to develop their own acting style. Because sometimes a tried and true veteran comes in and they’re like “This is what I do, I don’t need anybody, I can just do…” and that’s fine, that’s their style but these guys, it’s kind of more fun because you feel a little bit more like a collaborative effort.

You’ve worked with Shia LaBeouf twice now. Would you work with him again?

In a heartbeat. In fact, I just talked to him on Monday morning. We’re talking about a couple of things, we’re just good friends, but I would work with him again in a second.

Can I ask you about 3D movies because I’ve heard that you hate them?

[Laughs] No, I don’t hate 3D movies, I think what’s happened is, you know you have Avatar and I think Bay’s doing Transformers and they’re shooting them in 3D. And I think there’s one thing about a movie that’s shot in 3D and one that’s been made to be in 3D. I can’t take this sort of studio conversion because they think it’s going to be more popular. I don’t feel the film makers are being fully responsible because it’s like you’re just letting your movie… it’s like sending it to…I don’t know if you have Costco here but it’s like sending it off to this cheap house and saying, “Ok, do one pass and make it 3D” when it’s not designed or shot that way and that’s what kind of bothers me.

I was saying yesterday that besides the film makers that are really learning their craft and their sets, I really hope it’s a fad. Well, it was a fad before too. I just find, the glasses…and…when I was watching Clash Of The Titans, I was getting a headache and not because of the quality of the movie but because I was like “Is this 3D?! I can’t tell”

Yeah, you did have a lot of people standing next to their own beards.

[Laughs] I know, it was just weird and it blurred. I think it’s a fad because someone asked me yesterday if I’d thought of 3D and I just said no. First of all, I didn’t have enough prep and I would have to really fully design my sets and understand it and shoot it and I’d have to learn about it and I just didn’t have time for that. This is just my opinion but Alice In Wonderland did it and I think that was probably the most effective.

I think most effective post-production perhaps.

Yeah, most effective post-production one, not so much when the live-action actors were in there…just in general. They went to the Beverly Hills of conversion studios though.

I guess it depends what you want from your movie. Some of them use 3D really well, like the Toy Story films and I spoke to Lee Unkrich about that and he said that he hates being poked in the eye.

Like a landscape kind of thing.

I saw Sanctum yesterday and the 3D was quite effective

Yeah, well if Cameron was involved then you know it’s going to be good. Well that’s the thing, Avatar for me the first time was like “wow, an over the shoulder shot” – that really looks like it’s over your shoulder.

I read that you’re looking to adapt the video game Dead Space for the screen. Can you talk a bit about that?

Yeah, when I get back, we’re going to get into that. It’s actually from the producers of Twilight, they brought it to me almost over a year ago and we started to work on the story and try to get it in as a prequel. Didn’t quite lick it because that game, I don’t know if you’ve played it…

DJ Caruso is keen to work on an adaptation of hit horror/sci-fi game Dead Space)
DJ Caruso is keen to work on an adaptation of hit horror/sci-fi game Dead Space

Yeah it’s scary. Well, you’re no stranger to the whole horror/thriller thing.

Yeah it is…funny story. I gave my two boys the game and I was talking to my wife, “I just had this great meeting. Dead Space is this great game” and then all of a sudden you hear two blood-curdling screams come from the room next door and I we both rushed in and were like “Oh my god, what happened, what happened?” and they were just sitting there going, “Dad, I’ve never been so scared in my entire life” and I thought that if we could get that into the film, that would be great. I think the problem with Dead Space is that obviously you have an alien and you don’t know what’s happening on this space ship but it’s the film Event Horizon. When you go to studios to talk about it, they go “Oh so it’s like Event Horizon”.

I think we’ll eventually get it but we went to the prequel to get a little bit more into the story but it didn’t quite work out but I’d love to do it when we get it.

The film’s quite well set up for sequels. Are you planning to do that? Did you have it in mind when you shot it?

It wasn’t something I had in mind when I shot it – we wanted to have a beginning, a middle and an end – but at the end we kinda knew because there’s going to be another book. When Four and Six and Sam ride off, hopefully people think “I’d like to spend more time with those characters” but also now that Four and Six got together, you know that they’ll become more powerful.

Isn’t it supposed to be a series of books?

Yeah, this one plus five more. The second one, I saw the outline and so it could be quite fun. I think if the audiences go and check it out then that’d be good. What I’ve been getting from people is that yeah it’s set up for a sequel but it’s not hitting us over the head with it.

I Am Number Four is released Wednesday 23 February.