SET VISIT: Final Destination 5!
Enter Final Destination 5, which will open in theaters on August 12th and was shot on the same 3D cameras that captured Avatar. The movie takes place twelve years after the explosion of Flight 180 (from the original film) and focuses on a new group of characters dealing with the aftermath of a collapsing bridge premonition from their work related camping retreat.
For the fifth installment of the franchise, the producers chose top-tier talent to make the film. Final Destination 5 was written by Eric Heisserer, who also penned the scripts for the recent remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the upcoming prequel to The Thing, while James Cameron's long-time 2nd unit director Steven Quale (Titanic) was chosen to make his directorial debut. The film stars a talented cast of actors including Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, P.J. Byrne, David Koechner, and returning cast member Tony Todd who reprises his role as William Bludworth.
Last fall, we had the chance to travel to Vancouver, Canada to visit the set of the film. While we were there we had an opportunity to speak with director Steven Quale, as well as actors Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, P.J. Byrne, and David Koechner about the new film, and we even got a chance to watch them filming an important scene.
On the day we arrived to the soundstage, they were shooting the opening scene of the film when the bridge is collapsing. To simulate the bridge collapsing, the filmmakers had created a giant gimbal that the actors were performing on. We watched as the center of the bridge came apart, began to shake and sparks flew. Nicholas D'Agosto was on one side shouting to Emma Bell's character trying to direct her safely across the bridge, while several of the other actors and stuntmen were jumping or falling off the gimbal. It was a very excited scene to watch.
During a few free moments on the set we had an opportunity to talk with actor David Koechner. The actor, who is best known for his comedic talents, began by talking about how he plans to bring humor to the otherwise scary film. "It's written slightly humorous, but I think it's written so the humor comes from the characters as opposed to jokes, which might be the other way to bring humor," he explained. "So its not "clever" stuff. It all comes from character. So it's more like someone's flaws that are fun to laugh at, as opposed to a funny line out of context. We're not hitting the gas on the comedy on this one. I think that even in a drama, we all want to smile, and so I think in everything you're trying to look for the humor, even if it's a dark scene, because most people want to have fun in life, as opposed to have a boring time, a terrible time."
"I didn't know that until I got here that that's what they were looking for, to be honest with you; that they wanted me to bring some humor," David Koechner continued. "I assumed that must be what they were looking for, because the script's not necessarily packed with jokes, and you could see where there's some possibilities for humor in there. Then it's a matter of going scene by scene, when you have that opportunity to talk with the director and say, "Hey, how about this here," or "I was thinking this or that," and he'll just say yes or no. Then you find out what works. You always cover the script as it is, until we know we have that, and then if he wants to allow you to play, then you have that opportunity too. Then you have your choices; whatever's going to work in the end."David Koechner also discussed what its been like for him to make a horror film as apposed to a comedy. "It's fantastic. I believe as actors we just want to play and yesterday I was in make-up for three hours. Then I had a break, and then I was back in make-up for another hour. I was there all day long, and people were like, is that awful? Is it uncomfortable? It's like, no, we're actors, this is what we want to do! You just get to play. So just an opportunity to work is always a treat and if you get to die a couple times, what actor doesn't want to die? This is what we all want! These are our death scenes." We pressed further and tried to get the actor to reveal some of the specific deaths in the film. "They're all so specific on how the deaths come about. They're all so wonderfully laid out. They're beautiful chess pieces that move in the right place. In this picture, they all either have something to do with the person physically, or something to do with their personality. It's really a lot of fun."
The actor was also asked to talk about his fellow cast members and expressed his joy to work with everyone involved with the project. "This cast is amazing. It's a really talented cast. These are very kind people," said David Koechner. "They're very bright and they're all very impressive. It's a very impressive lot. I tell you, I've had so much fun. They're just a great group and one of my favorite casts I have to say," admitted the actor. "Really, this has been a great experience, this show. It is so different from anything I've done before."
Finally, David Koechner spoke about working with director Steven Quale and his vision for the film. "Steve kind of gets into it, like a channel, and he gets very excited, and animated. Since it's the first time he's directed it's like how do you find that shorthand with actors? It's different with every actor, too," said David Koechner. "How much of a note do you need to give someone, and how do I explain what I want? Because directors always loathe giving line readings but sometimes that's the shortest distance between waiting and moving forward. Because it's like, I don't want to tell you to say it like that, but I wish I could tell you to say it like THIS! He talked about what he liked when I auditioned and what he liked about that, so he gave me keys to what he was looking for. By then it just scene-by-scene, as to how we're going play this one."
Actor Nicholas D'Agosto plays Sam Lawton in the film and as the actor explained, he is the character who has this movie's premonition. "That's a real treat to be in the franchise and be able to have the vision. It's sort of strange when you get to this point in the filming and you've seen so many people die. You're wondering how many reactions will look the same as the other reactions? It's a terrifying experience but what's great about this set is that it's so lifelike and it has so much action on it with the gimble and its scope and size. So you're able to kind of transport yourself there," he explained. "There's a lot of green screen but you also have a lot of hard objects, a lot of tangible objects to work off. So it's nice."
We also had a chance to talk with actress Emma Bell and she told us about her character and her character's relationship to Sam. "I'm playing Molly Harper and I live in sort of a smallish town and I think she's really a girly girl. She works at this paper factory and she's desperately in love with Nicholas D'Agosto's character but they sort of have different ideas about what they want to do in life," said Emma Bell. "She doesn't ever want to get in his way of what he wants to accomplish. So at the start of the movie she's sort of struggling with that but then the series of terrifying events that happen to them, they have to sort of re-evaluate life, their relationship together and how much they actually mean to each other."
"That covers a lot of essentially where my character comes from in there," added Nicholas D'Agosto. "I mean, I have my own ambitions to become a chef, to travel, there's a great opportunity in front of me. And this tragedy brings us together and kind of makes me re-evaluate how much she means to me. In that, my desire to reconnect to her, the tragic elements of Final Destination unfold and that sort of takes over the entire storyline. But what's exciting from my point of view is I get to be the character that sort of has to figure out where this premonition comes from, what does it mean, what's the process as each of these deaths unfold. I know that's fun for people to talk about that are fans of the franchise, and it's fun to get to kind of have my own feelings about that as well," expressed Nicholas D'Agosto.
Since the format of the Final Destination films is so well known, we asked Nicholas D'Agosto and Emma Bell how they keep things fresh for themselves as actors. "I just approach it the way I approach any character. I saw the films and the structure is the same. What's nice about this film I'll say about the structure, there is a twist. Every one of them has its own twist for its particular world. But this one has I think an even more extraordinary twist within the world in the sense that the characters have something that happens that makes the characters relate to each other in a different way," he explained. "So that has allowed us, I think it allows the narrative to change in a way but I can't really talk about it. It's a fun twist and it's good for all of us because it adds a dramatic element that you're playing off the people around you instead of just this inanimate fate. But you know, from my perspective, you just kind of try to bring what you are and hope that that's the different thing that is different for the film."Emma Bell. "Although there are other movies, this sort of thing has never happened to my character or me in my life. So approaching it from a point of view where it's absolutely new and happening for the first time kind of keeps it fresh in that way, without any preconceived notions of what should happen. It's cool for us too because the characters in this are pretty well established. As actors we get to do this amazing action horror film with all of the cool deaths but then on the other hand there's actually a really great storyline for the two of us to play. So that was exciting."
Next, we had a chance to speak with actors Miles Fisher, and P.J. Byrne and both actors began by tell us a little bit about their characters. "I play Peter, who is a kind of middle manager," said Miles Fisher. "So all of us work at this corporate paper company and it's a very large company. The reason they brought us all together is because we begin the film on this big corporate retreat. I'm a middle manager who is a kind of nice ambitious guy that is fairly assuming in the beginning. I've known exactly what I want my whole life and I'm dating my boss' daughter. Nobody is in competition with me. My character is a very logical guy. Then as the film progresses we all take a bit of a turn. I take a unique one," he teased. "I play Isaac in the movie," answered P.J. Byrne. "Isaac is the guy at the office that you can't stand. Everyone has that person in the office that you absolutely hate and I'm that guy in this movie. Isaac really thinks about three things. He thinks about girls, and he thinks about getting girls for himself. That is Isaac's sort of mantra in life," he admitted.
Naturally, we asked both actors if they had seen the previous films before they began work on this one. "Yes, I've seen all of them. It wasn't just that I watched all of them after I got cast in it, I remember seeing the first one while I was in high school," said Miles Fisher. "For us it was such a huge cool film. We all went over to a friend's house and saw it. I had seen all of these films and I've grown up with this franchise. It's been about ten years now. There was this sense even in just talking with the producers before the casting announcements were made that this would be very different. There have been all of these rules," he explained. "For one, the franchise is very loyal to its fans, in part because the fans know exactly what they are getting when they go see a Final Destination movie. There are over the top spectacular death sequences and the audience is in on the gimmick, which is to say that you know that every nine minutes or so something unbelievable is going to happen. You're anticipating it and the narrative is kind of winking at you because you think they are going to die one way and it tricks you into something else happening and then disaster strikes. That happens here except I think it's a little more nuanced."
"Another thing on top of what you are saying is that there is a beauty also in having four previous Final Destination movies," added P.J. Byrne. "You have a lovely track record to look at and go, this works. This doesn't work. This is what people love. What other elements are in there that we can help push the envelope for to really showcase what does work. "I think what they are doing in five is that they are like, let's push the envelopes. Let's make people sit on the edge of their chairs. Let's really use the technology of 3D. That is why Steven Quale is here, who is this 3D master. Let's use his skills. Let's up the writing. Maybe we can also add some comedy elements. Maybe there is some room for improvisation as it plays out that maybe wasn't played up in the other movies. So I think if you are taking all these elements and you're putting them into this one I think you are hopefully going to have a great product."
P.J. Byrne, who is also known for his comedic work, talked about the delicate balance of comedy and suspense in the movie. "From my perspective, in anything you do, whether it is a drama or a comedy, you want to make sure that it is grounded in reality. The dramatic moments are going to come from that and the humor is always going to be more believable, genuine, and honest. The beautiful thing they did in this movie was that they kind of gave us a nice little diving board in the comedy area. That was great and maybe that wasn't there as much as in the other films. So with myself or with David Koechner we have that opportunity to play in that world but always at the end of the day be honest, genuine, and grounded. The more real I am the more that it is going to relate to you as an audience member. I also think that the joke is always better," said P.J. Byrne. "Don't get me wrong. I love the uproarious laughter, but sometimes that quiet laughter is sort of wonderful to me as well where you are tapping your friend like, I can't believe that just happened. But you also don't want to miss a thing that is going on so you don't want to laugh because you don't want to miss a great moment. That is what I always try to strive for."
Miles Fisher discussed what it's been like for him as an actor working with the 3D cameras. "You can't downplay how technical it is. The last thing you want to do when you are acting in a scene is to be self conscious and aware of things outside of the story that is being told. I like seeing what the director is trying to do, what is the visual narrative, and how is he capturing that," said Miles Fisher. "A lot of actors don't like it because it takes them out of it. I like it that as soon as we are done with the take I can go back and look. In 3D it's tougher because you have to go to the tent, put on the 3D glasses, and it's very high tech. Then eighteen other people are gathered around that are color specialists."Steven Quale while he had a free moment before shooting the next scene. We began by asking the director about the extensive pre-viz process the film went through in pre-production and how he feels that benefited the project. "The pre-vis I'm no stranger to because on Avatar, we called the process vis-vis because it's not pre-vis, it's actually what the shots are going to be like, and so I was involved with that a lot," he explained. "What we did when I first read the script, we re-worked the whole opening bridge sequence. I took my twenty years of 2nd unit directing experience on big action movies and said, how can we up this into an amazing sequence that's believable, yet really frightening and horrifying. I thought what is scarier than being on a suspension bridge that's 250 ft. from the water and suddenly the cable starts snapping and you have no where to go?"
"So, we kind of went with that, and then figured out a way to build a sequence out of it," Steven Quale continued. "So, the pre-vis process was very involved, and in fact, it allowed us to figure out how to use these 50ft. techno cranes, which were built into our computer program. So we knew that we needed an elevated platform to put one of them on and another platform for the other where the ceiling was. It's very difficult and expensive to build all this stuff when you don't know if it's all going to work in shots. You need to imagine 200 ft. towers with extension cables going way up on this bridge, and when you frame for your shots you take that into account. So, it was very helpful for us, and it allowed us to do the sequence we're shooting right now where the bridge cracks in half. This railing is still on, we're going to remove this railing and create a computer-generated railing that bends with the gimble (the hydraulic operation), which will actually bend during the shot, and our actors will be running around as they see this happening. So, that's what we're setting up for right now."
Steven Quale also talked to us about the latest generation 3D cameras that are being used on the production. "We got really fortunate. Vincent Pace and Pace Technologies just received the first batch of Arri Alexa cameras. They're the latest digital cameras from Arriflex, and they're amazing. Because of that, we've been able to shoot in low light levels and all kinds of things. It has a very cinematic 35mm film look to them. I'm really impressed with it. We've been very fortunate to been able to use these cameras on this project, and we're one of the first films to have that. So, it makes this look fantastic."
"I'm a filmmaker first and foremost, and for me it's all about the characters and the story," he continued. "So, when I first read the script I said, we have to care about these characters, care about the story, but at the same time I want it visually dynamic and stunning because I think the fans deserve everything, and if you give them great cinematography, performances with cutting edge technology, suspense, horror, dynamic action sequences, then it's a fun popcorn movie. You don't have to compromise on any of these things. You can take a camera and shoot a scene, and you can take a camera and shoot a scene and make it beautiful. It doesn't cost anything more," said Steven Quale. "It's just the talent of where to put the camera and how to light the scene. So, my approach has always been, I'm a filmmaker. Let's make it cinematic. By using all of those techniques and being cost effective in how you do it, you can make something that would be a ridiculously expensive $200 million dollar movie; you can do the same things at a certain point. You just have to be very smart in how you do that, how you use your resources, and how you have the visual impact of each of the sequences, and that's what we have been doing on this project."
Since the popular horror franchise is known for its fantastic kill scenes, we asked the director how he planned to up the ante in those pivotal scenes. "I feel that the more horrific they are, and unexpected, yet believable and shocking, the better I thought they would be and the suspense too. It's not just about showing the horrific deaths. It's build-up. What's going to happen? How are they going to die? When you finally see it and you care about the characters, then it becomes that much more important when they die. Because suddenly you feel for somebody, as opposed to some character you don't have any interest in, and then they get killed in some gruesome, spectacular way. That's not as impressive as you really caring about this character, and this poor person gets killed. But there's plenty of innovative ways in ending people's lives."
Steven Quale talked a little bit about his relationship with James Cameron and what he learned from him in regards to how to properly use 3D when making a film. "James Cameron's a good friend of mine and I keep in touch with him all the time, and his feeling and my feeling as well is that 3D is like a cinematographer using lenses. You can have some movies with cinematography like a Tony Scott movie, using telephoto lenses very stylistic, commercial-like, and then there's other directors such as James Cameron or Stanley Kubrick who used really wide-angle lenses, or Brian De Palma. Nothing wrong with it either way because you can have a real gimmicky 3D movie where everything comes at you, or you can have a much more restrained 3D in a movie like Avatar, which is more of an immersive experience. This film kind of does both. When we have our dramatic scenes it's not getting in the way. It's there and it's very lifelike. But it's not over the top. Whenever we have our death scenes or some of our action scenes, we open it up a little bit. It's the best of both worlds."
The director also gave us our pitch to why he believes this installment of the series will be truly different than what we've seen before from the franchise. "The big difference in this movie is we spent an enormous amount of time, and this is straight from the top of the studio as well as myself and the producers, casting the movie and finding the right actors to fill the descriptions in the script," explained Steven Quale. "I felt if I'm going to do this, it's going to be with believably real characters that you care about. We got lucky because we got an amazing group of actors that are all fantastic, and I had a joy working with them. I think it's elevated the series back to its roots, where it isn't just camp acting and cheesy. It's believable characters in really scary situations, dealing with this supernatural force that's killing people and they don't know why and what do you do. So, I think that aspect of it (for me) has elevated it, in addition to my visual style. If you've looked at the movies I've worked on, they all have a distinct visual style that is part of me, and I can't make a movie without that. So, I've injected as much of that, made it much more dark and cinematic and horror-like in the climax, contrasting that with our daytime scene here, where you think it is an ideal beautiful day, then suddenly a bridge collapses. So, I feel by doing that has elevated it to a manner slightly higher of what the previous one was."Steven Quale to talk about his choice to go against the grain and cast several comedic actors in the film. "Well, I always felt that if you cast funny actors who are good actors, they would inject and bring the humor. If you cast just stand-up comedians, they'll be stand-up comedians and they won't have the chops to do the acting. So, we always approached it seriously, but got the humor out of it. People like P.J. Byrne or David Koechner are fantastic, and its a joy to work with them, because they add so much to it," said Steven Quale. "At the same time, they are really good actors, so it's a lot of fun. The thing that I liked about Final Destination 2 was the humor that it had. I felt if we could inject some of that, some of the seriousness and the visual style from the first one and the third one, kind of do a hybrid of that, I felt that would be the best of both worlds, and that's what we've done on this one as well."
Finally, the director described his unique visual style to us in his own words. "My visual style is Steven Quale," he joked. "I like the cinematic aspects of gritty realism, hyperrealism. You want it to feel and look real, but at the same time make it interesting. The big challenge for a cinematographer is the more real you make it, the worse it looks, because real life lighting doesn't look very glamorous. So, you kind of have to justify that. But also focusing on the characters, so you believe what they're doing and try to get in the reality of them. You don't want all of your energy to be focused on the technical aspects that you lose sight of the characters and story and what they're going through. If you get it all, then it's a homerun. If you only get the visuals, then it's boring and you don't care about the people," finished Steven Quale.