"This is where fun comes to die!" That's the morbid statement I heard eschewed over a twenty dollar beer in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Set visits just aren't what they used to be. Why, just a few months back, the studio would pay for your entire trip, wine and dine you with a fancy dinner, and even give you a per diem (so you could have breakfast, you know?). That has all gone by the way side here in the wake of an oncoming actors' strike. To prepare and brace themselves for an onslaught of out of work angry actors petitioning in front of their nearby entertainment establishments, publicists are instead going the "Set Visit" route to give us ample actor interview time. Which means they are literally dumping us in unknown cities without a guide or any supplies and leaving us to fend for ourselves so that we have some sort of piece to run when these fancy pants actors all take a hike. Over the course of the last two days, most of our staff has been deployed over Vancouver (Jennifer's Body), New Mexico (Legion), and Louisiana (Final Destination 4) without nary a "Boo, Shit, or nothin'!" (As my grandma would always say) from anybody in charge. And it hasn't been the epitome of fun.
Without a studio rep present, I had to deal with cheapskate journalists quietly skipping out on their bill or trying to squeak out a dime when pressed for their share of the side dish. I wish I could name names, but that would be unprofessional. I will say, "F*ck all these horror specific sites. Fake named wannabes running around dolling out shock and gore advice like they're God's gift to Freddy Kruger. You ain't anything but a bunch of miserly, morbid nerds." I'm glad I got that off my chest. Sorry fellow hacks, but one bad gothed-up geek does indeed spoil the whole bunch.
I'd never been to New Orleans before, and I was over it in about five minutes and a hundred and fifty dollars. Without Mardi Gras to liven up the sidewalks, Bourbon Street hit the gut like a depressing pit of black and neon. The strong smell of donut and oyster puke wafted by every few seconds, and the drunken bald headed cop was a sight to behold. The allure of the free sex show quickly went the way of the buffalo as we were pressed for eleven-dollar Budweisers and any one-dollar bills we could spare. My trip into the French Quarter was comparable to a seedier, crumb cake version of Las Vegas. Only without the scantily clad call girls offering me the occasional free drink. (Though, one scantily clad octogenarian did offer us a free donkey show.)
I'll admit, the food was great. It had to be, this was New Orleans. But that aside, the 3D in the latest Final Destination film was going to have to be pretty darn spectacular to make up for this two-day trip to Nofunland. It wasn't until later the next afternoon that my fellow journalists and I actually got a taste of what director David Ellis and producer Craig Perry are cooking up with this latest installment of their best selling horror franchise. Even though we only got to see a four minute clip reel of Final Destination 4 in action, it certainly made up for the lack of presidential treatment from the studio. Final Destination 4 is shaping up to be something quite fantastic. It is going to be an awesome spectacle the likes of which we have never seen. And that is saying quite a bit, especially since Warner Brothers didn't send us out into the field with very high hopes or any great expectations. They certainly didn't buy the praise I have for what I saw on set. The footage stands on its own as something super cool. Maybe even unfuckingbelieveable in its ability to punch you in the face.
Forget the blurry red and green headache inducing goggles that caused mild brain seizures in the kids that actually sat through The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D. Utilizing the new Fusion F23 3D HD camera system, this is about the best looking 3D film I have seen to date. And that includes the recent CGI Beowulf experiment and any of the Disneyland and World Resort attractions. This is one of the very first 3D films to be using practical locations and real actors, and there was an intimacy to the footage I saw that goes beyond any mere theatrical experience. The depth of field is quite impressive. I actually felt as though I was stepping into this world for a few seconds. Its something I can't quite describe to the uninitiated. If I could, I'd pretend to be Rocky Dennis and put a hot rock in your hand. But I'm not sure that would get across how stunning this particular footage looks and feels in a real time sense.
Producer Craig Perry was quick to point out that they haven't made a 3D movie, here. Instead, they've made an actual movie that just happens to be in 3D. And it should play quite nicely in 2D as well. Don't get me wrong, there is the promise of some great R rated gore in this particular outing. They are definitely going to be throwing a lot of blood and severed body parts in your girlfriend's lap. They haven't lost that Final Destination feel or touch. The footage I saw looked more exciting and coherent than anything we got with number three. There is a great underwater scene that takes place at a pool. It will have you gritting the enamel off your teeth, They've also choreographed a pretty neat sequence inside a carwash.
But it's the two major set pieces that are going to leave audiences breathless. The film is bookend by two truly great horror moments that will live on in infamy for years to come. Final Destination 4, as you may already know, begins with a NASCAR-like mass pile up at a nearby race track. And it ends in an exploding Cineplex. We arrived on set just in time to watch them blow-up the movie theater along with a hundred or so extras. A number of individuals littered the studio lot, lingering around with nails stuck deep in their faces. One guy that walked passed us even had a hammer sticking out of the back of his head.
Before watching the giant fireball that was about to be released in the faked out movie theater next-door, we headed over to the set's video village for a chat with director David Ellis and a couple of his cast members, including newcomers Bobby Campo, Haley Webb, and Shantel Van Santen. Here is our conversation:
David Ellis: What's up, you kids? The explosion was good. Glen, our D.P. came running down the stage saying, "Don't blow it! Don't blow it!" But it was good. We blew up Glen, but it was no big deal.
How is the shoot progressing?
David Ellis: The shoot has been awesome. We're living the dream. We are making movies in Hollywood and we're getting paid for it. We're blowing people up and killing them, so it's all good. We are right on budget, which is good. We are right on schedule. This is a tough movie. You have so much more going on. You have all of these traps and misdirects. The script has a little bit of dialogue, and then you have whole paragraphs of action. That can be a pain. There is a lot to cover. But we are doing a really good job, especially since this is a 3D movie.
Was it the chance to work in this new 3D medium that brought you back for another installment?
David Ellis: Well, as far as the studio bringing me back, its because they couldn't find anybody else to do the job. But for me, personally, yeah, the 3D is why I came back. Absolutely. Its great to be a director that is riding this new wave of 3D technology. There are all of these great directors, like James Cameron, that are out there on the forefront of this new technology. To be a part of that is awesome. And this is the perfect genre for a 3D movie.
Did they come to you? Or did you ask them about it?
David Ellis: They came to me. They had another director on board before me, and they parted ways. He had another project that he decided to do. That was James Wong, who directed the first and third film.
Do you feel you have to up the ante from the 3rd film?
David Ellis: Well, I don't want you to think that I am competing with James. I think James is a great director, but he has a totally different style. My Final Destination movies are different than his. Hopefully the fans like them all. We definitely have upped the ante for the fans of the franchise. They obviously know what this film is. People try to cheat death, and then these people get killed. It's about how we're going to kill them, and if it's going to be cool or not.
Did you have any ideas that you really wanted to see with this new one as far as the deaths scenes go?
David Ellis: Yeah, I did. Craig Perry and I spent a lot of time hashing out the different ways we could kill people. You will see some blood. There will be some really cool stuff. It's all a combination of practical stuff and digital effects. Our visual effects guys are working on their shots as we shoot.
Was this film always going begin with death on the racetrack?
David Ellis: Yeah, that was in place when I came on. I have heard people talk about having it open on the Golden Gate bridge. There were a number of different things. I think at one point they were talking about having it take place at a ski resort. But when I signed on, they knew it was going to be a NASCAR sort of thing. That is why they picked me, probably. Because I did all of that car stuff on Final Destination 2, And I did the second unit stuff on The Matrix. A Lot of it had to do with my action background.
How is it working with the two major set pieces of this film? The race track and the movie theater?
David Ellis: This is pretty cool. We had a big set piece at the end of Final Destination 3. But at the end of Final Destination 2 they just had the kids at a barbeque. It wasn't a big deal. This one has a lot more action in it for your buck. It runs at about 88 minutes, and it is none stop. There are two big set pieces. The audience won't forget the last ten minutes of this one. That last ten minutes is pretty killer.
Are there going to be any characters left from Part 4 that could segue into Part 5?
David Ellis: Yeah. We don't kill everybody. There are some people...Eh, I don't want to give too much away. A lot of people do get killed. It's good, because there are some really unsuspected twists at the end that could carry us into a fifth movie...Or not. But there are definitely other people aside from the main characters that you become invested in. If they wanted to do a fifth movie, they could do that. First, this movie has to do well. Fans have to embrace it and want to see it again.
Would you come back?
David Ellis: Shoot, yeah. This has been a great experience. Look at my first movie, "Homeward Bound 2". It didn't really do anything for my career. But it made a ton of money. People thought I was great...If it was a movie where they had dogs talking. Aside from that, they didn't think I'd proven myself. But then I got to do a lot of second unit action segments for movies like The Matrix and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". I started to get some notice as a second unit director. So they gave me the Final Destination 2 film. That led to a couple of other great opportunities. Like Cellular and "Snakes ion a Plane". Which lead to me directing this. So, yeah, I would come back for another one.
You have a great way with dogs. How come we never see a dog involved in the death scenarios of the Final Destination films?
David Ellis: You know what? I can't kill any dogs. A dog actually bit me on set a few weeks back. He mauled me. But still, I love dogs. So I won't be killing any dogs in this film.
After working in 3D, do you think you will go back and make another one? Will it be hard to return to conventional cinema?
David Ellis: You know what? This has been a really great experience. It is really cool. My next film is a small, supernatural thriller, and I think it would look pretty cool in 3D too. For me, the coolest thing about the 3D is the world. I think the dialogue scenes are really cool, because you feel like you are there in the moment. I think there are a lot of movies that would be great in 3D and I would really love to work on them.
What do you like best about working on this particular film?
David Ellis: There are so many things to like about it. I like that we have a really young cast that nobody knows about. I think that they are all movie stars. They are really good in the movie. I am really impressed with their work ethic. And they are good actors. I am really excited about the 3D. The action is going to kick ass. For a Final Destination movie, it has a lot of really good twists. We have had an insane time shooting it.
Are you guys going to be doing a lot of CGI?
David Ellis: Well, I love to do practical action. I do it whenever I can. On Final Destination 2 we really only had the logs that came off the truck. We had to have them go in a specific spot. But compared to a CGI heavy movie, it was very limited. With Snakes on a Plane, I couldn't get the snakes to do what I wanted, so we had to use CGI. We had planned on using real snakes for that, but they just wouldn't follow orders. They are not like dogs. They don't go from point A to point B. On this movie, we have some set pieces were we will have to incorporate some CGI. But, again, I'd rather rely on practical effects. Especially in the action sequences. I think CGI has a tendency to pull you out of the story. Its not real, guys. So I try to incorporate action in my movies that is more reality based.
Do you think 3D is going to change the way people look at movies?
David Ellis: I hope it does well. Everyone is talking about what a huge impact it is going to make. It will be important to us as filmmakers to make good films. They need to be films that aren't reliant on the 3D factor, otherwise it will just fall apart. It is a great in-theater experience for fans. Hopefully it will have a good effect on people.
Do you miss getting to work with Tony Todd on this one?
David Ellis: Tony Todd was a classic. He was crazy. When I did Final Destination 2 , they had talked to me about seeing the first movie. I hadn't seen it, and I wasn't a really big horror fan. I hate to watch certain things, because I hate to copy people. But then I went to Vancouver and everyone was going, "Candyman! Candyman! Candyman!" Then he came on set with that voice. He has such a presence.
What has been the most challenging thing for you on this one?
David Ellis: Well, we have had the one big set piece, and now we are doing a second one. And in the third act, there is a big sequence in the mall, which has been really challenging. We've had to work with the escalators and the movie theaters. There is all this physical stuff that goes into it. And it is the last big set piece premonition. We have more than one premonition in this one. The main kid is having visions all of the time. There is always foreshadowing, and he is always trying to figure out the bigger premonitions. He wants to save his friends. And with that follows a chain of death,
Does he succeed in saving his friends?
David Ellis: Yeah, he does. Kind of. He thinks he does. I will leave it at that.
How long is post production on this film?
David Ellis: It is longer than most films, because every time you do something, you have to go back and change the 3D elements. We are constantly pushing how far things should reach out into the audience. We can play with that. Like, how far out should that water bottle be? Should we pull it back? Our post will take us through this year. Hopefully we will come out at a good time next year.
How do you think the film will hold up on a conventional screen?
David Ellis: Oh, it holds up in 2D. You still have all of the great deaths. You have all of the great misdirections. You have the great freight moments and the drama. It still has all of those elements, which just happened to hold up even better in 3D.
Actors BOBBY CAMPO, HALEY WEBB, and SHANTEL VAN SANTEN
Are we allowed to know who dies?
Haley Webb: I want to keep it a surprise. It's more fun as a surprise.
Bobby Campo: It definitely makes for a more suspenseful experience.
Are there any survivors in this one at all?
Shantel Van Santen: Define survivors?
Bobby Campo: You'll just have to wait and see.
Is there ever any competition amongst you to see who gets the best kill scene?
Shantel Van Santen: There is so many cool ways to die. I don't know if it's a competition to see who has the best death scenes. For me, I got really excited to read about the things that were going to happen in the premonitions. The stakes are higher in those premonitions. But the way we are all going to die is just so neat. And mean. It's not necessarily a competition. We are very supportive of each other's death scenes. Its like, "Oh, I want to be there that day and cheer them on." Its fun to see someone's leg disappear.
Haley Webb: I disagree. But, I do think the death scenes are cool. It is cool to compare the different death scenes, and see how we are each doing them. Especially with how close we are as a group of friends on set. Its not particularly fun to watch your friends die. But I find myself saying, "Ah, cool! You get to do that!?!" It is very cool.
What is your relationship with each other?
Haley Webb: Shantel and Me are lovers...No!
Bobby Campo: I'm just their puppet. I'm the monkey in the tuxedo. In all seriousness, Shantel and me are boyfriend and girlfriend, and Haley is our friend.
When one of the actors gets picked off, do they actually leave the set after that? Is it like they are really gone?
Haley Webb: You mean when we die? Maybe we are all survivors.
Bobby Campo: They get voted off the island when they die, for sure. The shooting sequences are actually mixed up, so some actors actually come back for certain scenes after they die.
Are you guys all together at the race track in the beginning?
Bobby Campo: Yes, we are all there together.
Haley Webb: We have been shooting a lot of our scenes together. We still have quite a few scenes that involve all of us in the same shot.
Shantel Van Santen: Even when it is just two of us on screen, it always involves one or two of the other characters. It is about the four of us and our relationships together. That really is an emotional experience for us. And its horrible to see one of us all gored up. It's like, "Oh, my god!" It is really tough to see your friends mutilated. Bobby is usually happy about it.
Don't you get a bunch of nails in your face, Haley?
Haley Webb: I do today. I actually thought I was going to have to be here, in this interview, with the nails all stuck in my face. But they told me that I would get dressed after this was over.
Is there one main character?
Bobby Campo: I think this is definitely an ensemble film.
Haley Webb: Yeah, it really is. We do have the one character that has the premonitions. But its cool, because we are all effected by it. We all come together to try to help each other. So, it's cool. I like that. Yeah, it is definitely an ensemble.
Working in 3D, do you have to approach acting any differently?
Bobby Campo: It's interesting, because you have to do the blocking differently. There are a lot of three shots, which deals with depth of field. There are no quick shots, because the brain can't deal with it. So you have a little bit longer to get through a shot. It's not boom, boom, boom. It's more natural. It doesn't change your acting style too much, but the HD doesn't allow you to go off. Even with the over the shoulder stuff, you can see everything. So you can't be lazy. Forty yards away, you can still see everything. So even the extras have to be conscious of what they are doing.
Haley Webb: There are a lot of technical things you have to remember. When you are walking, they will say, "Can you walk a little bit slower? The camera is having a hard time trying to catch up." There are so many people operating the camera, so you do have a little bit more to do as far as being aware of your body movements.
Does working on a film like this make you think about your own mortality?
Bobby Campo: Yeah, I can't go anywhere without seeing the mousetrap. It's something that I have been working on a lot, trying to get it just right for the movie. It is kind of second nature to me. The film proves how fragile we are. It's all right there. It is something to think about, and working on this does change your perspective on it.
Stay tuned for Part II of our set visit, where we speak in-depth (like, 3D depth) with producer Craig Perry. Final Destination 4 will be released sometime in 2009.