Turteltaub & Bruckheimer Talk The Sorcerer's Apprentice and National Treasure 3
The legendary producer and his National Treasure director discus a third film in that franchise and their latest sorcery movie starring Nicolas Cage
One of the most anticipated films appearing at WonderCon in San Francisco this weekend has got to be Disney's new live-action movie, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The film is based on the famous Mickey Mouse segment, "Sorcerer's Apprentice" from the classic Disney film, Fantasia, and is produced by legendary Hollywood super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. For the film, Bruckheimer once again collaborated with his National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets director Jon Turteltaub and star Nicolas Cage. The film is an updated version of the animated movie and takes place in modern day New York. Cage plays a sorcerer who recruits an awkward college student, played by Jay Baruchel (How To Train Your Dragon) to train in the art of science and magic to prepare for an impending war against the forces of darkness. Earlier this week we were honored to be invited into The Sorcerer's Apprentice cutting room located at the Jerry Bruckheimer Films offices in Santa Monica, Ca. Upon arrival we were introduced to producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub who took us into their plush screening room to watch the latest trailer for the film as well as two exclusive clips from the movie that they will be screening at WonderCon this weekend.
The first scene takes place early in the film and introduces a young David (Baruchel's character) to the sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Cage). David was chasing a note that he wrote to a girl, which magically floated into Balthazar's store and led him to the sorcerer. Believing that nothing is a coincidence, Blake comes to believe that David is the new apprentice that he has been waiting to train. Blake takes out a cool dragon shaped ring and tells David that if the ring chooses him then it means he is the new apprentice. In a very cool CGI sequence, the metal dragon ring comes alive and wraps itself tightly around David's finger, indeed choosing him as Blake predicted. Ready to induct David into the world of magic, Blake runs to get something upstairs but warns David not to touch a thing. When David is startled by a noise, he accidentally knocks over a doll, which cracks open and spills out thousands of insects. In another very cool CGI effect, the bugs come together to form a shape that eventually becomes the evil magician Maxim Horvath played by PEAr5JACKwukEA||Alfred Molina} (Spider-Man 2). Before Maxim can unleash any of his evil on the world Balthazar returns and the two battle it out. Balthazar is eventually able to trap both himself and Maxim back inside the doll but warns David that it will only be for ten years and that when it is over he will find him again.
The second scene we were shown takes place ten years later and it is the return of Maxim. David is in a public restroom when he begins to get harassed by Maxim's apprentice a cocky magician named Drake Stone played by Toby Kebbell. David tries to fight Drake but his magic is too weak. Maxim enters and threatens to kill David but is stopped when Balthazar returns and the two fight in the bathroom. Finally we were shown the current trailer, which fills out some of the plot details more clearly. It also includes a nod to Fantasia, the source material, with a scene showing David surrounded by dancing brooms, similar to the ones that Mickey dealt with in the classic animated film. All and all the footage looked very cool and very exciting and shows a lot of promise for any fan of the original film or just sword & sorcery movies in general. After the presentation both Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer took the time to answer a few questions about the new movie, adapting the classic Disney film for a modern day audience, working with Nicolas Cage and the forthcoming National Treasure 3. Here is what they had to say:
We can see from the trailer that there is definitely a shot in the movie that resembles the scene from "Fantasia" that the film is based on with the dancing brooms, so are there any other nods to the original film in your movie?
Jon Turteltaub: There are a bunch of little nods that some people will get and some won't. Some are cinematography, shots that we sort of lit just to do that and some were wardrobe things like Dave wearing a hooded sweatshirt that shadows Mickey in the hat, just little stuff like that for us. But that was probably the hardest part to get a grip on and how to handle because we knew that we're going to be kind of scrutinized for that scene and that sequence. First of all it's the entire story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia but it can only be a scene in this movie so our thing was, if we were going to do it, then the scene must be integral to the story. Something has to be affected by it and it is. In this case he ends up getting a date with Teresa Palmer's character Becky, she shows up in the middle of all that mess and he has to send her away. It blows his day and gives him this big crisis of "I'm a terrible sorcerer. I can't do this. I made a mess and I just blew my shot with the girl!"
But it's still an interesting question for us because there is something very wonderful, important and classic, which means you're going to be criticized, judged and scrutinized. It also means that its kind of old and I'm not so sure how many people under 30 even know what the hell it is? I'm always shocked when I say to people that I'm doing a movie called The Sorcerer's Apprentice and they say, "What the fuck is that?" I say, Fantasia and they go, "What the fuck is that?" Mickey Mouse they probably do know. But there is pedigree to it and I'm hoping that Disney marketing and publicity is smart about letting the history of the project give just a little bit of gravity and weight to the project so it doesn't feel like we're just trotting out some old title and putting a movie together. Starting with Nic, I know that Nic approached me and approached no_people|Jerry with the idea. It came from him to do The Sorcerer's Apprentice right and it felt important for us to get it right because its also not a commercial piece of Disney product either, it was Fantasia!
Was the initial idea, wanting to do a remake of that sequence or was it more about Nic wanting to make a film about a Merlin like magician?
Jon Turteltaub: That's definitely a good question for him. I'm not totally sure and I'm not sure if you know the background, Jerry?
Jerry Bruckheimer: He likes magic, he likes mysticism and we added a lot of the things that he read up about. Its in certain things that he's wearing and other things he's added to this role so he knows a lot about magic and sorcery.
Jon Turteltaub: It's probably a little combination of both, I think. He developed it with a guy named Todd Garner who worked as a VP at Disney for a while so he had asked us to secure the rights for this for Nic. But we new we couldn't make a whole movie out of that scene so the key to it was for Nic and the writers to find the catch of making it modern day, first of all. Setting it in New York City, present day is really what hooked it all, that there are sorcerer's alive and well and among us. But we had to be very careful because, before this I wouldn't have known, but we were literally reading about the difference between sorcery and wizardry, things like that, alchemy vs. totems and all this stuff. Not that the movie lives on all that stuff but you also want to get that stuff right too.
Actress Monica Bellucci appears in the film yet there is barely any footage of her in any of the trailers, are you trying to keep her role in the film a secret or is it just a cameo?
Jon Turteltaub: Part of the problem is that most of her stuff is in the third act so you tend not to show that stuff because that is the answer to a lot of things. But she was even asking us. She saw the trailer and called me and said, "What happened?" I told her, "You're in, you're in. You're just not in much of the trailer." But she'll probably be in the European trailer a lot more. I have a feeling about that. No but her stuff is in its just mostly in the very beginning and the very end but she's still there. It's not a cameo, but I will say this. Movies sort of take on a life of there own, her role is the same size but she's not in a lot of the action scenes and you tend to show that stuff in the trailers.
It's funny, we're showing these scenes and I'm thinking, well they're going to think we're showing them because they are the only two good scenes in the movie. But these are the only scenes with effects in them that we can show you that are done enough. There are even better scenes than this but we have to get effects done otherwise its not as fun to watch.
Do you know yet if the film will ultimately be rated PG or PG-13?
Jon Turteltaub: I would be surprised if it was PG-13 but I don't know, it might be you never know. I don't think they want it to be PG-13 but it's always hard to say. If I'm talking to a group of young teenagers I say that it will be PG-13 but if I'm talking to a bunch of Moms then I'd say it would definitely be PG so we don't know yet but it definitely won't be R.
Jay Baruchel is known for his improvisational work on set, did any of that make it into the film?
Jon Turteltaub: Oh yeah, a lot. You don't have a choice when you're working with Jay ... and Nic too. Some of the funniest lines in the movie are adlibs. You know, when you say adlibs people think that it happens right on the spot but it takes place in rehearsal or an actor will come up to you the morning of shooting and say, "Can I say this instead of that?" But with Jay it's all very unpredictable and every take is new and different. What I would do with Jay lots of times is that if there was a shot with him in it and say the other actor was off camera, instead of running through the scene he might just do the line five times, different ways that he wants to do it and then go to the next line. It gave him a chance to play and try different things.
Can you talk about casting Jay and what he brings to the role and the project?
Jerry Bruckheimer: We used Jay in a show we did for one of the networks, I think it was the WB, with Don Johnson and it was called Just Legal or something? I found him to be terrific and funny and then he was in Tropic Thunder and again he was excellent. I've always been a big fan of Jay's.
Jon Turteltaub: But he still came in and auditioned. Jerry said, "You got to see this kid, he's the guy." But I was like, no he has to audition for me, I'm an important director. But he came in and I was like, wow this guy is really good. But I had seen Tropic Thunder and thought he stood out. A lot of people didn't notice him because he wasn't the loudest, silliest guy. He had to be the straight man to all those guys and its tough. He's smart. He's a very smart actor and smart person.
Can you discus some of the logistical and technical challenges of filming in New York?
Jon Turteltaub: Well New York is always that mixed bag; it's just like living there. New York is without question the greatest city in the world and the most horrible city in the world at the exact same moment. They'll help you make the movie, but where do you park? It's literally those kinds of issues. That stuff gets tricky. What you do is, like there is a scene in the movie where Fred Molina and Toby Kebbell, the two bad guys in the film are on Wall Street and we just went and shot it. We said lets just bring some extras and lets get them out here and wing it. Lets just go and it was really fun. You do deal with the problem that while you are shooting and recording dialogue someone will yell, "Hey Doc Ock how are ya?" But you just keep going. The hardest part about shooting in New York was weather.
Jerry Bruckheimer: We had thirty-eight straight days of rain. We were shooting a sequence, a car chase and as we were loading the car with the actors it was raining but we had a huge crowd and it was because of Nic. I was shocked at how many people stopped and stayed and talked to him or got autographs. Nic is so gracious that he did it. He signed the autographs and talked to the people, which cut into Jon's shooting time but still that's the kind of actor he is.
Jon Turteltaub: In New York you not only get that crowd, but you get them at 2:30 AM in the morning. Most other places ... I mean after 8:30PM in L.A. you're fine. In New York they'll be out at two in the morning but it's also kind of fun. You know, New York is kind of that city and you do have people out that late at night and it is kind of fun.
Jerry, could you talk about the shorthand that you must have with Nic by now from working with him on so many different projects over the years? Is it easier collaborating with him on a film like this than it would be to start fresh with another actor who you don't have as close a relationship with?
Jerry Bruckheimer: Well its always easier when you work with somebody a second time. You know that you can trust each other. You know that they don't come back unless they had a good experience the first time or are proud of that film. So that makes it a lot easier for Jon as the director to know that any of the battles that he may of had with Nic on the first National Treasure, he knows that when Nic saw the movie he said, "You know, God, I love this movie." So it's much easier when Jon says, "I know this is going to work." If Nic is worried about something John can say, this is going to work and Nic is going to believe him.
Jon Turteltaub: And vice versa by the way. Because that's the real thing, when Nic says, "I've got an idea," it's like, oh boy! Because Nic's crazy ideas are crazy ideas and I was probably scared to death of them on our first movie together but by now I get it and I know where he's going. They may not all work but they're all worth shooting, certainly. My thing is, I've noticed that you're always nicer to strangers so the first time you work with someone you're much nicer to them but by the third time that comfort also allows you to have a shorthand of negativity. In a really good way, you don't have to walk on eggshells around each other. I've known Nic since I was seventeen so you sort of revert back to who you were when you first met. We can kind of make fun of each other, tease each other about where we want to go and not just be polite or too proper with each other.
Was it a conscious choice to cast all the villains in the film with British actors? Do you think all British people are evil?
Jon Turteltaub: The reason we do that in Hollywood is because British people are evil! I've actually thought about that a lot over the years because it does happen a lot. I think that the real reason for that is this, the smarter the bad guy the more dangerous and more apposing the bad guy is and Americans think British people are really smart. So when you here that accent we think, uh oh ... this is a really smart guy so he's going to be tough to beat. I always tease Fred Molina that the only reason he got the role is because Javier Bardem passed. So we would have been happy with a Spaniard, or making him Brazilian, it doesn't matter to us.
Jerry Bruckheimer: A lot of the best of the older American actors get chewed up on television and you try to bring unfamiliar faces to an audience. So we certainly find them in England, Australia and a lot of other places and its much better for us to have fresh faces.
Jon Turteltaub: It just sort of works out that way. Certainly Alfred Molina could do an American accent and he has because he's that guy, he's the Lon Chaney of our generation. Then you get Toby Kebbell, who Jerry also discovered for this movie because he's also in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and that's the only reason he's in this movie otherwise I would have had no idea who he was. Toby, who is a cool English actor that sort of does dark independent films, I don't think realizes how talented and funny he is and that these kinds of movies are available to him.
What will the final score for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sound and feel like?
Jon Turteltaub: It won't feel unlike a no_people|Bruckheimer movie totally but they'll be a few more acoustic things like guitars and stuff. Perhaps some middle-ages stuff, we were working on it yesterday. It's always tricky, you've got to get that big size to fit all this action in but again we're trying to find emotion and get the heart right. That's the tricky spot. Getting a flavor of sorcery and times gone by without it sounding hokey and corny. How do we bring back the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" theme from Fantasia without it seeming old fashion? It's got to be in there! I think we have to draw on it. I think we want it but what I found out is that it's not public domain. How's that for a five thousand dollar surprise?
Bold|Do you imagine this film as the beginning of a franchise or just a one-off at this point?
Jerry Bruckheimer: That's up to the audience. We don't know? If the picture becomes a big success then Disney could knock on Jon's door and say, Jon, have you thought about making a sequel?" That's just how it works.
Jon Turteltaub: During the filming of the first National Treasure I asked Jerry about working on the sequel and he looked at me like, "You idiot. You just ruined it! Let's finish this movie first. Just stop!" You've got to just let the audience tell you, not just that they like this one, but that they would want another one and you better have an idea for it ready.
So just to follow up on that, do you have an idea for a sequel to this film already, just incase the movie is a huge hit?
Jon Turteltaub: I think we'll just do dancing Hippos for the next one and work our way through Fantasia. No, not yet but we'll come up with one really soon. We'll probably come up with one about three weeks into shooting it. We'll see what happens. By the way, Teresa Palmer who you didn't get to see much of in the clips is a real nice Australian actress. She's stunning, beautiful and funny. That's a star about to happen. I don't know if the public knows this yet but she is in the next Mad Max movie, Fury Road, wearing very little. But she is really lovely in this movie.
All the performances are great. This sounds corny and I know that every director says this nonsense but it's really the case, which is that with all the effects and everything else in the film, you are just desperate to get the characters and the story right. The emotion of the story, do you care about these people? Do you care about their relationships with one another? That's what's going to make any of these movies work. When you have a great character, someone you follow, who is entertaining and someone who you really care about seeing make it through, all that noise is just there to help all of that stuff. We spend a lot of time and money on all those things, and press talking about that stuff but it's really the other thing that matters the most. Oddly that was one of the surprises that I learned about from working with Jerry. I thought he was going to be yelling at me about car chases, gun shots and all that but he was pounding away saying, "Make it funny, make the characters good, make the story good." That's the reason Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl became what it became because of those people. You just wanted to watch those people. The skeleton of the Pirate ride just made it a better version of that than the puppet show version.
Finally, what can you tell us about "National Treasure 3?"
Jerry Bruckheimer: We are developing a screenplay.
Jon Turteltaub: There are plans.
There was a rumor going around for a while that it might involve the lost city of Atlantis, is that true?
Jon Turteltaub: That was the Internet. I should go on the Internet and find the script for National Treasure 3, it's probably already been written there. But I do get unsolicited emails from nine year-olds in Kansas saying it should be Atlantis. You know, those movies are so surprisingly hard to write. It's shocking to us how hard it is. To write a mystery and use the clues and make it real is tough. Everyone knocked the first movie because it was fake but the things that they were knocking as fake were actually true. "Oh, those stupid Ben Franklin glasses," critics said. Those were real glasses. We found Ben Franklin's glasses. It was real. He had that color thing and all that. So its just about getting story to work but we're all ready. They pay us so much money, why wouldn't we want to make that movie? Are you kidding?
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is scheduled to begin making cinematic magic on July 16th.