The actor turned director talks about shooting the movie in Brazil, working with John Carpenter early in his career, and being robbed at gunpoint
Having been in some seminal 1980s teen movies (Christine, Losin' It), John Stockwell knows a thing or two about youth culture. In has transition as a director he has made such youth oriented films as Blue Crush and Crazy/Beautiful. Departing a bit from this in genre, Stockwell recently sat down to discuss his work on the horror film Turistas.
Turistas follows six college students who, while backpacking across Brazil, get stranded in the jungles and imprisoned by a military group with a bloody agenda.
Based on the other films you've directed what attracted you to Turistas?
John Stockwell: The truth is, I had just come back from Peru where I'd been robbed at gunpoint by thirteen year old kids; and shot at. So when I read the script it resonated with me on a number of different levels. I wanted to do something, even though I guess there is a water component, that's not entirely set in the water. I loved the idea of doing something that operated within a certain genre, but didn't entirely follow all the rules. That had a more sort of character driven, real world component to it, I guess. And I wanted to go to Brazil... that's the real reason.
Based on what you said about the water aspect of it, was that the hardest part of shooting this film? Those scenes that took place in the water and in the caves?
John Stockwell: Yeah, probably. It was all difficult in the sense... I think Olivia Wilde had a couple of very close calls. If was a very difficult environment to operate in because we were in a national park in Brazil. We couldn't bring in scuba tanks. It was all free diving. There were times when our safety divers, who didn't really speak English, they couldn't tell if Olivia was acting or really in trouble when she was operating in that cave environment. It was very dangerous in the sense of when I did Blue Crush, or when I did Into the Blue. If you got in trouble you could just go straight up for air. In these caves there is no air. You go straight up and you knock yourself out on the rock ceiling.
There were scenes as simple as just operating on the edge of that waterfall. Where if one of those actors slipped, there was a massive rock outcropping the bottom, and if you didn't get far enough out and cleared you'd be dead. So, there were all sorts of those real world dangers that probably the makers of 300 didn't have to deal with.
Horror movies today really seem to be trying to go for it in terms of gore and violence. As a director what do think is the trick to pulling that off? Or, is the goal to be over the top almost so that it's almost comical?
John Stockwell: It's such a difficult race to engage in. I, personally with this movie, I don't think you can out gore Hostel 5 or whatever. The thing that the MPAA had the biggest problem with Turistas, and why we kept getting an NC-17 was because they felt it was too real. It was too raw. I think you have an easier time if it feels a little more over the top. If it feels Tarantinoesque in it's style and attitude. To be honest, when we started this movie I didn't know about Hostel. I don't even think I'd seen Saw.
I wasn't really getting into a race to see who can make people squirm. I was just really interested in taking people into a world and situation that they could, maybe, see themselves also being in and wondering how they would react. It also, honestly, just taps into America's fears of traveling abroad. How we're perceived outside of our borders today.
Was making this movie in any way cathartic for you after having been robbed in Peru?
John Stockwell: It was cathartic in the sense that I spent six months in a fairly dangerous environment and nobody shot at me. Nobody pulled a gun on me so... since that time I got back from Chile yesterday morning. I had a great time there. I was just in Ecuador. I've been throughout South America. If you're smart and savvy I think you'll have a great time. I feel a little badly that the Brazilians, mostly who haven't seen the movie, maybe they've seen the trailer, have been very upset about what they perceive the film's depiction of Brazil to be. I'm like, did you guys see City of God? That wasn't the most flattering of portrayals. I think they get very defensive when an American production company comes in and makes anything other than a Chamber of Commerce portrayal of the country.
Having worked with John Carpenter on Christine, did you consult him before making Turistas?
John Stockwell: No. (Laughs) I see John occasionally he's so curmudgeon, I mean maybe we would give me advice. I think my style is quite different from his. I think he's such a master of a certain kind of suspense and horror film. With me, he certainly was not what I consider to be a warm and fuzzy actor's director. He made me really nervous. I've since come to kind of love and admire that and appreciate his toughness on the set. No, I didn't go to him for any words of wisdom.
Why do you think horror movies continue to be so popular?
John Stockwell: (Laughs) I don't know! To me, the market is a little saturated. It's still shocking to me. I think they think that even badly done, even poorly acted, even poorly directed... if you tap into that certain kind of market you'll make your money back. I think there's a certain truth to that. Recent evidence has said... you have to be somewhat distinctive, or you have to be very specific about your marketing to make it work. Honestly, I feel like it's a very tough environment to be in right now because people are weary. "Is this just another production trying to capitalize on the success of earlier films?"
You seem to make movies that to some degree explore youth culture. I was wondering having done a bunch of those as an actor when you were younger, if you think that's had any bearing on the direction of your directing career?
John Stockwell: That's an interesting question. I think it did or does. To a large degree maybe when I was doing Losin' It (laughs) or even Christine, I thought, "This isn't exactly the way I think youth culture actually behaves at all; how it operates or talks." So with Crazy/Beautiful or Cheaters maybe I was trying to get into a little more of an honest, or raw, and real place.
I grew up in a period where it was the John Hughes movies. It was the My Science Project's, Real Genius, Weird Science... there was a sort of boom in teen films, and I got the advantage of getting work out of them but I always felt like there was a world where maybe there was a more honest version of some of these films; that I wasn't getting to act in that I wanted to. I loved letting Kirsten Dunst improvise. Or even in Blue Crush letting the real surfer community come in and talk the way they really talk. Even Into the Blue, letting Scott Caan go loose because he's insane. I try and direct the way I always wish I'd been directed as an actor.
Can you talk about what you're doing next? I think you're doing a film called Villain?
John Stockwell: I'm not sure if what I'm gonna do next. I have two projects. One is called Kid Canada. It's based on a Rolling Stone article about... it's a true story about these kids in Idaho who smuggled B.C. bud into Idaho. That's a very twisted, funny, bizarre story that I really hope to get made some time this summer. Then I have a Susan Sarandon movie... called Middle of Nowhere. You're never sure. I'm writing a couple of different things and you sort of wait to see what comes together before you know exactly where your life is heading.
Turistas comes to DVD March 27 from Fox Home Entertainment.
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