Jon Turteltaub

The director of this popular series talks about the film, the new DVD and The Da Vinci Code.

Jon Turtletaub is one happy man and who could blame him. After the overwhelming success of the first National Treasure film, a sequel was almost inevitable. Turtletaub and Co. delivered with National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, which comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on May 20. I had the privelege of talking with the director over the phone about this series and here's what he had to say.

First of all, I actually wanted to apologize. I was actually on the virtual junket for this a few months ago.

Jon Turtletaub: You apologize for that?

No, but I asked the question about The Da Vinci Code and it seemed to touch a nerve.

Jon Turtletaub: Ahhh you're The Da Vinci Code guy. No, I'm kidding. It didn't touch a nerve at all, it was like, 'Yeah, I get to talk about it.'

Ah OK. Yeah, but I wasn't aware that (National Treasure) was in pre-production before the book came out.

Jon Turtletaub: Oh my God, no one was. I don't think anything upset us more than - well, nothing upset me more - than Roger Ebert's review. I had so much respect for him as someone who really seems to know his stuff. To write such a snide and incorrect review, was so unlike him and so unfair and so wrong. He thought that there should be lawyers involved and we should be sued. It's like, 'What are you doing? What does this have to do with the movie review?' We were such morons. We sat in our office at one point thinking, 'Ha ha. Sony sure is screwed. They're doing some movie that is a total rip-off of our movie and they're going to get nailed.' What idiots we were. The book hadn't even come out yet, and when we heard about the book... I guess I was wrong about that one.

Well, it worked out well for both, really.

Jon Turtletaub: That's true, that's true. It's not like I don't think they're similar. They're definitely similar. There's no question that there is some overlap in the ideas. Every single successful movie that comes out, the studio gets two or three letters saying, 'You stole my idea' from somebody somewhere in the world. What also happens is that the same idea just tends to appear in our culture. Deep Impact and Armageddon came out in the same summer. Nobody's ripping anybody off, they just both had a really good idea at the same time.

You mentioned in the special features, the process you had to go through to get permission to film in all these cities around the world. Was there any specific shot that you just absolutely couldn't get, no matter how much you tried to get it done?

Jon Turtletaub: I'm trying to think back, not to what we actually did, but what we wanted to do at some point, and just had to give up on. I mean, I certainly would've liked to have gone inside the White House, which, by the way, I would've never expected to be able to do. That wasn't something where we were whining and saying, 'How come we can't shoot inside the White House?' If you look at the scene in front of the White House, there is a scene where, we did the best we could, and it works just fine, but, there are barely any extras in that scene. The reason is we were not allowed to have anyone associated with our movie standing on the sidewalk in front of the White House.

Huh. That's weird.

Jon Turtletaub: Everybody who's moving through had to be in the street, not on the sidewalk. We were able to send like five people through, including our main actors. What's weird is that we were allowed to be in the street, directly in front of the White House, but not on the sidewalk. We were not allowed on the sidewalk across the street from the White House. That's one of those things where I don't think the scene looks as real as it should, because there are no tourists in the shot. It should've been filled with people.

Yeah, I saw that on the features and thought that was strange. You could film here, but not here. It's odd.

Jon Turtletaub: Yeah. Also, as we were shooting, we'd look up and standing on the roof of the White House, we could see snipers and special security teams. We noticed that their binoculars were always trained on our movie stars (Laughs). So, rather than scanning the buildings for trouble, they were probably going, 'Wow, Diane Kruger is hot!'

(Laughs) That's awesome. There's such a reliance on special effects these days and it seems that there are a lot of actual, physical effects in this movie. Was that a conscious choice that you wanted to get away from blue-screen and CGI?

Jon Turtletaub: I think it's a combination of my personal lack of skill with visual effects, therefore wanting to rely on hard effects. For me, I feel more comfortable directing in, and having the actors standing in, a real environment, and not in a CG environment. I pushed to have as much of a real set and real visual effects as possible, and using special effects as a way of supplementing and rounding out the action. It's weird. There are directors that are so gifted at it and can do it with such ease. Probably the best at it is Robert Zemeckis. Quite a few people just feel completely comfortable in a virtually-created environment. I'm not one of those guys and I just wanted it as real as possible. Additionally, and this is kind of an odd thing, but when you're not fully confident in everything you're doing, and you have a script that you're sort of finessing as you go, I wanted as much of the real environment as possible, so that we could improvise and change things, in a way that would make sense. That said, most people would say the opposite, give me a virtual environment so I can fix it all later.

You also mentioned on the features how the comfort zone is a lot higher in a sequel. Was the first day on the set kind of like a family reunion of sorts?

Jon Turtletaub: Yeah, it was better than a family reunion because we actually wanted to see each other. None of us had ever done a sequel before, meaning me or the cast. None of us knew what to expect and, for me, I hadn't done any movies in between the two, so it really felt, to me, that I was picking up right where I left off, which was great. That sort of getting-to-know-you period where you're terrified that everybody hates you, I knew everybody hated me so everyone was comfortable (Laughs).

So with Helen Mirren and Ed Harris, were those two people you automatically going after right away?

Jon Turtletaub: Yeah. Certainly, Ed Harris had done a movie with Jerry (Bruckheimer) before and Ed Harris is probably as charismatic an actor as there is. When you're looking to cast a villain, you're looking for charisma. You're looking for the actor to bring you depth and redeeming value that isn't always there in the script. That's what's so great about Ed. Helen Mirren, duh. What's funny is people go, 'Wow. I'm surprised to see Helen Mirren in the movie.' Well, so am I (Laughs). We were so excited when she said yes. We all have these weird ideas about actors' attitudes and the truth of the matter is, an actor isn't the part they play, in fact, they're usually very much not the part they play. That's why they choose those parts. That's the joy of it. An actor wants to work, wants to make a living and wants to do fun and different things just like everybody else does with their jobs. If we had called and offered Helen Mirren the part of a different Queen, she probably would've said no.

I'm normally not a big fan of deleted scenes, but I really liked how you introduced all these individual scenes and how you explained why they were cut. If you had the chance to do like a director's cut or something like that, would you have all this stuff back in?

Jon Turtletaub: You know, my fear has always been that the special director's cut is going to end up shorter than the original version. I'm usually the guy saying, 'Let's cut it out. It's too long. It's boring,' and it's other producers and the studio saying, 'You're wrong. This part is good. Leave it in.' I also find director's cuts to be weird because, the movie itself, isn't the director's cut. Why is the director telling everyone that by doing a director's cut? Additionally, you only do director's cuts of great movies. Nobody wants to see the special director's cut of Bubble Boy. They only do a director's cut when a movie was successful and if a movie was successful, people liked it. So, keep your mouth shut, take the credit and move on.

So what might we be able to expect from a third movie?

Jon Turtletaub: If we're good at our jobs, the first thing you'll get is more of the same, because that's why people go to sequels because they want to see more of the same. But, that only gets you so far and an audience knows that they're only getting more of the same. What we need to do is uncover a real historic mystery, find a way to make it relevant to our characters and to the audiences interests, and make sure it feels very contemporary. The fun part, for me, of these movies, is that you look at the things you've seen your whole life, a little bit differently. That boring tourist attraction your parents made you go to, suddenly isn't so boring. If we can do that, then we're really doing what the franchise has created as a trademark.

So have you gotten an official greenlight for the third one then?

Jon Turtletaub: Neither the studio, nor Jerry and I, nor any of the cast, want to make a sequel just for the sake of making a sequel and getting a check. We need a really good script that is going to hold our interests and make us feel that we're worthy of asking the audience to come back again. I know that sounds really corny, but it's really true. I don't know any of the people involved, but I can tell you they would've made a fourth Indiana Jones a lot longer ago if they believed they had a script worth making. There actually is integrity to most of us and we really want a great script before we ask people to go out and see our movie.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for talking to me, Jon.

Jon Turtletaub: All right. My pleasure.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 20.