In the first ever online press junket, Michael Katleman tells all about making this film and talks about the possibility of a sequel
Recently history was made on the internet when Director Michael Katleman took part in the first ever online junket for his film, Primeval. Computers across the globe were set up and journalists actually watched the film with the director. As it played we were able to ask questions as quick as Katleman could answer them. The following is a transcript of the entire first ever online press junket.
I am interested in whether or not Michael is enjoying the online junket ... basically what his initial reaction is to it.
Michael Katleman: I'm thoroughly enjoying this online junket. I've never experienced anything like it.
Was Jaws a big inspiration for how you showed the audience Gustave?
Michael Katleman:Jaws was a huge influence and inspiration. I still remember the first time I saw that film, and I basically grew up in the water surfing all my life, and even I have to admit that I was afraid to get back in the ocean after that film. If I could come close to putting that kind of fear into people, I would consider this a huge success.
Michael, how did you first hear about Gustave?
Michael Katleman: I first heard about Gustave when I read the script. I was immediately intrigued that this kind of predator could exist in the everyday lives of the people of Burundi.
Can you tell us a bit about the real Gustave?
Michael Katleman: As the myth goes, Gustave has been stalking people for up to 100 years and has killed over 300 people. Obviously, in our film, he is a supercroc, but in reality, once he got the taste of human blood and realized that humans move a lot slower than other animals, I think he simply realized that it would take a lot less effort to snack on humans at will. He has been shot at, stabbed, but it just seems there is no way to take him down. Who knows, maybe he has been dead for a long time, but I for one think it's cool to imagine he's still out there.
What was the most difficult part of this shoot for you?
Michael Katleman: I think the most difficult part of this was shooting out in the jungle. It's a tough place to film. You're at the mercy of nature. But, I also find that the most exciting. I think once all the outside forces become part of the film, it truly takes on its own life.
You have directed some big TV-shows, but nothing close to horror or thriller. Was it a conscious choice to do a horror/thriller as your first big feature film?
Michael Katleman: No, but when I read the script, there was something about it that intrigued me. In a sick way, I began to become excited about figuring out all the different ways that a crocodile can kill a human. This was a new experience for me from what I had done on TV, and it definitely excited me to be doing something different.
How similar is Dominic to the Tim character? I only ask because he seems so natural in this role?
Michael Katleman: Dominic is an extremely cool person and a very gifted actor. He is a great person to work with, and I think he could just about tackle any role and make it look natural.
Now that you're completely finished with Primeval, right through DVD, what do you have planned next?
Michael Katleman: I am working with Jon Feldman on a new show for ABC called Big Shots, while I am also reading and developing other feature projects.
Did the film have any issues with the ratings board or was the R granted without need for additional edits?
Michael Katleman: Yes, we had a very hard time maintaining the R rating. Many of the kills were much more graphic initially. When you are working on a film with so many visual effects and on such a tight time schedule, you often don't see the finished product until the very last minute. The ratings board was very nervous that once the final touches were put on the film with the effects, it would be far too graphic. In the end, I am pleased with what we were able to accomplish and still maintain the R rating.
What was the ratio of CG to practical effects?
Michael Katleman: 100 percent CG. 0 percent practical effects. We started out with an animatronic croc, in hopes of shooting as much with it as possible. But, once we got the animatronic in the water in Africa, it just didn't look that scary or believable, so we made a last minute change to not use it at all. We went 100 percent CG instead, which not only posed some CG challenges, but really affected the film financially.
You mentioned in the audio commentary utilizing the camera to make daylight look like night shots, did that help you along a great deal?
Michael Katleman: The day to night was more in post production. Once I looked at the film as a whole, it gave me a tremendous amount of control in creating passage of time, creepiness, as well as selling the beauty of Africa. So, while I was filming, I didn't really rely on it, but in post, as I was finishing the film, it became an incredible asset.
Dominic Purcell looks like he could wrestle a croc bare handed! Is that all acting, or is he a bit of a tough guy in real life?
Michael Katleman: Dom is definitely a tough guy in real life. In fact, in the first week of shooting, when he was running from the truck as it was chasing him down in the grass, he dove under a tree and actually separated his shoulder. Without missing a beat, he kept on filming, finished the day out, went to the hospital, had it wrapped, and came back to work the next day, still begging to do his own stunts.
How much did the script evolve during the shoot? I'm sure it was strong to begin with (Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato are no slouches, I think they wrote The Game) but did it change much?
Michael Katleman: The script went through quite a few re-writes, with Brancato and Ferris involved at every step of the way. A lot of the re-writes were motivated by our financial constraints, because a film like this can easily spin out of control. On set, there were quite a few changes made, just from working with the actors, especially Orlando Jones, who I think is an incredibly talented improvisational actor. He would just come up with funnier and funnier stuff.
As a director, how difficult is it to put together a big action scene and make sure you've got all the shots you need, especially as they so important to the finished film?
Michael Katleman: It's actually not difficult. It's a lot of fun. You basically just imagine in your mind what you'd like to see, what makes it more exciting, what would make people jump - what YOU would want to see as a viewer.
Was there a wildlife expert on-set throughout the shoot?
Michael Katleman: There wasn't a wildlife expert per se, but there was a ranger there to protect us in case we were attacked by the animals that were around us during the shoot.
What are your thoughts on digital filming versus shooting on film?
Michael Katleman: I think digital filming is definitely the wave of the future. I don't think it's quite there yet, but I think it's pretty close. There is a tremendous amount of freedom with digital with being able to shoot as much as you want and having the kind of latitude that you are given with the digital format. But, there is something really sexy about film that I'm not ready to give up. I guess I felt the same way about LPs and CDs.
Can you tell me where the idea came from for Primeval and are you a fan of giant croc/gator films generally. If so which ones?
Michael Katleman: I believe the idea originated from Oren Aviv, the president of Disney, reading an article about Gustave being at large in Africa. I will admit that prior to this film, I wasn't necessarily a crocodile movie fan, but I am just generally a fan of movies, of all kinds.
In your research, did you ever have a Gustave sighting?
Michael Katleman: No, I actually wasn't in Burundi. We shot the film in South Africa, in Cape Town and Durban, but I did see many a crocodile, not even close to the size of Gustave. They scared the hell out of me.
Some of the scenery shots are amazing - I wonder how much of that was down to the cinematographer, and how much to Africa's natural beauty?
Michael Katleman: My cinematographer, Ed Pei, is incredible. He is very talented. In conjunction with the natural beauty of Africa, it was hard not to capture it on film.
What are your thoughts on the film's sound design, and did you have a lot of discussion with the film's sound engineers in trying to plan out the ideal mix?
Michael Katleman: The sound was very tricky, and in the end, I'm incredibly happy with it. When you are doing a film like this, you have to decide if you are going to creep the audience out with very little sound, making it very tense, or do you hit them with a barrage of sound, and make them jump by the sheer volume. You must create peaks and valleys with the sound, where the audience will experience a bit of sensory overload. There were a couple of tricky things with the sound besides just the mix. One was coming up with the perfect crocodile sound. At the end of the day it was a mix of elephant, crocodile, snake and probably some horn thrown in for fun. The other area that took a tremendous amount of trial and error was the tracking device. It was executed incredibly well in Aliens, so we kind of used that as our jumping off place. We had to find the right tone that made you aware of the tracking device, that didn't become irritating.
Was there anything you really wanted to do in the film, but couldn't because of budget or time restrictions?
Michael Katleman: Yeah, lots. As a filmmaker, you are never satisfied. Part of the challenge is trying to make it all fit with the means that you are given. Believe me, if I had been given twice the money, I would have found a way to spend it.
You mentioned Orlando came up with new lines at the set - how much of them are completely improvised? Most of his lines feel so natural...
Michael Katleman: A large portion of Orlando's lines were improvised. We would get on set and start playing around, and he would come up with some incredible material. He is a truly gifted comic, and I look forward to working with him again.
After principal wrapped, did you have to travel back to Africa for re-shoots or second unit work?
Michael Katleman: No, because our post schedule was so tight, in order to have the film released just after Christmas, I had to make sure that I shot everything I needed during principal photography. Also, when you are dealing with Visual Effects, and a short turnaround, you really have to lock all those sequences as early as possible. I was filming 6 days a week, and editing on the 7th day, in order to make our tight schedule.
So we've seen giant sharks, giant crocs, giant spiders and ants. Which of the giant monster movies, made or yet-to-be-made, do you think deserves to be seen?
Michael Katleman: All of them. Give me a giant anything and I'll be happy. One of my favorite toys as a kid was a magnifying glass. Seriously, if you can make it scary, I think it's cool.
Has Primeval inspired or discouraged you in doing feature films?
Michael Katleman: Definitely inspiring. I don't think I've ever had a better experience in my life. I look forward to making many more films in my life.
And can you please tell a little bit about your ideas on the soundtrack, that is very present in the movie?
Michael Katleman: John Frizzell is the composer on the film. He did an incredible job. He brought a portable studio to Africa, and recorded many of the local musicians. He then brought back all of his samples and orchestrated around them. Our goal was to try and keep a very strong African influence in all of the score, and I'm quite pleased about that.
During its theatrical release, what did you think of the decision to bill the movie as a "serial killer" theme, rather than a killer croc?
Michael Katleman: I'll be honest, I wasn't crazy about it. In a film like this, the croc is the star, and I think that the fans of films of this genre want to know going into it that they are going to see a killer croc movie. Unfortunately, it caused a lot of frustration with the fans, and at the end of the day, they felt deceived.
Would you be interested in making a sequel?
Michael Katleman: Not at this moment. Not that I don't love Gustave, but I think I would like to dabble in other arenas.
How much creative leeway / artistic license did you allow yourselves in terms of the croc's movements etc?
Michael Katleman: We started out trying to stick to the actual movements that crocodiles make. But, at the end of the day, I just wanted it to be cool, so if it didn't look cool, we changed it.
It sounds like you're pleased with just about everything, which is great, but I'm curious as to what you feel, if anything, could have been tweaked more to your liking?
Michael Katleman: I am pleased, but I'll be honest, I would tweak everything more. I don't think you're ever satisfied that you've spent enough time on everything. The reality is, it's a race against the clock. The one thing I would point to first would be the crocodile. I think Luma did a fantastic job creating this in the short amount of time that they had, but I would have liked to have seen more personality in its eyes, I would have liked to enhance the movement and made it more aggressive, and in the original conception, I had envisioned Gustave-vision, which I just ran out of time and couldn't develop to my satisfaction. So, I ended up cutting it from the film.
How difficult was the casting process?
Michael Katleman: Casting is always difficult. It is really hard to find the right person to fill the role that has been living inside your head.
When the film was released theatrically, did you go see it with an audience? Did the film have an extensive test screening process?
Michael Katleman: Unfortunately, we didn't have an extensive test screening process because we had a short turnaround. We had two screenings, but very little time to make changes in between.
How many cameras did you use to shoot the most intense action scenes?
Michael Katleman: I generally had 4 cameras to shoot the action. If it was a situation, for instance, where the hut was going down, I had roughly 8 cameras for those sequences. For the most part, I used about 4.
What was the thinking behind when to use and not to use subtitles?
Michael Katleman: We tried to only use subtitles when it was essential to the story for you to understand what they were saying. If the audience could figure out what was happening without the subtitles, that was my preference.
Even with flicks like Anaconda around, this isn't traditional fodder for a horror film -- and I like how you treat it more like a science documentary than the usual horror flick. What inspired you to tell this particular story in this particular way?
Michael Katleman: I really like the fact that if you go to the water, there's a crocodile. If you go to the land, there are warlords. There really is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It gave me a great opportunity to not only shoot a horror film, but to shoot a horror/action film.
You have a consolidated career at TV (series and movies). What's the substantial difference between a theatrical movie and TV works?
Michael Katleman: They're both great. No really, the movie is way cooler.
What are your thoughts about providing behind-the-scenes material on DVD?
Michael Katleman: I think that behind-the-scenes material is invaluable. It's a great way to see how the film was shot, and hear all the great stories from the shoot. It's a great way to learn how to make films.
What led you to cast Jurgen Prochnow in particular and what was he like to work with?
Michael Katleman: We were fortunate to get Jurgen, he's a fantastic actor and brought a lot to the screen. He was very passionate about his work.
How long of a post-production schedule did the film have, and was it enough time to accomplish what you wanted?
Michael Katleman: I honestly can't remember how long the schedule was, but I do remember that it wasn't enough time.
Primeval slithers to DVD June 12 from Walt Disney Video.
Dont't forget to also check out: Primeval