McG is one of the most outspoken directors of his generation. And in bringing the Terminator franchise back to the big screen with next month's fourth installment Terminator Salvation, he has been quite open and honest with the fans about his intent behind resurrecting these myths and legends originally created by James Cameron. He has gone out of his way to communicate with audience members, asking their opinions about certain aspects of the film's production. He truly cares about what they may or may not want to see in the finished product. And in June of last year, he even opened up his set so that we could take a look at what he and his extremely talented crew were cooking up for us come May 22nd, 2009.
On location in New Mexico, McG was knee deep in production when we arrived on set. The first thing he did was take us into his private Airstream trailer and show us a seven minute clip reel culled together from footage shot earlier in the month. This mish-mash of scenes, with its special effects unfinished, looked quite spectacular. The sound emitting from his tiny trailer was loud enough to rock us off our foundation. By now, a lot of you have already seen this same footage; with it's washed out futuristic sheen and tangy metallic aftertaste. McG explained the specifics of the film stock, "We are using the Oz process. We are adding three times as much silver as you would add to a color stock. It gives this patina where you don't lose any detail in the blacks. And it has this otherworldly quality that brings a landscape not of this time period. It closely mirrors what we are doing with the cinematic language of the film itself."
Terminator Salvation is going to be loaded with giant robots, Terminator motorcycles, and more than enough action to satiate the hardcore fans of this long standing series. McG is also bringing a powerful emotional scope to his vision, finally giving us a glimpse at the future we've only heard about in the first three films. We will get to see John Conner's emergence as the Resistance leader he's been prophesied to be. We'll also get to see a younger version of his dad, Kyle Reese, as well as be introduced to the half-man, half-machine Marcus Wright.
Feeling a bit under the weather due to the intense heat of the New Mexico desert, Moon took time away from her recovery to chat with us. She was joined by her on-screen co-stars Anton Yelchin and Bryce Dallas Howard. Upon greeting us, they each explained their roles in the film. Bloodgood plays Blair Williams, a pilot for the Resistance. Her character has been described as hard-core and amazing. Howard is set to play Kate Conner, taking over the part Clare Danes originated in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. John and Kate are now married, and Mrs. Conner is pregnant. She is also a physician working for the Resistance. Finally, we have Anton, who is playing a young Kyle Reese in the movie. He, of course, will grow up to be John's father.
Bryce had only been on the set for two days when we sat down to talk with her about the project, "I was cast a week and a half ago. I've only done two days of shooting. But both of those days took place in the Resistance outpost. It has been an incredible experience. I am a huge, massive, insane fan of the franchise. McG asked if I was familiar with it. And I have been following everything that has been going on with this movie for the past few years. I love what they've envisioned the future to look like. I am looking at it as a fan. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed in the way it looks." When asked what specific tasks she had to perform in the film itself, she coyly replied, "I spend most of the movie admiring Christian Bale. Which isn't too hard." She was in the trailer with us when we watched those first few moments of footage, and she seemed more excited about it then anyone else around, "Not to be cheesy, but everything I've seen has been great. They've had a lot of time to flesh out this world, and it is very detail oriented. There are the tiniest little things on set. I see them, and I can't believe it. It's brilliant. This will be a film that you'll want to see again and again. There are many discoveries for the fans that pay close attention."
While Anton is providing the backstory for one of 1984's most popular sci-fi characters, Howard is in an entirely different boat. She is propelling the history of Kate Conner from the third film, "I have the reverse of Anton's situation. You got to see Kyle Reese when he was older, and now they are building his history. With Kate Conner, I got to see her origins, and the beginning of John and Kate's romance. It's great, because my homework was done for me in an epic version of the film. I could watch that third film, and I knew right where she was at. I know her starting point, because we've already seen her backstory. It's really nice."
Most of the actors had to go through extensive weapons training prior to filming some of the film's bigger action sequences. Anton was a little apprehensive about this at first, "I had to get used to being around guns. Before I came here, I had this awful thing happen. It was so messed up. I shot a bird. These birds were attacking the house, and I had a BB gun. I said, 'I am going to take them down!' I missed the first time. There was this weird machismo thing, where if you miss the first time, you have to get them the second time. No matter how immoral it is. So I shot this bird, and my dog ate it alive. It was the most disturbing thing I have ever seen. Then I got here, and I said, 'Guns, man! Its absurd!' But now I am at NRA status. I am running around with shotguns. We were doing some gun training, and Moon and I were running around with the guns. We were playing tag." Moon, still reeling from a bout of heat stroke, perked up at this particular story. She chimed in, "I whooped his ass twice! He was talking to the stunt and prop guys. He was being so hard-core. He was crawling around. And I got him two times. He had the gun posture. He was sneaking around like Kyle Reese. He looks up from this box, and I was right there. He was so pissed!"
All three actors are excited to be in this thrilling new chapter of the Terminator series. Yelchin has been enraptured by the franchise's mythology since he was a little kid, "I am honored to be here. I have watched the Terminator since I was very young. I wasn't around when the first one came out. When the second one came out, I was really tiny. But I was conscious of it. I watched it. And I had to get everything. I had the little Terminator factory where you poured chemicals in and made Terminators. I had the action figures. I had Arnold in all four stages. I didn't have the cheesy T-shirt, but I was way into the action figures. I was like this naked little kid with all my action figures. No T-shirts, no nothing. Being here now is so massive, because this shaped my childhood. It is such a huge, great franchise. If we make a movie that is great, then in the future, some kid like me will have all of these action figures. And be inspired by them. It sounds cheesy, but it is true. By nature of what it is. I would have never thought that this would be happening. There is the dimension of acting, but there's also that fact that, damn! This is The Terminator. It is sick. And playing Kyle Reese is a huge thing for me."
Bryce found the legacy of the series inspiring to woman, "For me, personally, just as an actress, what's so exciting about this is that Linda Hamilton brought a kick ass female to the screen in the first movie. Just to play a woman that can somehow honor that role means a lot. Thematically, we have the phrase, "There is no fate but what you make." Here, we are dealing with this post-apocalyptic world. Right now, at this time, we are dealing with some potential disasters that are reliant on the choices that we make as a human race. This looks at how those choices could manifest in the very near future. This is conscious filmmaking. I am proud to be a part of something that is on a higher conscious social level. It is saying something. It is an incredible, female oriented film. And it is amazingly entertaining."
After chatting with the three actors, we headed over to the mess hall for a late lunch. Over a catered meal of deep fried crab and corn on the cob, McG expressed his enthusiasm for the project. His mind seemed deadlocked on The Terminator, and he is very concerned about audience's perceptions of him as a director, and the direction he may be taking their beloved franchise. "I understand that no one is excited about the guy that did Charlie's Angels taking over The Terminator franchise. That's a privilege of the audience, and I would never deny them that. But James Cameron understood that, as a filmmaker, you always do what is right for the project at hand. What was right for The Terminator wouldn't have been right for Titanic. You always have to cater to the project that is sitting in front of you at any given time. That is what I am doing here. I like Charlie's Angels. I don't make any apologies for it. But it is its own animal. It's your right to say you like it or don't like it. But at least I felt it was original. It wasn't like anything else. Now, I am bringing a different energy to Terminator Salvation."
McG was hesitant to take on this project until he talked with the creator of both the original and its hugely successful sequel, "Here is the thing. I wasn't going to do this until I talked to James Cameron about it. He was the guy that gave me that final kick in the ass. He told me that he was in the same spot with the Alien franchise. He was coming after Ridley Scott. People thought he was crazy. Ridley is untouchable. But Cameron had an interesting take on the material that he thought would service the story. At the same time, he was able to put his own imprint on it. This is a different situation." He continued, explaining that Cameron was the one that gave him the go-ahead to make the film. "He said, 'Go for it!' James was extremely supportive. That was the moment that made me jump on the material. Part of the reason I became a director was because I saw James Cameron's movies when I was a kid. I didn't have a lot going on in my life at that time. So I spent a lot of time at the movies. James gave me a good swift kick in the ass, and he made me feel good about the challenge of this moving forward."
The Terminator's origin story, especially John Conner's history, has been verbally told in the previous three films. Fans have a certain set notion as to what this should look like. And this notion comes tied to a lot of expectations. Is it hard for McG to realize those expectations on screen? "It is risky. It is tough. All of us have that imagery in our heads. We went to futurists and talked about what would happen with the flora and the fauna. We studied Chernobyl. We studied how nature wins out after all. We really wanted to create a plausible world. Our machines are based on the physics of the day. It is all supposed to be as tactile and real as we can possibly make it. We are creating what we think will be the most exciting world possible. It will be the privilege of the audience to either say, 'We like it!' Or, 'It's a piece of shit.' I would never operate from a place of fear. I would never say, 'The audience's expectations are too high. Lets not fucking go for it.' That is never the impression I got from anyone involved. Everyone said, 'Go for it.' It is definitely risky. This isn't a shoe-in. This isn't a gimme."
Sam Worthington joined us midway through our meal. His scalp was pulled back to reveal a metallic skull and bits of blue paint that would later be digitally manipulated to look as though he'd crawled fresh from the Terminator factory. Before diving into his plate of food, he explained his character, "I play a guy that wakes up in this world. He is trying to figure out who he is. And what the Hell this new world is about. He is like Alice in Wonderland. My story runs parallel with John Conner's. Every single day of work, I get blown-up, covered in napalm, shot at. That is the nature of a Terminator film. There are a lot of explosions. And it tends to put the willies in you." It was speculated for a while that Worthington would actually be the main character in the film, but he insists that he shares equal footing with Bale. How much of Marcus is a Terminator? "That's the question, isn't it? I get ripped apart quite a bit. We reveal all of Marcus' insides. His back, and legs, and arms are all metal. Sam Winston was pretty good at covering my entire body. I spent forty hours in prosthetics. A suit was created so that they could paint on top of it. Some of it is blue screen." Don't look for Worthington to cry over the effects work, "The make-up is more uncomfortable for the guys putting it on. I just have to sit there. They are the ones under the hammer. It's not hot. It's like wearing a sticky on your head. While they are doing it, I just drift off, pretty much. I heard Schwarzenegger would sleep the whole time."
After dinner, we were taken to a demolished church, where we would see McG's perfectionism come into play. Again and again, he ran his crew through an intense dolly shot that had to hit just right, as a giant truck would end this practiced scene by crashing through a wall made of brick. It was a one shot deal, and it had to be just right. Coordinating the actors and the vehicles and the giant T-600 Terminator was like watching a magic trick come together. Each piece had to be in the right place, and it all had to move forward with Swiss timing. This was the first time we were allowed to see the T-600, which looks a lot like a futuristic Frankenstein wearing a flesh mask fashioned by Leatherface.
McG explained the look of this pre-T-800 Terminator, "I really wanted to delve into the making of the T-800. That is what this picture is all about. This movie has a lot to do with how the T-800 came into existence. It is an archetype that has affected us all so deeply. It brings such a great image. The idea with the T-600 is that it is bigger and meaner. It is designed to look like it came from a Soviet tank factory. Imagine your first Mac. Or a 57 Buick compared to a 2008 Mercedes Benz. Technology is getting everything into a smaller, more efficient space. That is what we've been doing as far as the machine development. That is one of my favorite components of this film. T-1s are also in this picture. They all came from Stan Winston's shop. You see how we got to the T-800. We don't have time travel in this picture yet. We just tease the idea of it coming. You will see how the whole movie is designed to be a thinly veiled cautionary tale about how, if we don't get our act together, this is the world we are heading for. The idea of machines becoming more and more real becomes a fact every single day as we deconstruct the human genetics code. We make seventy year old women pregnant, and we can clone sheep. The days of science fiction are over. It is a blurred line. This movie is an expression of those concerns coming to fruition. At the same time, I don't want this to be a graduate class that is designed for heavy thinking. And not a lot of fun."
We left before McG could captured the extremely hard to choreograph moment on film. The tremendously proficient director and his crew would work long into the night before they got it exactly right. But that's the nature of taking a beloved franchise and trying to perfectly capture the life and energy that made the original so special. McG left us with these words:
"What people think is the ending is not the ending. It's not what got leaked. That is just a fun thing to play with. I would rather communicate with the images. I am most comfortable showing the film. If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't. The proof is in the pudding. Anyone can flap their lips and say, "This is going to be the best thing since sliced bread." Just know that Bale doesn't fuck around. He doesn't sign up for stuff unless he is 100% about it. He is already Bruce Wayne. He doesn't need to be John Conner. He believes in what the picture can be, otherwise he wouldn't be here. He is excited about this creatively. The guy doesn't know any other way than total immersion. I feel we have done as much as we can do to honor the fan base."