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We were given unprecedented access to the director of summer presidential-explodathon blockbuster White House Down , and decided to poke his brains on everything from the forthcoming Independence Day 2 (and whether Will Smith will reappear), the scheduling simularity between White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen , his decisions to turn down Bond and Spider-Man , and much more.
So what came first, Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down?
Yeah, I think they were a little ahead of us, both with the script and everything, but they had no director for the longest time, so no-one really took them seriously. When I signed on to White House Down I had no idea this project existed.
Have you seen Olympus Has Fallen ?
No, no I couldn’t. As a director it’s not good to see anything else. I will see it at some point, when my movie has done its run.
Can you give us an update on Independence Day 2?
Well, I’m trying to get everyone back.
But naturally Will, he’s a big player now. And when I approached him he has just done Men In Black 3 and then After Earth - and also our ID:2 story is a little bit of a father son story - so initially he said no, and that he couldn't make four such similar movies in a row.
So then I said to myself, 'let's try it again', and it was a little bit different.
I think he doesn’t know how little time he has to do on set. It's a multi-character piece and all the stories converge again, so no actor has to shoot longer than five or six weeks. It was then that I gave up on the idea to do two movies. Because it was arrogant to say, “oh yeah, the audience will like it so much, that next year you will go to the next one.”
I think you shouldn't do that. It makes a lot of sense cost-wise, but costs should not be the driving force in movies.
TF: Why do you want to do a sequel?
Mainly because people keep constantly asking me about it, and Fox keeps calling me every year! *laughs* Also, I think I had this one idea, which I cannot reveal, but it was something that got me really excited. I think there was an appetite for it; I think people really wanted to see a sequel.
I think too that we live in a world where people really like their franchises. They like to buy their clothes at the same store. But I was careful not to do too many sequels or remakes in my career. I was always very keen to do original programming and I will keep doing original programming.
Do you have any other smaller passion projects that you would like to make?
Yes - I would like to make a movie about the Stonewall riots.
There is like a script there, and I actually wanted to try to shoot it last summer, but ran out of time, because we hadn’t got the script ready and you have to shoot this film in the summer.
It was famously the hottest summer in the 60s in 1969, which was a contributing cause of the riot, because tempers were so frayed.
TF: Do you think this could be a small production?
The problem there, right now, is that it is still too big for what it is. It's a period film - it takes place in 1969,has a riot in it, and is in the middle of a village in New York, Manhattan.
It is probably the busiest intersection in that part of Manhattan, so I think it is out of the question that we shoot there. So we have to figure out how we do it, how do we find something very similar, and then we may have to actually build some stuff. It all adds up and a movie like this should actually cost around ten million, but at the moment we're looking at a budget of around forty or fifty, so we have to figure out a way to reel it down.
TF: Are you writing or co-writing it as well?
No, I worked out the story and wrote a long treatment. Then I teamed up with a very good playwright called John Robin Baitz - he will come to my home in Los Angeles because he lives in New York and we will probably work on it for one or two weeks again.
Why are you attracted to making blockbuster action movies?
I always wanted to make big-scale movies. Those were the movies in film school I loved! I mean the Blade Runner s to Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind , those were the kind of movies I loved and wanted to mimic.
The older you get, the more you are drawn to smaller movies, that just want to tell a certain story because they feel it is important.
I haven't really ever made a real historical drama, which is set way back - I did The Patriot and Anonymous , but they were set so, so far ago.
But with Stonewall , 1969 is very close and there are lot of people still alive who went through it. The interesting thing is that a lot of these kids, who were a part of it, a lot of them died of AIDS. The AIDS epidemic affected pretty much 90% of these kids. Now, they are all pretty much in their 60s or 70s - I'm going to meet two or three of them soon, and give them the script to read and ask how accurate we are.
Looking back at your films over the years, are there any youre disappointed with?
It’s a little bit like with children, you kind of don’t really wanna reveal the favourites.
I would say probably Universal Soldier is probably not as dear to my heart as my own movies, as it was just a job for hire.
I kind of thought with 10,000 BC we should have done what we originally wanted to do, which was to use a language that nobody understands, so it would have been more like Apocalypto.
However, I was talked to by somebody, who shall remain nameless, that we should do it in English.
Then I went to Warners and they wanted to do it right away, and at that point it was already in English. It was at that point I should have taken a step back and said “no, we do it exactly like we wanted to do it” where it is not in English, and we don’t hear what they say, but we understand it anyway.
What would you say was your favourite of your movies?
I think it’s Anonymous still, because it was the movie I really wanted to do. Maybe because it was so successful, I might say Independence Day again.
Independence Day was a little bit weird for me because it was one of these situations where I had just done the impossible and made a hit for MGM, which was - at the time - the funeral home of all studios. I overcame that and all of a sudden I was the toast of the town.
I was sent every script in Hollywood, and every one was very formulaic, One of the meetings I took was a Harrison Ford prison escape movie, and I asked “what is the budget of this thing?” and they said “around $75 million".
I thought, “For a prison escape movie? You must be kidding me”. I was so upset about that I said to my assistant at the time, for seventy-five million I can do my Alien invasion movie, and she says to me “why don’t you do it?” and I said “you have a point.”
So I locked myself in my room and just wrote down what I had so far figured out. Tim Burton was also doing Mars Attacks which was going to be released in August. I knew that when that came out, I’d have to wait another six, seven, eight years for Independence Day , because you cannot have a more serious film following a parody.
So I said to myself; "wait a moment. If I write the script really fast, we can go to production by February, we could make it by Independence Day.
That’s why it's called Independence Day , because at the time it had no title. It was called ‘Alien Invasion Movie’ and when we were talking about it, I said the whole movie could revolve around Independence Day and then that became the working title, and it stuck.
We knew that we wanted to have Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and at that time Kevin Spacey.
TF: Who was Kevin Spacey going to play originally?
The President - I had already seen Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects and I knew he'd win an Oscar for that.
You were also linked to directing Spiderman in the early 2000s - would you like to direct a Superhero film now?
No, no, no, I always said no to every superhero film.
TF: Why is that?
Because I didn’t grow up with comics. For me it looks silly. They are just about a guy in a cape, flying through the air and I don’t get it. They do so many of them they now that studios realise they have to expand them.
Superman always used to avoid a disaster and that was it, but I think The Avengers and the Iron Man , does very well to use disaster movie elements.
They are using alien elements and do really well in beefing these movies up to be about a bigger worldwide thing, so I think they must have been inspired by Independence Day .
You also turned down the offer to direct Die Another Day - would you consider directing Bond now if the opportunity came around?
Hmmm, I think I’m the wrong director for that. I thought Sam Mendes did an amazing job with Skyfall . It was probably my favourite movie of the last two or three years.
What do you make of Kevin Spacey's recent comments that cinema is dead and TV is the way forward?
He is absolutely right. The really interesting stuff these days gets done on TV.
TF: What TV do you like or have you been watching?
I have just watched Kevin’s House of Cards , it was the first time I actually did binge watching.
TF: Do you think you would want to work in TV again?
I have one, two or three TV projects, but not as a director; it's more as a producer, but I’m very involved in it. I love to write and construct stories, where you really feel you are making a movie.
What one actor or actress would you love to work with?
I have one actress I always wanted to work with, and probably never will, and that’s Meryl Streep. I’m a big fan of her, and every movie she does I go and see.
I would love to work with her. *laughs* It’s my last dream, you need to tell her. No, please don’t tell her. *laughs*