“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an action packed sequel, which peers into the aftermath of the apes escaping into the woods near the San Francisco area at the end of the first film in the series.
The movie takes place ten years after the colony of apes escaped from the zoos and laboratories in the city. An established colony of apes and a post-apocalyptic human colony narrowly survives mass extinction due to the actions of scientists in the first film. The remains of the human race and the advanced ape colony inevitably leads to a war. During this external conflict with the humans, the apes also experience a power struggle between two power male apes, Caesar and Koba.
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Enrique Murciano and Kirk Acevedo, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” is epic. Director Matt Reeves participated in a press conference about the film from San Francisco. Check out what he had to say below:
This movie is almost all effects and motion acting, how did you find the balance between the two?
My biggest fear going into it was would technology get in the way of my relationship with the actors, because to me as a storyteller, that’s the most important thing, dealing with the actors. What I discovered really quickly was that it actually wasn’t an impediment at all, and what was exciting to me about the technology and what I actually asked Weta and these guys what they could do was, I wanted to take us off of the stage and as much into reality as possible. They’ll tell you more about this than I can, but the technology that is initially designed to be sensitive and that’s not really the ideal place to be sensitive. To be in the forest, to be in the rain, all of the places that I wanted to be. But I said could we do it, and they said,”Yeah, we can do it.” So really the only difference was that our lead actor wore a head-cam and he was relating to them. The hardest part was after we shot the scene, I then had to shoot the scene again, several times, in order to get a plate, which is the actual set, without Andy in it, let’s say. The cameraman has to reproduce the move he just did, following Andy, except Andy’s not in that shot.
Also, if Jason Clarke had a terrifying scene with apes, when they throw him around, and it’s okay, you need to throw yourself around. So the idea is that the ape performances were captured in what is called a Reference Pass, which would not be in the movie. Then you would go get something that has been previously referred to as a clean pass, which meant clean of the apes, but this was actually the performance for the actors. So I was like, “We need to call that an Actor Pass,” because I don’t want anyone thinking, oh it’s just a paint out, and relax, because that was going to be in the movie. Except for some key shots, which we discussed in the last film, which we refer to some mistakes, were moments where the interactions were so intimate between the actors, between the ape actors and the human actors that they ended up having to do extensive work to paint out.
This time I was like, “You guys had to do that on that movie, and it was mistake, lets not make it a mistake on this. Lets find where the interaction is so intense and close that it necessitates doing those kinds of paint outs.” Basically, in a way, these guys pulled me into what this technology was and it was an incredible first experience for me. The hardest part of it was, it had nothing to do with shooting, which was already difficult, it was really the editing, because when you’re cutting a movie, the thing you’re trying to do is that you’re trying to respond as an audience. It’s the same thing as if I was on set, I look at the actors, and I respond emotionally to what Andy or Jason Clarke is doing. “Does that feel real? Does that feel right?” When you’re cutting the material, you’re looking at a video with Andy with a camera on, and all these dots on him and he’s not an ape. You go, “Oh okay, I’m responding emotionally with him, but then you have to block out like 90% of what you’re seeing and pretending to see what is not there.” So it takes about a year to go through this material because it’s so long for these guys to get the shots going, and you don’t see them until very late so there’s a huge leap of faith. I had no idea whether or not the movie was going to work, until very late. Because the process is much harder. That is so much harder for me than the actual shooting part, which was incredibly difficult.
How did you approach telling a story where everybody already knows the outcome?
I’ve been asked that question before, and I’ve been asked, “Is it boring because you know the ending to this story?” In a certain way, we know that the end of the story, the 68th film, it becomes “The Planet of the Apes.” Actually, I said that was the best part, and the reason I said it was the best part is, I had a teacher in film school, named Frank Daniel, who was the director of USC’s film school who has since passed away, but he came from the Czech film school. He said there were two kinds of stories, there were the kind of stories where the narrative point is to discover what happened, and the first film, which is a classic, is that, because at the end you realize what happens and its mind blowing. But he said there are other stories, he used to reference “Casablanca,” we watched these movies, we saw these flashbacks and we saw Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and he’d say, “Well they were together, how does that happen?” And he said that where there were stories that you knew the end at the beginning, the story ceases to be what happened, it becomes what and how did it happen and why did it happen. So those stories are all about character. Not only are they about pitfalls, I’m thrilled, to me this was the most exciting part of the movie, this is going to be the story. The world of “Rise” and the world that we were going to be creating in “Dawn” is really virtually nothing in the world of the 68th film, it meant that how do we get from here to there and that all became of a question of nature. To me all the excitement of the “Planet of the Apes” is that the conceit of the story is that the animals have taken over the planet. The secret of the story, and the secret of the metaphor is that we are the animals, by looking into the faces of apes and seeing them struggle with their nature and seeing that we’re really struggling with ourselves. So does a story which is about the one moment in time, what I saw in the opportunity of this film, given that it becomes planet of the apes, and not planet of the humans and the apes, this is a moment where that could have happened, and why didn’t it happen? It becomes a whole examination about our existence with violence and whether or not we can fight those urges. It’s as much a battle within each of those characters as well as those between each of the characters. So for me best part about this movie is that we knew the ending and the whole thing we try to fashion the story about.
What are the advantages of having live animals when filming from a filmmaker’s perspective?
In my experience, in everything that I’ve done with the effects, the key to great, sort of plate that’s going to carry them, is to have as much real in the frame as possible. What you’re trying to do is to create reality. So the ideal of having real horses was … that if you’re looking at the ape and everything in the plate is real, it’s the whole reason why I wanted to shoot this movie not on the stage, but on location because I wanted it in the real woods, I didn’t want to create the woods, I didn’t want to do any of that stuff was because when you look at the frame, the more that is real, the more interaction that is real the more that your mind goes, “This has to be real.” So they suggested that we use real horses, because the intention was to try and make it as real as possible. Turns out they weren’t as cooperative, and despite the plan not being that initially, there actually are a tremendous number of amazing CG horses in the film and that required a lot of R&D I suppose.
That’s whats so fun for me to see, essentially what you do is you edit this material, you do a turnover. Which means you do a turnover of the scene and that includes all the performances that I want. Then we have a turnover meeting where I discuss what my intentions are and what I’m looking for in the scene. When I’m shooting, there are certain scenes were I turn to Dan and I go,”It’d be so much better if we could use this version of what we just shot, because look at how great they were together. Now you’re going to get me to get Jason to give the same performance again? He was so great with Andy there. Wouldn’t that be so cool?” There was actually a scene that’s not in the film, but Caesar went on this horse and it was the introduction scene when Malcolm introduced himself, and I was like, “That’s the greatest thing ever!” Now, that’s not in the movie, but I actually thought it was a great scene, it was just one of these things, narratively where we didn’t need it. We’ll release it in an extended cut of the movie, eventually. You guys actually did the shot, and I cut it. They did exactly what I wanted, which was they used the version where Andy was on his horse, tremendously complicated to paint out, and what was great is you saw Jason Clarke look up at Caesar on his horse, and it was this whole introduction, and the horse is there, it’s got all of that, all of that liveness that only comes from something being real, and that’s the way it was done. What was fun for me was, that there were times when I felt like, “Oh I got to redo this, it’s going to be terrible.” Then we come back from these turnovers and suddenly I see that they actually were using the shot, and I was like,”Wait what happened? There’s this whole thing we shot, and this other thing I had to get it again.” They said,”Well you know, we really like that bag, and Cody’s bag in that thing is actually…” and I’m like, “Ohhh, very interesting.”
One thing that you guys asked about the shooting, the hardest thing for me about what we did, the movie was shot about 90% on real location, there was one sequence at the end, if we had done, we would still be shooting, we would be on a skyscraper, it would be the most dangerous shoot of all time, which of course, we couldn’t do. So that was the only virtual space in the movie, and in a couple of the battle scenes some of the California streets were virtual but that was planned because they got some photographs from here for that. But that was hard because that space never existed, and it existed in a computer somewhere, and you looked at it. My process as a director, is always about being in the space, and one of the great things about motion capture elsewhere in the film is that we could stage huge scenes, and I could walk down there with Andy and ask,”Where do you think you’re going to stand?” and any other movie of this scale, you have have everything planned down to the nth degree. This allowed for some discovery, which for me, creates more realism, more naturalism, better for performance, better for the movie, you discover things, that’s the way the best things happen. This was walking into a warehouse with fluorescent lights, and guys in these suits and metal bars that were supposed to mock-up parts of the building that was supposed to look like scaffolding, like we were going to paint something, and I was like, this doesn’t look like a building. This is not good. It was really hard, and we ended up taking the material and choosing the best performances, and imagine if you were at home, and I’m going to take this family snapshot of this birthday party and I want you guys to stage out the moment of blowing out the candles, and later I’ll figure out which one the good one is, and then I’ll figure out where we’re going to shoot it from. Which is like what? That’s the total opposite of what you do, the way you stage a scene normally, is you stand there with a finder and I look at Ian and he’s standing with Andy. I say, “Andy, if you took one step back, this would be a great shot.” The weird thing about that was not how we did this. It was the weirdest mind puzzle of all time. We went back, and I actually said to Dan, “God, you know what? That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” We spent a week editing shots that were not the shots, they were called witness-cam shots. They were basically shots of the actors, but not the shots from the movie. Not the millimeter that we were going to choose, not the moving camera I was going to choose. It was like some weird meta-scene. It was like the scene, but not the scene.
The way we did it actually, we went back with a camera and it was weird. So we go to that stage, we shoot all the guys, they’re doing these stunts, what’s amazing is of course, you’re going stunts that you can’t do otherwise. Andy is doing things that would get Andy killed and we’re doing it. It’s crazy, but then, we go out and we edit for a few weeks, and your mind is exploding, and you’re like “I don’t know what this is, but I love Andy here, it’s great. I love the stunt person there.” We’re going to meld the stunt person into Andy right here, and that’s not necessary where the cut is going to be. Any other movie, we cut from the stunt guy, we cut to the reaction shot, but this you can literally blend them together, you’re creating a performance, which you weren’t doing a thing when you’re creating shots,we’re going to make one continuous performance. Then you go back to that same warehouse with this guy who’s a camera operator, and he stands there with this device and it’s like a joystick from a game. Essentially what these guys are doing is playing back that sequence you built, but now you can see the set. So literally, a week later, you go “Well there’s a shot. Andy can you go … Oh Andy can’t move over.” It’s the weirdest thing. It’s very cool but it was a mind bender.
You have to understand the insanity of what these guys do, so Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, our ape actors, come in and they are giving their heart and souls, and Terry Notary are training them to move as much as possible like apes, and it was an amazing process, it was fun, it was almost like a grand theatrical game, except you do it for 8 months. Everyone is being so privy to shooting, and we were staging it, and we’re trying to find the reality of the scene and then it’s like, ok it’s this great performance from Andy Serkis, he’s breaking her heart. I can’t wait to see that as Caesar. But the anatomy between Any and Caesar, where’s the overlap? Andy does not look like an ape, and what these guys are able to do is find the shapes that express the emotion and finding a way to express them on Caesar’s anatomy. Because Andy will do something to his mouth and it’ll be key to what’s going on, but his mouth is not at all the same shape as Caesar’s mouth. You see all these crazy things they do as these shots would come in. My mind would be blown about how they would be able to translate these things even though the person and the character look nothing alike. I came to realize the way they were choosing certain details, even if the brow is nothing like it, they say “OK, well the eyebrows express something.” So suddenly they’re trying to do what Andy’s doing with his eyebrows but on an ape forehead which is not exactly the same, but kind of expresses the same shape. But by the time they were done, I now can’t look at Caesar without seeing Andy. I can’t look look at Koba without seeing Toby. Its so weird, in fact we’re mixing, and I said “In that shot of Andy … ” and literally the mixer was like “What are you talking about?” It’s incredible what they do.
How did you cast for roles in this film as opposed to traditionally casting?
What motion capture is, and it’s really motion performance, because it was initially a recruiter technology and it was meant to capture motion. But as the equipment becomes more and more detailed as it picks up all of this intricacy in these people’s muscle and facial movement, it has really become about performance. The idea is to capture performance, and these guys, through their magic, translate it, and animate it to things that can’t be translated and all of this stuff. So the idea is that you get the best act you possibly can, and in this case, the idea that they are apes, is critical. So there is one prerequisite and they have to be able to move like apes. So the way that we did it was that I always look for the best actor first. Judy came to me, she said, “I love Planet of the Apes, I want to be in this movie, I want to be Cornelia,” and I was like, “You what? This is so cool!” I said, “Well Cornelia doesn’t have any dialogue so I was like yeah sure!” So she came in and just read some other scenes and I was like, “What are we doing? You’re Judy Greer I love you! You’re great!” But the real test was, can she move like an ape? So actually what we did with our actors is that we had them spend a day with Terry Notary, and Terry would put them through their paces with a mini ape camp. So we had a bunch of actors who would get together … and what I found so fascinating about what he did, he’s so fascinating and he’s so brilliant in his understanding of the way that the body moves, is he was getting the human actors to get rid of their human conditioning. The way that you are all sitting here is … my 3 year old wouldn’t be sitting like any of you, these are all things we learned and how to be, he’s teaching everybody how to let go of all that and just be in the moment of time. To watch, to listen, to scratch when it’s necessary, all of these things, and then gets them to move on these crutches and get them to walk bipedally in a way that an ape would walk, and get their center of gravity, and after spending a day with him. I would go to him and say “Can Judy be an ape you think?” and he said, “Well she’s pretty apey.” That’s pretty much how it works.
Is there a mobile app to help save the world?
I guess there is, the easier answer is Twitter, the idea of the Arab Spring, and the idea of communicating with others, the great thing about these devices, as much as sometimes I think they remove us from each other, they also connect us to each other. This is the theme that we are looking at in this film. The idea that we are connected technology, but we are also sort of distant from each other, this sort of weird paradox. As civilization fell apart, so did our sense of connection to each other. The humans are trying to heal themselves and are sort of a broken family and trying find some way to come together again. Part of that is finding the restoration of power and energy, everything that we think of, and things that we take for granted in our daily lives. I think there’s this weird thing about technology that, first of all, it’s amazing what we can do with technology because with what these guys do, we create dreams, we make fantasies, and something so completely fantastical so so utterly real. We shoot in 3D and we watch it on the screen and you go, “Yeah I believe that.” and then we go “How did we do that?” Certainly if the power went down we would would have a problem doing that. I think the idea that the real positive parts of technology is the sense of reaching out to others, and that’s what movies are about. What I think of as cinema is essentially … recently Roger Ebert had a quote about this saying that it was an empathy machine, the things that are the most powerful about cinema is the idea of taking you as a viewer and putting you in the shoes of someone that is not you. Whether that’s an ape, whether that is a person, and the idea is that through that you can come to understand the point of view of others, and these are ways we can use to understand others and we might find a way to bridge the gap between us, and that’s part of the goal of this movie in addition to entertaining you and I think that that’s sort of the goal of these apps. Trying to find a way for us to connect.