The Making of Sky Captain - Part 1!
Source: Edward Douglas
September 7, 2004

To say that making Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was a labor of love to creator/director Kerry Conran would be an understatement. Having worked on the movie for over ten years, "Sky Captain" is unlike anything ever seen before on screen. Sure, many science-fiction movies have used computer-generated backgrounds and environments, but "Sky Captain" is the first one that takes CGI to the point where the only thing on screen not created by computers are the actors and a few small props.

Using the latest technology, Conran labored over a computer for four years to create a six-minute short film that paid homage to the action and science fiction movies that he loved as a child. Producer Jon Avnet got on board the project after seeing the short, bringing along his name and clout to get an all-star cast that includes Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

As they prepared to unleash their hard work on audiences, director Kerry Conran (right in picture) and producer Jon Avnet (left in picture) talked to about the process of getting their rather unique movie made.


CS!: What was going through your mind when you first made that six minute short? Did you have some sort of plan?
Kerry Conran: When I got out of school, I realized that studios weren't coming at me saying, "Here is $100 million dollars. Do whatever you want." I knew that this was the only way for me. I had taken what I learned from school, principally from the animation side. I wasn't in the animation program, but my school was a breeding farm for a lot of the Disney animators. I knew that with the computer that was just emerging-this was about ten years ago--it was possible of mimicking some of the things that were done routinely in animation, but applying them to live action. I was thinking there was an opportunity here to do something that had a bit of scope, but with the sensibility of an independent filmmaker. That took me four years to test and after that four years, I had generated six minutes, which was essentially about the first ten minutes of the completed movie. I had fully intended to sit down and make the entire film myself, but I felt I had sufficiently enough to show, so I ventured outside of my hovel and joined humanity again.
Jon Avnet: I saw Kerry's six-minute film and really thought it was incredible, both his visual skills were and what he was trying to do. I spent three days with him talking about tone and deciding whether I was going to finance this thing. Over those three days, I started to feel that he was a really smart person and his sense of comedy and mine was similar to mine. We spent two years working on the script and that just reinforced my opinion based on the battles we had, the disagreements, how he comported himself. He was tough.

CS!: Was there some satisfaction in nurturing this young filmmaker and helping him to fulfill his dream that might have helped you get behind his project?
Avnet: Absolutely. It's a nice thing to be able to do and in this case, it took a lot of the skills and relationships I have to do it. I work with a lot of the directors at Sundance, and I'm Chairman of the Board of the American Film Institute, so I deal with a couple hundred filmmakers each year trying to realize their dreams.

CS!: Was there a dark moment where you thought it wouldn't happen?
Conran: In a way, I never had that feeling, because even if it was going to take twenty years, I could have still made it myself. It wouldn't be the film as it is now, but it would be something. There were aspects along the way once that it had been opened up to Hollywood-essentially to Jude and Gwyneth--it just took a long time, but I never really had any doubt that I would ultimately finish it.


CS!: Can you talk a bit about the casting process in getting Jude and Gwyneth involved?
Avnet: When it came to casting, I basically did most, if not all of it, because Kerry wouldn't see the actors. I suggested Jude, and he thought it was a joke on my part. It wasn't that he didn't like him, he just didn't think if it was possible. I chased down Jude and got him to look at [the short film], and he came aboard as a producer, that's how interested he was. The same thing with Gwyneth.
Conran: When I first heard the idea of casting them, I thought it was just absurd that these names were even being mentioned. But they saw something in the little short I had made and that seemed to encourage them.
Avnet: Both Jude and Gwyneth have a very adventurous spirit, and I really salute them for it. I mean, what idiot would sign onto a movie with a first-time director based on six minutes of film? Some of that was me, because the agents and actors know me, and I have credibility. They were betting on what they saw and the fact that I was "godfathering" it. That only goes so far, because you don't commit because you like somebody; you commit because you think it's going to be good.
Conran: When I first saw them, all I could see was the filmmakers they worked with in the past, and how intimidating that was, more so than meeting them themselves.
Avnet: I knew that if Kerry just talked, they would feel the same way I felt about him, which is a great deal of respect and affection. Then I had to figure out how to get him to talk to them, because he's so shy.

CS!: Was it strange going from sitting in front of a computer for four years to actually working with the actors?
Conran: In a sense, it wasn't, because it took so long to prepare everything, that by the time we actually shot the film, I had already made it about three times. In executing it, there was probably nothing I didn't know or couldn't anticipate. Had it been the first time that I had been thrown out with the actors, I think it would have been pure panic the whole way. So thankfully, I wasn't put through that.

CS!: What originally made you think that Kerry could direct all of these big-name actors?
Avnet: I had a very successful lobotomy before he came in. (laughter) Once we had them, I arranged a reading nine months before we started shooting because I wanted him to meet the actors. We started doing rehearsals, and I tried to get Kerry to talk, and I kept pushing him out and trying to get myself further back. By the end of two or three days of rehearsals, I remember where he said something, describing the ice cave where the dynamite is, and I could see the actors looking really, really intently at him. I realized that he got them. At that point, it was just a matter of time how far out he came and how good he could do.
Conran: I think they had secret meetings on how they'd handle me, but I think that they were sensitive to the fact that it was not only the first time I had been working with them or any actor but also my first film, and they were just incredible to me in that regard.


CS!: Obviously, there are a lot of references to old movies in Sky Captain. Which movies had the most influence on you for this film?
Conran: Strangely, its one film that I don't think you would ever associate with this movie. The film that I most look to for tone--and it probably shows you had bad I am at never coming near it--is The Third Man. Everything about that film I just liked. It has comedy but it's serious and it has its dramatic moments. It was something I was trying to shoot for. I am neither (author) Graham Greene nor (director) Carol Reed, so it was a daunting task, but this sort of emerged from that, in a strange way.

CS!: Did you draw on that movie while working with Jude and Gwyneth on their performances?
Conran: The complete stupidity in that regard was that I drew my inspiration primarily from Bugs Bunny cartoons. I knew that I wasn't going to conduct some kind of acting school for them, and they were going to take me and nurture me through the process. All I could do for them was to provide the context for the scene. I knew what it was ultimately going to look like and I knew tonally how I wanted it to feel, and I tried best to communicate that to them. What we didn't want to mimic was like Roslyn Russell and his Girl Friday and have this very clichéd performance in that regard, but just a seasoning of that or something to evoke it. The different films that I pointed Jude and Gwyneth to were things like The Philadelphia Story and Only Angels Have Wings. Obviously, Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was also a huge influence.

CS!: Most people are nostalgic for things they saw as a kid, but this references movies from before many of them were born. How did you get into this period of films?
Conran: There was a television station out of Chicago, and every Sunday, they would broadcast old movies, including all the Sturgess films, literally from Philadelphia Story to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy and the serials. For whatever reason, it resonated with me as a youngster, coupled with the early pulp comics. There was this fusion and it made me want to investigate more, so I went backwards instead of forwards and to this day, I probably still find the most inspiration in older films.
Avnet: Sometimes you can take a retro look and it's cool and sometimes you can take a retro look and it's old fashioned. That was the gamble here.
Conran: Everything that is being done today, those are the templates for that. You still try to take your modern sensibility through what they must have been thinking back then and kind of mix it together and do something novel with it.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow opens September 17 nationwide.


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