The Making of Sky Captain - Part 2!
Source: Edward Douglas
September 10, 2004

When we left Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow director Kerry Conran and his producer Jon Avnet, they had decided to make a retro science-fiction film with a group of big name actors, shooting them all on a blue screen, before Kerry would go back to his laboratory and create the movie's backgrounds and visual effects on his computer. Our story picks up right where we left off.


CS!: Now that you had these great performances from the cast, what was the experience like doing all the computer work necessary to actually make the film?
Kerry Conran: Well, it was kind of an experiment. I suspected that it would work, and we had enough little successes and tests along the way that it was sort of predictable how it was going to come out. It was just a matter if we'd have enough time and resources to finish it, which we sort of did.
Jon Avnet: Kerry created the shots, and I was basically his backstop. When we were getting near the end, I tried encouraging him to push within the limits of the time and the money we had. He was working 18 to 20 hours a day for a long period of time. It's 2,000 some odd CGI shots done in one year, and we literally had to write code to figure out how to do this stuff! Starting that from ground up was very ambitious, and there are things we would do different now knowing that. The one thing we can't do is buy the commitment we had from our in house technicians, who really thought this could be something spectacular, something really beautiful and something very singular. They put in a lot of time, and it's not that they didn't get paid, but we didn't have the money to compete with DreamWorks or any of the big facilities. It was tough to get the bodies and that was very gratifying to have that level of commitment and enthusiasm.

CS!: At what point did this "experiment" finally become a movie to you?
Conran: When we finally put it to film, because we worked digitally the whole time. Putting the score and the sound on it was kind of frightening, in a way, because it certainly turned into a movie from whatever it was before then. That was a lot of fun and kind of rewarding, since it was at the very end of the process.
Avnet: Part of what interested me was that it was the first time I had ever seen video look like film. Just that alone was amazing to me, as long as I have been watching so many video productions. And then we shot the whole thing on a stage, in a relatively short period of time, all on blue screen.

CS!: What do you think the difference in budget would have been in millions if you built actual sets rather than doing everything in the computer?
Avnet: I'd say about $50 to 60 million cheaper for this movie then what it would have cost at a studio, and that's a wild guess from a professional.
Conran: I don't know what summer film would be considered to be comparable to this, but of the summer fare like Van Helsing, that's what you're sort of looking at in terms of price. One of the things that made it more inexpensive was the fact that the principle photography took place in about 26 days with the primary cast, and not the typical three or four months. That alone was just something that not only allowed Jude and Gwyneth to take a chance, but kept the costs considerably lower.

CS!: With that in mind, do you think more studios will take this approach to filmmaking in order to save on budgets?
Avnet: Clearly, there are enormous implications in terms of just the economics of it from this movie. How enormous has a lot to do with how visibly successful it is. If it's just a blip and just comes and goes, then I don't think it's going to make the kind of impact it would make if it comes out and is very successful. Not just to the studio heads, but also the heads of the company above them, the shareholders, who will wonder why they're pissing away all this money.

CS!: Were you to make another movie like this, is there anything you might change?
Avnet: We'd modify a few things. There are a number of things that Kerry said that he was right about and a number of things he said that he was wrong about. As a director, I'm very performance oriented, so were I to go out and do something like this on a blue screen, I would do a very detailed rehearsal. I'd really work on the characters and play with the situations more than we did.


CS!: This is obviously a movie that would have been great in the summer. So why release it in September?
Avnet: I was just despondent at the idea of coming out the week before Spider-Man 2. We had no prayer! I spent all this time and I love this film, but we're not a franchise or a brand name. You have to create the interest, and I had no control over the market. At least in September we had a clear run where we could identify ourselves because there's not all that clutter, and we had time to screen the movie, because our weapon is screening it to the journalists, rather than hiding it.

CS!: How has the reaction been to the movie from comics and science fiction fans?
Conran: The Comic-Con [in San Diego] was our coming out party in a way. That was a very scary calculated risk on Paramount's side to kind of show it at "ground zero". If it didn't appeal to these people, we really were just going to be showing it in airports, I think. The response was actually quite overwhelming and great. I think they appreciated whatever strangeness we tried to do.
Avnet: In certain ways, I'm not an ideal producer, because I love film and I love to make films, and I am less interested in the audience reaction. If I screen it, I do like to see them laugh and clap, and every audience I go to, they really like this movie, and that's a good sign! Now, will you get them in? We'll see. It'll be based on whether they think it looks cool, if the action is fun, and whether they get some sense of it. Hopefully, the journalists on the internet that have been favorable to the movie will talk it up, because if you create some noise, then the marketing muscle of a big studio will hopefully be effective in showing that this is a fun movie!

CS!: Wasn't there a title change along the way to avoid confusion with Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow?
Avnet: It had always been Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. What happened was that we made an adjustment, but everything came from Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark--which was also a difficult movie to sell at the time believe it or not. To me, I liked Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, because something about it just sort of tells you right away where you are.

CS!: What if the critics and audiences don't like it, would you still consider it a success?
Conran: I'm just thrilled to be alive and with the whole opportunity to work with such talented artists and actors. Obviously, it's going to mean a little more to Paramount if the film doesn't perform financially, but it oddly, has no significance to me. I'm happy either way.


CS!: Do you think we will ever see some sort of back story, even if it's not in such an elaborate form, where we can learn things like why Sky Captain mostly flies alone?
Conran: Largely, that goes back to when I was doing this by myself, because I didn't want to have to animate so many planes and it was almost strictly that. It just sort of stuck once we started to expand a little bit, because I figured I'd concentrate on this aspect of it, and then maybe later we can bring the rest of the flying legion into it. It was almost more economy than any other reason.

CS!: Do you think there will be any Sky Captain merchandise or a toy line?
Avnet: I have to get toys for Kerry. Kerry said the only thing he wanted was the G5 (Macintosh's super-fast computer) when it came out and some toys. Part of it is that we have to prove ourselves. Now we're sort of there and there's some interest. Hopefully, there will be toys, but the timing is not clear. It's not going to be the big neo-marketing Disney corporate GM Burger King thing, though.

CS!: Since this movie is based on serialized film, do you see this movie as being the first in a series?
Conran: Sure. I need a nap in between them, but obviously, it's set-up that way. We literally can have him go to the center of the earth or to space from here, and in that regard, the serialized nature would continue. Obviously, we all had fun doing this, and it was just a great experience with Jude and Gwyneth. If I can do anything for them, even if it would be just to mow their lawn, I would do it.


In the next chapter of our story, Jude, Gwyneth and the rest of the cast tell us whether Kerry actually did get around to mowing their lawn.

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


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