Paul Verhoeven - Hollow Man
Inspiring acclaim, criticism and controversy, few filmmakers evoke such emotional response with seemingly each film they release as Paul Verhoeven. The Dutch-born Director who stretched the barriers of the erotic thriller/ murder mystery with "Basic Instinct" and created perhaps the goriest sci-fi film in recent memory in "Starship Troopers" has earned a reputation for creating vivid worlds which suck the viewer in and take them perilously close to the action. We had the opportunity to talk with Paul Verhoeven just as his latest film Hollow Man materialzed on DVD
Has DVD changed the way you make films?
In all honesty, no. The difference that DVD makes is it gives the audience more insight into the creative process of the filmmaker. It's more relevant for the audience who buys the DVD. For me it doesn't change the way I make my movies. I make movies in a certain way, perhaps not even thinking about the final screen, whatever size that may be. I think about the images that will make up a movie but don't immediately connect that with the format. DVD is one of the formats that follows out of that original creative moment that comes even before we start to make storyboards.
DVD really comes into play in postproduction, where we ask, what can we present to the audience that creates additional value for the movie? How can we give the DVD audience more information about a movie if they are interested, that may be useful to them or may satisfy their curiosity? Questions the audience has asked themselves hopefully can be solved by the commentary or the special effects features. I see what goes on DVD as additional information and perhaps as clarification, but it doesn't really effect how I make my movies.
How do you decide what will be on a DVD release like Hollow Man?
In the case of Hollow Man, I put back on the DVD everything we took out in the process of editing, including the scenes that were removed as a result of preview audiences and discussions with the studio. In the editing process a movie goes through certain changes, and often becomes shorter. For Hollow Man, I wanted to show the audience what I saw as the original cut. A good example of this is the case of the rape scene. During previews it became clear that the audience felt the original cut was too hard on them, they preferred a less aggressive approach, and of course that was also the opinion of the studio because they go for the idea that the audience should be pleased. So we changed it, but in the case of the rape, the original version in my opinion was stronger and harsher and at the same time was more relevant for the character of Sebastian Caine than the more elliptic one that finally ended up in the movie. Having this back on the DVD gives the audience an idea of how a director works himself through the creative and political process.
Are you planning on going back and revisiting any of your movies on DVD with new special editions?
It's already happening to a certain degree. I just heard before I left for vacation for Europe that Sony is in fact planning a new edition of Starship Troopers. I'm not sure exactly what it will be as I've just heard of it. Also, the people who have Basic Instinct asked me if I wanted to do a commentary. Total Recall is also with the same company so that might follow. I never did a commentary on Basic Instinct. I think it would extremely interesting to do that, especially if they were able to also get commentary with Joe Eszterhas, Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Because there has been so much made of the politics of that film, exactly what happened on the set, and what was in and what was out, and who lied to whom, and I think it would an interesting puzzle for an audience to hear the different versions from everybody. There is certainly an attempt to do that.
I've also started to work on the commentaries for my Dutch movies that are going to be released by Anchor Bay in the spring. I did a commentary on the Fourth Man, I did a commentary on Turkish Delight, and in January I'll be doing a commentary on Soldier of Orange. I give it all my attention and I think it's very important. I don't know exactly why it is important, but it feels like it is. It will be nice for people to get extra information, if they want so, if they are intrigued, then it might be good for them.
Will there be a Starship Troopers 2?
You know that the movie Starship Troopers, when it was released, originally was not that successful. It certainly made about 57 or 60 million dollars but everyone expected it to be 90 or 100 or something like that. Also there was an enormous amount of criticism of the film. It was accused of being a proto-fascist nazi movie by the Washington Post, and that didn't help it when it came out. Of course there has now been a re-evaluation of Starship Troopers. It has become much more of a cult film, and gained more appreciation now than it had three years ago. I think there's reason enough now to take another look at a sequel. Sony is doing many, many sequels and there has already been talk up and down about doing a sequel, even though the cost of the movie versus the original gross of the movie would not support that view. But the fact the movie now has a much wider audience than it had when it came out, I think that there is some vague impression that people might be interested in doing something about the sequel, but nothing has been decided. If we did do a sequel we'd have to make it PG-13. The problem with the first movie was the audience we wanted to reach was too young to get in to see. Yes there is some talk, but in all honesty I can't say yes they are going to do it. I wish I could, because for the first time in my life I liked the idea of a sequel.
Whenever you and Joe Eszterhas get together on a project there seem to be fireworks. Any plans on giving the paring another shot?
No, I don't think there are any plans, and I haven't seen him for a long time. We do still send Christmas cards, so there is no animosity. But as you pointed out, the relationship has always been extremely explosive and making another movie with him would just be a dangerous adventure. The script he wrote for Basic Instinct is still, in my opinion, of the highest level. If Joe would write another thriller, of course not as a sequel but something completely different, I would be first in line to do it.
Many of your films have strong themes. How do maintain your creative tract with the current pressure to 'protect children' from Hollywood?
I don't want to change my ways really, so solutions need to be found from the outside. It seems to be idiotic as a filmmaker, as an artist, to start to change the way I look at my movies because someone who the film isn't intended for may on the off chance view it. That view is anti-artistic and even anti-cultural. It really has to do with what parents want to expose their children to. I have shown films to my kids when they were 8, 9, and 12 that were very harsh and even my Dutch movies that were much edgier than anything I've done in the States. But I have never shown them a film of this kind without me or my wife watching with them. Before we watch anything like that we explain what kind of gruesome or sexual stuff is in the movie and put it in the context that I think is necessary for them to see it. I believe kids can accept much more than people normally think, if as a parent you are there to explain before and be there after to discuss it with them.
What is your next project?
I don't know. In all honesty, it's not because I don't want to say or that I am being cryptic about it. I have no idea.
What kind of movie would you be interested in doing?
In all honesty, I would be most interested in doing is a really edgy thriller. More so at the moment than doing another special effect movie. On the other hand if there's a special effect movie, and there's a great story that seduces me, then I would accept the challenge of the special effects. But in principle I would try to stay away from them for a couple of years, because I feel burned out a little bit from these two very difficult special effect movies in a row.
The special effects for Hollow Man were stunning!
Thank you. In Hollow Man we really tried to link the special effect shots with the actors as much as possible. That's why we were constantly sliding, panning and moving the camera, so the audience would feel that the actor was in the special effect shot or that the special effect shot was tied to the actor. We wanted coherence between the special effects and the actors so people would accept the effects as part of the actor's scene rather than as a special effect. That was the idea.
With more films like this coming to market, and more actors like Kevin Bacon…
Well, you know Kevin Bacon was digitally cloned. When you see him as a water man or a steam man, it's a three dimensional clone of Kevin Bacon.
Does taking some of that load off of the actor by doing much of it digitally help you guide the actor through the more difficult scenes with heavy makeup and gear?
Yes, you have to tell him exactly what you want, how much time it will take, how much free time he has, when he can take off the mask so he can prepare himself for a period of three hours or six hours, so you don't say three hours and it turns out to be six. He can build in his time of suffering and say okay, that was two hours and in one hour I can take off the fucking mask and relax for a moment. It's about being very honest and continuously paying attention to how he looks in his eyes. Kevin is somebody who would not be complaining. He would be suffering a lot and he would just go with it, and at a certain moment you could look at him and think, my God, the guy's completely exhausted. And then I would say, "Kevin, shall we stop?" And he would say, "Yes, it would be really a pleasure if you could stop." So you have to be very careful how far you exposure yourself as a director saying Kevin do this, Kevin do that. Some actors are like horses, galloping until they can't stop anymore. Kevin Bacon is an actor who will go on and on and on until he can't go anymore, and then the next day he will be completely dead and exhausted. You have to try to be a psychologist enough to say, can you hold on or is it too much. And tell them exactly what is happening, how the shot will be, what it ultimately will be. Of course he was aware that he would be painted out completely after doing the performance, that he would be replaced by a three dimensional image of himself doing exactly what he did before, but it would be three dimensional. It would be digital, and it would not exactly be Kevin anymore but something very close to Kevin - I call it a clone of Kevin - that would ultimately be visible in the shot. The actor gives away his soul, kind of, being replaced by a digital clone.
That must be very difficult in shooting to help the actor wrestle with that.
Right, yes. The actor has to believe that his performance is the basis of everything, that without his performance it looks stiff, inorganic and unconvincing, but with his performance although he himself is painted out and replaced by something similar to him, clone-like, that it's still his essence that makes the movie work. I feel that it was proven in Hollow Man, that Kevin, although he was expressed as a three dimensional clone of himself, was still very much Kevin Bacon. You can't convince the actor when it happens. The actor has to believe that what he's doing is not thrown out the window.
He must have to place immense trust in the director to guide him through the process.
I think he nearly lost that, as he said in his interviews later, that he was thinking, any body could have done that, why did you need me, but now that the film's over, I think he is fully convinced that it would never have been done with him doing all these things himself. I think everybody's happy.
I greatly appreciate the time you've been able to take to spend with us. We are really looking forward to the release of your Dutch films.
Three or four should be there in March or April.
I think of many of the directors we've talked to, your films seem to have a very healthy life on DVD. Films that you made a number of years ago are finding new audiences because you put out such rich DVDs with movies that benefit from repeat watching.
I try to make my movies like good music that you can listen to again and again. I try to think about the repeat times that people will see it. I hope that the second and the third times will make the movie reveal itself to the audience in different ways, just like with good music. Good music, be it Mozart or Stravinsky, when you listen to it the first time, then it's different the second and third time, and it changes slowly, giving more of its mysteries away or hits you in a different way. I hope that movies can be something like music, that when you have seen them once that you aren't just satisfied and you never want to see it again.
I think that was very eloquent. Again, I appreciate your time and look forward to your next project.
- Geoffrey Kleinman
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