Turistas with John Stockwell
Director and actor John Stockwell has spent the better part of the last two decades working in film, both in front of and behind the camera. With the release of his latest effort, Turistas, onto DVD in an unrated cut from Fox, John took the time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about his past, his present and his future in the television and film industries
DVD Talk: You got your start working as an actor, notably on Christine and Radioactive Dreams. What can you tell us about working with John Carpenter and Albert Pyun?
John Stockwell: Both Albert and John had great style and attitude. Albert taught me to enjoy myself on the set. He just loved directing. Sometimes the end result wasn't always what one hoped it would be but we always had a great time on the set. He gave great dailies.
John Carpenter was a little tougher and harder to access. I was always slightly intimidated and expected to be fired at any moment. He was a very disciplined, focused director who didn't put up with any shit from the actors.
DVD Talk: You also had a supporting role in one of the biggest movies of the eighties, Top Gun. What was it like on set, any interesting stories from that shoot?
JS: I spent twelve weeks in a hotel room in San Diego waiting for the Navy to give us permission to go up in the planes. We'd be scheduled to fly on a certain day and then that morning we'd be told 'sorry, it's off - they had to go bomb Libya'. As it was, very little if any of the footage shot with the actors in the F-14's was usable. The pilots were so intent on giving us the 'ride of our lives' that most of us were blacking out or throwing up.
DVD Talk: You and your costar from Christine, Keith Gordon have both become directors. Do you find that ironic and do you still keep in touch with Gordon.
JS: I haven't seen Keith in a while but I've seen his films and think he's tremendously talented. The transition from actor to director is probably the most natural and common move in film and television.
DVD Talk: One the commentary to Christine with Gordon and John Carpenter, Gordon states he learned a lot about filmmaking from working with Carpenter as an actor. Did being an actor help you at all when directing your actors?
JS: Absolutely. As an actor, I always yearned for a director who would set up a very honest, natural world and then give me the freedom to inhabit it - that's the sort of director I aspired to be. And the truth is, at the end of the day the most important lines of communication are between you and your actors.
DVD Talk: In 1987 you took the leap into directing with Under Cover. What was it like directing for the first time and what was it like working with Golan and Globus during the Cannon Films heyday in the late eighties?
JS: Crazy. You could ride up in the elevator with Menachem, pitch him an idea and by the time you'd gotten to the fifth floor you'd have a green-lit movie.
DVD Talk: Your first big movie as a director would probably have to be Crazy/Beautiful, a drama. Was it different directing a drama versus directing an action film? Was your approach to the film any different as a director than it was for Under Cover?
JS: crazy/beautiful was one of those movies that somehow snuck through the system. It would be very difficult to get that movie done today but at the time Nina Jacobson, to her credit, wanted to make an honest, unflinching teen drama. It was originally inspired by a book of Lauren Greenfeld photos 'Fast Forward' and then morphed into 'crazy/beautiful'.
DVD Talk: From there you moved on to the first of the 'under water' movies you've become known for, Blue Crush. You shot this on location in Hawaii and California and the film went on to do fairly well. How involved were you with the stunts and with shooting the surf footage?
JS: We shot 'Blue Crush' entirely in Hawaii and getting the water work right was of utmost importance to me. There were days when it was just me, Don King (the water DP) and Kate Bosworth out in the lineup at Pipeline and 150 crew members sitting on the beach waiting to hand us towels.
DVD Talk: It must have been hard work shooting a film with a cast of gorgeous women running around in bikinis on the beaches of Hawaii and California. Any stories from the trenches for this shoot?
JS: It's actually hard then it looks to be working 14 hour days in a location where everyone else is there on vacation or their honeymoon. And ask any of the grips on the movie - it's really hard to move a dolly through the soft sand.
DVD Talk: From there you worked on another oceanic movie, Into The Blue with Jessica Alba. This time you shot in the Bahamas and Grand Cayman and you used a lot more underwater footage as the film revolved around divers. Was shooting the under water footage a problem?
JS: Communication was always a problem. I tried going underwater with the actors and using a chalkboard but no one could read my writing or understand my hand signals. We ended up with an underwater speaker system that worked about 10% of the time when it wasn't being bitten in half by the sharks.
DVD Talk: Apparently a lot of more violent footage was taken out of Blue Crush so that the studio could get a PG-13 rating. What specifically was removed and is there any chance that this will be restored in an unrated DVD?
JS: Blue Crush was a relatively smooth ride with the MPAA. There were a couple of language and teenage drinking issues that had to be resolved but nothing like the battles I've had on crazy/beautiful', 'Into The Blue', and 'Turistas'.
DVD Talk: Are the rumors that Jessica Alba's bikini bottom was digitally lengthened for the US cut of Into The Blue true?
JS: My memory is that is was lengthened for some airline screeners and a few Middle-Eastern locations.
DVD Talk: You've also done some directing for television, for Cheaters and more recently for The L Word. Is there more TV work in the cards for you down the road or was this just something that you wanted to try temporarily?
JS: I've always been very interested in television - certainly some of the best writing is taking place there. And if you have a successful series you can afford to take chances, make mistakes, and still recover. There's not much room for that in features.
DVD Talk: Your latest feature, Turistas, was shot entirely on location in Brazil and this gives the movie a fairly exotic look that really works well in its favor. What was it like shooting in South America?
JS: The movie was originally set in Guatemala and loosely inspired by an incident there where a tourist taking pictures of kids in a remote village was stoned to death after rumors of foreigners kidnapping local children had swept through the village.
We changed the locale to Brazil because it can be the most seductive, appealing, intoxicating place and in a millisecond transform into something much darker and unsettling. That's just the reality of the place. Every Brazilian loves their country but they all have at least one horror story to recount.
DVD Talk: The unrated DVD restores some trims made to one of the nastier death scenes in the movie and to the scene where one of the English guys lays down with a Brazilian prostitute. Was anything else taken out of the movie in order to secure an R for theatrical play?
JS: We got an NC-17 for at least the first five or six rounds with the MPAA. I was told that a lot of the violence made them uncomfortable because it felt "too real". In the unrated DVD I was able to restore those moments and sequences that really made the MPAA squirm.
DVD Talk: You seem to have a knack for shooting movies on beaches and around oceans. Was this a conscious decision on your part or just pure circumstance?
JS: I suffer from wanderlust. I'm not one of those directors who wants to shoot on a stage in Los Angeles. I love exploring different worlds and cultures.
DVD Talk: How do you respond to those who feel that Turistas paints an unfairly negative portrait of Brazil and its people?
JS: We took a lot of heat on the internet - almost entirely from people who hadn't seen the movie. I love Brazil. It's the most seductive country in the world. But we were telling a story about one man who was trying to redress a social wrong in the most outrageous manner possible. It was never meant to be an indictment of Brazil or Brazilians.
And to be honest 'City of God' was hardly a love letter to Brazil - but it was an extremely well made movie that told its story in an unflinching manner.
DVD Talk: The film also received a fair bit of criticism from people who felt that it was a little too close to Eli Roth's Hostel. How do you feel about this?
JS: I didn't know about 'Hostel' when we were shooting 'Turistas'. During the editing process I think I saw the first trailers and it sucks that people think you are trying to ride on the coattails of another successful movie. It's easy to lump movies into a category but I think there are really big differences between the two films.
DVD Talk: Which film are you the most and the least proud of and why?
JS: Can't do that. I have three kids. Imagine what they would say if I answered that question about them. That being said I am really proud of 'Cheaters' a film I made for HBO films with Jeff Daniels and Jena Malone just because it's so hard to get your first directing job and I was so nervous during the filming.
DVD Talk: You've more or less moved from acting full time to directing full time. Do you miss being in front of the camera at all? Any chance you'll return to acting in the future?
JS: I wouldn't turn down any offers but I hated auditioning.
DVD Talk: What's next on your plate as far as directing goes?
JS: I'm writing an adaptation of a Rolling Stone articles 'Kid Cannabis' for HBO/Picturehouse that I hope to get started in the fall. I'm also working on a small, beautiful character driven movie called "Middle of Nowhere' for Bold Films, the company that made Bobby.
Neither project has any water or bikinis in it.
- Ian Jane (special thanks to Edwin Samuelson)
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