I still remember the first film I saw on VHS. It was Back to the Future, way back in 1989 and my uncle had just gotten a newfangled device called a VCR.
My parents weren’t super fond of going to the movies and video really opened the floodgates of cinema for me, and it all started with this simple little movie about a boy who travels back in time and has to save his parents marriage or else he will never be born.
Flash-forward to the Philadelphia Film Festival. It was winding down and would close with Flight, also directed by Robert Zemeckis. Getting to interview him was a great way to close out the festival. I have to admit it was a big moment for me getting to talk to one of the greatest directors of our time.
So what attracted you to the project, considering it had been a while since you had done a live action film?
I love the complexity of Denzel Washington’s character and the moral ambiguity of everything. I just thought it was a very clever, bold, unique piece that I hadn’t read in a really long time. So all those things are what made it a worth piece to pursue.
Speaking of Denzel Washington, could you talk a bit about you process for working with actors, and were you heavily involved with Denzel Washington’s preparation?
I do prepare a lot with the actors, but what it is mainly sitting around in a room just like this and really just talking about every question and detail you can think of about the character. Really deconstructing the character and discussing the larger themes of the movie and getting down to real specific things like what kind of socks he is going to wear and that kind of thing.
So that is really what it is and then in that process you both realize you making the same movie and your on the same wavelength, so when you get on the set there are no real surprises.
What do you feel distinguishes Denzel Washington as an actor and how do you feel he was different than you had anticipated on the film?
I don’t know what distinguishes him, I mean other than he is a huge talent. I will honestly say I was very impressed with all the choices that he made. He really dug down deep for this character and really presented it in a way I was impressed with even more than I would have imagined he was going to do.
So Whip is a functioning addict in the film. Was it hard to not turn him into a cliché of what we usually see in films about addiction?
It wasn’t difficult but we were certainly aware of it and we knew a little of that goes a long way. But I approached this as being not being an addict but, I approached the character his substance abuse is a symptom of a bigger problem. His problem is he is emotionally bankrupt and he has no relationship with any other humans except for his drug dealer.
I approached it from that place and I think that is what makes it different, because it has more of a universal theme than is just a specific or simply about his flaws are what makes it transcend just substance abuse.
Let’s talk a bit about the rest of the cast, the chemistry on screen between Denzel and John Goodman. Was that something you saw from the start of filming or casting or did that develop as shooting took place?
One of the things we thought about when we cast John Goodman was to make sure that he was going to be presented as a good friend to Whip in his own sort of dysfunctional way. When we cast him we were like hey there is something about these two guys that in their own kind of sick way we are going to believe that they are friends. Then of course we had someone who had the screen presence to be able to hold the screen with Denzel as well.
I understand you are also a pilot, how did that inform your approach to the film?
It allowed me to hear if the actors were speaking correctly. It lent authenticity I think is probably what it really did.
How did working in motion capture and CG prepare these last few years prepare you for Flight?
It actually prepared me to do all the work I did with the cast, because when you do performance capture its like doing black box theater you just work with the actors and do scenes from beginning to end. You work with them really intensely all day long. Performance capture is working much more intensely with performers than it is with dealing with special effects. So I think that prepared me to work with this cast in a much more dynamic way.
For Flight I understand you had a very limited budget, did you see that as chance to be more creative or was it more of a hindrance?
I think it forces you to be more creative. You have to try to make the movie look with limited resources so obviously the only way to do that is to try and put as much flare and style into scenes that don’t have a lot of money to spend on them. But yeah I think it’s challenging for sure.
What were some of your cinematic influences on the film? It seemed to me very influenced by films of the 70s with the production design and some of the great music used in the film.
The music really came out the of the John Goodman character, grew from there and really felt right for the movie. The thing that really harkens back to the 70s more than anything is, this idea of an anti-hero, which is something you don’t seem in a movie much around these days.
Sure! I don’t have any plan; if something cool comes along I don’t care what genre it’s in I would do it. I don’t say I must do this kind of film or I am looking for this sort of film.
A couple of projects that have been talked about a while now are Yellow Submarine and Roger Rabbit 2 any updates you can give us on either project?
Not going to do Yellow Submarine, and don’t know right now about Roger Rabbit 2.
Finally you recently revisited the Back to the Future trilogy with some video games and I heard there was the chance of a musical? Any truth to that?
There is always stuff going around. Nothing that is really specific and on track to get going right now.
But if something was coming up for Back to the Future what would you like it to be?
I think a musical would be a nice extension of the movie; certainly there won’t be any more movies.