Jon Turteltaub, director of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, answered some questions about his new film, available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 30.
Jon Turteltaub: First of all… I want to say HELLO, BUENOS DIAS, BONJOUR, NI HAO, GUTEN ABEND and all of those things. Thanks for wanting to talk to me. I’m married with two kids and the only people who normally talk to me are three years old or are asking me to take out the garbage.
Q: Do you enjoy making family friendly films or would you prefer to let loose in something R rated?
Jon Turteltaub: Yes… I’ve done a bunch of family films…. and perhaps my desire to make them comes from the fact that it was this sort of film that got me interested in filmmaking. As a child, those are the movies I saw, so those always hold a special magic for me. But when it comes to GOING to the movies, especially considering I’m home with my kids a lot watching the same DVD’s a thousand times in a row, I prefer to see much more adult targeted films.
Q: You were born in New York. What has been the experience of filming a movie like this, where the city is an essential element?
Jon Turteltaub: New York is America’s “Oz”. It truly is the most important city in our country and maybe the world. And while it’s not our film capital, it is our ART capital… so being a film director working in New York feels very special. But the most extraordinary thing about filming there is how hard it is. Walking down the street is hard. Getting a cab is hard. Getting a bagel for under five dollars is hard. So the thought of closing down all of 6th Avenue to shoot a car chase is completely ridiculous. Which is why it’s so fun!
Q: In the film there are several digital creatures. What can you tell about it? What kind of challenges presented them to you?
Jon Turteltaub: Usually, I hate digital characters in movies. I think Jar Jar Binks left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth… and a lot of fear for directors. So… I was very careful to use them sparingly. I’m also a very reactive director. That is… I like to see what the actors and sets and costumes are doing and then I respond. With digital characters I can’t do that. So it’s a much less creative and a far more technical experience. That said, nothing is more exciting than seeing them come to life and interact with the actors.
Q: This is not the first time you worked with Nicholas Cage, so you might say there is some kind of chemistry between you. Can you tell us something about it?
Jon Turteltaub: Nic and I couldn’t be more different. And we’ve known it since we were teenagers together at Beverly Hills High School. He was very cool, muscular and rebellious (i.e., the girls were into him). I was jolly, funny, and goofy (i.e., the girls were not into me). But we have a great understanding of each other. I get Nic and he gets me. And that’s our strength.
Q: With the DVD coming out, is there any extra feature you are really excited about?
Jon Turteltaub: I love the DVD features that focus on ME! ME! ME! ME! It’s the only chance I have to tell my relatives… “See? I really DID make a movie!”
Q: Should Monica Bellucci be in more movies?
Jon Turteltaub: Of course she should be in more movies! She’s talented, smart and beautiful. And she’s a woman, not just a girl, and there aren’t enough of those in film.
Q: Do you think this movie will have a similar audience as the Harry Potter films?
Jon Turteltaub: I can tell you it has a SMALLER audience! : ( Truth is… the answer is yes. The brilliance of the Potter series is that it appeals to young and old… and that’s always my intention. Magical powers are something we dream of having throughout our lives. It never leaves us. And that’s the theme we were presenting in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.
Q: How important is it for this movie that the story takes place in Manhattan on today’s times?
Jon Turteltaub: Manhattan felt like the least likely place to encounter ancient magic. New York is so “REAL”. It’s special, but it’s gritty and edgy and tough. So it felt like the perfect place to have a sorcerer hide and it made the magical elements stand-out. We wanted to make it feel that the magic didn’t belong, which would make it feel, oddly, more real.
Q: What is your favorite adventure movie?
Jon Turteltaub: If “Raiders of the Lost Ark” isn’t the best adventure movie I’d love to see a better one. It’s pretty perfect.
Q: When you were working with Jay Baruchel for those broom scenes, were you thinking about Mickey Mouse?
Jon Turteltaub: We thought a lot about Mickey. We studied Mickey. In fact, we watched the sequence in “Fantasia” over and over. We looked at Mickey’s innocence, his passion, his stature, his courage and his weakness. And then, ultimately, Jay and I decided to take that information and let Jay run with it, which he did brilliantly. (I’m still confused about Mickey Mouse. Sometimes he seems like a little boy and sometimes he owns a home, has a dog, and dates Minnie. Weird!)
Q: Jay Baruchel was your original choice for apprentice or did you have other actors in mind as well?
Jon Turteltaub: I love questions like this because they assume that the filmmakers would ever answer them honestly!
Q: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the third time that you worked with actor Nicolas Cage. When you now look back to your first collaboration for the movie National Treasure, in what kinds of ways did your way of working together change in all these years? Do you have now a better understanding for each other as in the past?
Jon Turteltaub: Nic and I have developed a much slimmer, more efficient way of working, mostly because I know what he hates and he knows what I hate. He’ll come up with an idea on the set and then say, kiddingly, “I’m not going to do it because you’ll hate it and you’ll just cut it out anyway.” But the big change is that in National Treasure movies, Nic followed my lead for playing this very mainstream, intellectual character. However, in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, Nic led the way with the quirky Balthazar and I let him run with it much more.
Q: In your movie there is a homage on the classic Walt Disney animation movie Fantasia from 1940. What do you like so much about Fantasia, that you decided to put this homage in your movie?
Jon Turteltaub: It’s not an homage, it’s our raison d’etre! The movie was designed around the original Fantasia section called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It’s why we made the movie. I was actually shocked no one had ever made this movie before. It’s a classic tale written by Goethe as poetry, re-told by Dukas as a musical suite, re-told by Walt Disney in animation and re-told by us as a live-action film.
Q: At the end of the movie, Maxim Horvath is gone, but his hat appearance makes we expect something else. Does this mean that a sequel is coming?
Jon Turteltaub: A sequel is definitely coming…. if we sell over 100 million DVD’s. Get to work!
Q: Out of your entire career, which would you say are the top three collaborations you look back proudly on?
Jon Turteltaub: Working with John Candy was the dream come true. He was so immeasurably funny and so kind and so warm. Having John Candy laugh at my jokes made me feel like I had a right to direct movies. I’m also very proud of my collaboration with Tom Hanks and the Astronaut adviser, Dave Scott, on the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon”. That was such a beautiful learning experience for me. And the third collaboration I’m proudest of is working with Anthony Hopkins on “Instinct” because even though everyone told me he would eat me alive we actually had a lot of fun!
Q: Was it important to give the part of Maxim Horvath to a character actor like Alfred Molina?
Jon Turteltaub: Jerry Bruckheimer insisted from day one that we cast Fred. (I’m a show-biz insider so I call him “Fred”.) Jerry had just worked with him on Prince of Persia and had just seen firsthand how inventive and brilliant Fred was. What I didn’t know was how lovely and easy a person he was. The best. Truly the best, most pleasurable actor to work with of all time.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the electric storm set to One Republic’s “Secrets” and how was that to film?
Jon Turteltaub: The writers did a beautiful job of finding a situation in which Dave could show his gifts, his talents to Becky while also making it romantic. By finding a way to make it romantic (putting them in the little cage together) and dangerous (which is sexy). Filming it, however, was insane because even though the lightning bolts are put in with CGI, the light effects themselves are real. But those light effects have to be synchronized with the music… but we didn’t know what the song was yet!! So the poor editor and the poor VFX guys had to meticulously cut and create the scene not just for actor performances, but for the timing of the lightning bolts.
Q: Why did you choose Monica Bellucci to play Veronica, and was it difficult to convince her to accept the job?
Jon Turteltaub: It’s hard to convince EVERY actor to do ANY job. However, once she was in, she was wonderfully creative and generous. What was difficult was convincing her to do re-shoots when she was seven months pregnant! Aside from not being able to travel, there aren’t a lot of woman who want close-ups of them filmed in their seventh month!
Q: Is Jerry Bruckheimer a producer who wants to be on set the whole time and be involved in the making of the movie?
Jon Turteltaub: Jerry wants to be on the set, but also knows that there’s only so much he can do. Trying to control a director or a movie shoot is like holding a tiger by the tail. So Jerry gets most involved during post-production. Music, editing, sound… this is where he makes his greatest and most helpful stamp.
Q: What is more profitable in Hollywood nowadays: doing big budget movies or successful television series?
Jon Turteltaub: Actually, movies are still the biggest game in town. The TV money is drifting away and there is very little upfront money. Certainly, a huge hit TV series can net someone hundreds of millions of dollars…. but there are a small handful of those every ten years. There are big hit profitable movies every year.
Q: Talking about magic. There are a lot of films about magic, sorcerers, supernatural, made lately. Why do you think the world is craving for this kind of movies?
Jon Turteltaub: It’s not new. The world always craves it. There is magic and the supernatural in drama since before Sophocles. That’s the fun of fiction… anything can happen and we get to explore the limits of humanity. The idea that the bad economy means we want more escapist movies seems a bit contrived. The economy was great in the 90’s when Jurassic Park came out.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between the actors and the special effects in movies? Is it harder for them to feel the character and to act?
Jon Turteltaub: Actors get asked the question a lot… and I always listen carefully to their answers in hopes of learning something myself. But what they usually say is that while it’s all sort of silly…. it’s really not much different pretending that a tennis ball is a scary monster than pretending that Nicolas Cage is a 1,000 year old wizard. It’s all make-believe.
Q: Do you watch a lot of DVDs, and do you pay attention to their bonus features?
Jon Turteltaub: I watch bonus features when I’m in them. ME ME ME!
Q: What role does physics play in your life?
Jon Turteltaub: I was a really bad physics student in college. But I love it now as an adult. Physics, to me, holds the answer to all those questions that begin with… “Wait a minute… I’ve never quite understood why….” Physics, while answering a lot of the nuts-and-bolts questions… really is focused on the big philosophical questions. Perhaps all science does that. How does it affect my life? Well, at the moment, gravity is playing a vital role in my typing skills.
Q: Is there a secret about the movie that you did not want to reveal in the making of? If so, can you tell it to me?
Jon Turteltaub: Yes, and No.
Q: Where does magic stand in a person’s life?
Jon Turteltaub: Personally, I don’t actually believe in magic. Which is why I love it. If it were real it wouldn’t be wondrous. Magic is about the impossible… the what if. We need that in our lives because dreaming about and understanding the impossible leads us to new things that are possible.
Q: About the scenes from “Fantasia”, what was the most challenging part of filming?
Jon Turteltaub: The trick for us in this sequence was balance. How many effects? How big should they be? How many mops? How many brooms? How vital to the story? Should the music lead the action or the action lead the music? The balance was uniquely tricky in that scene.
Q: There are many movies that deal with magicians. Can you maybe name some favorite movies from your childhood days which are also dealing which magicians and magic?
Jon Turteltaub: The magician that Nic and I most inspired us for this film was Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka. He had a slightly evil mischief overlaying his gentle, loving manner.
Q: The movie is strongly influenced by the work of controversial inventor Nikola Tesla. During the preparation for the movie, did you maybe deal with the work of Nikola Tesla and what do you think about his work?
Jon Turteltaub: Tesla was a huge influence for us. He is not just directly referenced in the film, but he also moved us in subtle ways. Nic, as part of his character work, found the hotel room where Tesla lived in New York City and then spent the night there. I wish there could have been more Tesla references in the film. The weirdest moment for us came when we were filming outside of Drake Stone’s apartment. We were on 40th Street and when we looked up we saw that this street was actually called “Nikola Tesla Way”. Very odd.
Q: There is a scene in the movie, where some wolves chase Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel). How difficult was it to shoot this scene with real wolves?
Jon Turteltaub: I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to meet cute, cuddly dogs who aren’t scary in real life at all. However, if you want terrifying, dangerous creatures, don’t use the wolves we had. In spite of the fact that it took forever to set up shots with fences around us and guards and hidden leashes and all of those safety features…. the problem was that these wolves were like PUPPIES! They wouldn’t growl, snarl, howl, bark or run. All they wanted was to lick faces, smell crotches, and eat hot dogs.
Q: Would you like to direct an animated film someday, like Zack Snyder (Legend of the Guardians) and Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) did?
Jon Turteltaub: I would like to direct a Pixar movie so that I could learn exactly why those people are so brilliant.
Q: Can you discuss your working relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer?
Jon Turteltaub: Jerry has become quite a mentor for me. He has taught me a lot about audiences and clarity and expectations. He also taught me about the importance of design and how much consumers appreciate it. Our relationship is interesting, though. I think he sees me as a funny, talented, pessimist who needs to be told to be more confident and to take things more seriously while I see him as the most successful producer in history who could have me banished if I tell him I don’t like his pants.
Q: At what point did you interact the best with the Nicolas Cage? Do his ideas find themselves in the movie?
Jon Turteltaub: Nicolas Cage’s ideas are all over the movie. The movie was his idea in the first place. And he’s brilliant. And he’s a big star who could fire me… so of course his ideas are everywhere.
Q: Why did you cast Teresa Palmer as Becky?
Jon Turteltaub: Light. Teresa brings light when she walks in a room. Dave’s character needed light in his life, and Teresa brought that to Becky.
Q: There are so many 3D movies out there. Are you interested in making a 3D movie anytime soon?
Jon Turteltaub: I like all new challenges and technological challenges… and I think 3D presents directors with great new tools and tricks. So yes.
Q: How was your relationship with VFX houses? How far were you involved in creating visual effects for the film?
Jon Turteltaub: Every director is 100% involved, in charge, in over his head with VFX. It’s no different than any other part of directing. Designing a VFX character is like casting. Setting a shot in a computer is the same as setting one on a set. It’s all the director’s job to download his or her vision to the VFX houses. I happened to work with great ones on this film. I loved the people I worked with because they were more creative than I was and guided me brilliantly without making me feel like a dope.
Q: Is there an actor you’d love to work with, but you’ve never had the chance? Who’s he/she?
Jon Turteltaub: Anyone nice. Seriously. Nice people make the movie-making better, more creative, better. Will Smith is probably the guy who marries nice with famous better than anyone else out there. Tom Hanks as well.
Q: Is Nicolas Cage a good teacher for his apprentice? Can the relationship between them be an example for other teachers and students?
Jon Turteltaub: We talked a lot about this. Nic was VERY focused on this aspect of his character because his father, who passed away while making the film, was a professor. Teaching was his life. So Nic wanted to honor that. Nic also made a strong effort to avoid insulting his pupil, even though the script sometimes called for it. He might have been tough on Dave, but never rude or disparaging.
Q – What was it like working with Monica Bellucci?
Jon Turteltaub: The thing I remember most about Monica was how scared all the men were around her. Bring a beautiful Italian woman on a set and American men turn to kittens.
Q: Facing a movie with a young sorcerer apprentice, and not fall into the Harry Potter style should be complicated. What challenges did this present for the film in the first stages? What references did you have in mind?
Jon Turteltaub: We were desperate to avoid Harry Potter at every turn. We had to be very diligent. No magic wands. No magic words. No fake Latin. Things like that.
Q: You have participated in the soundtrack with “I’m Awesome”. It is the first time you did something like this, but I would like to know what was your relation with music before this movie?
Jon Turteltaub: “I’m Awesome” is the song Dave sings to himself. I would hardly call it “participation in the soundtrack”… it’s more like “participation in the legal process”. However… the soundtrack is beyond important to a movie. It is perhaps the most important emotional aspect of the film. Music is everything!
Q: Are you more comfortable with directing huge action scenes for instance Chinatown scene with the dragon in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or intimate ones like in Phenomenon?
Jon Turteltaub: I think the answer most critics would say is… NEITHER. The rest of the critics would say, “smaller scenes.” And so would I. As much as I enjoy watching action, I’m always too scared someone is going to get hurt when I’m directing it.
Q: In “Cool Runnings” you did not use special effects. Which of those two movies, Cool Runnings and Sorcerer’s Apprentice, did you enjoy the most as a director?
Jon Turteltaub: This is like asking which of your children do you love the most. I will say that the VFX have little to do with the enjoyment of either. What I usually remember are two things… 1) how hard was it to make the movie work (the crises, the disasters, the drama, etc) and 2) who were the people involved? Cool Runnings, being my first studio film, will always have a special place for me.
Q: On the Blu-ray and DVD there are some deleted scenes. Was it hard for you to delete certain parts of the film and who gave you feedback on how the final version should be?
Jon Turteltaub: Deleting scenes is a little too easy for me. I’m brutal that way. But post-production is the one time a director has to really listen to feedback carefully. First of all, the editor is the key partner here. He or she guides the director through what may or may not be working. Jerry Bruckheimer is another mega-opinion. But we also screen the film for audiences and that also guides us as to what parts are funny, boring, confusing, etc.
Q: How much wizardry is required for film-making?
Jon Turteltaub: Movies themselves have magic to them… no question. We take things out of our minds and hearts and somehow they end up on a movie screen as people, stories, jokes and themes. But in spite of all the mystery as to what makes it good… it’s also a lot of detail work by hundreds of people that makes the puppet dance.
Q: What kind of a movie would you like to direct in the future?
Jon Turteltaub: I think every director wants to do a Western at some point. But “kinds” of movies are less important to me than just doing movies that connect with audiences. If the characters are real and fresh and the writing is great, I’m in.
Q: Was it difficult to frame Jay Baruchel in a family friendly light after all the work he has done in ‘R’ rated comedies?
Jon Turteltaub: This is why God invented editors.
Q: Jon, any final thoughts on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?
Jon Turteltaub: Well… again… thanks for writing and talking about the film. I’m amazed if any of you are still awake. I love doing interviews this way. Sitting in my shorts and typing on my computer feels like a typical Saturday night for me. As for the movie… I love and hate the way audiences respond to it. I love that they like it so much, but I hate that they always say how surprised they are that they liked it. Apparently, everyone was expecting to hate it! But when both adults and kids say, “Wow… that was fun!” I feel very redeemed. This movie really is an example of how the film business has changed in the last 30 years. It shows how the biggest budget, most technically advanced movies are made for family audiences. Kids and families have the power these days… and I think they will really appreciate what went in to making this massive movie.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
For more information on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice , visit the official The Sorcerer’s Apprentice web site.