G.I. Joe: Retaliation Set Visit: Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Q: What’s the biggest difference between this and the first film?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura:
I think tone is probably the biggest difference. Paramount came to me with Jon [Chu] as the way to do it and, looking at his past work, I wasn’t sure what that meant in terms of what he’s done and how that would apply to what this was. So we really talked a great deal initially about, one, that he grew up with Joe and he really understood it. I knew immediately that he had an internal grounding in it that was really good. It wasn’t a fantasy to him. It was part of his childhood. So there was this innate understanding and we talked a lot about tone and what he liked. What he liked about Joe growing up and what he would try and apply to it today versus what we had done originally. So we kept talking about how to give this thing as much intensity on a physical level and still play within the boundaries of what it is. The script we had developed prior to him joining on pretty much stayed the same. We kept making it better, but we played a lot more Kung-Fu in this movie. The storyline between Snake and Storm Shadow – there’s two storylines that are going on: The Joe’s as well as Snake and Storm. These storylines then converge. So you spend a great deal of time in that world as you can see. It was great to get The RZA to be the Blind Master. One of our favorite casting choices. I think we had a hell of a lot more time to prepare this movie than the last one and so the costuming and the sets have reflected the amount of time we had.

Q: The title is “Retaliation.” Is that Cobra retaliating or is that the Joe’s?
Di Bonaventura:
It’s actually both. You’ll see in the movie it goes back and forth between who is doing what. I don’t think you could actually pin it on one or the other. More than anything, what we liked about it was the attitude. It said “There’s an aggressive movie going on.”

Q: You’re walking a fine line between rebooting and sequelizing this round. How do you walk that line in terms of trying a different tone this time but also appealing to people who enjoy the first movie.
Di Bonaventura:
It is tricky. I was trying to think back when we started first talking about the fact we were going to try to, I’ll say, “re-energize” the cast, if anybody had really tried that in a way. I think either people abandon everything and start over or hold onto everything. I couldn’t think of one and I’m sure you guys probably know better. There’s probably one you’ll figure out, but I think in a way the Jonathan Pryce story grounds the movie. Because having the President of the United States — those of us that saw the first movie know where he’s starting out in this movie — and those of you who don’t have a good surprise. That’s such a jewel. When have you ever had that opportunity to play the White House that way? So we wanted to hold on to that. Then we also said, “You can’t just have one or two of those elements. You have to have a few of those elements.” So we, by process of elimination or by process of feeling our way through it, came to this sort of balance. It’s interesting because I’ve watched a lot of the footage and it doesn’t feel like we’ve stepped away and yet we have. It’s a really interesting thing. I can’t really explain it because it was a sort of “feel your way through it.” One of the things we wanted to do was that we wanted to try to bring an uptick of machismo to the cast. With Rock and Bruce, we sort of got a lot right there. Boom. But at the same time, when you look at some of the secondary characters now, like Walt Goggins, who is a great actor, he has a really fun role. Joe [Mazzello] is in there and so is the RZA. I think all of those things have brought a different flavor and, at the same time, it’s Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and we’re fighting the same battle. A new and improved Cobra.

Q: Are there any Cobra characters that are returning?
Di Bonaventura:
Well you saw Cobra Commander there. That was him.

Can you say who is playing him – because obviously Joseph Gordon-Levitt is not back?
Di Bonaventura:
A guy names Luke Bracey is playing him. He’s an Australian actor who isn’t yet very well known.

Q: Is he going to be behind the mask the whole movie then?
Di Bonaventura:
Yeah, he will be.

Q: Is the hood in there?
Di Bonaventura:
The hood is not in there. I’m personally opposed to the hood. I think it’s KKK and I don’t think it’s a cool thing to show kids. So, for me, I didn’t grow up with it in the same way that a lot of people did and I understand their feelings about it but, for me, I can’t put that symbolism into it.

Q: There’s a lot of practical effects in the sizzle reel footage – are you consciously stepping in the direction of practical effects?
Di Bonaventura:
For sure. It’s part of the attitude notion I was talking about where you ground it. “Gravity” is a favorite word of ours in this movie. How do we give everything a sense of gravity? So there’s a ton of special effects and ton of practical things that are done so that we’re not relying on visual effects as much. There will be a couple pretty wild [scenes]. I can definitely say there’s one action sequence in this that you’ve never seen anything like. That’s going to be a mixture of practical and visual effects and it is really nuts. So there are a few scenes that are going to rely on it but, when we do it, we’re blowing it out. Other than that, we’re not going to use it that much.

Q: Can you tell us who some of the new non-leading Joes are?
Di Bonaventura:
One of those characters is Grunt and another is Clutch. Those two guys are there and you do meet them in the movie. And there’s Mouse, that’s Joe Mazzello.

Q: Are you going to be explaining away some of the missing characters from the first one, like Destro, since we’re not expecting him to be in this one?
Di Bonaventura:
Don’t be so sure. You never know. I think we’ll explain a little bit and I think also the universe is so big you can’t really deal with everybody. There’s definitely a move in the movie where we reduce the number of people that we are trying to deal with. But you know, for instance, Bruce’s character is the original Joe, Joe Colton. So, that’s another Joe that we’ve added to the mix and it’s really kind of a fun intro you get with him in the movie. That was one of the things with his character in particular. One of the experiences I had on the first movie was that there are those people who grew up with the ’80s Joe and there’s the people who grew up with the Joe before the ’80s. The people before the ’80s were, “What the hell is this?” a little bit. You know, they liked the movie, but they were kind of like, “Where’s my Joe?” Bruce is their Joe. You know, it’s a very conscious nod to my age group who grew up with it. Bruce did, too. He had some funny stories about what he did to his G.I. Joe action figures, as do we all I’m sure. In a way, bringing him into the movie and by bringing that sort of, I’ll call it “down and dirty ethic” of that simple thing called Joe. It also, again, gave it some gravity. It is kind of fun, though. You see his house. He lifts up the stove and there’s there are all those guns underneath. Basically, anything you open in his house or anything you lift up — the cushions on the sofa, anything — there’s guns underneath. He may be semi-retired, but he’s ready for action.

Q: Does Joe Colton serve the same function as Dennis Quaid’s character from the first film?
Di Bonaventura:
No, he’s not. We don’t really have a character like that in the movie. I mean, he plays the most senior guy and they come to him for advice and help, but he’s not the commander. He’s retired, actually, at the beginning of the movie.

Q: Are you holding onto any of the fantastical elements from the last film or the cartoon, like the Pit?
Di Bonaventura:
Well, we pay homage to the Pit. That would be the right way of saying it. We make a kind of fun homage towards it. It’s not the same as in the first movie. It was abandoned at the end of the first movie, if you remember. There’s a little bit of a funny nod to it later in the movie.

Q: The last movie had a very international theme. Is this film sort of back to being an American Special Forces team?
Di Bonaventura:
I guess that’s probably because of Bruce and Rock, but that sort of goes [boom]. You know, at the same time Elodie Yung, who plays Jinx, is the woman from “District 13: Ultimatum.” She’s pretty badass. She’s doing all that. Pretty awesome. You know, Ray Stevenson comes with all his… you know. I don’t think it was a conscious thing one way or another. I think we were just trying to find the best cast for Firefly, for Jinx, for Joe Colton. I think there wasn’t really a real purposeful intent.

Q: In terms of the dynamic, how has it been for Channing Tatum, who was the center of the last film, to introduce guys as gigantic as Dwayne and Bruce into the mix?
Di Bonaventura:
I think it’s been pretty seamless, actually. He’s got a lot of stuff on his plate so it sort of took a little bit of the pressure off of him and put the pressure on a few other guys’ shoulders at the same time. So I think it’s actually kind of a fun thing for him. He was like, ‘I’m a fan of Bruce Willis. This is great.’ So I think it has turned into a fun thing for him.

Q: This one looks like it’s heavy on the vehicles as well.
Di Bonaventura:
The difference between the two movies is, really, that, because we didn’t have a lot of time [on the first one], almost every vehicle was either very simple or it was CG. For this movie, we had time to sit down and say, “All right, what would his fan boat look like? How many guns does it have on it? What’s its armor like?” All the things you do when you have enough time. I think we were able to build a lot more. I know we were able to build a lot more things, so we were probably able to get a lot more variety in the vehicle and a lot more detail in particular.

Q: Do you guys have a few really big action set pieces or a lot of little ones throughout the movie?
Di Bonaventura:
I think we have two really big ones and we have another couple that are pretty big and there’s a lot of little ones. There’s a lot of action in this movie. We’re not short of it, that’s for sure. I think because we swung, I’ll say, more Kung Fu, it tends to be a little bit smaller, but not necessarily less spectacular. We can do some wild stuff with the people. Byung-hun is an awesome martial artist, as is Elodie, as is Ray. So you’re able to do a lot more things. We have actually more people who know what they’re doing.

Q: How has the development of the story changed throughout the pre-production process?
Di Bonaventura:
It’s actually been a staggeringly constant arrow. We sat down and said, “What was the feedback from the first movie that people liked? What were they missing” and we sort of put all that stuff into a basket and went, “Alright. What can we pull out of that?” One of the things that we had always thought was interesting was the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow relationship and what happened in the backstory. Why are they such archenemies and is there, in fact, a reason? Is there betrayal? What is that? So we actually seized on that very early on and we explore both the backstory and the result of the backstory in this movie a lot. The movie it’s akin to the most is probably “The Empire Strikes Back” in that Luke is off with Yoda and our guys are fighting the battle. This movie does that for quite a period of time, actually. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s story goes on down one track and the Joes’ story goes down another track. I’m guessing around the end of the second act is when the two tracks hit each other.

Q: How soon after the other film does this one take place?
Di Bonaventura:
A couple years, because the President is still in office. We actually had to sort of think that through because I think we said he was in the second term. We had a lot of thinking, but it’s roughly two years later.

Q: How organized is the scope of Cobra in this movie? Are we going to see thousands of Cobra troops like in the comics?
Di Bonaventura:
No, you won’t see thousands, but you may see hundreds. We’re not doing a battle scene in the way that [you might expect]. I think, in a way, Cobra at the end of the first movie is imprisoned. This movie is a lot about regaining form, if you would. And rebuilding. So, at the same time, they have infiltrated the White House and that gives you a certain amount of resources you never could have had in the first movie. It’s sort of that balance that we’re trying to play of it. He’s not at full power at the beginning of the movie but, by the end of the movie, he’s pretty close to full power, short of doing that kind of gigantic scene.

Q: Is Cobra a known organization to the public in this film?
Di Bonaventura:
They will be.

Q: This is a different movie for Jon Chu and action can be really daunting for any director. How has he adapted to it and how are you feeling as producer?
Di Bonaventura:
Look, it was my biggest question when I sat down with him. It’s like, there’s a certain sort of intuitive understanding of action that, if you’ve done a lot of action movies, you either build it or you have it and you recognize it in others. I think Jon had some intuition on it, he just hasn’t had a lot of opportunity on it. We surrounded him with a lot of people who have done a lot of action and he’s got great ideas about action. So he may not have had the full skill set to deal with everything, but he was given the tools to deal with it. Our second unit guy, George Ruge, is awesome. We have a great fight coordinator, we brought in Byung-hun’s double. We call him Doo. Doo-Hong Jung. He’s like Korea’s open-handed fighting champion. There’s a lot of people on this movie. Herb Gains, our executive producer, has done a lot of action. I’ve done a lot of action. I think that, if you have the instincts, which he does, we as professionals can give him the means to achieve the end.

Q: You’ve also got guys like Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, who probably have strong ideas themselves about action themselves.
Di Bonaventura:
Absolutely. They know how to conduct themselves and, you know, Byung-hun has a very clear idea about what he wants to do. Jon has a strength that I haven’t seen in a lot of directors. He actually listens to everybody. He has a really uncanny ability to get everything out of everybody around him and the result is, hopefully, that the stew is a little bit better as a result of that. Steve Windon shot “Fast Five,” so he’s got some really great instincts about where cameras should move and that’s one of the things I liked about “Fast Five.” I thought the camera work had a lot of energy and intent to it. That’s why we picked him, to give that sort of energy to the DP and make sure it’s not scenic.

Q: It’s a roughly 70 day shoot. Has the pace been somewhat frantic?
Di Bonaventura:
There’s an amazing amount of time-consuming action in this. Especially when you start getting into the Kung-Fu pieces. They take a long time, to do them right. This movie does mimic the other movie in the way that it starts in South Korea and goes into the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It goes to Islamabad. It goes to Washington D.C. It goes to Germany. It goes to South Carolina and Tokyo. There’s brief stop in India. Very brief. There’s a big sort of scale to it. All that stuff happens more at the end of the shoot than at the beginning.

Q: Obviously merchandising is a big component of a franchise like this. How far out have you guys been planning what you want to see merchandising wise? Do you have a video game planned? What kind of talks with Hasbro have you had about new toys?
Di Bonaventura:
You know, Hasbro is really in charge of the merchandising and we participate with them. We’ve been planning it for quite a while. I think the biggest change is that there are more vehicles. There are more details for them to take advantage of. There’s a very funny Nerf gun thing in the movie. It’s actually in the movie. Whether Hasbro had been or not, we would have done the gag. It’s a very funny gag. I think it’s a little more evolved because we were able to spend more time getting ready for it. Hasbro is better prepared as well. The last time was such a rocket ship ride. They greenlit us October 31st and we were shooting February 10th or something. February 2nd. We never even got a rewrite on the script. We got one draft and then we were going. That didn’t give much preparation for them or for us.

Q: Is Firefly working directly under Cobra Commander or is he kind of on his own?
Di Bonaventura:
No, he’s not following his own agenda. He definitely is a character who has his own ideas of what he should be doing, but he’s definitely a guy working within the umbrella, I’ll say. Cobra is the lead bad guy, but Firefly is such a phenomenally colorful character. Actually, he’s one of those characters that, when we wrote the script, he had like six lines and you went, “This is one of the coolest characters I’ve ever read.” It’s just a weird thing that something that didn’t have that much initially, everybody went, “Whoa!” He’s got one of the greatest intros I’ve ever seen for a bad guy.

Q: Do the Joe’s know about him beforehand? Does he have a history with the Joes at all?
Di Bonaventura:
No, he doesn’t. You know, we’re trying to strip it down so we don’t do a lot of that halls of power or generals sitting around. That kind of thing. We try to keep that to an absolute minimum. Because, one, I don’t think it’s all that much fun and we’ve seen it. The other reason is that, for the kids involved, they really don’t like that. It’s like, “What the hell is all that stuff?” For me, I like pace anyhow. We made a conscious effort to sort of strip it down and try to isolate the good Joes going after the bad guys. We really focused on that as opposed to seeing all the machinations that are going on behind it.

Q: Any chance of Major Blood making an appearance?
Di Bonaventura:
Not in this one, no. We can’t get everybody in, even though we try to. That’s funny. We’ll get him in the next one if we’re lucky enough to get there.

Q: Are there rights issues with certain characters that you can’t use?
Di Bonaventura:
I think there are some rights [issues] when you start getting into the background of Joe. Some of them are partly owned by somebody else. They had to clean up a few things and there’s some overlap with some other properties, strangely enough, as far as names go. I want to say that, with Roadblock’s name we had to clear up some challenge by some small toy company. In general, though, they tend to be fairly simple things if you have a problem there.

Q: Is that why Heavy Duty was in the first one, but was played in a way that was more reminiscent of the Roadblock character?
Di Bonaventura:
I think we just liked the name Heavy Duty, frankly. It sounded kind of cool. We weren’t trying to play him like Roadblock.

Q: Are past characters obliquely mentioned? Like, “Scarlett and Ripcord are off on a mission!” Or are they just never mentioned?
Di Bonaventura:
They’re never mentioned… It was enough of a challenge to add so many new members that trying to deal with the old members would have really been a mind drain for us. We just couldn’t.

Q: Was Larry Hama involved with this one at all?
Di Bonaventura:
Probably not as much as the first, but not for any reason other than that he’s really busy and we’ve been really moving. Larry definitely likes what’s going on and we like Larry. He was really busy when we were first starting out on this.

Q: Can you talk about balancing the funnier parts against the more serious tone?
Di Bonaventura:
It’s tricky because, if you make it too funny, you lose the sense of gravity. You know, [the Jay-Z line is] funny because, in that scene in particular, we originally had a version where he’s quoting George Patton, which is what you expect. It was really good, but it wasn’t as cool… I always find the hard thing is, if you try to find cool, good luck. But you do stumble across it now and again. We were sitting there with this George Patton quote and I kept saying, “Come on! We’ve got to have something new or something cool.” Our writers came up with that quote. They were like, “Okay, how about this?” The first time we saw it, we all laughed, which is what we were hoping for. That there is sort of a pop culture nature to that notion. It does not seem like it’s reaching past who people are today.

Q: Since you guys are going for a PG-13, can you talk about the level of violence that we might see or not see on-screen?
Di Bonaventura:
It’s more violent as a movie, sure. You know, like all these big PG-13 franchises, we walk the no blood, little blood, heavy impact line. That’s what we did with “Transformers,” too. I think it’s interesting, for me, having my time at Warner Bros. making all those action pictures. If it wasn’t horror, it wasn’t cool. I find it fascinating that this is where we are today and what you’re allowed to do with PG-13 now is so much different than what you could do back then.

Q: Are there going to be regional Joe’s like, “We’re in an artic mission, this is a job for Snow Job!”
Di Bonaventura:
We tried doing that and when you put those characters in, they feel laughable. What’s the guy with the bird on his shoulder?

Q: Shipwreck.
Di Bonaventura:
We tried really hard.

Q: Couldn’t get the parrot to cooperate?
Di Bonaventura:
He was on strike. It was funny, because we actually had a real debate about that. One of the storylines in this movie is about trying to keep it reduced, so there’s actually a story point to why you’re not meeting all those people.

Q: How many Joe’s are in the film total?
Di Bonaventura:
I’ve never counted it. There’s twelve on the plane. You meet some others in a bar. You’re going to see, I guess, twenty-ish, maybe thirty. Twenty to thirty, somewhere in there. But you really get to know the core group of like eight or ten.

Q: Any chance of Public Service Announcements this time?
Di Bonaventura:
There’s a chance.

Q: Will Flint wear the beret?
Di Bonaventura:
That’s interesting that you like the beret. Well, we had a lot of debates about that beret. I know soldiers actually hate berets because they make no sense to them, they don’t block the sun. They keep your head warm. The ceremony you saw on-screen, I don’t know if you noticed that, there’s a real pageantry thing. Dress would be berets there for everybody.

Q: Getting back to the PSA’s, on the first film, you mentioned that you didn’t have enough time. Are the PSA’s something that you might do teaser trailers on or would they actually be in the movie?
Di Bonaventura:
It won’t be teaser trailers. That’s too restrictive because, if you don’t know the show, that won’t mean a damn thing to you. I think that, by nature, those things are very tongue-in-cheek and they would set the wrong tone. Maybe down the road you’ll see something like that in the campaign. Maybe on the internet or something like that, but not as a main tool of trying to advertise. Because I think that, for people who didn’t grow up with show, it means very little and they are really corny and tongue-in-cheek and that’s what’s fun about them. If we didn’t do them that way, people who like them would be like, “Well, wait a second that’s not the thing I remember!” Then the ones who don’t, they’re going to like the ones you guys wouldn’t like. It’s sort of a non-winnable situation.

Q: What is the overall scope of Bruce Willis’ character?
Di Bonaventura:
I don’t want to oversell the scope of it, but he plays an incredibly important role in the movie. It’s not a cameo, but it’s not an everyday player. Like I said, his character plays for the people who grew up with that Joe – an incredibly important thing – and we play to that. In the plot of the story, he has a very integral moment, a couple of moments, that sort of change the course of what’s going to happen. He probably plays a bigger role in the plot than maybe screen time, actually.

Q: You had mentioned that both you and Bruce have memories of the classic Joe Colton. Can you elaborate on those?
Di Bonaventura:
Well, you know, everyone has those stories about how they blew up their G.I. Joe figure. I’ve yet to talk to someone who hasn’t had one of them. The funny one, what I always find, is when you start getting into that conversation, I’ve always heard the other side which is that they’ve taken their sister’s Barbie dolls and chopped and hacked them up. I find that really funny. There seems to be a real thing about killing the Barbies first. Bruce had the same kind of things we all did. You were into it and then you sort of got to the point where, as you got older, you started to grow away from it, but you don’t really know you’re growing away from it. It starts be a thing you blow up and throw off the roof with an M80 on it and see what happens, right?

Q: How did you end up in New Orleans, was it a tax thing or was it the studio?
Di Bonaventura:
It was a combination of things. One is the city is incredibly welcoming to film production, which makes filmmakers want to come. It’s a big deal for us, because we’ve been in cities where you’re not welcome and it’s such a brutal pace at which you work (in terms of hours) that in your downtime, when you’re in a city that’s not really happy that you’re there, it’s really uncomfortable. You know, we talked about it with “Transformers.” Chicago put their arms around us. We just kept shooting in there and we kept moving scenes to Chicago because they treated us so nicely, because it was a nice environment to shoot in. One is that it’s a great place to be part of. It’s a very livable city. Tax credits absolutely take part in all this, it is a huge incentive and studios are acutely aware of it.

Q: How did you guys end up as the first film to shoot at this NASA facility?
Di Bonaventura:
Well, actually, Herb is the one who first thought, “Hey, there’s that building over there? Can we get it? What’s there and can we get into it?” On “Transformers” we had worked at Cape Canaveral. When Herb brought it up to me, I was like, “Well, yeah. We know some people.” And NASA is pretty conducive and Herb really should be the one who speaks to it because he really went through the process of convincing these guys to give us the facility. But, you know, the space shuttle went down and this facility needed something.

Herb Gains: It was really timing. I was familiar with this facility from doing previous films here and was never able to get into it. But with the shuttle program winding down and their desire to bring in private enterprise it took about four or five months of sitting down at the table and figuring out a way to do it. We got it done. Both sides were motivated.

Di Bonaventura: And you’ll see as you walk around, Herb is going to show you guys around. The scale of this place is crazy and it has helped the movie tremendously. We’ll take you to what we call the “Nuclear Depot,” which is actually where they stood up the fuel tanks for the space shuttle. It’s gigantic and we turned it, in this movie, into something. That fuel tank became a nuclear missile.

Gains: We’re basically occupying about 200,000 square feet of space here.

Q: Can you shoot exteriors here as well?
Di Bonaventura:
We’re doing exteriors here. We’re doing everything here. In fact, what’s happened is, I think it was my ideas to put the DMZ over there, right? So, every time we go to ourselves and go, “Uh, where are we going to put [something]?” And we go, “Well, there’s that place in the facility down there.” So what’s happened is, for this movie, it’s going to give far more scale because we’re able to be on a production level that’s incredibly efficient. So the efficiency is actually going to show up in more visual effects. More firepower and more action. There’s an area that’s going to serve as the DMZ in North Korea and we were really scratching our heads because we couldn’t find a location. It was the weirdest thing, but it turned out to be one of the most difficul. That and the prison, right? Those two, we were like, “What the f*ck are we going to do?” And we kept looking and we kept saying, “That doesn’t look like it and that doesn’t look like it.” I just went, “Well, there’s that thing over there. Let’s go over there.” And we went over there, everybody went over there, and we went, “Well, actually, this is going to kind of work.” So we’re doing North Korea here. We’re doing Pakistan here.

Gains: We’re probably doing 65-70 percent of the entire film here.

Di Bonaventura: This is a perfect example. We have a screening room here. We didn’t have to go all the way into the screening facility. So it’s been a great advantage that we could set something up here. There’s just so much space for doing different things.

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