Race to Witch Mountain Set Visit: Fickman & Gunn

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ComingSoon.net got a chance to talk to Race to Witch Mountain director Andy Fickman (pictured left) and producer Andrew Gunn (pictured below on right) on the set of the film. As we sat down, Gunn launched into what’s happening in the story and caught us up to speed as we waited for the scene to start shooting.

Andrew Gunn: The cast in Vegas. They’re driving to this location. They’re driving, driving, driving to–$500 fare. Out in the middle of the desert there’s a cabin. That part we did in Agua Dulce. We built this cabin out there. Go in, it’s sort of trashed, ranger station kind of thing. Kids go up to the refrigerator, put this device in the refrigerator, back of the refrigerator opens up. Secret passage. Go in, down the stairs to a root cellar that’s over there. Another hidden door, tunnel, tunnel, to end up here which is supposed to be 200 feet below the desert floor, where upstairs is just desert sand, you know, dead, and down here it’s this tropical rainforest with these weird orbs that actually–a bunch of them breathe when they walk by. They’re sort of breathing and dripping goop. This was the experiment–the kids’ parents were scientists on their planet. The experiment they were doing on earth was how to grow plants, trees from dead earth. Because on their planet, the whole planet is dying, the air isn’t breathable, so they came here to figure out a way to grow life from nothing, thereby being able to re-oxygenate their own planet. It was like oh, if we can figure it out here, we bring back the experiment, we could re-oxygenate our own planet. Regrow all the green there. So they come down, they get the experiment, but that’s when the creature from ADI shows up.

Q: So why is the Siphon actually after them? It’s never really clear?
Gunn: On the kids’ planet, the kids’ parents found earth, and said to, “Hey we found this planet, very similar atmosphere to our own. We’re going to go and do these experiments to try and save our own planet.” The government on their planet said, “Well, hold on, you found a planet that’s equally, you know, atmospheric to ours, we’ll just relocate there.” The kids’ parents said, “Well, that planet can barely sustain its own population.” To which the leaders on the kids’ planet said ,”Yes, that’s why we’ll eliminate their population and repopulate it with ours.” Essentially, like we screwed up our own thing, let’s just move over there. The kids’ parents started speaking out, saying we have, you don’t understand, we’ve come up with this way to just save our own. Kids’ parents have been arrested, branded traitors for speaking against the invasion plans of the government, and are scheduled for execution. So the kids stole a ship, come here, get the experiment to get back and prove, and save their parents’ life–and prove the research they said they had was real, that we don’t need to invade. So the Siphon was sent, once the government there found out that the kids had left, it was like okay, send an assassin, kill the kids, destroy the experiment, and then we’ll be able to just proceed with our own invasion plans.

Q: So how long has this cabin been down here?
Gunn: In movie back story? It’s probably been like five years. They came here, they found the spot, they picked, okay, where’s the most arid, Death Valley kind of place. Go there, found this cavern, did their experiments, grew the plants. And so the kids then get the experiment, but then the Siphon, kind of like a Terminator, can’t stop his mission until the kids are dead and the experiment is gone, because then they can just proceed with their invasion plans like nothing ever happened.

Q: So the kids have been to earth before and are coming back?
Gunn: No, the kids have never been here. They’ve only known what their parents have ever told them about it. That the people are good, yet somewhat primitive. As AnnaSophia says to Dwayne, when she’s explaining that she’s telepathic and telekinetic. She says you also have the ability to do this, you just don’t use the full capacity of the brain. And he says no, I don’t do it because it’s just creepy. But so, they know, sort of, of earth, but they’ve never been to earth.

Q: So then it must be quite a culture shock to them.
Gunn: Yeah. There was always the thing of having them, everything be new. And Andy’s big thing was too, if you were going to pick one place on Earth to land, like would the most desirable be Vegas? Like that was the vision of what Earth is like? It’s like wow, it’s very bright. You know, Andy never wanted it to be, in context, what is this thing? So it was always trying to find a really good balance.

Q: And they speak English?
Gunn: They speak English.

Q: Is this the climax of the movie?
Gunn: No, this is 20 minutes in. Dwayne picks them up in Vegas. He’s already had a run in–he’s an ex-con. He used to be a driver for a crime boss in Vegas. The first scene of the movie, these guys show up and [ say] we have a job for you. He says I’m out, he gets in a fight, gets in his cab. Two kids show up in the back of the cab, they start driving, they’re out in the desert, and then all of a sudden in the middle of nowhere there’s three black suburbans following them on this two lane highway in the middle of nowhere. The kids know that this is Ciaran Hinds and his guys, who they saw as soon as their ship crashed. Soldiers descended on it. So they know there’s other people after them, government, you know, CIA.

Q: What about Dwayne’s character, what does he think?
Gunn: Dwayne thinks it’s the guys who he just beat up in Vegas who don’t take no for an answer. So we have an action scene ten minutes in on the freeway that Dwayne did all of this free driving for in his cab, at 50 miles an hour slamming between SUVs. And then they show up here and then there’s the big battle down here. Pods start exploding.

Q: Are they going to be gooey?
Gunn: Andy will take you out–they’ve been goo-ed up.
Andy Fickman: We’ve been goo-ing them. They’ve been breeding and being gooey. And there’s nothing better than a group of about a hundred people having like a four day conversation on the consistency of goo. And ultimately, it’s me going up there and touching it and coming away and being, not enough goo. All of a sudden your entire college education goes out the window and you’re this guy. No, I think not. I have this image of Cecil B. DeMille going no, not enough goo. Also, I need a thousand extras.
Gunn: And the AD’s yelling, “goo it up!” And then they escape from here, and that’s, it’s really the moment Dwayne’s stuck with those kids.

Q: And so what is going on in the scene here?
Fickman: Well what’s happened is at this point the kids, they retrieved the experiment which is what their parents were working on which will help re-green not only their planet, but obviously would have good effects for us as well. And they think that they’ve gotten to the point of, okay, we’ve got the device, now we’ve got to get it out of here. And then they get trapped in here, and that’s when Siphon has arrived. And his sole mission, literally, is to destroy the kids. They’re never to get that experiment out of here, and quite frankly they should never get off the planet as well. So now you have Jack, who has a new relationship with them, in terms of it’s not even a guy bonding over, like, I’ve got to save my children. But it’s a guy who’s now got two kids behind him, thinking, I’m not going to let you guys die. And so where we’re at right now is we’re kind of in the middle of the chase. And one of the things that makes it unusual is where this’ll end up starting to go is it’s Jack’s first opportunity to come in contact with Siphon. And up until this point, we’ve always played the movie that from that guy’s POV. It could be very believable like, well, what is that guy? There’s nothing alien happening other than the fact that for a cab driver, he walks in and sees he’s in this underground cavern and thinks what is all this stuff? No one’s giving him answers. So he’s not even thinking he’s fighting something from another planet at this point, he literally thinks he’s got somebody in there chasing him who ransacked this cabin upstairs. And so last night we did a thing where the kids are running, being chased through the place, and you’re only getting glimpses of Siphon at this point. His reveal really doesn’t happen until the UFO convention, the big reveal. And then, Jack stepped out, he stole a stick, a piece of furniture from upstairs, and last night Jack just stepped out thinking he’s going to waylay this guy who’s chasing them. He stepped out last night, boom with the stick, and the whole stick just shattered. Which is then, you land on Dwayne, and Dwayne is a big guy, so you have that moment of like, uh, that wasn’t good. And then Siphon just backhands him. So we’re getting ready to do this stunt now and then it’ll just be an opportunity to throw Dwayne up in the air a few feet. Then when we do the complete stunt over the next couple of days, he’ll fly. He’ll literally get knocked about halfway across this cabin. And then the chase goes on. And then later today, what will start happening is as Siphon is trying to find the kids–everybody is hiding in this place–rather than just trying to wait him out, he decides to smoke them out, and he’ll literally take, he’s got several weapons on his arm…

Q: Siphon?
Fickman: Siphon does. And Siphon will shoot at one of the pods, and the pods will start kind of blowing up in this blue/green flame, and he’ll start smoking the kids out because this whole place will catch on fire. And like anything, you start bringing those kids up, now you’ve got kids in danger, running. And now Dwayne is hearing that, starting to chase, and now you’ve got a chase through this place on fire. What’s interesting about this sequence is this sequence, which is a big sequence for us, comes about 18 minutes into the movie, 20 minutes into the movie, and you’re at this place. And from this point til they get to Stony Creek, there’s probably about a 20 minute section where there’s just no breathing. It’s just one constant action sequence after another. And then when they get to Stony Creek where our original Tony and Tia, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann are–we shot all that last week, which was phenomenal. That’s like almost the first moment in the movie where Dwayne is just sort of getting that moment of alright, something’s not right. Somebody needs to explain to me what’s happening.

Q: The last time we were on set we were at the…
Fickman: UFO convention?

Q: Yeah. So where does that fit in?
Fickman: So this is as Jack’s really getting embroiled in their world. They’re going to leave here, they have a huge action sequence outside on a train track and everything, they get to Stony Creek, and Dwayne’s knowledge of why he went to that UFO convention is at the beginning of the movie, as a cab driver, they’re having the UFO convention in town. He gets lots of he crazy sci-fi people coming in, and the cabs are all dressed up, so a guy like Dwayne who took a job to be a cab driver so he didn’t have to interact with human beings, when you start getting those Storm Troopers getting in the back of your cab, literally, you’re like I will drive into a cliff if I have to. But Carla Gugino, who was the first normal looking person, he picks her up at the airport, and he’s having a moment of, you know, it’s an attractive, finally, finally someone without antennas or someone making up their own language. And as he’s talking to her, he almost has an accident on the strip where it almost looks like some drunken aliens were walking this way. Drunken aliens walking across at night, he almost swerves and hits them and he makes a comment. And now as he’s trying to have his moment with her, he pulls up to Planet Hollywood with all the crazies, and she hands him her card to let him know that she’s one of the keynote speakers at the UFO convention. And so he’s kept that things of oh great, that was perfect. So now that he’s run out of options, alright, I truly believe that we are being chased by them. I am a cab driver, my skill level for understanding how to take two aliens and protect them from apparently the military, the government, the police and a killer assassin from their planet–I’m probably not the best qualified guy, this is not in my owner’s manual. But he remembers that he had at least a contact with Carla, who gave him a flyer, and sarcastically said, “Why don’t you come see me and I’ll make a believer out of you.” So when they got to that UFO convention, it was to find Carla. For him to literally go in and say, I need to explain to you, but I’m a bit of a believer in the last 24 hours. I’ve got these aliens. And she then ends up enlisting the help of Gary Marshall. It’s like Hannity and Combs, if she’s the sane version, he’s the crazy UFO–they’re probably like 50% right in their understanding of extraterrestrials, but where she would be like look, they’re going to send us a contact, she’s much more here’s some math and–Gary Marshall’s character is like they’re lizards and they live in the pod, they’ll leave, they’ll destroy your head. So these are the people Jack has to turn to. And the kids, the whole time, the most normal people in this whole group are your two aliens. They’re like really? Desert? Great.

Q: So we were talking about the whole back story of why the kids were here, what was going on back on their home planet. Do you, will audiences ever get a chance to see that? Like at the end of the movie? Or is it for the sequel?
Fickman: We had long conversations about do we go to their world. I think we all felt it was better to keep that energy contained on earth. And we were introducing so many things, like the alien chasing them, it was really very interesting. Because when we had Kim and Ike here, it literally was like a week and a half of everybody taking photos with the originals. We were like, “We’re sorry, we apologize.” And they had so much fun. But they were talking, very clear memories of the original and its sequel. But they were talking about how we stayed so close to their own mythology and how we weaved them in to, that we want audiences to think, if I know my “Witch Mountain” mythology, Stony Creek is very important to the original book, it was very important to the movie, and I could almost believe these are Tony and Tia grown up now, based on what they do to help our kids escape. And, but they talked about, at one point they were just talking about what their planet would be like, and, so it was interesting. So I think that as we, hopefully, start planning in terms of future productions, we’d be able to start focusing–and that was also the thing. Every once in a while I felt like, you want to have such respect for the build of that world, that you have this fear that you’re going to do the ten minute flash back on their planet where everybody’s in their unitard and hello, how are you, I’ll eat the space paste. If you’re not really focusing on building it, though, during our design, when I felt like how Siphon lives within their world as we’ve been designing the spaceships, been trying to keep like the elements of okay, this would be something that would transfer to their planet. This sort of design, this energy that they have. And we have a lot of military consultants on our movie and the gentleman from the CIA, the colonel who is one of my major technical consultants, who has been with me from the very beginning and has worked with me before, but in this capacity. It’s been, everything we’ve done has been to that scientific level of you know, this is what NASA is looking at now. We keep coming back to a place of this is actually pretty cool, how would we show that? How would you visualize that? And that actually led to the notion of even a design like this, the sense of, even with NASA and everyone the notion that you could, in a desert environment, if you had no water, how could you re-green something and what would be the thing, some of the experiments they’ve been doing for years now. Could you grow something in space, could you–because obviously if we could solve that problem for our own planet, if we could re-green our planet without the need of water resource, that’s, you turn the desert into you know, all of sudden it becomes Israel and it’s a lush forest. And so we took a lot of that as we started coming up with what those experiments would be and how that would affect their planet. So it’s also been interesting whenever we’ve talked to the military or we’ve talked to some of our scientific advisors because I say it in sort of that fan mode of okay, wouldn’t it be cool, and then you wait and they’re like well, if it was to happen it would have to be this, this, and this. And you’re like all right, we’ll go that way.

Q: Are you shooting for a PG-13 rating?
Fickman: You know it’s interesting because in that world of PG, PG-13, we’re going to push as far as we can get. And I’m sure there’ll be moments when someone will say to us t’s this or that. We know we’re not an R-rated movie, we’re being as conscientious as we go, but we want to push the envelope of what a Disney movie can be. So it’ll be a challenge for us because I think we’re the first Disney movie that’s ever gone that far.

Q: I’m confused, does that mean you’re trying to go PG-13 or are you trying to keep it PG?
Fickman: I think you’ll see where we land. I think we’re comfortable in both worlds. I think it’s more concern that they don’t tell you the R-rating.

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