EXCL: Comic-Con Interview With Piranha’s Alex Aja

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On the gory re-imagining of Joe Dante’s film

Don’t dare call Alexandre Aja’s new horror film, Piranha 3D, campy, because he will be quick to tell you that while it is fun, shocking and über-gory, it isn’t campy at all.

In the 10 minute footage that was shown at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the über-gore level of the film is set to the max with bodies, blood, parts and fish flying everywhere and anywhere. Piranha 3D could be the largest bloodbath put to film in a long while and promises an extreme body count. The thing that makes Piranha 3D that much more promising is that Aja is quick to tell you that he’s saving the best parts for the full feature.

Shock sat down with Aja at a hotel near Comic-Con to find out why the film was banned from the San Diego event and get some insight into some of the deaths in the film, the DVD and much more.

Shock: Tell me about why you were pulled out Comic-Con.

Alexandre Aja: I was here two years ago promoting Mirrors and was talking about Piranha at the time and how excited I was about doing a guilty pleasure movie about gore and blood and boobs. I wanted to show the whole movie here, but we are still working on it. The convention told me I couldn’t show this and I couldn’t show that and it had to be family friendly. I said ‘What are you talking about – it is Comic-con?’ Then I figured out that they have some sort of rating for what is shown in the convention. I could not come back with PG-13 footage because no one would take me seriously. I showed them the original cut that I wanted to show and they said no way because I had people flashing all the time and it is a blood bath from beginning to end, so we would have had to tone it down and not show anything.

Shock: It does indeed seem like the film is a bloodbath from beginning to end, how would you describe Piranha 3D to someone not knowing what to expect?

Aja: The movie is like Gremlins, Weird Science and Dead Alive – all together you have Piranha. In this day, some studios are scared of that kind of movie. It is definitely a horror movie with a lot comedy and a lot of fun in it. It is not campy but it is like Spring Break on attack. We are not on the side of the Spring Breaker. It is like 20,000 bodies ready to get eaten. I am on the side of the townspeople and sometimes on the side of the fish. I grew up in France, Spring Break doesn’t exist there. It is a week of extreme behavior that seems so stupid, but seems fun. To see that and attack that metaphor for America is really fun.

Shock: You nailed the Spring Break thing with how those there would react. Did you go to a Spring Break at some point?

Aja: I read a lot about Spring Break and I’ve been to a couple of Spring Breaks. It is so unique – this is like a week in a Puritanism country. Where everything is taboo, where everything is forbidden. A week where you have to show your tits to get a bead necklace, you have to kiss a girl at least once, you have to have sex on a boat. I was told a story once where the city of Havasu tried to close Spring Break one year because Ron Jeremy came and had some attraction where he had some dildo driller to dildo a girl in the audience. It is so insane and something you can’t even imagine, I thought it was great material to do a movie. I think campy is not the right word, we are not on that side. We are having fun looking at them being attacked.

Shock: Roger Corman had a hand in the first Piranha, which gives you a lot of leeway into making a film. Did you go about trying to do an homage to that film or did you just go about it making your own film with a similar title?

Aja: I was sent a script six years ago called “Piranha in Lake Havasu” that was exactly the script we used as the basis of the story. It was never a remake for me. We are living in a new Hollywood where marketing people took over and they need marketable titles. So, most of the remakes you will see in the next few years are going to be a famous title but with an original movie. Someone was asking me if Hollywood was out of ideas. No, it is not true. I think it is another way to express ideas. When J.J. Abrams is doing Star Trek, he’s reinventing something. It is completely original and it is completely creative, but it is Star Trek. It is another way of making movies now.

Shock: You’ve invested a lot of time in this movie, you’ve been working on it for years and doing the 3D conversion for a long time. Jerry O’Connell even went as far to say that you must see this film in 3D, how much did this factor into your filming?

Aja: This is the perfect story to do in-your-face 3D. It is piranha attacking. It is small fish in your face and you can almost touch them. It is a ride. Two years ago when I was writing it, I was drawing the blueprints for the 3D and making it the best experience possible for the audience.

Shock: Are you looking ahead at this point to other projects?

Aja: I might be producing Maniac.

Shock: Maniac Cop or Maniac?

Aja: Maniac. [It’s] something that I want to be involved with my long-time partner and co-writer, Greg, will direct. It might happen.

Shock: When you were shooting Piranha, how difficult was it to film so many unique deaths with fish?

Aja: This is the challenge of writing a fun script. You can only show, for a few minutes, a mass of people getting attacked. You have to come up with ideas. And we came with a lot. We had to get rid of half of them when we were shooting as it would have been a four hour movie.

Shock: I’m sure some people would have liked that.

Aja: Well, it was also pretty expensive. So we had to keep the 30 unique deaths in the movie and make sure we didn’t repeat the same thing twice.

Shock: Did the studio give you any grief about what you were doing? Like you can’t show some guy getting his dick ripped off or some chick getting her tits eaten or anything like that?

Aja: It is funny because working with the Weinstein company, you have Bob on one hand that understands the genre but on the other hand you have Harvey that understands cinema but has Shakespear in Love syndrome. They were scared about too much blood, they were scared about too much boobs. So I had to tone it down. But I still think it will deliver on both levels and people will be surprised, but they will be even more surprised with the director’s cut.

Shock: So obviously that will be on the DVD, what can you tell me about that?

Aja: Five or six minutes of extreme footage will be put back in. Piranha is a pretty expensive movie and it is not only sustaining the genre but the audience, so we had to get rid of some of the violence and other gory stuff, but DVD is more open.

Shock: Will the webisodes be on there as well from the Wild Wild Girls?

Aja: That will be on the DVD and we have a feature-length documentary, there are three or four scenes that won’t make it to the director’s cut as well. I am also thinking that I have storyboards of big scenes that we cut out for budget reasons that I would like to cut together with the script pages as there are fun ways of dying also there.

Shock: Any news about part two given the buzz the first film is already generating?

Aja: Dimension is waiting to see what happens and if it is successful then they will pull the trigger.

Shock: Are we ever going to see High Tension adapt to a Hollywood production?

Aja: We had some offers to do it six or seven years ago. But there is only six or seven minutes of dialogue in the film. I am sure that they will remake it but I won’t be the one doing it.

Shock: A quick question about some of the casting of Piranha. You have Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames but you also have Riley Steele and Ashlynn Brooke who are not nearly as famous…

Aja: Depends. In some circles.

Shock: Right, in some circles, they are very well known.

Aja: Yes, we have three very famous adult actresses in the film. I really like the casting where we have Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames and Richard Dreyfuss where I am bringing something from the past of pop culture. But on the other hand, we have Steven McQueen, Adam Scott and others that are representing another type of cult following. And we have one of the most beautiful women in the world in Kelly Brook, who is also one great actress. She has a scene in the movie where her death is absolutely, absolutely tremendous.

Shock: Now, I’ve heard a bit about this can you explain this a bit more?

Aja: She has to cross from boat to boat on a rope where one boat is sinking and the other is pulling away and she is not going to make it. She dies in a very believable way.

Shock: Can’t wait to see it. Speaking of Richard Dreyfuss, how did you score him for the film?

Aja: I still can’t believe I actually got him! When I was writing the script I had someone fishing that was witnessing the earthquake. I was thinking it would be great if it was Matt Hooper, a retired Matt Hooper. Once you have that idea, we have to try to make it happen. And we managed to convince Bob Weinstein and when Bob wants something he fights for you to get it.

Shock: And Richard Dreyfuss was cool with it?

Aja: I was expecting him to fight it or want to play another character but, no, he said “I’m Matt Hooper. I understand the homage and it is a perfect homage for the anniversary [of Jaws].”

Shock: So, at any time did you want to use the line “You are going to need a bigger boat?”

Aja: I thought about it, of course. Elisabeth says at one point “We need more boats, we need more people.” But it is not that famous line. There is one funny line where Richard is fishing in the beginning and getting a big sea bass and says, “That’s a fast fish” and that’s a line from Jaws.

Shock: Did you include any other nods in the film?

Aja: In “Macbeth,” there is that line before dying “ooh, ooh” and I have Jerry O’Connell when he his dying at the end and spitting blood, he brings Steven McQueen closer and says, “wet T-shirts, wet T-shirts.” I think it is the best line you could deliver before dying.

Shock: It sounds like you had a lot of fun on the set.

Aja: It was tough. It was everything you should not do as a filmmaker. Shooting in the water during summer. Any problems that you can imagine with that happened plus the CGI, plus the 3D, plus the thousands of kids. But the experience was great.

Source: Peter Brown