The Invisible : David Goyer Q & A

ON recently sat down with The Invisible director David Goyer to watch scenes from his supernatural thriller in the edit bay at Disney Studios in Burbank. The film centers on a writer who finds himself trapped between the world of the living and the dead-completely invisible to the living. Nick (Justin Chatwin) has a bright future until he is brutally attacked and left for dead. Now in limbo, his only chance to live again is to figure out the mystery of what happened to him and why, before his time runs out.

After we watched the intense clips from the film (read about the clips), we got a chance to talk to the filmmaker in-depth about his new project.

CS: Did the MPAA want an R?
Goyer: They wanted a R. Just because there was teen violence and talks about teen suicide which are things that they are sensitive to. It took us a couple of months going back and forth to get there.

CS: What did you have to take out of the film?
Goyer: At the end of the day, I didn’t have to cut that much. They don’t like guns to the head. I trimmed a couple of shots like that. It was very subtle. I didn’t feel like I compromised the movie really in any way. At first they said this is just an R because of the subject matter and it talks about all of this dark stuff. It was more philosophically. A friend of mine committed suicide in high school and shot himself in the head. Teens do it. The whole reason I made the movie was because I was a teen. I felt like people don’t get it. That was sort of my argument for why the movie should be PG-13 and not R because it would preclude a lot of the audience from seeing it and ultimately they said okay.

CS: Did you make any changes to the Swedish version or how you adapted it?
Goyer: It was interesting, I made some changes. The Swedish version, which is a nice movie, the interaction with the adults in this version is more complicated. They take kind of more of a short hand and we changed the end of the movie for this version. Everyone always says “oh they make a foreign film and then they change the ending. They make it a happy ending.” We didn’t do that. We didn’t do the bullsh**t. If anything, we went a more tragic in some ways way. The issue I had with the original Swedish film was I thought they kind of copped out on the ending. I don’t know if I should say this or not.

CS: So it’s not going to be your typical Hollywood ending?
Goyer: It’s not the typical Hollywood ending. Not at all. I thought the Swedish film copped out on that. The first thing I said is “we can’t do that. We have to go all the way.” It’s not the kind of normal Hollywood ending that audiences are used to because they’re like “wow.” The cool thing is, we have had a number of screenings, but the consensus was everyone was satisfied. Surprised we did it, but satisfied we did it because that was the right thing to do you know kind of morally. So those are big things. The character of Marcus was played by Alex O’Loughlin in the film. Her boyfriend is kind of a caricature in the original Swedish film so he’s got a few more scenes in this movie. He was just a really good actor too. But, look I really loved the original Swedish film. It was never released here, but I liked it. I responded to it immediately. The irony is the people who had the rights of the film, showed me and they approached me about doing a remake as a producer. They gave it to me and to a couple of studios and I couldn’t get it sold. Someone else sold it to Spyglass and then a couple of years later, Spyglass approached me about directing it not having known that I’d already seen it and that I was interested in it. The guy who wrote the Swedish version was coming on to direct and do a rewrite, but I felt very strongly that because of Annie’s story, I wanted a female perspective so I wanted to hire a female writer which I did and worked with her. I kind of supervised her and then she stayed on the duration of the film and stayed on during production.

CS: You’ve said you’ve not done anything like this before, yet two different people approached you about this film. What do you think it is about your sensibility that matches this project?
Goyer: Well it’s dark. Usually everything I’ve done has been dark. To be honest what happened was I think my agent might have talked to the Spyglass guys and said you know Goyer for “Invisible.” In fact, Jon Glickman who is one of the producers, I remember originally called and said, “I heard this crazy call that you’d be interested in this and I can’t believe you could possibly be interested in this because it’s like a melodrama.” And I said, “no I love that movie. I would do it.” We set up this meeting and they thought I was putting them on or doing a bait and switch and I said, “no I really really like the Swedish film.” I don’t know if any of you have seen the first movie, I did, but if you see that movie, it’s not a stretch to see me do this movie. But, if you see “Blade” or “Threshold” or working on “Batman Begins,” it’s a stretch. I hope to continue to bounce back and forth.

CS: I remember you told me once you did want to go back and to something like “Zig Zag” at one point. I was curious if you’ve felt like you’ve done enough of these big comic book action films to where you’re ready to just do other things now?
Goyer: Well that was some of it and I’ve done a lot of those kinds of things. I will do a big movie next just because I like going back and forth, but it may not be a comic book movie. There are other small movies that I want to make.

CS: Why the decision of going with a mostly unknown cast?
Goyer: Well the good news is, is that Spyglass and Disney just wanted the best actors and frankly there aren’t a lot of young people, young actors that drive sales anyway. There’s a few, but there aren’t a lot and everyone realized that this project was going to live and die on the performance and kind of the integrity of what it was about. Based on what you’ve seen, you can like it or not like it, but it’s definitely not your standard studio programmer. It’s kind of more morally complicated than that. It’s got to live and die on these performances and so everyone was cool with just finding the best actors. It was nice.

CS: Can you talk specifically about Justin Chatwin because people who will remember him from “War of the Worlds” and “The Chumscrubber,” this is a more muted performance. He was very charismatic in a completely different way in his other roles.
Goyer: He’s great in the movie. He had to do an incredibly difficult thing is this movie because for most of the movie, nobody can acknowledge him. He can’t play off anyone. They just brush past him. That’s really hard for any actor much less a kind of young actor that’s just starting out. There’s no question he had a hard time. He practically had a nervous breakdown a couple of times. It was great because he really wanted the part and I said, “this is going to be really hard and you know that right?” He said, “yeah, I’m up for it.” He was great.

CS: What was the audition like?
Goyer: For the audition process, we just did a couple of different scenes. There’s a couple of big crowd scenes in the film where he’s interacting/not interacting with hundreds of people. There’s this one scene I should have shown, that scene where he follows Annie into a club. There’s hundreds of people there who are just bumping into him. I said to all of the extras, “he doesn’t exist. Spill your drinks on him. We had to do this all night and he got knocked down a couple of times. He doesn’t exist and it’s lonely and hard, but he did a really good job. We’ve shown it to about three or four test audiences and I feel like we’re on track because the response has been fairly consistent and they really respond to him. They respond to her, but they really respond to him.

CS: On set was there specifically something he wanted to change or do differently?
Goyer: He was game to do anything. The scene where I showed you that he yells at Marcia (Gay Harden) he was really nervous about that because we had all these sort of newbies. Most of the cast hadn’t been in a movie before and he’d been in relatively few compared to her and she won an Academy Award. It’s funny and the whole crew would mind their P’s and Q’s when she was on set. It was like, “oh we have serious person on set.” She was amazing but everyone was really like, “we really can’t f**k around.” In that scene he was really nervous. Also really nervous because he’s got to lay hands on her. She just took him aside ahead of time and said, “don’t you wimp out.” She kind of screamed at him and said, “just give it to me. Just give it to me as hard as you can.” He cried at the end of that scene. He just broke down crying because it was hard. He’d never done a scene like that before in a movie and he was just so worried about A. sucking or B. hurting her. That scene continues on and she breaks down. She’s supposed to sob and Nick sees him mom cry. His journey is how other people react when we’re in private. The amazing thing about her is that we did that scene seven times and she could turn it off and on like a tap. She was knitting something in between takes. We’d say, “cut” and she’d wipe her eyes, sit in the chair and start knitting again. She’d say, “so anyway David.” The biggest thing was just going there emotionally. He was scared, scared of making a fool out of himself. That’s the biggest thing. The thing that I would tell them is, the really good performances are the ones where the actors are really unself-conscious. Anytime in a movie, when you see something that is really good is when the actor is right on the edge of making an ass of themselves. You can’t do a really good performance without being willing to go to that place where you’re willing to make a fool out of yourself.

CS: I think everyone can relate to this idea of being invisible and not mattering. Is there something in your own life that sparked you to write certain things in the movie?
Goyer: Well yeah. When I was a kid, I was nerd. I wasn’t a complete pariah, but I definitely wasn’t one of the popular kids. I did the same thing that everyone would do. I used to keep a journal when I was in high school and I would think if I died tomorrow would anybody care? Would anybody be at my funeral? I think everyone can relate to that. I would gravel with what am I going to do with my life and feeling of self-worth and frustration and rage. That’s why I loved all of those young adult novels that would talk about that. I just felt like when you’re young, you think nobody has ever fallen in love to the extent that you have or nobody has felt these passionate feelings to the extent that you have and then you get a little older and realize okay lots of people have. Some people maybe become jaded and some people don’t, but I really responded to that and clearly in retrospect most of my movies are kind of about outsiders. Even going back to “Dark City,” or “Batman” or “Blade.” They’re all about these people who are outsiders and alone. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up so that clearly must be why I’m drawn to these kinds of stories.

CS: Would you say this is Nick’s story or Annie’s story or both?
Goyer: Well it starts off as Nick’s story and then the trick of the movie, and it’s more European than American, is that it kind of becomes Annie’s story for the second half of the film which I love. It’s very subtle and one of the things I love when people see the whole film is that they didn’t expect to be taken to the place where it ends. They didn’t expect to feel the things they do at the end of the movie. It’s just so infrequent that that happens in an American film. This movie sort of changes genres. It starts off this supernatural thriller and sort of becomes in the end quite a love story, but it never really requited. If you pitch that at a studio normally, they would tell you to f**k off. But, that’s something that you see a bit more in European films and that’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to it. I have to credit Disney too for making it and for backing all of the creative decisions.

CS: Can you talk about the cliff scene where the characters of Annie and Marcus argue?
Goyer: That was done all on a cliff. They had these little safety wires around one of their feet. We digitally removed the safety wires. He was really there, six inches from the edge. Had he slipped, he probably would have fallen about 20 feet and then caught by this little loop around his ankle.

CS: She really shoves him.
Goyer: I know and he almost went over on that take. We were sitting there on that day and he did, we thought he was going to go over. She’s very method and she would get into it. He almost went over right then and grabbed the edge and was sort of tearing. They were all game. There is another sequence later where she did a lot of her own stunts. They read that bit in the script and said “yeah, we want to do it.” “Well let’s go out to the location a week before and look at where you’ll be standing and make sure you’re willing to do it.” The thing is is he was scared sh**less, but he didn’t want to look like a scaredy cat in front of her. He is actually Australian and he said “oh yeah, I’ll do this mate.” She was saying, “he’s f**king crazy.” And then she was like, “okay, I’ll do it too.”

CS: She seems so hardcore like that.
Goyer: She’s very hardcore. I genuinely believe she’s going to be a big star. This performance reminded me a little like Angelina Jolie in “Gia” or something like that. She’s just an amazing actress.

CS: Can you talk about how you cast her?
Goyer: She just came in on a cold audition. She was a complete unknown. She’s never been cast in anything before. We were seeing every young actress in Hollywood. I mean everyone. She came in and just blew everyone away.

CS: So is the first time we get a good look at Annie is when she’s unveiled in the shower?
Goyer: There’s actually a scene immediately preceding the shower; it’s this club scene I alluded to where she doesn’t have a place to sleep for the night. She goes to this club with the guy that owns the club, who’s sort of a pawn broker; she’s stolen some jewelry – it’s actually that jewelry you see her stealing at the beginning. She needs the money, so she sells it to him, and then kind of goes and looses herself in this club. She takes off her hat for the first time, and – I should have shown it – but he, Nick, and the audience see her like that for the first time. And it’s actually a cool take because I did – it’s another take that lasts about two minutes long; that’s sort of where the audience’s sympathy begins to turn. It’s nice because we were talking with people who saw the movie afterwards, and they were saying, “Yeah, I started to like her, we started to feel sorry for her; I didn’t want to at first.” “Good, that’s what I wanted.”

CS: Well, it works; it shows her how vulnerable she is.
Goyer: And she makes a bad decision, a series of bad decisions.

CS: How did you approach the violence in the scene where Nick is getting beat up?
Goyer: Well, my whole thing is a lot of it you don’t actually see them do that much; I think there’s two kicks and one hit that’s on screen. Most of it’s done with sound or it’s off screen, or I pulled back; it’s mostly the sound and music. But that’s a big, big potential piece of contention with the MPAA; I actually only pulled one hit out of that scene for them, ’cause most of it’s an intense scene, and when you show it to audiences, they’re freaked out afterwards, but you don’t actually see very much. There’s very little on screen blood in the movie.

CS: So as far as the main bands, they’re all indie?
Goyer: Snow Patrol’s the biggest band – Snow Patrol, Trail of the Dead, Broken Social Scene, a little Death Cab for Cutie, Suicide Sports Club, Sparta, TV on the Radio.

The Invisible hits theaters on April 13.