Exclusive: Paul McGuinan Gives Comic-Con a Push

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Yes, we know that you’re reading this almost three weeks after this year’s Comic-Con International, but ComingSoon.net has a few more things to share that seemed too good to hold for too long. One of the more intriguing and under-the-radar panels at the Con was Summit Entertainment’s trio of movies on the opening Thursday and while most people were probably there for a little movie called Twilight, we wanted to focus on the other two movies shown there, most notably Paul McGuigan’s sci-fi thriller Push, which had an impressive roll-out.

McGuigan is the Scottish filmmaker behind crime flicks like Lucky Number Slevin and Gangster No. 1, but Push is a departure, like a real-world version of “The X-Men” where people actually have psychic powers, and there’s a battle between factions of psychics. The movie stars Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning (who sadly missed the panel because of an exploded meat truck blocking the highway down to San Diego) Djimon Hounsou and Camilla Belle, and to kick off the panel, they showed the stylish opening title sequence which included a voice-over by Dakota Fanning’s character explaining the world and setting up the movie’s sci-fi premise.

 

Essentially, there have been people with psychic powers going back to 1945 when the Nazis were doing experiments to turn them into soldiers, but those experiments didn’t end when the war was over. Other governments joined together as something called “Division,” a group that continued where the Nazis left off, creating agents that could track down others with psychic powers (called “sniffers” to bring them back for experimentation. Fanning’s voice-over explains that her character, 13-year-old Cassie Holmes, is a “watcher” who can see the future and that there are also “movers” who are telekinetic and “pushers” who can put thoughts in your head and makes you believe them. Those who are captured are turned into lab rats and are used to develop a drug to boost their psychic powers but that’s been killing the guinea pigs; Cassie’s mother was taken by Division, so she’s joined together with other psychics including Chris Evans’ Nick Gant, a powerful “mover” who lost his father to fight back against Division. The sequence ended with her saying how she can see that the future of this world is bleak but that the future can be changed and it’s their turn to “win the war.”

This opening title was pretty freaky, showing all sorts of strange footage, both found and created, that clearly set up the tone and look of the movie, but after McGuigan and the cast talked about the movie, they showed a couple clips, one of Hounsou, a Division “sniffer” who is able to push ideas into people’s heads, and we see him doing this by telling someone to put a gun in their mouth and shoot themselves (which they do). The other extended scene they shared started with Fanning and Evans sitting in a Chinese restaurant—much of the movie takes place in Hong Kong. They’re talking about finding Camilla Bell’s character when they’re approached by “Bleeders,” psychics who can emit a loud and high-pitched screech (think of Banshee from the “X-Men” comics). They try to run and we get to see the jarring results of their screams, as the fish tanks in the restaurant start shaking and the fish inside start bleeding before the tanks (and light bulbs) explode with glass flying everywhere. It’s basically a fast-paced chase sequence as they try to get away, but once they’re cornered, we get to see Evans’ telekinetic powers in action as he fights back against the assailants.

Even though we haven’t seen a trailer for the movie yet, Summit followed the Push presentation by showing a preliminary trailer for Alex (I, Robot) Proyas’ Knowing starring Nicolas Cage, which also looks like a cool thriller with a mind-f*ck premise ala The Butterfly Effect. It opened on a ceremony in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1958 where a group of kids are told to draw what they think the future will look like which are put into a time capsule, but one strange little girl named Lucinda fills her page with a series of random numbers. Fifty years later, the time capsule is opened and a young boy gets Lucinda’s scribblings but his father is a professor, played by Cage, who figures out that the numbers actually correspond to dates on which every major global disaster of the last 50 years has occurred. He starts trying to find out when the next one will take place and try to save the people who are slated to die in the disasters, and the rest of the trailer gave a pretty good idea of the scope of the film, including one scene in which a passenger plane crashes into electrical power lines and we see the after-effects of that disaster with people on fire, etc.

We weren’t able to stick around for the Twilight portion of the presentation, because we had to run upstairs to have a chat with McGuigan about Push, and you can read that interview below.

ComingSoon.net: I really hadn’t heard much about this movie until I heard it would be at Comic-Con.
Paul McGuigan: Yeah, it’s really been under the radar, you know, which is nice because there are a lot of other movies and our release isn’t until February 6th, so that’s a ways to go. Yeah, we’re still finalizing it. We still have a lot of previews to do and our final edit.

CS: How did this project come to you? This wasn’t something you originally wrote or developed, right?
McGuigan: No, no, no. This was a script written by David Bourla and it was brought to me by the late Bill Vince, who produced “Capote” and then Summit got involved. I just loved the script and I just really liked the whole premise. A lot of these scripts you get, a lot of them can be too fantasist or you have to build up your own world, and that’s not really my style. I like to work in the real world and a real premise, so when I read that this was about governments manipulating people with psychic abilities, I went on the internet and looked around and true enough, these psychic experiments have been going on since the Cold War. It’s really interesting, the whole viewing thing, and really fascinating stuff, so I was like, “I really want to do this,” because then you can take it further in the cinematic terms, but if in the real world, it’s there, then it’s something to hook onto.

CS: All that footage in the title sequence that you edited together, was a lot of that created or was it found footage?
McGuigan: No, it’s all found. We made a couple things. You can probably tell the ones we made, but there was stuff like there was Congressional hearings about this kind of stuff and that experimentation stuff… you saw people rolling about, crazy stuff, but really fascinating and very visual as well. I wanted to make it like a documentary style, so we got the people who did the titles for… I can’t think of the movie. We got the title people involved and I was like, “I want stuff that’s just so bizarre but is real.” It’s amazing how much manipulation of people and how they f*cked people’s minds up just to see what happens. I mean, it’s quite incredible. Really cool stuff, and so I went out there and I decided to shoot it very much as a real scenario, so we shot all hand-held. There was no blue screen or green screen in it, but we enhanced it a lot with effects but we didn’t have people surrounded in green screen… ’cause I don’t know how to do that (chuckles)…

CS: This is probably the biggest movie you’ve made so far in terms of action though, right?
McGuigan: Yeah, oh God yeah. This has a lot of big fight sequences. We had fight stunt coordinators, we had all sorts of people, but you know, the actors get so involved with it as well, because they didn’t have trailers and stuff, because in Hong Kong, there’s no room to park or anything.

CS: And you have a great cast for this, a number of Oscar-nominated actors as well as probably the most respected actress under 15.
McGuigan: Yeah, quite rightly so, and I think they came to the table for the same reason. It was the script and the world, that they could have fun with the characters. It’s very much a character-based piece anyway. It’s not a premise that just gets you interested in the cool things that they can do. There’s a real arc in the characters. Chris Evans’ character starts off very pissed off at the world. He saw his dad die and he doesn’t want anything to do with anybody. He’s very introspective.

CS: Is he trying to figure out his powers over the course of the movie?
McGuigan: Yeah, he doesn’t even realize their strength. Once he gets emotionally attached to Dakota’s character, the stakes get higher emotionally and his powers start to manifest themselves, and it’s always good when you can track the powers with the character like Spider-Man or something, you feel connected to them. You don’t feel immediately like, “Oh, that’s as far as you can go with this character. You can move a chair. So what?” Then with the other powers that are kind of interesting, you can push a thought into someone’s mind and to visualize that is kind of challenging because you have to visualize someone having those thoughts about themselves. It was kind of fun to come up with this visual language, where I shot on bullets, I shot on video, I shot on stills, so the audience knows where they are in the movie but they’re still confused. It’s a non-linear kind of thing.

CS: You talked a little about the different kinds of psychics in this world during the panel. Was all that developed in the script?
McGuigan: It was pretty much in the script. We have Bleeders who can emit high-pitched sounds, we have Sniffers who can quite literally sniff you out. I love the idea, the way I was sold is I was in a club one night and I watched one of the glasses going around and I thought, “I wonder if you took the journey of a glass’ lifetime. You’d see happy people, sad people, you would see people fighting…” You know, it’s kind of interesting to see it from that point of view, so we had like a “cup-cam” and we did all those kinds of effects and they’re very lo-fi but they’re very effective. I must admit that I do use some of the same toys all the time, people walking down corridors. We have a lot of that kind of thing, and we have the same designer for us that designed “Slevin” and the same DP, so it has a very rich visual feel to it. It is kind of handheld, and it has a lot of energy to it. It feels like between a “Bourne” and an “X-Men” type of thing, you know. It’s just has a lot more edge to it.

CS: How much more time do you have to spend finishing this up?
McGuigan: Yeah, we had the first screening on Tuesday for an audience, just to see how it tested. It went really well, but at times I can see the audience going “what the f*ck?” which is good, you know, and they kind of settle into it.

CS: It certainly seems more intelligent than some of the other superpower movies we’ve seen.
McGuigan: Honestly, I’m not just saying that, but it has a freshness to it, let’s say that. I don’t know if it’s intelligent (laughs), I don’t know, I can’t say that, but it feels very fresh and very cinematic as well.

CS: You mentioned that you try to do stuff on-camera, so I guess you’re not spending months and months doing effects.
McGuigan: It’s just so that I can sit in an editing suite and I know what I’m getting. That’s the thing I can’t really get my head around is blue screen and green screen and not knowing what… somebody else has to make up the drama for me, so what was I doing there? My ego’s too big for that and I want to do everything through the camera, and we stretched that a lot, especially when you throw people around the room, wirework. If you want to do it in the camera, it’s painful. These guys get thrown really hard.

CS: Chris Evans must be used to doing that stuff, but everyone else, not so much.
McGuigan: When we blew up all those fish tanks, Dakota was actually in the middle of it, and I don’t think anyone had realized how dangerous it was. It was kind of weird because we knew it was safe, but we didn’t realize how close everyone was going to be with eight cameras around it.

CS: That must have been a tough sequence to capture with so much stuff blowing up and happening. Did you have a lot of cameras going on that?
McGuigan: Yeah, we had like six, seven, eight cameras, but to be honest with you, that kind of filmmaking is more about planning, it’s more about, “We know we’ve only got one or two goes at it” ’cause we’re not big budget, so okay, let’s get it, let’s shoot it from all angles and that’s really what works is planning it out and working with the stunt coordinators and with the DP and everybody and the designer.

CS: Is there anything else that big in the movie?
McGuigan: Oh, there’s bigger, there’s a lot bigger. [SPOILER AHEAD…] The end is a giant sequence on a skyscraper we built out of bamboo, so people get thrown out of skyscrapers, and it’s really cool, and a bamboo fight, and it gets big, but it starts off very much in the real world. […SPOILER ENDS] We use Hong Kong very much as a character in the movie. Everything’s shot there and we threw the actors on the street and we had spy cameras everywhere so people couldn’t see us, and we used the production value of Hong Kong itself. We didn’t close down any streets or anything.

CS: Real guerilla filmmaking…
McGuigan: It felt like that at some points. You know never know what you’re going to get. You never know if the crowd’s going to go away and you never get the same crowd obviously twice, so you’re always trying to get it in the first or second go.

CS: Do you have any idea what you might have lined up after finishing this?
McGuigan: Yeah, I’m developing and I’m going to be doing a film about Robert Capa, a war photographer. It’s been kind of my passion project for quite a time now, so I’m really excited. That’s so different from this, which is good… this is independent. I just haven’t been asked to the party by the big boys, to be honest. I find I’m very good at making movies at $20 to 30 million. I can get a lot of production value from it, and I used to be a photographer myself, so this is very much a passion project for me, and then Robert Capa is a photographer who influenced Spielberg and “Saving Private Ryan” because his work is very famous, and he had a love affair with Ingrid Bergman and his beset mate was Hemingway, and all those characters, so it’s a big actors’ piece, ensemble piece. I didn’t write it, but Jonathan Feldman wrote it, and it’s the best script I’ve ever read.

CS: Do you have any cast lined up for that yet?
McGuigan: We do, but we can’t really… I’d tell you if I knew but I don’t really know yet. We’re getting close so yeah, and then we’re shooting that in Spain probably which will be nice.

Push opens on February 6, 2009. One month later, Summit’s other big thriller Knowing, opens on March 20.

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