Shortly after Moon, Bryce, and Anton left, we were told to go get food. When we came back in the ‘holding area,’ lo and behold there was McG showing stills from the film on a laptop to a few members of the press. Everyone scrambled to get back in the room with their food. He was showing us photos from a scene where John Connor and Kate are examining a Hydrobot on an operating table. And much to our host’s horror, we saw a photo of Kate Connor with a distinctly large belly. He spoiled it way back then, but it was obviously shown in the trailer, so no harm done.
McG was already talking about the film when I arrived. He started off by discussing why Skynet was rounding up humans for experimentation.
McG: There’s a lot of R&D that goes into the polio vaccine. A lot of mice gotta get scrapped and a lot of things need to fail and succeed until you finally hone in on it. And the idea of this is we’re post-Judgment Day but we’re certainly pre-T-800 and before the R&D that went into the becoming of the T-800. Unfortunately for the humans beings that means a lot of testing on their behalf, but also we get to look at some of the machines that populate the world. And this is one of Stan’s designs. This is the Hydrobot that they pluck out of the water. And it’s important to me to have all kinds of practical effects. I don’t like to rely on everything just being CG. But you see what Christian is doing with Connor. Just sort of a no bulls**t kind of guy who takes the clippers and cuts his hair on his face and head at the same time. Just very, very pragmatic and very much about the task at hand. And you see the jaws of this and the signature red eyes that are here denote when it’s on and off in the mythology of Terminator. And he’s in there trying to figure out what’s going on and study the machines.
McG also spoke about the challenge of rebooting the franchise.
McG: Here’s the thing. I wasn’t going to do it until I talked to Jim Cameron about it. And he was the guy that sort of gave me the final kick in the *ss and said, “I was in the same spot with the ‘Alien’ franchise. You’re coming on the heels of Ridley Scott. People think you’re crazy. Ridley’s untouchable. No one could possibly follow.” And he felt like he had an interesting take on the material that would service that mythology, but at the same time put his own imprint on it. And to me it’s a different situation because the first three pictures naturally were present day and Terminator’s coming back to play on our landscape. This is post-Judgment Day, so this is indeed the beginning of a whole new idea, and I wanted it to have that ‘Children of Men’ cautionary component of this is what could happen. It’s not a ‘Logan’s Run’ sort of onesie Farrah Fawcett hairdo world as you see in the patina of the picture.
McG then saw a photo of one of the effects guys working with the Hydrobot puppet.
McG: There’s John. That’s Stan Winston’s number one guy. John Rosengrant, who’s gonna take the mantle. He went online and sort of made an announcement that he heard of Stan’s passing that day, and then in the spirit of what Stan would want, sort of the show must go on, he was there to be in the shot and perform and do the whole thing. His first picture, if I’m not mistaken, was indeed “Terminator.” So he’s been with Stan over 25 years. It’s in very capable hands.
The conversation returned again to what Jim Cameron said to him and the fact that he cast Sam Worthington from Avatar in Terminator Salvation.
McG: He said go for it. He felt great about casting Sam. I was looking at casting Sam. I went and saw him on “Avatar.” I played in the motion capture field. He was extremely supportive and that was the defining moment that made me feel, “OK, I’m gonna go for it.” ‘Cause part of the reason I became a director was because I’m sitting there in a theater like all of you guys and watched some of James Cameron’s pictures and some of the other pictures from that period and you get excited and I didn’t have a lot going on in my life and I spent a lot of time at the movies and that made me want to go forward. I was a still photographer and I decided to keep on moving in that direction, so he gave me sort of the good swift kick in the *ss that made me feel good about the challenge and responsibility of moving forward. I understand that nobody’s excited about the guy that did ‘Charlie’s Angels’ taking over the ‘Terminator’ franchise, but it’s a privilege of the audience. I would never deny that. But I think Jim understands that as a filmmaker you always do what’s right for the picture at hand. Naturally he wouldn’t make the same choices in ‘Aliens’ that he made in ‘Titanic.’ You have to do what’s right with the project that’s in front of you at any given time. With this what I want to do is take the grit of the ‘Bourne’ franchise, the grit of ‘Children of Men,’ and bring the velocity of the ‘Transformers’ picture. Because we’ve incorporated ILM and the premiere visual effects artists. Charlie Gibson’s our second unit guy. He’s got two Academy Awards. He’s been with Gore Verbinski for, I think, five pictures in a row. And I want that hand held, tactile reality, but then I want to have machines that we’ve never seen before come into this world and bring that summer energy that I think everybody’s looking for. And this movie is really an allegory for what it means to be human, but nobody signed up for a “Terminator” picture to go to a graduate class. I think the Wachowskis did it best in the first “Matrix” picture where that picture can be enjoyed by all audiences but at the same time you can spend four years in school discussing the deeper meanings in the picture. Hopefully this movie will be firing on as many levels and we should be so lucky as to have this opportunity.
McG was asked if time travel comes up in this film.
McG: We don’t have time travel yet in this picture. We just tease the idea of it coming.
He was then asked about the ending leaked online.
McG: Fortunately that’s not the ending. What they think the end is is not the ending. Only Christian Bale, Jonah (Jonathan) Nolan, me, and to some degree these guys (Second Unit Director, Studio rep, etc.) know what the ending of the picture is and it’s not what got leaked. So that’s just a fun thing to play with. All I know is Bale doesn’t f**k around. He doesn’t sign up for things unless he believes 100%. He’s already Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t need to be John Connor. He believes in what the picture can actually be or he wouldn’t be here. He just came off the Michael Mann picture with Johnny Depp. Scheduling was difficult. He’s excited about what this means creatively. The guy doesn’t know any other way than total immersion into what he’s doing. So between his being here, Jonah being the architect of the picture, Stan’s endorsement, Schwarzenegger’s endorsement, most importantly Jim’s endorsement, I feel like we’ve done as much due diligence as we can do to honor the fan base and bring it to the fore. And we all know how much more fun it is to spit venom online than to celebrate anything. I’m right there like everybody else letting my opinion be known. So you just sort of take that and you keep on moving.
I asked is he had spoken with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
McG: Yeah, for a long time. He was extremely supportive. He was mad that we didn’t shoot in California.
At this point Sam Worthington entered the room. As he came in, we saw he had Terminator makeup all over his head, ear, chin, and face. Bits of the trademark Terminator metal showed through, but so did blue screen material that would be removed later. Turns out he had just spent 4 hours in makeup. Though Sam was a man of few words, he told us about his character.
Sam Worthington: I play a guy who kind of wakes up in this world and is trying to figure out who he is and what the hell the world is about. So he’s a searcher. He’s Alice in Wonderland, basically.
What’s the hairiest thing he had to do so far?
Worthington: Every single day. You get blown up, napalmed, shot at. I think that’s the nature of a Terminator movie so you know what you’re getting into.
McG: Remember day two, (Michael) Meinardus shattered his leg. If you see a guy hobbling around on crutches…
Worthington: Yeah, and he’s the head explosion guy. It tends to put the willies in you.
What happened to his leg?
Worthington: He lost it.
McG: We do this thing where Marcus is escaping from the outpost below. And in doing that he’s discovering just how strong he can be. And he kicks off the hatch of an air valve and it goes flying into a minefield. The mine blows the hatch back. And in rigging that we have this air ram that had a cable and pulled it and it misfired and nearly sheared the leg off of our physical effects guy. A guy named Mike Meinardus who did “Tropic Thunder,” (“Live Free or Die Hard”), this that and the other. And that was day two. Like you say, it made us all very aware of what movie we were making.
Sam was asked how much of Marcus’ body is revealed to be metal.
Worthington: We pretty much reveal all his insides here, all the back, all the arm. They were pretty good, Stan Winston’s guys. Robert and me spend 40 hours in prosthetics. They created a suit that has it on. And so then they paint on top of that to make it even more real. As well as blue screen and stuff like that.
Was it uncomfortable for him?
Worthington: I think it’s more uncomfortable for the guys putting it on. I just have to sit there! They’re the ones under the hammer. It’s basically just like wearing a sticky on your head to be honest.
Sam was asked what preparation he did for the role.
Worthington: We went to death row and met some guys who were there. We didn’t meet them. You can kind of observe them. They’re like monkeys in a zoo so it kind of put you a bit off. But the whole movie’s about getting a second chance. I look at it like Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. It’s Dorothy getting to the Yellow Brick Road and no matter what that life was, this is a different life.
McG: Basically the story is a guy who’s on death row. He’s given up on himself. He’s given up on humanity. The world that we all know has treated him cruelly. He’s a murderer at 17. He’s in jail. He is ultimately put to death. Signs up for a project like all of us having ‘donor’ on our license and little does he come to know at the midpoint of the picture, he’s a machine. And it’s certainly not what he signed up for. The irony of course is only in a post-apocalyptic world where everything is difficult does he experience kindness, compassion, and all these lessons that go into his belief in humanity, his belief in self. And of course one society’s garbage will become the savior of a new society.
We noted that based on everything we had heard that day, this sounds like it’s Marcus’s film.
McG: That’s not correct. It’s Marcus’s film in a great many ways. Here’s one of the defining characteristics of this film. What is Connor’s role in the future?
He’s leading the Resistance.
McG: Would we all agree?
McG: This film is the story of his becoming the leader of the Resistance. We literally come into this film, “Are you Connor? THE John Connor? The one who f**ked up?” You realize, “Oh my goodness. He’s not calling the shot!” He came out of the hole three years after the radiation cleared with a couple of survivors that said, “I’ve got 20 years in the Marines. Get the f**k in line. I’m not going to hear about your bulls**t, your mystic Cleo bulls**t. We’re at war! Get in line!” And you realize Connor has to struggle and through the body of the story of the movie we will see how his fate is achieved and he becomes the leader of the Resistance. I mean, I don’t know that anybody knows that. This is the first time that has ever been articulated. And that could be f**king dangerous, but to me that’s why I signed up. I don’t want to see Connor jump out and go, “I’m Connor! I’m destined to do…” I want to see him come out of the hole and have everybody like they do say, “I’m a Buddhist. I’m a Muslim. I’m a Christian. I’m Hindu.” And everybody says, “You’re wrong, I’m right. Get over here, this is what we’re gonna do. ” And it’s human nature. And Connor is ultimately vindicated and proven right through the story of this movie. So that could be heresy. To me it’s one of the most exciting components to the movie. Think about it. A guy ripping off pet tranquilizers, running around with Kate buried in the mountain, just comes out and everybody goes, “Clearly, it’s you!” and bow down? Never in a thousand (years)! You, personally, would say, “Shut the f**k up! You know a thing or two about machines. You know what’s going on. That’s cool, but we’re trying to survive. I’m going to go with this guy who knows how to purify water. I’m going to go with this guy who knows how to sew up the pants. I’m going to go with this girl who knows how to fix my broken leg. It becomes very need oriented. And then you say, “Oh! He will get there, but this is the becoming.” And I love ‘becoming’ stories. I love, “I’m a high school photographer.” “No you’re not, you’re Spider-Man.” “I’m a hacker.” “No you’re not. You’re The One.” You have to become what you’re set to become. “I’m just a kid shooting womp rats.” “No you’re not, you’re Skywalker.” You’ve got to fill your boots. And to me that’s one of the joys of seeing Connor go from a kick *ss guy who just dives in, does everything first… don’t get me wrong, he’s a psychotic soldier with a death wish, but he’s not the leader of the Resistance till the button of the movie. And that’s really dangerous.
Sam was asked if there was any romance in the film between him and Blair.
Worthington: Well she’s a good-looking girl. I’m a pretty average looking boy. Of course. I think there’s levels of romance. There’s levels of love. We just kinda toyed with it. You don’t want it to be real cheese ball ’cause I’d be the first one to walk out. You kinda play with what level of intimacy you can achieve if you just met someone and you’re in a war zone. So that’s basically what we played with.
McG was asked about this being described as a trilogy in early press releases.
McG: We sketched out the stories for 2 and 3. There’s no doubt about it. But I would never be so bold as to think we’re going to get there. That’s impossible. I don’t know if they’re going to make another Superman picture. I don’t know if you guys want it. I sure promise you they had designs on making three of them. I truly tell these guys day in and day out, “Focus on this picture. Focus on this picture.” Sometimes Moritz Borman, one of the producers, is like, “Oh, in the second one we’ll…” I said, “Moritz, there is no second one.” If we don’t deliver and excite the people that you all speak to, that’s it. And the egg is on the face of all of us collectively and none of us want to do that. So I really don’t want to put too much energy into that honestly. I look at this as the alpha and the omega and this needs to deliver.
McG was asked if they were really going to go for a PG-13 rating. (Ironically, it did end up getting a PG-13 rating despite having filmed R-rated material.)
McG: That PG-13 is totally erroneous. There’s more to it than that. We’re not making the movie for a rating. We’re just making the movie. Everybody is totally comfortable with the movie having an R. You can get on the phone with Jeff Robinov. He runs Warner Brothers. He’d be the first guy to protect his investment and say, “Hey, we gotta have this, that, and the other. We need kids to go.” But I would be the first to say I think Nolan made both Batman pictures without any compromise. They got PG-13 ratings. So if we can make the movie without any compromise and it gets that rating, I’m not against it. And plus I was that kid trying to get into the theater at 15 to have the overzealous usher say, “Haul *ss.”
With that McG dropped a bombshell on us. He asked us if we wanted to come to his trailer and see 9 minutes of footage shot so far. You typically don’t get to see much footage on a set visit much less visit a director’s trailer, so this was a rare treat. As we headed to the trailer, Bryce Dallas Howard heard we were going to see footage. Being the newcomer, she hadn’t seen anything yet, so McG enthusiastically invited her to join us. We settled into the trailer and McG did numerous disclaimers. The footage had no effects, the music was temporary, etc etc etc. He then started up the footage and the sound system blew out the tiny trailer.
As a Terminator fan, I was quite impressed with what I saw. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know what I mean. We saw footage from the Moto-Terminator chase, the T-600 battle, the stockades, and more. We also saw a scene in the firelight between Marcus and a very topless Blair. This scene alone told me that McG was sitting on footage that could take Terminator Salvation into R territory if that’s where they chose to venture. Now that it has a PG-13 rating, toys for kids, and numerous promos, I have to wonder if this R-rated footage will appear in some unrated version of the DVD.
Here were a few memorable pieces of dialogue from the footage:
Blair – “You know what I’ve learned Marcus? We can focus on what is lost or we can fight for what is left.”
Kyle – “We need to get out of L.A.”
Marcus – “You point a gun at someone, you better be ready to pull the trigger.”
Blair – “Thinkin’ about your past?” Marcus – “Do you think people deserve a second chance?”
Resistance woman – “Life is lived moment by moment. Choice by choice. It’s what it means to be human.”
Random Thug approaching Blair – “Wooo! She’s a firecracker!” Thud! (He’s punched out by her.)
Kyle – “Come with me if you want to live.”
Blair – “Everybody gets another chance.”
We then chatted with McG a bit and were ejected from the trailer as the second round of press went in. Outside we chatted with Bryce some more and obliged McG’s dog that playfully demanded we throw a ball for him. It was then time to go watch a scene being filmed.
After the second group of press exited McG’s trailer, we headed out to watch the night’s shoot. McG led us past the industrial area of the power plant into a spot filled with remains of a church, a pile of human skulls, and large machinery commandeered by Skynet. (As we chatted, we heard loud gunfire from a VERY large gun in the distance that made everyone in the area stop what they were doing. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Turns out Bryce Dallas Howard was in the middle of gun training. McG said something like, “She didn’t get to do THAT in ‘Lady in the Water!'”)
Nearby we saw Brian Steele dressed as a T-600. I’ll admit, in person it looked quite hokey. The costume had a rubber face, red glowing eyes, a machine gun, and elevator shoes. It looked like some cheesy Frankenstein. But when we looked at it on a monitor with smoke, lighting, and everything else, the effect was amazing. The costume looked so much better on film.
As McG led the gaggle of press onto the set, our handler told us to hang back. You see McG was so enthusiastic about showing us around he had been pulled away from his other duties and some members of the crew were annoyed. We held back, but then McG turned around and said, “Come on!” Choosing between listening to Mom or Dad, we decided to follow Dad while everyone glared at us. He led us over to the pile of skulls in the church, a signature Terminator image. McG described the scene that was being filmed that night.
McG: One of the archetypal images is the tractor treads destroying the remains of humanity. And we have Marcus coming into this strange world and it’s a big story point. He’s trying to swear that he’s a man and he comes upon the gun turrets of Skynet and exposes himself and they lock on to him and then they stand down. And it’s this moment of he’s delighted that he’s not dead but his heart is broken for the reason why. And he’s walking through Skynet seeing this destruction. And this shot we’re about to do right now is against machine architecture for machine’s sake and it’ll be extended by Charlie Gibson based off the beginnings of what you see on the far side of the factory. And then you see the bulldozers coming through the church and smashing any vestiges of… no regard for the Sistine Chapel, so to speak.
McG continued: The crane comes down and we pick up Marcus taking this world in. And nobody’s bothering him because he’s being recognized as a machine. He comes in here. He walks in through the church. We come across the statue of Michael casting Lucifer out of the Kingdom until we’ll swing around like this and through that wall comes the D-9 tractor which all the tractors in this world have been re-appropriated by Skynet to do their bidding and smash up the last vestiges of humanity.
While we were there, the subject of Stan Winston’s recent passing came up again. McG said, “I want to dedicate the film to him. That would be the first thing which isn’t subtle. But that’s largely Warner’s and Sony… I need their blessing to do that. But that’s what I want to do. It just feels appropriate. He invented it, we’re here working on it. I mean from Iron Man to Edward Scissorhands, of course Alien and Predator and velociraptors on down, it’s just incredible and such a huge loss. But his imprint is so firm on this ’cause we also had this other project, Stan and I, called “Me and My Monster” where it was largely autobiographical about a kid who had imaginary monster friends and Stan would always talk about that being him. We would get so into not leaning on CG. Not leaning on CG. Not fighting CG, just not leaning on it. Just, ‘Fix that with the blue screen.’ And it was something he and I were very, very connected on. I think you guys see that in the stuff you just saw. It’s got a lot going on in camera.
When the crew finally couldn’t take any more, we were shooed off to the side while preparations to film began. They started with a safety meeting describing all the hazards that would be in the scene. (Especially understandable considering someone almost lost his leg on Day Two!) They then tried a few rehearsals.
In the scene, the T-600 is in the background tromping around on patrol in front of a trio of large fans. Fireballs pop off nearby from vents. As the camera comes down, Marcus (now in his leathers) sneaks by a destroyed wall and peeks out at the T-600. As it turns towards him, Marcus ducks back, then moves on. He walks through the ruins of a church and past a statue of Michael casting Satan out of Heaven. He walks past pews filled with skeletons. As he comes up to a wall, it suddenly comes smashing down as a large tractor rolls through it and over a pile of skulls. The shot then ends.
They practiced this multiple times (without ramming down the wall or breaking prop skulls) and it was actually a very long shot. It required perfect timing with Steele (blind in the T-600 suit), Worthington, the tractor driver, the guy operating the flames, the camera operator, etc. It took many tries to get it right until they all thought they had their timing down. As we waited for them to reset the scene, we chatted with visual effects supervisor Charlie Gibson. He previously worked on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “The Ring,” and more. He reiterated what everyone else said they were going for realism. They don’t want it to look blue-screen like the “Star Wars” prequels. They want to take the “Iron Man” approach where the CGI is subtler. The film will feature ambulatory T-800’s and take advantage of the motion capture technology perfected by ILM. Their battle with an army of T-800’s in the 3rd act is the biggest and most challenging of the film. He also noted that the Moto-Terminators had riders dressed in blue that were removed from the film. We concluded chatting with him and it was time for action!
Though we saw them practice it multiple times, the version they finally shot was incredible. As the T-600 goes on patrol, the fireballs that shot out of the vents seemed four times bigger than those in rehearsal. The explosions were huge CHOOM! CHOOM! CHOOM! It rattled your insides while blasting you with waves of heat. (I had to wonder what the people driving on nearby I-25 thought of the explosions as they passed by!) Marcus ran through the church and on perfect cue the tractor rammed through the wall for real and then crunched the prop skulls. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen on a set visit. Reluctantly, we were then herded back onto the bus to return to the hotel. It was after midnight, but the crew had to get ready for their next shot.
So that concluded my visit to the world of Post-Judgment Day! I came away with several conclusions. Being a Terminator fan, I was satisfied they were on the right track. And despite being ‘that Charlie’s Angels guy with one name,’ I felt like McG had the right ideas behind the story and the property and was well aware of the pitfalls. I liked the new character of Marcus, I was impressed with Bryce Dallas Howard in the real world, and I thought they had a good crew with good credentials working on the movie.
Terminator Salvation hits theaters on May 21st.