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SDCC 2020: You Have to Pitch Like Ricky Roma: Three Franchise Directors on Technology, Creative Battles, and Pandemic-Era Production

In the Directors on Directing panel, Robert Rodriguez, Colin Trevorrow, and Joseph Kosinski talked to Collider's Steven Weintraub about creative struggles they won and a few they lost, the technology that still blows them away, and the impact of the pandemic shutdown in the middle of their current projects.  

"What don't people know about directing?" Weintraub asked. "How long it takes," Kosinski said. "All the upfront time getting to that first day of photography, maybe a year and a half, two years, three years of constant nurturing to get to that first day." "How many things have to go right for a movie to work," said Trevorrow. "It's not a matter of experience. People with experience can produce a bad film and people with no experience can produce a good one. It's just this alchemy. No one really knows how to create it." Rodriguez said, "It is a huge brain commitment, your mental energy. You don't turn it off. The crew gets sick but the director doesn't get sick because he can't until after it's over. The shoot is very intense and takes a lot of stamina. It surprises me every time."

Rodriguez talked about pitching to studios. "It's a huge commitment now, incredible what they have to spend." So he wrote a script for his pitch like it was its own movie, so the studio can "hear the heart of the film. just to get a green light to develop it further, show them what the world would look like. You have to pitch like ["Glengarry Glen Ross" character] Ricky Roma. Before you know it, they won't let you out of the room." Sometimes he tries a bait and switch, with his back-up idea secretly the one he really wants. "If you sell it great, if not, pitch something else." He told the story of pitching Bruce Willis for "Sin City." The concept, in the early days of that immersive digital technology, could not be described. He had made a proof of concept short film to show his co-director Frank Miller what he had in mind, and so "Now we had this cool little film we could show people, with a fake credit showing him starring. To see it was to believe it." 

Kosinski talked about how pitching is evolving. Now it is more about "why this story deserves to be told on the big screen. It is more story-based, more thoughtful. It used to be a reel or images. You have to be comfortable with your story and speak from the heart. If it's something you're passionate about, that will come across." Trevorrow agreed. "You have to make an emotional case for your film, what people are going to feel watching this movie and why it is worth going to the theater."

Rodriguez said, "You think you’ve seen how far technology can go and then something comes along and you can't wait to try it." The technology these directors were most interested in puts more emphasis on practical rather than digital effects. Kosinski described the small IMAX-quality cameras he is using in "Top Gun: Maverick," with "six inside the cockpit and four outside the airplane. It is technology to capture something real rather than create it on a sounds stage. " We made an old-school movie using the latest technology." They are 6K with a large format sensor; Cinemascope is the comparable film size." A major innovation is that the sensor can be separated from the camera lens, so that in the space of a GoPro he could get multi-camera coverage. "You can cut a whole scene with just those six angles. It is a fun way to work, getting it all in camera."

Trevorrow said that the effects are "more practical with every [Jurassic] movie we've made, with more animatronics in this one. Digital extensions will match the texture. You used to really see the seams. Now we have photo-real light on skin." 

They talked about their biggest risks and the ideas they really fought for. Trevorrow made a last-minute change to the ending of "Safety Not Guaranteed" two weeks before the premiere at Sundance. Kosinski insisted on using the not-yet-famous Daft Punk for the soundtrack of "TRON: Legacy." And when the studio asked why the characters in "Spy Kids" couldn't be "American," Rodriguez said, "They are American; they are Latin-American. Anything new, you're going to get questioned and you have to have an answer. They've just never seen it before." The answer that worked: "You don't have to be British to enjoy James Bond. Why would I do something that might possibly limit the audience? You have to say it in a way that makes sense to them."

Rodriguez took a break from coordinating the music for his new "Spy Kids: Mission Critical" series for Netflix to appear on the panel. The orchestra recording the score "is in Vienna and they're all sitting six feet apart." Kosinski said finishing up "Top Gun: Maverick" remotely has been "interesting." 

But while it is frustrating, Trevorrow says there have been some advantages to the break in production of "Jurassic World: Dominion." "I wish we all had a break in the middle like that. We cut it together, make sure what we believed would work was working. We put several sequences through the visual effects pipeline and developed those relationships. It is a challenge but at least we're doing it with people we know really, really well. going back into production in a couple of weeks. There is a real sense of family and camaraderie. We're really going to support each other. It is a challenge to make a movie like this in the first place, a large-scale global epic story, with the original characters in major roles, all together in an inspiring way. We have Zooms and chat threads. The biggest challenge in going back to shooting is tons of protocols and many, many layers of protection. But once that's applied it's still a couple of people in the center of a circle trying to make something feel real and honest."



Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at

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