On-Set Interview: Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg for "War of the Worlds"

By Brad Miska Friday February 11th 2005 07:58PM
Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg for "War of the Worlds"

There are no two bigger names in the movie business - Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg. For years the pair worked separately on some of the biggest movies ever made, then finally they teamed for the massive hit "Minority Report". Now, they're at it again, transforming HG Wells' classic science fiction story "War of the Worlds" into one of the biggest movies of the year.

Well, just hours ago, the pair sat down on the chilly set in Piru just outside of Los Angeles, California to speak with a very select group of press about the adaptation. A few hours ago we gave you first word on what they're up to next, now here's the full press conference transcript courtesy of my man on the ground Brad Miska who has done a simply stellar job burning the midnight oil and getting it done and up here first anywhere in the world so congrats man - you deserve it.  So, without further ado:

Cruise: Hey you all. Thanks for coming out here. This is wild, isn't it? I have never done this while shooting. Have you ever done this? Spielberg: Never. Ever. Cruise: Yeah, we've never done this. No, in the middle of shooting to do this, never. Spielberg: Everybody shoots the movie, then we do it. Cruise: I never talk about it until it's done really. I don't answer any questions. We're kind of doing everything different on this one, aren't we. Spielberg: (Laughs) The story's been told so many times. Why this movie and why now? Spielberg: Well, I would have made this, if I could have, I would have begun this movie 12 years ago. It's not that I suddenly had an interest in this 12 years ago, but I bought, at an auction, I bought the last surviving War of the Worlds radio script that had not been confiscated by the police department. Because when they raided the Mercury Theater and they took and destroyed every single radio play, the only copy that survived was at Howard Koch's house, because you know Howard Koch wrote it, with Orson Welles. And Howard Koch had been on a three day, it was like a three day crash, you know, schedule to get it ready for air. And he just crashed, himself, and went to sleep and was not at the theater when his play was performed on the radio. And when the world panicked and began, you know, racing away from New Jersey and other places in the country, that was the reason the script survived. So I bought, I purchased that radio show, and I had a chance to read it and it was amazing because it was a real, I guess you could say, a distillation of the novel, which I had read several times, starting in college, the first time I ever read it in 1966, was probably the first time I read, '67; And so 12 years ago I had an idea, after I bought the radio show, I said, 'Oh man, this would make an amazing movie. And then a bunch of kind of, I call it, you know, the scavenger films came out that sort of picked the bones of H.G. Wells over the years, and when Independence Day came out, I said, 'Well, maybe I won't make it.' Because they kind of picked the bones of that, you know. They didn't pick it clean, and they picked different bones than I would have chosen to pick from the original H.G. Wells book, but that kinda put me off for a while. And then, I guess I got interested in it again just in the course of trying to find something to do with Tom. We had been on our own crash course to find a movie to make together after we had such a great time doing Minority Report. I mean, you know, the old Hollywood blow smoke up your ass quotation is, 'Hey, let's make a picture together.' You hear that all the time and it never happens. (Laughs) It never, ever happens. And we were determined that we were going to do a whole bunch of films together and so, I called Tom one day and I said, 'Tom, would you ever consider doing... Cruise: Actually, I came by. You were doing Catch Me... Spielberg: I was doing Catch Me If You Can, right... Cruise: And we were sitting back in a car and you said, 'Okay, here's three... Spielberg: Three ideas for movies. Cruise: Three ideas. And I went... Spielberg: I pitched them out. Cruise: And I went, 'Oh my God, War of the Worlds, absolutely.' That day it was done. What were the other two? Spielberg: Exactly. Oh the other two? Cruise: Not worth talking about. (Laughs) Spielberg: One was a Western. Cruise: Which hopefully one day, we will do together. This completes your alien trilogy. The first two were nice aliens and these were mean ones. What does that say about your filmmaking and does it fit the time now? Spielberg: No no. I'm just an equal opportunity director, you know? You know, I gave the benevolent aliens a couple of shots, and now I'm going to try my hand at the worst kind. (Laughs) You know, the kind that's just bent on ending civilization as we know it and beginning their own if you read the original book. You know, they reap and sow, and so I really have great respect for the book, but not to the extent that I would set the movie back in 1898. I was not going to do a Victorian science fiction movie. There's been others out there very successful and others maybe less successful, but we've seen the sci-fi Victorian period done before, we've all seen the contemporary sci-fi film done before. I feel more at home today, in today's world. And I think, in the shadow of 9/11, there is a little relevance with how we are all so unsettled in our feelings about our collective futures. And that's why I think, when I reconsidered War of the Worlds, post 9/11, it began to make more sense to me, that it could be a tremendous emotional story as well as very entertaining one, and have some kind of current relevance. Are you shooting this film differently because of the time constraints? Spielberg: No. Not at all. Big scenes first? Spielberg: Okay, yes. That's true. We shot many of the big effect sequences first so ILM could get a jump on their shot list... Cruise: We probably would have had to do that anyway, because the set that we shot in... Spielberg: New Jersey was all the big effect scenes... Cruise: Was all the big effect scenes, and that would be weather prohibitive shooting in February... Spielberg: We didn't want snow, because you can't be consistent with snow. You can get a great day and it's beautiful, and it's snowing, and then three days later it's gone. And then it's hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars, a combination of digital effects and physical effects, to snow in, you know, 50 acres of city streets and farmland. So it was good that we shot it when we did, but we did front load the movie with effect shots so ILM could have a head start and we could make our June 29th release date. There's 400 digital shots in the movie, but I'm not rushing it. This is my longest schedule in about 12 years, so in that sense, I'm not like, this isn't a cram course for War of the Worlds, we're really taking our time with this. Cruise: Nobody else could have, you know, I mean literally when we decided that was it, we're gonna go, Steven and I have worked together, Steven makes movies, they're not rushed, but he just is fast. But it's not, see being accurate and telling a story, you know, it's just he works at a different pace that, it doesn't compromise story or character at all. Some people think, well, I gotta take a lot of time to figure this out. No, we show up on the set and he's just deadly accurate in his choices and direction. And it's even more fun as an actor working with him on this one, because we are friends for many years, and just to be this, we had a shorthand on the first one and it's even a shorter shorthand, you know, so in working together; I've worked with David Koepp before, he's worked with Koepp before, the crew, it really doesn't feel like we're rushing the film and, I remember on Minority Report, massive action scenes that he can adjust and fix and change the whole thing, if he finds an idea, on the spot. And it was the same thing when we were shooting, we shot a sequence in Newark that, when you see the film, we shot it in five days. Other directors, I'm telling you, it would have taken them three weeks to get it, but it's just in terms of his, when you're that confident and that able, you know, you know your story, you know your [sounds like lenses], but still to the point where you're still exploring the story, it's not like it was all pre-determined and this is it, we're gonna go, it's that, where there's that creative exploration where it's just, it's alive, and it's really just fun... Spielberg: It is fun, it really is fun working with Tom and working with this entire cast, but if you know my movies, you know that I'm more interested in concept shots and money shots than I am in tons of MTV coverage, which certainly takes a lot of time. But if I can put something on the screen that is sustained where you get to study it and you get to say, 'How did they do that?' That's happening before my eyes and the shot's not over yet, it's still going and it's still going and my God, it's an effects shot and it's lasting seemingly forever. I enjoy that more than creating illusion with sixteen different camera angles, where no shot lasts longer than six seconds on the screen. To pull a rabbit out of a hat, because you are really a smart audience and you're in the fastest media, the fastest growing new media today and you know the difference between slight of hand visually and the real thing. I think what makes War of the Worlds, at least the version that we're making, really exciting, is you get to really see what's happening. There's not a lot of visual tricks. We tell it like it is, we shot it to you, and we put you inside the experience. Cruise: And it's such a strong story, the characters... Spielberg: That's great. Let me mention, that's great you say it, because this wouldn't have happened this fast if it hadn't been for David Koepp. You know, we go through the whole development process all the time in making movies, and sometimes you really are intent on making a picture, you know, like I was with Indy 4, in which case my producer didn't like the script as much as I did, but in the sense of, you know, my intention was to make Indy 4 ago and it didn't work out. I'm hoping to make it a year and a half from now, maybe less. But the idea is, you gotta have the screenplay, and David Koepp, had he not delivered on paper, we would still be in development on War of the Worlds. Cruise: It was the best birthday gift I got... Spielberg: It was, it was on your birthday. Cruise: He read it first, he goes, 'I'm going to send it to you,' and I was jumping up and down reading it. First draft, you go, 'This guy, it's just so accurate.' What did attract you to it, Tom? Cruise: The story? The same things. I mean, for me, War of the Worlds was always a book that I really enjoyed and I felt that the story could be relevant, that the opportunity for character, it's, all the elements are exciting. Obviously to work with my friend again... Spielberg: And you're a dad in this... Cruise: Yeah, I'm playing a father in this, you know. How much of the story am I allowed to give away? (Laughs) All of it! You know, to play a father, the things that are very important to me in my life. It's the biggest, smallest movie that we've made. Spielberg: I agree, that's very accurate. Cruise: It's, as an actor very challenging... Spielberg: When I first saw Lawrence of Arabia, I thought that was the biggest smallest movie I'd ever seen. It has the most intimate, sensitive, personal, up-close story, and yet it was told against some of the greatest sneaks we'd ever beheld in 70 mm. In a sense - I'm not comparing our movie to that movie, because I've never made a movie as good as Lawrence of Arabia...yet (Laughs). But, I'm just saying that we have a similar dichotomy of points of view. Are you shooting this on widescreen? Spielberg: No - 1.85. What's going to be new and what's going to be an homage? Spielberg: They're going to have to see it and figure it out themselves. Cruise: They're going to have to experience it. Spielberg: It's nothing you can really describe. The whole thing is very experiential. The point of view is very personal - everybody, I think, in the world will be able to relate to the point of view, because it's about a family trying to survive and stay together, and they're surrounded by the most epically horrendous events you could possibly imagine.
Although the George Pal version is considered a classic, a lot of people today are bothered by the "God Saved Us" ending. What have you thought about in terms of your own version of the ending? Spielberg: We have our own version of the ending that neither strays nor mimics the original book. So I think we've hit a very satisfying compromise.
How dark did you want to get? Spielberg: It doesn't have the... Cruise: Gore Spielberg: ...the sense of blithe adventure of Independence Day. It's not a wonderful kind of gung-ho...it's not Starship Troopers and it's certainly not Independence Day, you know? We take it much more seriously than that. The film is ultra-realistic, as ultra-realistic as I've ever attempted to make a movie, in terms of its documentary style. But at the same time, it's full of the kind of Hollywood production values that the audience is demanding these days. And I think it's the combination, the blend, of these huge events visually and this kind of documentary story, personal story at the center of it, that gives it this very unique- Cruise: very original Spielberg: - approach to the material. Cruise: Really exciting. I like stories. I like adventure stories; I like stories that will take you somewhere personally, but also will entertain you. It is- Spielberg: This is funny, too. There are parts of it that are very funny.
Cruise: I like movies, no matter how dark they are, I'm always looking for humor and character, because I think when I hit those moments, it's like moments that affect me, because I find families and life to be quite funny. Even though I've always had a life that...when I was growing up, things were really tough but we always laughed. There's always things that you find, the darkest moment, humor. And I think that when I look at Steven's movies - you look at Close Encounters, you look at Jaws - that kind of character, it just releases...I love a filmmaker when he does that, because I can identify with it. I relate to it. And they're not pushing it so far that I lose an emotional connection with the film.
Spielberg: I felt that way about Jaws. When I made Jaws, I felt that if I didn't create the humor, the audience would find inappropriate places to laugh. And I felt the same with this picture. We've created a humor, but the humor comes out of the natural insanity of this family that's simply on an odyssey for survival- Cruise: Now, maybe some people - here's the thing: maybe we're the only ones who think that it's funny. (laughs quite loudly) There is those moments on the set where you're going, "Maybe we are the only ones who are laughing at this moment." And that's ok. We'll always know.
Super Bowl ad - Yankees fan lives and Red Sox fan dies.
Spielberg: There's a lot of little moments throughout the film just like that one.
Are you a Yankees fan in real life? Cruise: Yes, of course I am. Spielberg: I'm a Boston fan.
Cruise: Yeah, of course I'm a Yankees fan. Spielberg: But it's very contemporary, the film. It's very much today's news, I'm hoping.
Steven, are you going to have a small part in the movie? Spielberg: No. Me? (laughter ensues) Well, then it would be really funny. Oh my God, no. How much violence will be shown and how much left to the imagination? Spielberg: Oh, we absolutely show the aliens. Sure. And the violence? Spielberg: There's a lot of violence in the movie, but it'll be PG-13. It's not an R-rated film; it's PG-13, but there's a lot of violence. Are the machines tripods? Spielberg: Yes. Aliens practical or CG? Spielberg: That's the only secret I'm going to give you, because you know what?
Cruise: I was shocked that you said that! Spielberg: I know.
Cruise: I was shocked. I went, "He just said that!" Spielberg: I know. Cruise: You and I had a conversation. You said, "Don't say anything (inaudible). Are you going to say anything to anyone? No, but you tell me if you're going to say anything to anyone. I'll tell you if I'm going to say something to someone." Spielberg: You know what? We have so many surprises in this movie that that is just assumed. I've read on the internet that everybody assumes there'll be tripods anyway. (Sounds like: "There's not one message") that assumes we'll be doing George Pal's boomerangs with the green lights on both wingtips, you know? There's not been one mention that maybe there'll be flying saucers. Absolutely I wouldn't do that, because that's one of my homages, certainly my respect to the forward-thinking H.G. Wells.
Tom, what can you tell us about your character? Cruise: He's a Yankees fan. (laughter) He's a father. (To S) What can I say here? Is he a mechanic? Cruise: Yeah. He's a mechanic. He's a dockworker; he's a mechanic.
Spielberg: He works with the...what was it called? Cruise: Cranes. These big cranes. These huge, giant cranes. Spielberg: They move the cargo containers off the ships and into the trucks. In the Pal film he was a scientist. Spielberg: Gene Berry was the scientist. Cruise: Yeah, no.
Spielberg: But not really in the book. We don't go back to the Pal film - we have some obvious homages to the Pal film that I think the audience is gonna love, but not many.
Cruise: The people who know the Pal film, they'll appreciate some of the moments. Spielberg: But we really didn't go back to the Pal film. One of the great things that the Pal film did do was, it did create, before it's time, in 1953, a tremendous sense of dread. A tremendous sense of tension and dread. Contemporary dread. And I don't think a science fiction movie had ever done that before, because I believe that was before the Day the Earth Stood Still.
No, it was just after. Spielberg: Was it just afterwards? But it really made me feel that this event was actually happening. When you look at it today and you measure it against everything that just came before, everything in contemporary science fiction that came before, sure there are things that are corny - you know, when they walk toward the cylinder holding the cross and there's three cultures; there's Irish, there's Latino and...(laughter). It's a different mind-set then.
Welcome to California. Spielberg: Welcome to California. Exactly. Tom, are you still doing Ironman? Cruise: It's not happening. Not with me, no.
Why? Cruise: I don't know. It just...they came to me at a certain point and...when I do something, I wanna do it right. If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it's gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way. It was two years before we decided to make this. There's a commitment. Obviously, I trust Steven - he is the greatest storyteller, the most prolific storyteller, cinema has ever known. So working with him, there's a trust and an excitement just in that. What is Steven gonna do with that? And I want that with all my films. I've never just made a movie to make a movie. I've always made it because I was really interested in the story. I wanted to make that kind of picture and see what it would take. And it was an adventure for me. And for that it just wasn't panning out, so far. As of yet.
Transformers? Spielberg: It's happening. We'll announce the director in three weeks, three or four weeks.