Irish director John Moore says he likes then great outdoors and does those locations proud in his faithful remake of Flight of the Phoenix, which originally starred James Stewart and Richard Attenborough.
In this updated version, a C-119 cargo plane full of oil workers crashes in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert during a sandstorm, and eventually, the survivors attempt to build a new plane from the parts they find in the wreckage to escape. The plane was piloted by Captain Frank Towns [Dennis Quaid] , an employee of an oil company, whose job it is to go to remote oil rigs and shut them down when their productivity has decreased. Having accomplished his job with one such rig, his plane crashes with all of the employees aboard on the way back to Beijing.
Moore’s previous directorial film was the action film Behind Enemy Lines, another survival story. A former production designer and art director, Moore seems to enjoy outdoor tales of survival, as he explained to Paul Fischer on the eve of the film’s premiere.
Question: Let me start by asking you – how reluctant were you to take on the re-make of such a classic?
Answer: I was hesitant – you know – because it does have a certain lineage and it seems to be one of those films – you know – that more people have actually heard of it than seen it. I was nervous about it, I figured it would be a small but pretty hard core fan base of the original, but you know, in the end I got past that pretty quickly because I think the story is just so Goddamn interesting and I love survival stories and this was kind of one of the ultimate ones. I also love movies that are sort of – you know – limited to one location, like Twelve Angry Men or Key Largo, that have an intense implication to them. So I was pretty much sold because it was such a good story. A little daunted, but I past that pretty quickly.
Question: What are the challenges of creating a screenplay, or working on a screenplay where you have several characters whose own character traits needs to be developed to make the characters seem interesting individually as well as part of a group?
Answer: You know it’s tough because everyone wants to be able to cast the movie – you know – in a paramedical structure, who is to star in the movie. So it’s tough to get movies where the word ensemble is thrown around rather liberally, – because unless you’re in Oceans 11 or 12, you know, it’s at the point of – stunt casting is at the point where – you know – it transcends any chance of creating characters, I think personally. So it was tough, because we didn’t have the budget to put $20 million players in there, so we needed to get it right because I think a couple of wrong moves and we were very much in teen movie territory in terms of cast.
Question: Now was Miranda Otto’s character ever written as an Australian character, or did she become Australian purely after she got cast?
Answer: I was pretty determined that nobody would have an accent. I’m not a big fan of actors and accents, so when I cast Tony Curran, I asked him to play it in his natural Scottish accent and when I cast Miranda I asked if she’d do the same, if she would just play it in her own accent, because, you know, towards the end, I think it helps with credibility of the story because lots of people are from so many different backgrounds.
Question: How did shooting on location , enhance your sense of story telling for this?
Answer: Well for me – I don’t know – maybe I’m just not that skilled at it, but I kind of believe in going to the place where you want to have the thing happen. It certainly works for actors, because it’s everywhere. There’s no escaping it – I mean the place where we went to was exactly as you see photographed. I mean it’s not as if there was a resort over the next dune. It really is pretty bleak. I mean obviously we were based out of a small town and we had any and all the comforts that you need to get it done, but it certainly does help in form what you’re doing. Sometimes detrimentally – I mean sometimes when your standing there – you know – getting the shit knocked out of us – losing half a day to the wind or whatever thinking why the fuck don’t we just kick off a sound stage, but I personally believe that it does help actors with their sensibility and their performance and it outweighs any disadvantages. I don’t like filming indoors. I don’t like filming in studios. I think it can become very monotonous.
Question: One of the things I really liked about this film was, it was a part action film, but it was also, partly a character study. Is it hard to balance those two and also balance the needs of that kind of story with the needs of what a studio wants an audience to see?
Answer: Well that’s exactly it. The difficulty is in this thing you’re trying to sell later on. I mean more and more I think you’ll find studios being more and more reluctant to not know exactly what it is that they’re going to be selling later on, and this character movie where like you say, you actually point out – it’s probably more character than action, and yet if you look at the advertising material for the film, they pretty much hung their hat on the action hook because it seems to be a thing to sell to an audience They don’t make very easy bedfellows, that idea of action somehow besmirches on the idea that this can be a valid character piece ..
Question: What do you hope audiences will get out of the film?
Answer: Actually I think – that they really enjoyed that story. You know, I hope they get that Saturday afternoon feeling of coming out of the movies going – I genuinely enjoyed that. You know, more and more I’ve recently gone to the movies and felt, just kind of bored and soul-less coming out of the experience, almost to the point conversely psychologically where they are so accurately casting on your expectation, that there’s really no hope of exceeding it, because the advertising materials, or the promise of the films are so overblown that it’s kind of hard to walk into that dark room anymore and then come out the other side thinking – God I really enjoyed that – it took me away from something – that took me out of it for two hours. And I’m really hoping that that’s what people will like about this. I hope they go, you know, I enjoyed that story, it was a good old fashioned yarn – it was a good way to spend two hours.
Question: Now if you look at this movie and compare it to it’s predecessor that you did for – also for Fox – I’m curious to know how an Irish guy like you is able to convey such an intrinsically American sensibility on film?
Answer: Well I guess the geopolitical answer to that is unfortunate because – you know – certainly a homogenisation in terms of lifestyle culture and entertainment is not politics that pervades any western European nation nowadays. I’m sure you get a guy from Ireland, a guy from Scotland and Merrylands or whatever and probably do as accurate a job in conveying an Americana or that sensibility. Probably because we all grew up in there – I mean I lament the fact that it is, or will be harder and harder to define what it is to be Irish.
Question: Both of these films are very cinematic – very visual films and very exterior films. Are you planning on a similar kind of film next, or are you looking for something smaller?
Answer: No I try to stay outdoors for as long as possible. I do enjoy photography – I enjoy photographing the movies – I’d rather spend all my time in Africa to bring a small crew to the top of a mountain, than spend all my time accurately re-creating the top of that mountain in a studio because I enjoy it, so that’s why I’ll continue. You know, believe me, my process works very simply – if I’m handed a script and it says open in Manila, the first thing I’ll be saying to my location manager is, when are we going to Manila.
Question: what are you doing next year – anything?
Answer: Well actually I’ve got two projects on the go – one is a true story about a hurricane and an oil barge in the Gulf of Mexico in 1996, which is another – great survival story really. And then I’ve got a fictional piece, which is called the Last Mission, which is about a rescue mission to get some hostages out of the Philippines.