Another exciting day at the San Diego Comic-Con comes to a close. This afternoon I was invited to participate in a roundtable for Paramount and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film that's due to hit theaters next month (August 8th). In attendance were Megan Fox (April O'Neil), Will Arnett (Vernon Fenwick), John Liebesman (Director) and Brad Fuller and Andrew Form from Platinum Dunes (the production company behind the film).
Topics covered included character relationships, motion capture performances and Jonah Hex flashbacks... We'll skip Jonah Hex, as well as some of the other topics of conversation and focus on what I think YOU, the reader would like to know about the upcoming film.
Regarding memories they may have had of the turtles and their various incarnations...
Megan Fox: The live-action movies. I watched the cartoon a little bit also, but definitely the live-action movies. The second one in particular was definitely my favorite. It kind of has that feeling, I don’t know if you’ve watched Lost Boys, it’s like that capsule period of time is just, sort of, there’s something so magical about that moment of movies
Will Arnett: I kind of knew them through the eyes of my brother who is quite a bit younger than me, but my new fondness came a few months before the movie came into my sphere. My own kids watch the Nickelodeon show, which I think is really terrific, really fun and really good, so I see how much they were enjoying it and it coincided with the time that the movie came up. I was like “No way! My kids are going to lose their minds!” which they did.
Will Arnett regarding Vernon's relationship with April
In the comic Vernon had an adversarial relationship with April. There has been through all the various incarnations - from the comic, to the TV series, to the movies - there have been creative and artistic licenses taken in order to tell whatever particular story and I think that as this movie really evolved and before we started shooting… It became apparent that there needed to be an evolution and the character that they needed to partner up and support April, they needed a character more like Vernon and they had to change the rules a bit with him. What is true with him is that he is a camera man, that part of it stays very true, but now he kind of works with April and some of his crankiness has been transferred into that he’s looking more for an easy ride and wants to punch the clock and doesn’t want to be involved… And then he gets sucked in. Ultimately they are good friends and he does support her and goes along for the ride. The rest is history.
Megan on April's connection with the turtles
I don’t know what I’m allowed to reveal and not reveal… Her dad was a scientist whose experiments were being funded by… a shadowy figure… and there’s a lab fire. Her father dies in the lab fire. She loses him and it’s not until she starts hearing their names when she meets them on the roof that things start firing off in her brain and she goes and she digs through all of her father’s old lab notes and his books and all of this stuff and she discovers that these quite possibly are the little turtles that she used to look at in his lab before it burned down.
Platinum Dunes on creative license that was taken with the film and the story
(Note that the member of the press who asked this particular question stated that the film is based on the comic book, so Platinum Dunes is initially responding/correcting this statement)
It says based on characters created by Eastman and Laird, so all of the characters were pulled out of those comics. We just have an original story. Splinter, Shredder, the turtles, April O’Neil, Vernon Fenwick, those are all the characters created by those guys. We just created our own story and dropped them into it.
So it’s not a remake. We didn’t remake the 90s movie, or anything. It is its own movie. It’s its own story.
John Liebesman and Platinum Studios share their thoughts on motion capture and the performances behind them
John Liebesman: You cannot get a good performance without a great actor. Animators are there to almost retarget that performance onto the characters you create. When they say Andy Serkis deserves the Oscar, he DOES deserve the Oscar. He does an amazing performance, makes you believe Caesar is real, so those were sort of the shoulders we were standing on. So we cast the actors we thought embodied each turtle and their performance was translated where the technology was even a little bit more advanced than Planet of the Apes was that we were able to select different takes and blend them in one performance. That was something ILM did a lot of R&D on was blending performances, enabling us to not just have to stick to one take. That gives you a lot of flexibility in post-production. If you want Michelangelo to be a little bit funny here, but take 3 was a little better 20 seconds in, so that was pretty cool.
Platinum Dunes: People say that they see Andy Serkis in Caesar. If you took the pictures of our turtles, the actors, next to their turtle, you’ll definitely see their faces in these turtles… It is their performance. Noel Fisher is Michelangelo. You see him in Michelangelo. You really do if you look at them side-by-side.
John Liebesman discusses the story and why it was worth telling
For me, the turtles, ever since I was a kid, each have an archetype personality that anyone can identify with. The fact is because they don’t look like any particular human, you can project yourself onto them. I recently discovered Eastman and Laird’s original comics and I loved the dark tone of those. What was important to us was to retain the charm of the characters, which is what we loved, and meld it with the visual edge that Eastman and Laird had developed, and I think those characters could work in any story. Whatever the story was you were going to tell, I think you would want to follow these characters on that journey. For us, I think the characters themselves, and their interaction, was almost more important than the story, than the plot itself, was the brotherhood and the family of these turtles… That’s the heartbeat of the movie. The irony that their normal, sometimes dysfunctional family, but their rats and turtles.
To wrap-up the roundtable I asked John Liebesman if the tone of the movie would be along the lines of Eastman and Laird's dark and gritty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, or if it was more along the light-hearted 80s cartoons.
"Definitely more towards the cartoon, but visually very inspired by the comics. I didn’t want, as a fan, to just see a retelling of the cartoons and that tone. I want some sort of grittiness, so that comes with the tone and the way we depict the foot soldiers and Shredder. I think it’s a little more hardcore than the cartoon did. More in line with what Eastman and Laird were doing with the original comics."
"I think superhero movies today, obviously you have the amazing Chris Nolan ones, which are very serious, and I think there’s something you can take from that in terms of making things feel compelling and having huge stakes, so we wanted to just take that, but I think with Ninja Turtles, it’s so absurd, you want to draw from the cartoons, to me that was the most successful telling of that, and the first movie, although Megan loves the second movie…"
Liebesman also clarified the mutant/alien issue earlier in the roundtable, hopefully putting the issue to bed once and for all. "They are mutants. Ooze did make them into Ninja Turtles." said Liebesman.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES directed by Jonathan Liebesman ("Wrath of the Titans"), and produced by Michael Bay ("The Rock"). The script was written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, based on characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The cast includes: Megan Fox as April O'Neil, Alan Ritchson as Raphael, Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, Danny Woodburn as Splinter, Jeremy Howard as Donatello, Pete Ploszek as Leonardo, Will Arnett as Vernon and William Fichtner as Shredder. It lands in theaters August 8, 2014.