Getting Direct With Directors...
A scene from After The Sunset
No.24: Brett Ratner

After an early blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in Scarface, Brett Ratner knew he wanted to be a director. Following film school and a little support from über-helmer Steven Spielberg, Brett started directing music videos before landing his first feature film with Money Talks starring Chris Tucker. Although not a big hit, it allowed him to start work on the first Rush Hour film (again starring Tucker), which turned out to a box office winner and has led to two sequels. He has since directed Silence Of The Lambs prequel Red Dragon. His latest film is After The Sunset, a jewel heist crime-caper starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and Woody Harrelson.

Why did you become a director?

I always dreamed of being a director. I got a Super 8 camera when I was eight-years-old and I just wanted to tell stories - I love telling stories. I love making people laugh, or making them feel scared and that was the way I found to express myself. As a little kid I was on the set of Scarface and I'd skip school everyday to hang out there and I got to be an extra in the movie, which was my claim to fame. Thank God I didn't want to be Al Pacino, because I would have been a miserable, failed actor. I wanted to be the guy who was telling Al Pacino what to do, so that was the turning point in my life.

How did you get your break as a director?

God, that's a big question. Well, I went to NYU film school when I was 16 and sent my short film with 40 letters to the 40 biggest people in the film industry and got 39 rejection letters. Then I got a call from the dean saying that Steven Spielberg called looking for me, and I couldn't believe it. I thought it was one of my friends pretending to be Steven Spielberg so I went back to my dorm and called up the phone number and they answered the phone: "Steven Spielberg's office," and I'm like [dubiously], "Is Mr Spielberg in?" and they were like, "Can he call you back?" So I waited by the phone all night and my mum calls like ten times that night and I'm like, "Jeez. Call me back ma!" This was before call waiting, you know? Anyway in the morning Kathleen Kennedy - who produced all Spielberg's movies - called and said, "Steven saw your clip and he's so impressed, but we don't give money for short films." I said, "You don't understand! I'm going to be a big director like Steven Spielberg!" A few weeks later I got a cheque from Steven Spielberg and blew it up so that it filled my entire wall and I would carry it around in my wallet to show it to girls to try and impress them. Then I started directing music videos, so that's where I learned my craft before getting the opportunity to direct Money Talks.

If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?

A gigolo. I know I'd have to work out, but still, I'd probably be a gigolo. No, I'd be a gangster! I'd own casinos - I love gangsters. I wouldn't kill people though. That's wrong. I'd have other people do the killing.

What other director would you like to see at work?

Martin ScorseseIf he was alive, Hal Ashby - he's my favourite director. I'd also love to watch people like [Stanley] Kubrick and [Martin] Scorsese work. I'm a big fan of Scorsese's. They've all made great films and have a true vision. You see their style in their movies.

What was the last movie that you paid to see?

Fahrenheit 9/11. I loved it. It shows the power of the big screen - you know, the way it's affected people. It just makes you think.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

Eugh. The Exorcist - the new one.

Do you believe in God?

Absolutely. I fear God and respect God and love God.

Are you religious?

No. I'm spiritual. And moral.

Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?

Michael Jackson. He's one of my best friends. He saw Rush Hour and called me because we did a little Michael Jackson thing in the movie and he became my best friend.

What do you make of the allegations against him?

Oh, it's horrible. He's a target for bad things and bad people, because he's very naïve and innocent.

What's your favourite movie quote?

God... Probably... "Fly, pelican, fly" from Scarface.

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

Probably the Hughes brothers [Dead Presidents, From Hell]. They're just so talented and they don't work enough. They're really amazing - I think they would definitely have a higher profile if they made more films.

And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

Um. I don't want to answer that.

Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?

Edward Norton in Red DragonEdward Norton, but I love him. I guess he likes a challenge, you know?

Did he interfere behind the camera on Red Dragon?

Yes he did. He's too... He should be more concerned with his job instead of everybody else's

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

I really like you so I won't answer that question.

Do you believe in test screenings?

Yes, I really do. I learn more from the audience than I can from anybody else. Not from what they write on the scorecards but how they respond to the movie while they're watching it - where they laugh and where they react. After all, I'm making the movie for the audience. You know I'm editing a magazine called V-Life in the US, which is a part of Variety, and I came up with an idea for an article about directors who have final cut and don't have to test their movies. The thing is, when you don't test your movies you're just going in blind. I think if you're making movies for the audience, you should care what they feel about it.

How seriously do you take reviews?

They can hurt sometimes, but if I know I did a good job I don't let them sway me into thinking I didn't. You know, I don't believe everything I read. And I only read reviews of my films, nobody else's, because I don't believe what these people are saying. It's just their opinion.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

"Stay away from young girls," by Roman Polanksi. I'm serious.

And the worst?

I never get bad advice.

What's your biggest regret?

I don't have any regrets.

There are five minutes left until the end of the world - what do you do?

I get with my family for the first four minutes, give them kisses, say goodbye and tell them I love them. And then I find the most beautiful girl I can find in the world and make love to her. Quickly.

Which performer would you love to work with?

Cate Blanchett. I love Cate Blanchett.

What film makes you want to spit?

Any Spike Lee movie. 25th Hour was OK. OK, so how's this: some Spike Lee movies.

What are your three favourite films and why?

ScarfaceBeing There, just because it was a comedy that was shot like a drama and it was a brilliant performance by Peter Sellers. Scarface with Al Pacino, because I was an extra in the movie. And The Godfather because it was an incredibly well-made film with brilliant performances. Can I say another one? Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty. It's an amazing movie that's so well written and well directed. But I have so many favourite movies, like Chinatown is one of them - Roman Polanski is one of my favourite directors.

What do you think of Norman Wisdom?

I uh... have no opinion.

After The Sunset is released in UK cinemas on Friday 19th November 2004.

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