Having to dodge missiles on a regular basis, Irishman John Moore made an early switch from news cameraman to shooting TV commercials. After seeing his work on MTV, the suits at 20th Century Fox gave him $40m to direct Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines. Unfortunately Moore found himself dodging missiles once again - this time of the critical kind - when the film was released in 2001. As he gears up for the release of desert adventure Flight Of The Phoenix, the young director reflects on being mauled by the media, pokes fun at Oliver Stone and takes aim at Wes Anderson...
Why did you become a director?
Unskilled in any other profession!
If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?
I'd like to be in photography somehow. I'd like to be a news cameraman or stills photographer.
You were a news cameraman for a while though...
I was and I shot stills for a while so I'm very into photography.
What other director would you like to see at work?
Oh, Tony Scott probably. I met him once and it was a great pleasure and he's a real fun guy. Apparently his sets are a lot of fun and very energetic, so I'd love to see how he gets all the work done.
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
Let me think, um... Oh my God, you know what it was? It was Alexander. I didn't like it.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
Alexander! It was at the point when he goes into Babylon and the camera comes in on Colin [Farrell] and he gets backlit and petals start to fall all around him. I just thought, "Okay, I'm sorry. I can't do this." And I really don't believe in walking out of movies. It's a terrible, terrible, terrible thing to do, not to see a guy's work finished, but I'm telling you, I felt my life passing. I just thought, "I can't, I just can't..."
Do you believe in God?
Very much so.
So are you religious or just spiritual?
Ah, what's that line from the movie [Flight Of The Phoenix]? "Religion divides people, spirituality brings them together." Well, I think religion is dangerous but essential, and it's undeniable. I think to divide spirituality and religion is an academic argument that just doesn't cut it in the real world.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
You mean like on speed dial? Gee, that's a good one. In terms of movie stars... probably Dennis Quaid or Gene Hackman.
What's your favourite movie quote?
"We're gonna need a bigger boat." From Jaws.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
Good question. Again, probably Tony Scott because I don't think people are fully aware - and probably won't be for another 20 years - of how much technique there is in his films. And how he has revolutionised technique with his films. I mean there are so many people out there ripping him off - including me by the way. So I think he's probably very underrated. I don't think there are a lot of underrated filmmakers out there any more though, because of the hijacking of independent cinema and the sort of industry-wide, covert decision to keep independent cinema as this child in the basement. Do you know what I'm saying?
It's like they're cultivating this idea of auteur geniuses even though they are as commercialised as a McDonald's franchise. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago I would have said, "Oh, you know there's this guy Wes Anderson and his films are very underrated." But the truth is, his films are not underrated, they're hugely exploited for being underrated. It's hard to really pinpoint an underrated director. Even a guy like Lars Von Trier; there's no way you could imagine even thinking he's underrated, because he's as much a household name as Michael Bay.
And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
Oh, God, I mean Jesus, throw a stick and you'll hit one. Really, honestly, I've been in the room and been overrated. I've had these Hollywood guys going "Oh my God, you're like so..." and I'm like, "Stop talking like that. I made one movie. Knock it off." Or you know, Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and some of these other annoying, bratty American directors. Even Wes Anderson to a certain point because he allowed himself to get hijacked insofar as what was genuine style was just rushed into production and turned into quirky by the yard. I mean you can only take so much of that. It's the inverse of the underrated question because there are many, many overrated film directors.
That's brave of you to say so early in your own film career...
Yeah, I guess other directors would mind their Ps and Qs, but I'm just too young and too f****** dumb to know any better.
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
Wow. It's nobody you'd know. There's a bunch of behind-the-scenes people, a few line producers and people who really get in your way when you try to do something. You know, actors can be a pain in the arse but you end up kissing them at the end of the day because they just want love and that's okay. No, really. That's okay because they've got the toughest job, which is to put themselves out there and perform, and that's very upsetting if what you think you just did is crap. It can lead to an emotional state that just makes them difficult to deal with. But they're not really difficult to deal with, they just need a hug and to be told, "Let's do it again. It'll be fine."
What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?
"Do you need that? Do you really need that?" Line producers!
Do you believe in test screenings?
I believe they are a reality and they are effective and that it's childish and churlish to say to somebody who's just given you upwards of $60m to say, "No, you can't see it! You can't find out if it's going to work." It's the old art versus commerce battle. In no other field of endeavour would you not test a product. If Boeing introduced a new aeroplane and said, "Well, you know, Frankie drew it and we thought, hell, we'll build it and now we'd like everyone to get on it and fly it!", of course you'd think they were crazy. So on a commercial level, of course test screenings have to be done and you know what? It's idiotic to think that you can't make a better movie from the experience you gain by showing it to somebody.
How seriously do you take reviews?
Oh, very seriously. Oh, yeah, absolutely. They can have such a devastating effect on you; what'll happen is that you'll start reading a bad review and you just end up feeling so sick that you can't finish it. Believe me, they are absolutely devastating and horrible, because it's over and done with so quickly. You can spend three years making a movie and then it gets four column inches and you're done. What I don't mind are in-depth reviews that tear a movie apart and look at it piece by piece. For example, on Behind Enemy Lines we got some awful reviews because, okay, it wasn't a good movie and it got a little corrupted and some people hated it and that's fair enough. What's hurtful though is when guys would write, "Clearly this guy has never left LA, or been to Bosnia and doesn't understand the conflict." That stuff hurt because I'm not from LA and I have been to Bosnia and I do understand the conflict. So when people trivialise what you've done, that can be very painful. On the other hand, I guess there are so many movies and only so much time so, in the end, the cream will rise.
In some cases though, bad reviews can even help a movie. What about what they did with Alexander? It's publicity genius what's gone on there. They've been in every newspaper and every morning show and got everybody talking about the movie. Genius! They realised, "Look, if we're going to lose, let's lose big in the States and become that movie that is so bad that everyone's going to want to go and see it." Everyone will go and see it because they don't want to be in the pub and be left out when everyone's talking about how bad it is. I'm telling you, it's genius!
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
[Laughs] Ironically, by Oliver Stone who said, "Don't take 'no' for an answer and be very mistrustful of a 'yes'." Thanks Oliver!
And the worst?
Probably the same piece!
What's your biggest regret?
I don't really have any regrets in terms of filmmaking. I'm so lucky to do what I do. I'll only regret a decision if it means I can never direct again. You know, I've been shot at and had bombs thrown at me - I mean critically in the movie world, although I've had a little bit of that in the real world! - but I've still gotten to make a couple of movie so I've got no regrets.
There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?
What would I do?... Probably find a member of the family that you've been estranged from and apologise. I know that's a little sickly sweet but I think that's what I'd do probably. But then you know what'll happen? You'd get diverted to voicemail and then you'd be sorry you rang them and then remember why you hated them!
Which performer would you love to work with?
I'd love to work with [Gene] Hackman again. We really only had a short time together on Behind Enemy Lines so I'd love to get a chance to do a full-blown Gene Hackman movie. Who else?... I have a real admiration for Kurt Russell. I really think he's an underrated actor and apparently he's a really nice guy too so that's someone I'd like to work with.
What film makes you want to spit?
Closer made me want to spit. I wanted to usher people out of the movie and tell them, "Don't fall for this cynical s***! Love is great and f*** those cynical moneyed a*******s!"
What are your three favourite films and why?
Wizard Of Oz, because it was just amazing. Jaws because I remember being so terrified as a kid watching it. And I'm going to say Saving Private Ryan because I was grownup enough to understand exactly what was going on in terms of moviemaking yet I was taken to a place where it wasn't just a movie for me anymore. Only the opening sequence though, because it got a little weird after that.
What do you think of Norman Wisdom?
Genius! I tried to work with him once. We wanted to hire him for a commercial, but we couldn't afford him. He's quite pricey - 70 grand a day!