Getting Direct With Directors...
Frank Marshall
No.39: Frank Marshall

Frank Marshall made his directorial debut with Arachnophobia (1990) and has since delivered Alive (1993) and Congo (1995). He is however a prolific producer who has worked with some of the leading directors on some of the greatest movie franchises of all time. Most notably, he has teamed up with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to produce the Indiana Jones trilogy, as well as Robert Zemeckis on the Back To The Future films and served as executive producer of the Bourne movies. His latest film as director is Eight Below, a story of survival against the odds starring Paul Walker and eight huskies and inspired by a true story.

Here he talks about his career as well as the prospect of a fourth Indiana Jones adventure...

Why did you become a director?

I became a director because I wanted to be the storyteller. I love producing and I love being in support of the director but occasionally there's a story that comes along where I want to be the storyteller and so that has to be the director and I jump in when that happens.

So what made you become a producer first?

It's all about the story. I have to be passionate about what I do because it's really so engulfing. You just live it all the time. I just look for great stories. Sometimes they come with great directors already attached, like Seabiscuit. I thought that was such a great story that I wanted to be a part of.

You have made a habit of working with the best in the industry, such as Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones films?

Yes and Robert Zemeckis on Roger Rabbit and Back To The Future. Those were certainly fun adventure stories. I have a vivid imagination and I love fantasy and adventure.

Are you looking forward to re-teaming with Steven on Indiana Jones 4?

Oh absolutely. It's one of the reasons we're going to make the movie. We sort of rode off into the sunset after the third one and then were all at this AFI tribute to Harrison. We were backstage - George, Steven, Harrison and I - and we said: "That was really fun. We should do that again." As you go on in your career things get more serious and you tend to miss your friends. But we just had such a great time on those movies that we thought we'd see if we could come up with a story that was worthy for a film. We're getting close now so it's really an enjoyable experience for us all to be together again.

Have you got a start date for filming?

Not really but we're trying to get our schedules right and finish the script. I would say it would be some time next year, 2007. Obviously, we want to get it right. There's no reason to do it unless it's going to be great.

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

I'd probably be a musician. I love music and it's been in my life since I was a baby. I grew up in a musical family, so I think I'd be a guitar player. But I'd also be a magician. I have a stage name of Dr Fantasy and I do a little show at the end of each movie for the crew. It's in the style of Tommy Cooper.

Steven Spielberg

What other director would you like to see at work?

Obviously Steven [Spielberg]. He is such a master of the craft and I'm amazed when I'm on the set watching him create the shots and how he tells the story. I was there for about a month on Munich when they were over in Budapest just as an observer, which was nice being able to watch him work. It's so smooth for him but so masterful. He really is one of the best directors ever, I think.

What was the last movie that you paid to see?

King Kong. I loved it. I like to see movies on the big screen and certainly King Kong deserves to be seen on the big screen.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

Let's see, I have to think about that. I have a great respect for filmmakers and I know that you always start off to make a good movie but there's a lot of things that can throw you a curveball along the way. I generally try and tough it out but it was Aeon Flux. I was actually looking forward to it because they had shot it in Berlin and I was fascinated to see it. But that was a big miss.

Do you believe in God?

I believe that there's a superior being. That there is somebody up there that watches over us and is looking down at us. I like to believe there's a higher power, so yes I'd say I believe in God.

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

There's a lot of them actually [laughs]. It's probably Steven.

What's your favourite movie quote?

I'd have to say: "Make my day." I grew up with that one. In those days I didn't know I was going to be a filmmaker. I was just a moviegoer and the way Clint Eastwood said "Make my day", it just stuck in my mind until today.

Orson Welles

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

In a funny way it has to be Orson Welles, even though he is being recognised now. In his time, he was shunned from Hollywood and sent away. But his movies have stood the test of time and now are some of the greatest movies. In his time, he was very underrated, very overlooked and very ahead of his time. But if you're talking contemporary, then Tom Shadyac is the most unknown $100 million director in Hollywood. Almost every one of his movies has gone over $100 million and almost nobody is aware of it. Look at his filmography and you'll be astonished.

And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

That's an interesting question. I love everybody's movies but I think that some get more attention than they deserve. A History Of Violence, for instance, was the most overrated movie of last year. I just didn't get it. I think it's interesting filmmaking but they were talking about it as one of the best pictures. It missed for me. David Cronenberg is a good filmmaker but that didn't do it for me.

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

[Laughs] I'd have to say Shorty, the white dog on Eight Below. I had to take him out of shot. They said he was trained but he wasn't trained at all in my opinion. He was a real pain because the important thing for me was that all the dogs were in the shot and doing what they were supposed to be doing. At the end, when they're all walking and tired and Maya's supposed to be hurt and everything, I had five dogs that would do it. But he wouldn't do it.

Do you believe in test screenings?

Yes. Absolutely. I think you learn a lot from previews. Not necessarily from the cards because I think that everybody now has become a movie critic. But when you're sitting there watching the movie with an audience you can tell what's working and what isn't working. I think it's very valuable and I really believe in testing my movies.

Was Eight Below test screened? How did it play?

Yes, twice. The reaction was great but it was a delicate balance between how long we spent with the dogs and how long we spent with the humans. I learned a lot from that, such as how long you could stay away from the dogs. Also, it's funny but the movie starts off like it's going to be a different movie - like it's going to be about them finding the rock and everything. In the first screening, we had a beginning that took much longer to get to the core of the movie, which was leaving the dogs behind. So I took out about 15 minutes that we didn't need. I didn't know that until I was in the movie with an audience and they started to get restless. Someone actually said to me: "Gee, I thought that movie was about the rock... and then it became great!"

How seriously do you take reviews?

Well I don't believe the people who say they don't read the reviews. I take them to heart. Sometimes they're silly and I can say "Well, that's not really about the movie". The difference between being a producer and a director is that when you're a director, the buck stops with you. If they like it, great, if they don't, then oh! It's an ego thing. Everybody has an individual opinion of it so it's kind of out of my hands. It's interesting to see what they think. Obviously, I like good reviews and seeing that they're responding to the things that I did on purpose.

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

By a wonderful director, producer and second unit director called Mickey Moore who sent me out to do my first shot as a second unit director back in 1973 on a movie called The Thief Who Came To Dinner. He said: "Always have movement in the frame." I was supposed to be doing an establishing shot of a bank or something and after I'd set it up, it looked like a still!

And then George Lucas said to me: "Always do an entrance and an exit. Always have your characters come in and then go out. You never know when you're going to need it." That was the second best piece of advice.

And the worst advice you've been given?

Probably not to trust your instincts. I was told once to try and make the movie for what I thought the audience was going to want. But that's a bad piece of advice. You have to make the movie for yourself and hope that what you like and what you're instincts are about, is what the audience is going to want to see. If you start trying to second guess everybody you don't have a foundation for how to make a decision.

There are five minutes left till the end of the world. What do you do?

What do I do? I get a good book and put on some great music, get a glass of wine and relax.

Which performer would you love to work with?

I'd like to work with Tom Cruise. I think he's got a lot of energy and he's a powerful force on screen. He's a genuine movie star today and we don't have a lot of those.

What film makes you want to spit?

Well gratuitous violence does. I'm just tired of seeing movies that feel they have to top the violence. We have enough violence today and I think there are plenty of good stories to tell out there that are uplifting and about something. I think that the gratuitous violence that we see in a lot of our movies nowadays is upsetting. What's really interesting about Eight Below, for example, is that audiences seem much more concerned about what's happening to the dogs than the people because you sort of get numbed by the violence in movies. It doesn't mean anything when somebody is killed or in a gun battle and picks up a gun to solve a problem. I think it does start to influence the way people think. It's nothing to pull out a gun and shoot somebody as an answer to a problem. We've got to learn how to sit down at the table and talk to each other.

Forrest Gump

What are your three favourite films and why?

Well there's a movie that had a great influence on me when I was in college. It came out in 1966 and was called The Sand Pebbles. It was a Robert Wise movie with Steve McQueen. When I look back on that, it's kind of a theme that's been in most of the movies I've directed in that it's a real adventure movie - raw, gritty, shot in a real location, it's about interesting characters and takes you on a journey that you'd probably never go on. So I love The Sand Pebbles. I know Orson Welles and Citizen Kane is what everybody says but I do think it's one of the greatest movies ever made. Then, let's see, the third would have to be Forrest Gump. It's a movie that I didn't understand when I read the script and I think what Zemeckis did is really about life and so many things. It's just a wonderfully told story and I can watch it over and over again.

What do you think of Norman Wisdom?

Who's that? I only know Tommy Cooper.

Eight Below is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th April 2006.

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