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Upcoming-Movies talked to John Gulager, director of Danielle’s latest flick, ‘Piranha 3DD’. Here’s what he had to say:
Upcoming-Movies.com: So, how does one book a gig, directing the sequel to “Piranha 3D?”
John Gulagar: I think it came off of the “Feast” movies. In my world, they called everyone else and they turned it down, but no, I got a phone call, from Bob Weinstein. ‘Piranha? You want to do it?’ And I was like, ‘okay, sure.’ I liked the first one, the one that came out a couple of years ago. I had no idea I was going to do the sequel. I saw it at Chinese and watched it, and ironically, that’s where we’re going to play. It was kind of weird that I ended up doing the sequel.
What I liked about the first one is that it’s totally unapologetic, and it knows exactly how kind of a movie it is.
John Gulagar: Also, that one girl, the French girl, was such a good actress. And she got naked. It was so great. But they killed her.
Do you feel like it’s in the same spirit or vein?
John Gulagar: Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, you could look at that one and go, ‘well, it’s ludicrous, the piranha coming up from the earthquake, blah blah blah.’ We actually had piranhas in the drainpipe, so possibly you could even say that ours is a little more kooky. But then again, we take the kookiness and we try to play it straight, which is, in my mind, what they did. I don’t want to think about how awful it could be. You take a kooky premise, and, like a comedian does a crazy thing with a straight face, that to me becomes funny and watchable.
So, when you get brought on to a project like this, the sequel to what was a seriously profitable venture, how much latitude do you have to make it your own?
John Gulagar: I’ll just say, straight out, this is obviously the biggest film I’ve ever worked on. In that, the studio becomes more involved. That’s just the way it is. I think maybe when you become Quentin or one of these other guys, it’s not like that. But for me, doing “Piranha,” it’s on the radar.
Well, it’s a huge opportunity for you, too.
John Gulagar: Sure, it’s a big opportunity, but everything like this is an opportunity for the studio and the actors. Everybody has a stake in it. This is something people are going to see, at the theater, on TV, on DVD. It’s going to be here.
Now, we know it’s a big summer, bloody movie, and it’s a great big joke, and I mean that in a positive way.
John Gulagar: It’s a film joke. I like movies with film jokes and stuff like that, which are referential. We do a fair amount of homage-y type stuff. The first movie was, I think, more 70s. Ours is more 80s, kinda maybe, if that’s possible, even though we didn’t try to make it different, necessarily. I think that’s the way it came out, with the story and everything. We had this idea of a love triangle, and all these things that were prevalent in that time period. We also hearken back to “Jaws 3D” a lot, at least in our minds. It may not seem that way, but with the water park and everything. They had the giant Shamu water park, we have a mom and pop water park. But in our minds, that’s a joke. I don’t know if anyone else will get that.
Well, the audience is in on the joke the whole time. And despite making a really fun movie, you’re working with water and water slides. I’ve got to think that’s much more challenging than the audience gives you credit for.
John Gulagar: Not only that, the thing that surprised me the most, when we got there, was that I thought that you’d get the blood in the water and then drain the pool so you could fill it up and keep shooting. Apparently, it takes five days to fill this back up again. So that’s a problem. First, we hear, don’t worry, we’ll do it digitally. And as filmmakers, we hear that a lot. Luckily, we got some blood from another movie that was made to dissolve after a period of time in the chlorine. That was something we were always up against. Also, the deal with this water park, that we shot in, they actually drilled down into an underground lake. This is actually part of our storyline, but the city sued them, but the water park won. But because of that, the city is really vigilant about testing their water. So there we are, tossing tons and tons of blood into the water, which made everybody pull their hair out. It all worked out in the end, but it’s one of those situations you face where it’s the last thing you’re thinking about. In the first Piranha, they had hoses of blood. They turned the whole Lake Havisu into this red-brown mess.
The last movie was known for having the greatest volume of blood of all time. How do you top that? Can you top that?
John Gulagar: Well, because of our situation, we don’t have the greatest volume of blood in a movie of all time. But it becomes more beautiful, in a way, because you’re dealing with blues and reds all mixing together, with people getting killed. The other thing is that in the pool, when the blood is in there, it kinda just turns brown. It doesn’t look very good. There were some pools which we could keep putting blood into, but they just turn brown after a while. It’s not cool at all. It’s just kind of icky. So we were faced with that, so we have part blood, part blue water. This is probably the most colorful movie I’ll ever work on. We wanted that poppy kind of look next to the blood.
In the “Feast” movies, you worked with a lot of established names. But here you’ve got David Hasselhoff and Gary Busey, which is pretty far out there. What’s it like for you to come in and work with these guys who known to be extraordinarily strong personalities.
John Gulagar: Gary started the whole shoot. He was the second day, out in the middle of the lake, the freezing cold lake. That was pretty interesting. They bring their game onto the set, but in different ways. Christopher Lloyd? The most quiet guy ever. You just don’t expect that. And then Gary, very big, very intense, the whole thing. But Hasselhoff was interesting, because a lot of the other people were blocked off from the crowds. Not him. We shot part of it in a hotel, and there were people lined up across the street. I’ve never been involved with that kind of thing. They were calling his name, wanting to take pictures. And he would come out on the balcony and wave to everyone. That was really interesting for me. It was very Hollywood-ish, in a way. But everyone’s really nice, everyone who comes on. People in show business are pretty nice.
Now this was your first 3D movie?
John Gulagar: Yes, it is.
Did you shoot it that way, or was it a conversion, like the first one?
John Gulagar: We shot this one in 3D. But I’m not totally against conversions, I have to say. This was real 3D. The whole 3D rig is huge. It was a little bit like going back and shooting with the giant Mitchell cameras or something. Everything is on a crane or some sort of pedestal, or a dolly. They’re just so heavy. Then we dealt with water and underwater stuff. We had a slightly lighter camera system for underwater, but still, it’s pretty hairy. But I think on the next one, it would go a lot smoother.
So, for you, as a first-timer working with 3D, how does that change the way you envision what you’re shooting?
John Gulagar: Well, obviously, the type of movie that we’re doing, you know, “Piranha 3DD,” isn’t necessarily subtle. In my mind, if we totally try to make it completely tasteful, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs. So we do have things poking out into the audience, and things flying by, but there’s also a certain beauty to the 3D, actually. I was watching it the other day in a little screening room, and it looks like you’re looking in a window into this other room or world. I have to say, it’s pretty cool looking. At the same time, as a moviemaker, there are certain things that you’re always going to do the same way. You’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are certain fundamentals, or at least things that I like, like the camera on the floor or something. You have to find ways to do that. We have a shot where some feet are walking along the ground, and they have to walk past something that’s laying on the ground there, but they couldn’t get the camera down low enough. So first they put it on a furry pad and dragged it. So you have this high-tech camera system, but it’s on this blanket, just dragging it across the floor. And it worked out really well. Blanket cam.
‘Piranha 3DD’ splashes into theaters and VOD on June 1st!
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