Interview: ‘John Carter’ press conference

CineVue were lucky enough to be in attendance at the recent London press conference for Disney’s upcoming sci-fi behemoth John Carter (2012). We’ve already seen and reviewed the film (read our thoughts here), but it was intriguing to hear from director Andrew Stanton and the film’s cast – including Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton and Willem Dafoe – as to just how the big screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic tale came to fruition. Predictably, there was a great deal of interest from attending journalists in the film’s huge, approximated $250 million budget, and just how Disney planned to recoup such mass expenditure on an 100-year-old tale.

We were given a few details on the film prior to the Q&A, including the fact that MGM has planned to make John Carter all the way back in 1931, and also that Tom Cruise was once attached to play the titular Civil War vet-come-Martian hero. So why has it taken so long for Burroughs’ iconic creation to reach cinema screens? The simple answer – technology. Producer Jim Morris then went on to discuss the potential for a John Carter franchise:

Jim Morris: The first three books are known as a trilogy. Andrew [Stanton] when he started out did the outlines for three films. We are in the process of writing a script for the second show, and we hope to be able to make it.

Andrew Stanton: Making movies – no matter what type of movie it is or what the subject matter – is just hard. What the heck’s going to get you out of bed everyday to face it? It’s got to be something that you love – I couldn’t think of anything I’d love more that seeing [John Carter] on the screen.

The questions then moved on to Pixar man Stanton’s jump from animated filmmaking to live action directing.

John Carter is your first live action movie. Was it a relief to get out of the studio and see blue skies?

AS: Yeah – actually, I felt like this was the first time I’d been let out of doors in 20 years. It was definitely the boost that I needed to suddenly make it feel all fresh again.

What thoughts lay behind the extension of the back stories of John Carter and Dejah Thoris?

AS: Well, I just wanted them to have more character, more growth. To me, you watch movies because you want to watch character growth and change. In the books, they were who they were – they reacted the same way every time. That works in a serial nature, but they became tropes and cliches over the 100 years. Cliches come from something that actually works, but when they’ve been abused and made redundant, then they become an off-putting thing. 

How protective were Burroughs estate with the film, particularly of his depiction?

JM: We had a very good relationship with the Burroughs estate. Andrew presented what he wanted to do with the story and they were thrilled with it – he’d solved some problems that had made it difficult to be made into a film before. They were great people and they worked with us very closely.

You’ve do have a variety of audiences here – it is a property that people have known and has been around for a long time. Equally, you’ve got to appeal to people who are going to see John Carter and wonder if it’s a biopic.

AS: You’re thinking I have to assume what the outside world’s going to think. If you go to any interview I’ve had for the last 25 years – since Toy Story – we keep telling you, we don’t think about who the audience is. I don’t expect other artists that I follow, whether it’s in music, or books, or art, to be thinking about who I am and what I want – I follow them because they’re following their passion and doing just what they want to do.

It’s interesting that the …or Mars has been taken out of the tile.

AS: That’s a marketing problem. That’s their issue about how do you deal with getting people to get past their first impressions. You see it all the time with subtitled movies – “Oh, I don’t like to read”, so people don’t go and see it. Sadly, people are victims to their first impressions, but the worst thing to do is to be making content based on what you think first impressions will be.

JM: They did find a lot of people that said, “I don’t like sci-fi”, and walked away. Burroughs tapped into something one hundred years ago that was so mythic, that kids in the 40s, the 50s and kids now can still get into the book.

Taylor, how did you find bulking up for the role of John Carter.

Taylor Kitsch: It’s funny, when I first got the role, I thought I would get ‘comic book’ big. But then, once I got the script and started studying the Civil War…they averaged 140 pounds. It’s about escapism, but also staying real – I’m very happy with the happy medium we have.

Andrew, you were very active on Twitter (@andrewstanton) this morning answering fan’s questions. Why is it important to you to be connected with audiences in this way?

AS: I just want word-of-mouth to get out about what I really meant. One of the nice things about social media is that you can get through all the B.S. and ask a person directly. I love talking to people that are true fans, who have a true love of cinema.

That was to be the final response of the conference. Disney’s John Carter will be released in UK cinemas, in IMAX, 3D and 2D, on Friday 9 March. You can read our review here.

Daniel Green