Even if you don't recognise his name, you'll know plenty of the movies Steve Starkey has produced - Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future Part II and Part III, Forrest Gump, Cast Away ... and now, Beowulf. I caught up with him at the Dorchester Hotel this week to talk about motion capture and working with Robert Zemeckis...
How did you first get involved in Beowulf?Originally published at Den of Geek.
Well, I’ve worked with Bob Zemeckis for the last 20 years, and our company - Jack Rapke, Bob Zemeckis and I - acquired the screenplay for Beowulf that Roger and Neil wrote and we’ve been trying to make it into a movie these last ten years. Finally, Bob was making Polar Express and realised the potential of performance capture and decided to move ahead and make the movie. It gave him the ability of realising the characters that he saw, and, at the same time, getting the great actors to bring the characters to life.
Will Robert Zemeckis be predominantly using this technique in future, then? You’re making A Christmas Carol next, will that also be done using the motion capture technology?
You know, Bob’s committed himself to this art form and to seeing where it can go. As a director I think he likes the idea that he’s able to separate the performance, which is working with his actors, and not have to worry about, "well, is the camera right? Did they get the wardrobe, and the makeup right - is there a boom in the shot?" All that stuff goes away and he can just get the performance. Then he gets to go and do the perfect camera move later. So, I think, as a director, there’s less compromise. You know, he really gets the image and he gets the performance that he’s looking for all in one. So I think that’s why he loves the art form.
That form of filmmaking must throw up some different challenges and difficulties than traditional filmmaking, though?
The biggest challenge in making a movie of this style is that you can do anything, but the bad news is that you can do anything. So what that means is that, you know, you don’t go on a location scout and find the perfect mead hall, and then go shoot your movie there - every detail in the mead hall has to be constructed and designed in the computer. So if you see a sky, you see a sunset, or you see the lighting in a certain way, it’s not like, you know, there’s a gaffer and everybody shows up and it’s perfectly lit and you shoot it and you’re done. You have to light every scene. All the detail that you see like this, it all came from some artistic vision. And it had to be depicted in the film. So that is a hard unseen aspect of making a movie this way, it’s all a part of the vision of some filmmaker, or a group of artists.
How did you get all the cast together? It’s really an all-star cast...
Casting on a Bob Zemeckis film becomes a much simpler process because a lot of people want to work with him. But even with Monster House, with Gil Kenan, we got everybody that we wanted to work on the film.
Bob just usually starts with “so, in a perfect world,” - those are the words he uses - “in a perfect world, if I were going to have King Hrothgar, I think it would be Anthony Hopkins. Well, let’s call him and see if he wants to do it, send him the script!” You go down the list and each of your favourite actors, you know, for each part, said, "yeah, okay, when do we start?" And usually there can be some kind of scheduling conflicts that might prevent actors from coming in and doing a role, but the beauty of this process is that there’s no sets and there’s no facial hair, so it’s not like “oh my God, if I’m doing that movie I can’t grow a beard because I have to cut it for that one.” You just come and act any day you’re available. So with Angelina, I could just say, "look, Angelina, here’s a four month block, just pick the best four or five days in your life and we will make it work for you." Right away, that amount of flexibility that opens up the possibility for someone like her to say, "you know what, I think I would like to go and play that character, and now it’s possible in my life schedule."
Robert Zemeckis is known for being experimental – what’s it like to work with him?
It seems like when Bob makes movies he’s exploring a lot of different things, but he’s usually looking for a new type of story to tell, and also a new form of filmmaking. Like the making of [Who Framed] Roger Rabbit, that was the challenge of bringing a cartoon character to life in the real world. In this particular case, it was advancing this new form of cinema. It’s made it possible for him to make movies that he otherwise didn’t think that he could make. It’s almost like the chicken and the egg – is it Bob’s idea that’s driving the new technology, or is it the technology that’s catching up with his ideas? But I think that since he pioneers so many types of technologies and explores new styles of film that they’re both kind of working hand in hand with one another. It keeps you young, working with a filmmaker like Bob Zemeckis.