SDCC 2010: Alexandre Aja Interview PIRANHA 3D

     July 24, 2010


Piranha 3D (due out August 20th), from French filmmaker Alexandre Aja, is a horror thriller in which all hell breaks loose during Spring Break. After a sudden underwater tremor sets free scores of prehistoric man-eating fish, an unlikely group of strangers must band together to stop themselves from becoming fish food for the area’s new razor-toothed residents. The film promises outrageous death scene, an enormous amount of blood and plenty of nudity, while taking audiences on a wild, fun ride.

During a roundtable the day after their footage was screened off-site at Comic-Con, due to its R rating, director Alexandre Aja talked about making a horror film realistic, gauging when you’ve gone too far and the desire for audiences to have fun seeing the film.

He also revealed that he’s currently developing two franchises – one for a Japanese manga, called Cobra the Space Pirate, and one for a Spanish graphic novel, called Blacksad – and that he will be producing a remake Maniac, with Greg Levasseur directing.

Check out what he had to say after the jump:

alexandre_aja_image_01Question: How did your idea to make Piranha start?

Alexandre: Before The Hills Have Eyes, I received a script that was the idea of the Spring Break attack for Piranha. We got really excited about that idea, and then we went to do The Hills Have Eyes. A couple years after, Dimension approached us and asked us if we were still interested in developing the movie, and we were. We pitched them the way we would like to rewrite the script, and they loved the character and the suspense, and we developed all that and wanted to make everything in 3-D. That’s really how it started.

Is it true that Richard Dreyfuss is playing a character named Matt in the film, since it lists another name on IMDb?

Alexandre: IMDb got screwed up. Someone did a very smart thing and changed all the names. I don’t know who did it. That is the limit of IMDb. You can get into any IMDb page and hack stuff. First, there is no one calling him by his family name. And, he is singing a very famous song. He’s definitely one character from another film.

What was your impression from the reaction you got at Comic-Con?

Alexandre: I think we were very happy. We sweated a lot, to make this movie. It was a very tough shoot, in the desert, during the summer, in the water. It had everything you can imagine. To present for the first time, even only nine minutes, and to see such a great reaction and an amazing response, it’s just great.

Was it better to screen the footage outside of Comic-Con, in a more intimate atmosphere?

Alexandre: I was very excited to come and show some footage in that 6,000 person hall, but I couldn’t go there and show only PG-friendly and family-friendly material. To be off-set, in a smaller screening room, was great. We started late because, an hour before the screening, I was still mixing and call-timing the reel, in L.A. I traveled with the red suitcase, like the football, and took a private plane.

Piranha 3D movie image (1)

Why is this the right time to remake Piranha?

Alexandre: First, it’s not a remake. Hollywood changed, in the last year, to become a more marketing-driven Hollywood, where people who are running the studios now are more like marketing people, and they need titles. So, you have a lot of famous titles, like Piranha, but they’re not necessarily a remake.

Piranha is not a remake, period. It’s not the same story, it’s not the same character and not the same piranha. It’s a completely different movie. So, it was not about remaking it. It was more like the right timing to do that kind of movie. I never think about what people want to see. Me, as a moviegoer, before being a filmmaker, I try to think about what movie I would like to see.

When I read the first draft six years ago, of piranha attacking during Spring Break, I thought, “This is exactly the fun ride I want to watch.” We rewrote the script with Greg Levasseur and we created a story where we have all these characters, and we reinvented the ‘80s guilty pleasure movie. It’s a summer movie, where we’re delivering on every level.

At what point did you realize that you were casting ‘80s icons?

Alexandre: During the process. In the genre, unfortunately you sometimes have the studio tell you, “No, go with more unknown people because it’s a scary movie,” and I disagree. Casting is so important. It’s so important to have strong actors to tell a story because, if you don’t believe in the character, how can you be scared for them? I started casting the movie with Elisabeth Shue. She was the first one to be cast.

Of course, when you think about Mr. Goodman, Christopher Lloyd came as an obvious choice, right away, but we didn’t know if we could manage to convince him to do it. What we managed to create is some kind of post-modern cast, where each of them bring something to the table that’s a little bit more than just themselves. It’s an iconic past in some movies.

Piranha_3d_french_posterIn making this film, what were your priorities?

Alexandre: When I approach a story or movie, the story is the most important thing. We were talking a lot about the 3-D and how amazing an immersion tool it is, but the storytelling is the most important immersion tool you can find and you can invent. It’s still the most important thing. So, this is about the story first, and then it’s about character, and then it’s about a few scenes that you really, really want to shoot.

As a filmmaker, you get excited about some set pieces. The Spring Break massacre, in this film, was a specific, huge set piece that’s 25 minutes, that I was really excited about. And then, the amount of blood came with the story. I never thought, “Oh, I want to make a movie where I’m going to use 100,000 gallons of blood.” No, it’s because of the story. You have to be realistic. There is a little bit more than a gallon in a human being. If you have a few thousand people, that makes a lot of blood. I’m very realistic in my use of blood.

How do you know when you’re going too far?

Alexandre: I never really think about that. I try to think about me, as an audience member, and it comes from there. I remember that, in High Tension, we had a scene that we had to not do because it crossed the line a little bit. But, usually it’s because I’m always on the side of the characters, rather than the side of the people attacking them. I get realistic. It’s not gratuitous. This movie is different because we have that fun component. It might be the most bloody and the most gory movie I ever made, but at the same time, it’s not as traumatic and scary as The Hills Have Eyes, in a very realistic way. The movie is realistic. All the characters are realistic and in the story. It’s not a spoof. But then, you want to have fun with that as well. That Spring Break world is under attack. Spring Breakers are so extreme, in a different way. They are completely drunk and doing drugs and having sex on boats under the sun. It’s so bizarre that you have to find funny ways to get them killed.

How much research did you do for that?

Alexandre: We did a lot of research. There is a very strange TV show on Court TV, about cops on the lake during Spring Break, and that was really intense to see. Seeing the cops’ point of view really helped us to write the script and Elisabeth’s character. And then, we went to shoot some B-roll during a real Spring Break. We did some research. Spring Break is very strange. I grew up in France, so I don’t know Spring Break. That doesn’t exist in Europe. It’s something very bizarre that I used to see on MTV, and you look at it and say, “Why are they doing that? Why are they doing all that extreme behavior?” But, at the same time, you say, “This is funny. I would like to be with them.”

Piranha 3D movie image (4)

Did you do anything to help the actors with the piranhas during filming?

Alexandre: For interaction and water effect, we used divers with green gloves on their hands, that were biting and pinching people, which is very surreal. It’s like when you look behind the scenes of Jurassic Park and you see the actors being scared about one prop guy with a piece of wood and a cut-out of a T. Rex head. Those green gloves were very, very bizarre. Besides that, it was a lot of imagination. We had a full-size piranha finished on set, so that they could imagine what it looked like, and I was clear about where they were and what was going to happen, so we were pretty prepared for that. But, it’s hard for the actors to really imagine.

Is it better to survive a horror film, or get a really cool death scene?

Alexandre: I like both. It’s always very interesting to bet who’s going to go first and who is going to have the most unbelievable death. It’s always fun to play with that and create more expectation. It’s an interesting part of it.

Is there the idea of a franchise behind this movie?

Alexandre: Yeah. It’s piranha. There were two movies before, and I’m sure there will be more after.

With you behind it?Add an Image

Alexandre: It depends on the story. It’s all about the story. If we find a great story, I would definitely do it.

Do you want to keep doing horror movies, or are there other genres that you’re interested in doing?

Alexandre: I love the genre and I will still produce, write and maybe direct others. But, after this one, I would like to try something different. It’s always about trying to do something that’s different and not repeating yourself because then you lose your creative stamina. You need to have new challenges.

PIRANHA 3D slice

So, what’s next for you?

Alexandre: There are a few projects. I’m developing two franchises that are hero Indiana Jones and Star Wars adventure type films. It’s a great Japanese manga from the ‘70s, that’s one of the biggest manga in Japan, called Cobra the Space Pirate. We got the rights for that. We grew up watching the TV animation of it, so it’s like Star Wars for us. We love that.

I also have a Spanish graphic novel, called Blacksad, that’s L.A. Confidential with animals. It’s only animals, with them replacing the humans. It’s a very, very challenging, heavy visual effects movie that I would like to develop.

And, we are also going to announce very soon the remake of Maniac. I’m going to produce that, and Greg Levasseur, my partner for so long, is going to direct.

Do you have a dream cast for Cobra?

Alexandre: There are a lot of very interesting actors. Tom Hardy is really good. There are many. We are at the early stage of development. We have to write it. It will be a few years.

Would the animal movie be live-action?

Alexandre: Yeah. We would have actors and then motion-capture for all the faces. It was just released by Dark Horse. It’s an amazing graphic novel.

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