I AM NUMBER FOUR Edit Bay Visit; Steve Watches 20 Minutes of Footage and Also Interviews Director D.J. Caruso

     December 8, 2010

With director D.J. Caruso’s I Am Number Four almost finished, DreamWorks invited a few online reporters to visit the editing room to check out about twenty minutes of footage and also talk with Caruso.  Since we’ve been covering the movie since its inception, you know the film stars Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand, and Callan McAuliffe and the plot centers on nine aliens who escaped the destruction of their planet and landed on Earth, but are now on the run from those who destroyed their home world.  Alex Pettyfer plays number four and he’s the next one being targeted for death.  While the first teaser trailer showed you with some cool images, the just released full trailer does a great job explaining the story and introducing us to the characters and their special powers.

Anyway, in the editing room Caruso showed us the opening ten minutes, a few scenes towards the middle, and then he showed us some of the awesome action in the 3rd act.  Hit the jump for a more detailed description including an interview with Caruso:

Since many of you probably didn’t click the link for the trailer, I suggest watching this before going any further:

If you’re looking for the interview with Caruso, it’s further down the page.  Up first is a recap of what I got to see in the editing room.

After the DreamWorks logo appears, we pan to the right and then start to zoom in on our planet with an awesome shot that keeps on going until we ultimately end up in the jungle and in a small cabin with mosquito protected beds.  A man hears something.  He gets out of bed and grabs what appears to be a strange looking weapon.  As he walks over to the window to investigate what might be outside, we are shown another person in the cabin.  He’s younger.  Scared.  Cut to the the adult.  After believing they are safe, he turns and then….let’s just say an action scene begins.

After the opening, we cut to Alex Pettyfer riding a jet ski.  Through some conversations with friends and the fact that he’s on the beach partying, we quickly realize he’s well liked and happy.  In fact, a very attractive female friend invites him out for a swim and he agrees.  While in the water, she asks him why he doesn’t have a girlfriend and why he’s so private.  As he’s answering, a sharp pain erupts in his lower right leg and as suddenly as the pain hits, a bright light starts to emit from the same area and we see a tattoo of some kind start to form.  It’s the third one in the same area and it’s clear that he’s different.  His female friend runs to the beach for help.

Soon after, he’s driving with Timothy Olyphant.  Through voice over we learn his backstory.  How the tattoos first formed.  Who he is.  The fact that he’s an alien trying to hid from an another alien race determined to kill him.  And he reveals, he’s always been on the run.

Caruso then showed us a bunch of other footage which introduces Teresa Palmer’s character (Number Six) and how she’s fire resistant.  We also meet Dianna Agron’s character and see some footage of her and Pettyfer talking and starting to fall for each other.

But while all the character stuff looked great, when Caruso showed us the action in the 3rd act, that’s when I thought he’s got a winner.

The fact is, while there are some similarities to Twilight with I Am Number Four, I’m a sucker for sci-fi and vampires have never really been my thing.  And for those wondering about the similarities, instead of vampires you’ve got aliens.  You’ve also got a loner who can’t get close to anyone, falling for a girl in high school.  But while Twilight had one “big” action scene that looks like it cost a dollar to film, I Am Number Four was produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, and the action looks big, expensive, and a lot of fun.

Of course action means nothing if you don’t care about the characters.  Thankfully, Pettyfer looks like a great bet as the leading man as he’s got the looks and the scenes I’ve watched show he can act.  On top of that, Agron is well known for her work on Glee and she appears completely comfortable playing the lead.  In addition, Palmer looked great kicking ass as one of the scenes had her firing an alien weapon running through the hallways of the high school.  It looked like she had a lot of fun.  What I’m trying to say is that I really liked the footage Caruso showed us and can’t wait to see the finished film.

Anyway, after we watched the footage, Caruso held an informal interview with the few of us in the small editing room.  While taking turns asking questions, Caruso address his nervousness at his first test screening, how Steven Spielberg has helped with the editing, what’s different about the movie versus the book, what is it about young adult material that attracts him to make it into movies, the visual effects, and a lot more.  In addition, look for more interviews with the cast very soon.

Question:  What’s it like to show your movie for the first time to a test screening audience?  Are you nervous or apprehensive?

DJ: First test screening. No, actually I hate it, I just hate it. No apprehension or nervousness. I just hate it.

It is interesting you are showing it tomorrow because that is the day your trailer comes out online.

DJ: Oh, that is interesting. I did not know that. I know Friday we come out in the theaters. So it will be good to get in front of an audience. We have friends, family, and a couple of others come and see it, but it is always exciting.

Walking in this hallway there are a lot of Steven Spielberg posters, I get the feeling Spielberg has an office very close to here.

DJ:   He has an editing room very near here.

Can you talk about has he come in and given any feedback?

DJ: Oh yeah he came in Friday. He is right across the way so any time we want to show him something, visual effects, music, he comes in. Anytime we are stuck and we have two versions of something and we are not sure we always try to get his opinion because he is so close.

It looks like you spread out a lot of the action which in the book was at the end. Was the conscience?

DJ: Not really. We have some action that is inter-stickle, but kind of gets you there. We still have the fight in the forest, still have the fight there after the hay ride in the forest. But really, I think the action starts in high school, which is all act 3, which is very similar to the book.

It looks like Six comes in earlier.

Six comes in a little earlier in the movie, yeah. We kind of did a little intro stuff. We are kind of giving little hints of her sort of following. So someone who hasn’t read the book will be like who is this, why is she chasing him, but if you look kind of carefully she has the same necklace, the same tattoos, the same markings that Number Four has.  So you definitely know she is coming in. What happens is, after she blows up that house, the Mogadorians get to that house because they kind of figure John would have been at the house and they realize she is basically helping John by destroying all the evidence and giving them stuff so they can’t find him or track him.

What about the Gecko (which was in the footage we got to see) it seems like a bit of a tease.

DJ: The Gecko ends up becoming Bernie, which is his dog and his dog ends up shape shifting and he ends up at the end of the movie becoming a monster that ends up battling Pike.

Talk about the cast. There are a lot of fresh faces.

DJ: Yeah, fresh faces. You know the movie was the kind of movie where you didn’t need to have any movie stars to get the movie going. Conceptually this was a good concept and basically just finding the best people for the roles, which is very liberating, because a movie doesn’t get 10 million unless you get Brad Pitt. It was fun.

Channeling your inter Cameron?

DJ: Maybe in the Sci-Fi way, I did some Dark Angel and I saw Cameron do some work on the pilot. I think it is a little bit of everything that you take from, even the gunshots from Alien. We studied all these movies from Star Wars to G.I. Joes trying to figure out what energy and how the energy works on the guns. The Mogadorians language is kind of fun. So yeah, anyone would like to channel him.

Michael Bay produced this.  How did he help with the visual effects?

DJ: You know, Michael Bay was actually a huge help and today you guys saw some stuff before even he saw it. He has been really helpful with the island and the piking and the monsters and how these things integrated and what atmosphere to have, depth of field and focus on lenses. So he has been really, really helpful with the visual effects, really helpful. Lots of times, he was up at ILM and he would say do you want me to go into your room and check things out and he would go do that. So he is really helpful that way. Steven is really helpful in story shaping, so it is a good combination. For Michael Bay, my real act 3 or act 6 is his act 1.

You are an IMAX release.  Sometimes IMAX blows fills up the whole frame and sometimes it doesn’t.  Are you filling up the whole frame?

DJ: We shot in Super 1:85, which gives us more top. We haven’t gotten to resize what happens to the left and right but we should be fine top to bottom, full frame. I am not sure about the left and right. Once we finish our negative, everything is happening today, this is all happening so fast.  Then we will start to get into that. We are going to have some problems with the IMAX that will be on the left and right for sure.

You shot on Super 1:85 film?

DJ: 35mm film, but we shot in something called Super 1:85.

Never heard of it.

Yeah not a lot of people have. But it is not for any reason. Del Tor o does this and my cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro my likes this because it gives you more top and bottom room particularly if you have certain creatures in frames and our Mogadorians are 7 feet 5 inches tall. It allows you to have just a little bit more top on the frame so you don’t have to compromise. So you can shoot over Teresa Palmer who happens to be 5’3 or 5’4 and still shoot Kevin Duran who is 7 feet 5 inches tall without having to over compensate for the frame.

Talk about Guillermo Navarro (his director of photography)

DJ: Yeah, yeah, Guillermo is phenomenal. He has won an academy award with del Toro on Pan’s Labyrinth. He just has a really diverse background of making good films. Even the Hellboys, you know what I mean, with some of the fights. So he is really used to this kind of stuff and it was a lot of fun.

How would you say this relates to other teen super hero movies?

DJ: No.

How about coming of age story and realizing your destiny?

Well you know I think it is this disenfranchised guy who keeps moving and he finally finds a place that he likes and he wants to stay. There is a scene later on with Henry when Henry says look this thing just happened and we need to go and John stood up for himself for the first time and said I am not going to run anymore. I think the relating thematic element for teens to get out of it is who you think you are and who you ultimately become are two different people and I know that it sometimes a conflict. John ultimately makes a decision that he has to leave Paradise in order to protect the ones he loves, accept his destiny. It is the most selfless thing he could do and I think teens just get to be, and this is just a natural part of age, is this inter-narcissism where you don’t see the world outside of yourself and at the end of the movie John sees the world outside himself and understands there is a bigger picture.

Q: You did Disturbia, Eagle Eye, what is it about this young adult material that attracts you?

DJ: I just think you always want to find some in a dark period in their life and ultimately at the end of the movie see a little bit of light. Even from Salton Sea as dark as that movie was, there is a little bit of hope at the end. In order to appreciate all the great things life has to offer, you have to experience some bad things. I find myself attracted to characters who are experiencing those bad things in the beginning and sort of over come that.

You are dealing with a series of books when only #1 is released, are their elements worked in that we don’t know now, but years from now will?

DJ: Yeah there are some elements worked in. Particularly the whole sort of mythology of the Mogadorians is not explained in the movie as it is in the book. You just sort of understand from John the history of the legacy. There are some things in the movie, particularly what happened to Sam and Sam’s father and why they go to Paradise. Ultimately Sam, Six, and John ultimately embark on a journey and that’s where the authors let us know book two would be starting. So we just saw an outline for book two not the whole book so we definitely kept that on track. But the movie has a beginning, middle, and end and ends in a very satisfying way. So if it does well and we want to make another one you can understand that people would want to know that John and Six are going to look for the others. And when they find the others how powerful they can be. But I still think it stands alone and has a beginning, middle and end as a stand-alone film.

Is the narration at the beginning of the film the only narration in the film?

DJ: There is also book narration at the very end of the film when they are leaving Paradise, that’s it.

How did you find the balance with him finding his powers and what to show on screen?

DJ: I think particularly in the book John is a lot more knowing about the powers he has and what is happening in his life and cinematically we thought to have him discovery more of these things. Henry sort of keeps him in check and keeps him waiting for these things to happen. I think it is much more interesting from a cinematic stand point not necessarily from a literary standpoint that you are with your character when he is discovering these things. He is sitting in science class when everything seems to be okay and he is looking for Sarah and his first legacy, like full blown legacy starts to come out from his hands and he has no idea why that is happening so he kind of needs to curtail that and run into the closet and all this stuff happens. So you experience that as a viewer with him. You are learning all about the same stuff he is, instead of already knowing he already has it.  I think it is a better story telling device.

With Mogadorians, they are 7 feet tall and hiding on earth, how do they blend in?

DJ: You will see in the film how they try to integrate themselves but they don’t quit fit in. They go shopping for some things to help feed the Pikin. So you can see there are some odd things. Lots of times we put them in hoods and there is this sort of something that Duran has that hides the things he has in the front so he can actually go to a store and buy things. So we kind of blend it in. They sort of dress down when they are not in their battle mode, there is a different mode they have that sort of blends in, sort of.

Who are your principal visual effects?

DJ: We have a guy named Greg McMurray and ILM is doing all he creatures. We must have about 5 or 6 different houses.

How is to have like ILM at your disposal?

DJ: We don’t really have them at our disposal like the way that someone else might have them. We kind of had to beg them to take them. I think the producers kind of guilted them into it. So we are kind of a small show for them, but what I found is that they are kind of the most creative and really trying to do certain things and making suggestions to Jim and I as we are cutting in and out of shots and it is pretty fascinating to see how that whole thing works when you are growing up thinking about making movies or dreaming about making movies you get to the visual effects and its so amazing. They are so creative. A lot of time my frustration with visual effects are they are like contractors who just redid your kitchen and you go in there and you look at your kitchen and its like crooked and you are like “something is fucked up here, this is crooked” and they are like “no, no come stand over here” And so I find that with a lot of visual effects but I don’t find that with ILM.

How do you know when to do practical effects… one of the things I was impressed with was Number Three’s summersaults, they’re extremely cool.

DJ: He is a gymnast he is a world champion gymnast.  Greg Townley. He just won the gold medal for the Junior Olympics or something. So he is a world champion gymnast and Damien who is his mentor is the one who doubles Number Four. So basically we did some practical things where obviously the Piking is not there but we made all the camera moves framed for the Piking and laid out his tracks so he can do his tumbling. Actually the side shot where he does all that is so amazing because it is all real and it is 24 frames and it almost looks like it isn’t real. But he is a highly trained 14-year-old kid who never acted before and did a pretty good job. Even when he got killed I was impressed with him.

You mentioned to go to ILM, they mention having a gift shop up there…

DJ:  I have been invited to go, but I have never gone. But they have a gift shop up there?

When you go…what do you buy up there?

DJ: I don’t know. I don’t know I will have to go online and see what they have. I will have to go up there. I am supposed to go up there in the next couple weeks and finish this off.

Can you talk a little bit about the wall decorations I know people like to decorate their editing suites differently?

DJ: Well, Jim has three kids, and I have five kids so this is my little seat here so I kind of put the little things. This is Jim’s main office so he puts all of his stuff here. This is a test poster so if you can read the names on it, its quite funny actually. This is Jim. Every sort of editing room Jim has been in, well most of them, I think we have been working the last 3 years, thank God, so we haven’t updated it, but this basically gives you a history of all the places Jim has sort of worked and that is the first movie we worked on called Black Cat Run which was an HBO movie which Jim and I did together.

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