A self-admitted lover of technology, it’s no surprise that McG is producing the new media series Aim High, premiering on Facebook and Cambio on October 18th, and mixing the quality of any television series or big screen feature with interactive content. Using technology to break down the wall of separation between the viewer and the show, Facebook will incorporate the pictures from your profile into the six-part first season, while looking to do the same with your personal music for a possible second season.
At a press day for the web series, McG spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about the appeal of working on such a cutting edge project, assembling such a strong cast, the challenge of getting such a quality product done in such a small time frame (less than two weeks) and without a great deal of money, and why he thinks mixing acne with espionage is a winning formula. He also talked about juggling so many projects at once, in both film and television, how fun it is to create something that touches the world, knowing when to move on from something that isn’t working out, and his hope of someday releasing a DVD cut of Terminator: Salvation with the extra footage from the film. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
In Aim High, Nick Green (The Twilight Saga star Jackson Rathbone) is a top agent for the U.S. government. He’s effective, clever and deadly, and a 16-year-old high school student. And, if all of that wasn’t tough enough, Nick is interested in Amanda (Friday Night Lights star Aimee Teegarden), a cool rocker chick dating the captain of the school’s championship swim team. While he and his best friend Marcus (Johnny Pemberton) navigate high school, Nick must keep his secret hidden from his teachers, his family and the girl of his dreams.
Question: What was the appeal of Aim High for you?
McG: We got excited about it because of the quality. It started there. We responded to the material. We’ve all been big fans of having an active dream life, and dreaming about lives that are bigger than our own, so it was exciting to have a high school kid who is a spy at night. It’s something that we all got excited about and could relate to, and it was very much in keeping with who we are at Wonderland. I thought it was just particularly well-written. And then, when Thor [Freudenthal] came on to be the director, that was exciting. And then, we started to populate the piece with Jackson [Rathbone], Aimee [Teegarden], Clancy [Brown] and Greg [Germann]. All of a sudden, we had a first-rate, quality piece that we were excited about.
How did the idea for the interactive aspect with Facebook come about?
McG: That’s just technology that’s changing, by the day. When that became available, that just became a defining characteristic of the show. What it does is break down the wall of separation between the viewer and the show. When you watch a show on network television or on cable, you’re just passively watching it. When you go to the movie theater, you’re passively watching the movie. What we’ve been able to do with Facebook is incorporate the pictures from your profile to be brought into the show, and that’s never really been done before. In Season 2, we’re going to be able to bring in the music that is part of who you are and the things you like. It’s just about making it more personal with your songs and your pictures, populating the world. We’re hoping that’s an exciting new way to view a show that you like.
Will viewers only be able to watch in the U.S., or will this be available to watch worldwide, at some point?
McG: My understanding – and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, technically – is that, if you’re in Australia or wherever, you’ll be able to log onto Cambio and Facebook, and view it however you want to view it. It’s just the new world order. The days of holding the audience captive to watching television at times that programmers tell them they have to watch it are coming to an end. It’s a new world, where the viewer and fan wants to watch whatever they want to watch, whenever they want to watch it. Kids don’t even know what it means that you have to watch a show on Thursday night at 9 o’clock, on any given network. You just put it on your DVR, or queue it up on your computer, and it’s an on-demand and instant access world. That’s the privilege of being an audience member, these days. It’s good for everybody.
McG: We shot six episodes that are about 10 minutes each, so ultimately, it’s about a 60-minute show. We shot it in 10 days. It was very aggressive. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had enough money and enough talent behind the camera, fortunately, that we’re hoping it really feels like a first-rate show that you would see on cable or in a network space at primetime, or for that matter, something you would see in a movie theater, on any given weekend. That’s the first time that’s been done. A lot of the content that goes directly to the internet, or is web-created content, is very hand-held video where you can watch this woman fall off the coffee table, or see a funny little gag, or is interview-style stuff, which is great. I love that. I consume it like crazy. But, this is designed to be reminiscent of what you would see during primetime, and reminiscent of what you would see in a movie theater, on any given weekend, and in that regard, it’s brand new.
McG: Sure, it’s nice that they’re recognizable, but they’re great, and that’s what matters most. Jackson is just great. When you watch him, he puts you at ease in the spy world, and he puts you at ease as a high school student, pining after that girl. That’s just special. The guy is a great entertainer. He’s a musician, he’s a writer, and he’s an actor. He’s just a very, very special talent, and I’m always going to be attracted to talent like that. With Aimee, it’s the same thing. She’s so accomplished with what she does. Aimee had Friday Night Lights, Clancy had The Shawshank Redemption, and Greg is so famous from his Ally McBeal work. All of a sudden, this world was populated with all these great actors. Most particularly, this kid, Johnny Pemberton, is a fantastic new voice that’s going to break out in 21 Jump Street.
What were the biggest challenges in shooting these episodes, in the time frame you had and with the budget you had?
McG: Just trying to figure out how to get it done without a great deal of money behind it. You have to get so much page count, on any given day. At the end of the day, even with modern technologies, you still have to illuminate the scene, which takes time, and you still have to rehearse the scene, which takes time. You really need everybody to be on board and have that starting platform of a great script with great actors to execute it. Then, it becomes much more reasonable to get it done in a timely way. Therefore, you can do it at a price point that’s more attractive and more conducive to this new world order of creating content directly for the web.
McG: I just think that whenever you mix acne and espionage, it’s a winning formula. Also, it makes sense. The government would want early adapters. Why would you try to teach a 45-year-old spy how to live in a social universe. Go to the kids who are fundamentally doing that and teach them how to be spies. A year ago, that would have been putting the cart before the horse. Now, it seems to make sense.
Have you already decided to go ahead with a second season, or do you have to wait and see how this is received?
McG: We’re planning on doing a second season, and we’re ramping up on it right now, but that’s always got everything to do with how the show does in the world. We’ll see how it does, but everybody is very high on it. We feel it unapologetically stands up on its own to anything.
How challenging is it for you, with all of things you have going on, to give enough time to everything?
McG: For me, that is about people. I’ve got really smart people, and people at Wonderland, where we all try to support each other and think about what’s best and have a very consistent voice. You’ll notice that a lot of our stuff is youth against establishment, and we spark to that. We’re a dream factory. We tell stories about lives that are bigger than the pedestrian human life. We’re not really long on subtlety at Wonderland. We long big concept stuff, like Chuck, Supernatural, Charlie’s Angels and Aim High. That’s the stuff that we find ourselves attracted to, day in and day out.
McG: I’m finishing a movie now, that I’m in post-production on, with Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy and Chris Pine, that’s called This Means War, that is Ocean’s 11 and Mr. & Mrs. Smith in tone. Tom and Chris are spies, and they’re best friends until they meet Reese, and then they turn their spy acumen on each other and all hell breaks loose. It’s fun. It’s a big action-comedy.
Do you know what you’ll do, once you’ve finished pre-production on that?
McG: No, I’m just looking at a few films right now and deciding. This Means War doesn’t come out until February 17th, so I’ll probably make a decision before the holidays, and then start prepping whatever that is.
Do you have any new TV projects in development as well?
McG: Yeah, we’ve got six shows that we’re in development on, right now. There’s Chuck, Supernatural and Nikita, that are on the air. And then, we’ve set up six different shows that we’re developing this year, for next season.
McG: It’s really fun to create something that touches the world. It’s fun to think, “Wow, that didn’t exist, and then we got together and told that story and the whole world is excited about it.” It was fun on The O.C. It’s fun with Jared [Padalecki] and Jensen [Ackles] on Supernatural. It was fun with Charlie’s Angels. It was fun with Terminator. I don’t really think about film or television or going directly to the internet. I just think about doing something that people are going to get excited about. I’ve gotta say, it’s very satisfying when it’s corroborated by the audience and you have a hit on your hands. When you have something with resonance, it feels good. Sometimes you do things for personal reasons. I made a very personal movie in We Are Marshall. I was afraid of flying, for a long time, and that’s a movie about a plane crash. Sometimes you do things that are fundamentally built to touch the world, and you feel good when you’re successful doing it, and you’re disappeared when the world fails to respond, which also happens. But, you just wake up and keep trying to find great pieces of material, populate it with great pieces of talent, and then deliver it to the world to let them decide.
When you have a number of projects in development, some will end up in production and some won’t. How do you gauge when it’s time to pull the plug on something that just isn’t working, and move on to the next thing?
McG: I don’t know. You need to be very honest and nimble. It’s always very difficult when you see something is going south and not getting the teeth that you wanted it to get, but you have to be honest and not put good energy after bad. It’s something we all struggle with, every day, as you continue to learn, day in and day out. It’s hard to let go. You put so much energy into it, and then you’re like, “Oh, now we’re going to go to a different network with this, or find a different way to do that.” And then, you’re like, “Wait, hold on a second. That doesn’t happen very often. Maybe we should just take our losses and pull up and cut bait and move on.” It’s just hard to do when you put so much energy into your child. When you’re a producer or director, there’s so much sweat that goes into any given project. When you’re an actor, you show up and it’s wonderful because you’re in the world of make-believe. Actors can make five movies a year. A director can make one movie, every two years. It’s a whole different level of commitment and of sweat equity, and therefore there’s a direct correlation to passion. Actors can become very involved in a role, but for a director or producer, that’s your life for many years.
McG: Maybe. That movie ran out of gas at Universal. We may end up making it somewhere else. It’s one thing in development, and we’ll see. I just like that story because I like big ghost stories. That movie is about, “What if you could access the other side? Wouldn’t that be interesting?” It’s this moment of science and the mystic coming together. And, it’s fun to work with Michael Bay and tell big stories with a lot of visual style. We’ll see if that one happens, or if we end up doing something else.
When you cast Tom Hardy in This Means War, you talked about how exciting he was, as an actor. Are there any actors out there right now that you’re really intrigued by or excited about that you would love to develop something with?
McG: Yeah! It’s always fun watching new actors and new voices come out. I think Emma Stone is very exciting. I like Mila Kunis. Obviously, Tom Hardy is a great voice. I think Chris Pine has a lot of great work ahead of him. He’s so good in Star Trek, but I went to see him in a Martin McDonagh play (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”), in a theater construct, and the guy was unbelievable on stage, doing an Irish accent. He’s a very, very accomplished young actor with a lot of great roles ahead of him. I think Ryan Gosling is pretty great. He’s clearly having his moment. It’s fun to watch these pieces of talent evolve.
You always assemble such great casts for your projects.
McG: That’s something we really pride ourselves on. We try to find new, inspired voices that are exciting, whether it’s Mischa Barton in The O.C., or Shia LaBeouf in that second Charlie’s Angels movie, or putting Chelsea Handler in This Means War. It’s just about always trying to make the novel, exciting choice, be it a new voice or a re-imagining of someone who has been established for awhile.
McG: I don’t know. I feel like we did a lot right with Terminator, and I feel like we did a lot wrong. I really tried to deliver and do the best I could, with making that film. It worked for a lot of people. A lot of people didn’t like the ending. You live and learn. We did the best we could. I poured everything I had into that picture. Yeah, there’s some outstanding footage out there, and we’ll see if there’s a director’s release to come, in the future. You never know. Time will tell. But, I love the Terminator franchise. I hope they make another one. We’ll see where that takes us.
What was it that originally made you want to become a storyteller, and what makes you want to work in such cutting edge projects as Aim High?
McG: I think I wanted to be a storyteller because I had a very active dream life. My life was boring, and I dreamed about a life bigger than my own. I’ve always just been that person, from my earliest memories at age 2. And, as far as new technologies go, I just think it’s ridiculous to be dogmatic and be caught in the past. You have to be open, aware, nimble and flexible about changes in the world. If you look at Hollywood today, compared to five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago, the change from moment to moment has always been extraordinary. It never stops moving. I’m old enough to remember the advent of CD. You thought, “What’s this piece of space age technology that’s in front of me?” Now I ask, “When’s the last time you bought a CD?” You see things come and you see things go, and you have to be on your toes and be nimble and stay with it, or you die. It’s exciting. I love technology.