THE GREEN HORNET Set Visit – Plus a Seth Rogen Interview (Part 1)

     July 13, 2010

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There is wreckage everywhere – you can’t help but stand on it. Though we are being guided around, it’s hard not to stop and look at the waste on the floor. And the shells, there’s ton of different shells. Many guns were fired in this newsroom, papers are shredded, computers destroyed, and lights hang precariously from the ceiling. We’re in The Sentinel, the paper owned by Seth Rogen’s character Britt Reed. Reed is also the titular crime fighter in the superhero movie The Green Hornet and producer Neal Moritz is shocked and impressed “I just can’t believe we destroyed it like this.”

Moritz continues: “Ultimately, in the third act it becomes the main set piece. There’s an incredible car chase that goes through the office of the newspaper. Britt Reed and Kato are trying to download something, but Britt has no idea how to download. The Black Beauty (the Hornet’s car) comes screeching across this big marble lobby and they’re being pursued by the bad guys. They run straight into a glass elevator, and half the car is in, half the car is out. The elevator starts going up and the car gets cut in half. They crash through the entire Sentinel media being pursued by the bad guys to try to get into Britt Reed’s office. None of this was set dressing. All of this was done for real. The half-car, which we built, came through here at an incredible speed and just took all this stuff out. We shot off real missiles.”

In this set visit, I look at The Sentinel, the printing press, Kato’s garage, and Britt’s pad, get a chance to talk with Neal Moritz and Seth Rogen, and take a quick ride in the film’s hero car, The Black Beauty. My set visit report for The Green Hornet after the jump.

The Green Hornet has gone through some curious changes since the set visit. The film was once set to open in December, but the picture was moved into January and is being converted into 3-D. With that conversion decision, being close to Tron: Legacy seemed foolish, and it couldn’t bump to summer as it already has a Green movie with The Green Lantern so the move itself is not telling (January used to be considered dumping grounds, but a number of pictures have emerged in the early months to prove that superstition silly). The film has also had its domestic and international teaser trailer released, which gives the broad outline of the story, but only offers little glimpses of the comedy and the Michel Gondry-ness of the project. Right now they’re just trying to get across the story and that though it may star Seth Rogen, it is an actual action movie. Regardless, Moritz sounded confident.


We get a second to wander around, and see Britt’s office and his private bar. It too has taken a beating, but the booze and some nudie pictures are still intact in its hidden area. These Sony stages show the wear and tear of rocket launchings, and we move into the next room, where the Black Beauty is lodged on top of printing press area. “We have this whole martial arts sequence that takes place on the top of this (printing press). In reality, this is probably double the height of what exists. We shot a lot of that at the LA Times printing press. We built this – the paper in here actually moves. Our guys actually fall through the paper while it’s moving. Then it breaks and papers are falling all over the place during the fight. It’s a very difficult thing to do—to have the real place where we’re shooting it, shooting it here up high and then putting our actors in it as well. So we shoot a lot of it 2nd unit and then out 1st unit comes in. Coordinating all of it together is very difficult.” We then got a minute to look around the printing press and survey the wreckage. The car was mostly real, but the tires were made of foam rubber. The scale is impressive.

We then look over a working Black Beauty with our guide Neal Moritz, and it’s a studly, American built muscle car with a number of modifications, like machine guns and specialty weapons: “We took the original from the show which is the 1966 Chrysler Imperial. We kept the look, but have updated it technologically. The lights that Michel Gondry designed are incredible. These things can actually cause you to faint because of the way they shoot spiral. Honestly, it really does do this to you. We put in the most powerful bulbs that you could ever find. During this whole chase we follow the headlights quite a bit. It’s just a really unique look. The look of the movie is probably very different than from what people will expect. Obviously when we hired Michel to do this movie, it wasn’t the most obvious choice but I think that’s what is lending a freshness to this genre. The key to the Green Hornet is he comes up with the idea of instead being a good guy fighting crime, he’s going to be a good guy pretending to be a villain.”


Then we move on to Kato’s (Jay Chou) workshop, a working garage, and Moritz tells us about Kato and Britt: “The day after (Britt’s) father dies, every morning, there’s a cup of coffee delivered to Britt Reid next to his bed. Every morning that is the thing he looks forward to the most – he doesn’t have that much going on in his life and he really looks forward to that cup of coffee. The day after his father dies he wakes up, goes to drink the coffee and it’s the worst coffee he’s ever tasted. He can’t believe on the worst day of his life – his father’s death – somebody made [that coffee]. So he marches across this huge lawn into the big mansion and starts screaming at everyone. ‘Where’s the guy who makes my coffee?’ What he learns is he’s fired everyone who has worked for his father. He tracks down this Kato character. Kato makes him this cup of coffee and says ‘Kato, tell me your story.’ That’s how their relationship starts. What he finds from there is that Kato is an expert at working on his father’s cars and was never appreciated by his father, just like Britt feels he was never appreciated by his father either, so this becomes his workshop where he takes his father’s favorite car and turns it into the Black Beauty.”

We then get to see a sizzle reel, which brings in executive producer/co-writer and star Seth Rogen, co-writer and executive producer Evan Goldberg and director Michel Gondry, as they haven’t seen any of the footage edited into a trailer. It showcased that there would be action, and sets up the relationship between Chou and Rogen. It plays so well they show it twice, and everyone seems happy with it. It suggests that Gondry has delivered enough to cut an action trailer. It also sets up the two basic premises of the film, that The Green Hornet is a fake villain, and that the relationship between Britt and Kato is not equal in different ways. Britt is obviously the leader, but Kato is obviously the more competent of the two. There’s also a brief look at Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz, the film’s costars.


We then move to where they’re shooting for the day. It’s an action piece where Rogen and Chou are having a disagreement, and it’s a stunt sequence where Rogen gets kicked into and through a stained glass window. We get a look at Britt’s room, from the collection of terrible films on DVD, a TV going in the background showing a protest, and a group of small mirrors on the ceiling along with signed centerfolds (though clothed, it’s a PG-13). They do a take of the action, and we stay silent.

Eventually, Seth Rogen wanders over to us and begins talking. Rogen has proved exceptionally socialable on these visits, and he automatically charms our group by his chumminess. It takes a minute for the tape records to come out, but Rogen’s game.

Question: What is Jay saying to you right before your line?

Rogen: He says, “Now I’m gonna hurt you.” It may be dubbed later. (laughs) We’ll have to do a general check of comprehension by the time the movie’s over. We got pretty good audio on it, but it’s easy to fix afterwards.

Question:  We saw the first half of the lobby scene with the car. Is that one of the biggest set pieces?

Rogen: We filmed it like a month ago maybe. There’s a lot. That’s all part of the end of the action set piece, which is very long and elaborate. It’s all part of this gigantic movement that kind of leads through all those sets you saw. And it keeps going actually. Yeah, I mean it’s–I don’t know if I would qualify that as some of the bigger stuff in the movie, but it’s definitely all part of this… We like the end of the movies to have a lot of action. Me and Evan talk a lot about escalation and we never… we find a lot of good action movies where the middle is where the best action sequence is, which is always really weird to us so we wanted to make sure we didn’t do that. We wanted good action throughout but we wanted make sure the end is the blow-your-mind orgasm that you want at the end of an experience like that.

Question: so that’s the car in the newsroom and the whole—

Rogen: There’s more, there’s a lot more, but we haven’t even filmed all—they’re literally filming it on second unit as we speak right now. It will be thorough in its excitement.

Question: is Michel heavily involved in the 2nd unit?

Rogen: Oh yeah, definitely. He and Vic Armstrong – our second unit director – have very long conversations about it, and we storyboard it.

Question: How’s Vic Armstrong?

Rogen: He’s awesome, he’s really cool. What’s funny is he’s Indiana Jones’s stunt double and what’s funny is I wear a hat in the movie. And there’s a lot of… Apparently, I would never guess – when you have a hat with a brim like that, there’s a lot of complication that come into play when you’re doing stunts because you can’t see. Or you can see very little. Because he was Indiana Jones, (Armstrong’s) always like, “Now watch the brim, you’ve got the brim of the hat going.” He knows that because he was Indiana Jones. He’s the best brimmed-hat stunt man there is. But it’s all very singular, actually. It’s shocking when you watch the second unit stuff. Like, you forget some parts they shot and what we shot. We’ll come in and do stuff and they’ll be there doing stuff and it’s seamless. I’m always amazed at how the lighting looks the same more than anything. As someone who’s nerdy about movies, I’m shocked that (DP) John (Schwartzman) is in communication with Eric the second unit DP well enough to literally cut things shot for shot and you can’t tell that a whole separate crew lit it and filmed it and all that. Which to me is just crazy. It happens on every movie I’ve ever seen in the last 15 years probably but I’ve never done a movie with this much second unit so it’s cool to see how it all works and comes together. It’s really neat.

Question:  This has been a stop and go project, we’ve spent the last two years asking about this project. How does it feel to be finally shooting it?

Rogen: (laughs) It’s unbelievable, it’s really exciting. It’s been really fulfilling. I can’t believe we got to do it. We got to make the exact movie we wanted to make. We got Gondry as the director, we got the cast that we never would’ve dreamed of like, it’s one of those things where it’s almost like every time we had a setback, something much better ultimately would arise. We’re in a really good position now. We’re really all extremely happy, everyone’s getting along, which is great. We feel like we’ve really accomplished something because so many people said we never would do it, more than anything.

Question: How different is the dynamic between you and Jay, which is what it would’ve been with you and Steven, with him being older than you and almost like a mentor?

Rogen: Yeah, it’s a lot different. Exactly. It’s fine. We say that constantly. We wrote a lot of different versions of the movie depending on different cast members and directors, things of that nature and me and Evan were just talking the other day about how happy we are that it turned out like this because we think that the dynamic me and Jay have around the same age, we seem like peers, you see where we start becoming super heroes—there’s like real youthful exuberance to it. I think the fact that we’re around the same age makes my treatment towards him and his attitude towards me much funnier than it would be if he was way older and I was way younger for example, I think it plays a lot more like a natural dynamic that people know in their day-to-day lives than kind of this older guy/younger guy thing. It was an odder dynamic that way so it worked out a lot better this way.

Question:  It looks like some of the super hero stuff coming out next year really bends the conventions of what we’ve seen so far, like the movie that Chris (Mintz-Plasse) did – Kick-Ass, or this. These are movies that really play fast and move with what you’re used to in the genre. Are you excited that now you’re at a point that they’ve done so much standard stuff in there that you guys can really riff on it, try different things and studios seem more open?

Rogen: Definitely, I think it’s exciting. People are aware of it. It’s something that I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid, so to me and Evan, it’s always been inherent. We’ve always known who Jor-El was. Now a whole new generation of kids know who that is. So it’s nice as a fan to finally have pop culture catch up with your sensibilities for one thing and once that happens, you can subvert the genre a lot more because everyone’s far more aware of what it is that you’re subverting. The fact that everyone’s seen a hundred super hero movies at this point makes it a lot easier to play with the conventions because people know what to expect when you do something different. They know that you’re subverting it, and yeah, it’s something that as a comic book fan, it’s nice that it’s reached a wide enough audience at this point that you can almost deal with it as though the whole world was these nerdy comic book fans. It’s just part of the culture now. Everyone knows that Deadpool was part of the Weapon X program. The fact that that’s common knowledge among kids these days is mind-blowing to me. If you had told me that when I was a kid, “One day, every kid will know this shit,” like it’s crazy and it’s really exciting now to be able to use the fact that everyone has this knowledge and this expectation from these movies to do what it is that we want to do creatively.


Question: In the movie, is Britt a comic book fan?

Rogen: In the movie, he’s not particularly nerdy or into comic books, but he’s like how everyone is now. He’s like the guy who would go see Wolverine and X-Men. We didn’t wanna make him a particularly large comic book fan, but I feel like today just by being the type of person who engages in pop culture, you are almost by default a comic book fan. The fact that Dark Knight’s one of the biggest movies ever means that everyone’s kind of a comic book fan now, and we didn’t feel a need to bring up “Amazing Stories” or whatever. It felt inherent in kind of what the world is at this point basically. (Seth looks around) It’s funny when you walk into these sets, and here’s what I’ve concluded: Britt Reed’s a big fan of guitarists, but not vocalists. There’s a lot of Santana and Joe Satrioni posters around this room.

Question: And a monkey head. What’s the monkey head about?

Rogen: The monkey head. We encourage collaboration amongst our set dressers and production designers, and they pitch us stuff and sometimes we’re just like, yeah why not. Put it in there. (laughs) I would be lying if I would say we hand-picked every single thing in this room under meticulous scrutiny. Lots of it is the prop guy will be like, “Hey, this is fun.” Ok, throw it in there. (laughs)

Question: Is the ceiling (with the mirrors and autographed lady photos) in the movie?

Rogen: I don’t know if you do ever actually see the ceiling. You might. There’s a part where Kato swings off the chandelier and kicks me in the bits, so the angle might catch the ceiling. (laughs) I don’t know how we’re going to film it.

Question: Did you ever get a chance to talk to George Trendle at all on the phone about your take on his character or anything like that?

Rogen: We did talk to – never him specifically, but – some of his family, the Trendle’s were here. They’re extras in one of the scenes actually. So yeah, we were able to talk to them about it a little bit and just kind of about the movie and their expectations and desires, and our kind of questions as to how it all came into being in the first place and all that. It was pretty interesting.


Question: Why did you choose to have the movie set in present day?

Rogen: We wanted to make, we knew we’d get one shot to make our version of a super hero movie, and to us, it just needed to be as relatable to our experience as possible. And we don’t know anything about the past, really. And we knew a lot about present day so, we thought in order to not divert an effort that could be used to writing a good story and jokes into researching what it was like in 1960, we just decided to set it now, this is what we know, and we feel like it’s already modern story. And our approach to it could probably not really logically occur in the ’60s, I would imagine.

Question: Last time I talked to you, you were not so sure about the Lone Ranger, but we see the poster (there’s a lone ranger poster on Britt’s wall).

Rogen: Boom. Lone Ranger. We got one. (laughs) Prop clearance. They got it in. I mean we honestly, it’s one of the things where we weren’t sure who owned it. Someone heard Disney owned the rights to it or something like that, but the way these things get compartmentalized, it’s like, that’s the comic book. So someone else owns the rights to the comic book. So we were able to get that. We got it in there. It’s a nod. A subtle nod.


Question: Did Jay ever land punches or kicks on you?

Rogen: No, thank God. Me and Jay have not hurt each other. No one’s been hurt at all. Pretty good.

Question: Obviously Kato has always traditionally been a great fighter. How good is your version of the Green Hornet? Do you start as a certain level and get better? Do you think he’s learning over the course of the movie?

Rogen: Yeah, we approach it as an origin story. When you find me, I’m in no way the type of person that would ever care to stop a crime or be equipped to stop a crime. We really wanted to chart in a way, the evolution of just your normal everyday dude into what the world views as a super hero. If we could make that a logical and enjoyable journey to watch, then that to us was really interesting.

Question: Is there a training montage?

Rogen: I think there is actually no training montage. There isn’t really. We have our own version of one, but it is not a traditional training montage. Everyone loves a training montage, but again it’s so hard. Again, being aware that we are the 500th superhero movie to get released this year, I mean you have to be aware of all that, and try to approach all those things slightly differently than you know all those other movies are gonna approach it.


Question: How about Cameron Diaz’s character and working with her?

Rogen: She’s great. She plays Lenore Case who is Britt Reed’s secretary. And her role throughout the movie has a very distinct evolution that I probably shouldn’t ruin here and now, but she’s fantastic. She’s a true delight to work with. She’s really funny – she’s just great we couldn’t believe we got her to be in the movie. It was a real pleasure every day. It was surreal. It’s one of those things too “I’m talkin’ to Cameron Diaz right now!” (laughs) Very weird.

Question: Does she end up as someone’s love interest?

Rogen: She uh–There is romantic desires targeted in her direction. (laughs)

Question: Is her character aware that you’re Green Hornet?

Rogen: No.

Question: We heard you actually let Christoph (Waltz) write some of his own dialog? Has he changed the character since he’s come on the film?

Rogen: Yeah. When he came on, it was at a very open place, the character. We had kind of been formulating a version of it that we were not entirely pleased with.


Question: We heard briefly about that Jamaican take. (This is in reference to Nicolas Cage almost playing the lead bad guy as a faux Jamaican, a role that ultimately went to Waltz)

Rogen: Where’d you hear that from? (laughs)

Question: Neal (Moritz).

Rogen: So yeah, Neal went for it. So when that dissolved ultimately, we saw as a real opportunity to kind of get back to a version of the character that we were more interested in all along. Which was definitively not from the Bahamas or any Bahamian region. Then we start talking to Christoph and we were giving him what we initially liked, the idea, the whole take of the character we initially liked, and he really, thank God, liked that idea also. But then as far as the specifics of how the character spoke went, there was actually a lot of different version of that. We had been through a lot of different versions. We just had Jamaican-ized the script, then de-Jamaican-ized it, so that was a whole process, but there was a few key little speeches here and there that Christoph said, “This is what I really like. This type of language I think would be great to carry throughout the whole character.” And largely through the course of a day, Evan and him sat down and rewrote almost every scene that he has in the whole movie. And throughout the different scenes as the shooting comes up, we re-approach it and talk about it and knew little quirks come up as we’re filming and Christoph likes to include some of those, and we’re very open to it. He had a very strong take of what he liked that we had done, and we wanted to provide him all the tools to create the best character that he could with that. So it’s really exciting to watch and he seems to be enjoying it. It’s always great when you can collaborate with someone who is open in the same way you are. He’s written a lot of stuff that I’m very happy I’ll get credit for, ultimately. (laughs)

We then watch them shoot another take and Michel Gondry comes over, and talks briefly. We asked what his favorite superhero movie was, and he got embarrassed. We prod, and he finally tells us: it’s Superman III. After the take we head for lunch and interviews (which we will be running shortly), and for the end of our day we get to ride in The Black Beauty.

Never has the appeal of a muscle car been more apparent than tooling around Culver City watching people react to driving a car with machine guns on the front. At one point my carload (which included Jeremy Smith and Drew McWeeny) turned to see a man mouth the words “what the F?” as we drove by, and our driver would rev the engine accordingly. The Green Hornet opens January 14, 2011.

For more Green Hornet coverage:

Director Michel Gondry On Set Interview THE GREEN HORNET

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg On Set Interview THE GREEN HORNET

Christoph Waltz On Set Interview THE GREEN HORNET

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