Greetings, SciFi/Fantasy Movie Fans!
I am very excited to share one of my most memorable experiences from WonderCon 2010 in San Francisco, a Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time panel featuring the fabulously beautiful Jake Gyllenhaal, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Mike Newell, and creator of one of the most beloved adventure games ever, Jordan Mechner.
In addition to producing Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jerry Bruckheimer produced the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean films as well as a few others you may have heard of (National Treasure, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Con Air, Flashdance, and many, many more).
I am fairly certain you have seen some of Mike Newell’s work as well. He has been at the helm of an impressive number of films and television shows including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Love in the Time of Cholera, Donnie Brasco, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, to name just a few.
And what can I say about Jake Gyllenhaal? You know him. You love him. And now he is transformed into a strong, agile action hero. Hooray! Okay, we may as well list some of his film credits as well. How about Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Bubble Boy, Jarhead, Proof, and Rendition, to start us off? Great performances by a very talented actor.
Jordan Mechner, creator of the Prince of Persia video game:
The Prince of Persia panel at WonderCon 2010 was led by Geoff Boucher.
(Note: The audience LOVED these guys. We all cheered, laughed, hooted, clapped, shouted answers, and generally made lots of noise during the panel. It was great fun, but it also made for a few places where I just could not hear what the panelist was saying. Please feel free to hear appropriate enthusiastic sounds in your head as you read through the panel transcript. Enjoy!)
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Geoff Boucher: How’s everybody doing? Alright. Well we have a full program so we’re gonna just jump right into it. How’s it goint today? First we’re gonna do, uh, an epic action-adventure film about a rogue prince a mysterious princess, and an ancient dagger that reverses time. Do you guys know what it is?
Audience: Prince of Persia!
Geoff: You guys cheated. You looked. And, uh, the first person we’re gonna bring out, this is his first convention, first comic book convention. He’d never been to one before. Which is kind of amazing if you think about it because if you think of summer entertainment, you think big movies, you think Jerry Bruckheimer. So Jerry, how are you?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I’m great. Great be here. Thanks. Great to see everybody. My first big convention so I’m really thrilled to be here.
Geoff: Tell us a little bit about Prince of Persia. I mean, just coming into it. Tell us about the property and what it means.
Jerry: Well Prince of Persia, as you all know, everybody here knows Jordan Mechner created this many years ago. It was a very famous game and we fell in love with it and decided to turn it into a big motion picture.
Geoff: And starting with a video game, there are so many different ways to go. Coming into it, what did you really want this to represent? What were your thoughts?
Jerry: Well, we certainly wanted to capture the excitement of the game and the characters of the game but yet give you a very dramatic story that has humor and drama and pathos and a wonderful lead actor.
Geoff: Well every film, I would imagine one of the first decisions you have to make right off the bat is who’s gonna direct and, uh, tell us a little bit about the director of this film.
Jerry: Mike Newell, you, hopefully you will know who Mike is. He did one of the Harry Potters, he did Four Weddings and a Funeral and he did Donnie Brasco so he covers everything. He can do the real live action and the romance and humor and then again, then with Harry Potter he can do mystical things too, and magical things.
Geoff: I’ll say it, it is, the footage that we have to show you guys today is pretty magical. But we’re going to show some footage first and then bring….
Jerry: Yeah, we’re gonna show, I guess we’re gonna show you a little footage. What you’re gonna see now is a very cut down version of what we call the Siege on Alamut. Our story begins with young Jake Gyllenhaal in a marketplace where the king observes his valor and adopts him as his son. This becomes his third son. We cut to fifteen years later where the sequence is about to start and they’re about to siege, take a siege on a city called Alamut. He being the younger brother is relegated to being at the back of the battle. But he decides not to be in the back of the battle, he’s gonna be in the front. And decides to go in the back door rather than in the front door, where his brother, his brothers are. So this is the Siege on Alamut, the cut-down version. Enjoy it.
Geoff: Alright, here we go.
Geoff: Outstanding. And, you know, putting that scene together, it takes a director to have that has a real flare for action, a real imagination and we’re gonna bring out our next guest who is the director of the film and you know him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and, uh, ‘forget about it,’ Donnie Brasco. So let’s bring out Mike Newell. Welcome.
Mike Newell: Thank you.
Geoff: So tell us a little bit about that scene, putting that together. Well first of all, what do you think? This is pretty great?
Mike: My god. Hello y’all.
Geoff: So that scene, tell us a little bit about filming it. That’s pretty intense.
Mike: The scene took forever. I was just saying to Jake behind there, if they’d let us we’d be shooting it now. And it was shot by three separate, or on three separate tracks. There was the kind of character action stuff. Then there was the stunt stuff, which was handled by the second unit but with Jake very important. Jake doing a tremendous number of the stunts himself. Makes it so much easier when the lead actor can actually do that stuff, as Jake could. He, ask him about them. And then, of course, there’s the third thing which is the computer graphics side of it. And all of those were very, very complicated in that scene. The big shots of the city, the city didn’t exist. We sent people to India to photograph Indian cities so that we got the detail absolutely right. But all of the wide shots didn’t exist. That big castle with the yard that they finally attack, that existed but that was on one of the biggest stages in the world which is called the Bond Stage in Pinewood in England. It’s simply colossal. And that was just that one little part of it. So it was a huge, huge undertaking.
Geoff: It’s a fantastic scene. I’m curious, you know, with a movie like this, one of the key things is tone. I mean there’s so many different ways to go with tone. Could you just talk a little bit about what you wanted coming into it and did it change at all as the film went along?
Mike: Well, I think that Jerry and I felt that it was gonna be a very important thing that he and I should feel the same about. We should feel good about it. And it was that this would not be a kind of post-modern tone, by which I mean you do something heroic, you turn to the camera, and you wink. Um, we didn’t want that at all. We wanted it to be absolutely for real and that the audience would sense the peril, they would sense the emotions, they would sense the laugh, they would be right in the middle of the action of the whole movie and not constantly yanked out of it by the movie commenting on itself. And so it had to be absolutely real from the ground up.
Geoff: What about, Jerry, what, coming in, what was the priority for you as far as tone?
Jerry: You know, I think to capture the realism of the period and also get the humor and the romance of the period. And shooting this in Morocco, what you don’t see on the screen it was close to 120 degrees every day. So it was brutal out there for Mike and all the cast. And again, it shows in their performances because they feel the heat, they feel the tension. Yet Mike is wonderful with humor and that’s what we’re, we’re really after, and we got a lot of humor in this.
Mike: Yeah, it’s a shame we can’t show you any of our wonderful funny moments when I have to call Fred, Alfred Molina who plays, well he plays a wonderful untrustworthy desert sheik. You’ll all enjoy him.
Geoff: That’s fantastic. And what, what did you guys know about Prince of Persia the video game? I mean, is it something that you were pretty familiar with before…?
Mike: Oh, yes. Well, I have a fourteen year old son and the game actually slightly, it’s a bit too, um, it’s a bit too early for him. The first version of the game was over by the time he started to play. He now takes the Reichstag, he fights the second world war mostly. Um, but of course now there are new versions coming through which, some of the artwork for which we had a chance to look at. Which were very impressive indeed. I played the game as much as I was able. I was absolutely hopeless. He dropped into, he fell into a revolving knives every time.
Geoff: Don’t we all? Jerry, what about you?
Jerry: Uh, I’m not an avid gamer. I’m a little busy between our little television shows and movies we make all over the world. But thanks to Jordan Mechner, you know, I became very familiar with the game and just, you know, loved it and loved the devices in it and the characters. And I think what Mike brought to it is the kind of Shakespearean drama that we have throughout the story and the wonderful humor. And then you haven’t seen Gemma , who you gentlemen will enjoy watching, as the women I’m sure enjoy watching Jake Gyllenhaal.
Geoff: We know this film started with a video game and that started with the creator, Jordan Mechner, and then now it’s going to live on screen with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Let’s bring them both out. Let’s welcome Jordan and Jake. This is pretty great right here. Outstanding.
Jake Gyllinhaal: An ocean of people.
Geoff: It’s an interesting career moment for you. This is a new sector that you’re moving into, wouldn’t you say?
Jake: The Jerry Bruckheimer sector, yes.
Geoff: It’s quite loud.
Jake: Yeah, a little louder. A little louder and a little bigger and a little more fun.
Geoff: That’s fantastic. Tell us a little bit about the set and what it was like for you. I mean this looks like a physical, arduous movie. Jake.
Jordan: For me it was easy.
Jake: No, I was just thinking ‘cause Jordan would come to set and he would draw all the sets. I think he was, he was pretty psyched about that when he first came ‘cause the sets were pretty extraordinary, down to the last detail. I mean, it was designed so that we could, we could pretty much shoot anywhere at any moment. We could go in and Mike could go in and get a close-up somewhere and we wouldn’t have to fix it ‘cause it was all fake. It was actually all real. So three quarters of the set is all real. And then the next quarter of it is, you know, done by a lot of really talented artists on their computers. But, um, it was, it was great fun because, you know, we would design sequences in the middle of anywhere. You know, you’d see a wall and be like, ‘Why don’t just do or try this,’ and see if, you know, we could run over that donkey. And, and then….
Mike: No, no, no. No donkeys were hurt.
Jake: And then we would or we wouldn’t successfully run over a donkey. No, not like that. I mean, you know, over.
Geoff: So, again, one of the most fascinating parts of Prince of Persia is the dagger and the effect of reversing time and I think we’re gonna, Mike do you want to tell us a little bit about the clip we’re gonna see? I think we, uh….
Mike: Yeah, I think this is the first time, this is the first time that Jake’s character finds out what this magic dagger does. And what we wanted to try to, it turns time back, but we also wanted to give an impression that in doing that it kind of dissolved away the body of the person who was handling it, took him right back to his constituent atoms, and then built them back up again a little, a little earlier. It’s a very, very impressive effect, I think.
Geoff: Alright, well let’s check it out. Here’s more Prince of Persia.
[ANOTHER SUPER TOP SECRET VIDEO CLIP FROM PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME – WonderCon 2010 ]
Geoff: Just a small little film. Hey, Mike. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about some of the other (unintelligible)
Mike: Yeah. Um, well, the young woman that, played by an English actress called Gemma Arterton, she in fact is the princess of the great cult which guards the Sands of Time, which are a very disruptive force. If the Sands of Time get out of their imprisoning glass container then they will come to destroy the world. And so it’s her business to make sure that that doesn’t happen. And the only thing that can pierce the Sands of Time is the dagger itself. So she must look after that. She’s an absolutely vital character. Then we have, and of course, guess what? They fall in love, as would I have done had I been in the same place. Um, and then you have, then, I don’t know if I can tell you about Ben Kingsley. It spoils too much. He’s a very, he’s a very serpentine kind of character. I always said to him, ‘Ben, we have to make two movies with you. We have to make the movie they think they’re seeing and we have to make the movie that you know you’re making.’ But you can’t really disentangle that until you see the film so I’ll shut up about him. Then there is one of the great comic talents of our times who is, uh, um, Fred Molina who plays Sheik Amar who is, he’s on the side of the angels in the end but if he can see his way to a little profit as he goes, then he will. So he’s a rogue, but a rogue with a good heart.
Geoff: Yeah, outstanding. So we’re gonna take some questions from the audience but first Jake, I wanted to ask you, tell me, tell us a little bit about your character and sort of, uh, how you describe when you found him.
Jake: What do you want to know?
Geoff: What’s he like?
Jake: He’s, uh, he’s, you know, he has the difficult challenge of being able to take, you know, his, the situation at hand as seriously as possible to be taken when you have a dagger that turns back time and you have men with snakes that come out of their arms chasing you. And at the same time have fun while he’s doing it. You know, I think he, he has a real wry sense of humor which I appreciate and appreciate about him. Particularly, the first draft of the script I read, he was always, um, though he was a strong fighter, you know, and unaware of the destiny that was in front of him, always kind of greeted each challenge with a sense of fun. And, uh, and he always does. And he also likes to jump off of things. He also likes to fight. And, with his fists and with his swords. And he also, um, likes princesses.
Geoff: Who wouldn’t? Well it’s a very spirited movie.
Fan #2: Hey. This question’s for Jake. You’ve been in a couple movies now with time travel. Do you just have a big interest in the subject? Do you like Back to the Future a lot, or, uh, and where would you….
Fan #2: And where would you travel back in time if you could in real life?
Jake: Wow. Well, yes, I think I do. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious I have a real, have a real issue with time. I might not be alone in that. Um, and I’m fascinated with how it works in terms of telling stories, you know? You have so many opportunities when you can move forwards and backwards and when characters are unaware of whether they’re moving forwards or backwards, I think that’s kind of fascinating. And anybody who knows anything about time continuums knows that we probably don’t necessarily only move forward. So I’m, I’m fascinated with that. Um, and what was the last…?
Fan #2: If you could travel somewhere in time.
Jake: Oh. Right. To my birth. I’d love to see what that was like.
Geoff: That’s just weird, dude. I want to go back to before you said that. Is there another question? Hey there.
Fan #3: Hi. This question’s for Jake. I just wanted to know how difficult was it getting into shape to do this and getting all tan? Because (unintelligible) Bubble Boy, all adorable and bubbly and now you’re like unh!
Jake: May I ask your name?
Fan #3: (unintelligible)
Jake: Okay, well I would like to answer that question by saying I’d like to go back to my birth. No, I, it was so much fun. What could you do when you get paid to get tanned and, you know, get in shape? What am I supposed, how am I supposed to answer that question? It was great. It’s great. It’s amazing. Every character, playing every character requires different things and this, you know, this required that.
Fan #3: Um, you’re pretty. I just thought you should know.
Fan #4: I have to second what she said.
Jake: If you weren’t silhouetted I’d be able to say the same thing.
Fan #4: Thank you. My husband’s right behind (unintelligible)
Jake: Oh. Man, I didn’t, um….
Fan #4: No, that’s okay. Um, so, sorry this question is for you. I don’t think anybody else on the panel is gonna have a question today. But, um, I know you more for the roles like Jarhead, Donnie Darko, Bubble Boy. Um, well except for the Bubble Boy, I know you more for from the dramatic roles. What made you want to switch from the dramatic roles to the more action based roles?
Jake: Well, you know, all my peers seem to be getting into it so I thought maybe I’d try my hand. You know. I love big action-adventure movies. I really do. I mean, Indiana Jones is like one of my favorite movies. And, you know, this character, I think, you know, I think Jordan was inspired by movies like that and somehow it just mixed all of these interests and all of these movies that I love so much, you know, and yeah. Sorry, man. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just kidding.
Geoff: Thank you. We got somebody else?
Fan #5: Yeah, I got a question for the whole panel which is about the difficulty of taking a video game and turning it into an action movie. What were your sort of, uh, things going into it that you felt that you needed to do to make a blockbuster action movie out of a very popular franchise in video games?
Jerry: I think, you know, the key to it is tell a great story. Jordan gave us great characters and you add the character drama that is kinda Shakespearean in this movie, you add the romance and the humor, and bring in a fantastic director to guide you along the way, and he makes these choices in actors. And then you have something that’s really special. It’s always about the story. No matter how good the game is, if we give you a bad story you’re gonna be bored. You’re not gonna be bored in this movie, I promise you.
Jordan: Much as I love video games, not every great video game should become a movie. But I think Prince of Persia lends itself really well for a lot of reasons. Partly because it’s set in this fantastical world of a thousand and one nights that hasn’t been brought to the screen in so long. And certainly not, never on the scale that Jerry and Mike Newell have brought to it. And also it’s got a dagger that can turn back time. I mean who hasn’t wished that they could turn back time? And that’s really at the heart of it.
Mike: There’s something that I’d like to say about Jordy, whom I came to adore. He used to wander around the set with a notebook and he did a drawing diary. He didn’t write a diary. He drew a diary of what was happening each day. I thought that was wonderful. But the thing I loved about him most was that he’s an absolute research freak and everything in the game and everything in the script for which he wrote the first draft was researched on the basis of what, what it was actually like in sixth century Persia, what was around, what the technologies were, was the belief systems were, that kind of stuff. Wonderful, wonderful research. And the great thing about him is he’s a research freak.
Geoff: Outstanding. Okay. And then we’re gonna take another question. Again, Prince of Persia by the way comes out May 28th. We should mention that, right? Is there another person?
Fan #6: Yes.
Geoff: Hey there.
Fan #6: Hi. Um, my question is actually for Jerry. Um, I noticed there was a lot of visuals and a lot of visual effects, and, uh, why didn’t you (unintelligible) making it in 3D?
Jerry: Well, you know, at the time 3D, Avatar hadn’t come out. So it was not as popular as it has become. Most 3D were animated films which is much easier to do. By the way, at the time we went to Disney and said we’d like to get it in 3D and for whatever reason, it was very costly and also the cameras that were available at the time aren’t as advanced as they are today. To take it out in the desert, I think we’d still be shooting if we were doing it in 3D. So we decided not to.
Fan #6: Okay. Thank you.
Geoff: Oustanding. Well everybody, Jerry is gonna stay up here but let’s say thank you and wish luck to Mike, Jake, Jordan.
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Well, SciFi/Fantasy Fans, I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. Signing off for now….