Brad Peyton’s impressive Hollywood ascent contains a solid lesson in Studio Filmmaking 101. The 37-year-old director has come from helming Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore followed by Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and now this week’s potential blockbuster San Andreas, thanks in large part to Peyton’s ability to meet studio expectations.
Screen Rant recently sat down with Peyton to discuss the specifics of building strong studio relations, what happens to a film’s budget and buzz when you have a box office draw Dwayne Johnson in the mix and what it means for his spin on the disaster movie, San Andreas. Read on for his keys to success, why Carla Gugino and Ioan Guffudd are secret weapons on set, plus a brief tease about the scare-factor of his upcoming horror movie, Incarnate.
When you have someone like Dwayne Johnson, I’m curious in comparing and contrasting the cache and attention and budget you get on something like Journey 2 versus something like this? They’re obviously totally different, but did you feel more support, budget, anything?
No, I think what drives the budget is the script and the scale of the vision so Dwayne’s career’s gotten bigger, that in of itself will drive the budget up but it’s more as a director, I don’t really engage in that.
I just mean if it makes things easier with support from the studio…
Well that comes from a relationship. With New Line having made Journey, I brought Journey in on time and on budget and there were zero re-shoots and it was a done deal, my second movie. We made a lot of money and they were very happy so I felt like I earned their trust a lot and so when they were ready to go off and make their biggest movie since the Hobbit, they were like, “Okay, we trust that you’re going to do it.” I feel like I earned some of that trust and also, my style of directing is to have an open door to my office. If you want to see pre-vis and storyboards and artwork I’m not trying to fool anybody so if you want to see something you can see it and I think that kind of disarms a lot of people so if there are nerves or insecurity that gets rid of that. I just apply that to everything I do. If I’m on set, I’m not trying to fool the actors or the cameraman, I’m trying to be honest and to get what I can get so I think when you’re that way as a filmmaker, you tend to disarm and take some of the tension out of that situation. The bigger budgets, the bigger stars, the more demanding shoots, they’re willing to go with you. Every filmmaker is different and I just want to make a good movie and I don’t want any games. If we can make it simpler, I’ll make it simpler. For me with a movie star like Dwayne and a bigger budget and a bigger sense of spectacle I was very lucky having Warner Bros/New Line behind me having made a successful film and having worked with both before. It was very smooth that way.
Was there one particular day that was more “I can’t believe I”m doing this” than…
That’s everyday. Everyday. Honestly, every single day you’re cognizant of what you’re doing and it’s shooting Dwayne Johnson in a helicopter and there are hundreds of people, I’m from a town of nine thousand people, my mom was a nurse and my dad owned a flower nursery, this is not reality to me. I never could have imagined my life this way, being this fortunate. There is an expression people say, “The minute you don’t feel that, you should stop,” and I agree because you should feel lucky and it’s okay to admit that you feel fortunate doing this job. It’s a tough job but there’s a lot of people who would like this shot. So everyday on set I am a) exhausted because I’m extremely detail-oriented and I drive myself crazy with it, I’m super hard on myself but I’m counterbalancing that with my enthusiasm, internal 17-year-old, “Ooh there’s Dwayne, there’s Carla, what is my life?”
Carla has such a lovely presence about her… a lovely calming way about her.
She’s very centered. Her feet are on the ground, she started acting young and I think she’s honest with herself and really interesting. I think she really loves what she does, I think she really likes being an actor and loves the process, understanding things and making something real and I think that passion and fulfillment of that passion allows her to have a sense of calm about her and to be a centered person because she’s achieving what she set out to do. She has that about her at all times also with the fact that her regular level of energy is like me caffeinated. She’s flying through life with enthusiasm and passion and yet she’s grounded.
That had to have been lovely for you, because Mr. Johnson’s energy is also off the charts.
I was very lucky in the sense that Carla and Dwayne had worked together on two movies before this one, even though in one they’d never been in scenes together, the other movie they were in a lot of scenes together so it was a real benefit to me because they were familiar with each other. They had to play a couple going through a divorce who had two kids together, a rich backstory that was not on camera and instantly, day one, you could see it. I also have the benefit of listening to them between takes, they would finish a take and go right back to talking about who their characters were. They have a real shared enthusiasm.
Speaking of the good, did Ioan Gruffudd delight in the fact that he was playing such a sleaze?
Here’s the interesting thing about Ioan, most famously known as Mr. Fantastic, is kind of like that in real life. He’s really positive, really happy to be there so that role was really challenging to cast. All these people would say, “What’s his redeeming quality?” He doesn’t have a redeeming quality! The purpose for this character is to show a lack of redemption, selfish choice after selfish choice and you have to look at the movie as a whole to understand that. If you’re just looking at the role, the selfish thing to do is, “Why would I play that guy? He doesn’t have a redeeming quality.” Ioan was great because he was like “I totally get why he’s this guy because you have Dwayne over here and I need to make terrible choices in order to show what it means to make those terrible choices.” The other challenge with Ioan and that character was that you are going to judge Emma [Gugino] based on the other guy she’s with so when you meet him you have to think he’s a nice guy and means well. It was challenging to cast but I think Ioan did a great job because he balanced all of that out and very quickly understood what I was going for.
With the one F bomb, was that by design in the script?
There were two. Both of them were in there as long as I could keep them.
I only remember the one?
There is one in the movie, there were two shot. The other one was amazing, when the thing falls on Ioan he went, “Are you f—–g kidding me?” Both of them got great cheers but on only being able to have one for the rating, I had to give it to Emma in that moment.
Am I going to be able to watch Incarnate without covering my eyes? I just did that through Insidious 3, with the lights halfway up and the volume down.
No, you’re not. It’s going to be like that again.
San Andreas will be in theaters May 29, 2015.