Jonathan Liebesman on ‘Battle: Los Angeles’
Jonathan Liebesman is quickly getting into big films. He got his start on horror movies like Darkness Falls and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Battle: Los Angeles is a full blown big studio alien invasion movie, and then he’s doing Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to Clash. When he did the press junket for Battle, I got in as many questions as I could.
CraveOnline: Did you get into movies wanting to make these big blockbusters?
Jonathan Liebesman: These were definitely the movies I grew up on and always wanted to be a part of, this stuff. It’s awesome. That’s also why I fought so hard for the job. This is the stuff when I was 13 I would be there on a Friday night.
CraveOnline: Even many successful directors don’t get to do this scale of movies. What was your graduation from doing some smaller horror films and actually commanding a production like this?
Jonathan Liebesman: I think a lot of guys – and not to discredit, because they do such great work all the time – don’t do this, because oftentimes the scripts aren’t as good as they’d need to be for these guys to get involved. I think it’s always an opportunity for a newer or younger director to come in and take something and try to make it great, whereas as you get older, there’s less of a need to go off to stuff like that. Unless it’s there on the page, a lot of guys won’t get involved.
CraveOnline: But graduating from doing horror films to managing a production like this, what was the leap?
Jonathan Liebesman: I don’t know. I think for a director it’s very easy. It’s what do you see in your head. I was doing a $3 million movie 3 years ago in my basement. In 10 days time I’m about to shoot a $200 million movie. There’s the same thing in each one, which is, can you tell the guys working for you what you see in your head? You don’t have to know how to achieve it, you just have to know what it is. The experts around you will help you achieve it. Things as simple as, "I want this freeway sequence where there are a lot of cars, and it’s a simple rescue mission getting people off the ledge. Military advisor, how would I do that?" Then he starts doing it. Then you see it in your head. It’s just can you see it? Can you see what you want? That’s all you need to know as a director, if it’s a $3 million movie or a big movie. Can you see what you want in your head?
CraveOnline: Battle: Los Angeles could be your own franchise that you spearheaded.
Jonathan Liebesman: That would be awesome. Every director wants that. It’d be nice. Employment for years.
CraveOnline: What extras are going to be on the DVD and Blu-Ray?
Jonathan Liebesman: I don’t know. I hate extras sometimes because they’re afterthoughts, but there are some effects that I wish could make it in, but they didn’t. Some scenes, some invasion things, I think they’ll put those on.
CraveOnline: Completed effects?
Jonathan Liebesman: No, that’s the thing. I don’t know what’s coming out on the extras. I wanted to shoot a short film. I did a short film for the Ring movies, and I wanted to shoot a short film because I was like, "There’s a whole thing that I didn’t get to explore in this about different stories of different Marines who aren’t related to our platoons and their stories." It’s like a day in their life of what happened when they were invaded. To me, this was just the beginning, Battle: Los Angeles. I really want the chance to do so much more.
CraveOnline: How did you make the shots of burning Los Angeles look so real?
Jonathan Liebesman: I learned so much on this actually from Neil Blomkamp. When I saw his short films, I contacted him and asked him about the software and how he used it. Then I learned about it. What I did a lot was I’d actually go with my video camera which is a Sony EX3 to downtown and I shot a lot of footage. Then I would track the footage and put elements within the footage. So for downtown, you literally would go through with either a still camera or with film, and then track that in and literally burn it up and stuff.
CraveOnline: You’re talking about a video camera. That would be tracked to hi-def footage?
Jonathan Liebesman: Yeah, there’s a lot of high def footage in the movie because hi-def, the movie is mastered in 2K. That’s actually, you can’t tell the difference between 2K and 1920 x 1080 which is what most video cameras are HD. So in fact, it’s indiscernible. The only difference really becomes the motion blur characteristics of digital versus film which you can’t really tell in quick shots.
CraveOnline: So you can use the footage you shot yourself in the movie?
Jonathan Liebesman: There is. There’s one entire scene that’s shot on a video camera, where he goes to the graveyard to visit his brother’s grave.
CraveOnline: That’s not even an effects scene!
Jonathan Liebesman: Dude, the whole scene is video because the way we shot it was very guerilla.
CraveOnline: How did you create an accurate geography for the city of L.A.?
Jonathan Liebesman: Well, you do your best. The idea was they come in through Santa Monica. There’s a line that’s formed at Lincoln. They go down what I thought was almost like the 10 East, that’s where they’re attacked. From there they come around to the Santa Monica airport which is a tiny bit of a backtrack and then they go downtown to the LZ where they have to evacuate. As far as how you create that believably, at each point in the journey you pick architecture that you think resembles the area that you’re going through.
CraveOnline: Do they have raised freeways in Louisiana where you shot?
Jonathan Liebesman: Yeah, they do. The freeway sequence which was shot in Louisiana has raised freeways in the background which were already there practical.
CraveOnline: When you’re doing handheld style, do you plan in advance when the camera is going to shake?
Jonathan Liebesman: No, you just shoot it and the 3D [effects] technology today’s advanced enough to actually track the shot. You can handhold and then what happens is the 3D technology tracks the shot and when it gets too complicated for the software to track, you can pinpoint little parts of the frame that move and you just track where that point moves from frame to frame. Therefore you can shoot however you want as long as you can track the shot. You can incorporate CGI into it.
CraveOnline: Will you use this embedded on the ground style for Wrath of the Titans?
Jonathan Liebesman: Yeah, I want to be more with the characters and not as objective and omniscient as a style where you have these beautiful sweeping crane shots and stuff.
CraveOnline: Is there a 3D mandate for that sequel?
Jonathan Liebesman: Yeah, but this time the movie will be conceived and thought of in 3D before. The last movie was neither conceived nor edited for 3D and was converted in like 24 hours so we’re doing it properly this time in terms of the conception of the movie and how we’re going to edit it and stuff.