Jose Padilha on the ‘Robocop’ Remake and ‘Elite Squad 2’
Brazilian director Jose Padilha’s smash sequel Elite Squad: The Enemy Within played at Fantastic Fest. The cop drama expands on Padilha’s themes of corruption in Rio. Padilha’s coming to Hollywood to direct another cop movie, the remake of Robocop. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within opens November 11 in New York and November 18 in Los Angeles for a platform release, and Padilha is already prepping Robocop.
CraveOnline: As an American action movie fan, I’ve obviously seen a lot of movies about corruption. Is this the first time you’ve been able to explore that in your country?
Jose Padilha: I’ve done three movies about violence in Rio. I’ve done a documentary called Bus 174 which is about a street kid that hijacks a bus in Rio. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Then I’ve done the first Elite Squad and now this is the third movie I do about sort of the same subject matter, that’s related to corruption. So I guess I am an old timer filmmaker that deals with corruption.
But I mean is it relatively new for the Brazilian film industry to address it?
Brazil has a peculiar kind of history in filmmaking because we were a dictatorship. That means we were run by generals until the ‘80s. It was a right wing dictatorship so most filmmakers, if not all, were Marxists in the same way where people who were controlled by the left wing dictatorship in Czechoslovakia were capitalists. You always oppose the regime. So filmmaking in Brazil was made from a Marxist perspective. It was full of metaphors to avoid censorship. We had censorship. We had to send our movies to generals, they would look at it and they would cut stuff out of the film. So everything was very difficult for regular people to grasp. It was all sort of like an inside joke between filmmakers that understood some sort of metaphor that would get through the censorship. But Brazilian movies are changing now. Because there’s no more censorship, we don’t have a dictatorship, we can vote so we’ve been able to say things directly. I think this started in a big way with City of God, which is a social commentary on violence by drug dealers and it’s not metaphorical at all. It’s a film that you go, it has action and so on. Myself and other filmmakers now are doing movies like this so I would say it started like 10 years ago. So you’re right, there’s a difference in Brazilian filmmaking now.
What is your philosophy on shooting action?
Well, most people don’t realize a lot of the way you shoot action is defined by the schedule. You can’t miss a day because it’s very expensive. There are a lot of things that have to do with the budget and my movies don’t have an American budget. They have a small budget so I have to do things fast. My philosophy is to go for it, to try to get the risky shots, to try to get the shot that you may not get in one day because it’s worth it. So I like my connecting shots, which is let’s say I’m shooting a scene of a helicopter with the protagonist overseeing the invasion of his land. I want to have the same shots, the face of the guy inside the helicopter, he’s looking down at something, and the camera goes and sees just the moment where a bomb explodes in his lap. In order to get that shot, you have to time the camera, the helicopter, the camera has to go to the right place, the explosion has to set off. It’s hard. It’s much easier to shoot in separation. You have the face, you’ve got the helicopter. I try to go for the connecting shot because I think it brings action to life. It also gives you a better sense of geography which I think is important in action scenes. So that’s my philosophy. Go for the connecting shot and run the risk of not making it through the day.
Did you see all the use of handheld cameras in American movies and realize you could use it too?
Well, I’ve always shot handheld because of documentary filmmaking, so for me handheld is natural for everything. Not only for the action scenes, I have a specific way of doing my handheld which is I don’t like when the camera shakes for no reason. I don’t like when the camera has you in frame and he goes like [bouncing up and down] just because the director has told the DP to make it shaky. That I don’t like. So the way I try to move the camera is I don’t block the actors rigidly. I don’t give marks to the actors. I give marks to the camera. So what I tell the DP for instance is, “You’ve got to be on the gun when the actor lands such a line.” Because the DP doesn’t know exactly where the actor will be, he’s always searching for the gun. So in this way, the camera moves but it moves towards the important story element all the time. This is sort of how I use handheld.
And your camera is always moving in all the shots, isn’t it?
Yeah, I don’t like fixed cameras. I think it’s an idealistic thing but I like my movies, not only the camera, I like everything to move forward. I don’t like my story to halt. I like the audience to wonder what’s coming next. This has to do with the relation of one scene to another. Like you set up a scene in a way that makes people want to know what’s going to happen. But it also has to do with the way you move the camera. You move the camera in the way in which people are [wondering] what is the camera going to show now? So everything is about creating this expectation in the audience of what comes next: the shooting of the camera, the writing of the script, the direction of the actors. This is what I try to do.
What are you going to do with a studio budget on ‘Robocop?’
Spend it. [Laughs] Listen, I always try to make the best film I can. If I can have one year to shoot a film, I want one year to shoot a film. If it’s not possible, I’ll try to make as best as I can in the timeframe that I have. I don’t know exactly, because I’ve never done a movie with a huge budget, but I do know that the producers in this film, the studio are filmmakers. It’s the people from Spyglass, Jon Glickman, Roger [Birnbaum] and Adam [Rosenberg]. They make films. They are not only studio execs. They are producers too. So they know how to make a film and it’s very good for me because it’s pragmatic. Once you give me the budget, whatever the budget is, the most important thing to me is that the money spent goes towards the screen. That’s what counts. If I have a beautiful five star trailer, that doesn’t change anything on the screen. It’s better to have more film, more footage, more takes. It’s that that concerns me and the guys that are making Robocop are very wise this way so it’s cool.
Do you want to redesign Robocop and ED-209?
That I can’t tell otherwise I’m going to give the movie away. We are already doing that, working on the designs so I do already know stuff. Listen, the design has to match the script. You don’t design something out of the blue. You design something that makes sense inside the dramatic universe that you are exploring. So that’s what we’re doing.
Is there any truth to the Chris Pine or Michael Fassbender casting rumors?
That’s a new one. I heard the Fassbender casting rumors. I haven’t discussed really casting. What happened was Elite Squad 2 opened in Holland so a journalist from Holland I spoke with wanted to know who’s going to be Robocop because Verhoeven is Dutch. So I said there are many great American actors, for instance Fassbender, Chris Pine and I named a few. Then the web does the rest.
Does anything remain from Darren Aronofsky’s work?
I haven’t read Aronofsky’s script. Aronofsky is a great director. I love his films. I am very proud because I saw Pi in the opening Sundance screening and I loved it. So Aronofsky’s great. I have my own take on Robocop. I know what his take was and it’s totally different. It’s a different thing, different kind of film, even different period in time so I haven’t read his previous work.
It’s interesting you say different period of time. I got the impression from Aronofsky’s take that he was leaning towards modern day and the devices that make us cyborgs now.
Well, some things are constant. A lot of what was great about Robocop, the original one, had to do with the ‘80s. That kind of style of shooting, for one thing, when Robocop was released there was no movie like Robocop. If we do Robocop again, there is at least one.
The original 'Robocop' was very much about the corporations of the ‘80s. Would your take be able to address today’s problems like the banks and mortgage lenders?
[Laughs] Listen, there are the constants and the variables in this world, right? Some things change and some things never change. Corporations controlling people are a constant. It’s the banks now, it’s going to be something else 30 years from now. It was something else before. This is the way economics works. So we’re not making a film about mortgage, that I can tell you.
Will you stick around for ‘Robocop 2 and 3’ to make sure they don’t suck?
That’s funny. Let’s do one first, then we’ll talk about two.
Obviously you can tell I love the original.
It’s great, genius.
My favorite part is that the corporation creates him and owns him, but he remembers who he was and they can’t own that.
That’s the greatness of the concept. That’s the concept of Robocop in a nutshell. That’s the heart and soul of the film. It’s that conflict between stuff trying to own you and you trying to persevere. That’s the heart of the story and it has to be. Any Robocop that’s worth that name has to talk about that.
Will you still call him Alex Murphy?
Alex Murphy is Alex Murphy, man. You can’t call Batman some other name. Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent is Clark Kent, Alex Murphy is Alex Murphy.
Are these the kind of big movies you dreamed of making when you started in Brazil?
No, I always make the movies I like to make. It doesn’t matter for me if it’s Elite Squad 2, a movie that everybody’s waiting to see in Brazil or it’s a small time documentary like Garapa, a film I shot two years ago, in northeast Brazil about hunger which very few people will see. Only some people in Europe will see that film because of the pace. It’s slow and so on, but it’s a film I love as much as Robocop. I make the films that I love and if a project becomes something that I don’t love, then I don’t make it. It doesn’t matter what it is.
As a working filmmaker, how much time do you have to watch movies?
I read more than I watch movies. I found that reading is very helpful for me as a filmmaker and I watch a lot of docs, a lot of documentaries more than fictional films. I make it a point of watching the docs, but I do see films and I do see some films several times. Films that I really like, that are dear to me, I see 10 times and analyze them and read the scripts and I buy the shooting scripts and I try to get the real shooting script, because usually what they print and call a screenplay is actually the transcribed final edit. I read the shooting script of Robocop which is different from the film and it’s a fun thing to do. I do this with many movies I love. I know most of Scorsese as well as Scorsese himself maybe because I saw them 10 times. Some movies are really emblematic to me, I keep going back to them.
Didn’t Verhoeven add all the news reports himself?
The original script never started with the news. They found that in the editing room. It was great.
Would you update the news segments to reflect the 24 hour news we have today?
I don’t want to be specific about it because I’m going to spoil it for you.
You just see how I know every little detail.
You love Robocop like I do.
Do you get to see any movies at Fantastic Fest?
No, I’ve got to go tomorrow morning at 7AM. Robocop time.
Would you ever relocate to Los Angeles?
I like Los Angeles. It has great weather, there’s great people there. You do have to have a car though. It’s not like New York but I do like Los Angeles. A lot of people say, “Oh, Los Angeles, it sucks people into the system of Hollywood.” I don’t see any of that. I think Los Angeles is a cool place with nice people and good weather.
Me too. I think if you come there jaded, you meet all the jaded people.
And if you come there with an open mind, then you meet the nice people. It’s the people, not the place, you’re right. So I like Los Angeles. I also like New York which is also a great city, totally different from Los Angeles. I like the United States to tell you the truth. You guys have gotten a bad eye from the world since the Weapons of Mass Destruction thing but that’s not the United States. That’s the crazy republican establishment that took over the country with Bush.
But, more than 50% of us did vote for him the second time, unfortunately.
Yeah, that was a mistake but I don’t know anybody from this other side. Neither do you. Who voted for Bush? We don’t know. We never bought it. Even in Elite Squad I make a reference to that. They’re going after some guns that are not there.
What’s next for the Brazilian film industry?
Well, because Elite Squad 2 was self distributed and it became the biggest grossing movie ever to open in South America, we beat Avatar in gross and we had no distribution company. Our distribution company was my garage. Everybody now realizes that at least in Brazil, you can make a blockbuster without giving the rights of your film to a distribution company. So I think the future in the industry in Brazil is independent distribution.